Polar Night (Short Story)

Dear James,

I’m sure that this letter comes as something of a surprise.  We haven’t spoken in, what, three years?  Maybe four?  It’s been quite a while, and we didn’t exactly part on the best terms.

That’s a gross understatement, obviously.  We both made fools out of ourselves that day.  Our shouting match just went on and on and on until we stormed away from each other and never looked back.

I want you to know that I’ve felt bad about that day ever since.  For a long time I blamed you for that argument, but over the years I’ve come to realize that it was my own fault.  You simply wanted to discuss the possibility of starting a family, and I just sort of snapped.  I was so stubborn that I didn’t even allow a discussion to take place.  I should have sat down with you and explained why I was so against the thought of having children.  Instead, I just dug in for a fight.  Well, I got that fight, and it ended up costing me dearly.

So, yeah, I’m sorry.  It was never my intention to hurt you like that.  At least I don’t think it was.  There have been times that I’ve wondered if there was some part of me that tried to ruin things.  I’ve never been fully comfortable being happy.

A therapist would have a field day with me.

I’m writing you to apologize for the way that things ended.  That’s one part of it, and the biggest part in my mind.  I’m also writing you because I don’t know how much time I have, and I feel like what’s happened needs to be documented.  You’re the best reporter that I’ve ever known.  Sure, you’re the only one that I’ve ever known, but still, you’re amazing at your job and I know that I can count on you to take this seriously.  Anyone else would just laugh it away as some nightmare conjured up out of the depths of my imagination.

Around a year ago, I accepted a position at the Jarl Aurdal Observatory.  Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it before.  Pretty much no one has.  It’s a small space observatory located on the Svalbard archipelago between Norway and the North Pole.  It’s not nearly as well known as the Kjell Henriksen or Zepplin observatories in the same region, so most people don’t know that it exists.  We sometimes joke that even the Norwegian government has forgotten that we’re here.

There are so many observatories on Svalbard because of its special placement on the map.  From around the middle of November to the end of January, the entire region enters a dark season.  The pitch and rotation of the Earth keeps the area in perpetual night.  It’s called polar night, and it makes the region perfect for researching the atmosphere and the space beyond.

The darkness actually begins earlier than that, usually around the first week of October, but it’s during that November to January period that the sun is so low under the horizon that the region fully experiences the polar night.  The one happening right now is my first; I was brought into Jarl Aurdal just after the last one ended.  

That does mean that I’ve been through the opposite phenomenon, where the sun doesn’t fully set for months.  That was incredibly strange.  It screws with your internal clock in ways that you can’t truly appreciate unless you’ve experienced it.  You just feel weird and uncomfortable until your body adjusts, and even then it’s like you’re always just a bit off-balance.

I thought going through that would prepare me for the polar night.  I was very wrong about that.  Unlike the continuous light, the darkness almost feels like it’s a living thing.  It surrounds you in this oppressive way, and even when you’re sitting in a lit room you can sense that it’s still out there.  You know logically that the night isn’t alive, and it doesn’t have some sort of consciousness that’s making it creep in on you.  When you’re exposed to it for such a long time, though, you start to lose your grip on logic and reason.

The only thing that really helps is being around other people.  Four of us were assigned to work at Jarl Aurdal during this year’s polar night: astronomer Peter Boggard, telescope specialist Adnan Bhalla, computer scientist Bailey Miho, and myself as the team’s engineer.  We spent every moment that we weren’t sleeping or working together.  Now that I’m thinking about it, it was a lot like cavemen gathering around a fire for warmth and protection.

There were a number of days or nights or whatever you want to call them where the scientists couldn’t gather much data.  Svalbard is extremely far north, after all, and that means that blizzards are a common occurrence.  It’s tough to see out of a telescope when multiple feet of snow are coming straight down at you.  This is especially true during polar night.  The first of these heavy snows kicked up during the third week of darkness, and that’s when this all started.

The scientists might have been on break during snowfalls, but I wasn’t.  As the group’s engineer, I was constantly having to fix and maintain everything from the toaster to the facility’s many generators.  Jarl Aurdal is too far from the nearest town to be on a power grid, so all of its electricity is handled through a series of linked generators.  The night that the first snow began, one of those generators went offline.  I was notified of the outage by a blinking yelow light in my office.  I grabbed my coat and tools and headed outside.

