I never meant to end up in Tanner Falls. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone ever intends on ‘ending up’ here. Its just not that kind of place. The story of how that happened is filled with wrong turns, unforeseen consequences, and the dreadful judgement of an angsty twenty-three year old looking to get away from it all. I am sorry for that. I can’t change the past. No matter how good that sounds at this very moment, the past will always stay the same. That’s what Dad used to say, anyway.
My parents passed away in a car accident on June 1st, 2009. We had plans to go to the local beaches that morning. It was a hot, humid summer day in New Jersey. The forecast promised to top 100 degrees. Dad argued with Mom about picking up bagels before our trip. It was their Sunday morning tradition. But Dad knew there would be traffic. He knew the tourist assholes, as he called them, would be spinning down the roads at all speeds. Those clowns never respected the locals, he said. They never understood the stress their presence brought every year.
It was almost like he knew what would happen.
Dad tried to avoid the collision. He swung the wheel to the left a little too aggressively. The man swerved a little too suddenly. Maybe he was already too late. Maybe he panicked, and the sudden change in direction caused our car to lose control. I will never know… I wasn’t there. All I know is that my parents collided with the highway divider at a speed over sixty miles an hour. They both died on scene.
The experience left me feeling empty.
One wrong turn of the wheel left me alone in the world. Its funny how death works that way. I never had any siblings, or cousins, or other family to keep in touch. Don’t get me wrong – people filled the funeral home. Coworkers, distant relative, friends and friends of friends all stepped up to offer their most heartfelt condolences. Many of them offered to help with ‘anything I need’. But I don’t think they meant it. In the weeks that followed, the memory of my parents drifted away into the side-by-side graves just down the road from my house. The world moved on without them.
But I didn’t.
I spun my wheels in New Jersey for the next month. It hurt to live in the same house. Every morning, I expected Mom to call me downstairs for breakfast. Every afternoon, I expected Dad to pad through the door. But they never did. Our home stayed cold and empty. Something about the deletion of their lives shook me. Nothing stayed the same. And yet everyone else did. I realized around that time that I needed to leave.
I was lucky to be financially secure at the time. My job in web development allowed me to work from home, so it never really mattered where. Nothing really kept me in New Jersey anymore.
And so, one morning, I packed up my truck. I asked a real estate agent to put our house on the market. I waved goodbye to the neighbors. I took off work.
And then I left.
I never really had a plan in mind. The feeling of slipping out onto the open road was liberating, but once it wore off, the lack of a strategy really started to sink in. I wandered the highways for a few days. I slept in my car most of the way, just to save money, and one night, a Walmart employee knocked on my window at two in the morning. He told me to go home. The shame of that moment finally got my ass in gear.
I spent the next two days straight on the road.
I didn’t sleep during this time. The highway exits started to blend after a while. There were plenty of good options. I passed cities like New York, and Philadelphia, and D.C. But all of them seemed to be too infested with people for me. Traffic picked up the closet you got. Drivers became angrier and the rest stop employees seemed shorter tempered. I wanted woods. I wanted scenery.
I found my ideal destination a week after leaving Jersey.
The first thing that caught my attention about the town was the trees. Only bits and pieces of the Tanner Falls peaked out from the highway. The rest stayed hidden behind hundred feet tall oaks and pines and a winding road that wove its way through them all; into the forest. The mystery of that road felt infatuating. Like the very secrecy of it left the passerby wanting more. I pulled off at the next exit and decided to take a second look.
Loose bits of gravel groaned and shifted under my tires on the exit. The connecting street must not have been paved in years. That fact only added to my excitement. A lack of paving usually meant a lack of people, and a lack of people could only be a good thing. People started to piss me off more and more those days.
After a few feet, the road dipped suddenly and opened up to a wide open valley a few miles long. I slammed on the brakes just to keep from launching into the air over the incline. Once it steadied, I looked around and got a glimpse of the breathtaking little town below me.
It was truly beautiful.
The city itself only consisted of five-six main buildings in the snow stained center. A few dozen magnificent houses sprawled out from that point, with several acres of property attached to each. McMansions, as my mom would have called them.
I started to worry about money just after parking in the General Store lot. The town looked impeccably designed. Christmas banners and decorations hung from every street sign and building. A lot of the well dressed people looked at me suspiciously as I slipped out of my car in jeans and a tee. I expected that part. Locals always have a way of recognizing outsiders from the start.
