by Norsebard





Thank you very much, Phineas Redux :)

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D

Description: Frederikke Christensen and Helena Søgaard are spending a couple of weeks on the windswept Vesternæs Island renovating the neglected cottage Frederikke has inherited from her late Aunt Astrid. When the only road leading to the island is closed as a fierce storm strikes, they are suddenly trapped there - and then strange things start to happen…




The angry, pitch-black storm front that hovered above the North Sea did its worst to whip the ocean into a frenzy. The frothy waves were in constant motion as the strong winds howled across the wide-open spaces, and the coastline of a small island just off the west coast of Jutland was given a severe beating. Because of the lateness of the day - the clock had just moved beyond a quarter past ten in the evening of October 31st - the gray sea, the black sky and the occasional pale-blue flashes of lightning that streaked across the heavens seemed all the more foreboding.

Vesternæs Island had only recently been connected to the mainland through a kilometer-long paved road that ran atop a concrete dam, but the raging storm meant using the road was far too hazardous so it had been closed until the weather would improve. Thus, the few people living on or visiting the island were trapped there until the storm had moved on. The twelve cottages that were scattered over the island were strong, sturdy buildings that were made for such weather; a handful of them were near the coast, but the rest had been built in hollows in the dunes to gain a modicum of protection from the elements.

It came as no surprise to anyone that the power had long since left the sockets in the walls. Though most cottages on the island had private windmills to harvest electricity, they had all been shut down during the storm to prevent overstressing the delicate - and expensive - machinery. The power pylons that ran adjacent to the dam were prone to go offline even in the mildest of breezes, so there had been no hope they could withstand the fierceness of the current gale.

The rain splashed ceaselessly against the panes of a pair of panorama windows that offered a wide view of the North Sea. Frederikke Christensen and her wife Helena Søgaard leaned against each other and the windowsill as they watched the storm rage on. An awed silence filled the living room of the cottage they were in.

Because of the lack of power, the electrical heating panels had all turned cold; thus, a distinct chill permeated the cottage that the two women had tried to fight by not only wearing several layers of cozy sweaters and warm fleece pants, but by throwing a few logs into the open fireplace. The latter only seemed to splutter, crackle and smoke without actually producing much heat.

They had each put a brass candlestick on the windowsill in an attempt to counter the darkness, but the dancing shadows produced by the candles' flickering light only seemed to add to the spookiness. Lit tea lights had been put everywhere: on the coffee table, on the mantelpiece by the fireplace, on several footstools and even inside the bathroom.

Through sheer coincidence, the two candles in the brass sticks mirrored the physical appearances of the two women: Frederikke Christensen's candle was tall, and so was she; tall and on the skinny side though she exercised to build a little mass. In her mid-thirties, she had mousy-brown hair and grayish eyes. Her nose was perhaps a little too big for the rest of her features, but her freckles made up for the slight - perceived - imperfection by adding a disarming element to her face. She had recently inherited the island cottage from her stern, deeply religious aunt Astrid. Why she had been favored over the family members who lived far closer to Vesternæs Island was beyond her comprehension given that her aunt had barely spoken two words to her since discovering just what kind of family life she was living.

Helena Søgaard's candle was shorter and wider than the other one; it fit since the thirty-seven-year-old, pale-blond Helena was eleven centimeters shorter than her wife while her hips were eleven centimeters wider. She had spent years attempting to chase after every type of diet she could find until she realized that not only did they make her feel miserable, but her wife loved her regardless of the additional pounds on her bones. Her hazy-blue eyes and her expressive mouth were her strongest features: whenever she smiled, her entire face lit up like a little sun.

"This isn't how I had hoped to spend Halloween… and I don't even give two you-know-whats about that over-commercialized nonsense," Frederikke said quietly. Shivering from the chill that came through the double-glazed window panes, she rubbed her arms before she took her brass candlestick and pulled back from the unsettling sight of the crashing waves.

Helena chuckled as she shuffled back toward the couch as well holding her own candlestick. "Well, it's kinda romantic… here we are, stuck in a raging storm in an old, old house… no power… it's raining like someone's emptying out a bathtub… everything from the roof down is creaking and groaning… but at least we got-"

"Each other?" Frederikke said and made a few exaggerated winks.

"I was about to say hot cocoa, but yeah…"

They snickered as they moved back to the couch and put their candlesticks on the coffee table. With the logs in the fireplace reluctant to do anything beyond smoking and spluttering, the two women sat down on the couch and pulled up a warm plaid that was large enough to cover both of them.

Sighing, Frederikke looked around at the mess they had created in the past two weeks. The first time she had inspected the cottage after inheriting it, she had been seconds from throwing in the towel and just selling it off on the spot. The cottage had been built in 1934 on the site of an earlier house, and it seemed Aunt Astrid and her husband Laurits - who had passed away five years ago - had done nothing to it for decades. The lacking upkeep was expressed in the wallpaper that had been colored a sickly orange-brown from all the pipe-smoke it had been exposed to. The carpets and the floorboards underneath were all in a sorry state of disrepair as well, and the curtains and most other fabrics in the entire cottage were only fit for the scrapheap.

When even a furniture assessor working for one of the major charity organizations had flat-out declined to take the offered household movables because of the low quality and the poor level of upkeep, all that Frederikke and Helena could do was to pull a couple of weeks off their five-week vacation time from work to get everything sorted.

They had rented a van to self-haul all the old things out save the basic items so they could still stay at the cottage while they worked nearly around the clock. Once all the pieces of worthless furniture had been offloaded at the recycling center for others to deal with, they had been hard at work juggling stripping knives, floor rags, mops, paintbrushes, buckets of fresh paint and countless liters of various chemical solutions that never failed to reek to high heavens when applied.

Even now, cardboard packing cases filled with ancient clothes, books and all sorts of decorative items took up a vast amount of space on the living room floor even though they had been stacked three or four high.

The central hallway on the other side of the door to the living room allowed access to the bathroom and to the kitchen. The latter was just inside and to the left of the front door so the single window had a good view of the small porch-like landing outside. A wooden staircase led to the bedroom on the upper floor. Up there, a high-quality air mattress and two ultra-cheap clothes racks were all that Frederikke and Helena had put in; Frederikke had refused to sleep on the spring mattress - and even in the bed - that her late relatives had used, so those things had been the first to go.

In the living room, the two women rubbed shoulders under the warm plaid. Helena pulled one of her legendary smiles that were guaranteed to weaken Frederikke's resolve no matter how grim the task; then she leaned in to whisper: "So how about that hot cocoa, then?"

"You betcha," Frederikke whispered back before she delivered a short kiss to her wife's lips. After extracting herself from the plaid, she got up, took her brass candlestick and made a snaking line to the kitchen - such a maneuver was needed to clear one of the small mountains of packing cases on the living room floor.


As had been the norm when the cottage was built in 1934, the kitchen was small and cramped with none of the amenities any modern user had come to expect - at least it was equipped with an in-door water supply and a water heater so they would not have to go outside to use the old-fashioned hand-pump that had been left out there for decorative reasons.

It was clear that nothing had been upgraded even the tiniest amount in the intervening decades, so everything was simply worn down as well as being hopelessly out of date. The wooden kitchen counter was warped, frayed and generally in a bad shape, and the zinc water basin under the hot and cold faucets had an unhealthy green shine to it that no amount of scrubbing had been able to remove.

A handful of drawers underneath the kitchen counter had held all the aunt's cutlery and cooking utensils, and several cabinets were installed on the upper parts of the walls to get the most out of the limited amount of space. Two large cupboards completed the meager ensemble: one held several brooms and other types of manual household appliances while the other was home to an ironing board and an old-fashioned iron. Frederikke had needed to rub her eyes no less than twice when she had discovered that the latter item was a museum piece that required glowing lumps of coal to work.

When she had inherited the cottage, the upper cabinets had all been fully stocked with dozens of tumblers, soup bowls and plates of all sizes; because of the aunt's strong faith, she had refused to even own shot glasses, wine bowls or beer mugs out of fear that such disgusting instruments of temptation would only lure the Devil to her home. Frederikke had no such qualms, so she and Helena had occasionally shared a bottle of wine at supper, and even a strong beer or two during the chilly evenings to get warm before bedtime.

Power outages during the weeks she and Helena were scheduled to stay on Vesternæs Island had been fully expected, so she had bought a pair of camping gas rings that had been used to heat their meals and drinks ever since they had set foot in the old cottage. As she poured tap water into a saucepan and found the box of instant cocoa in one of the upper cabinets, she made a mental note of needing to get their used gas cylinder swapped to a full one. They had bought it in one of the local grocery stores over on the mainland for a fair price of 179 kroner, and the grocer offered two free 'refills' before they needed to pay for a new cylinder.

The gas-driven flame on the smaller of the two rings soon had the water boiling merrily, and she poured the steaming-hot liquid into two ceramic mugs. A pair of long-necked spoons took care of mixing the hot water with the small hills of instant cocoa she had already put into them; it did not take long for the characteristic delicious aroma of hot cocoa to fill the small kitchen.

After picking up the mugs, she had barely made it into the hallway before somebody knocked hard, loud and intently on the front door right next to her. Yelping, she flew to the side while trying to keep the hot cocoa inside the mugs rather than all over her fingers. Once the rough seas had calmed, she stared at the door like she was afraid it might come out and bite her.

She let out a long groan as the insistent knocking was repeated moments later. From the brief encounters she and Helena had had with the other people living on the island, she knew they were no less devoted to their faith than her late aunt had been: in other words, they were a staunchly conservative, highly traditionalist and insufferably holier-than-thou bunch who could barely hold back their displeasure - vocal and behavioral - upon discovering that two women were not only living together but were actually legally wed.

A third bout of knocking made her groan again and hurry back into the kitchen to put down the two mugs. Though she was not looking forward to meeting whomever their late-night visitor would be, it was clear the person needed to have a very good reason for venturing out into the awful weather, not to mention at that time of the evening.

Back at the front door, she swooshed it open with her face pre-emptively set in a neutral mask so she would not confirm the stereotypes her neighbors seemed to have of her. She had left the brass candlestick on the kitchen counter so the area in front of the entrance and all the way up to the doorstep was pitch-black.

A flash of lightning streaked across the heavens at the exact same time; a rumbling, rolling thunderclap followed soon after, but it was neither the ghostly, pale-blue light nor the loud noises that made Frederikke's nape hairs stand on edge. Gasping, she stared wide-eyed at a large, dark figure that took a step closer to the cottage now the front door had been opened.

She was only a second from slamming the door shut again and twisting the old locks when another flash of lightning illuminated the scene. The dark figure turned out to be an elderly man who was perhaps in his mid-to-late sixties. His long, unkempt full beard obscured the lower part of a face that was as haggard and pale as it was leathery and weather-beaten. His outfit of Navy-blue clothing, an old-style sailor's cap and heavy clog-boots was similar to those seen on postcards of the local fishermen from centuries past. The cap and everything else was soaked to the core in a way that made it appear it came from something more than merely being pelted with rain.

