Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chapter Seven: The Saint and The Devil

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. For sponsorship information, go to www.writingreeder.blogspot.com.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Chapter 7: The Saint and The Devil

Alfred and his crew were hungry, which is always disagreeable. Worse than that, though, their visibility was so limited that they could not see past their arm or wingspan, and this in the middle of the day.

For two days, Alfred had tacked northwest and southwest across an elegant, blue-fielded sky, navigating between glorious fleets of brilliantly white cumulous clouds, all marching eastward. Below him sprawled an endless track of spotted green fields.

During this time, it was hard not to be encouraged. Besides the majesty of the scenes around him, Alfred found that the farther west they went, the more responsive his father became.

When Alfred anchored the ship in the sky at the end of the day, he then went to his cabin and lapped up hours-long conversations with his father, well into the night. Granted, his father spoke to him of routine memories that occurred before the landslide, and any mention of mother assumed her to be alive, well, and on her way back from town at any moment. Still, though, to have someone without feathers to talk to drove Alfred’s spirits higher. He hoped that arriving at their destination might cure his father completely.

Curing the hunger proved another matter. While crossing the Atlantic, the crew could dip down from the island vessel at any time, grab a fish, and then return to consume their meal. Now that they had traveled inland, however, the native seabirds found themselves at a loss of where to find food. Kittiwakes and puffins dropped below for long periods of time and soon returned with nothing more than a scrap of unappetizing food picked up from a rubbish heap. The island’s oval pond, which held freshwater fish, turned out to be their best resource for food, but its store was depleting rapidly, and they soon found themselves rationing catches. Alfred knew that an alternate plan for food must present itself soon or his crew might be too decimated to continue.

This concern quickly shifted when the island coasted into an approaching mass of tumbling clouds that skirted the earth’s surface below and stretched far above the island until touching the tip of the sky. Alfred noted that the wall of clouds converged with another system driving up from the south, both corralling him so that he entered the clouds right at their junction.

The result of this was not the lashing windstorm that he knew from the storm system in Norway. Instead, to his surprise, everything around him fell as black as the darkest night, with not a whiff of wind to fill the sagging sails.

Soon the darkness seeped over the island so completely, that Alfred could barely make out his hands gripping the wheel in front of him. All around, he heard only the nervous shuffling of the crew and Skipper’s low, rumbling squawk. Eerie silence dominated everything else.

Finally, the break in darkness came. Instead of serving as relief, however, it only heightened the alien scene, as flashes of light popped up all around them—lightening, but without the accompanying sound of thunder. For several minutes, the light shattered in front and to the sides of them in an ethereal, muted display that contrasted oddly with the bombastic fireworks they had witnessed days earlier.

While Alfred and the birds observed in awe, they felt a sudden puff of a dead breeze. This slight movement of air seemed to part the darkness and bring them into a large cavern within the black clouds. Alfred gaped as he registered, in front and just below them, the beginnings of a swirling mass of shredded clouds, at first moving in wild, huge swaths, but soon graduating to tight, rapid currents of air.

Though the vortex spun the surrounding clouds with powerful force, Alfred did not feel a push of wind beyond the modest draft edging them forward. Yet, when he finally gained enough awareness to steer the ship away from the convalescing clouds below, he found the wheel stuck in its position. He tugged at it several times, but discovered he could barely get it to budge. Though the wind above the floor of clouds seemed weak—underneath, where the bottom portion of the island glided—the currents clutched the island in a vice-like grip.

At this point, the crashing clouds in front of the island formed a hole, racing faster and faster in a rotating, counter-clockwise mass. This sky-bound whirlpool sucked everything within its vicinity down the hole, which must have led towards the earth below. Shreds of clouds floated nearby the sunken column, and then were suddenly snatched and flung unavoidably down the empty black that penetrated the center of the hole.

Alfred suddenly recognized his island as no different from one of those shreds of clouds. The current dragged the island inexorably towards the starboard edge of the broiling hole, preparing to swallow it at any moment.

Panicking, Alfred ordered Skipper to get the jib sails off the starboard bow. Amidst the silent explosions of spidery light, the arctic terns skillfully shifted the jib sails to the starboard side, just as the island accelerated towards the hole in the sky.

