The elderly woman in the wheelchair near the windows kept talking and talking in an endless, nonsensical monolog.
“What’s she saying?” I asked Mr. Peterson, the caretaker, a thin tree of a man planted on a stool beside an antique cash register.
The man shook his head, his tanned, wilted face the saddest I’d ever seen. “My wife of forty years,” he said in a Scandinavian accent. “May I help you find something?”
I surveyed the gift shop-museum-kitchen with its single dining table covered with a white lace cloth. The man and his wife were the only people in the room, and apart from them, there was nothing of interest, not the books and postcards, not the ugly, creepy, ivory carvings and jewelry, not the dusty toiletries for the rare guest who forgot to bring them on the yacht from
. “Do you have a local map?” Iceland
“A space-traveling vessel.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“It’s nonsense, but Simigag talks in Greenlandic about a space vessel. I call her Ane.”
He slipped a sheet of paper lined in colored contours onto to the counter. “I’ve marked the trails and ruins. Avoid the cliffs on the north, here. They’re dangerous. Stay away.” He covered with his finger a band of dense lines at the top of the sheet. “People have plunged 500 meters into the fjord. The Curator, Ms. Jagland says you’re a police officer in
the wife of Jonathan T. Barron, the radio guy.” California
“Isabel. I was a police officer until our wedding last week,” I said, folding the map and tucking it into my parka. He made me nervous. I felt like I was confronting a subject involved in petty mischief who smugly knew he’d never be punished. But I didn’t want to be a cop anymore.
“Odd place for a… honeymoon,” he said. “Are those the right words? Honey and moon? I make a delicious amagergryde, a Danish ham stew, if you want me to cook.”
“Thank you.” I glanced again toward the woman engaged in a passionate interminable, one-sided dialogue and opened the door to leave. She cried out and babbled faster and louder. I turned. She was glaring at me, the desperate, meaningless words pouring forth.
“Don’t talk to her!” Peterson said, standing almost on top of me now. I recoiled at his proximity.
Annoyed by his imperious command, I walked up to Ane. In the midst of her noise, I asked, “How are you today?”
In the sudden silence that followed, Peterson leaned forward and mouthed, “Don’t talk to her.”
“I’m fine. How are you?” Ane said in crisp English, which was the last thing I expected.
The caretaker sashayed between us, putting his person and me forehead to chin, he blinking down at me from a five-inch advantage, his breath stinking like spoiled fish. I pictured grabbing his skinny wrist, stepping backward, and twisting and forcing him onto the floor. Instead, on my honey and moon, as a retired cop, I just stepped backward.
The caretaker moved forward and blew in my face. “You’re disturbing her.”
Proving him right, or proving him a beast, Ane began shrieking.
Once outside the white-trimmed Danish-blue caretaker’s house, I took a deep breath. A flight of a dozen or so white gulls glided overhead, flying south.
After my hike, I’d be sure to tell Jonathan—Jay—about the old lady and her space ship. I pulled up my hood and worked my hands into gloves. It was early November on the northeastern coast of Greenland, clear sky, calm, mid-day, and the temperature hadn’t climbed much higher than 30 degrees F. Jay called it a heat wave.
He had insisted I take a map along, in case I got lost. Lost? With no trees obstructing the views, and the mountain and the fjord as boundaries and landmarks, a person could only get lost on purpose. Patches of ice and crisp snow in the brown and lichen-green landscape lent the air a nose-pinching feel like a deep freezer, one scented with dried herbs. I walked on and up. Jay had stayed behind with my toddler Scotty to allow me some independent time.
Soon the trail veered left, away from the fjord. Straight ahead on the map were the cliffs, though I couldn’t see them. It seemed safe enough, so I ditched the trail and climbed the steeper ground north. The view opened wider and the ground seemed to end before me. Here at last on the right were cliffs, but unless I was reading the map wrong, not at all where they were shown. Gazing out to the fjord, I breathed in the pure air and the aesthetic starkness of rock, sky, and wide, expansive water flecked with white.
Across the fjord stood a much higher mountain, a pointed spire towering among other jagged peaks. A crack, then a deep rumble boomed across, an invisible icefall somewhere. Better if I moved away from the edge. Behind me and southwest a few hundred meters rose a rock promontory, likely a safer place to rest. Moving on, in this remote, desolate place with only wildness in view, it was exciting to imagine that no human being had ever walked this ground.
My goal was further away than it looked, and by the time I reached it, I was sweating and removed my outer layers. The promontory was a fraud, however, because sloping tundra continued up behind it at a less steep incline. Funny, the map showed it as a sharp peak. I found a comfortable position on a square set of rocks. Far below, 2000 feet below and visible from my vantage point was the caretaker’s lodgings and the stone house where we were staying.
The House. You won’t find anything about it on the official
tourist website. It’s not mentioned in guidebooks, nor in any publications
whatsoever, popular or academic. The house is known only to a minute, elite
orbit of people around the world, a group called “The Circle” that formed when
the house was discovered in 1985.
Jay had been invited because of his sterling work as a paranormal investigator and being the nationally known host of Strange Days Radio. The hope of his sponsors, that is, his fans, with the Circle, was that he would solve the mystery of the house. What it was, exactly. If he answered that question, he’d be released from the confidentiality agreement and could discuss the house on his radio program. While a few guests came as tourists and patrons, most, like Jay, had research skills. The privilege of announcing the existence of the house to the world was the reward for discovering its secret.
A sudden mist-laden breeze rose from the fjord, temporarily concealing the view, and feeling cold, I put my layers back on.
The ordinary opinion was that the house was built by early Icelandic explorers, but the real, scarcely spoken belief was that it was older. At the heart of the house’s mystery was its technology. The Circle’s curator, Dr. Marie Jagland told us the stone of the house had been drilled to pipe geothermic water for heat, so the house was comfortable during the bitterest winter weather. The windows, the original ones, were a combination of mica and fragments of glass. Most of the windows, however, had been updated with insulated glass, the original panes protected in the vaults of the Smithsonian.
The house was comprised of three levels, the first one half-buried. Each of the walls was trapezoidal and leaning inward. The roof, built with ancient metal trusses and shingled in slate, sloped from north to south in a single sweep.
My body was chilling in the same moments as my heart warmed by thinking about my two loves, my husband and Scotty, who was conceived in a previous momentary relationship. Jay and I had started dating just after an earthquake and a horrible, unbelievable incident in our hometown that threw us together. You’ll have to find the podcast of Jay’s broadcast about that event and listen to it yourself. My son was the best thing that ever happened to me, a result of my worst mistake…
I tossed several small stones into an ice-lined pool. The last stone in my hand, smooth and cream colored, caught my attention. It wasn’t a stone at all, but a piece of bone. The ground all around was covered with these ivory fragments, and I picked up a dozen of them. How odd this was, but when I picked up a tooth, an icy shiver shook my whole being, because it was a human molar, and my police forensic training and instinct warned that maybe all the bone pieces were human. I walked around the area in shock. The bones were piled into heaps a yard high; and when I looked closely, I saw they were chips and sections of femurs, skulls, digits, and the rest, covering about three acres of the mountainside.