"Good eve, fair lass," the elderly man said in a frail voice. Reaching up, he took off his soaked cap which left him shivering from the cold and the rest of the inhospitable conditions he was exposed to. "Would ye have room in yer hovel fer a shipwrecked sea-farin' man?" he continued as he wiped his wet face with a trembling hand. His dialect had a distinctly old-fashioned tone to it, but it was not too far from the one spoken on the mainland.

A million thoughts blasted through Frederikke's mind - like who on Earth would venture out to sea in such a terrible storm - but the sight of the soaked elderly man overruled all her concerns about the potentially scary situation. "Oh, I… of course I have. Of course… come in, please," she said and moved aside so the sailor, fisherman or whatever he actually was, could enter the hallway.

"Well, bless me deadlights!  Pleased I be at Lady Fortune's smile. I thank ye muchly, lass. I cannae tell ye how much me heart's a-flutterin' with joy now. I was afeared I be turned away."

"Uh… okay," Frederikke said while she furrowed her brow at the elderly man's odd way of speaking.

The soaked clog-boots left large puddles on the floorboards that had all been stripped of their carpets in preparation for being scrubbed, planed and polished. The man's features that had so far been unreadable suddenly lit up - "Aye, lass!  Such a delightful smell… were ye expectin' me?" he said as he sniffed the hot cocoa. The man's brief high was cut short by a sickly, rattling cough. Paleness washed over him again as he bent forward to clutch his chest during the coughing fit.

"Helena!  Helena, come quick!" Frederikke cried as she closed the front door to keep out the worst of the driving rain.

The door to the living room was flung open and Helena soon appeared in the doorway holding her own brass candlestick. "I'm here, I'm here!  What's going on?  Who's that talking - oh!" Her eyes went wide at the sight of the dripping-wet elderly man - and the puddles on the floorboards - and she soon cast a highly puzzled stare at her wife in the hope it would earn her an explanation.

Before one could come, another coughing fit shook the elderly man's frame. Helena moved over to him at once to put a supportive hand on his elbow; she reeled at the soggy sensation of the man's thoroughly soaked garment. "What in the world's going on here?  He's not one of the islanders, is he?"

"No," Frederikke said, rubbing her brow. "I didn't get a chance to ask his name, but he said he had been shipwrecked…"

"Oh, goodness me!" Helena squeaked as she held the candle closer to the elderly man to get a better look. A peculiar chill emanated from the dripping-wet figure; it was almost like he exuded no body heat at all. Helena took that as a sign he was badly chilled from having spent time in the sea. "Oh… oh, we need to help him… he needs dry clothes and… and… something warm to drink!"

The elderly man nodded a few times as the conversation went on around him, but the coughing overpowered his ability to speak. Once it receded, he stood up straighter and looked at Helena. "Good eve, fair lass," he said in a voice that was even frailer than before. "Pray tell, have I found meself at a convent or a home for the widowed?  If so, I humbly apologize and shall seek shelter elsewhere…" he said as he took in the unusual sight of two attractive, single women with no husbands present.

"Oh, no, no… no, we-" Helena said while looking at Frederikke who could only shrug like she was unsure how to proceed. "It's a long story. I'm Helena and this is Frederikke… what's your name?"

"Me name be Petter Augustinus Severin Thomassen, lass. Cap'n Thomassen ta use my proper title. Alas, my poor boat is no longer… the angry sea claimed my dear, old Anne-Sophie of Hviidbjerg but a short skip from the coast. Hviidbjerg, that be me home port, lasses."

"Oh, we're sorry to hear that, Captain," Helena said and put her hand on the elderly man's soaked doublet once more. It was clear from the look on her expressive face that she was working on a plan; she looked at the bathroom door, at the soaked man, at Frederikke and finally at the bathroom door again. "You need to get out of those wet clothes before you catch pneumonia. Let's get you into the bathroom where you can change."

Sounds akin to a chuckle rolled out of the sickly captain's mouth as he turned around and sloshed across the hallway en route to the bathroom. "Thank ye muchly, fair lass… I was afeared I had ta spend all night in these moldy fatigues!"

While Frederikke went into the kitchen to prepare water so she could make another round of hot cocoa - and to gulp down one of those she had already made while it was still at least partially hot - Helena helped the frail sea-faring man into the bathroom that was as sparsely furnished as the kitchen and the rest of the cottage.

Once in there, he let out a grunt like he had never seen such facilities before. His eyes went on a quick tour of the premises: the wash basin under the mirror and the porcelain toilet bowl in particular seemed to fascinate him. The cast-iron bathtub that hid behind a flowery shower curtain seemed more familiar to him, though perhaps not of such a sturdy material.

"Captain, if you put your wet clothes in the tub, we can deal with them later. I'm afraid the power is out so there's no heating and no hot water either," Helena said as she used a pocket lighter to ignite several tea lights that they kept on a narrow shelf underneath the mirror. "You can use those two towels over there to dry yourself… the white and the turquoise one. And then we'll find you a bathrobe or something to wear."

"Thank ye, lass… I rarely clapped me deadlights on a finer deal. I be much obliged fer yer friendliness toward an old fool such as I," Captain Thomassen said as he took off his soaked sailor's cap and threw it into the tub - it landed with an audible splattt that underlined just how wet all his clothes were.

"Oh, it would be criminal not to help," Helena said with one of her patented warm smiles as she clicked off the lighter and turned around to face the elderly man. "I'm sure you want something warm to drink… we can offer tea or hot cocoa… oh!  And we have some chicken soup as well if that's more your-"

Captain Thomassen's face mirrored that of his hostess by breaking out into a wide smile - his only lasted for a few moments before the paleness returned to his cheeks and a few rattling coughs bubbled up from his lungs. "Och, aye!  Chicken broth!  Aye, lass, I could indeed eat some chicken broth to warm me innards… and perhaps a mug of what the other lass made before?"

"Deal!" Helena said with a smile before she left the captain in peace so he could extract himself from the dripping-wet clothes.

Outside the bathroom, Frederikke had just finished downing the second mugful of lukewarm cocoa as well when she met her wife in the hallway. "How is he?" she said, wiping off the inevitable cocoa mustache with a handkerchief.

"Wet, cold and miserable!  His cough is pretty bad but he seems to be a sturdy old fellow… I told him to put all his wet clothes into the tub. We can begin to dry them as soon as the power returns."


"And he would like some of our hot cocoa."

Frederikke grinned and pointed her thumb at the saucepan that sat pretty on the smaller of the two gas rings. "Already on the burner."

"Neat!  Now we just have to find him something warm and dry to wear," Helena said and scratched a cheek.

Frederikke scrunched up her face as she ran through a list of several potential suggestions that all turned out to be no good. While she did that, the fierce storm continued to blast across Vesternæs Island.

It appeared it had even increased its intensity: for each gust of the gale-force winds, the roof of the old cottage creaked and groaned like it was debating whether or not to remain in place or fly off to God-knows-where. The rain continued to splash against the panes in the panorama window, and countless clumps of white spume were flung through the air after having been separated from the crashing waves. Ghostly-blue flashes of lightning zig-zagged across the dark sky at irregular intervals which made it all just a little spooky for a pair of big-city girls like Frederikke and Helena.

The worrying sounds of the roof creaking quite so much suddenly made the proverbial light bulb go off above Frederikke's head. Snapping her fingers, she said: "Oh!  The old trunk in the attic!  Aunt Astrid's old sea chest… some of her late husband Laurits' clothes are still in there. Remember we checked it the day after we got here?  We didn't want to drag it down 'cos it weighs a ton…"

"Right!  Oh, great!" Helena said and stood up on tip-toes to deliver a decent-sized wet'un on her wife's lips. "Thank you for volunteering. I'll take over the kitchen duties in the meantime. I promised the captain I'd make some chicken soup as well as the cocoa… it's our last can, but we can always buy some more. He needs it worse than we do right now."

Frederikke's face gained a slightly apprehensive look at being given the task of going up into the attic during the storm, but since it was her idea, she needed to pull through for the team. "Oh, yeah… okay. Sure," she mumbled as she reached behind her to scratch her neck.


Up in the bedroom on the upper floor, Frederikke scratched her neck all over again. The rickety pull-down ladder that was attached to a hatch in the ceiling was hazardous even in broad daylight, and there she was, attempting to climb it in the dark of night while a fierce storm raged outside that made the entire cottage tremble whenever a particularly strong gust of wind attacked it.

Although she had traded the brass candlestick for a battery-operated flashlight, it was still a huge challenge for her given the fact she had never been the world's most co-ordinated woman - she had even joined the girl scouts at the tender age of eight in the hope it would improve her set of physical skills, but the experience had been a horrible defeat on all levels. Still, she needed to carry out the task now that she had promised she would, so she put the flashlight between her teeth in order to have both hands free to climb the ladder.

One second later, she whipped the flashlight out again and spent the next several moments groaning, grunting, spitting and spluttering to get the foul taste of the rubber handle out of her mouth. "Oh, fuh- Yuck!  Great… Frederikke, this wasn't your best ever idea," she mumbled to herself as she wiped her lips on her cocoa-laced pocket handkerchief to get the awful, rubbery taste off them.

She sighed as she looked up once more. A short while later, she put her left foot on the lower rung of the pull-down ladder and began the long climb up into the attic with the flashlight peeking out of one of her pockets.


Once she was up there, she let the cone of light sweep across the pitch-black, open chamber. Everything was dusty and smelled old and uninviting. Here and there, gaps in the exterior roof allowed the driving rain to seep through and drip down onto the wooden boards that made up the attic's floor; so far the leaks were manageable, but puddles had already begun to form in two places.

The old trunk was soon located, so Frederikke made her way over to it using careful steps so she could avoid taking a plunge down into their bedroom from finding a rotten floorboard. She knelt next to the wooden trunk and put the flashlight on the dusty floor - lifting the heavy lid was a two-hand job.

As the cone of light illuminated the front of the old sea chest, it once more became clear it had been made in the nineteenth century or perhaps even earlier than that. The quality of the wooden container was extraordinary, and the craftsman carving the religious motifs onto the lid and the front had to have been a master at his work.

The rusty hinges at the rear side of the trunk creaked just as loudly as the roof did, but the lid was soon opened. The first things to fall into the cone of light were a Bible from 1807 that was written using Gothic lettering, a more recent Book of Psalms, a wristwatch that had stopped working, a pair of old-fashioned men's spectacles and finally a polished smoking box made of noble wood - the latter contained a worn, though high-quality, pipe and a small bag of smoking tobacco that had almost turned to dust.

Frederikke pushed those things aside to get to the items she had made her way up into the attic for: the stack of neatly folded clothes that had belonged to Astrid Jeppesen's late husband Laurits. It was only the second time she had looked at the clothes, and exactly like the first time, she had to chuckle at the collection of semi-modern underwear, socks, shirts, cardigans and pants that seemed completely out of place when viewed next to the near-ancient sea chest and the old-style Bible. A pair of maroon slippers had been stored at the bottom of the trunk; the footwear was soon removed and put on the dusty floor.