The only real estate office in town had one of those flickering ‘Open’ signs. A picture of a woman in a sharp dressed suit stood confidently on the stenciled glass window sign. I knocked two times.
Reichert Realtors. The BEST (and only) deal in town!
Nobody answered. I considered leaving and giving up altogether. The town seemed to live a little bit above my price range. I noticed several high end fashion stores down the block. Finally, after one more knock, a woman stirred underneath a blanket on the dated blue couch. I recognized her face immediately from the ad. She stood awkwardly and tied her hair back into a ponytail, all the while wiping crud from her eyes.
Then she smiled and strutted towards the door, as if the whole thing never even happened.
“Hi! Sorry about that! Welcome to Tanner Falls, my name is Madeline, come on in.“
I opened the door and stepped inside a cramped office space. The place seemed only twenty feet wide. An awful stench of mothballs and dirty carpeting passed through the clicking fan. A coffee pot beeped aggressively in the corner, and Madeline rushed to cool it.
“Hi… I am hoping to look at any listings you might have in town, if that’s alright?” I asked dubiously.
She seemed surprised.
“Oh, my, really! Actually – yes. What brings you to our little town? Family?“
I smiled and stuttered a bit myself.
“Oh, yes, I have family from the area,” I lied. A bad lie. “Not in Tanner Falls, though. Nearby.“
She nodded hesitantly. After a quick conversation, I learned there were two listings in the area. Only one seemed to fall within my modest price range. The owners were apparently looking for a quick resolution, and Madeline handed me the address and a couple stat sheets. I asked to see it.
I fell in love the moment after we pulled up outside.
The colonial reminded me a lot of my home back in Jersey. It held three stories, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a finished basement. A lengthy veranda wrapped around and met a plush green lawn in the front and back yard. The grass looked recently mowed.
“*Former owners just moved out in January,” Madeline explained as she got out of her rusted Pontiac.
We looked around for the better part of the afternoon. The backyard contained an acre and a half of property that stretched into an empty and meandering woods. I checked the utilities to the best of my knowledge. Everything worked. The entire scene seemed like something out of my dreams on the road. I was downright giddy and all too ready to make a hasty decision.
“I’ll take it,” I told her.
Madeline again looked surprised. But the prospect of a sale quickly erased her doubt. She put on her game face and powered through the details.
“Oh, wonderful! There is some red tape we have to go through first. Obviously your bank and ours will have to go through the paperwork. Do you have a lawyer assigned? The mayor, Mr. Tanner, likes to meet all new residents.“
I nodded and returned to my car to collect all of the relevant information. By the time I got back, Madeline was on the phone with someone I presumed to be the mayor. I knew nothing about home buying. It did not seem weird that the man wanted to meet me.
“Yes. Yes, sir. New arrival. I’m not sure. Can you come by and meet him this afternoon? Wonderful! Thank you, Sir!“
She hung up and turned to me in excitement.
“With any luck, we can get this thing done today!“
“Ah, great. I checked Google and I don’t see any hotels in the area. Is it okay that I sleep in my car, if not?” I asked.
Madeline suddenly looked seriously concerned.
“The Mayor can address that point.“
We waited out front. I passed the time by looking at things outside; like the air conditioner, siding, and garage. Each of them seemed to be relatively new and recently maintained. Pictures of my potential future flooded my mind as Madeline paced nervously by the street.
Mayor Tanner pulled up in a fully loaded Range Rover a half hour later.
Nothing about the man appeared intimidating as he hopped down from the over sized truck. He was short – at least five foot five, with light blonde hair, matching beard, and a sagging belly. He wore a red checkered flannel shirt. He tripped over the lip of the curb while walking up to greet us.
“Afternoon, sir! I hear you are interested in living in our beautiful little town!“
We talked briefly about the neighborhood, and nearby essentials, and nearby activities. The lawyers promised to be done with the deal within the week. When I asked to sleep in my car for the night, Mayor Tanner’s face turned hard for the first time. He looked at Madeline and gave her an accusing glance.
“Son, there’s one detail about this town you should already know about. We were founded by Norwegian settlers in the early 1800s. Some of them are my ancestors. Those settlers had a tradition on their island, called Portfurbud. Now, I don’t expect you to know what that means, or why we do it, being an outsider… but we follow that law strictly here. The law states that the entire town in under curfew, every night, starting at eleven PM.“
I hesitated. He sensed that, and chuckled awkwardly.