A generator going offline wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.  They were constantly running, after all, and that kind of use would naturally cause mechanical issues over time.  The extreme cold didn’t help matters, either.  I got a good example of that chilled air as it blasted right into my face as I left the warm confines of the observatory.  I turned on the bulky flashlight I was carrying.  The generator shed was outside of the main building for safety and ventilation reasons, but it was close enough that I was able to cross the distance between the two structures within a few minutes even with needing to trudge through the heavy snow.

Although it was a short trip, I still found myself feeling uneasy.  The security lights on the outside of the observatory only reached about halfway, so for the second half of the walk I was surrounded by darkness.  I felt completely alone and isolated in the void, and the sounds of my feet crunching in the snow seemed to fade into nothingness.

I was only a few yards away from the generator shed when I noticed something strange about the snow.  I lowered the flashlight’s beam to get a better look.  I immediately regretted doing so.  A large section of snow was soaked in dark red blood.  It was smashed down like it had been trampled by some great weight.

I stood there staring dumbly at it for a long moment.  As the shock wore off, however, I pulled my eyes away from the blood and quickly looked around.  I knew that there weren’t any other people in the area besides the four of us at Jarl Aurdal.  All the deliveries to the observatory stopped during the polar winter, as the roads around it became impassable due to the snowstorms.  There weren’t any nearby towns, and even the always crazy survivalists avoided the area.

That didn’t mean that the area was deserted, however.  There was a surprisingly high amount of animal life.  Animals like reindeer, seals, and a variety of birds called Svalbard home.

The animal that I was worried about wasn’t one of those, however.  It was polar bears.  The region has one of the highest populations outside of the North Pole, and there are plenty of stories about them wandering into inhabited areas.  The ones that you’ve seen in zoos don’t do the wild ones justice.  Polar bears are huge, nearly half a ton of bulk and muscle.  They can tear a human in half without a second thought if they want to.

That’s ridiculously rare, but I wasn’t going to stick around to see if I could beat the odds.  I quickly crossed the rest of the distance to the shed and went inside.  I fumbled around in the dark for a moment before I was able to find the light switch.  I flipped it up and watched as the overhead lights began to come to life one at a time.

I felt a wave of relief wash over me, and it wasn’t just because I was safely indoors.  Just being under the lights was soothing.  They kept the encroaching blackness away.

It only took a few minutes to figure out which generator had gone offline.  It was Genny Five, the same one that I had been struggling with my entire time at the observatory.  It was one of the oldest of the group, and it had been repaired so many times over the years that I doubted that it still had any of its original parts.  The machine had become so unreliable that the only things it was assigned to provide power to were a few non-essentials like the observatory’s exit signs.

Even though it wasn’t crucial, I made sure that it was back up and running every single time that it stopped.  I knew that it might be needed for more than some signs if a real emergency came up.  It turned out that the only thing wrong with Genny Five was a damaged wire, so I was able to get the repair completed within minutes.

I went around the side of the generator to restart it and nearly slipped on something.  I looked down to find more blood and gore on the floor.  The wide streak ran across the floor and disappeared behind a large series of storage shelves.

I listened as hard as I could.  It was difficult to hear anything over the running machinery, and the wind whistling across the metal roof wasn’t helping matters.  There was just too much going on to make out any noises that shouldn’t have been present.

Coming to a decision, I crept towards the area of the shed that the blood was leading to.  You know those horror movies where someone hears a bang from upstairs and, instead of running the hell out of the house, stupidly goes to investigate?  In that exact moment, that was me.  There was a major difference, though.  If I left instead of finding out what was going on, I was either going to come back with the others or I wasn’t going to come back at all.  The first option would be putting more lives in danger, and the second meant running the risk of something in the generator shed being damaged.  Those generators were the only things that sustained us through the winter, and if they went down…  Well, we would be screwed, to put it bluntly.