With the jib sails set and taught, Alfred suddenly had enough pull with the wheel to veer slightly away from the hole. Though miniscule and requiring all Alfred’s strength, this maneuver successfully pulled the island out of the current cascading down the black vortex.

On this new course, Alfred managed to keep the island delicately skating in circles around the dipping hole in the clouds. After a few times around, his arms started trembling from lack of strength, and he noticed the island angling inwards as it drifted closer and closer to the hole.

Skipper glanced over at Alfred, then motioned his good eye downwards. With island now sloping inward, Alfred saw deep into the hole, which at first seemed black, but further inspection revealed a twisted cone spiraling downward before getting lost in an explosion of dust and debris. This flotsam of the air soared up the winding column of wind, with some even bursting to the dead surface level with the island.

Looking down into this winding column, reminded Alfred that he had heard of this phenomenon before, something his mother described as a cyclone, but he never imagined he would be sailing around the top edge of one. With little time to appreciate this realization, Alfred instead worried that if the island shifted any more towards the swirling charybdis on the port side, then it would be sucked into chaos.

Suddenly, an eruption of wind managed to clear a white, blurry object past the top of the hole, where it then flopped onto the cliffs of the island, just below the quarterdeck. Alfred could not be certain, but he imagined he saw it moving. He about sent a crew member to investigate, when a dancing puffin stole his attention.

The puffin screeched, flapping his wings eagerly. Alfred followed the bird’s gaze. With his arms aching but his eyes alert, he saw, amazed, a ball of glowing, phosphorescent light. The curious globe hovered above the translucent cord leading to the flying jib sail. Alfred noted that as the island creaked along its circular course, the ball of light floated outwards, towards the end of the cord holding the jib sail.

Saint Elmo’s Fire, Alfred gawked. Both his storyteller mother and experienced sailors told Alfred about this phenomenon occasionally witnessed on the seas. Saint Elmo’s Fire was described to him as ghostly balls of burning light, appearing just at the tips of masts or spars, sometimes disappearing immediately, other times traveling eerily along the object. Some thought Saint Elmo’s Fire to be a bad omen, indicated death was soon at hand for someone. Others felt it to be a good omen, sent by Saint Elmo himself to comfort the beleaguered sailor. Alfred felt beleaguered, but considering his present circumstance at the edge of an abyss, he could not say which type of omen to expect.

Alfred strained to keep the wheel pulling to the starboard as he followed the track of Saint Elmo’s Fire, until it reached the edge of the cord, released itself into the air, and floated away from the island for some brief seconds, before fading into nothing.

Alfred sighed. He had hoped that as long as Saint Elmo’s Fire stayed with them, he would be protected. Now, though, he felt hope fading with the lost light. Before Alfred despaired too much, however, the determined puffin recommenced his screeching. Incredibly, Saint Elmo’s Fire had appeared once more, lower down on the same cord. It slowly traveled outwards just as before.

The puffin went into hysterics, and Skipper glared at him with his one good eye, as if to discourage such antics in front of the captain. The puffin, however, did not seem to care. He had something in mind and was set on sharing it. After ensuring he held the attention of Alfred, he left the quarterdeck, flying towards Saint Elmo’s Fire and screeching as he went. Alfred watched as the ball of light progressed towards the end of the barely-visible cord. The puffin reached the globe of fire and circled it.

Alfred’s eyebrows scrunched, attempting to decipher the puffin’s purpose. Then Saint Elmo’s Fire reached the end of the cord and lifted out and beyond for a moment before disappearing yet again. The puffin, however, made a racket, screeching and circling the point where the ball of fire had disembarked until the stern of the island passed him, and the puffin came back to join Alfred and Skipper on the quarterdeck. Alfred remained baffled by the bird’s intentions, but the puffin did not rest upon arriving; instead, he renewed his shrieks.