“I know it sounds weird. But it has roots in safety. You don’t want to be on these roads at night. Bad weather and such. It’s for the best.“
I shrugged and muttered an unconcerned ‘okay’. It didn’t affect me at the time. I didn’t even know anybody. I had no reason to stay out late. The prospect of a brand new house pushed the concerning detail of a curfew away a little too easily.
“I just need a place to sleep tonight,” I replied.
Mayor Tanner adjusted his glasses and looked back at the house.
“*You can stay here. There is a couch already inside. I’ll tell your neighbors, and Madeline will just get a confirmation from the bank that the transfer is in progress. But don’t go telling your insurance companies that… they won’t like it. Paperwork and all. *“
We shook hands and agreed to meet back in the morning. After they left, I went into the house and took in my newfound dream life. The couch ended up being the only furniture. I grabbed my laptop, mooched the town WiFi, and spent most of the night ordering stuff on Amazon. The check out process didn’t work. My address did not come up in the system. I made a note to talk to Madeline about in the morning, and fell asleep somewhere after nine.
I woke up to the loudest siren I have ever heard in my life.
Do you know how some sounds can be so resounding, they shake the ground itself? This was one of them. The shock of the moment caused me to slip off the dusty couch outright. I gathered myself and stumbled to my front door.
I opened it to find an empty street outside.
The siren still played. I looked at my watch and covered my ears. 11:00. Suddenly, a car appeared at the intersection down the road. It picked up speed as the siren blared obnoxiously in the background. Dramatically, the driver swerved onto my block and bounced his way into the driveway next to mine.
A man in work clothes stumbled out of the front seat and looked over his shoulder. Then he ran to the front door of his house and shut it behind him.
I was left alone with the empty night and the last few remaining blares of the alarm. It stopped at 11:02.
I went inside and tried to go back to sleep. Regret started to file in. The curfew started to feel a little creepy. I could not figure out why my neighbor would be in such a rush to get home. It finally started to seem suspicious that the mayor wanted to meet me at all. Eventually, I fell asleep again, and dreamed about all three of them. They were congregated at Madeline’s real estate office in town. Mayor Tanner took a swig of stale coffee and nearly spit it out. My neighbor grinned sheepishly. They were laughing at someone. It had to be me.
I woke up again, at four am, to whistling. I cursed aloud and wondered what the fuck could be happening now.
The sound seemed out of place. My hollow home remained quiet and empty in the drizzling night. I checked my laptop, and my phone, and the basement to make sure all the lights were turned off. They were.
The storm continued to swing pine trees and cause chaos, but underneath it all, I still heard whistling. It was bizarre. I turned my attention outside and looked out the bay window.
Someone was standing in the street.
The weather made it difficult to see things clearly. From my perspective, the man had to be at least seven feet tall. He walked and whistled gently in the rain as if it were a sunny day. I could not see the features on his face, or the color of his clothes, but the whistling repeated the same sad, oddly pitched tune.
Up, up, down. Down, down, up.
I thought about opening the door. I thought about picking up my dusty rotary phone and calling the police, or my realtor, or the mayor. Anyone who would answer. The presence of the man freaked me out. Especially after hearing about curfew.
Before I could do anything, a scream reverberated somewhere down the street. The tall man seemed excited by the sound. He stopped whistling at once. He cocked his head to the left and listened for a moment. Then, in a flash of motion, he dropped to all fours and started to sprint. His hands pawed the gravel in front of him animalistically as he dashed outside my line of vision.
A second scream shattered the night.
I rushed to an adjacent window in the house. The high pitch tone implied a woman’s voice. But it was impossible to see her. Rain clouds covered the dark night and a massive pine on the neighbor’s front lawn obscured my view.
Halfway through the woman’s scream came a horrific roar. Her tone dissipated and drowned out as a quiet gurgling sound passed through my cracked windows.
The night grew quiet again. I sat frozen inside.
Then somebody started to whistle again.
Up, up, down.
Down, down, up.
I spent my first night in Tanner Falls hiding in the bathroom with the door locked. It was not a good look when the Mayor knocked at seven the next morning. He found me sweaty, sleep deprived, and ranting about a murderer in the streets out past curfew.