The blood led further beyond the shelves towards the bay door.  When our supplier brought fuel, the driver would deliver much of it on pallets.  The tanks outside would be filled as well, but in the freezing cold of the arctic winter they would often become inoperable.  Smaller tanks were loaded on pallets to be kept indoors to make sure we were always able to keep the generators fueled up.

I could feel a cold wind as I came around the corner.  The bay door had been forced open on the right side, the metal crunched up above my shoulders.  Snow was blowing through the opening and forming piles against the walls.

Sitting in front of the door was the carcass of an adult polar bear.  Its chest had been torn open, exposing broken ribs and destroyed organs.  Its fur was stained red and black from its own gore.

The bear’s head was facing towards me, and I felt my stomach churning as I stared at it.  The head had been crushed, the skull almost completely flattened against the ground.  The animal’s tongue hung out of its mouth and against the concrete.  Its lower jaw had been nearly ripped off, and it hung at an awkward angle.  Its right eye was missing from the socket.

I jumped as a horrible sound came from the storm raging just beyond the door.  It was low and guttural, filled with hatred and hunger.  There was no doubt in my mind that what I was hearing wasn’t human, but it also didn’t sound like it belonged to some mindless animal.

I turned and ran.  I moved faster than I ever had in my life, racing through the generator shed and back out the front door.  The snow was coming down much harder than it had been when I had left the observatory.  The light from my flashlight barely penetrated the gloom in front of me.  My pace was greatly slowed by the accumulation, but I forced myself to keep moving as quickly as I could.

There was another howl from somewhere over my left shoulder.  I couldn’t tell if the creature was pursuing me, but I wasn’t going to stop to find out.  I almost slammed into a wall as I reached the observatory.  I had found the building, but I didn’t see the door.  It took me a few minutes to locate it; I had arrived about twenty feet to the right of it.  I went back inside and slammed the door behind me.

The others questioned me about what was going on, of course.  I must have looked like I was completely out of my mind while I stripped off my coat and boots, and my description of what had happened probably sounded like pure lunacy.  I was apparently convincing enough that Peter Boggard and Adnan Bhalla felt the need to go check for themselves.  

They retrieved two rifles from the gun locker.  None of us liked the idea of firearms being in the building with us, but it was a necessary evil.  We needed to be able to defend ourselves and each other in case of a wild animal attack.

The two men headed out towards the generator shed.  Bailey Miho and I watched the feed from the security cameras; the feed was mostly blocked by the falling snow, and they disappeared almost as soon as they appeared on the cameras.  The last image we saw was of them talking to one another as the darkness swallowed them up.

I was worried that something would happen to them, but they returned unharmed a short time later.  The polar bear carcass hadn’t been in the shed when they had arrived, but they had seen the damage to the door and they reported that large amounts of blood covered nearly every surface of the loading bay.  They had also heard the same bellowing that I had, but it had been further away and it had stopped after just a minute or two.

Bhalla also said that he had seen something as they had left the shed.  He hadn’t gotten a good look at it, but it had been big and definitely hadn’t been another bear.  Not unless one had learned to walk on two legs.

We were all on edge for the next few days, but nothing out of the ordinary happened.  The storm thankfully didn’t turn into a full blizzard.  It did, however, leave a large amount of snow behind.  We were forced to clear a path to the generator shed to make sure it was accessible.  Bhalla and Miho managed to get the bay door back into somewhat working order with a sledgehammer.

We didn’t talk about what had happened.  It wasn’t some decision that we all agreed on.  No one seemed to want to talk about it, though, so we didn’t.  It was like we believed that not discussing it meant that it wouldn’t happen again, and for a couple of weeks it seemed like that would be the case.  My three companions went about their research while I continued to make sure that the observatory itself was running smoothly.

On the Friday of the third week, I looked out of the window and found that the endless night wasn’t so endless after all.  The sky was finally clear enough for the aurora borealis to be seen.  The others were already at the door and getting dressed to go outside as I hurried down from my workshop.  Weeks of tension gave way to smiles and laughing as we rushed out into the snow like children on Christmas morning.

It might sound like we were being reckless, and maybe we were.  What you have to remember is that nothing out of the ordinary had happened after the initial incident.  We had been outside a number of times since then for various reasons without an issue.  We had become complacent.

