Two years later
Rain spattered the windows of the ferry, the sunlight pale and unwelcoming. At her table in the cafeteria, Kala slouched in her seat and stared at her laptop, its screen bright and unhelpful.
The last email from her editor, Mack, still blazed at her.
So while you’re there, I hear Norway has a great paranormal history—why don’t you come back with a story?
She was no stranger to this sort of request. It came with the territory of freelancing for paranormal magazines. But she had really hoped this time off would be time off. Not time spent trawling libraries for myths and legends.
And saying no to Mack was just not done, not if she wanted more work to come her way.
She clicked open her File Explorer. A list of articles appeared on the screen, all named after mysterious phenomena. Black-eyed children. Big cats on Bodmin Moor. Stage psychics. And there, in the middle, was one short filename.
Kala stared at it hopelessly. The date it had last been saved glowed alongside it. It hadn’t been updated in over a month.
Hell, she hadn’t even opened it in over a month. She’d been putting it off. Should she work on it? No, I’ve got more important stuff to do. Even though she had wanted to, she’d forced it aside.
She was never going to get the damn thing finished. She should just delete it and forget about it. Nobody was going to want it, anyway.
She sighed, straightening her back as she glanced down at her watch. Not long now before they would arrive in Oslo. Vika was meeting her at the ferry port. It had been over a year since she’d last visited her friend…not to mention her brother, Tor.
Maybe she could grill them for local stories instead. It wasn’t exactly how she had wanted to spend her time, but it was preferable to reading ancient texts. Vika’s lived here all her life, she’ll know whatever there is to be known.
And in the meantime, she could kick back and relax—the main reason she was here in the first place. And if Mack had a problem with that, he could go and boil his head.
* * * *
The house was just as she’d remembered it, and so was Vika. A vision of polished wood floors and ceilings, decorated with cream-colored furnishings, rugs and drapery and kept to impeccable neatness by a woman who seemed to match the surroundings—tan, all blonde hair and ice-blue eyes and white teeth. Vika put Kala to shame whenever she saw her.
“You always look so neat,” Kala had commented the last time she had visited. “I make the place look untidy.”
Vika had laughed, but to Kala’s mind it was true. Her own wavy hair—which was now dyed blue—her smudgy makeup and curvy figure seemed to explode into view next to Vika’s almost military precision. Her friend was an image of Nordic perfection while she was a hot mess.
Which made it even more unbelievable that Tor was Vika’s brother.
As Vika led her into the living room, chatting, Kala allowed her thoughts to stray to the absent man.
She never mentioned him in her emails to Vika. It was too damn awkward. So how’s your, uh, brother? Way too embarrassing. But she remembered him, remembered his muscular arms, his loose-limbed walk, his messy dark hair and the line of his jaw.
She was a hot mess but Tor Viitanen was just plain hot.
“I’ve been so looking forward to you getting here,” Vika commented from the kitchen doorway, returning with two glasses of wine in her hands. “Four months of being able to cook proper food. Tor only wants the basics after lugging lumber all day.”
“Well, don’t piss him off for my benefit.” Kala reached up and took the wine. Vika settled herself down on the opposite sofa.
“Nah. As long as he’s got meat, he’s happy. But I’ve been dying for a chance to whip up a sauce or do a soufflé. He doesn’t appreciate anything that doesn’t moo.”
Kala laughed, wondering if she should moo when he came home.
“He’s been saying I need to eat more, anyway, so maybe he’ll give it a rest now.”
Kala eyed her over the rim of her glass. “Saying you need to eat more?”
“Yeah. He says I’m getting too thin. I can’t see it myself.”
Getting too thin? Kala paused, looking her friend up and down. Tor had a point. Vika definitely seemed thinner than before, even a little haggard in the face.
“You do look like you’ve lost a bit of weight.”
“I may have a little, but nothing he needs to worry about.” Vika took a gulp of her wine. “Do you still play the harp? Because I borrowed my mother’s, if you want to practice on it.”
“Thanks. I will.” It was something Kala had taken up in the last two years and she’d been worried about becoming rusty.
“Are you still freelancing for Spirit Voices?”
“Oh, yeah. Actually, I was going to ask you about that. Mack’s suggested I do a story about something Norwegian. Great paranormal history, he says. What do you think?”
Vika paused for a moment, her eyes drifting closed.
“Well, yes. There’s a lot of myths and legends around all of Scandinavia. But something specific… I’m not sure. I’d have to think about it. Ask Tor when he gets back from the lumberyard—he might remember something.” Vika paused and cocked her head as the sound of jingling keys came from outside. “Speaking of.”