“Slow down. Slow down.“
Mayor Tanner repeated that same phrase dozens of times. Eventually it got so annoying that I shouted in his face to shut the fuck up and listen to me. After a pause, I felt bad for the aggression, and tried to explain my experience in a more reasonable tone.
“Look, I know what I saw last night. A woman was screaming in the streets. I think someone killed her. I saw a man out there. A very tall man. He was whistling.“
Mayor Tanner stared seriously through the drifting snow on my porch. The temperature dropped overnight. The mayor wore a button down and khakis now – a vast difference from the casual clothes from yesterday. The charm from our first encounter quickly wore off as he shifted his weight and tried to look intimidating.
“I am listening. But don’t raise your fuckin’ voice to me again, boy.“
His change in tone made me shiver. He still didn’t look intimidating. But something about his voice, or cussing, meant business.
“I apologize. I don’t feel safe here. I want to void the sale.“
The Mayor offered a polite smile and pushed his way into my house.
“I came by to tell you that the purchase went through. We rushed everything, like you asked. Your agent offered the list price, so no push-back from the seller’s side. No push-back from our side, obviously. Everything is done, son. You are now a homeowner.“
That fact hit me like a lead weight.
“There has to be some way to stop it…“
He interrupted me before I could finish.
“I can’t help you with that. I just came here to tell you what I told you. Talk to your bank, talk to your real estate agent. Maybe they can resolve it.“
The mayor looked around the house nostalgically.
“As for what you think you witnessed last night, please talk to my brother, Sheriff Tanner. He will want to hear about it.“
It was my turn to stare as I took in the onslaught of information. Some of it made sense. I hoped my bank could still cancel the transaction. I thanked the Mayor and tried to appear less crazy. I was just a kid, after all. I thought the problem could still be solved.
“Thank you for coming by,” I said awkwardly as Mayor Tanner made his way back towards the door. “By the way, I had some trouble ordering things online…“
“We have a P.O. box. Check with your neighbors. And introduce yourself! You’re a part of this community now.“
The moment Mayor Tanner hopped into his Range Rover, I pulled out my cell phone and tried to call the bank. But there was no signal. I tried the rotary phone in the house and found it dead as well. I rushed outside to find the mayor gone and six inches of snow stacked up on my driveway.
I tried to fiddle with the wires for a little. I checked my laptop. No luck.
I decided to check if the neighbors had a signal before trying to get to the sheriff station. The man who nearly missed curfew the previous night was outside shoveling snow from his driveway. I called out to him from the porch while shivering like an idiot in basketball shorts.
“Hey neighbor, nice to meet you!“
The man waved enthusiastically back. He wore a parka and overstuffed beanie. I could tell he had to be in his sixties. I shuffled through the slush on my sidewalk and cursed myself for not having smarter clothes as I approached their house.
“Hey, did you hear anything strange last night?” I asked through cupped hands.
My neighbor stared at me and shook his head.
“God, sorry, I am so rude. My name is Matt. I just purchased the house next door.“
The man smiled this time. He had light skin with bits of curly brown hair sticking out from under his hood. Those curls shook aggressively when he shook my hand.
“Matt, nice to meet ya, I’m Jon. My wife inside is Karen, my daughter is Isabelle. Your probably worried about the cell service, huh? You and my girls both.“
I laughed and relaxed a bit. Jon chucked his shovel and invited me inside for breakfast.
Their house looked a lot mine, but clearly furnished by someone with a lot better taste than my dream dorm room style. I met the Mrs in the kitchen and found her to be around the same age as her husband. Jon cooked up some delicious eggs and bacon while Karen asked about my family and life back home.
I told her the whole story. My parents, the trip, the things I saw last night. I did not leave out a single detail. The panic from my experiences had still not worn off.
About halfway through, a teenager girl with blonde hair walked into the kitchen and slyly slid into an empty seat at the table. When I finished talking, she introduced herself as Isabelle.
“You know Portforbud only became mandatory a week ago?“
Jon smashed his spatula against the counter softly.
“Izzy. Shut up now.“
Isabelle snorted and continued.
“Or what? They’ll hear us? He deserves to know.“
Jon turned back to his eggs and muttered something under his breath.
“It’s like you said. We were founded by Norwegian settlers. Those settlers preferred having a curfew. But there was never anybody around to enforce it. People came and went in the night as they pleased.“
I nodded and took a sip of my coffee while Karen picked nervously at her nails.
