Oh, and the idea of a museum at the Kastrup fort with Kitty as a mascot and children’s guide had already been brewing in my head for a while before I stumbled over this in a museum in Italy. Sometimes life is just as strange as fiction…
Well, all sorts of things have been going 0n. Some good, some not so good. I should get some write ups done soon, but in the meantime here’s another piece of Stand Still, Stay Silent fanfic that I whipped up for a challenge on the fan forum. It will not make a huge amount of sense if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, but it’s got to be better than nothing, right? 😉
Prompt: An expedition and/or refugees from a safe zone somewhere beyond the ocean land in Iceland, where Reynir is tending his sheep.
Hallo Good This Him
Even the most optimistic of individuals would be hard pressed to describe watching sheep in a safe zone as an exciting way to spend a week.
There had never been any wolves in Iceland. Even before the Illness. The winters were too harsh for wild dogs to get established and the foxes and ravens were only a threat to sick or newborn lambs. A beast of some kind might occasionally lumber out of the ocean or sneak in in the hold of a cargo ship, but the Coast Patrols and the Customs Cats reliably took care of those. Iceland was safe, safe as could be, and the only threat to its sheep was their own stupidity. And – taken as a whole – they weren’t terribly stupid.
Which made Reynir Árnison wonder why his parents were so insistent on sending him out to watch them for a week.
“It’s time you got some fresh air young man!” they’d said, pushing him out the door while shoving a sheepskin bag full of food into his arms. “How long has it been since you’ve spent any time with the flocks?” He’d protested that he’d been getting plenty of fresh air doing the farm chores and he’d spent several days minding the flocks just that week, but they’d refused to listen and ordered him to take the animals on a week long walk around the moors, firmly shutting the door behind him. He’d spent the first two days wondering why they were so insistent, and eventually decided they just must have wanted some time alone.
Which was well and good in principle he supposed, but after days of watching his woolly charges munch on grass and low shrubs, and throwing sticks for Bjössi the sheepdog, he was rapidly approaching his boredom limit. The most exciting thing to happen all week was a ewe tumbling down a slope and being either too stunned or too woolly headed to find its way back up. He’d briefly considered herding the entire flock to the top of same hill in the hopes of a few repeat performances, but decided it would be unnecessarily cruel.
Today, on the leg of his trip that took him closest to the ocean, he’d herded the flock into a small valley, set Bjössi to watch them and sat down in some hillside rocks to concentrate on his carving.
He’d taken up carving the previous winter and was finally reaching the point where the results resembled what he’d envisaged, rather than a potato confounded by witchcraft. Currently he was finishing up a kitten. It was posed in a crouch with its nose to the ground and its rear end and tail up in the air. Overall it was looking quite good he thought.
He was just cleaning up some details on the paws when Bjössi let out the quiet “voff” that meant “strangers”. Reynir looked up, expecting to see an errant naturalist or a wandering shepherd from one of the neighbouring farms, but instead beheld three strangely dressed figures walking down the opposite side of the vale.
They were garbed more or less identically in what looked like some kind of military fatigues made of a heavy, dark fabric. Each was adorned with a series of pouches and bore a large pack – with a rifle strapped across it Reynir noticed slightly nervously. Their heads were encased in hoods with large glass portholes that glinted in the sun. One of them was waving a metal rod – attached to their backpack by a wire – around in the air, staring closely at it, then waving it around again.
Reynir didn’t think they’d seen him. After thinking about it for a minute he stood up, and waved.
The trio halted. They seemed to confer and after a few seconds one of them waved back. All three resumed walking, straight towards him.
Reynir waited, swallowing hard as he wondered if he’d made the right decision.
As the trio drew closer Reynir could make out more details. They were definitely dressed in uniforms, with badges glinting on their collars and chests. They wore heavy boots and gloves, and some kind of breathing apparatus was attached to the front of their hoods. A blue and white insignia was stitched onto their shoulders although he couldn’t quite make out the details.
Coming up the hillside, the lead figure – whose collar Reynir noticed was decorated with a pair of golden leaves and a crown – raised his hand in what was clearly a greeting. Reaching Reynir’s position he pressed a button on the side of his breathing mask and an amplified voice rang out.
“Hello!” responded Reynir.
“Parleh vuh fronseh?”
The figure sighed. He (it was a he Reynir thought) turned towards the other two and gave a surprisingly expressive shrug. He turned back to Reynir and spoke again, seemingly with some reluctance,
“Duhyuh spick hingleesh?”