She had just pulled out a selection of this-and-that when a pale-blue flash of lightning streaked across the heavens directly above the cottage. For a split second, the attic was brightly illuminated which made her let out a long squeak. The thunderclap that followed hot on the lightning's heels was so close it made the roofing tiles rattle which in turn caused dust to trickle down from the rafters. "Aw, that does it!  I'm not spending another second up here!" she croaked as she scooped up the slippers and the clothes she had found, jumped to her feet and flipped the trunklid shut with her shoe.

Hurrying back to the open hatch, she saved herself a lot of bother by simply throwing the clothing items down into the bedroom. Once she had retrieved the flashlight from next to the trunk, she climbed back down the rickety ladder and picked up the clothes once more.


"Captain Thomassen?" she said after having knocked on the bathroom door.

'Aye, lass?  Och, I be afeared I cannae offer you entry into this room of yer own hovel fer a distinct lack o' garments!'

"Oh, that's quite all right," Frederikke said with a chuckle. "I've left some dry clothes for you out here… I don't know how well they'll fit you, but…"

'Fair lass, me heart appreciates yer grand gesture. I shall wear whatever ye have found fer me.'

"Excellent. I'll leave now so you can come out!"

'Plottin' such a course o' action would pro'lly be best, aye!'

Chuckling again, Frederikke made sure the small stack of clothes would be within easy reach of the bathroom door before she shuffled into the kitchen to see how Helena was doing preparing the chicken soup. The delightful smell that rose from a small cooking pot that sat on the larger of the two gas rings proved the soup was nearly done. "So… how are things going out here?" she said, sliding up behind her wife who kept stirring the soup so the regular contents of sweet peas, corn, noodles, scattered pieces of chicken and irregular chunks of carrots and celery would remain appetizing.

"Just fine. Three more minutes and it's ready. I decided to use the entire can of soup. I'll bet the old fellow is hungry," Helena said before she took the time to offer Frederikke a quick kiss on the cheek. "If nothing else, it's definitely been an unusual Halloween, huh?"

"Yeah, I'll say…"

"Did you find some good clothes for him?"

"I think so. A cardigan that appeared warm, a couple of shirts, some socks, and two pair of pants. Polyester, but, eh…"

Helena chuckled as she stirred the soup. "When you're cold and wet, anything that's warm is a world-class product. Remember that awful team-building event I was forced to attend last year at work?  God, I learned a lesson that day… cold mud and me don't go together!"

"I remember…" Frederikke said and leaned in to kiss Helena on the neck behind her hair. "And I also remember the delightful warm bath we shared once you got home."

"That was the best part!"

"Ohhhhh yeah…" The moment called for another kiss on the neck, and Frederikke was only happy to oblige.

The chicken soup interrupted the tender moment by beginning to smell even better than it had done until then; nodding, Helena beat off the spoon on the edge of the cooking pot and reached down to turn off the larger of the two gas rings. "Well, that's the food done. The cocoa's next. You know what, I think you should try to get the fireplace going a little better… I think our guest would love to sit by the flickering flames."

Frederikke groaned as she pulled back from Helena's inviting neck. "I'll try, but I can't give any guarantees. The darn thing just won't come alive… I'm a big city girl, what the flying fig do I know about setting fires?"


The subsequent fruitless attempts to kick some life into the reluctant logs - and the subsequent non-stop cursing - over the next four minutes proved that her words had been true. She was on her knees in front of the fireplace using a poker to stir up the logs she had put there, but all she succeeded in doing was to make them splutter and smoke even worse than they had done before.

While Helena found a chair and set the table for their guest, Frederikke leaned back on her thighs and let out a particularly nasty curse at the uncooperative logs. At the same time, Petter Augustinus Severin Thomassen entered the living room wearing some of the clothes that had been laid out for him. That the pants were too long for his legs and the sleeves of the cardigan too short for his arms were of less importance - they were warm and dry, and that was all that


His wild beard and longish hair were still unkempt, but the regular, semi-modern clothes made him resemble someone's friendly grandfather rather than the large, dark and intimidating figure he had been when he had knocked on the door. "I thank ye both from the bottom o' me heart fer the fine garments, lasses… but I be afeared me lower paws be too large fer those soft Sund'y shoes ye provided fer me," he said as he looked down at his socked feet.

Before Frederikke had time to reply, Helena entered the living room carrying a tray with a mug of fresh, hot cocoa and the cooking pot containing the soup. "Heads up!  Hot stuff coming through!" she said as she moved around their guest to put the tray on the coffee table.

The delightful aroma of the hot cocoa and the even hotter chicken soup made the captain's stomach growl like it had been a fair while since the last time he had eaten. "Lass, I cannae tell ye how much I be looking forward ta tasting that broth!" he said before a slight coughing fit rolled over him. He was forced to bend over while it was at its peak, but he soon stood up straight and continued toward the chair that had been set up for him.

After Frederikke had clapped wood dust and particles of ash off her hands, she pulled Helena into a sideways hug. All her efforts at getting the fireplace to co-operate had yielded nothing at all - it had been spluttering and smoking before, and judging by the way it spluttered and smoked now, it seemed it was all it was capable of. "I can't get the darn thing to work!" she said in a rare bout of stating the bloomin' obvious.

"Well, at least you tried… it's the thought that counts," Helena said and reached out to rub Frederikke's back.

Captain Thomassen turned around on the chair to look at the stubborn fireplace. Furrowing his brow, he spent a moment or two investigating what might be wrong; then he moved a metal lever nearly all the way to the left from where it had been. Not ten seconds later, the spluttering flames settled down into a steady burn and the whisks of smoke disappeared up the chimney rather than escaping into the living room.

Frederikke stared long and hard at the offending metal lever; Helena snickered and nudged her elbow into her wife's side.

As the captain turned back to the chicken soup, he caught sight of the look upon the face of the taller of the two women. "The damper was nae opened far enough… no air, no fire, lass," he said before he grabbed the spoon and leaned down toward the soup bowl.

Shrugging, Frederikke made a note of that for later reference. Helena snickered again and moved over to the couch. Patting the seat next to her, she held up the plaid and waited for her wife to join her.

"Och, lasses…" Captain Thomassen said as he stared at a couple of white items that balanced on his spoon, "pray tell, what are these oddly round things in me broth?  I cannae recall ever seein' such things before, and I have sailed the entire North Sea… they not be balls of whale lard like they be served up north on the Faroe Islands, I know that much!"

Frederikke and Helena briefly shared a puzzled glance before Helena cocked her head and said: "They're just regular soup noodles, Captain Thomassen… have you never tried pasta?"

"Nae… pastor, ye call it?  Do they hail from the rocky world of Iceland or our dear brethren in bonnie Scotland?"

"No, from Italy… it's flour and water pressed into a shape."

"Och, so they be newfangled dumplings?  I suppose trying one cannae kill me," the elderly man said with a chuckle before he sampled the first of the sea-shell-shaped pieces of noodle that came with the soup. "Well, they do nae have any taste, but… but… at least they didnae knock me under. I thank ye muchly, lasses!" he said before he really went to work gulping down the hot soup.

"Oh, you're very welcome," Frederikke said, shrugging at the odd news that someone, even an old fellow, did not know what pasta was.


Every last droplet of the entire can of soup disappeared in record time, and the captain let out a sigh of delight when he put his spoon into the empty bowl. "Ah, me gut is full and me heart is content now," he said and wiped his lips on the cloth napkin that Helena had laid out for him. "That be an honest meal fit fer a king or a sea-farin' man, says I!  Even those peculiar white flour dumplings that yer called… called… och, I cannae recall-"

"Pasta," Frederikke said with a grin.

"Pastor. Aye… thank ye, lass. Och, though me darling wife Abelone, God rest her soul, was a master at the pots and pans, I swear she couldnae make a chicken broth with such a rich taste." The captain's cheeks had gained a healthy, rosy tone from the hot soup and the cocoa he had downed, but the mention of his wife made a dark cloud drift across his features. He became distant for a moment or two before he grabbed the mug and wrapped his fingers around it to get the most out of the warmth it continued to hold.

Helena and Frederikke shared a brief look before Frederikke leaned forward. "We're sorry to hear that your wife has passed away. Was it recent?"

A wistful smile spread over the sea-faring man's features; after taking the final sip of his hot cocoa, he put the empty mug on the table. "Nae… nae, it be nearly two score years ago now," he said quietly. "She was called home while in childbirth. I be far away at sea on a packet clipper headed for Kristiania when it happened. I only learned of the wretched news when I disembarked a fortnight later."

"And you never remarried?"

"Nae," the captain said strongly. "Such a love cannae be found twice in a man's lifetime whether he be high-sea-farin', a fresh-water swab or even a landlubber. Nae, my darling Abelone was one of a kind."

Underneath the protection of the plaid, and thus out of sight of the elderly guest, Frederikke and Helena's hands found each other as if by magic. Their fingers entwined to send the other half of their heart a strong signal that their love was as unbreakable as the captain's. They cast each other sly, sideways glances that confirmed the romantic notion; Helena broke out in one of her patented warm smiles that soon claimed Frederikke as well.

"And tonight," the captain continued before letting out a long sigh, "I lost me fishin' schooner to the wretched gale as well. Aye, me dear old Anne-Sophie is no more. Such rotten luck, says I!  Me crew and me squared our backs to battle the angry sea fer as long as our lungs held air, but it be stronger than us. Aye, by Thunder… once the tops'ils be shredded, we all knew our souls would be in the realm of the Great Shepherd before long."

Frederikke sat up straight; she moved so fast the plaid nearly fell to the floor, but she managed to hold onto it and pull it back up. "Your… your crew?  So you weren't alone on your boat?  God, how many were you?"

"Six, lass. Meself and five o' the bravest sea-farin' men I had ever shared a fishin' boat with. Och, me helmsman Ernst Wesselgaard be meaner than the son o' a double Dutchman when in a tavern brawl, but he be the best there is by a long sea-mile!  Nae a complaint came from them as the wretched gale found us. Aye. Such rotten luck, says I," Captain Thomassen said in a somber tone. Shaking his head, he reached for his mug only to find it empty.

Helena took that as her cue and got up at once to make more hot cocoa. She decided to make an entire potful to have enough for all of them. The storm was still raging outside and she had a hunch it would be many hours before they could even consider sending the elderly man back out into it so they could go to bed.

"Aye," the captain continued in the same distant, somber tone as before. "I ordered the dinghy to be readied, and me lads made it so. We boarded the rickety thing in the nick o' time… we had barely left old Anne-Sophie before her foremast snapped and she keeled over. Tho' we grabbed the oars and rowed for shore double-quick, the wretched sea was ferocious. One by one, me lads were thrown overboard and into the wrathful waves."

Frederikke scrunched up her face in sympathy - she moved further and further ahead on the seat until she realized that if she moved her behind another two centimeters ahead, she would end up on the floor in an ungraceful heap of humanity. Grimacing, she slid all the way back to the backrest.

Captain Thomassen sighed as he ran a hand across his eyes like he was revisiting his shipmates disappearing into the gray sea. "By Thunder, I screamed curses at the rotten weather, but it didnae help. Then I be thrown overboard as well. I swallowed more than me fair share o' saltwater an' yet I resurfaced alive an' kickin'… I be sure our Shepherd has other plans fer me so I didnae die. I cannae say what happened to me lads, but I'm afeared none o' them reached the rocky coast like I did. And then I be at your doorstep just now."