“So what changed?“
Isabelle leaned over the table and stared at me intently. She had beautiful, bright blue eyes that stuck out against her white tee and shorts.
“Mayor Tanner’s daughter got in a car accident up on the highway. The curfew has been mandatory ever since.“
Jon moved to quiet his daughter again. But before he could, a familiar alarm started to blare in the snow-swept streets.
“No, no, no, it’s still morning. Why would they do it now? Why now?” John muttered angrily to himself as he checked all of the door locks in a hurry. Karen squeezed her glass so hard it shattered.
“What does that mean? Does that mean curfew is ending? Maybe I should get back to my house…” I started.
“The alarm only sounds when Portforbud has begun,” Isabelle finished.
“There is no time. You have to stay here,” John insisted as he grabbed an unseen shotgun from behind the electrical fireplace. Panic seemed to encircle the room as Karen began to weep openly in her chair. I reached out an awkward hand to console her, only to have it slapped away.
“Don’t touch me!” she spat.
“Whoa, what the fuck is happening?” I asked.
Isabelle ran over to us and tried to calm her mother down. Karen shooed her away too. She walked over to a couch in the living room and laid down. Jon stayed perched by the window with his gun. We all stayed quiet as the alarm finished its round.
And then somebody started to whistle.
“There is one more thing you need to know,” Isabelle grabbed my shoulder and whispered nervously. Screams started to fill the streets. Karen moaned from the couch.
“The beast can only eat past Portfurbud.”
I spent my second day in Tanner Falls staring at snow through cracks in Jon’s window. There wasn’t much else to do. Karen continued to cry on the couch. People continued to scream in the streets. Isabelle continued muttering weird shit, and Jon continued telling her to shut up about it.
“The beast only eats past Portforbud.“
She must have repeated that stupid fucking phrase a thousand times.
Jon and I boarded up every outlet in the house shortly after the alarm sounded. The crazy little family actually seemed well prepared for the situation. Jon had some rotted wood from a past year’s deck remodeling still stuck in the backyard. He kept it inside after the first night of curfew. The nails were rusted and bent to shit, but the boards stayed attached to the molding just fine. We nailed each up side by side for a bit before he finally turned to his sobbing wife and tried to offer an apathetic solution.
“Izzy, please, take your mother downstairs. You will be safer there.“
Isabelle seemed more likely to fight than listen to her father. But Jon patiently raised a finger and gave the look of a Dad who meant business. His teenage daughter hushed up accordingly.
“Mom will be fine. You will be fine. I will be fine. We just need to be smart, Iz. We got an extra pair of hands now, anyhow.“
He pointed to me. I smiled and tried not to look creepy. That probably didn’t work. Isabelle muttered something under her breath and grabbed Karen under the shoulder. Karen got to her feet and proceeded forward like a zombie. The two of them disappeared down the stairs in an awkward stutter step as another person screamed outside.
Once they disappeared, he grabbed me by the shoulder and led me to a plush red love-seat by the living room window.
“I am sorry, kid. Truly. I wanted to ease you into this.“
I tried to keep my voice down. But the the growing panic of the last few moments finally needed to be released. It just so happened to be in front of the only person that seemed trustworthy in a week.
“Ease me into what? What the fuck is going on here, Jon? Who is screaming?“
My new neighbor shifted uncomfortably and stared at me for a moment. Like he was evaluating my trustworthiness. Then he looked back outside through a crack in the boards and spoke in a quiet tone.
“You know, Karen says that she recognizes them, sometimes.“
He paused and looked back at me with a forced grin. Something about the awkwardness of it made me uncomfortable.
“The screams, I mean. Of course.“
“Jon…” I started.
“Hey, hey, I am just saying!“
He raised his hands and seemed angry that I cut him off. I shut up.
“How about that, right? Never knew it was possible. But I’m not much of a research guy. Are you?“
Jon suddenly jumped away from the window in a panic and began to look for his gun. I tried to help. He found it a moment later, in the same spot he left it, sitting in the kitchen behind a garbage can. The relief of that moment caused Jon to collapse on the floor and breath a sigh of relief. He looked at me with the face of a man inches away from giving up.