I’m sure that you’ve seen pictures of the northern lights, but I’m here to tell you that those images don’t do it justice.  Bands of green and purple and blue wrapped throughout the sky, moving and pulsing like ethereal flames dancing for the amusement of the stars.  I wasn’t just in awe of what I was seeing.  The natural beauty was so incredible that I felt like I was having a religious experience.  I was aware that tears were falling down my cheeks, and I didn’t feel the slightest twinge of embarrassment.  I wish that you could have seen it.

I could have stood there in rapture for hours, but I was snapped out of my euphoria by the same deep growl I had heard in the generator room weeks earlier.  We all turned towards the noise.  A few hundred yards away, standing just outside of the ring of light created by the observatory’s security lamps, was a huge figure.

It had to have been well over nine feet tall, but it was hunched over so it was difficult to judge its full height.  It was wrapped in some kind of black cloak or tattered robe, with a baggy hood covering its head.  Its arms were disproportionately long, and its knuckles touched the snow.  The figure was holding a large object in its right hand, but I couldn’t tell what that object was from that distance.

As we watched, it lifted its head upward towards the aurora borealis and howled again.  It was a defiant roar, as if it was challenging everything in the heavens.  The hood slipped slightly as the creature bellowed, and I thought that I saw tufts of hair or fur sticking out.  They disappeared back beneath the cloth as the creature lowered its head once more.

It was moving towards us before we were able to register what was happening.  Its thick legs powered it towards us at an incredible rate, spraying snow off in every direction as they churned through it.  The creature grunted and groaned as it bore down on us.

Miho screamed and started towards the door.  Less than a second later Boggard and I were following, but Bhalla continued to stand in place.  His eyes were wide, and he had this expression on his face like he had no idea where he was.  I called out to him as Miho pushed the observatory door open.  My cries sounded flat as they were absorbed by the snow and the night.

The creature reached him and lifted the object it was carrying.  It was a huge wooden club roughly the size of a small tree trunk.  It was dented and splintered from use, and thick metal bands were tightly wrapped around its length.  The weight must have been incredible, but the creature hefted it like it had no weight to it at all.

Bhalla seemed to realize at the last moment what was happening.  He tried to back away, but the club was already swinging down at him.  It collided with his head and drove its way into his body.  The blow was so strong that it caused most of his upper half to erupt in a fountain of gore.  The creature kicked away his remains and turned towards the rest of us.

For a split second, my eyes locked with the creature’s.  They were the color of amber, and they glowed in the shadows of the hood.  I had never had anyone look at me with such unbridled malice.  The gaze was broken as Boggard pulled me inside the observatory and slammed the heavy door shut.

Miho attempted to radio for help, but of course there was no reply.  Jarl Aurdal was so remote that it was difficult to get in contact with someone even in the best weather conditions possible.  She didn’t give up, though.  She stayed at the radio for hours, sending out the same message over and over again.

I could hear her talking from down the hall as I sat in my office watching the security camera feeds.  One by one, the outside feeds went dark.  The cameras were still transmitting, but the lights near them were being knocked out.  A couple of times I was able to catch a glimpse of the creature as it used its club to shatter the bulbs.  Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t some mindless beast.

I spent the time running through our options, of which there weren’t very many.  There was a small garage around the back of the observatory that contained a four wheel drive SUV that we could theoretically use to escape.  The problem was that the roads were likely to be completely impassable after the heavy snow.  It would also mean that someone would have to go out into the darkness to collect fuel for the truck in the generator shed.

As far as I could tell, our best bet would be to stay put and wait things out.  We had enough food to last until we reached the other side of the polar winter.  If we limited ourselves to a small section of the observatory and cut off the power in all the other areas, we would probably be able to keep lights and heat going without needing to refuel the generators.  It was fortunate that I had filled them the previous day.  Plus there was always a chance, no matter how slim, that Miho’s calls would be answered.  We had to avoid going back outside if at all possible to avoid falling victim to the creature like Bhalla had.

I’m finding it difficult to even write Bhalla’s name.  He was a good man, with a wife and kids waiting for him back in London.  For his life to be brought to an end so quickly and so brutally…  He didn’t deserve that.  No one does.