"How tragic," Frederikke said just as Helena came back into the living room carrying a large thermos filled with freshly made hot cocoa.

"Aye, lass… tragic it is fer sure. I shall nae forget the pain of this wretched eve," the captain said before his mood changed to a better one upon sniffing the delightful scent of the tasty beverage.

While Helena poured the steaming-hot contents of the thermos into their three mugs, Frederikke moved forward on her seat all over again. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved her smartphone to check if she had any kind of connection. It was bad enough that a fishing vessel had gone down just off the coast of Vesternæs Island, but the police and the Royal Sea & Air Rescue Services needed to be informed so they could be ready for when the bodies of the missing fishermen would start washing up on the shore in the hours following the storm - that would be nobody's dream scenario, but it was bound to happen.

She let out an annoyed grunt when she realized the severe weather that continued to hover above them afflicted not only her ability to access the Internet but the regular telephone services as well. The little icon on the display showed zero bars meaning there was simply no connection to be found anywhere near them.

"Who are you calling?" Helena said when she noticed her wife was fiddling with her phone.

Frederikke shook her head as she shoved the smartphone back into her pocket. "Nobody as it turns out. I wanted to call the rescue services about the missing fishermen, but there's nothing there. We're completely cut off from the rest of the world out here."

"Hmmm… not sure I like that," Helena continued as she sat down and took her mug.

"Me neither. But there's nothing we can do about it right now. We just need to wait for the damn storm to pass." As she spoke, she glanced across the sparsely furnished room to get a feel for how the old captain was doing.

Their elderly guest had turned around on the chair so he could sit even closer to the fire. The orange, flickering flames cast plenty of abstract shadows across his weather-beaten face that appeared to have been chiseled in granite. Now and then, he sipped from the mug that he held between his fingers that were gnarled though strong; he often wiped his mouth on the napkin so his wild beard would not soak up too much of the cocoa.

Though the man's upper body moved as he breathed and his eyes reflected the warm light that emanated from the fireplace, there was something about his presence that unsettled Frederikke and sent a cold shiver trickling down her back. In turn, it made a small knot of worry develop in her gut. She could not put a finger on the exact cause of her seemingly irrational concern - even using her wildest imagination, there was no way the frail, elderly fisherman could be seen as a physical threat to them.

Perhaps it was his broad rural dialect, his strangely old-fashioned name or his unschooled mangling of the words when he spoke; perhaps it was his quaint behavior, or perhaps it was simply the raging Halloween storm that left her spooked and jittering on the inside. She could not tell which, but there was something intangible there that made her sixth sense tingle.

As the captain seemed to sense Frederikke's eyes on him, he turned around to offer her a grateful smile before he took another sip of the hot cocoa. She reciprocated the smile while he was looking, but it faded as soon as he turned back to the fireplace.


The white digits on Frederikke's smartphone read ten to midnight on October 31st. The witching hour would soon be upon them. Despite not caring one bit for Halloween, she knew that pretty much anything could - and often did - happen on that night. As a response, she snuggled up closer to her wife though they had shed the plaid.

The ambient temperature in the living room had finally reached a pleasant level due to the old captain's expert touch on the lever that controlled the damper. As a result, the logs in the fireplace were burning merrily with good, strong flames while only creating a tiny amount of smoke.

"What time is it?" Helena whispered as she leaned her head on Frederikke's shoulder.

"Ten to twelve. At least an hour past my bedtime," Frederikke said and broke out in a wide yawn to underscore her words. "I hope we can hit the sack soon… tomorrow's gonna be just as busy for us as today was. Or should have been, anyway, before this damn storm arrived and cut off the power. We still need to polish the floorboards in the hallway, the pantry and the bedroom with that waxing-machine-thing we rented."

"Mmmm," Helena said, looking across the living room at their elderly guest who continued to sit close to the fire.

Outside, the fierce gale continued to howl across the windswept landscape of Vesternæs Island. The strong gusts still made the roof creak and the window panes rattle, but it seemed that more time went by between each gust compared to earlier in the evening. The lulls in Mother Nature's tempestuous soundtrack made it possible to hear the waves crashing against the rocky coast not too far from the cottage which perhaps was no improvement.

Clumps of spume were still flying through the air and landing in the cottage's garden after having been torn from the sea. The rain continued to pelt against the panorama windows that could only offer a pitch-black view of the frightening world beyond the glass. Now and then, the inky darkness was lit up by pale-blue lightning bolts that zig-zagged across the heavens, but they had grown fewer in the past thirty minutes.

Captain Thomassen drew the last drops from his most recent serving of cocoa before he put the empty mug on the table. "Lasses, I thank ye muchly fer the delightful drink. I cannae have more or I shall need to relieve meself all night," he said and let out a low, warm chuckle.

Smiling, Helena offered their guest a small wave. "Oh, you're very welcome, Captain. It was the least we could do."

"Och, ye did far more than the mere least, fair lass!  Ye provided fer me. By Thunder, ye might'a saved me life tonight. I be eternally indebted to ye." After looking at the two women sitting on the couch, he let his eyes roam across the sparsely furnished living room. "But lasses, when I found ye, I asked if yer hovel be a home fer the widowed and you said nae… now I cannae help thinking I found the poor house instead!  Ye both be in yer prime… why do ye have so little, I wonder?"

"Well," Frederikke said and leaned forward, "my aunt passed away a few weeks ago. She left me the cottage. We wanted, and want, to sell it, but it was so run down and neglected it needed a lot of work before it could go on the market. We've been staying here for just shy of two weeks to-"

"Muck out!" Helena said with a grin that soon claimed the old captain and Frederikke as well.

"That about sums it up," Frederikke said, nodding. "Everything was old and… well, pretty useless on the whole to be honest."

"Aye, by Gum, that I understand, lass," the captain said as his eyes continued to roam the living room. They came to a rest on a spot on the wall behind the couch where a section of the faded wallpaper still held an outline of a certain symbol all too familiar to him. He focused intently on the spot which gave his face a hard, even sinister quality it had not had before. It only lasted for a few seconds, but it was enough to briefly lower the ambient temperature despite the continued efforts of the burning logs in the fireplace.

"Altho' me faith is fer sure less severe than many o' those I have met in me years as a sea-farin' man, we common folks should nae fully cast off the protection of the Lord says I. Was it wise to get rid of the crucifix that graced yer hovel?" he said in a quiet voice.

Frederikke turned around to look at the outline on the wall. She let out a grunt; it had never even crossed her mind that the elderly man might see that as a problem. "We didn't, Captain. I was told my aunt insisted on having it with her as she was taken to hospital… I believe it was a family heirloom. She died there so it probably didn't do her much good."

"Och, so yer aunt did nae pass here in yer hovel?"

"Gawd, no!" Frederikke said and broke out in a shiver that made Helena reach over and give her back a quick rubbing. "If she had, we'd never, ever have gone within fifty meters of this old place!"

"Aye, the dying and the dead be hideous, I agree, fair lass," the captain said somberly. He shuffled around on the chair like the hard surface was less comfortable than it had been earlier. "Aye… I just be wonderin' about the lack o' symbols in yer hovel. It struck me as mi'ty peculiar since ye both be so charitable to this old sea-farin' man. Are yer perchance members of a Free Church?"

Frederikke briefly scrunched up her face into a puzzled expression at the odd, and certainly unexpected, direction the conversation had taken. She looked at her wife whose only reply was a shrug. "Uh… no. No, we're members of the regular National Church like everyone else. It's just that, well… I guess we don't practice our faith, or whatever you call it. I mean… we go to the big service on Christmas Eve 'cos that's a fun, old tradition for everyone, but that's about it. Right?"

"Right," Helena said with a nod.

A few seconds went by before the captain nodded as well. "As I stumbled away from the coast where I be washed up, I dreaded findin' someone who didnae want to help. All the way up here, I cursed the rotten luck that made me wash up on Vesternæs. Och, the grim tales I could tell ye fair lasses about the common folks living here. Ye understand, me darling wife Abelone and I once owned a hovel not too far from yer cottage. Aye, to be truthful, I once be a part o' their flock, but me Abelone was nae, so they cast us out of their circle. Me darling wife and I moved to the mainland soon thereafter."

This time, Frederikke and Helena both smiled at their elderly guest. "Ah, yes," Frederikke said, "some… well, most, actually… of our neighbors are deeply religious people, that's right. Let's just say they're quite firm in their beliefs."

"Aye!  Aye, that they be, by Thunder!" the captain said and slapped his hands against his thighs. "I cannae tell ye how often I counted me blessings tanight fer finding ye fair lasses. I would surely ha' perished if ye had nae welcomed me into yer hovel. Sometimes, a sea-farin' man can find the pearl in the shell and not a rock. Once more, I thank ye."

"Like we've said before," Helena said, "you're most welcome, Captain. So did you know Frederikke's Aunt Astrid?  Her last name was Jeppesen."

"Astrid Jeppesen?" Captain Thomassen said and cocked his head. His gaze became distant for a moment like he was trying to remember the names and faces of the people living on Vesternæs Island. "Nae, I cannae recall a woman with such a name. O' course, I be living on the mainland fer more than two score years now, so… where are ye from?"

"Esbjerg, Captain." -- "Esbjerg!" Helena and Frederikke said as one. They snickered and nudged each other's sides with their elbows when they heard what the other said.

"Esbjerg?  I cannae recall hearin' o' such a village. Does it have a port?" the captain said, scratching his wild beard.

Frederikke narrowed her eyes - that a fisherman was unfamiliar with what had to be the largest industrial fishing port in the entire Kingdom of Denmark struck her as downright weird. "Ah… yes. Yes it does. And it's a pretty big city these days, actually," she said as she cast a puzzled glance at Helena who - once more - could only shrug in return.

"I be afeared I have nae heard of it," Captain Thomassen said before he waved his hand dismissively. "Ah, it matters nae what me old ears have heard or me old deadlights have seen. Och, lasses, ye would nae happen to have a deck o' cards and some chewin' tobaccah, would ye?  I'm dyin' fer a wad, but the grim sea ruined me last pack!"

"Oh, I'm really sorry, Captain… we have neither," Helena said with a shrug.

"Well," Frederikke said, "we do have a pipe up in Aunt Astrid's old sea chest, but no tobacco for it… we don't smoke."

"Alas, a cryin' shame that is fer sure," Captain Thomassen said and once more slapped his palms down onto his thighs - this time it was a clear sign of disappointment. "I dinnae like pipes… I be afeared embers might fall into me beard and set it alight. But no deck o' cards either?"

"I'm afraid not," Helena said.