I slipped through a back door to meet a loud, jolly tune echoing down the stairwell. The happy music grew louder as I tipped-toed up. I poked my head around a corner. Jay, big and a tad overweight, and my short, compact hunk Scotty were standing in the middle of the living room’s braided carpet, pumping up and down from their knees and twisting their bodies to the music while flapping their arms like chicken wings, wagging their index fingers, and grinning deliriously. I felt sad because my news would end our honeymoon, but this had always been a possibility. I thought their party should last a little longer, so I lilted onto the carpet, tossed my parka, hat, and gloves on the floor, and joined the fun.
The boys had been carrying on for some time, and they were ready to quit after a few minutes. “I’ve got hot cocoa ready for you,” Jay said when he had shut down the music.
I asked him to open his hand and I dropped in it the pieces of bone, each fairly identifiable. As he rolled them like marbles in his palm, his face changed turned wolf-like with a penetrating focus that rendered all other considerations non-existent. This was the Jay I first met and who didn’t much appeal to me, but it was how he was good at his work.
“Where did you find these?”
I described the scene the best I could.
“Did you notice a stack of rocks, or a wall? A stone platform?”
“A rock outcrop.”
“It might have been an altar. And so many people,” he said to himself, now immersed in his mental process, which as he once explained was like achieving the blank state of mind a person reaches in a hot shower.
“Do you want me to call the Curator on the satellite phone?”
“The Circle will be embarrassed that no one found this field before. It’s too late today to go look. I suppose we should find someone to date the bones and begin excavating.”
“It’s certainly out of my expertise, but I’d say these bones are not that old, no more than a hundred years.”
“They could be thousands of years old.”
“I’ll start supper,” I said briskly, annoyed for having my opinion dismissed. I had taken an osteology course.
“Scotty and I already cut salmon steaks and vegetables, so it’s ready to cook.”
“Why, thank you. You have your uses.”
“Maybe we should have Peterson prepare meals for us. That’s provided for in what we paid.”
“Peterson is creepy. His wife has mental problems. She talks to herself.”
“I talk to myself.”
“She carries on in an everlasting soliloquy to no one in particular.”
“It’s Greenlandic. The husband says it’s about spaceships.”
A slow smile spread over Jay’s face and seemed to fill his whole body as he stood up. Here was the Jay I fell in love with. He had the wolfish focus, but added to it was joy. “The bones are something, to be sure. But this, this discovery might explain all.”
“But, she’s crazy, right?”
“There’s a chance it might be about something real.” He jumped up and ran toward our bedroom. I picked up Scotty and followed, finding him rooting through his equipment.
“What are you planning?” I asked to his back.
“I’ll record the woman.”
“Without her knowing? Steer clear of Peterson.”
“Without anyone knowing. Tonight.”
“What about the bones?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jay said, recalling. “Contact Dr. Jagland, will you? She’ll know what to do. Is it too late to ask Peterson to cook tonight? We need an excuse to be over there.”
Our honeymoon was so over, I thought. I ended up cooking for me and Scotty while Jay probably ate Peterson’s Danish stew and made his covert video, but Jay was full of surprises. Much later that night I woke up with his hand on my hip. Fully clothed, he was sitting beside me in the dim light.
“Let’s take an adventure,” he said.
I grumbled, and he kissed me on the cheek. “Just be quiet so you don’t wake Scotty, and get dressed. Meet me at the front door.”
My clothes were laid out neatly on a chair. I rinsed my face, dressed, and found Jay holding a bundled up Scotty, his chubby face composed in angelic slumber. I threw my parka on and followed Jay outside. Jay gave me a headlamp, but we didn’t need them. The flaming, joyful stars above were wreathed by the pulsing, shooting green and purple aurora borealis. Jay headed down to the dock, and I hadn’t gotten twenty yards before the breezy cold pierced my clothing.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, already trotting towards the house. Soon, enveloped by a goose down overcoat, I caught up with them. We reached the dock, and Jay turned up a path following the water’s edge north. Before long, a rock hut emerged from the shadows. Inside the hut a single oil lamp burned in one corner, and against the wall a coal stove no bigger than an industrial soup pot glowed a blackened orange. Jay eased the bundled Scotty onto the stone floor and began stripping off his clothes.
“Wait,” I said, dubious, even alarmed. “Ugh. It’s too cold. Not here. Scotty might wake.”
He just grinned sheepishly, and once down to his boxers said, “Join me, if you like”, and hurried out the door back into the frost.
“What a wild man,” I muttered and followed with the headlamp to see what in the world he had in mind. A few steps ahead I could see fog or steam drifting away from a wide pool. Jay was neck deep with his eyes closed.
“The water’s great,” he said dreamily. “It’s 86 degrees.”
I returned to the hut, hoisted the still snoozing Scotty, and set him down next to the pool. In a few minutes I was cuddling with Jay and gazing at the sky, the breeze refreshingly cool on my face. “This reminds me of camping in the Sierras,” I said. “I was six years old. We borrowed a tent and stayed for one weekend. My parents were already old and tired by then—my next sibling was 18, you know. It was the last time Mama and Papa went anywhere, except day trips to the beach.” I sighed. Scotty rustled in his sleeping bag and smacked his lips. Jay waded over to check on him, and when he returned, I said, “I remember the stars, so brilliant and alive away from the city lights and smog. But I’ve never seen a sky more beautiful than this.”
“Inuit legends say the aurora borealis is the souls of dead children kicking around a walrus skull.”
“I’ll tell you something truly romantic.”
“The water isn’t heated from volcanism like in
originate from where deep layers of the earth’s crust rub together.” hot springs
I opened my mouth to rebuke him, but instead on impulse rapped a knuckle on a pressure point in his forearm.
“Ow,” he blurted and massaged his arm. “Wasn’t that geological fact romantic?”
“I don’t like coarse jokes.”
“Okay.” Jay didn’t ask for an explanation. He didn’t need another reminder about the vulgar innuendos directed to me and how I was denied a position as a school resource officer when I got pregnant with Scotty.
“You know why I quit law enforcement work? Yeah, the sexual comments from other officers, behind my back, to my face in the hallway, the sly flirting… but it wasn’t just that. I hurt people. I used too much force. I shot someone once. That kid from
You fought in a war. You know how it feels.” El Salvador
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he put his hand around my waist and pulled me toward him.
We were floating—
“Mommy,” the little insistent voice said. “Mom-mee.”