Reynir wasn’t entirely sure, but he though the man seemed somewhat relieved. He turned to the taller of his companions and muttered something that sounded like “Fotreh door shone poll”.
The tall figure nodded and stepped forward, pulling a small, but nonetheless fat notebook out of one of his pouches. It looked well used, with a fraying cover and various loose sheets and cloth markers poking out from between the pages. As the man flipped rapidly back and forth through it, Reynir noted that among the badges pinned to his chest was one shaped like a book – although a much neater one.
Apparently having found what he was looking for, the man pressed the button on his mask and cleared his throat, and commenced speaking in a loud and slow voice.
“This us some ocean having crossed between elected soil of holy river lor-rence bring this him hallo good this him those enslave this we discussion about desire big do”
He peered at Reynir hopefully.
Reynir considered this stream of heavily accented gibberish and came up with the best response he could.
The book man’s shoulders slumped. The other two exchanged what seemed like meaningful looks and the one with the metal rod stepped forward and ran it up and down Reynir’s braid. It beeped.
“I’m sorry, I only speak Icelandic” Reynir explained, doing his best to ignore the person with the rod who was now waving it around a politely intrigued Bjössi. “Ice-land-ic“.
The book man held up the notebook,
“Best Icelandic having” he explained grimly.
“Do you speak Norwegian, or Swedish, or Danish? We could go back to the farm and I could find someone, there’s a Dane at the Gunnarsson farm I think, or there was last summer and…”
“Best Norwegian, best Sweden, best Dane” the book man interrupted holding up the notebook again. “Stitching is this him words through books and elderly broken”.
Before Reynir could decipher this, the leader – he’d decided that the man with the crowns had to be the group’s leader – stepped forward and grabbed the notebook from the book man’s hand. They proceeded to have an animated discussion involving a lot of arm waving and shouting, at the end of which the leader violently shoved the notebook back at the book man – who was some kind of Skald Reynir now reasoned – and strode off several metres, staring at a distant mountain and muttering darkly. The Skald turned back to Reynir with an apologetic expression.
“That him” he nodded towards the leader “need think, is this the place monsters and want vomit?”
Reynir considered this.
“Well…” he started “There’s no monsters around here. Usually I mean. And if he needs to… vomit… I guess there’s the bushes?” he pointed to a low clump of vegetation being gnawed on by a ewe. The wand bearer – who Reynir was mildly surprised to realise was female – rushed over and waved the wand around the branches. It made a series of beeping sounds which she seemed to find dissappointing. She started waving it around the ewe instead.
“Want vomit” the Skald elaborated “Uh…” he coughed theatrically and mimed frantically scratching his arms and neck before raising his hands into claws and growling.
“You mean the Illness?” realised Reynir “No! There’s no Illness in Iceland. Ever!” The Skald looked blank. Reynir tried again “Iceland no want vomit. No no want vomit!”
“This Iceland no want vomit?” asked the Skald, obviously catching on. “This Iceland no never no want vomit?”
“No never no want vomit!” confirmed Reynir “Iceland no monster, no want vomit. And it’s not want vomit, it’s the Illness“.
“Thee-eel-ness” repeated the Skald, pulling out a pencil and making a note in his book. He walked over to the leader and they had a brief conversation, during which the Skald pointed at his hood.
The leader exchanged a few words with the wand-woman and then shook his head. The Skald sighed.
“That him not specificity this speed” he explained.
“Ah” Reynir sympathised.
The leader spoke up again. The Skald consulted his notebook and translated.
“Where place the head?”
“Uhhh…” Reynir commented while trying to process the sudden change of subject “On a pillow?” he finally suggested.
“Onapillo this the head?”
“I don’t have a pillow with me, but you could roll up my cloak and use that if it would help? That’s what I usually do.” Reynir suggested.
The Skald considered this and apparently decided to try again.
“Ray-kee-a-veek the head?”
“Rey-kee-a-veek…” Reynir had a sudden burst of understanding “Reykjavík? Do you mean Reykjavík?”
The Skald’s eyes lit up with excitement
“Rey-kee-a-veek! Hwee! Rey-kee-a-veek! Where place this Rey-kee-a-veek?”
“It’s…” Reynir paused, his excitement fading. “I.. I don’t actually know. The coach road goes there but I don’t even know how many days it takes.” He muttered miserably “I’m sorry! I’m terrible…”
The Skald looked sympathetic. He pulled a compass out of a pouch.
