Freedom is Mats Vederhus’ first collection of short stories. Originally published through Lulu, it is now available on Amazon Kindle Marketplace. It is possible to read it on any device, thanks to Amazon’s Kindle app.
Short story 10
Police chief Karl Frantzen was growing impatient. He stood planted in the family skiff, peering into the marina, where his daughter Eve came first, lifting a couple of beach chairs; followed by his wife, carrying their youngest son. «Are you coming,» he hollered with his powerful voice in a broad Kristiansand accent.
Eve sighed. «Why is it always me that has to lift the heavy stuff,» she thought to herself. Originally she’d planned to be alone this holiday, instead of going out to the cabin as they always did. But the thought of meeting Mark again made her warm inside.
Mark was an only child living with his parents in Oslo. Eve’s parents had lived there when she was little, but for as long as she could remember, she’d lived in Kristiansand.
“Was that it?”
Karl looked around the boat when Eve had eased the beach chairs on board.
“Yes, that was it. Come on, Mark and the others are probably waiting for us already!”
“Well, well, we best get going then.”
Eve had already gone to the front of the boat, throwing the mooring. Fifteen minutes later the skiff was chugging from the marina at Lund to the port of Kristiansand, where the Karlsen family was lined with all their rucksacks. The first person on land was Eve; she took the mooring, throwing herself in Markus’s arms immediately.
“Hey, good to see you again!”
They smiled at each other. Eve realized that she had missed the smell of his coal—black hair, which smelled faintly of orange, his slightly crooked mouth that seemed skewed when he smiled, and the sight of the dark brown of his eyes.
Soon all had come on board in the newly—stained skiff that slowly chugged out into the southern archipelago.
“My arms are freezing, look! Oh, how lovely it is to be out at sea!”
Eve stretched out her arm towards Mark, he touched it, nodding. She had goose bumps.
“What are you thinking? You’re so quiet.”
She was looking intently at him, as he was turning his head slowly away from the small window overlooking the ocean, and peering at her.
«I don’t know,» he said. «It’s so outrageously hot lately, I’ve felt as if the temperature’s been rising with every passing day.»
“Mark, Eve! Won’t you come up on deck? We have fresh shrimp and white wine here; you can get a glass each!”
“Not now Dad!”
Eve stood up. «I’m going up,» she said. «I’m tired of sitting here, we’re almost there.»
Mark continued staring out the window. «Maybe I’ll come up in a bit.»
Up on the deck of newly—stained skiff, the Frantzen and Karlsen families were seated around a small table eating shrimp. Eve’s father, a bearded, bespectacled man with clout and pipe was sitting with one hand on the wheel while picking up shrimp with the other.
“Hi Eve; won’t Mark come up?”
Eve’s mother looked at her in amazement.
“No, I think he wanted to be at peace.”
«He’s probably just tired,» replied Mark’s mother.
Eve sat on a small stool that stood close to her, picking up a shrimp and peering out at the sea. Along with the skiff’s chugging ever further out at sea, they were still surrounded by plenty of islets, reefs and islands of varying sizes. Here and there they passed by other boats, some with families looking like they were going on vacation, like themselves, others with a pair of lonely fishermen aboard.
Usually, she loved this life. She loved being on the southern coast, sunbathing, reading books, listening to the radio, and not having to worry about school; thus far, nothing could contradict that, but she couldn’t help feeling at an undercurrent of uncertainty.
In her mind she suspected that it had something to do with Mark, who was usually very excited to see her again, and now most of all seemed as if he wanted to be alone, immersed in his own thoughts. And then there was the heat; God, what a heat. It’d been supernaturally hot all month, but for the past two days the heat had been almost unbearable.
She turned to her father, who was delightedly puffing on his pipe and alternating between staring at the map that was taped to the wall next to him and watching out for oncoming traffic and unforeseen reefs.
“Are we almost there?”
“Soon, Eve; I guess we have half an hour left, approximately. It will be nice to get out to the cabin again, right?”
The adults weren’t concerned about the heat at all, what they talked about was the Watergate scandal in the United States.
Eve concluded that they must’ve noticed it, but thought that it was normal, or had simply decided not to worry because they thought they could do nothing about it. And per se, they were right; aside from traveling out to the cabin, of course.
Eve’s mother was sitting with Little John on her lap, babbling; only partially involved in the conversation with the others. Little John was two years old; everyone called him Little John, as he was named after Eve’s grandfather.
When Eve had gone to the front of the boat to get ready to moor, Mark finally came up from below deck. «I’ll have the top bunk,» he shouted. «Fat chance,» Eve cried back, throwing herself to land, bringing the mooring with her, before hurriedly tying a quick reef knot, running as fast as she could after Mark, who was already a few yards ahead of her.
The sun was burning her face, but she paid it no mind. All her senses were too busy recognizing smells, sounds and visual stimuli as she ran through the warm grass.