Jay released me and waded back to Scotty. “Hey. We’re having a night swim, Buddy.” He unwrapped and undressed Scotty, lowered him squealing into the water, and brought him to me. Then he reached up to a small cooler on the rocks, which had been there all along, I guess, and pulled out bottles and two wine glasses. “Hard cider.”
“Sorry, Jay. Honeymooning with a toddler. What do you expect?”
He laughed. “Exactly this. It’s just right.”
“Sorry for hurting you. I really am enjoying this. It’s the furthest and longest I’ve been away from home.”
A snowflake settled on my eyelash, though the sky was cloudless. Jay turned on the headlamp to reveal more feathery snow floating by like dandelion umbrellas. “From the steam,” he said.
We talked a while longer then rushed back to the hut, dried off, and dressed. Scotty grinned and giggled the whole time. On the path to the house, I gazed up toward the promontory with the bone field behind it. A faint outline of stars traced the profile of the mountain.
One star, however… One wavering star crept up through the shadow.
“What’s that?” Jay said.
“Who, I wonder?”
We watched for a minute. The light stopped, winked off and then on, and kept climbing.
“Peterson the caretaker,” I said. “I don’t like him. No one else but he and his wife are here, yet, right?”
Within three days the Circle had invited a dozen world-renowned archeologists and paleontologists who proceeded to withdraw from classrooms, committee meetings, concert halls, or away from remote, inaccessible, career-enhancing digs, and who had thrown their toothbrushes and extra underwear into duffels, grabbed their toolkits, and chased down the next flights to Reykjavík from Tokyo, Beijing, Bombay, Jo-burg, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Chicago, Bozeman and Sidney. The Curator, Dr. Jagland arrived first from
and relegated our family to our private bedroom, while the rest of the
Greenland House, plus the caretaker’s residence, had been co-opted for the
incoming scientists and service staff. Oslo
Jay, carrying Scotty in a backpack, and I began walking down the mountainside after observing their work at the already gridded and partially excavated bone yard. We had attempted to observe. Chilling fog and stiff rain squalls laced with snow rushed down the mountain toward the fjord, obscuring our views from the “promontory”.
“If these rocks are not an altar, as the archeologists now say, what explains the bones?” I asked Jay.
A freshening gust of wind blew off Jay’s hood. Scotty sucked in a deep breath as if the wind was suffocating him. “I can’t believe they’re working in this weather,” I shouted.
We gave up trying to talk until we reached the house, fought our way through the basement door, and hung our wet things to dry in the toasty, tectonic heat. Jay said, “The bone field can only tell us what wasn’t happening here, and we know that already, so they’re wasting their time.”
The house was reputedly impervious to weather, either of drafts, leaks, and sounds, and we couldn’t tell if a storm was raging outside, so when Scotty slipped in a puddle at the foot of the stairs that led to the uppermost floor, we were puzzled. I looked up at the ceiling, but Jay went to the front door. “Someone tracked in a lot of snow.”
“Everyone is on the mountainside.” I reached for my sidearm, which of course wasn’t there, since they’re illegal for non-citizens.
Jay trotted up the stairs.
I hoisted Scotty and followed to find Jay in the doorway of one of the bedrooms, from which a relentless chanting of “ba, ba, ba, ba” issued. He stepped aside to let me in. There next to the bed was Peterson bent over his wife in the wheelchair. Her head was flopped sideways, one arm was waving in random circles, and it was she who was chanting.
“She’s had an aneurysm or something,” Peterson said in a thick voice speaking weakly with the top of his lungs. “She’s to die in the house. It’s in her papers.”
“Her advance directives?”
“She doesn’t want a doctor. No interventions.”
I’m not medically trained beyond first aid, but the woman appeared to me like she wasn’t dying; there was some fire within her that wouldn’t extinguish easily. I felt her forehead. “She’s feverish. She should be on antibiotics.”
“Not if she’s terminal. We can’t risk going to the hospital. She must die in the house.”
“Why?” Jay asked, aglow with the excitement he displays when he thinks he’s on the verge of a discovery.
Peterson shrugged. “I love her, and must honor her wish.”
“But,” I said, beginning to explain how there was no room in the stone house, that we couldn’t send away the archeologist and his assistants who had crammed into this space, when Jay led me out into the hallway. The ba, ba, ba chanting grew louder.
“They—the archeologists—can have our bedroom,” Jay said. “We’ll move to the main room.”
“We booked the whole house, paid for it in advance. None of these people should be here.”
“Listen,” he said, “this woman may open the mystery. Hundreds of people, possibly thousands of years ago came to this location, either against their will to be killed, or voluntarily to die naturally. Maybe there’s a connection. Solving the mystery is why we came, right? I have an idea. The caretaker’s house has backpacking tents. I’ll put one up in the front room and keep everyone else out.” He didn’t wait for me to respond, but dashed away.
“I can’t lift her alone,” Peterson was saying, clearly intending to put her into one of the beds.
Now that the Greenland House was jammed with people, including Peterson and Ane, his fiercely vital, incoherent wife supposedly dying in our bedroom, the only semi-quiet place was the public part of the caretaker’s house. I was making a late breakfast in the kitchen area while Jay and Dr. Jagland at the table gazed at the persistent, impenetrable fog outside the window. Scotty toddled around the floor with his charming stalking gait, his body bouncing side to side with each deliberate footfall. He looked so confident and manly, but he still crossed his legs up and tripped every other minute. He never said a word, but just got back on his feet and toddled on, around and around in circles, handing Jay an empty plastic cup. Jay slurped air noisily and gave the cup back to Scotty.
Dr. Jagland was elegantly slender and toned in her tailored Caribou fur and white leather costume and stiff boots. Were it not for her passion for the most mysterious architectural treasures of the planet, she might have wasted her life in a long career as a movie star or model. Jay had said she had never married. She shook herself from some inner meditation, breaking a long lull. “How long does Simigag have?”
“A hospice nurse arrived by float plane this morning,” Jay said. “She said another day or two. The woman will die of dehydration, eased by morphine on the tongue.”
Jagland seemed to have nothing to say.
I knew what Jay was thinking and that he wouldn’t comment, so I said it from the kitchenette. “She’s not terminal. She might have had a stroke, but they could treat her. She’s mentally ill.” I knew it made no difference and there was nothing we could do to intervene to prevent the hastening of her death, but I had to say the truth.
“I must be frank, Mr. Barron, the spaceship idea is ludicrous, and I’d rather not discuss it anymore. Your wife’s discovery of the bone field, however, is immense, second only to the importance of the house. There was a sophisticated Paleolithic settlement here. We may find other buildings buried under nearby ice. I think the Circle will allow you reveal the house to the world on your radio program tomorrow. You’ve won the prize.”