Boggard appeared in my office doorway as the last of the cameras went dark.  He was holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand, and by the looks of him he had already started on it.  He sat down in an empty chair and stared at the black monitors.  We were both silent for a long time.  I don’t think either one of us knew how to put our thoughts into words.

When he finally started to talk, his voice sounded heavy and tired.  He told me that his grandmother was originally from Longyearbyen, a small settlement in Svalbard and the world’s northernmost town.  She had moved to Oslo as a teenager, and it was there that she had met his grandfather when he had been stationed there in World War II.

When he was a child, she had told him stories about the jotnar, magical creatures that existed alongside mankind in Norse mythology.  From what he told me, it sounded like jotnar was the plural form of jottun, a sort of catch-all term for things like giants, faeries, and trolls.  The Scandanavians believed many of them to be extremely dangerous, and there were countless tales about humans coming to their ends at the hands of the jotnar.

One particular story that had always fascinated him was about a jottun named Krig the Darkborn.  The monster would mercilessly hunt down and kill anyone that entered his territory.  After he had slaughtered an entire village in a single night, the ancient gods had been forced to step in.  He had proven to be far more formidable than they had thought, however, and they were unable to slay him.  Instead, they had been forced to banish him to the far north, far beyond where the humans dwelled.

Boggard finished his story and took a final drink from the bottle.  He stood up and stumbled a bit as he went over to the door.  He looked back at me and said that he didn’t know if he believed his grandmother’s tales, but they were becoming more difficult to dismiss as fiction because of what was happening.  In any case, Krig was as good a name as any to call the creature outside the observatory walls.  With a mirthless laugh, he left and closed the door behind him.

I sat at my desk for a long time with my head in my hands.  While I was certainly scared, I was more numb than anything.  My mind didn’t want to accept what was happening.  I had seen Bhalla killed with my own two eyes, but it strangely felt like I hadn’t really experienced it.  It was more like something that I had seen in a particularly vivid dream.

The next time that I saw the others was when we gathered together for a meal hours later.  When there’s no daytime, it’s hard to know what to call a meal.  Is it really still breakfast when it’s completely dark out just because a clock tells you that it is?  Time seems to have almost no meaning when the skies remain black.

We decided as a group that we needed to be armed.  There were two rifles in the gun locker, and Boggard retrieved them using his key.  As I mentioned before, the weapons were kept at the outpost in the event of an aggressive animal.  The situation certainly fit that criteria.  Neither Miho nor I had any experience with firearms, so Boggard patiently went through the basics of how to handle and use them.

Since there were three of us and two of the rifles, I volunteered to go without one.  I’ve never been comfortable around guns.  The only time that had I tried using one was at a shooting range, and after firing a single shot I knew that I never wanted to touch one again.  

We began the long process of getting most of the observatory shut down.  To conserve as much fuel as possible, we would bring the heat levels down in the majority of the building, keeping it just high enough to prevent pipes and equipment from freezing.  All lights except for emergency lights would be shut off, and all of the computer and mechanical systems would be disconnected.  The only part of the facility that would still be up and running would be the living quarters, which included the sleeping area, kitchen, and bathrooms.  We would use only as much power as we needed to survive so as to put as little drain on the generators as possible.

It was my job to get the main dome shut down.  That’s the central part of the observatory, and it’s basically what you think of when you hear the word ‘observatory’.  There’s a high rounded ceiling made up of retractable panels over a large circular room.  Two giant telescopes sit on a rotating platform surrounded by rows of computer systems designed to process and analyze collected data.  Under normal circumstances, it is by far the area that uses the most power.

It took me about an hour to get everything turned off, disconnected, and covered.  When I was finished, I went over to a breaker box and turned off the lights.  I was suddenly surrounded by total darkness.  A shiver went down my spine, and I held my breath as I waited.  To my relief, the red security lights turned on, and I let out the breath with a nervous smile.

Since I was done with my section, I went to help Miho get the maintenance tunnels finished.  Jarl Aurdal sits on top of a large series of rooms and hallways that the pipes and electrical wiring run through.  They’re also home to the mechanical systems that allow the dome to open and close, as well as the hydraulics needed to raise, lower, and adjust the telescopes.  Miho had volunteered to go down into the tunnels to turn off the power to the nonessential systems.