Kala glanced at the door as she heard the click of the lock, a slam, then footsteps in the hallway. Her heart leaped into her throat. How long had it been since she had seen Tor? Had he changed? Was he still…?
An image of Tor came into her head, of the last time she had seen him, just over a year ago. That lopsided smirk, that joke he always threw at her—Any relation to Lucy? The way he laughed, the intensity of his eyes, the way his chin set firm when he was concentrating. How she had ached to see the way his eyes would glaze and his jaw would tighten if she was touching him, pleasuring him—
Was he ever going to come in?
She suddenly realized she was staring at the door and broke her gaze. Vika stood and turned to go into the kitchen, seeming unfazed by her brother’s lack of appearance.
“Has he gone upstairs?”
“Oh, no, that wasn’t him,” Vika threw over her shoulder. “That was just the vardøger.”
A sudden chill ran down Kala’s spine. “The vardøger? What’s a vardøger?”
Vika didn’t answer immediately. The fridge door opened and shut. She went to stand in the kitchen door, watching Vika as she began to lay chops out on the grill pan.
“What was that, if it wasn’t Tor?”
“You heard it yourself.” Vika slid the grill pan into the oven and lit the gas. “It opened the door and came down the hall. Like Tor will when he gets here.”
“Okay… But what—”
Smiling, Vika turned to face her, leaning back on the countertop.
“Okay. A vardøger is like a ghost from the future. What happens is what you heard. You hear the sounds of whoever it is coming home, doing whatever they do—keys, whistling, slamming the door, coming up the hall—then it stops. And about twenty minutes later, the real person will come home and do the exact same thing.”
“And…that doesn’t bother you? That a ghost just came in the door?”
“It’s not that sort of a ghost. Think of it as an echo, if you like. But you’ll find a lot of people have them and nobody’s scared. It’s kind of handy. It means I can get the dinner on, since now I know he’ll be here in twenty.”
Kala stood for a moment, thinking, as Vika turned back to the oven. It sounded utterly incongruous. A ghost that told someone what time to start dinner? That was just plain weird. Ghosts were supposed to be scary, not helpful with household scheduling.
I hear Norway has a great paranormal history…
“So, this is a Norwegian thing, specifically?”
Vika paused, saucepan in hand.
“Ah. You’re thinking story?”
“It sounds like what Mack’s after.”
“Okay. You might have to do a bit of research. I don’t claim to be an expert. I think it’s Scandinavian rather than specifically Norwegian. But yeah, I think you could get a good story out of it.”
Kala nodded slowly, watching as Vika continued preparing the meal.
Research. Internet. Maybe some stuff in the local library—could be some older stuff dealing with Scandinavian myths. Or maybe Vika knows some people I could talk to. Always helps to have quotes.
She realized she was standing around like an idiot while Vika was doing all the work. “Do you need anything doing?”
“You can chop the carrots, if you like.”
Up to her elbows in dinner preparations, it seemed like only a few minutes had passed when the door slammed again. Her stomach tightened.
“I take it that’s actually him this time?”
“Oh, yeah.” Vika glanced up from where she was checking the grill. “It never happens twice.”
Kala grabbed a towel from the side of the sink, where she had been washing her hands, and started to dry off just as the kitchen door opened and Tor poked his head in.
He was just as Kala had remembered—tall, dark, loose-limbed, with that cheeky grin and look in his eye that just made her want to melt. Kala froze, struggling to think of something intelligent to say in the face of immediate tongue-tied stupidity.
“Hey, ladies. Not seen you for ages, Kala. Or is it Lucy?”
“Always the same, Tor,” Kala threw back casually, hoping her voice didn’t sound as breathless as it had in her head.
Tor laughed that dirty laugh that electrified all Kala’s nerves, and turned to Vika.
“Any chance you could just make me a sandwich, Vika? It’s been a hell of day and I’m fucked. I’m going to get an early night.”
Kala forced her face straight, but inside her heart sank.
Well, that’s a shitty start if he won’t even eat dinner with us on my first night.
“Sure,” Vika answered.
“Cool. Catch you later.” And with that, Tor was gone.
Kala turned back to face Vika, who was laying out plates on the counter, and struggled to rearrange her thoughts.
Okay. Tomorrow I’ll start work on the vardøger article. I’ll see if I can interview some of the neighbors and maybe wait for it in the evening.
And forget about Tor, apparently.
Although that would be much harder.