“We need more information. Unlike most of these guys on the airwaves, I’m not a sensationalist, ma’am. The house is fascinating, but the bone field is still unexplained. My radio program is about real things, fantastic but real. I hate to be callous, but I’m waiting to see what happens when the woman dies.”
“Jay,” I said, bringing a platter of sausage and eggs to the table. “You’re awful.”
“So, Mr. Barron, you believe a spaceship will come hovering over the Greenland House to take the woman’s soul to
“What’s the current population of
“How many crushed skeletons are on the mountainside?”
Jagland spread her hands to say no one could be sure.
“It’s possible a huge number people once believed something of the sort,” Jay said. “It’s possible this woman who lived here for years picked up some impulse from the house about its true purpose. As a way station.”
“You said you weren’t a sensationalist.”
“I speculate. It’s my investigative process.”
Several wordless minutes passed while they stuffed in food, Jagland keeping up with Jay forkful by forkful. I sat Scotty onto a pillow on a chair and tied him in. He joined their stuffing party, while I rinsed fruit for my smoothie.
Jagland pushed away from the table and stood up. “Thank you dearly for the breakfast, Mrs. Barron. I’m sorry your vacation didn’t turn out to be much of a holiday.” She stepped to the coat rack near the door and began working into her fur overcoat. “I’ll let you know the Circle’s decision about announcing the house. I’m positive they’re ready to reveal its existence—frankly, it will help in securing funding. Important patrons are arriving this afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m off to the dig. We hope to find tools of slaughter deeper down today.”
With that, Jagland made her departure.
“More people,” I muttered to myself, then, “This will be loud,” I said, and turned on the food processor. At the spurt of grinding, chopping noise, I couldn’t help but imagine the dismembering of human bodies. I brought the smoothie to the table. “What’s on for today?”
“What we planned. You go for your exercise walk and later sit with the old woman. I play with Scotty. For a start, he and I’ll wash dishes. Be sure to take map and compass. I’ll give you my pistol. You’ll feel safer if you meet old Peterson in the dark.”
“Pistol? You brought a firearm? I don’t believe it.”
“I always bring a gun. An H&K .45 caliber. It’s a part of my work kit.”
I only took a map, compass, a headlamp, and the satellite phone. As I’ve said, I didn’t want to be a cop anymore. Since the freezing fog obliterated the scenic views, I expected not to linger—a quick march up and back, just enough to help me sleep. It was past sunset, which at that time of year was about 2:30 pm, but there was plenty of light. I wanted to be back early enough to read to Ane. She had stopped swallowing, and because Peterson had medical power of attorney, he refused to put her on an IV drip. I was angry, and depressed from being unable to help. I felt like when my own elderly parents died when I was in high school. All I could do for Ane now was read to her from the Psalms in the Bible. It gave her peace, I know, because while I read, she stopped chanting,
At some point, I heard disembodied voices ahead in the fog, loud voices in multiple languages. It took a while for the bodies to reach me, the workers and scientists descending from the dig. I stepped aside to let them pass, and many said hello and be careful. The voices moved down the mountain, and I continued on the trail, turning left away from the cliffs and the bone yard.
Time passed, and I had been occupied in thinking about calling a lawyer in Nuuk tomorrow about Ane. I checked the satellite phone. I had been walking uphill for almost an hour. Time to turn around.
It was darkening, but I decided to not put the headlamp on until I couldn’t see the trail. When I passed the new trail leading up to the bone yard, a lumpish figure emerged from the textured fog below.
“Jay,” I called, thinking he might have hiked up to meet me. “Jay?” The figure didn’t answer, but kept trudging forward. When I stopped, it did, and this is when I turned the headlamp on, high beam.
It was Peterson with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He dropped the bag, looked up at me, and drew a long knife. “You shouldn’t be here,” was all he said.
Once again I reached for my absent gun and wished I had brought Jay’s.
He paused, and seeing my empty hand, he advanced, holding the knife ready to slash. I stepped off the trail, hoping to run around him, but he was steady on the ice and rock, and I was not. “What do you want, Mr. Peterson?” I asked, hoping to touch something reasonable. “I’m not sure what you want, sir.”
“I want to go home, to
said, coming closer and shifting the knife to a stabbing position. “It’s
depressing here. I need money to return to Denmark . I told you to stay away
from the cliffs. They’re dangerous. People fall to their deaths.” Denmark
He ran at me and I fell. I grabbed a rock. When I regained my feet he was right there and lunging. All I remember is arching away from the knife and pounding his arm. He yelled in pain and dropped the knife. Then I had him on the ground in a stranglehold, both of us rolling together downhill. When we stopped, I tightened the hold until he stopped struggling, then I untangled myself and jumped up, but he didn’t move. I tapped him with my boot, then bent down to check his vitals.
Nothing. I might have killed him. I had cut off the blood flow to his brain and killed him. Maybe.
I’m not sure how I packed Peterson on my shoulder as far as I did. Adrenaline, I guess, and guilt. Jay met me halfway, and I transferred my burden to him. He was somber and silent, preoccupied with something else, I guess. I was too depressed to ask him what it was as I trudged behind adding my headlamp’s beam to his, and with the fog sweeping over us, all we could see was our feet and a moving patch of ground. Within a sphere of its own light, the house, diminutive at first, grew larger moment by moment, each window projecting a distinct glowing rectangle. When we arrived, Jay asked me to open the door.
“Shouldn’t we leave the body outside?” I said.
“Are you a doctor, love? He’s not dead. He’s been groaning for the last few minutes.”
Inside, the house was strangely quiet. Jay carried Peterson into the front room while I removed my outer layers near the door. I was sitting on a chair and undoing my boots as Jagland came in holding Scotty. Her face looked radiant, like an angel who beheld both terror and joy without either weakening the other.
“I have bad news,” she said, handing Scotty to me. “Ane died while you were gone. I’m sorry you weren’t here.” She paused, and I could tell it was awkward for her to affect sadness, because she wasn’t sad in the slightest. Sad was too weak a word for how I felt. “But you need to see this,” she said.
I followed her into our front room crowded with people facing the front window. They had taken down our tent. Jay was fiddling with one of his video cameras on a tripod. The crowd parted for me. I walked up and stopped at a waist-high stone bench that hadn’t been there before. What should have been visible from the windows was darkness and fog. Instead, stars bigger and more brilliant and colorful than possible, like photographs from the Hubble telescope, but this was 3-D real.
“Closer,” Jay said, nudging me. “Look down into the frame.”
My arms trembling from fatigue, I put Scotty on the bench and stepped around. The stars were down there too, where outside it would be the bulk of the Earth.
“We are seeing the stars through the edge of the planet in their true positions,” Jagland said from behind me. “Every window in the house is like this. Every star in the sky is visible. I think we will see them even after sunrise. In comparison, this… this makes
Stonehenge as primitive as…”
“A boy’s building blocks,” I said.