The elderly sea-faring man nodded a couple of times like he was pondering what to do. Grunting, he slid back on his seat and turned toward the fireplace. After looking at the flames for a few moments, he turned back to face Frederikke and Helena instead. "I be loathed to take up much more of ye time, fair lasses, since ye have already offered so much fer nothin' in return… but I be afeared I might perish after all if I be sent out into the evil night. 'Tis nae weather fer man nor beast nor fowl out there. Could ye perchance stomach havin' a house guest fer another wee while?  This wretched storm is bound to end before long. I promise I shall nae make much fuss, fer sure…"

Helena and Frederikke briefly looked at each other. Frederikke concealed a big yawn. Her eyes told a tale of needing to hit the pillows soon, but also that she did not want to risk having the old fisherman on her conscience in case he would get ill from the poor conditions if they did ask him to leave. She sighed.

All of that silent exchange had taken place within a second or two. Ultimately, Helena spoke for both of them when she said: "Captain Thomassen, you are welcome to stay until daybreak if you wish… by then, we can hopefully get in touch with the authorities and then move on from there. All right?"

"Aye, lass!  Aye… me heart is bursting at the warmth and friendliness ye offer a foolish, old sea-farin' man such as I. By Thunder!  Bless me deadlights, I chose the right hovel fer sure!"

Frederikke took in the quaint scene: she and her wife continued to share the couch arm in arm while their elderly guest with the wild, unkempt beard and the borrowed, semi-modern clothes continued to sit in front of the fire. Petter Augustinus Severin Thomassen was not quite old enough to be a grandfather to either of them, but that was the sense she got from the mood that had entered the living room. The knot of concern in her stomach had seemed to unravel itself. She did not know what had caused it in the first place, nor did she know why it had decided to leave - perhaps it had merely been the storm after all.

The pleasantly high ambient temperatures and the golden glow that emanated from the burning logs in the fireplace ganged up on her and made her eyelids slip shut. The first time it happened, she opened her eyes wide and shook her head to stay awake. Even so, she could not fight the drowsiness for long, and she soon punched-in a one-way ticket to dreamland…


Where falling asleep had been caused by a joint effort of the tiring day Frederikke had had, the cozy conditions in the living room and the tone of light from the fireplace, waking up was caused by a bad crimp in her neck - that, and needing to get rid of the large quantities of hot cocoa she had consumed over the course of the evening and into the night.

Groaning, she slowly opened her eyes to take in her surroundings. The first thing she noticed was that she had been sleeping on the couch rather than on their new air mattress upstairs. The fact it was daylight in the living room - or at least what counted as daylight on November 1st - was the second observation she made. The third came at once: if she did not make it to the bathroom in no time flat, she would have to spend the next ten minutes on her hands and knees mopping up a highly unpleasant spillage.

Another groan escaped her as she sat up straight. The plaid she and Helena had used all evening fell off her shoulders and pooled at her hips. It was only then she noticed she was alone. The mug, the soup bowl and the spoon used by the old captain remained on the coffee table; the dry clothes they had lent him had been left on the chair folded into a neat stack. "Captain?" she said without getting an answer. A call of "Helena?" yielded just as little. Puzzled, she reached into her pocket to find her smartphone. The white digits on the display said it was twenty to eight, AM.

Though the crimp in her neck did its worst to keep her down, what was about to happen down her other end had far more weight behind it. Thus, she clambered to her feet and staggered out into the hallway. A quick, unanswered knock on the door to the bathroom proved it was empty and ready for her.


Five minutes later, she shuffled into the kitchen. A quick flicking of the light switch just inside the door proved that the power had still not returned, but a brief glance through the window overlooking the small, porch-like landing at the front door showed the winds had calmed down at long last.

Their refrigerator had been off the grid since the day before, but at least the temperatures had been on the lower end of the scale. Taking a carton of whole-milk from the middle shelf, she sniffed the contents before approving it. She could make oatmeal with her eyes shut and one hand tied behind her back if she had to, so she went ahead with preparing breakfast despite her continued sleepiness. The latter part of the equation - one hand tied behind her back - did not come into play, but the first nearly did as several wide and insistent yawns kept interrupting her.


Later, she turned off the smaller of the two gas rings and poured a few dashes of sugar and plenty of cool milk over the hot oatmeal porridge. There was no need to create more dirty dishes than absolutely necessary so she grabbed a spoon and dug in directly from the small pan. Besides, she was too sleepy to transfer her meal from the saucepan and into a bowl.

A chuckle escaped her as she thought of her wife's horrified reaction to the breakfast dish - no matter how Frederikke had tried to prepare it, Helena hated oatmeal porridge from the bottom of her heart.

As she chowed down her hot breakfast, she shuffled into the living room to make a mental list of what needed to be done now they had a little more time. A few embers were still glowing in the fireplace, so she went over to it to give everything a few pokes. When all she succeeded in doing was literally to extinguish the flame, she broke out in a one-shouldered shrug and put the poker back onto the rack.

She performed a slow turn while eating a big spoonful of oatmeal. The outline of Aunt Astrid's missing crucifix was barely visible in the daytime, so she could not help but wonder how Captain Thomassen had been able to see it in the gloomy firelight the night before. Grunting a few times, she compiled a work list that was meant to be short but that soon grew into something less manageable - and even beyond that, they still had to inspect the garden, the roof and everything else outside for storm damage.

Grimacing upon realizing that all that work would take up most of the day, she left the living room to partake in a much nicer activity: kissing her wife awake. She climbed the staircase to get up to their bedroom, but came to an abrupt halt in the doorway when she realized Helena was not there. Even stranger, their air mattress did not appear to have been used since she had made it herself the day before. The mouthful of oatmeal she had just scooped up was gulped down in a hurry so she could let out a whispered "What the hell is going on here…?"

Shaking her head in puzzlement, she moved back down the staircase - still holding onto the spoon and the saucepan - to take a second look into the living room. It was as empty as it had been before.

Then it struck her that the captain's soaked clothes had not been in the cast-iron bathtub; a quick look confirmed it. With the borrowed clothes lying in a neat pile by the fireplace, it meant the elderly fellow had left wearing garments that would still be soaked to the very last thread due to the lack of heating in the bathroom. Why he had done such a thing was beyond her, and she could only shake her head in confusion - but even that peculiarity faded when compared to Helena's absence.

The knot of worry that had been in the pit of Frederikke's stomach the night before suddenly made an unwelcome return. After putting the saucepan with the half-eaten portion of oatmeal porridge onto the kitchen counter, she reached into her pocket to retrieve her telephone.

Much to her relief, the display now showed two bars indicating that a connection could be established. Helena's number was soon found in the registry and the appropriate touch-zones manipulated; her blood nearly froze over when she could hear her wife's characteristic ringtone send out its melodic sounds from somewhere upstairs.

Frederikke bolted back up the staircase and flew into the bedroom. The ringing came from the small table on her wife's side of the air mattress; a quick check underneath the paperback Helena had been reading at bedtime for the past several days revealed the telephone in all its ringing, buzzing, multi-colored glory.

From one moment to the next, the knot in Frederikke's stomach went supernova. Although there were no signs that Helena might be in trouble, the fact that she - and the captain for that matter - was nowhere to be found hit her like a mule-kick in the gut.

She ran over to Helena's clothes rack to see if any of her things were missing. When all of it seemed to be there, a chill spread over her skin that caused her to shiver from the potential implications. She raced back down the staircase and reached for the front door to conduct a search of the premises, but came to a screeching halt at the foot of the stairs - there, she slapped her forehead hard.

What she hoped to accomplish outside in her socked feet, jogging pants and a flimsy sweater was beyond her, so she raced back up the staircase and jumped into a pair of blue-jeans and the sturdy pair of work boots she had been using for climbing ladders when she had checked the exterior roof. After donning a second sweater and thrusting her arms down the sleeves of her tan trench coat, she raced back down the staircase for the umpteenth time in the past two minutes.

Yanking the front door open, she stepped outside onto the doorstep and spun around several times to take in as much of the cottage's barren surroundings as she could in the shortest amount of time. Several small trees and even an entire bush had been uprooted by the gale-force winds; twigs and branches were scattered everywhere. A section of one of their wooden fences had been flattened, and piles of red, jagged fragments that had clearly come from the cottage's roofing tiles proved the cracks in the roof that had already existed before the storm had grown far worse.

Though the early-morning sky was still dark-gray and threatening following the passing of the angry front, a paler stripe appearing near the western horizon indicated that fairer weather might be headed their way soon - not that it would do her much good in the present situation except for the fact that further rain would have made her search even more difficult and frustrating.

"Helena!" she yelled using her hands as an amplifier. "Helena, where are you?  Helena!  Can you hear me?"

All that came back to her were faint traces of the wind whistling through the bare twigs and rustling the last remaining leaves. The waves continued their ancient rhythm by slapping against the rocky coast a short distance from the cottage, but it was far more laid-back compared to the violent crashing that had occurred the night before. Seagulls let out a few shrieks high above her, and she thought she could hear the distant horn of a ship. She could not tell for certain, and it was really quite irrelevant.

The air held a strong scent of saltwater and seaweed; it was nothing out of the ordinary for Vesternæs Island, but the scents seemed more intense than normal following the thrashing the North Sea had been submitted to by the relentless gusts of wind.

"Helena!" she cried again with the same amount of success - namely none. "Dammit, where could she be?  And where's that damn captain?" she mumbled as she stepped away from the cottage to begin a sweep of the nearby dunes and sandy pathways.


Frederikke hurried across the fresh, loose sand that had been blown into all sorts of crazy patterns and ripples by the strong winds. Here and there, the pathways that cris-crossed the dunes had been moved to an entirely new location by Mother Nature's own hand.

The damage was substantial to the vegetation and several of the man-made structures along the beach. A flagpole belonging to the cottage of their next-door neighbor had been snapped in half. Though the top-end was, technically speaking, still attached to the base, it was only hanging onto the lower half of the pole by the proverbial thread. The rest had embedded itself at least a couple of feet into the sand not too far from the cottage. The building itself was in a poor state: several windows had been smashed, and a large section of the thatched roof had been blown clear off and was missing.

Vesternæs Island had always been sparsely populated, but the oppressive quiet after the storm made it seem she was the only person left on the planet. She whipped her head around constantly as she went along the pathways to keep a sharp lookout for her wife or indeed the captain, but there was nothing or no one to be found anywhere.

"Helena!" she cried, once again using her hands as an amplifier. When no cries of any kind - save for the seagulls that were battling the fresh breeze high above - reached her ears, she hurried up to the top of the tallest dune she could find to get a 360-degree view of the area. The wind that streamed in from the North Sea sent her hair and trench coat into a whipping frenzy, but it seemed but a mild breeze compared to the nightmarish conditions of the night before.

Shielding her eyes, she scanned the coastline from the rocky shore further south, past her present location, and all the way up to the sandy section of the beach further north in the hope of catching a glimpse of her wife. The entire stretch of coast was devoid of anything living apart from the various seabirds.

A very large piece of driftwood had been washed up among the rocks about two-hundred meters south of her vantage point. The thought that it might be the broken mast that Captain Thomassen had mentioned as the reason for the sinking of his fishing schooner crossed her mind, but she was not experienced enough in such matters to tell whether or not it had really come from the Anne-Sophie of Hviidbjerg, or if it had simply been blown overboard from one of the hundreds of cargo ships that traveled the North Sea on any given day.

