I watched the landscape flash by the carriage window as we traversed the vast Scandinavian woodlands. The trees consisted mostly of conifers, their needle-like leaves enveloped in a blanket of crisp morning snow. I sighed contemplatively. My eyes darted back to the book I was reading on my lap. It was a biography of the “Virgin Queen”, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I. The year was, however, 1878 A.D., on a January winter’s day and her Majesty Queen Victoria was the current Queen of England. It was January the fourth, to be precise. I was generally a man of precision and fine routine. Every morning at 7 a.m. sharp I would wake up, (and be damned if I didn’t), wash my face and take a fifteen minute stroll around the London streets before returning to breakfast which was at exactly 7:25 a.m.. During this, I would eat my usual egg-on-toast with a slice of ham and strong beer to wash it all down. I would then proceed to go about my daily businesses until 7 p.m. when I would return home to sup and turn in. My daily businesses usually consisted of work and weekly outings with friends to the Victoria Pub for a few merry rounds of poker. I was currently concentrating on a passage in my book in which the author described the Spanish Armada being sighted off the coast of Plymouth, just after Lizard Point. I looked out of the window again. A gentle snow drifted down and the clopping of the horse’s hooves muffled by the snow along with the peaceful morning silence lulled me into a dreamlike trance as I resumed the passage and was content.
I snapped out of it, though, when the man with whom I was sharing the carriage sneezed into the newspaper he was reading.
“Bless you,” I said in automatic courtesy, handing him my spare handkerchief. The man put his newspaper down to receive it and I saw him clearly for the first time. He seemed an honest man in all aspects, displaying neatly brushed chestnut hair and bushy sideburns.
“Thank you,” He said, extending his other hand in a gesture of greeting, “Sir…?”
“James. James Whitworth. And you?” I retrieved my spare handkerchief gingerly.
“Sven Amundsen. Are you American?”
“English, actually. But I have relatives in America so I may have some American blood.” I put my book down. From the slight accent and the unusual name, I quickly realised that I was speaking to a native Norwegian. Sven’s next words confirmed this.
“I myself am Norwegian but not from around these parts. I come from farther South, the city Drammen. That’s to the West of Oslo.” He added, seeing my helplessness in Norwegian geography. “So what brings you to Norway, Sir James?”
“Please, just call me James. I’m here on an errand for The Times. It’s a newspaper back in England.” I added in turn, seeing his own helplessness in English newspapers. “They’ve tasked me to write an article about the Norwegian society and culture but I don’t seem to be having any luck so far.” Sven cocked his head to one side.
“Why so?” He inquired, folding his newspaper aside.
“I haven’t been able to find any English speaking Norwegians that have the time.”
“Well, look no more. I have time plenty.” Sven chuckled. We then spent the rest of the morning discussing Norwegian cuisine, stopping only for lunch and continuing to the patterns of the Norwegian Fjords. Sven proved to be a quite amiable fellow while showing large understanding in everything we discussed. In my past experience, very few people had this sort of balance. We had moved on to talk about the historical relationship between Norway and Sweden when we first noticed the steadily growing blizzard.
“My, the weather’s taking a turn for the worse…” I interrupted Sven in a sentence. Sven glanced out of the window and frowned when he saw what was outside. Along with the rushing wind that shook our carriage to and fro, there were thick gusts of snow that made for only a few metres of visibility. He looked back at me with a worried expression.
“This is not a normal blizzard. In Norway we have strong blizzards, yes, but never this strong,” He paused to look out of the carriage window again, which was already wholly obscured by the snow, “I think we need to stop for the night.”
I felt the carriage shake as another wind hit us. Sven meanwhile risked opening a window to inform the driver of our plans.