Jay was standing next to Scotty to ensure he didn’t fall off the bench, and Scotty was flat on his stomach wriggling and feeling the stone, rubbing his hands over the smooth, glossy surface. What happened next was exactly like when you are flying, and the jet hits an air pocket; everyone feels it at the same time, and someone screams. I was facing Jay and Scotty, and I had to take a step forward to catch myself. A woman next to me sat down hard on the floor and squealed. One gentleman said, “Earthquake?” and everyone else began blabbing at once, Jay’s excited voice above the others. “I saw them. The stars blurred.” He ran to the front door and threw it open. Fog swirled around him. “Damn,” he roared, “We’re still on Earth. Or, I think so. Nobody touch that bench!”
Scotty was on the bench, dangling his feet and looking at everyone in wonder. I snatched him into my arms. Feeling all the eyes staring at him, he puckered up and cried.
The crowded front room had been our only private space, so we had no option but to shoo people off a corner couch and claim it as our own. I hummed a lullaby to Scotty while Jay saw that Peterson was restrained and watched—they moved him to the bedroom with Ane’s body. I kept wishing I could have done more for her. Jay returned, plopped next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. Our honeymoon had compacted to this—our threesome on a couch in a room full of smart people gazing at the stars through an enchanted window. Jagland moved among the crowd and whispered in people’s ears. I read her lips saying, “The family requires quiet. Please observe at one of the other windows.” People edged away until only a handful was left…
“The portal faded.” That was Jay’s voice beside me, waking me up. He pushed himself off the couch and stretched, flexing his shoulders backwards. The room was empty. Through the window now, fog had regained the lower sky, but a few smudgy stars sailed up high.
“The stone bench sunk into the floor,” Jay said. He ran his hand over the glass, and at his movement, the brilliant stars sprang back in the view. “Ah, still active.” He turned on his headlamp and peered closely at the framework. I carefully set Scotty down fast asleep on the couch and covered him with a blanket.
“Apparently,” Jay said, “when they installed modern windows they didn’t alter the stone framework. The rock is the same as the bench,” he said, kneeling on the floor.
“I need to do some things,” I said, giving Jay a kiss.
“It’s 2:00 a.m., you know.”
“I’ve had a nap,” I said over my shoulder and ran up the stairs.
Our old room on the second floor blazed with light. With his eyes closed, a muscley grad student was leaning back in an easy chair next to the bed while clutching a sheaf of papers. The hospice nurse on a cot on the far side of the room was snoring gently. Peterson, wide awake on his side with his hands lashed to the bed frame glared at me. Behind him lay Ane, flat on her back with her arms folded on her chest, her head propped up, her face with its sunken cheeks immobile, and her body motionless, reminding me of my dead mother. A warm wave of sorrow rose up and softened my frozen feelings. I breathed in shallow breaths until the sadness passed and I turned to leave.
“Dim the damn lights, will you?” Peterson said.
I tiptoed downstairs to find Jay sound asleep on the couch with Scotty in his arms. I collected my goose down overcoat and gloves, and passing Jagland’s office that she had set up in a utility closet, I heard her urgent voice inside speaking a Middle Eastern language.
Outdoors, it seemed the view from the windows had extended to the sky, sweeping it clear of fog, and even of the aurora borealis. I stopped and stared.
A feeling of motion, like being on a boat, made me believe I was falling. I hunkered down and touched one hand to the ground. From the rocky shore below rose the sound of waves laden with chunks of ice rumbling back and forth, but without wind to generate the agitation. Overhead it seemed the stars were growing more intense. I imagined looking down at myself and the stone house growing smaller and slipping to the side. Everything below became dark, then speckled with flaming orange clusters until a bright bulge emerged from an orb and grew into a crescent that broke free—the sunrise over Earth from a thousand miles high, and the Moon opposite, which all shrank until the rotating Earth disappeared, and the Sun dwindled into a diminishing pinpoint of light spiraling among millions of other points. But all along in the picture, I knew exactly where I was, crouching on the path to the caretaker’s house.
After shaking myself to reestablish the illusion of the planet’s fixedness, I completed the short distance to the caretaker’s house and pushed open the door to the dark gift shop. Body bags covered the floor. Full body bags in my headlamp’s beam, and my heart and breath jumped into turbo. Peterson’s work! One of the bags rolled over and mumbled grumpily, “Turn out that light.”
Oh. The overflow slept here. “Sorry,” I mumbled, dimmed the headlamp, picked my way across, and eased through the door into the caretaker’s living space.
Cardboard boxes lined the hallway and were stacked into a neat cube nearly head high in the middle of the sitting room. On one side of the room was a coal stove, still warm, and near it a wooden table. Upstairs, two locked suitcases had been placed ready for a traveler to pick up, one for each hand. I pulled out the drawers. All were empty. The closet was empty. The bathroom had been cleaned and still smelled of disinfectant. Downstairs again—the boxes were sealed and labeled for shipping. Peterson was prepared to bolt for
obviously, but to learn anything about his money situation and why he attacked
me, I’d have to open boxes. I returned to the cube and stared at it before I
lifted one of the boxes. It was soft and silent, full of clothing, maybe, women’s
clothing, by the odor of Ane’s perfume. Here was a clue—an empty box with its
flaps up. Denmark
Startled, I jerked around ready to fight. Whew. It was Jay who laughed and said, “I knew you’d be here.”
“Okay. I need to inspect these boxes. If I’m to open any without a warrant, I need probable cause.” I smiled and said, “Glad you’re here. I assume someone’s watching Scotty.”
“Jagland’s talking with the astronomers, but she’s keeping on eye on him. Shouldn’t you wait for
Anger surged through me, and sorrow. “The authorities don’t care about Ane! They don’t care if Peterson hastened her death, that he murdered her.”
Jay was smart. He put his arms around me before saying, “Isn’t it obvious that Peterson was carving bones and selling them?”
Of course. I tried to push away from Jay, but he held tighter. How did he figure this out so easy? I wanted to help Ane and couldn’t. I wanted to help my mom and dad and couldn’t. I wanted to punish my older brother and sister for killing my parents, for hastening their deaths. I wanted to punish Peterson for killing Ane. But stealing bones from an archeological site compared to Ane and my parents? It just didn’t matter. It was invisible to me. I’d have to hit it head-on.
I felt so helpless. I pictured Ane’s desiccated face, her drooping, silent mouth and sunken eye sockets. Her thin hands, her brushed hair. All of my feelings about Scotty and Jay, our busted honeymoon, leaving the police force, being bitter toward my siblings, being left behind by my parents, my inability to help them, all surged into an overwhelming sorrow that dissolved the construct enabling me to function, to present a composed persona… For a few minutes I cried like I hadn’t since I was sixteen.
Jay held me until I leaned away from him and sat down in a chair.