Alfred looked forward again and, astonished, saw the same Saint Elmo’s Fire relocated at the back of the flying jib line. Like clockwork, he thought to himself. Then Alfred made a realization. Exactly like clockwork. We go around, and then at a certain time, it leaves. Then Alfred finally understood what the puffin hoped to communicate. Saint Elmo’s Fire was telling them the weak part of the current, the place where they could break free.

Alfred looked at the hovering ball of light, about half way to its exit point. Then he looked at his hands, knuckles white from the exertion of keeping the ship from tumbling into the chasm next to them. Though he now knew what to do, he could not be sure that when the moment arrived he would be capable of pulling the wheel anymore than he already was. His muscles were giving out.

The puffin seemed to understand, because he chirped something to Skipper. Skipper bobbed his head, and responded. In a moment, the rest of the puffins found themselves perching along different spokes of the wheel. Their awkward feet attempted to grip the wheel and they readied their wings for flapping.

At this point, Alfred saw Saint Elmo’s Fire just about at its end. “Ready, crew?” he called out.

Saint Elmo’s reached the end of its track and drifted to the starboard. “And pull!” Alfred screamed, then found strength he did not think he had, accompanied with the furious flapping of the crew’s doughty puffins.

The single puffin had been right. In that small window, the current momentarily lost its grip on the ship and the wheel turned with much more ease than Alfred would have imagined. The island slipped away from its trap, easing out of the raging downward current. In the process, it caught up to Saint Elmo’s Fire before it could fade away, delicately perching the glowing ball back at the end of the flying jib cord.

After the initial tug, Alfred dismissed the puffins from the wheel, giving a grateful pat to the puffin who had made it possible. Then they all observed as Saint Elmo’s Fire guided them through the curtain of blackness leading away from the spinning vortex behind them.

After a quiet period of time incased in the darkness and silent lightening strikes, Saint Elmo’s Fire winked at them for a few moments, and then faded just as the blackness lifted. Immediately, they found themselves exiting the back of the driving course of clouds they had entered.

The crew barely had time to take in the surreal experience that just occurred, when one of the kittiwakes brought their attention to the white object on the cliffs that the cyclone had spit up onto the island earlier. Alfred ordered the crew to lower sails and anchor the island while he and Skipper went to investigate.

The two found the white blur to be a tremendous bird, nearly matching the wingspan of Skipper himself. As Alfred gently picked it up, he noted that it boasted a huge, protruding beak, with a flappy, malleable pouch lining the bottom. Skipper and Alfred looked the bird over and saw that, though it had been roughly handled in the cyclone, there had been no lasting damage done to it.

Alfred personally fetched fresh pond water, giving some to the bird and helping it get back on its feet, all the time wondering what kind of strange animal this was. After half an hour of this treatment, the bird could stand and stretch its colossal wings. By this time, most of the crew had gathered around to inspect the foreigner, who, in turn, inspected them. After looking at their gaunt forms, the bird seemed to come to some conclusion, because it suddenly extended its tremendous wings and lifted off the cliff.

Alfred assumed that the bird had decided to return to its home, so he mounted the quarterdeck to ensure the island had been properly secured before he planned to join his father and call it a day. Both Alfred and the crew were surprised to see the bird return, its long, slender bill suddenly bulging. The bird landed on the quarterdeck and produced a fair load of fish from its apparently expandable mouth.

The kittiwakes gorged themselves first while the bird took off once more. Before the first batch of fish could be dispatched, another load was added to the pile. Then another and another. Soon, the crew found themselves stuffed, with even enough extra for Alfred to feed himself and his father. The bird, satisfied, took roost down with the other crew members on the cliff tops, intent on joining them on their journey. On his way to his cabin, Alfred patted the large white bird on the head, dubbing him the name “Galley,” a nod to the galley cook on sailing ships.

Just before descending, Alfred looked at his crew, relaxing on the cliffs, chatting with each other, nibbling at some leftovers. He realized that only a few hours ago, they had been hungry and in utter blackness, with no prospect of a solution. Thanks to Galley and Saint Elmo’s Fire, those problems had simply been eradicated and now forgotten.

I won’t forget, though, Alfred thought, directing his gratitude outward. Now, if I can just find the place I’m heading for, then maybe Father will have his senses knocked into him, and our last problem will be fixed. Alfred took one more glance out west, towards the setting sun.