“Stopp ved nærmeste gjestgiveri, vær så snill!” He yelled over the ongoing storm. When he’d closed the glass window, his eyelashes, hair and sideburns were covered with thin patches of snow. Along with his grim expression, it was difficult to take him seriously. I tried to suppress a giggle, something which I would certainly not have done under normal circumstances. Sven looked at me blankly and I held out my unique triangular silver pocket-watch mirror. His grim features turned to laughter as he saw his snowman face and we had a good laugh about it, for a moment not caring whether the carriage shook or not, or whether we would find a place to spend the night in. The carriage stopped eventually, and we were nearly blown away in the face of the raging blizzard. Squinting through the snow, I could make out a homely wooden cottage with long, elegant gold letters barely visible over the door. “Ravnens rede versthus”, meaning “Raven’s nest inn” in Norwegian, it read. A cold shiver ran down my spine, whether it was from the heavy blizzard or from the strange sense of foreboding that suddenly passed through me, I could not know for sure.
I didn’t have any time to mull over this though, when we stepped into a warmly lit reception room, carpeted with rich velvet. The inn was made entirely of dark pinewood and it would have given off a claustrophobic impression had there not been lanters lined at the walls, illuminating the cottage. In the corner of this reception room, opposite to an oak staircase leading to the guest quarters, a large reception table stood welcomingly.
“This is strange,” I muttered when we were safely out of the storm, “Where’s the innkeeper?” Sven pressed a service bell on the counter. He rang it two times. We waited. There was a scuffle and a short fat man appeared with ruffled grey hair protruding from a pink scalp. He polished a pair of spectacles with a towel on the desk and adjusted it on his nose. He then looked at us expectantly, assessing us in turn.
“Så hva kan jeg gjøre for dere to? Kan du norsk?” The man asked.
“Jeg kan, men min venn kan ikke snakke norsk så godt.” Sven replied in Norwegian, gesturing towards me. The innkeeper’s eyes glittered on me and he smiled, the light casting shadows on his face.
“All right, then. Both of you Sirs will be ordering a room then?” The innkeeper picked up a quill and poised it over a page in his thick registration book.
“Yes,” I replied, and checked how much money I had on me as Sven and the driver, who had come in with us, did the same. “How much do three rooms cost for one night?”
“200 Øre for every room. But we have also have rooms for two at the same price. Should I set you up for a single and a double room for 400 Øre? The prices for meals will be included.”
“Yes. Thank you.” Together, we were only able to gather about 500 Øre we were willing to spend in the inn.
“I’ll need your names then.” The innkeeper said, collecting the coins from each of us. We said our names in turn and he noted them down. His eyes glanced up to Sven. The innkeeper’s hands froze and his face went pale.
“Sven Amundsen. Delighted.” The innkeep scribbled Sven’s name down and handed us our numbered keys, not making eye contact with Sven.
“Your rooms are 5 and 7 at the end of the coridoor upstairs,” He muttered something else under his breath, “Lukkustafir.”
I led the trio up the wooden staircase, going over what had just happened in my head. Why had the innkeeper reacted to Sven’s name the way he did? It was as if he wanted us away as soon as possible when he heard his name. What was that word he’d said? Lukkustafir? What on earth did it mean?
All these thoughts passed through my mind when we entered our rooms and made ourselves ready to turn in. I shared room 7 with Sven but we were not bedfellows. The driver, who went by the name of Jan Nordvik, took room 5.
Just before I blew out the candle on my bedside table that night, I had to ask Sven the burning question.
“Mr. Amundsen? May I ask you something?” I leaned over to where Sven lay, assumably already sleeping. He stirred, though, and turned around on his back.
“Any time, Sir James” He grinned like a schoolboy.
“What was that about downstairs? When the innkeeper muttered something along the lines of “Lukkustafir”?” When I said the word, Sven’s mood took a turn for the worse. His voice came out harshly now, almost as if I should have been punished for asking such a question and he assumed the sinister role of an unpleasant headmaster.
“Lukkustafir is a good luck charm of runes that ancient Norwegians wore to keep evil at bay. Surely an educated man like you does not believe in this kind of superstition?” Sven’s words took me by surprise and I managed to shake my head. I supposed Sven must have been in a bad mood so I didn’t press him further and we went to sleep.