The cabin was located on a small hill opposite the pier. As Eve had come at the very top of the hill Mark was already unlocking the cabin. Sprinting all she could, she threw herself under Mark’s arm just as he opened the door, ran through the living room and into the bedroom she and Mark would be sleeping in.
«Gotcha,» she cried triumphantly as Mark entered the room with a view of the sea just a few seconds later. «That was cheating,» he said, «but I’ll be kind and won’t cavil”.
“Haha, you must learn that it pays to not open the door.”
“I’ve fallen for that before, haven’t I?”
«You certainly did last year,» Eve replied, laughing.
“Could you open the window, by the way?”
Mark nodded in recognition.
“It feels like I’m about to melt!”
Mark’s father appeared outside the window, carrying bags.
“Come on down to the boat, both of you — you need to help with carrying stuff!”
«Yes, yes,» Mark cried, irritated. He reluctantly went out of the room, signaling to Eve that she should follow.
“Just go ahead, I’m coming,” she cried from the top bunk. With a yawn, Eve closed her eyes and fell asleep on the pillow behind her.
From inside the room, she could hear her name being called out. She jumped up from the bed, jumped down on the floor and went into the living room.
“Will you join us for a game of Monopoly?”
Her mother and father looked at her; Mark’s parents were placing pieces with their backs facing her.
“Not right now, do you know where Mark is?”
“He went out a few minutes ago, said he wasn’t able to play Monopoly right now.”
“Is it OK with you if I go and look for him?”
“Of course, just don’t go into the woods alone without a flashlight!”
She closed the door behind her, peering out into the darkness and began walking towards the sea. The feeling of grass under her feet was making her mildly euphoric, almost ecstatic. Mark was down by the pier, looking up at the starry sky. She quietly went and lay down beside him, without saying a word.
«Have you noticed something,» said Mark, without looking at her.
«No, but I’m doing it now,» she replied immediately with her eyes fixed on a red dot that had seemed like a mere trifle last night. By now, it had grown at least twice as big, looking as if it was fluttering along with the heat waves positively knocking against them.
«I wonder what it is,» she said, looking at him.
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it. Whatever it is, it gives me a bad feeling. Do you remember the way we used to sit here on the dock for hours and catch crabs when we were littler?”
He turned as he spoke, staring at her, smiling.
“Yes, I do. It was great fun; I remember that I always tried to get larger and larger crabs, for I wanted to catch one that I could eat!”
Eve stood up. «I want to swim,» she said, taking Mark’s hand.
“Now? It’s eleven o’clock at night!”
“Yes, now. Did you think I meant tomorrow? It’s ridiculously hot out.”
Mark looked at her in amazement, but got up. He’d barely reached his feet before Eve pushed him into the water.
“Haha, you won’t have to change, your clothes will be dry in the morning when you wake up.”
Before any of them had time to think about it, Eve jumped into the water. The clothes made it difficult to move, but at least she had no shoes on. She opened her eyes; they burned a little; orienting herself, she found Mark’s legs, pulling him under, close. Holding his thin, almost frail body, she hesitated a moment before kissing him. Mark’s dark brown eyes were closed, and she could feel his tongue touching hers. Soon he opened his eyes, gave her a long and hard stare, before kicking his legs, pulling her to the surface and taking hold of her, pulling her even closer to him. The water lit by the dim glowing moon made her blonde, curly hair her twinkle as if coated with silver, complimenting her light skin. The smell of salt water, Marks’s dulcet body odors and pollen from the trees on land filled Eve’s stomach with butterflies. Soon, they both lay in the dry grass, embracing each other. «Touch me,» she whispered.
As they started walking toward the cabin, it was with the knowledge that what had just happened would never again happen for any of them.
Within the cabin, everyone had gone to sleep, and the total silence that prevailed created a sense of vacuum packed loneliness, enveloped in a pitch dark warm night. Exhausted, they fell asleep on the couch, counting each other’s heartbeats.
Eve woke up suddenly to sounds reminiscent of hissing and milling around the cabin.
She looked around, realizing that Mark still lay in the crook of her elbow. A quick glance out the living room window revealed a landscape on fire. The flames were licking up the tree trunks with seemingly unstoppable force, and the wind from the sea didn’t seem to make things better.
Mark was fast asleep, but she shook and struggled until he finally woke up.
“Mark, it’s burning!”
“Huh? Are you kidding me?”
“No, my God, look out!”
One look was enough — Mark threw himself off the couch, across the floor and into his parents’ bedroom.
Soon both families stood out in front of the cottage, with no clue what was happening. The landscape around them was riddled with rocks in all shapes and sizes; many of them still red hot.
Mark looked up; the sky above them was darkened by ash, the dot from the previous evening now occupying most of the sky. Mark kissed Eve as intensely as he could.
The others hugged each other, staring for a moment on the glowing sky, closing their eyes until they were surrounded by a deafening roar.