In that moment, Alfred saw something that prevented him from going to his cabin, convincing him to set the ship in motion once more and sail through the night if necessary. Alfred saw the distant outline of tremendous, gaping mountains, scraping the sky with their jagged peaks.

It was his destination: the Rocky Mountains.


Karen was lost.

Not only was she lost, but she could not think straight for the two hours that had passed since she heard the last of the gunshots, their cracks rippling along the broken ridges of the Devil’s Labyrinth.

Each time she rounded another corner hearing only the scraping of her horse hooves against the weather worn crests, she regretted leaving the man, Owen. If she was going to reach an end, she thought, she would rather it be in his good company than lost and alone on these endless canyon roofs.

More perplexing than anything else, however, was that Owen thought that she was in love with another man. Karen did not know what she thought about that other man. She struggled believing that it could be love; she barely knew him. Karen only knew that she spoke with him in Norway three months back, just before coming to claim her homestead in America. While she did not know how to classify their conversation, even she had to admit that there was something enthralling about it.

When she went to process papers for the homestead in the American consulate of Oslo, Karen met him in the anteroom. He claimed to be reporting for a newspaper, writing an article about immigrant homesteaders. While his questions were directed towards that purpose and he took scattered notes, it did not feel like a newspaper report. The whole time they spoke, he seemed fixed to her eyes. When he responded to her statements, it rang of sincerity and personal interest. Karen could not help but feel as if the man held a profound interest and reverence for her—this after having just met each other.

As the interview drew to a close, neither of them felt as though it should end. The man sporadically glanced at his notes, but he clearly had exhausted all his questions. Finally, Karen had to be the one to ask him if that was everything.

Even now, half way across the world, Karen remembered the look on his face. He had a question, but he looked afraid to ask it. Karen waited, their eyes locked together, and finally, the man shook his head, though he could not even form any words to go with it.

The next thing Karen knew, she stood up, and the reporter did too, his unasked query still lingering on his lips. They shook hands, his hand delayed letting go. Then she left, and she had not seen him since, though in her mind she saw him nearly every day as she rehearsed the event over and over.

Karen tried ever since that day to dispense with the memory. The man was in Norway, she was in the United States, and they had only known each other for half an hour at most. When her ailing father attempted to secure Karen’s future by presenting her with the practical marriage to Owen Ross, Karen agreed, in part hoping this would put an end to her silly fixation.

As Karen navigated a steep trail, she wondered why the memory pulsed so powerfully. She still doubted it was love; she did not know the man well enough for that … but maybe the seed of love? Now she would never know; she would always be held wondering, because their conversation felt unfinished.

That is why Karen hesitated when Owen asked her about other plans, and why he assumed it was love when it was not … necessarily. The reporter had simply left her in a state of limbo.

Wandering along ridge after ridge made her feel as if in another state of limbo. Each new path caused her to regret leaving Owen. He had been present, not across the globe in some removed memory, and he showed his interest in her protection. That is all Father wanted for me, she thought, why wasn’t it enough for me?

Karen knew her father’s answer to that question would be that she had too much of her mother in her. And Karen would agree. That was the whole reason she had come to America. As a young child, she recalled her mother and her mother’s older sister often visiting and discussing their fascination with the American continent. So, years later, after her mother’s passing, with wool business struggling in Norway and her father starting to show signs of the same illness as her mother, Karen decided that a change was necessary. Within a short time, she secured the papers and passage for United States.

Now, only three months into her great adventure to America, she found herself fleeing from ruthless men, hedged in by regrets, and hopelessly lost. Then she heard the whinnying of another horse charging up the trail behind her. In a panic, she about set her horse to a gallop, but she stopped when she heard the other rider call out her name.

Karen turned around, fully expecting to see Owen Ross. Instead, she wondered if this was an hallucination. “Mr. Rudiger?”

Daniel Rudiger, out of breath, cantered his horse up to hers. “I’ve been looking all over for you, Karen,” he said. “I’m glad you remembered my name.”