“This Rey-kee-a-veek northing, south, east and easting?” he pointed to the markings on the compass.
Reynir pulled himself together. He knew the right direction even if he wasn’t sure of the distance.
“West” he said firmly, pointing at the appropriate marking, which for some reason was labelled with an ‘O’.
“Easting?” asked the Skald.
“That’s west” Reynir corrected. “West“.
“Bee-en sewer!” muttered the Skald, slapping his forehead theatrically and making another pencil note “Hwest!”. He walked back to the leader and they had another short conversation during which Reynir could make out the repeated words “Reykjavík” and “kapitaleh”. The wand woman, apparently running out of things to wand at, walked over and joined in. After a minute or two the leader nodded. The Skald walked back to Reynir.
“This us turning again across vessel, sheets to Rey-kee-a-veek.” He pointed towards the coast. “This us thanking this him”. He nodded politely and started striding away towards his companions, who had already set off and were halfway down the hillside.
Watching the strangest – but at the same time most interesting – people he’d ever met walking away, Reynir was struck with a sudden notion. “Wait!” he shouted. The group paused as he ran up to them.
He reached into his bag and pulled out the wooden kitten. “Take this. For luck!”
The Skald took the kitten and looked it over closely. He showed it to the others, then placed it gently in one of his pouches. He then pointed to his chest. “Shone Poll” he pronounced carefully
“Reynir” replied Reynir, pointing at his own chest.
“Mersee Renee-a” said Shone Poll. He reached up and unclipped a pin from his collar and held it out. Reynir took it.
“Thanking this Renee-a. This banner for bringing good happen this you.” He saluted.
Reynir – much to his own surprise – saluted back. The leader and the wand woman both nodded to him, and the group moved off, heading down the hill back towards the other side of the valley.
Reynir watched them go. Once they’d passed over the ridge of the far hill he looked down to examine the pin. It was a deep blue flag decorated with a white cross – centred, unlike the ones was used to – with a small white flower in each of the quarters. A large leaf, looking not unlike one of Bjössi’s paw-prints, was overlayed in the middle, picked out with silver.
He clipped it to his cloak and ruffled Bjössi’s head.
“Well.” He reflected. “That was… interesting”
A pathetic bleat rang out. Reynir looked down to see the same sheep that had rolled down the hill, now with its leg inexorably stuck in a rabbit hole.
Strange visitors or not, sheep were still sheep. He sighed and started down the hill.
Ack! Long time no blog. Pushing through to the end of the working year drained me to the point where I was running on fumes with just enough energy to make it through each day without complete mental and emotional collapse, so writing witty blog posts was completely beyond me. But I’ve rested up for a couple of days, eaten some turkey and banished all thought of work to the land of wind and ghosts, so should be right for a while now.
Anyway, as my previous post suggested I have fallen deeply into the Stand Still Stay Silent fan community. Well, deeply for me, which means I lurk on the fan forum and occasionally pop up to make inane comments. A couple of these inane comments (and too much turkey) have led me to perpetrate an awful crime against the noble art of fan fiction, which I have decided to present here so the world may judge it and decide on an appropriate punishment.
(It goes without saying that it will not make much sense unless you’re familiar with the comic. Frankly it may not make much sense even if you are familiar with the comic, but at least you’ll know who the characters are. Also in SSSS the new year is in Autumn, which is why August comes after October.)
So here we go. I have no title for it, but then it probably doesn’t deserve one…
SAIMAA – OCTOBER, YEAR 78
The door flew open, letting in a gust of cold wind and a swirl of snow. Lalli, who had been practicing some simple spells by the hearth, leapt up as his grandmother staggered in, grabbing at the doorpost for support.
“Grandma..?” he started uncertainly.
“Lalli! Oh Gods Lalli! Where are your cousins?” Grandma staggered across the cabin towards him but collapsed onto the table halfway. Lalli ran to her and helped her to her feet. “Where are your cousins child? Quickly!”
He hesitated “I.. I don’t know Grandma. Onni said he was going hunting…”
“You have to find him. And Tuuri! It’s not safe!”
Lalli helped Grandma into a chair. She sagged forwards, burying her face in her hands as he ran across the room and pushed the door closed, jumping up to pull the latch firmly shut. He ran back to the chair and knelt by her side.
“What’s wrong Grandma? What happened?”
“I… I thought maybe I could teach them!” she moaned “There were books I read, as a child…”
“Teach who? What did you try to do?”