I found Miho’s body at the bottom of the stairs.  When Bhalla had been killed, it had happened so fast that I hadn’t been able to process it.  This was different.  For what seemed like hours I stared at her remains, taking in every last detail over and over again.  When I close my eyes now I can still see it clearly.

I’m not going to go into too many details.  She had been torn apart, and there was no question that she had died in agony.  Her head was lying next to her body with a horrified expression on its face.  The rifle she had taken with her was broken into dozens of pieces scattered throughout the pool of blood.

I heard a rumbling noise, and I looked up from the body and down into the darkness at the far end of the tunnel.

The hulking creature that we were now calling Krig emerged from the shadows.  I don’t mean that he stepped out into the light.  I mean that one second he wasn’t there, and the next he was coming out of the dark like he was walking through a doorway.  It wasn’t possible, and yet I was watching it happen.  I have no explanation for it.

Krig’s glowing amber eyes were staring straight at me as he came forward.  For just a split second, the overhead lights managed to penetrate through the shadows created by the heavy hood.  Instead of a nose and mouth, he instead had a wolf-like muzzle.  Unlike a wolf, however, there wasn’t any fur, just leathery skin pulled tight against the bone.  Tufts of hair stuck out from below it.  He took another step forward, and his face was once again shrouded.

I turned and darted back up the stairs.  Just before I reached the doorway, I heard a loud wet noise from behind me.  I knew what I was hearing, but I forced it out of my mind.  Thinking about how he was stepping through the bloody remains of Miho wasn’t going to do anything except cause me to panic more than I already was.

I screamed for Boggard as I slammed the door shut behind me.  I inserted the small padlock into the latch.  I knew with absolute certainty that it wouldn’t matter, but in my panic I locked it into place anyway.  It clicked shut just as the astronomer came around the corner, his rifle gripped tightly in his hands.

The door was even more ineffective than I would have thought.  It burst open almost immediately, sending wood and metal flying outward as it was torn from its hinges.  Boggard raised the rifle and fired into the opening.  I felt like I was going deaf from the noise as I slapped my hands over my ears and moved away from him, the sounds of the shots echoing off the corridor walls.

Krig emerged from the ruins of the doorway.  He completely ignored the bullets that were pounding into his body.  They weren’t even penetrating his skin; I could see them scattering across the tiled floor as they practically bounced off of him.

The rifle clicked empty.  To Boggard’s credit, he immediately switched his grip on the weapon and swung it at the creature’s head.  It impacted hard against the skull, but Krig wasn’t fazed in the slightest.  He batted away the rifle, wrapped one of his large hands around Boggard’s head, and squeezed.  With his last breath, Boggard yelled for me to run.

I turned on my heel and did as he instructed.  I was no longer thinking clearly.  I was operating on pure instinct, and those instincts were telling me to get as much distance between the creature and myself.  With each step came the certainty that I would feel Krig’s fingers dig into my body and pull me off of my feet.

Somehow I made it to the living quarters and managed to slam the door shut and lock it.  I stumbled back into the wall and slid down to the floor as I tried to suck air back into my lungs.  I wrapped my arms around my knees and waited for a death that didn’t come.

I don’t know how long I stayed locked in the living quarters.  There wasn’t anything in that section of the observatory to keep track of the time.  I’m sure that it was at least a few days, but it could have been weeks.  I slept, I ate, I tried to keep my mind occupied, and I stared out the windows into the always present night.

I kept expecting Krig to break down the door and come for me, or for him to emerge from the shadows like he had in the maintenance tunnel.  There was no doubt in my mind that he could do so at any moment, and that I was going to meet my end when he did so.  For some reason that I didn’t understand, he left me alone.

With access to both food and water, I would be able to last until the relief crew arrived at the end of the polar night.  That was the morbid upside to my companions being gone: it meant that less power was needed, which in turn meant that the fuel in the generators was sure to last as long as I needed it to.