Karen could barely express her relief at hearing Norwegian from someone other than her father for the first time since arriving. “Of course I remember you, Mr. Rudiger. But, what are you doing here?”

“Call me Daniel, please,” he replied. “And I’m here to help you escape. Those men are still after you, and that man you were with …”

“Owen Ross.”

“ … Owen,” Daniel asserted, “‘Ross,’ did you say?” Karen nodded. Daniel seemed a bit surprised, then smiled to himself. “Of course.”

“What about Owen?” Karen said, bringing Daniel back on course.

“Owen says that those men mean to kill you.”

“They meant to kill both of us,” Karen responded. “So Owen is still alive then?”

“Yes, at least when I left him. But he is in very capable hands. My traveling partner is very skilled with the gun.” Daniel seemed as if he wanted to say more at that point, but instead, he continued the narrative. “Not too long after we joined … Owen … he and my partner routed the other men with some precise shooting. In the confusion, however, some of the men escaped this way. Owen made it seem as if they would still be determined to hunt you. We came after the men, but they regrouped and ambushed us. I got separated from them and that’s when I saw you over that last ridge.”

“I see how you found me here,” Karen replied, “But how did you find Owen and myself clear up on the edge of the Devil’s Labyrinth in the first place?”

“We took the train as far as Junction City, then got some horses and headed up the northwest trail. We camped out soon after leaving Junction City, but a riderless horse charging into camp woke us up. Not too long afterwards, a suspicious man came searching for it. Well, my partner interrogated the man and discovered that he was chasing after a woman and another man to keep them from eloping,” Daniel paused his story for a moment. “I assume Owen is your fiancĂ©, then?”

Karen blushed, rushing to clarify. “The man lied. It was actually the opposite. We were trying to avoid an elopement forced on us by Owen’s father.”

Daniel seemed to want to ask more, but he decided to wait. “Well, as soon as I found out they were searching for a Norwegian woman, I knew it had to be you. My partner and I then raced along the trail through the night until just about at daybreak, we found a bunch of tracks joining and coming this way. We hurried along, and came upon the whole group just as they were hoping to close in on Owen.”

“You saved our lives,” Karen said.

“I did little,” Daniel raised his hands, “And besides, we’re not in the clear yet. There are two groups out there, both are searching for you. Owen seemed to think that you would be down in the canyons somewhere, but luckily I saw you on this ridge.”

“In the canyons?” Karen said, “Ah, that is what he must have said. My English is very limited. Just after Owen told me to run away, I heard him say something about staying on the ridges, but he was speaking so fast, I didn’t catch everything. That explains why I’m lost.” Karen looked back to Daniel, “Do you know how to get us out of here?”

Daniel shook his head. “Not really, but Owen said something about streams in the canyons leading out of this maze.”

Karen nodded, “Yes, now that you mention it, I think I remember him saying something about that.”

“Well then let’s go back down this trail and see if we can find our way into a canyon,” Daniel turned his horse, but Karen remained seated where she was.

“Wait, Daniel.” His name felt comfortable to say for some reason. “You didn’t tell me why you’re here.”

Before, Daniel had been caught up with the frenzy of information receiving and telling. Now, he steered the horse back so that they could look at each other face to face, and Karen saw the same gaze form between them that they experienced three months back in Oslo. “Because,” he reluctantly broke the silence, “I didn’t ever finish that interview.”

Karen’s clear blue eyes blinked. “You came all this way to finish an interview?”

Daniel nodded.

“What else was there?” Karen offered. “You asked me pretty much everything there could be about immigrating to America.”

Another nod. “Yes. But there was one more question I never asked.”

Interest piqued, Karen said, “What was your question?”

Daniel waited. The same moment of indecision that she had seen in him in Oslo overcame him now. His mind wrestled with something, but this time his resolve forced his mouth open.

“I meant to ask you if …” Daniel momentarily faltered, then found strength in Karen’s eyes, “If I could go with you.”

Karen did not realize it, but she had been holding her breath. She took in some air, yet still sat speechless. Daniel filled the void, “And what would have been your response, Karen?”