Though great concern for her wife's safety gnawed in her gut, something she did not find caused her to release a short sigh of relief: there were no dead sailors anywhere - at least not that she could see. Finding a drowned person was definitely not on her bucket list, so she was thankful for small favors.

She suddenly spun around and stared in the other direction - away from the shore. Some kind of cry had reached her ears, but her present spot atop the breezy, sandy dune meant she had a hard time hearing what went on behind her down-wind. As she tried to hold her hair out of her eyes, she scanned every square centimeter around her like her life depended on it.

When she clapped eyes on a female figure clad in black jeans, a black down jacket and the top of a silver hoodie a short distance away from her, she let out such a joyful cheer that she made the seagulls scatter and fly off. Her heart nearly exploded in her chest out of sheer relief, and she had to bend over to put her hands on her knees as her head began to swim.

Helena kept waving like she had something really important to announce, so Frederikke hurried off the dune, ran along a sandy trail and finally onto the same path used by her wife. Once they met, she wrapped her long arms around Helena's shorter body and pulled her into the hug of the century. It nearly made them lose their balance and topple over onto the nearest dune, but at least they would have landed softly. The hugging had barely finished before a deep, insistent kiss took its place.

Snickering wildly, Helena pulled back the hoodie so she could get a better view of her taller wife. The snickers continued to come for a short while as she licked her lips, but then she seemed to recall the urgent announcement she had wanted to make before being so pleasantly surprised. "I think something may be wrong over at the Mørkholt cottage!  There's a police four-by-four parked outside!" she said while she pointed further north along the beach.

Frederikke could hardly be talked into tearing her eyes away from her wife now she had finally found her after the brief, but certainly nerve-racking, drama, but she did so eventually to follow the pointing finger. "Oh yeah?  That means the dam has been reopened…"

"Let's go over there!  Perhaps we can help!"

"Oh, I'm sure Constable Birkelund is on top of everything," Frederikke said as she rubbed Helena's arms through the thick down jacket. "I'd much rather go home and snuggle up close for the rest of the day…"

"Well, I wouldn't object to that, but-"

"And we got a ton of things we need to do today-"

"I know, but I really think we should at least check out what's going on over at the other cottage," Helena said and pointed again.

Frederikke looked further up the coast; it was sandy unlike the rocky stretch nearest to their own cottage. The section of the shore appeared to be just as damaged when it came to the vegetation as those she had already seen, perhaps even more so because it was flatter. Beyond that, she failed to see the point in interfering in police affairs, but what Helena wished for, Helena generally got. Ultimately, she shrugged and began to shuffle further north on the sandy trail.

Urgent physical contact was required, however, so she reached down to grab her wife's hand for a little squeeze and a merry swing or two - or three. "Gawd, I was so worried when I couldn't find you," she said a short while later.

"Ohhh… I'm sorry for not waking you up when I left," Helena said and briefly got up on tip-toes to repay the kissing favor from before. Once she came back down on her feet, they continued walking north arm-in-arm. "I really tried, but you were sleeping so hard it would have taken a stick of dynamite to stir you. I just wanted to go down to the shore to see if there was any damage and maybe to take a couple of pictures… well, I kinda forgot my telephone in the cottage, so the taking pictures part sorta fell by the wayside."

"I know. I tried to call you. Your phone's on the bedside table."

"Oh… okay. Well, thanks for finding it. Have you been out here long?"

"Not really. It felt like an eternity when I couldn't find you, but I guess only fifteen-twenty minutes or so went by."

They fell quiet as they had to circumvent a tall dune. The strong winds that had pounded the coast the night before had made the entire thing shift nearly five meters further inland, so the pathway that had been clear the day before had vanished without a trace. The sand was too soft to walk on without sinking in, so they needed to do a twenty-meter detour to move around it.

Still holding onto each other's arms, Helena needed a little help from her wife to hop across a miniature ravine that was too wide for her shorter legs. Working together, they were able to clear the obstacle without too much drama. It offered a good opportunity for a little snuggle, so they did that once they resumed walking toward the Mørkholt cottage. "I know this is a little morbid, but did you find any of the captain's crew?" Helena said as she folded back the top of the silver hoodie to see better. "I didn't. Perhaps they were able to make it to shore safe and sound after all…"

"No I didn't, thank Gawd!  I did see something that could have been a ship's mast just before I spotted you, but… maybe it was no more than regular driftwood, I dunno."

"Mmmm… I saw that as well. I think it was just driftwood."

"Well, who knows. I'm a big-city girl. I don't know the first thing about masts or fishing boats or anything like that," Frederikke said and performed a brief shrug. "Anyway, let's hope they're all right. The biggest unanswered question right now is… where the hell did the old man go?  It's like he fell off the face of the earth!  His wet clothes are gone and everything…"

"I don't know… after you had fallen asleep, I grew more and more tired… I guess I eventually fell asleep as well. I remember looking at the clock just as it changed to twenty-eight minutes past midnight. I woke up at five to one, so I had only been snoozing for less than half an hour… but he had already left by then."

"Whoa… in the dead of night?" Frederikke said sharply as she came to a halt atop a new dune. The sandy pathway continued along the beach much further north - and indeed ran the entire perimeter of Vesternæs Island - but there were so few houses there it would be a waste of time to walk on. "The storm was still raging then. That's so weird… didn't he say he wanted to sit it out?"

Helena shrugged which looked almost comical through her heavy winter down jacket. "I think he did, but perhaps he was uncomfortable being there after we had both fallen asleep… or maybe he wanted to look for his men. I don't know."

"Me neither. I guess we never will unless he contacts us again," Frederikke said and sent a long glance out over the vast, dark-gray ocean. The seas were still choppy but they no longer carried the characteristic frothy spume that was only formed when the winds grew above a certain level. In the far distance, two gray outlines of what appeared to be supertankers or huge bulk carriers strode against the forces of the wind and water - perhaps they had spent the night anchored in a quiet spot somewhere to escape the worst of the storm and were just now resuming their voyage.

Suddenly spooked by something unseen, she turned in the other direction. While they had spoken, they had crested the final small dune that stood between them and the cottage they had been walking toward. Like the one she had seen that had suffered severe damage to the flagpole and the thatched roof, the house owned by Viggo Mørkholt had not made it through unscathed.

They had only had very little to do with Mr. Mørkholt in the two weeks they had stayed on Vesternæs Island, but it had been enough to quickly categorize the man who was in his late-sixties as a crabby, cantankerous and certainly narrow-minded individual. Like most of the others living there permanently, he was a deeply religious fellow who could hardly hide his displeasure - contempt, really - at the fact that Frederikke and Helena were married. They had avoided him like the plague ever since being on the receiving end of a Bible-quoting, brimstone-stinking tirade on only their second day on the island.

A long stretch of white picket fencing had been torn from its foundation - it had ended up being strewn across the lawn and even into some of the bushes. A young tree had been snapped in half, and several ceramic flower pots had been tipped over and smashed. In short, the entire garden was in need of a little T-L-C.

The white police four-by-four that Helena had mentioned was still parked on the gravelly forecourt outside the cottage. Though not a patrol vehicle as such, it was fully equipped with all the typical police features such as a lightbar installed on the roof. A few extras installed to meet the special demands of rural duty included a stack of bright-orange traffic cones, numerous rolls of red-and-white demarcation tape, several rescue flares, a pair of long-range walkie-talkies, a large tank containing fresh water, numerous sandbags, several shovels and even a single space for a K9 unit in the back. The emergency lights on the roof were flashing. Although a familiar sight in the big city, it looked completely out of place on Vesternæs Island and it proved that it was more than a mere house call.

Frederikke and Helena had spoken to the local rural constable - who was the only policeman to use that particular vehicle - on the very first day they had been on the island. Erik Birkelund had turned out to be a down-to-earth, pragmatic veteran policeman who had given them plenty of solid tips on who to contact for the various repairs and renovations that needed to be done to Astrid Jeppesen's old cottage. He had come across as a man who would rarely overstate any point, so seeing the flashing blue lights offered a strong hint that something major had happened.

"Look, some of the windows have been smashed… and the door to the cottage is wide open. Maybe Viggo Mørkholt has been burgled?" Helena said and folded back her hoodie to see better.

"Yeah-" Frederikke said, but that was as far as she had time to go in her sentence; she and Helena both looked in the direction of the dam and thus the mainland at the exact same time. The shrill sounds of many electronic sirens cut through the air like a pack of screaming harpies, and Frederikke could hardly believe her eyes when she spotted numerous emergency vehicles - including police cars, ambulances, fast-response paramedic units and even gray station wagons that she had a creepy suspicion were hearses - kicking up clouds of dust as they raced along the connecting roads.

"What in the hell is going on here?  No way they'd send so many people to a burglary!" she croaked as yet another familiar sound entered the local airspace: flapping rotors. Soon, two helicopters of vastly different sizes approached Vesternæs Island from the mainland.

The smaller of the two was a brightly-colored Air Paramedic unit that had regular landing skids while the other one - that was much larger and thus slower - was plain gray and carried the lettering Royal Sea & Air Rescue Services in fluorescent white on the flanks and underside of the fuselage. The right-hand side of the Sea Rescue helicopter was equipped with a heavy-duty winch and a sliding door that had already been opened.

"Look at that!" Helena said as she tried to keep her hair out of her eyes. "Two rescue helicopters at once!  That's… wow!  Perhaps they've found the missing fishermen after all… what else could they be here for?"

A shiver ran across Frederikke's body. The knot of worry she had felt the night before when they had been in the company of the elderly sea-faring man returned, only far stronger. Chills raced up and down her spine that no matter of snuggling up in her trench coat could cure. There was something seriously wrong down at the Mørkholt cottage, her sixth sense told her that in no uncertain terms; then it told her they needed to get back home before even worse things could happen. "This is giving me the creeps… I think we should go back… now."

"Yeah… I agree. C'mon," Helena said and took an even firmer hold of her wife's hand than she'd had before.

Before they had time to leave, the rural constable came out of the cottage and moved over to the four-by-four. He had only made it halfway there when he stopped and spun around to look in the direction of the two women watching him from afar. Briefly using his hand to shield his eyes from the bright light, he soon began waving frantically at Frederikke and Helena - and not in a sense of hello! but I need to talk to you urgently!

Frederikke let out a long groan as the constable continued to wave. He even shouted something at them, but he had the wind in his face so his words were carried away on the breeze. She and Helena looked at each other before they both sighed and began to make their way down off the dune and onto the flatter part of the beachfront property beyond it.


Down at the Mørkholt cottage, Frederikke and Helena had just walked onto the gravelly forecourt when the rural constable - who had relocated to the driver's seat of the four-by-four in the meantime - put away a radio mic and stepped out of the large police vehicle to greet them.

Erik Birkelund was in his mid-fifties and the owner of a round face that was soft and friendly with intelligent eyes and a neatly-groomed, graying full beard. He also carried around a slight potbelly. The latter meant he would most likely never be featured on a recruitment poster for the police force, but he was everything anyone could ever want from a rural constable: seasoned, calm, level-headed, dedicated to the lonely job, and above all the type of individual that everyone felt comfortable being around.