I occupied myself by trying to figure out how to warn the relief crew.  I didn’t know if Krig was still roaming around the observatory or if he had gone back out into the dark, but I suspected that he was at least nearby.  If that was the case, the crew would be doomed the moment they arrived.

At some point I noticed that the power was sputtering more than usual.  When you’re running exclusively on generators, you become accustomed to them choking from time to time.  The lights dim for a second before going back to full illumination, a fan stops and restarts before it can even slow down, that sort of thing.

That normal type of quick interruption wasn’t what was happening.  The sputters were coming more and more frequently, and they were lasting longer each time they happened.  Something was wrong, and it was clear that it was going to continue to get worse.  Either the generators were having issues, or something was causing problems with the electrical lines.  Both were equally bad scenarios for me.

That moment of realization was when I began to feel truly afraid.  You would think that would have been when Bhalla was killed, or when I first saw Krig down in the maintenance tunnel.  I had felt fear then, but nothing compared to the terror that was now threatening to overtake me.

I knew that if the power went out, that was it.  I was screwed.  I would freeze to death without the heater running.

My only option at that point would be to leave the living quarters.  I would then have to head to the generator shed to retrieve fuel before taking my chances in the truck.  The odds were ridiculously low that I would be able to make it to civilization, as there had been more than enough snow to block the roads by this point.  The more likely outcome would be the truck would get stuck, and instead of dying in the living quarters I would die out on the snow-covered road with the darkness all around me.

To even get to that point, the plan assumed that Krig wasn’t still around.  If he was, there was no way that I could get the fuel before he tore me apart.  It seemed beyond hopeless.

I curled up on one of the bunks and began to cry.  I cried so hard that I began gasping in the throes of a panic attack, but I just couldn’t stop.  All of the weight of the stress and fear that had been building since finding the polar bear in the generator shed collapsed in on me in that moment, and the weight of it crushed me.

It wasn’t my finest moment.  You know how much I hate not being in control of myself.  I think it was the creeping feeling of self-loathing that ended up allowing me to stop crying and lift my head out of the wet spot on the mattress that I had created with my tears.

Now that I had come out the other side of my momentary weakness, my mind was oddly clear.  I knew exactly what I needed to do.  Instead of waiting for the power to go out completely, I would make the attempt to refuel the SUV and escape before that happened.  That way I’d at least have a warm place to return to if things didn’t work out.  Maybe I’d even have time to figure out why the power was unstable and get it fixed if it came to that.  I might not have had good odds, but this would increase my chances.

I got up off of the bunk and got dressed in the warmest clothing that I could find.  Not knowing how long it would take to get to the nearest town, I packed a bag with food and bottled water from the kitchen and slung it over my shoulder.  I clipped a flashlight to my belt as I ran through a mental checklist to make sure that I wasn’t forgetting anything.  It was a good thing that I did, because I almost forgot to get the keys to the truck.  I retrieved them from their hook and put them into my pocket.

Taking a deep breath, I went over to the door leading out of the living quarters.  I reached out towards the handle and found that my hand was trembling.  I clenched it into a fist and waited until it was steady.  It eventually stopped shaking, and I unlocked and opened the door before I had enough time to talk myself out of it.

The hallway beyond the door was dark.  The only illumination were the red security lights, and the glow from them created large shadows across the walls.  I slowly closed the door behind me and stood still as I waited for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.  When I started walking, it was at a snail’s pace.

My shoulder brushed up against something.  I turned to find myself looking at several small white objects floating in the air.  I leaned forward and examined them closer for a few seconds before stepping back in revulsion.  They were pieces of bone suspended from the ceiling by what looked like thick hairs.

Forcing myself to continue, I walked down the hallway until I came to the point where it started to widen.  Up ahead was the large dome section of the observatory.  The building’s front door was just beyond it, which meant that I had to pass through it.  I would be completely exposed while doing so.

The light coming from the dome room was strange.  It was rhythmically pulsing like a heartbeat.  There was also a sweet smell in the air that was familiar, but I couldn’t quite identify it.  The windows on the outside wall were smeared in blood and some brown substance that I couldn’t identify.