“I …” Karen stuttered, “I guess that I … I don’t know.” Something in her yearned to confirm his request. But she barely knew him, and her careful side, her father’s side, demanded caution. “This all seems so strange, and I—”

“I know,” Daniel interrupted. “We barely know each other. But I think I do know you, Karen. And I also know that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you from the moment we had that interview. It seemed crazy at the time, but crazier things have happened since. Karen, I—”

This time, it was Daniel’s turn to get interrupted. Not by Karen, though, but by the pounding of horse hooves behind them. Karen and Daniel both swiveled their heads around. To Karen’s dismay, she did not see Owen or Daniel’s partner. Coming up the trail behind them was Dustin Trampas, followed by two other sinister men on horseback.

Dustin, covered with grime and sweat, momentarily stopped his steed and raised his eyebrows. “Well, well. If it ain’t the Norwegian girl.” He turned on his saddle. “Look at that boys! One outta two won’t be too bad. Maybe ole man Ross will give us that bonus after all!”

Before Dustin could turn around again, Karen took off up the trail with Daniel right on her heels. In a matter of moments, they came to the summit and galloped along the ridge’s sheer top, hoping to get as much distance between them and Dustin as they could.

After a few minutes of chasing along the ridge at a breakneck pace, hope sparked within Karen when she saw Dustin and the two men with him losing momentum, if only slightly. Maybe they’re tired, maybe one of their horses got injured, she thought. Then a cry from Daniel impelled her eyes forward and she suddenly knew why they slowed down. Within a quarter mile, the granite ridge came to a sudden stop, narrowing like a pointing finger before converting into an overhang drop-off at least a thousand feet above the canyon floor below. She and Daniel had been cornered into a dead end.

Karen looked over at Daniel, and he back at her. Her lips parted to speak, but then something extraordinary caused Karen, Daniel, and even their pursuers to come to an abrupt halt.

A gigantic shadow overwhelmed their ridge, and Karen had no words to express her surprise as she witnessed a tremendous mass of black, jagged rock flying through the air, not more than three hundred yards above them. Instinctively ducking, she looked over to Daniel and saw him also in awe at the sight, though with something knowing in his eyes.

The immense landmass sailed across the ridge before sinking into the huge void of the canyon, revealing a plain of yellow grass with dense woods in the center surrounding an oval pond, and a block of cliffs rising up above them. “Daniel!” she spoke at last, “I think I know that land. It looks just like an island from—”

“Mangekilder Fjord,” Daniel finished for her.

“How do you know?” Karen looked at him, amazed.

“I wanted to tell you, Karen.” They both watched the island veer around so that it now traveled at an angle with the ridge moving towards the point in front of them. “Not long after I met you, some magical things have been happening.”

Karen thought she saw a bunch of birds circling the air above the island. In fact, she almost thought she could see some kind of shimmering in that air, large swaths of glinting somethings.

Daniel now stopped looking at the island. “The reporter in me wanted to find out more about these magical things. But, Karen, then I found that, compared with the magic of your presence, a flying island held no interest for me.”

Karen’s eyes also left the island to join with Daniel’s yet again. A shot rang out behind them. Apparently, the sight of a flying island could delay Dustin Trampas for a very short period of time, maybe even rushing him. They both heard their enemies’ beating approach.

Daniel continued, “And now, I see first hand the magic of both the island and … of you. And I still only want to look at you.” He paused. “Though now it seems as if I’ll only get to enjoy it for a minute.”

Karen’s periphery picked up the flying island, noting that it neared the cliff edge marking the end of the ridge. They now sat about three hundred yards away from the dead end, and the island would meet and pass by in a minute or so. A crazy thought formed in Karen’s mind. She removed her gaze from Daniel long enough to calculate the trajectory of the island and their own position.

“Daniel,” she said, still watching the island. “I have an answer to your question.”

“My question?” he said, not sure what she was referring to.

“I want you to come with me.” Karen said, sharing the look now familiar to them both. Then, suddenly, she kicked her horse, tearing off towards the cliff edge.

