Grainne walks out across the ice, placing each foot with care. It’s dark, and the spray misting up from the waterfall freezes in midair and falls as tiny pellets onto the frozen ground. It’s like crossing a skating rink covered in ball bearings. Even though the chasm is still some distance away, she has visions of slipping and falling, sliding helplessly over the ice and then over the edge into the thundering falls and endless frozen dark. No wonder the medieval religious thought Gullfoss was an entrance to Hell.
Grainne knows it isn’t. But there are other dangers here; other bargains to be made.
It’s very cold. Her fingers are already numb, despite her heavy gloves, which makes holding onto the squirming parcel in her arms difficult. Her instrument case bangs against her back with every step, and that’s worrisome too. Cold isn’t good for it.
The last of the daylight begins to fade. The sun set hours ago; now there’s a deepening, fading blue, dappled with clouds. She can hear more than see the falls. The roar is deafening, drowning thought as well as hearing. Her foot slips and she pauses, heart pounding in time with that of the squirming bundle–finding a black lamb was fucking impossible, not to mention the looks she got even though she declined to explain why–and she can’t make herself go any closer.
“Fosse-Grim!” she shouts. The roar of the falls and winter’s breath seize her call and tear it away. Nothing can hear her in this, not even if it stood right next to her.
The shadow’s presence by her side is so sudden that she slips and falls, one knee banging down on the slick frozen surface as her other foot skids out from under her. The fiddle case thumps against her back, again, and she half drops the bundle. A tiny hoof flails out of it, accompanied by plaintive bleating. Grainne tells herself that the sudden tears on her face are due to the cold and the wind. Within moments her eyelashes freeze.
“What have you brought me?” She can hear it perfectly, despite the wind. Somehow, though, she can’t quite see it. There’s the growing dark, the half-blinding wind and spray, the effort of standing up again without losing any of her burdens, but somehow she cannot attribute t
he Fosse-grim’s invisibility to any of these things. Her gaze simply refuses to make sense of it. It does not belong in her perception.
“A–a black lamb,” she says. “Just like I’m supposed to. And it’s Thursday.” She’s supposed to avert her gaze while offering it. That’s easy enough, since she can’t look directly at the creature–and she doesn’t want to see what it’ll do to the lamb.
“You’d make a better mouthful
than any lamb.” Its breath is hot on her neck. She shudders, even though it’s so cold she’s stopped shivering.
“I’ve come for a bargain. For knowledge.”
“And what bargain would that be, pray?”
“The black lamb for your art.” It seems so foolish. But this is what all the tales say, and if the tales are wrong, then her footing is the least of her uncertainties. She has come so far. She holds out the bundle, her gaze averted as the instructions say. The lamb bleats pitiably. She can’t look as the Fosse-grim takes it from her hands. A sickening crunch, and then only the sound of the wind.
“Mmmm.” A boy made that sound once, pulling her pants down. The swirling wind brings her the smell of blood. “A nice fat one.”
Something seizes her forearm in
a terrible grip. In spite of herself, she screams. It’s swinging her hand back and forth, like a broken marionette at the end of its strings, so hard it feels like it’s going to break her wrist. “What are you doing? Stop!” In her sudden anger she looks at it full on, for the first time.
It’s everything the stories warn about: a black lamb itself, covered in coarse fur, tiny horns poking through its forehead, the last drops of blood flecking its lips. It grins at her, protruding a freakishly long tongue. It shakes her hand as though diamonds might fall out, shaking her glove right off. Her blood pounds, the weight of it filling her fingertips, shaking, shaking, harder and harder until her blood spatters on the ice, frozen into pellets like the waterfall spray, scattered like tiny marbles.
“There.” She looks at her hand–her bow hand. The fingers seem somehow elongated, as though the Fosse-grim shook them out like a telescope. Blood coagulates beneath her nails. Her fingertips sting as though she’s just come in from the cold. She bends, scrabbling for her glove, which now barely fits over her lengthened fingers.
She stares at the Fosse-grim with no idea of what to say. Somehow, “Thank you” doesn’t seem appropriate.
“Get on, girl.” It’s hard to read the thing’s expression, but it seems to look faintly disgusted. “
” And it bounds away across the ice, dives into the waters rushing into the chasm, and disappears.
Grainne takes a deep breath, turns, and begins walking back. The wind pushes against her, as if trying to drive her back toward the Gullfoss crevasse. She persists, and eventually regains the road where she left her rental car, though it’s unlikely to start in this weather.
There she pauses and looks down at her gloved hand. She’s only got the Fosse-grim’s word that it met the terms of the bargain. If it didn’t, it’s not likely she’ll be able to summon it again. But she has to know.
This weather is not good for musical instruments, and the fiddle sounds as harsh as troll tuning on a hardingfele. She plays it anyway. After only a few minutes, the fiddle’s notes ring out in a sudden silence.
The waterfall of Gullfoss has stopped, frozen by the Fosse-grim’s gift. She grins and puts the fiddle away.
(This was written for this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge at TerribleMinds.)
“Fosse-Grim” by Genevieve Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Tags: flash fiction challenge