I woke up, sweating from a nightmare. It was still dark outside and the blizzard had worsened. I heard the clanging of the loose window shutters. So that had woken me. Grunting, I stood up and hastily readjusted them. I glanced at my silver pocket watch. 4a.m. I couldn’t sleep anymore and I lit the candle again. I made myself comfortable and continued reading “The Virgin Queen” once again. A minute or so passed until I realised that something was awfully amiss. I glanced over to Sven’s bed. It was bare. I stood up again slowly, feeling his bedsheets in case he was hiding.
“Sven?” I whispered, “Mr. Amundsen? Where are you?” No answer came. I felt something brushing my fingers. The mattress, upon closer inspection, was filled to the brim with long brown hairs. No-one I knew of had this stupendous amount of hair on their body. At least, no-one human. My eyes darted fearfully around the room, alert for any signs of danger. I was alone and nothing stirred. All was silent, save the gushing of wind outside. No. There is something else. A scraping noise of furniture from downstairs. I felt myself picking up the torch and stepping out into the coridoor. I turned left toward the stairs and saw a sight that made my blood freeze in my veins. Long pieces of wood were ripped out of the door of room 5, the place where Jan the driver slept. The door handle was teared out of its socket and lay on the floor, leaving the door ajar. I have no idea how I managed to enter that room against my blank fear but somehow I did. I saw a horrific sight. On the bed lay Jan, or what remained of him. Jan Nordvik was a corpse. His stomach was torn open and his vital organs were ripped away by some kind of animal and his face… His face was mauled, unrecognisable. He had two red holes where his eyes should have been and his jaw was missing half of the skin. I felt my legs growing weak and I had to steady myself before I fainted. Suprisingly, I regained control over my body and staggered towards the stairs, following the large bloody pawprints. I had no control over my legs and I stumbled down the stairs. I looked around. Parts of the railing of the stairs was ripped apart and lay strewn across the floor. In the doorway adjacent to the reception desk I glimpsed the feet of someone who lay just around the corner. The legs shook violently and I heard a terrible growling sound that chorused the shaking. Beads of sweat trickled down my forehead. I was lucky that I brought down the candle for I would have been lost in the pitch darkness. As I walked toward the doorway, repeating: I don’t believe in superstitions, I don’t believe in superstitions, I don’t believe in superstitions, I tripped over something on the floor and I managed to stable myself. At a cost. The increase of wind force as I tripped caused the already small flame of the candle to go out. I left the matches upstairs and I was stuck in the dark. That was the least of my worries, however. For the growling had ceased. I heard heavy paws padding towards me. Desperate, I groped for the oil lamp and lighter I had seen on the counter before I tripped. Having found it, I managed to light it with shaking fingers. My heart was racing as I turned around to face the impostor. In the half light I confronted it.
“Lukkustafir.” I muttered my last words as I gazed upon the werewolf. It had the features of a wolf with its grizzly hairs, claws and teeth but the face and posture was that of a human. A human I recognised all too well. Sven Amundsen’s face was protruding from the wolf like body standing on hind legs. I did not recognise Sven in that face. It seemed twisted in fury and snarled in the light. But the eyes were what marked him. His eyes were two lifeless black voids, offering nothing human. They were devoid of pity, mercy, kindness or love. They were the eyes of a predator sighting its prey. I was its prey.
At that moment I knew that I couldn’t escape this horror. So with the blizzard at my back and hell at my front, I charged at Sven. It would be the last thing I did in my short life and search parties would be arranged once my absence was realised. But by then it would already be too late for rescue. I sent my body crashing into his and his claws raked long gashes on my arms and face. Then something truly unexpected happened. The werewolf yowled in fear and shrank away from me. For a moment I was too dazed to realise what had just happened. I glimpsed a trickle of blood pouring out of Sven’s left breast where his heart should be. It soon became a waterfall, which came gushing out in torrents. I looked down. I rigidly held my silver triangular pocketwatch in my right palm and one of the corners was streaked with blood. Silently thanking the Swiss manufacturer that made it, I stared at the writhing body of Sven, once the hunter, now the prey.