I entered the dome room and nearly tripped over my own feet as I came to a halt.  The entire section had been completely transformed.  Boggard had once referred to this area of the observatory as a shrine to technology.  Computer terminals had formed a circle around the two huge cutting edge telescopes, and large monitors had lined the walls.

That shrine had been torn down and replaced with one far more primal.  The monitors had been torn from the walls and smashed into pieces.  The telescopes were both lying broken off to one side.  Symbols that I didn’t recognize were drawn in blood and more of that brown substance across the walls and floor.  Displays of skulls and bones were stacked and strung up throughout the room.  Some of the bones were from a variety of different animals, but many of them were human.  There were more of those than could have possibly come from my late companions.

Fires had been built in over a dozen places, their flames tinted red from the security lights.  The largest of them was a huge bonfire that had been built in the center of the room.  It towered over everything else, stretching upward for nearly two stories.  It crackled loudly as it released smoke up into the curved dome.

Directly behind the bonfire, the computer terminals had been split apart and shaped into a great throne.  Upon that throne of ruined human ingenuity sat the imposing figure of Krig the Darkborn.

The massive creature was sitting completely still, each hand gripping one of the arms of the metal and plastic throne.  I wasn’t able to see his glowing amber eyes, but I didn’t know if that was because of the distance between us or because they were closed.  Shadows danced across him as the fires burned.  Leaning up against the right side of the throne was the bloodstained club.

Seeing him like this as the unquestionable lord of Jarl Aurdal, I finally got it.  I wasn’t in the presence of some simple monster.  I now knew what it meant to be in the presence of a jottun.  This was a being that I could never fully understand.  I could never hope to truly define him.

He was Krig, master of the endless night and defier of gods, and Jar Aurdal was the great hall that he now ruled from.

Not having any other option, I slowly started walking towards the door.  I never looked away from him as I did so.  I’m not sure if I could have if I tried.

I was less than ten feet away when those horrible amber eyes opened and locked on me.   Whatever hope that I still had faded away.  He had known that I was there the entire time.  Of course he had.  He knew everything that happened in his territory, and things only happened in that territory when he permitted them to.  Without moving a muscle, he was letting me know that he had not granted me the right to leave.

I abandoned my plan and turned back towards the way that I had come from.  He watched me closely as I started walking.  His eyes didn’t close until I had reached the hallway.

I had been dismissed.

I returned to the living quarters, and that’s where I am now.  I apologize for the awful penmanship, but I can’t seem to stop shaking.  I can’t put into words how insignificant I feel.  A single look was all that it took to get me to put aside all my survival instincts and instead bow to his will.

I’ve come up with one last idea.  There’s an air vent in the kitchen that connects in with the other ductwork, and from there I should be able to find my way to the vent leading outside.  From there I can make a break for the generator shed.

It’s an all or nothing plan, and there’s a lot that can go wrong.  The duct in the kitchen is large enough for me to pull myself through, but I don’t know if the rest of the ductwork is going to be that large.  I also won’t be able to fit anything in there except my body, which means that I have to leave behind all my supplies and thick clothing.  Even assuming that I make it outside, I still have to get the fuel for the truck, go to the garage, refill the truck, and drive away hoping against hope that the road is clear enough for me to get through.

All the while I’ll be surrounded by the polar night.  I can’t risk using the flashlight.  I’ll have to make my way from building to building through the black void.  If my direction is off by only a few feet, I will likely wander lost in the darkness until my body succumbs to the cold.

Worst of all, Krig might come for me.  Like I said, I know now that nothing happens in his territory without his allowing it.

It’s a risk I have to take if I’ve got any hope of getting through this, though, and I guess that’s another part of why I’m writing this letter.  I may be dead within the next few hours, and I didn’t want to go without making a record of what we’ve been through.  There won’t be many people mourning me; both my parents passed away years ago, and I don’t keep many friends.  Bhalla, Miho, and Boggard all had families, though.  I need to know that there’s at least a chance of their loved ones finding out what happened to them.

I guess there’s no reason to delay this any longer.  If there’s anything that I want to leave you with, it’s that our years together did matter to me.  I loved you, and I still love you.  Please remember me fondly.  Without you, I don’t have anyone that will.

-Kimberly Farrington

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