“Mom died first and then Dad,” I said, my voice clouded. “She had been sick a long time, and collapsed over the course of a month, and then Dad withered away, probably dying of heartbreak and loneliness, if nothing else. Except they starved him on purpose. All of this passed me by in a blinding blur. I was the only one still living at home and as soon they put Dad in a nursing facility, my oldest brother made me leave my school and friends in Lynchville to move in with him in
. My sister and
the rest of them handled the medical and funeral decisions.” San Diego
“That’s how you ended up attending the police academy in
,” Jay said. San
We were quiet for a while, just thinking—me about Mom and Dad’s flower bed in our decayed neighborhood overrun by Mexican gangs. Then I thought about how small all of this was compared to the vision of the stars I had seen outside. I stood up and looked at the cube of boxes. “How did you discover Peterson’s scheme?”
He pulled a figure from his pocket. “I brought this from the gift shop, from the glass case.”
I took the carving in hand, a yellow, dog-like monster with a tiny human skull, its tongue sticking out, walking on its knees and elbows, and ribs sharp and circling its torso like threads of a bolt. I thrust it back to Jay. “It’s hideous.”
“It’s a cross between a Malacandrian sorn and a pfifltrigg. It’s called a tupilak and they’re associated with witchcraft. Peterson is a skilled carver. Some of his figures are polar bears and such for children—but a few in the case are stranger than this one.”
“Made from human bone.”
Jay lifted down a smaller box from the cube. “This one addressed to
probably contains carvings. I guess many of these big boxes are stuffed with
uncarved bones he intended to ship to Fairbanks .” Denmark
“When will the authorities pick him up tomorrow?” I asked. “I’m afraid he might get free.”
“After the broadcast.”
“We’re moving,” a strange voice said in my dream.
I opened my eyes and sat up. Our bedroom—the darkened front room of the stone house—was once again full of silent people staring at the star-jeweled window. Scotty was playing a wordless patty-cake with a blonde female grad student, and Jay was standing next to our couch holding a coffee cup, his chest rising and falling. He leaned over and whispered breathlessly, “The entire solar system is moving.”
This made no sense, because, of course, the solar system is moving. Once on my feet, I said, “How long have I been sleeping?”
He looked at his wrist watch like it was a new discovery. “Ten in the morning,” he said and drifted closer to the window.
“Wait,” I said, and before he got too far away I snatched his coffee cup, while noticing people watching as if waiting for us to finish our conversation.
The strange voice from my dream again spoke from near the window full of living stars, from a short man wearing an Arabian headdress. “Many of you know already, in the past nine hours we’ve corroborated with astronomers around the planet, and it’s incontrovertible that the solar system has moved, is presently moving away from the galactic path it has held to since mankind kept records. I and my assistants compared historic star maps with the current, still evolving, configuration of celestial bodies, and we have traveled approximately…” Here he paused.
One of the people sitting against the wall with laptops looked up and said, “271 light years.”
“271 light years,” the Arabian man said.
“272,” the laptop person corrected.
“Okay, we are moving at unimaginable speed. Looking at the window, you might not tell with the naked eye the minute changes in the angels, I mean angles—sorry—of the major stars. The vast distances of space preclude you from detecting dramatic changes, just as you would not notice the stars spinning overhead on a clear night as the Earth rotates at 1675 kilometers per hour. The Earth circles the sun at 107,000 kilometers an hour. Our solar system normally plods along at 70,000 kilometers an hour in the direction of the bright star Vega in constellation Lyra, giving our planets a beautiful vortex motion. All this remained the same for eons, but now our speed and direction have altered.”
As I watched the window, I couldn’t see movement, but I felt as if the heavens before us were pulsing, as if some heart was pumping its lifeblood through the cosmos and some mind directed the busy, infinitely complex traffic. Could the universe be the body of God? I wondered what my Spanish priest at home would say.
The Arabian man was still speaking…
“So, we have few answers. We don’t know how we can travel faster than light. It’s impossible as we understand physics. What we can say is that the tug every sentient person in the world felt at 5:46 PM, GMT on November 12 was the breaking of inertia. The solar system accelerated imperceptibly in a new direction and now it’s decelerating. The ocean waves that the jolt generated were worldwide, and apart from a few floods of low-lying areas, damage and injury were minimal. The sun, or Solar, is in a quiescent phase, like nothing we’ve known. Perhaps the sun is the energy plant for our journey. Lastly, back to where I began, the solar system is moving as a whole. All of the planets from Mercury to the reinstated Pluto are all in their proper places. We are moving as a family.”
Before the Arabian guy finished, Jagland had stepped forward to raise her hand and she spoke the instant he stopped. “Dr. al-Saghani won’t be taking questions right now—he’s traveled all night to get here—but there’s one item I must mention. Of course, the dig on the mountain will continue. Now that we know something about the house, it may give a basis to theorize about the bone field, which in turn will help us understand what’s happening in the heavens. But I want to introduce to you the person who will explain to the world what we know so far. Anyone who is paying attention is wondering. Many people are scared. They feel a literal cosmic shift, but they have no idea what’s happening. That’s why as soon as we break here, we’re setting the room up as a sound studio to broadcast by satellite to the entire world. We can’t wait a moment longer. Already rumors are circulating, and astronomers are publicly speculating. Needless to say, charlatans will find a way to mislead and exploit. There’s only one person on the planet who has enough credibility in matters like this. His experience in what we call the paranormal has been validated scientifically in every case. Not only is his investigative technique impeccable, his is a man of subtle and unfailing intuition. He always seems to be in the right place. And I can see by how he’s acting that this praise makes him uncomfortable because of another of his character traits. Humility. I give you Jonathan T. Barron.”
The applause was in fact subdued, but it thundered in my ears. Jay was kind and smart, and as only a few people knew, was competent with firearms and covert military ops, but I had never given regard to his celebrity status. Well, he was on radio and never made personal appearances, so people never got a look at him. Right now he was beet red, but his discomfiture did not affect his voice.
“Thanks,” he said simply. “We hope to broadcast live within the hour. There’s no time to talk with anyone beforehand, but if you have any questions for me or Professor al-Saghani, umm, give them to my wife, Isabel, and she’ll screen them, and, recopy them if necessary to make them legible. Is that okay, love?”
“Sure enough,” I said.
“And I need to introduce someone else really special. He’s a natural, a true scientist and explorer, blundering into discoveries that changed…” As he glanced at me I thought he might cry, but he got out, “changed everything. He’s the person that launched humanity, the world, the sun, and all the planets into a journey to a place unknown. Our son, Scotty, right there, and please, please don’t let him climb onto that stone bench again.”
