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Where Are The Monsters Now?
By Paul Bogen
"Daddy?" the little girl whispered as her father got up from the edge of her child-sized bed. The room was done up in traditional Norse style, but with a certain American sensibility. The stone floors were covered in hand woven rugs with traditional motifs--Yggdrasil flanked by deer, ships studded with shields, warriors in armor--but in the light pinks and the browns more typical in a modern American girl's room. Next to heirloom tapestries on the wall were more recent ones with rough representations of cartoon characters. The toys scattered on the floor are both handcrafted and cheap plastic from a megastore.
Sven, her father, paused in his tracks, "Yes, sweetie?" Sven was considered tall for his race, and it was always a benefit, especially when contact with outsiders was required. He had changed into his nightclothes--loose fitting cloth pants, woolen slippers, and a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt.
Nervously, she whispered as she eyed her closet door cautiously, "Are monsters real?"
Sven winced at the word "monster" and turned around, "What do you mean by 'monster', Kari?"
With a tremor in her voice, Kari, still whispering, said, "Like the boogeley man?"
Sven walked back to Kari's bed and sat on the edge again. "No sweetie, the boogie man is made up."
"What about ghosts?"
"No, ghosts are made up, too."
With a look that Sven knew meant Kari was going to pepper him with a million questions, she asked at a more normal volume, "Um… werewolves?"
"No, no werewolves either."
"Are you sure, Daddy? Birger said he saw one of them on Mr. Nass's the-vee."
"Kari, we've talked about this, the the-vee is make believe." Sven tussled Kari's mess of red hair.
"What about draw-girls? Grandpa told me they're real. He told me he saw one when he was a boy."
"Draw-girls? Do you mean Draugar?" Kari nodded. "Well, in the old country, where Daddy and Grandpa, grew up, there were Draugar that lived in deep abandoned ancient mines. But they decayed until their second death centuries ago. And, of course, there are no ancient mines here in Michigan."
Kari, tired of her daddy deflating her childhood ideas about the wooded upper peninsula being filled with monsters, took on a stubborn attitude that only little girls can master. "Well, what about brown meegs? Grandpa says he's seen them here too."
Sven sighed and took a mental note to talk to his father about toning down the tales of the old country in front of Kari. "Brunnmigi are just foxes, they are harmless."
"What about the lake? Lærer Knutsen tells us to stay away or the half-geese will get us!" Up to now Sven could follow Kari's distortions of the names of the old enemies of his people. But this one was beyond him.
"What is a half-goose?"
Kari rolled her eyes and sighed like Sven was an idiot, a talent all children have with their parents. "The giant fish that live in the lake and burp!"
Sven was confused for a few more moments until he remembered childhood warnings to keep him and his kinsmen from wandering too close to the fjords. "Oh, you mean Hafgufa." Sven laughed. "Hafgufa don't exist, and if they did, Lake Superior is far too small for them"
"What about giants? Will they try to eat us?"
"Some of my best friends in the old days were Jotunn! They are the friendliest folk, and the parties they'd throw! When you're older I might take you to the Jotunn colony in the Yukon. You'd love it!"
"Dragons! I know there are Dragons!" Kari looked defiantly self-assured.
Sven looked at the out the window into the winter's night sky and sighed. "There used to be dragons. They were beautiful, gliding effortlessly over clear nights much like this. They'd swoop between the mountains and then up until their wings would touch the wispy Norse clouds. They were not monsters any more than a lion or a tiger is. They were majestic animals. But they are gone." Sven wiped a tear from his eye, Kari watched her father intently.
"What happened to them, daddy?"
"There was an evil King. He wanted to destroy the past. The past that our kind is tied to. He destroyed the mines. He killed the dragons. He made people forget their heritage." Sven reached out to pull Kari close to him.
"Is the King why we live here?"
"No, we stayed despite it. We hid in the cold places for as long as we could."
"Grandpa says the Nasty Men is why we left."
Sven didn't know how to respond. It seemed not that long ago, and for Sven's kind, it wasn't. The black-uniformed thugs came into even the hidden mines with their guns and their tanks. They dropped their bombs on the ancient mountains. A week before Sven and his father fled across the border into Sweden, they stormed his own home. He remembered him and his father hiding in the mines, as the screams of their kin echoed in. When the silence finally fell, his father and he crept out cautiously. The horror of the scene haunts him still. Elders beat to death. Women mutilated and defiled. The children. My god, the children. They made them watch their parents brutalized. Then they tortured them. The youngest had their skulls crushed against walls of the halls. Even pets and livestock were butchered and their carcasses thrown down the wells.
In Sweden, Sven and his father met other refugees. Eventually, they found a follower of the old faith who captained a cargo ship. It was a tough voyage, despite Sweden's neutrality, her vessels were not free from harassment from the warring nations. Ten days, almost twice the normal time, to Felixstowe. They hid in the deepest parts of the ship for two weeks before continuing on to Canada. It took a full month to make it to the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and a quarter of the refugees headed off overland into the Canadian wilderness from Toronto. The remainder of the refugees stayed on the ship, and then, five days later, the secret passengers were let off in the dead of night on Manitou Island.
"Kari, the Nasty Men are gone now. And even if they were not, we are safe here." Kari hugged Sven again. "Would you like to sleep with your mommy and me tonight?"
"Yes, daddy!" Sven picked Kari up and began to carry her out of the room. "Daddy, are men monsters?"
"Sometimes they can be, honey, but we're safe here." Kari laid her head against Sven's full red beard and started to drift to sleep, her hands with their squat fingers gripped the back of Sven's massive neck. Despite Sven's bulk, he moved along with the surefooted grace of his race. The the-vee may portray his kind as awkward and clumsy, but centuries in slippery, treacherous caves requires aptitude in movement.
Sven looked out the window across the cold Michigan night, past the cluster of squat hidden earthen structures around the great linden warden tree, the garmr could be barely made out stalking the woods for intruders. They kept the dwarves, the hibernating hives of mead bees and the authumla safe. Far in the distance across the lake, Sven could make out the pinpricks of light where Thunder Bay sits growing brighter each year. He said a silent prayer to Hlin for the continued protection of Utlegrheim as he carried his daughter through the dark house. If only his father had kept one of his works, preferably the hammer.
Before she finally drifted asleep she yawned out, "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
"Yes, sweetie, they are."
#Unreal #WhereAreTheMonstersNow #Fiction #Monsters #Childhood #Norse
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