He was dressed in the customary black winter uniform consisting of sturdy boots, lined pants, a woolen sweater over a pale-blue shirt, gloves, an Arctic jacket and finally an American-style baseball cap. The thing that really stood out was his unusual paleness - it was crystal clear to everyone that he had to have witnessed something out of the ordinary.

"Damn, I'm glad to see the two of you safe," he said in a voice that carried the dialect spoken in the nearest larger town. After taking off his gloves, he reached out and shook hands with both Frederikke and Helena. "I tried to call you at the phone number you gave me, but nobody answered."

"That's because I kinda forgot my phone on the bedside table," Helena said sheepishly.

Erik nodded and let out a sigh of relief at the same time. "Thank God for that. One less thing to worry about," he said while a frazzled expression appeared in his intelligent eyes.

Frederikke furrowed her brow as she looked around the storm-affected garden. Various items had been uprooted or thrown about, but the entire island looked like that. Even the smashed windows should not be drama enough to warrant the reaction of utter relief that had come from the constable when he had encountered the two visitors. "Well, uh… sure," she said as she turned back to the constable, "I guess the storm was pretty bad, but-"

"It's got nothing to do with the storm, Miss Christensen. Or at least not directly… I don't think," Erik Birkelund said and took off his cap to rub his pale forehead that glistened with beads of sweat despite the chilly nature of the ambient temperature. "I drove out here at first light to reopen the dam and inspect the dikes and the various cottages… there's been some damage as you can see, but generally everything's fine."

"Oh… okay. If not the storm itself, then…?"

When nothing further came from the experienced policeman save for a grim look of unease with a little fear thrown in as well, Frederikke understood with striking clarity - and a rising sense of horror - that he had found something inside the cottage they were standing next to. Even more so, that he urgently needed to talk to someone about it.

It was equally clear by the conflicted look upon his face that he knew it would get him in trouble if he did talk. Ultimately, the need to clear his mind won out: "Something happened here last night. Viggo Mørkholt is dead," he said somberly as he put his cap back on.

"Gawd… was it a heart attack?" Helena asked. At once, she hooked her arm inside Frederikke's and held on tight.

"It might have been… I'm no expert. But not in his sleep. No. Definitely not in his sleep," Erik Birkelund continued, rubbing his eyes like he wanted to erase the images they had seen. "I found him huddled up in a tiny broom cupboard underneath the staircase. My best guess is that he crawled in there to protect himself from someone. Or something. He's… he's got an expression of raw horror etched onto his face like he had met the devil himself. He must have died of extreme fright. He was simply scared to death…"

For each word uttered by the rural constable, Frederikke squeezed her wife's hand harder to maintain a hold on the flighty thing known as her sanity. Her throat tied itself into not just a single knot but a whole string of them. Those knots, and the one borne of grave concern that still gnawed in her gut, made her lightheaded. When the horrendous report came to a conclusion, a sense of being covered in ice water flushed across her entire being. A look at her wife proved she was not the only one affected by Erik Birkelund's unexpected words. "A burglar?" she croaked.

"Can't say. Maybe." The constable suddenly drew a deep breath; it was almost like the final piece of news he was about to deliver took so much out of him that he needed to have plenty of fresh air in his lungs to counter it. "And Viggo Mørkholt isn't the only one. I've found four more bodies around the island… huddled up inside cupboards… or in the farthest corners of their homes… one was even hiding halfway under her bed. They all have the exact same expression etched onto their faces. Extreme horror. That's the only way I can describe it. Svend Larsen… old man Ottosen… Henny Sohlborg… and even Vera Jensen. Five people died here last night… five!  That's why I was so relieved so see you safe…"

By now, Frederikke and Helena had almost stopped breathing; all they could do was to stare wide-eyed at each other as the constable's words sunk in. There was no other course of action for them but to count their blessings and give thanks to whichever higher power that had intervened to prevent them from being the sixth and seventh victims of the horrific evening.

A thought ran through Frederikke's mind that perhaps the burglars - or whoever the guilty party, or parties, would actually turn out to be - had noticed the old sea-faring man who visited the Jeppesen cottage and had decided to go elsewhere to continue their killing spree.

Her heart pounded so hard in her chest that the roar of her blood coursing past her eardrums drowned out most other sounds. Working on instinct alone, she reached around Helena and pulled the shorter woman in for a ferocious sideways hug. It was reciprocated at once, so it appeared both of them had heard far more than they had ever wanted.

Frederikke gulped hard once, then once more. She had turned quite green around the gills like she was on the verge of revisiting the little she'd had of her oatmeal breakfast. Helena was not far behind when it came to the greenish hue, but she had nothing in her stomach to upchuck which only made it worse.

The three shocked people just stood there in an uneasy silence before the relative peace and quiet was shattered by the arrival of the first of the emergency vehicles. An unmarked police sedan, a paramedic unit and one of the gray station wagons that indeed turned out to be a hearse from the county coroner's office soon drove onto the gravelly forecourt and came to stone-flying stops. The level of noise blasting from the electronic sirens installed on the first two vehicles was deafening, but the silence that followed when they were turned off was just as oppressive.

"Miss Christensen… Miss Søgaard… please…" Erik Birkelund said in a quiet though insistent voice, "not a word that I told you about the deaths. Please!  If the homicide detectives hear about it, I can kiss my pension goodbye!"

Frederikke could only nod at first, but she regained her voice before long. "Of course… of course… but- but, there might be more than five d- dead…"

"What?!" Erik said in the same kind of hoarse voice. He had already begun to move away from the two women to join his colleagues, but he spun around and moved up close. Behind the three people, several men - some wearing uniforms, some in plain clothes; the latter were the homicide detectives the constable had referred to - pulled out all kinds of equipment from their vehicles before donning protective outfits so they would not disturb or contaminate the crime scene any further.

"That's right," Helena said, taking over when her wife could not go on. "A ship went down last night just off the coast. Or a boat, actually. I can't remember the name… the Anne-Sophie?  Something like that. Anyway, it was a fishing schooner. I guess that's why the Sea Rescue helicopter is here. Someone must have called them."

"Aw, dammit… that's all we needed. Go on," Erik Birkelund said with a sigh as he reached for a notepad that he had in his jacket pocket.

"Well, the elderly captain made it ashore, and he spent most of the late evening and early part of the night with us… he told us the members of his crew were washed overb- what's… what's wrong, Constable?" Helena croaked, staring at the man they were talking to.

Though the rural constable had already been pale to begin with, the news of the shipwreck, or perhaps just the details surrounding the tragic event - drained his face of the last flashes of color. He stared at Helena without blinking for a very long beat before turning to Frederikke to see if she had anything to add to what was already an extremely surreal situation. "The captain… was his name Petter Thomassen?" he croaked in a voice that had suddenly turned almost frail.

"Y- yes," Frederikke croaked back, already dreading the horrific news that was sure to follow.

Helena just blinked several times as she tried to parse the unexpected development. "Wait… so you already know about him?  Did you talk to him this morning?"

The air between the three people seemed to crackle as the tension rose to unbearable levels. The chief paramedic and his driver soon exited the cottage to move onto the next crime scene after signing a preliminary death certificate for Viggo Mørkholt - they had barely left before the homicide detectives moved in to hopefully begin uncovering what had taken place there.

Erik Birkelund watched it all unfold; he was still white as a sheet. It was clear the commotion was too much for him in his present state of mind, so he put his hands on the shoulders of Frederikke and Helena to guide them away from all the hubbub. They were soon on their way down to the beach itself where they could talk without anyone eavesdropping on them.

The North Sea seemed to have grown angrier in the short ten minutes the two women had spent at the Mørkholt cottage. The leading edges of the dark-gray waves once again carried the typical froth, and the promising stripe of brighter light that had appeared not too far from the horizon earlier in the morning had vanished. With the strength of the gusts of wind slowly increasing as well, it was evident that a new autumn storm was brewing somewhere off the coast. Even the seagulls had given up the unequal struggle with the unseen forces of nature and had withdrawn to sit atop the dunes while their white-and-gray feathers were ruffled by the chilly winds.

Constable Birkelund came to halt on the upper part of the beach where the sand was still tan - the waves would not yet reach that far up from the edge of the ocean. He glanced around to see if they were alone. Satisfied that no one else was within earshot, he continued: "Ladies… I'm about to tell you something you'll find hard to believe."

"About the captain?" Frederikke croaked.

"Yes. About your guest from last night. Captain Thomassen… Petter Augustinus Severin Thomassen and his crew. Now this kind of story is known in coastal regions all over the world. There must be thousands of myths, legends and old wives' tales concerning this very subject, but… it looks like this one could be true."

Frederikke and Helena shared a long, grim look - they had both felt that something had been wrong about the whole, strange deal. Frederikke gulped again while her cheeks gained another few shades of green.

The rural constable cast a worried gaze upon the dark-gray North Sea before he continued: "The captain's fishing schooner Anne-Sophie of Hviidbjerg did in fact go down in a storm on October thirty-first. He and his crew, save for one, made it to shore. The last man, a seventeen-year-old deckhand known only as Roper-Olaf, drowned when he was thrown against the rocks and was knocked unconscious."

"Oh, that's terrible…" Helena said, "and all this really did happen last night?"

Erik shook his head. He paused for a moment before he pinned the shorter of the two women to the spot with a surprisingly hard gaze. "Not last night. Three-hundred years ago. In 1719."

Helena gasped; Frederikke stared so long and hard at the man she had considered a down-to-earth pragmatist that her eyes grew dry and aching. The paleness of his cheeks and the distant, concerned look in his eyes proved that he did not just make it up as he went along to give them a little Halloween fright - he really meant what he had said. "Please don't take this the wrong way, Constable… but have you been drinking?" she croaked.

"You know what, Miss Christensen?  I wish I had. Hell, once this nightmare is over, you better believe I'm going to down half a bottle of something potent!" Erik Birkelund said and let out a long, slow sigh. He fell silent once more to allow the whistling winds and the rolling waves to take over the narrative.

Several droplets of moisture hit the three people, but whether they were the early heralds of another bout of rain or if they had simply been torn from the increasing waves was impossible to say. The relentless wind that streamed in from the vast North Sea turned harder once more and began to whip their hair and clothing around. The constable eventually took off his uniform cap and stuck it inside his Arctic jacket so he would not have to chase after it in case the wind snatched it from his head.

Helena looked at her wife who was clearly too stunned to talk. She reached out to find a chilled hand and give it a little squeeze. The easy trick worked, and her reward was a wan smile. She needed to clear her throat several times before she could speak: "This is incredible… but I don't understand how it can be connected to Viggo Mørkholt's death?"

"The elderly man you met last night… what did he look like?  How was he dressed?"

"He… well, he was in his mid-to-late sixties. That's what he looked like, anyway. It was a little hard to tell. Right?" Helena said, looking at Frederikke. When all she got in return was a shrug, she continued: "He had an unkempt full beard and sort-of washed-out features… oh… it's difficult to describe him, Constable. I didn't pay too much attention to his looks, to be brutally honest. He wore regular fishing clothes when he arrived. Clog-boots. Heavy, Navy-blue pants and a matching sturdy sweater, or doublet, or whatever those things are called. Oh, and a traditional fisherman's cap. But the connection?  Where's the connection?"