By lunchtime, the house’s front room, our “honeymoon suite” and then conference room, had been transformed into a broadcast studio. Jay stood by and supervised the arrangement of tables and chairs, video cameras for the news conference, microphones, the mixer board and the satellite linkups, and then he tested it all with the engineer from
. It all came together at the last moment for
air time. North
The first part of the broadcast was to be a straightforward reiteration of what we knew already and a Q&A, but a version for the whole world—or anyone who cared to watch, which Dr. Jagland estimated would be a billion people. The timing of the televised news conference roughly coincided with Jay’s regular weekly program, so there was supposed to be only a commercial-station break between them, Jay’s program to follow on radio only, and be, as he said, “exploratory, risky, and much more interesting.”
“We are live,” Jay’s engineer said.
Jay, Jagland, and Professor al-Saghani fielded the half dozen questions from the crews, giving extended more-or-less varied adaptations of “We don’t know,” and they were about to wrap up the televised part when we heard shouting and what sounded like a body tumbling down the stairs. A woman gasped, another screamed, then Peterson marched into the room, his chest heaving, his face twitching, and gripping a shotgun in both hands.
“The keys to the yacht,” he said, hoarsely. “Where are they?”
Since he was live, Jay kept talking, and when no one answered Peterson’s question, he let the shotgun swing on its sling, pulled a knife and grabbed Scotty who just happened to totter by. Peterson babbled on about needing help loading his boxes, and Jay kept talking—his hands twitching behind his back while saying, “So, the solar system is galloping across the galaxy at impossible speeds, and the charnel remains of hundreds, maybe thousands of human beings lie on the mountainside above us, but as yet we have no answers, no information to link this house—that is, the command center—with the bones.”
At this Peterson’s head jerked up, and I walked behind Jay, leaned down, and took the pistol he’d been flicking, its hammer back and ready to fire. Scotty began crying, sensing the tension and being squeezed by Peterson, who now held the point of his knife at our child’s heart.
“This concludes our worldwide news conference,” Jay said, “but for more discussion, stay tuned for my regular program, Strange Days Radio, when we will pick up with some guess work, and hopefully dramatic new information. If your station doesn’t carry my program, you may listen at www.chaoticterrain.com.”
Peterson had been talking during this and was saying, “The answer is, people think the house will carry them to Heaven.”
Jay flicked his glance to me and made a cutting gesture at his throat, supposedly to tell the engineer to cut the feed, but I took it as a sign. Peterson’s knife was waving in the air as he spoke and I raised Jay’s pistol and froze, then an eternity-in-a-second later I shot Peterson twice cleanly in the head. Jay had vaulted the table and snatched Scotty as Peterson jerked backward to the floor and began convulsing in his death throes.
The big picture window clouded for an instant and revealed the stars again.
People had been screaming, muttering, cursing, praying out loud, and shouting in response to the shots, and in a brief silence that followed, the engineer said, “Okay, people. We are in a station break, top of the hour. We’re live again, on radio, in… four and a half minutes. Somebody better look at that guy.”
I sank into the nearest chair and watched through an emotional stupor. Jay had been talking to me. I glanced up and he said, “Are you all right?” in a tone that told me he’d already asked several times. I nodded, and he slipped the gun from my hand, removed the clip, cleared the chamber, and set it all on the table. Then he put Scotty in my lap and kissed me on top of the head. Scotty gave me a perfunctory hug and slipped to the floor.
One of the archeologists knelt down next to Peterson. “He’s dead, totally. Shouldn’t we call Emergency Services, or its Greenlandic equivalent?”
Someone said, “We’re way too remote. The police are due now, anyway.”
Someone else covered Peterson with a blanket and Scotty ran to investigate, but the blonde graduate student caught him up and said, “Let’s go upstairs and play.” Before I knew it, everyone was in place, Jagland, Professor al-Saghani, and the producer was counting down.
“We’re skipping the theme music,” Jay said quickly, and then he was talking in his professional voice, though more somber than usual.
“Dear Friends. Welcome to Strange Days Radio, a special broadcast following up on the international press conference where we shared what we’ve discovered here at the Greenlandic House on the east coast of
Greenland. I’m sure many
of you watched, and you may have heard shouting in the background in the final
seconds. That voice you heard belonged to the long-time caretaker of this site,
a Mr. Peterson. Peterson is dead. He died just now. In fact, his body is lying
on the floor a few yards from me. Mr. Peterson had taken my son Scotty hostage
with a carving knife, and in the last moments before he was shot, Peterson gave
us a clue that pulls together everything we know about this place. We are
improvising here folks, so bear with me… Mr. Engineer, please roll the Ane
Peterson tape, it’s number one. And Dr. Jagland, will you translate? Put on those
headphones. Mr. Engineer, after four seconds, pull the gain back on Ane’s voice
so it’s barely heard. While they’re cueing up, I’ll explain that Ane appeared
to have a mental illness, and I recorded her babbling without her knowledge. No
one has heard this recording before. She died yesterday as a result of a
serious infection. Ready?”
The engineer said, “Go.”
Jagland paused to take in Ane’s first words and began translating in a halting rhythm, a mixture of pauses, slow phrasing, and spurts. I listened for a moment and moved to the couch. This is what Jagland said Ane was saying:
“I said, ‘The American girl stared at me with a mixture of fear and pity.’ Maybe she will listen. ‘The spaceship will take us to Heaven,’ I said to her. ‘It’s a long, long way. If we die in the house,’ I said to Peterson, ‘once the spaceship arrives, we can climb aboard and it will take us to Heaven.’ We must die in the house, and the ship will arrive. But I told my first husband, ‘The souls of the whales that you killed in the bay went to Heaven. I saw the ship with my own eyes. It was made of wheels, dear, wheels and balls spinning around, with a giant light in the middle. Our baby that died, her soul is floating in the auroras, she’s playing football… soccer up there in the night sky…’ That Mr. Peterson, I don’t like him. He’s not trustworthy. He doesn’t sleep with me, at all. He never did. Our ceremony was meaningless. Three years of so-called marriage. He took my money, but I’m so close. It’s what matters. Death is near. Those bones, so many like me—they reached Heaven. His carvings are nasty. The spaceship approaches. It’s there, drawing me like a lover. ‘This world is sad and full of pain,’ I said, ‘the American girl with amber skin, maybe she’s Inuit.’ I hope she comes back to see me. I like her. The spaceship is a chariot, a dog sled to Heaven. ‘If only I can die in the house,’ I said, ‘then my life will be complete.’”
Jagland paused as Ane’s voice rambled on. “She’s repeating herself,” Jagland said. “There’s nothing new.”
“We can listen later,” Jay said. “Ordinarily we’d break for a commercial, but this is too important. My sponsors will understand—they’re listed on my website. I’ve been thinking during Dr. Jagland’s translation, and I believe I have a more complete picture now of what this means. But, frankly, I need a break. Mr. Engineer. Have you got one minute of appropriate music? Okay, I’ll be back.”