Daniel, exasperated but loyal, followed. By the time he caught up to her, the two raced only fifty yards away from the cliff edge. The island was rapidly passing the edge at that very moment, but there was too much of a gap from the island to the ridge for them to transfer from one to the other.

Working against all natural instincts, Karen pushed her horse forward anyway, rewarded by the sight of the island inching closer with each passing second. At the rate the island soared forward, though, she knew that the moment for catching it would pass before they reached it.

Karen glanced at Daniel, wondering how he felt about being led to an imminent plummet off a sheer cliff, but she saw that if Daniel was worried by what he saw, he did an admirable job hiding it. Encouraged by this willingness, Karen urged her horse into a wild gallop. The island came nearer and nearer to the cliff edge just as they did, but in the last seconds of their approach, they seemed to run out of granite ground too soon. The next thing the horses and riders knew, they were launching into the air, nothing below them but a thousand feet of emptiness.

At the moment that Karen reached the apex of her leap, she realized that they were going to come up short. In that split second, she wondered why it had seemed the right thing to do, she regretted asking Daniel to come with her, and she realized how unprepared for death she really was.

Then, just as the horse was about to descend beyond the point of no return into the nothingness below, the island jolted, as if a tremendous gust of wind nudged it in their direction. And it was enough, barely. The very front edge of their horse’s hooves came down on the rocky pebbles of the island’s shore. The rest followed, and in a moment, Karen and Daniel sat on their jittery horses’ backs, safely on the shoreline of an airborne island.

Before Karen or Daniel had anytime to register this remarkable feat, the stern of the island cruised past the cliff edge, veered up into the sky and away from the men that, within minutes, appeared like dots on the ridge.

Both of them half fell, half climbed off their horses onto the black pebble shore, where waves of lapping air instead of water, tickled their feet. They sat down next to each other. “We made it,” Karen finally breathed. Then she looked over to Daniel. “You came with me.”

Daniel reached his arm out, and softly held Karen’s hand. “I’ve been with you for three months, Karen. Now, I can finally feel you.”

The two held hands comfortably for what seemed like ages, gazing towards a world of wide sky and miniature mountains and trees. Suddenly, the island seemed to slow to a stop, high above the wandering ridges of the Devil’s Labyrinth. After a few minutes of rest, Daniel looked around and remarked, “You said you knew this island?”

Karen nodded, still caught up in the magic of the whole experience. “I’ve visited it often.”

“Why?” Daniel delved.

Karen did not get a chance to respond. Someone behind them, a boy, gasped, “Cousin Karen.”

“Alfred!” Karen squealed as she saw the boy. She jumped up and gave him a long embrace, with Daniel standing up and observing. “How did you find me?” she asked.

Alfred stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handful of letters. “Your letters to my mother. They described your home as being the fjords of America in the Rocky Mountains.” Alfred pointed below them to the Devil’s Labyrinth, “This land looks like fjords, but with ground at the bottom instead of ocean. When I came closer I saw two people being chased by other men. I knew I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how. If I stopped, the men could still catch you, so I made a pass by the cliffs, trying to get as close as I could,” Alfred gazed at Karen with wonder. “I didn’t think I got close enough, but you both made amazing jumps and then … the island … well, it bumped towards you somehow, like a sudden burst of wind hit, and … well, here you are!”

“Alfred, we owe you our lives!” Karen embraced him again. After a second she released him. “Now, where are your mother and father? I would love to speak with my cousin again.”

A look of pain shot across Alfred’s face, but he would not get a chance to respond. Instead, another voice joined the scene. “His father has been lost, but the recent shaking of the island knocked him out of his senseless state, and he is here now.” The person belonging to the voice walked towards them from the path leading out of the trees at the center of the island. “His mother …” here the man choked, “His mother—I’ve come to finally accept—has been lost in a landslide.”
“Father,” Alfred whispered.

“Son,” the man responded, lips trembling.

Father and son embraced, and Alfred’s father wept. Karen did not understand it, but it looked as if Alfred had never been so happy to see someone cry in all his life.

©2012 by Marty Reeder

Once Upon a Fjord was funded, in part, through a Kickstarter campaign. For sponsorship information, go to www.writingreeder.blogspot.com.