"I'll let you be the judge of that, Miss Søgaard… because it gets worse from here," Erik Birkelund said somberly. "When the five survivors reached the first cottage, the captain introduced himself and his men… and despite being soaked to the core and caught in the freezing weather, they were sent packing at once for not being members of the local congregation-"

"Oh, for Heaven's sake!" Frederikke croaked loudly as she threw her hands in the air. "The old fellow from last night flat out asked us about our beliefs!  I couldn't understand why he wanted to know that, but… but… he did… and we told him… and he seemed pleased with our answer!  This is insane… look, Constable, the old man was flesh and blood, I'll bet my life on that!  And he sure as hell wasn't three hundred years old, either!  I don't understand a word of this… what does it all mean?"

Erik shook his head while wearing a dark, grim expression on his otherwise so friendly face. "I don't have any answers, Miss Christensen. I'm just as lost as you are. But on that night, October thirty-first, 1719, Captain Thomassen and his crew went from one cottage to the next to seek shelter. They were turned away by all the inhabitants of Vesternæs Island. At the time… well, even today I suppose… the locals were deeply religious people who had formed a special, ultra-orthodox branch of the Church of the Divine Entity which was already a radical wing within regular Christianity. Still is, for that matter. They considered everyone who were not members of their flock as unworthy infidels."

"You just described my Aunt Astrid… and Viggo Mørkholt… and probably all the other dead as well," Frederikke croaked; she bared her teeth in an ugly grimace. She had a chilling hunch where the constable's story was headed, and she knew for a fact she would not like it one bit. She started biting her lip. The knot of worry in her gut could not make up its mind on what to do. At present, it had settled for gnawing on everything down there, but it had been bouncing around like a manic beach ball at other times.

In a trembling voice, Helena asked: "What did the captain and his men do?" The pause that followed her question proved the answer would not be pretty.

"They murdered all of those who had turned them away," Erik Birkelund continued. "One by one. Men. Women. Adolescents. Murdered everyone without remorse. The captain was the ringleader, but his helmsman Ernst Wesselgaard struck most of the killing blows. He was a notorious brawler who had no qualms about dishing out pain. Once the killings were over, they feasted on the inhabitants' supplies until daybreak where they stole a rowing boat and made it across to the mainland. It took a few weeks, but the men were all caught, tried and hanged for their crimes."

"Including the captain?" Helena croaked.

"Captain Petter Thomassen was hanged as well, yes. He was the last of the group to have his neck stretched."

"In 1719?"


Helena opened her mouth to go on, but no sound would escape her lips. After a few tries, she gave up and simply stared down at the fine sand instead.

The next few moments saw plenty of wide-eyed stares, gaping mouths and much rubbing of foreheads. "So…" Frederikke croaked after having taken several deep breaths, "so… did… did we just… did we just spend m- most of the evening t- talking to the… what?  Ghost?  The gh- ghost of a man who was hanged three frickin' centuries ago?!"


"I'm telling you he was flesh and blood like the rest of us!  He told us stories, he… for Pete's sake, he even asked if we had a deck of cards or something for him to smoke!  We made soup and hot cocoa for him, and he ate and drank it!  A ghost doesn't eat chicken soup, for frick's sake!  Or ask for a smoke!  What the hell's going on here?!" Frederikke cried, throwing her arms in the air. "No. No, I won't believe it. Not a word of it. There must be a logical explanation. Perhaps someone heard of the old story and used it for a Halloween prank!  Yes, a prank-"

"Did he mention his wife Abelone?  Who died in childbirth while he was at sea on a packet clipper?"

The revelation that Erik Birkelund knew such details hit Frederikke in the gut like yet another proverbial mule-kick. Clamming up in an instant, she could only nod - and even that was a jerking affair.

"Yes he did," Helena continued. "He spoke so warmly of her… it was clear he had loved her very much. How do you know about her?  Have you met him, too?"

The rural constable shook his head. "No, and I hope I never will. I read about it… dammit, I never thought I'd be stuck right in the middle of it!  When I got this position a few years ago, I went through all the old files, newspaper articles and everything else I could get my hands on so I could get a grasp on the local feuds and all those things. The Archive for Local History was a great source for the really old things… I read about the Thomassens there. I found the official church records, and it's stated that Abelone Kirstine Thomassen died in childbirth in 1682."

"Oh, Gawd…"

Erik nodded somberly. "And the brutal killing spree really did happen back in 1719. That's an undeniable fact. We have the records and transcripts from the district court in Holstebro to prove it. But… but the next part of the story was deemed to be an old wives' tale."

"Wait… the next part?  So this wasn't the first- the first time since then that- that something happened?"

"No. A local legend says that the entire nightmare was repeated on All Hallows' Eve in 1869-"

"Oh, fer Chrissakes!" Frederikke groaned and clapped her hands over her eyes. "That's a century and a half later… and 2019 is another one-hundred and fifty years on from that!"

"Yes," Erik Birkelund said grimly. "Unfortunately, most of the paperwork of the second incident was lost in a flooding, but I gather the rural peace officer at the time put it down to robberies gone wrong. In the early hours of November first, 1869, a scything crew working for the owners of three different cottages found their employers dead. Little was done about it, and no one was ever caught. Of course, the nature of the crimes meant that tall tales soon spread among the local population. Everybody out here in the rural regions were far more superstitious than we are now, so the story quickly took on a life of its own. That's why it was thought of as nothing more than an old wives' tale."

Frederikke closed her eyes and leaned her head back. The chilly wind and the droplets of rain caressed it for a few moments before she let out a sigh of utter resignation. Once she opened her eyes, the first thing she did was to pull her wife in for a strong hug. "Except it wasn't. It was the truth. And now it's happened again. We invited him into our home… if we hadn't, we would've died of extreme fright like all our neighbors," she said in a hoarse voice.

"Mmmm. Most likely," Erik said and wiped his weary eyes.

The scattered droplets turned heavier and more frequent - they eventually grew into real rain that was swept along on the leading edge of the chilly winds. Matching the tone of light that reached across the heavens, the waves had once more assumed the same dark-gray, angry color they'd had in the hours prior to the violent storm the previous day. It was a safe bet the weather would turn severe and unpleasant before long.

When the next front struck, the dam would once again be closed; it would mean that the few remaining people alive on Vesternæs Island would be trapped there. Trapped and perhaps haunted by another visit from a pack of avenging ghouls led by a sea-faring man whose friendly, grandfatherly appearance was a mere mask covering a murderous soul.

"No, that frickin' does it!" Frederikke suddenly said in a voice so strong it made Helena jump. "We're not staying another minute on this soul-forsaken island!  Erik, thanks for all you've done for us… but we can't stay. Not now. Not after this."

Helena offered her wife a startled, wide-eyed stare at the magnitude and volume of the uncharacteristic outburst; then she looked over at the constable.

"Well, that's obviously your decision to make, Miss Christensen," the veteran police constable said. "Personally, I think you and your wife should just forget everything you've experienced here. Forget what I told you and get the cottage renovated in good order. You'll never be able to get it sold in its current state. And besides, if this thing follows the familiar pattern, nothing more will happen in our lifetime. It'll be another one-hundred and fifty years before Captain Thomassen returns once more."

"Huh, yeah… maybe. Or maybe he liked our hot cocoa so much that he and his undead crew will come back tonight for a refill. No. No, we can't chance it. We need to leave. At once," Frederikke said vehemently - Helena nodded just as vehemently.

"I understand. I'll pray that you remain safe," Erik Birkelund said and put out his hand. After receiving the traditional greeting from the two women, he turned around and began to walk back to the Mørkholt cottage to get the latest from the homicide detectives.

Once they were alone, Frederikke pulled Helena into another strong hug that finished with a life-affirming kiss. As they separated, they found time to gaze into each other's eyes for a moment or two - the two weeks they had spent on the peaceful-looking Vesternæs Island that had nevertheless turned out to lie in the forecourt of a wet hell would be something they would never, ever forget for the rest of their lives. "I love you… I'm sorry I got you dragged into this horrific mess," Frederikke whispered before she leaned down to claim her wife's sweet lips for a second time.

"I love you too," Helena said after they had separated once more. "And nobody could have predicted any of this… nobody. At least we did the right thing last night by inviting him in."

"Yeah… you did. Had I been alone, I think I might have turned him away," Frederikke said and broke out in a shrug. "And then he and his helmsman might-"

Helena got up on tip-toes to place another kiss on the speaking lips to silence the gloomy message; this one was just a peck compared to those leading up to it. "Turn away an elderly, shipwrecked man?  Never. I know you too well."

The tender moment was interrupted by gusts of wind and drops of rain that turned heavier for each passing moment. Their hair and clothing were soon at the wind's mercy which created a good excuse for putting the long leg forward and head for home - literally.

"Let's start packing up as soon as we get back. It shouldn't take us too long," Helena said as she hooked her arm inside her wife's. Turning around, the two women began walking back to their own cottage using a much faster cadence than the one they had used to get where they were. "I'll go through the bedroom and the kitchen… you can do the living room and the bathroom in the meantime. We can just shove everything into the van and sort it later."

"Okay. The power's not back so we can't vacuum. Or at least it wasn't back when I left to look for you."

"Oh, who cares about that!" Helena said and let out a sound that was supposed to be a chuckle - however, the tremble in her voice proved how frazzled she really was.

Frederikke stared straight ahead as they hurried across the soft, fine sand. The top of the cottage she had inherited from her stern, deeply religious Aunt Astrid had already become visible in the middle distance beyond the next row of dunes. The old house did hold some financial value despite its neglected state, but she would much rather have it torn down if she had any say in the matter. She knew in her heart she would never be able to look any potential buyer in the eye without thinking they might be next to be frightened to death - her conscience would simply not allow that to happen.

The rolling waves had already begun to crash against the coast, and the air once again carried a strong scent of saltwater and seaweed. The silhouette of an old-fashioned, three-masted sailing vessel out near the horizon made the blood freeze over in her veins when she caught a glimpse of it.

She had zero insight into schooners or any other kind of ships or boats so she could not tell whether it was merely a group of poor sailors caught in the middle of a mounting storm, or the Anne-Sophie of Hviidbjerg with Captain Petter Augustinus Severin Thomassen, Ernst Wesselgaard and the rest of the men preparing for another murderous adventure ashore. Whatever it was, she was not about to stay there to find out.

By now, Frederikke and Helena were almost jogging along the sandy trails and pathways to get to the cottage. Although it had been Frederikke's aunt's home for seven decades - and now represented a home of sorts to her - every fiber in her being screamed at her to leave the old house and Vesternæs Island behind and return to their quiet life in the big city. There might be just as many dangers there, but they were tangible and not incorporeal.

There were many things modern people should not mess with, and vengeful, undead fishermen who spoke in a strange dialect and who enjoyed hot cocoa and chicken broth had to be very close to the top of that list. Reaching the safety of their city home could not happen soon enough for Frederikke Christensen and Helena Søgaard…




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