“Karen counted twenty of our friends since last weekend,” he sobbed. It was uncomfortable to see a grown man cry. “Her best girlfriend. My best guy friend. Izzy’s old boyfriend. The mailman. You name it. Even our fucking pastor got axed sometime last week, and I heard that one, too.“
Jon coughed and rested his arm on the banister like he wanted to get up.
“Excuse my language son. Not the right example to set in my own fucking home.“
I chuckled at irony, and the fact that he thought cursing could be our biggest problem here. Then I walked over and helped him to his feet. Jon looked at me like I was nuts. I patted him on the back and sat him in a second seat by the window.
“Why don’t you leave?” I asked, gently this time.
He snorted in my face.
“You don’t think we tried? I tried every Goddamn day, boy. By the time I get close to the highway, that dang buzzer sounds off like a bat out of hell.“
“Yeah, exactly. You caught me flying by the seat of my pants just to get back. I thought there was enough time. My watch said six o’clock when I left.“
“How can that be? You’re right next to the freeway. It’s only five minutes away.“
“That’s what I’m trying to fucking tell you. There’s no rules. The curfew changes. The time changes. Everything changes every day and I don’t know why or when or how. The only order is disorder.“
“Okay.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, other than the next obvious question. “What’s out there?“
Jon snorted again. The wind started to slam against the house and shake the foundation. I shivered uncomfortably and listened to another scream. It was too distant to hear a voice that time.
“Everyone has their theories,” Jon spit in disgust. “Karen says the Mayor made a deal with the Devil…. Isabelle is wrapped up in some kind of Norse mythology horse shit… I don’t know, son.“
He got back to his feet and shuffled over to a loose board.
“All I know is that this house needs to be protected from whatever the fuck is out there.“
And so I spent all of the morning with my eyes on the snow. Jon drifted in and out of sleep in his overstuffed chair. The girls snored from downstairs. I never heard the siren again, but the screams started to dissipate sometime around four in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to take a look around.
Memories of Tanner Falls flooded the family’s walls. Each alcove seemed dedicated to dozens of pictures – from fishing trips, to swimming at the lake, to bake sales. I recognized my real estate agent, Madeline, posted next to Karen in one of them. Another gave special focus to a deli on Main Street named Jorlanos. Mayor Tanner posed in front of that one, with a jovial smile twisting his jowls and awkward arm around Jon. A third photo showed the house in tinted sepia tone.
Sometime after six PM my own lack of sleep started to kick in. I stared through my crack in the windows at the unending drifts of white snow for hours. But nobody seemed to show. I fell asleep listening to the gusts of wind and wondered whether it must just be other families trying to escape their homes. It was stupid to let me guard down. I know that now. But I trusted them. It didn’t matter how.
I woke up, hours later, to an earth shattering roar from something outside.
The sound made me sit up quick. I smacked my head on a floorboard in surprise. From that fact alone, the beast had to be close. I listened intently, and after a moment, a woman screamed. That part almost felt routine. But this time, I recognized her tone. It had to be Madeline.
I got up from my seat and looked around the room as claws clicked across the street outside. Jon was missing, but Isabelle sat in his spot. She sat posed with arms over her ears. She saw me, and mumbled something that was hard to hear. I stopped and tried to listen to her for a moment. But there was no need. Eventually, Isabelle got louder, to the point where she stood on the couch and screamed the words to the empty room like a bratty child.
Then she laughed.
She tried to make a song of her little phrase. She even danced to it.
All the while, an all too familiar gurgling and an all too familiar whistle filled Tanner Falls with fear.
“Fenrir is here. Fenrir is here. Fenrir is here!“
I spent my final night in Tanner Falls trying to pull sense out of my delirious neighbor. It did not go well. Eventually she stopped screaming. Eventually I convinced her to get down from the couch. But the cacophony of whistling and clicking claws in her front yard probably had a lot more to do with that than me.
“Calm down. Calm down. Please. You have to tell me what is going on. Who is Fenrir? Who is here? Please Isabelle I don’t know what the fuck any of this means and I think they are looking for you and me.“
That last part was not just a blind threat. I could hear the man’s boots from somewhere near the driveway. I recognized the rhythm of his weird little song from earlier.
Down, down, up. Up, up, down.
They had to be on the property.
