“This is BBC News, our top stories today: Variant-19 death toll rises as thousands line the local hospitals. Tensions rise in the east as further sanctions are imposed. Fuel prices continue to soar as families struggle to keep the heating on this winter.”
Val listened to the usual doom and gloom of the news as he sat silently in the passenger seat of his mum’s car. His head was leant on the window and he watched the traffic moving at a crawl through tired eyes. This was part of his daily routine; the drive to school.
“Come on, you could have gone then!” his mum shouted as they approached the roundabout.
“Honestly, they must hand out licenses like Halloween sweets with the quality of some of these idiots”. She complained.
She sighed heavily, shaking her head. She took a deep calming breath, just like her therapist had told her to and looked at her disinterested son.
“So, Val, are you looking forward to the school trip today?” She said.
“Not really” Val sighed. “I hate coach trips, don’t I?”
He waved his hand laxly, still staring at the passing lampposts and leaning on the car window.
“Well, try to have fun whilst you’re there. School life doesn’t last forever you know, you’re almost 16 so pretty soon you’ll have to leave and get a job. Then you’ll see what the world is really like”. She lectured.
Val grumbled a wordless response. He continued staring out of the window, a glazed look in his green eyes, lamenting his coming coach journey.
Soon the car arrived, Val got out and his mum wished him a good day at school. He lifted his hand passively as he walked through the school gates and headed towards the dining hall to meet up with his friend Dan. Dan was a hulking boy with dark, tanned skin and brunette hair. He stood in stark contrast to Val who more closely resembled a beansprout, both in shape and complexion. Val saw Dan standing in the queue for cheese on toast and he walked over towards him.
“Ay up mate” Dan said gleefully in his standout Yorkshire accent. “You ready for this trip?”
“Morning” Val replied, yawning. “Not really, I hate coach trips.”
“Cheer up you miserable git” Dan laughed, “No classes today, you should be happy!”
Dan punched Val in the shoulder playfully and Val smiled. The two queued together and Dan got his cheese on toast. They then walked towards class 11b and took their seats as the teacher took the register. They, along with the rest of the class, followed the teacher out onto the front yard and entered the large white coach in single file. The trip would take about an hour and a half. Val took his preferred window seat near the back and Dan sat next to him.
“Hey” Dan said nudging Val, “what do you think of Kassandra?” He said gesturing towards the blonde girl sat near the front.
“I don’t really know her” Val said.
He leant against the window with his head resting on the back of his hand, his preferred travel position.
“Mate. She’s well fit, you don’t have to know her, just look at her”. Dan laughed.
“She’s alright” Val said, trying to remain aloof.
However, Val agreed with Dan. Kassandra was beautiful: she was tall but not taller than Val, she had long legs, unblemished skin and big blue eyes you could get lost in. She was a bit of a know it all, she was always top of the class and on top of that she was the volleyball captain. If anything Val found her a bit intimidating, but that in itself was alluring. Not that Val would ever admit that to Dan, a slobbering oaf who spit out every thought that popped into his head.
“Alright?” Dan said incredulously. “Well who’s better then, if not her?”
“Hah, wouldn’t you like to know?” Val said teasingly.
The two continued in this way for the entire trip. Val barely even noticed the nausea he usually felt on coaches. The lumbering white giant passed a shaded sea of green farms and trees which decorated the sides of the winding country lanes. The rumbling coach rolled onwards and before Val even knew it they had arrived at their destination: York.
York is a medium sized, historical town surrounded by a large wall which was built by the ancient Romans. It has many historically significant landmarks, including the large Gothic Cathedral, York Minster, which was built in the 13th century and the Monk Bar gate houses which allow entrance into the town which straddles the river Ouse. Val hated that he knew all of this useless information about the town. That’s history class for you, full of boring, unnecessary facts.
Some of York’s streets are still cobbled, a fact that struck Val as very English. But the reason they were there today was for an educational visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre, a topic they were about to cover in History class.
“Right class here we are” the teacher said, “Line up and we’ll get the tickets sorted out.”
She fumbled around in her battered beige purse.
The class followed instructions and formed an orderly line. As soon as everyone was inside the teacher ushered them all onto the blue vehicles which moved through the Centre. This allowed tourists to see the recreations of the old Viking village that was found by York archaeologists some time ago at the ‘Coppergate dig’. Yet another fact Val now knew but didn’t want to.
Val and Dan took the front seats of their blue vehicle as it began to judder through a dimly lit, recreation of a Nordic town.
“It’s cool how realistic this is- but did they have to recreate the smell?” Dan said grimacing, his face twisted up dramatically as he held his nose and waved his hand in front of it.
“It is pretty ripe in here isn’t it?” Val agreed, once again leaning his, now red marked, face on the back of his hand. His elbow resting on the side of the carriage supporting him.
“Shush” the teacher said from somewhere behind them.