The engineer stared blankly for three silent seconds, his stoic face then morphed into a grin and he plugged in his phone and cued up some pulsing, golden, harp and violin music.
Jay came over to me, lifted me to my feet and hugged me, nearly squeezing the life out of me. I could tell he was crying. Me? I felt numb and let his emotion melt through me. “I’m sorry you had to shoot him, but thank you for saving Scotty,” he said, his voice trembling in a way I’ve never heard before. “I love you,” he said, kissed me, and trotted back to his microphone.
He let the music play to the end and said, “I’m back. However urgent or desperate or important your life is folks, never neglect your family. The news will come out later, but my wife has just gone through the most difficult experience she’ll ever face, and she and I needed a little private time. Okay. Here’s my speculation on this whole story. Um, first some questions.”
“Dr. Jagland, is it true that the Greenlandic House was built before the arrival of the Europeans?”
“Is there any building in the world like it?”
“It’s unique. The technology is unknown.”
“Is it true that the archeologists have not found an altar at the site with the bones?”
“It doesn’t appear that ancient human sacrifice took place here.”
“When do you believe the house was built?”
“Archeologists have many opinions, but my best assessment is that it predates the historical period.”
“So, how old?”
“Before 10,000 BC.”
“And the first humans came to
“2500 BC. Umm. I fear to say it professionally, but I believe the house is as old as the Earth, once it cooled.”
“Professor al-Saghani, is the solar system still moving in its new direction?”
“It is, but it’s slowing. It could stop at any moment. Or at least resume its normal speed and direction.”
“Thank you. Here’s my speculation.”
Jay sighed big and began. “Ages ago an advanced race of beings built the solar system to be a space traveling vessel. The sun is the power source, the Earth the living quarters, and the other planets, by means beyond our comprehension, form the engine of locomotion. It is by far larger than any space ship imagined by the most inventive science-fiction writers, and it’s really real. The house here is a control center for the vessel. Where these beings came from or where they went, we’ll never know. It’s possible they looked like Greenlandic carvings of the dog-like monster, the tupilak, and folklore preserved their image. The purpose of the solar system as a space vehicle was to carry this race of beings someplace, to a place of idyllic beauty and harmony. A place like what most of us yearn for—one without conflict, pain, or death. A place of continuous, eternal joy and peace, of life everlasting. A return to
or the . From our experience
on this present Earth—the wars, genocides, famines—I’m guessing that our planet
never arrived at this place. The vessel wandered the universe for eons and ages
unknown. Perhaps the place never existed, or perhaps the vessel simply was not
the correct means to reach Heaven. Many Earth traditions believe that people
can reach Heaven only through death. In particular, one of our dominant
traditions claims that only through the sacrifice of the Creator’s child could
the portal to Heaven be opened. This extinct race of stellar engineers
apparently thought they could find another way. The space vessel then,
represents a marvelous, ingenious, though ultimately failed attempt. Kingdom of
“Well, that’s my speculation. Now for the bones. It seems clear that a human death activates the controls in the house, which in turn change the solar system’s direction and speed.” He paused for a second, and then as if to himself, muttered, “But, what if we learn to work controls ourselves?” He whistled softly, and then continued. “The house emanates a spiritual magnetism drawing people here. It triggers a yearning for Heaven and gives people a vision it can never fulfill. The bones on the mountainside are from those who for centuries came from around the planet to die. It’s simple. And it’s tragic and odd.
“As I mentioned, and I hope I’m not too macabre, but a few feet from where I am speaking, the corpse of the caretaker of this site, Mr. Peterson, awaits the legal authorities of
Greenland. Peterson was a talented carver of ivory and
bone. But there was something not right about Mr. Peterson, and it’s more than
the fact that he attacked my wife and pointed a gun at our 16-month-old son. We
have here (he nodded to a graduate student) a box Mr. Peterson had packed for
shipping to ,
his home country. We’re opening this package now. I’m not sure what we’ll find,
but a grad student is cutting the box open and removing the tissue paper that
wraps a heavy, irregularly shaped object. If my guess it correct… I suggest you
wear gloves.” Denmark
The student handed the object, a flat bone, about the shape of an ear, a grossly oversized ear, to Jagland, who winced, and covered her mouth and nose. She passed the bone to me and I took one look and flung it to the floor. It skidded up to the lump of Peterson’s body and stopped.
“It’s a human iliac fosse,” I said. “The hip bone, and it’s fresh… or I should say, not fresh.”
Just then a booming noise echoed down from the hallway. Someone banging on the front door. The someone didn’t wait, but threw the door open, causing it to slam against the wall.
“Hello, hello,” a feeble male voice called.
Jay called back, “Everyone’s in here.”
An elderly couple, a hunched, white-haired woman holding two carry-on bags and wearing indigo blue running shoes leading an even older, bright-eyed man shuffling behind his walker, rounded the corner. Jay described the scene to his listeners, and holding his microphone, he approached the visitors.
“Who are you people?” the man said, glaring around the packed room, searching for someone to punch in the face, maybe. “Have you booked passage to Heaven, too? Mr. Peterson, the travel agent, said it was just two of us. Two passages for the Kirkpatricks from
“Mr. Peterson is dead,” Jay said and gestured to the corpse.
“Is he now?” he said with a stunned, bewildered glower. “Is the voyage delayed, then?”
“Damn it. How disappointing. But we’ll expect a refund. Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick. And we’ll need a place to live. We sold everything, bought one-way tickets, and left our retirement home.”
“We’re not married,” the old lady said, swinging her bags as she cut an elaborate, silly, caper in her blue shoes. “We’re living in sin.”
As I rose to my feet, I felt a sudden, harsh jerk, the same jarring sensation as when the solar system changed its motion. Mrs. Kirkpatrick swayed to and fro until she involuntarily sat on a couch.
“We have arrived.” Professor al-Saghani said. “We’ve more or less settled, somewhere.”
“Come with me,” I said to the perplexed couple, while helping Mrs. Kirkpatrick to her feet. “I have a place for you, at least for a while. Let me get your bags. I’ll be in the caretaker’s house,” I said over my shoulder to Jay. “Check on Scotty soon, will you?”
Mr. Kirkpatrick said angrily, “When do we eat? You all know, don’t you, a bad, bad early blizzard is coming.”
And so in cooking lunch for the Kirkpatricks, I discovered the neat, wrapped packets of flesh in Peterson’s freezer, each packet labeled with a person’s name. After I recovered from the initial shock, I made a vegetarian dish and helped the elderly couple settle in. I couldn’t save my dear parents, nor could I prevent Peterson from dehydrating poor Ane to death, but even if this weird old couple never realizes it or cares, we saved their lives.
My next major problem was telling Jay what meat might have been in Peterson’s delicious Danish stew.