“Someone heard you,” I whispered poorly. Isabelle’s bright blue eyes opened wide as we listened in silence. After a moment, she mouthed and pointed –
And so I followed. We tried to quiet our footsteps on the carpeted staircase. But the old wood creaked and groaned uncomfortably on the final ledge. Seemingly in response; a tired, grated voice called out in response from somewhere in the backyard.
Isabelle rushed into the first open door. I followed inside and jumped behind a bed just as she bolted the lock and huddled beside me. We listened.
Something started to dig.
I know that sounds absurd. But it was like a dog who found a piece of junk buried in the backyard. The massive animal seemed tentative at first. It pawed nervously at the foundation of the house. Then it found its sweet spot. The creature dug so deep and quick that the whole house started to shake. Picture frames and knick-knacks fell from counter-tops and shattered. Entire shelves dropped to the floor. I thought the whole house might topple over, just as that same voice called out again.
And everything stopped.
I realized that Isabelle was crying beside me. I gently pushed her face into my sweatshirt. I thought someone slipped me acid. I thought I was on a game show. I thought just about every single rational possibility, but I still did not expect what happened next.
Two voices screamed side by side from the basement. I knew whose screams they were. The man outside spoke again – so loud through the storm that I wondered how the whole neighborhood could not hear him.
The house shook again before the screams petered out pitifully. Blood dripped on the deck. At least the beast was merciful enough to slit their necks first. Around that time I realized that the gurgling never came from the victims. The man speaking spit up a little bit as he chewed through the limbs of Karen and Jon. This time I could hear the his teeth grind against my neighbors with the clarity of being only two fucking stories above where it was happening.
Isabelle continued to whimper inside my sweatshirt.
“Fenrir is here. I said, I told them, nobody believes me… Fenrir is here…“
I never saw anything. But the sound painted an all too detailed image. Eventually the creatures seemed satisfied. Massive boots retreated down the snow strewn driveway. Blood covered claws clicked their way across the lawn. We stayed in Isabelle’s bedroom with the door locked nonetheless. It only felt safe to leave at dawn.
When morning came, we went downstairs and cautiously examined the wreckage of the family home. A gaping hole sat outside the basement. Films of blood covered the panels of wood panels we put up only a morning before. It looked like Jon and Karen tried to escape. But it was too late. Too late for anybody to do anything.
Isabelle broke my concentration by clearing her throat gently. I turned to look at her. She held a book that she must have just picked up off the floor, and read from it like we were in English class.
“One evening, a settler’s daughter went out to swim in the wide dark sea…
“Isabelle, cmon, what the hell is this… what are we going to do…” I started in a sob. She cut me off.
“You want to know what I know, right?” she asked with full sass. I nodded. “Then let me read this.“
She cleared her throat again. I guessed that the shock of her parents death wore off pretty quick. I think she was just numb.
“Her father said to be careful. He told her ‘Be home by Portforbud.’ But the girl was rebellious. She swam out into the sea further than any man could see. And then she disappeared.“
She paused and shifted her hips like a school teacher.
“Her father felt hopelessly guilty. He paid the fisherman and sailors in town huge sums of money just to try and see if they could summon his daughter from the sea. But nobody did. He searched for her himself, for years, until he eventually became the lonely man who waited the sea.“
Isabelle looked at me to make sure I was listening.
“One day, Loki approached the same sad man on the beach. The God told the man that he could bring back his daughter from the sea. She would be alive and well within a week. But he would only do it for a fee.“
Isabelle sniffled softly, then stiffened her upper lip.
“Loki needed a place for his son, Fenrir, to feed,” she said triumphantly. “And so they struck a deal. The town would allow Fenrir to feed on his village, only past curfew hours, as a means of warning to other children in town. The pact would remain in place without suspicion until the time the farmer died.“
“So THAT’S what you think happened?” I asked in disbelief.
“Who do you think wrote this? Mayor Tanner. Mayor Tanner is obsessed with Norwegian mythology. He made us memorize all the God’s names in school. Who does that? Do you think it’s a fucking coincidence that his daughter just died? Do you think it’s a coincidence that some animal is roaming the town killing everyone?“
I had to give it to her. It made sense.
“If this is true we need to get out of here. Even if it’s not, we need to get out of here.“
Before she could offer a sassy retort as to why not, the alarm sounded. Shock sent me to the floor as Isabelle stood calmly at the window and tried to look outside.
“Go. Go now.“
Good enough for me.