“…they seem so much like us in so many ways. I didn’t think the illness had changed them as much as the others…”
Lalli was frightened now. No matter the problem, no matter what went wrong, Grandma always knew what to do. Seeing her so confused, so frightened shook his world to its core. He threw his arms around her legs and buried his face in her lap.
“Grandma, what should we do?”
He felt her take a deep, shuddering breath and shift upright. When Lalli looked up, the calm, strong Grandma he’d always known had returned. She pulled him to his feet and looked him in the eyes with a sad smile.
“It was a mistake. I should never have tried it. It was a terrible mistake and now we have to make it right.”
She took Lalli’s hands in hers.
“I need you to go and find your cousins. We’re going to have to leave this place. But before we do, there’s something I need to teach you…”
NORTH SAIMAA – AUGUST, YEAR 78
There was a space under the jetty just big enough to hide in and stay dry.
It was Lalli’s favourite place. He’d found it not long after they’d arrived at the village, three months back, and he retreated there regularly – particularly when Onni wanted him to do chores.
Today he was using it as a hideout after stealing a fresh bread roll from the village bakery. He knew that Grandma wouldn’t approve, but…
He paused, his thoughts halted by a pang of sorrow. Grandma wouldn’t have approved. It was Onni who was in charge now. Grandma’s plan to lure away and then outrun the… the thing, had worked, but at a dreadful cost.
But things were slowly getting better. Almost a year of running from village to village had ended. They’d found a home. Onni was working hard to earn them a place here, Tuuri was learning weird foreign languages at the school and Lalli – Lalli was training as a scout, stealing rolls and hiding under a jetty where he could eavesdrop on his fellow villagers with little chance of discovery.
Two of those villagers, both fishermen, were walking up the boards from their newly landed boat. Lalli tuned in to their conversation as he chewed.
“Did you hear that racket last night?”
“Out in the woods past the south wall, you seriously didn’t hear it?”
“You know I’m a deep sleeper”
“You’d have to be. Weirdest damn noise I’ve ever heard, and it went on forever.”
Lalli stopped eating as a wave of foreboding swept over him.
“Probably just some troll”
“Not like any troll I’ve ever heard”
“Well, what’d it sound like?”
“Well first of all there was this deep humming sound, like standing next to a hive of giant bees…”
“There you go, it was just a hive of giant bees!”
“Shut up! Then over the hum there was this horrible, high pitched wail, like someone was strangling a pine marten.”
“Well, maybe that’s what giant bees do for fun!”
“Are you taking this at all seriously?”
“You’re an idiot.”
The two walked away, continuing their banter as Lalli cowered under the jetty.
It had found them again.
KEURUU – YEAR 84
Lalli had been sitting, staring at the blank report ever since he’d made it back through the east gate just before dawn. What could he write? Onni had been clear when they’d first arrived at the base – if the authorities found out just what had followed their family halfway across Finland they’d be out of Keuruu faster than a Grade A feline pouncing on a rat-beast. He could probably make something up, but what would prompt an appropriate level of caution without giving away exactly what…
“Lalli!” his thoughts were interrupted by Tuuri, scurrying across the compound and waving vigorously despite juggling two steaming wooden bowls.
“Welcome back!” she exclaimed, plonking onto the bench opposite and setting down the porridge. “I bought you some breakfast since I thought you wouldn’t have…” she saw the look on his face and paused. “It’s not…” she began.
“Yes” he replied.
Tuuri paled and pushed the bowls aside.
“But we’ve come so far!” she whimpered “You’re sure it wasn’t…”
“Yes” he interrupted.
She buried her face in her hands for a full minute as Lalli sat in silence.
“We have to tell Onni” she finally whispered “But if we do he’ll only want to move us again, and there’s nowhere else to go!” She took a deep breath and looked up at her cousin. “The spell. The one that Grandma taught you, will it keep it away?”
Lalli thought for a few seconds. “Yes”.
“And the walls here are strong. If you can force it to keep its distance, Onni might never hear it. He’ll think it lost our trail after all. Could that work?”
“Good!” She jumped to her feet. “I’ll go remind him how terrible the outside is and how he should never leave the base! He already mostly thinks that, so it won’t be very hard.” She turned to go, then turned back “And don’t tell anyone about this! Ever! Understand?”
Filled with determination, Tuuri strode rapidly away in the direction of their quarters.
The sun rose slightly higher. Lalli was just finishing his bowl of porridge when he spotted the Scout Sergeant striding across the compound.