Val jumped a bit, not realising she was so close, then settled back into his seat and zoned out to the narration of Viking life, drifting off to sleep almost.
Then came the screams.
A blood curdling, shrill scream that sounded like a woman, or lots of women.
Val jolted awake and opened his eyes but all he could see was black. He noticed that the smooth movement of the tracks seemed more turbulent than before, choppy even.
“Dan, did you hear that just now?” Val asked, only half noticing that Dan hadn’t replied.
“Dan, you listening?” Val asked again. Once again there was no reply. What was Dan doing, was he asleep or something?
“Dan!” Val said irritably as he reached across to grab his friend.
Val clenched his fist and went to punch Dan in the shoulder as they always did to each other, but his fist didn’t hit Dan, it carried on going as his arm stretched into the darkness, not making contact with anything. Val was sure Dan was right next to him. His face started to drain and he wondered where on earth his friend could have gone, but before he could say another word a blinding light lit up the path ahead.
The vehicle surged towards the light suddenly and Val had to hang onto the railing as not to fall out of his seat. He was scared and had no idea what was happening. If he could see them, he was sure his knuckles would be white as he held on as tightly as he could.
The vehicle surged forward, lunging towards the bright light which seemed to be enveloping the darkness that had surrounded Val. It was blinding, painful even, Val screwed up his eyes but couldn’t bring himself to look away. Soon the white light was all Val could see. Then it came into view.
A spawling blue ocean amidst a backdrop of green mountains reaching towards the cloudless sky.
“Where am I?” Val wondered aloud.
Val looked around and saw that his blue vehicle was now a long, thin, wooden ship with round shields adorning the sides and a large mast in the middle boasting an even larger sail. Val looked to his right searching for Dan but he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, there was no one on the ship other than Val.
He was alone on a large lunging ship and he didn’t know how to sail.
As Val’s eyes began to adjust to the light he could just make out what appeared to be a large stone castle stretching out from the shoreline into the mountains. Strangely, this castle seemed to have a long wooden house positioned oddly in the middle of it. Like a long half oval that had been stretched out, and it was just sitting there, in the middle of this stone castle as if it belonged - standing out in such obvious contrast to the castle itself.
Val’s vision adjusted a little more and he could make out a wooden dock jutting out into the water not far ahead of him. A figure that looked like a person was standing there, waiting. Was it even a person or was his eyes playing tricks on him? Val didn’t know the answer but the ship continued steering itself towards the dock anyway.
After a few minutes it began pulling alongside the long wooden planks that made up the dock. Then the ship grinded to a sudden halt. Val stumbled forward, holding onto the railings for balance. He looked around but could not see the figure he thought he had seen only moments ago. Scared and confused, Val decided that his only real choice was to disembark. He gingerly got to his feet, struggling to stand up properly on the bobbing ship. He edged his way towards the dock and put his left foot onto it. This was a strange feeling as one foot was on solid ground and the other was still swaying. He bent down and used his hands for assistance and stood off of the ship and onto the wooden dock.
“Ah, you’ve arrived then?” A voice said.
Val jumped and nearly fell over. His heart was beating fast. He fought his body’s urge to carry on facing the ground, dreading what he would see when he looked up. Trembling, he stood up to face the voice. Val looked up and was greeted by a tall, lean man wearing a brown fur cloak and boots and donning a menacing smile which chilled Val to the core. He was shocked and when he opened his mouth, the words just wouldn’t come out.
“Come on then, follow me. I think you’re the last one”. The man said.
He turned towards the castle and waved his hand in the direction of the stone goliath, beckoning Val to follow him.
“C-come where.” Val managed through chattering teeth. “Where am I?”
Then man turned his head and looked down at Val over his fur cladded shoulder.
“All in due time boy. The opening ceremony is about to begin. Now come.” The man sneered.
He turned back to face the large stone castle and began walking towards it, taking long strides.
Val, having not the slightest idea what to do, decided to follow the man as he lead him towards the large castle, or more specifically the wooden oval house in the middle of the castle. It was only a short walk but Val’s head was spinning to the point of eternity. He had to walk fast to keep pace, taking two steps for the long man’s one.
Where am I? Who is this guy? How is this happening? All of these thoughts were swirling through Val’s head as he trudged behind the tall man. He followed the man up a winding path and as he got closer to the castle he noticed two huge wooden, half oval doors. There was some kind of bird on each door, a black one on the left door proudly lifting its head to the left, and a gold bird on the right door looking slightly down and towards the right.
“What are those birds?” Val asked the man, slightly out of breath from the forced march.
“Those are All Father’s ravens; Huginn and Muninn.” The man replied without looking back at Val or even slowing his pace in acknowledgment of the boys loss of breath.
He then approached the ravens and whispered something. Val could have sworn he saw the left raven’s eye move to look at the man but decided it was his own eyes playing tricks on him. The man stood back and with a loud creak the doors slowly began to open inwards and with a haughty push. Val was forced inside.