I pulled off the boards to the front door in a panic and spilled outside into two feet of sitting snow. Isabelle fell beside me. We scrambled like rats to the SUV sitting in my driveway. I still had the keys in my pocket. I unlocked it just as another scream echoed down the street. Its horrible to say. But I was glad that Fenrir had someone else for their feast.
We got in the car and tried to back out before even wiping off the mounds of snow from my windshield. It was tough to maneuver at first. But eventually my SUV broke free of a drift and skidded down the street. Once I felt confident enough that the four wheel drive found a groove, I pushed the speed up to twenty, and then thirty. I tried to focus on the road while Isabelle focused on the street.
Halfway through our drive to the highway, she screamed.
I only got a glimpse of the beast from the rear-view. And I could only see pieces of its fur as the entirety of the shape took up more than my small little mirror could offer. I turned around for a moment and saw Fenrir in all his ten feet tall glory.
The wolf moved impossibly quick through the snow. For a sickening moment, I thought he might be able to catch us. But the car continued to chug forward. The alarm continued to sound.
And then it stopped. Fenrir stopped as well. He sat on his hind legs like an absurd little house pup and watched us drive away. We turned a corner, and he was gone.
Isabelle laughed hysterically from the passenger seat. The highway entrance stood only a mile down the road. We were home free. I pushed my foot to the gas pedal as far as it would go. We skidded out onto the first paved road.
But I nearly crashed into the entrance ramp when Isabelle reached out and swerved the wheel.
I hit the breaks and screamed in her face.
“What the fuck!“
She pointed wordlessly into the woods. There was an old metal building that poked out from tops of the pines. I had never seen it before. But it looked like tall enough to hold a siren.
Plus, Mayor Tanner hung from the top.
I stumbled with the gears of the car and tried to get going again. But Isabelle placed her hand on mine and nodded towards the tree line. The teenage girl that stepped out through the forest looked to be about her age. She had matted brown hair with dirty, bloodied clothes. I thought she might make a move for our car as she stumbled forward. I pushed into drive and disappeared down the highway. I almost cried at the sight of traffic.
Isabelle only spoke again once we crossed the state line.
“Did you know that I had a sister?“
I shook my head. She nodded from the passenger seat without much surprise.
“Dad never talked about it. He felt guilty, I guess. Sarah and Laney Tanner died in his car, after all. They stole it. One week ago today.“
I sensed an explanation coming. Neither of us had eaten in days. We only slept in between shifts. I told her to wait. We pulled into a rest stop and I ordered some breakfast. She explained her story to me over cold bacon and warm tea.
“They were the crazy kids in town,” she chuckled a bit as she stared at the food with disgust. “Crazy is a nice word for it.“
“They never went to college. They never got jobs. Both kids just wanted to stay close to home, and party, so they bought an apartment in town. But two twenty year old just don’t belong in a small place like Tanner Falls. That’s what my dad used to say, anyway.“
I stared at her. People came and went inside the crowded cafeteria. But nobody listened. Nobody knew the context of our situation.
“They got drunk that night. They took Dad’s car from the garage and went out to a bar a town over. They were underage. Sheriff Tanner caught them, but they tried to outrun him, once they got back into town,” Isabelle looked at me again with those beautiful blue eyes. They looked so hopeful. I didn’t see that at the time.
“They hit a tree and died. In the exact spot we just saw her.“
The pieces started to flow together. I stared at my egg sandwich stupidly as Isabelle got up from her seat and said she needed to find a bathroom. I deliriously agreed while trying to think up our next strategy.
I waited for a half hour. She never came back. I looked around inside the rest stop probably a lot longer than I should have. But I still trusted her. I did not think she could just abandon me. And yet when I finally made my way back to the spot we parked the car, it was gone. So were my keys.
I have not seen or heard from her in three years.
Eventually, I made my way back to Jersey. Eventually, I saved up enough money to find another place. I tried to put Tanner Falls behind me. I tried to write off the entire experience as a bad dream. But I can’t erase my own memory, no matter how much I try. The past always stays the same. Just like Dad said. Maybe it’s the way that entrance road weaves its way through the Pine trees. Maybe it’s the way the town seems to invite mystery. Maybe it’s the endless Internet searches that have ended with little or no luck. Or maybe it’s just the weird phone calls. They all share the same message.
“It’s happening again. Come back to Tanner Falls.”