“All night scout summaries are due now! Don’t make me ask again, people!”
Lalli scribbled down the first thing that entered his head and ran off to submit the report, pausing only to grab the second porridge bowl as he did so.
THE DREAM REALM – YEAR 90
“No” said Onni “I’m ordering you to not step outside your perimeters again until I say you can. It’s not safe.”
“I – ” began Lalli
“Don’t argue…” Onni paused, closed his eyes and turned away. “It’s looking for us again”
COPENHAGEN – YEAR 90
This was it. No more running. It was going to end tonight in the ruins of this weird, scary, foreign city.
He’d known it was coming, ever since Onni had warned him. It might seem impossible that the creature could follow he and Tuuri across the entire world, but it had tracked them for over ten years and across most of Finland, so whatever strange force linked them was clearly not hindered by distance.
It had been lurking at the edges of his dreamscape for at least a week, getting stronger each time he spotted it from the corner of his eye. So tonight, under the cover of scouting a route for the morning, Lalli was on the hunt.
It would be near the water of course. Fresh water. And to intrude on his dreams so strongly it couldn’t be far away. He’d examined the map that the crazy Norwegian lady was always waving around and decided the most likely place for the beast to be lurking was the weird, star shaped lake in the north of the ruins.
He’d carefully made his way to the southern point of the star and had sat quietly in wait for several hours. But it was getting late, and there was no sign of the beast. If this was going to be over tonight, he had to take a chance.
With a whispered prayer to the Gods, he picked up a rounded stone and stepped out into the open.
With one swift motion he hurled the stone. It skipped across the water, bouncing several times before sinking into the depths with an echoing plunk.
Lalli’s shoulders fell.
But then, a stream of bubbles rose from the depths of the lake. The stream elongated, heading across the water towards the shore where Lalli stood. He stepped back, drawing his blade.
As the bubbles drew close the dark bulk of the creature rose up from the murk. It had grown since Lalli had seen it last outside the walls of Keuruu. Its black skin glistened in the moonlight and it wheezed as it hauled itself onto the land.
The drone began. The deep thrumming buzz that had driven so many to madness since the day twelve years ago when Grandma had made her terrible mistake. Then the high pitched, piercing, demon-wail. Lalli resisted the seductive urge to block his ears and flee and instead summoned his internal strength. Raising his hands he intoned the last spell Grandma ever taught him,
Musiikki on kamala, Sinun pitäisi, Tuntea huonoa! Mennä kotiin norppa, Olet humalassa!
The beast paused, its infernal cacophony dying away as it pulled its head back and upwards – almost as if it was offended by the words of power. Taking his chance, Lalli lept forwards, stabbing his knife upwards into the creature’s bloated air-sack.
The beast let out a high pitched squeal and fell back towards the water, trying to shake Lalli off. But he kept hold with an iron grip born of twelve long years of fear and rage. The creature’s flippers beat at him, but he refused to let go, tearing at the cursed thing that had started all the madness. As the first glimmer of light crept into the pre-dawn sky he tore it loose, and the beast let out a wail of defeat, falling back into the black water with a great splash and rapidly swimming away.
Lalli collapsed onto the snowy ground, gripping his prize. It was over. The long nightmare was over. He pulled himself to his feet and began the walk back to the tank.
Never again. Never again would the Hotakainen family – or anyone else – have to fear the sound of a beastified seal playing Pomppufiilis on Grandma’s old bagpipes.
Stumbled over a new webcomic this week. Well, not strictly speaking new, it’s been going since 2013, but it’s new to me, which is what matters in my small, self-centered world.
Titled Stand Still, Stay Silent it’s set 90 years after a plague wiped out most of the world’s population and transformed almost all mammals into hideous abominations. Civilisation survives in Iceland and a few pockets of Scandinavia and Finland – the rest of the planet is left alone as “The Silent World”. The survivors have turned back to their ancient traditions and belief systems while still maintaining as much technology as possible, so it’s a world of tanks, trains and assault rifles paired with runes and spells – except for those crazy Swedes and Danes who don’t believe in magic. And cats. Cats are important.
The story is that of the first expedition out into the Silent World. The first badly funded and under-trained mission, whose real job isn’t actually to explore, it’s to make money or (more likely) die trying.
The plot is interesting, the setting is fascinating and the art is top notch. So go check it out! The prologue (set in the current day when the plague emerges) starts here, and the main plot here. You could probably skip the prologue if you really want to but there’s good background info in there, so don’t.