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Oct. 1st, 2016

Protected By The Dead

Things had changed. Something was wrong.

They had lived here for years and had always felt safe. However, lately there seemed to be a looming disquiet around the property.

Paul could feel a sense of caution emanating from the land that he had never felt there before. Things were more still than was right, almost hushed. When he walked his weekly rounds, he felt a vigilance in the air that made him nervous. He was trying to grasp what was causing the distress, but in the meantime, he reinforced the protective bubble that he had magically placed around the land.

He believed that he and his wife had been asked here by the land spirits. His vocation now was caring for this 50 acres of land, and restoring the 19th century house that sat on it. No one friendly towards the land or the house had lived here for several decades before their arrival. The land had been carelessly sheared and plundered repeatedly with no regard to the plants and animals who lived here. The last tenants had been careless cocaine dealers, and after them the house lay empty for a decade. The elaborate carvings along the front porch had begun to sag, and the hand hewn chimneys had begun to crumble while the inside gradually filled up with the refuse of the absentee owner’s hoarder trove. The entire place had gone ignored and neglected. The locals all claimed to love this decaying yet beautiful old house, but none had stepped up to care for it.

Once Paul and Emma had taken up residence, the place seemed to cheer up. The charmed old house stood up straighter as light and fresh air filled the rooms. All around it, the native plants grew lusher and the place came alive with birds. There was clear, sweet, free flowing spring water, and creeks and ponds brimming with fish. The trees and shrubs were constantly offering gifts of fruits and nuts; and bunnies, beavers and otters moved back in. At night, the sky was brilliant with stars and the air was filled with the songs of crickets and frogs. Paul and Emma felt welcome as family and were honored to be here.

Now there was a menace in the air. Paul had been feeling it for weeks. It had been prickling the edge of his perception for a while. But, now it was near. He wondered if there was an impending illness in his family, or the looming threat of a calamity. He found several deer carcasses chucked in a small hollow near the northern property boundary. The rotting carcasses were all missing their heads. It was a gruesome and ominous sight. Paul was not against hunting, but it was unconscionable to wantonly waste the bodies of animals that had sacrificed their lives at your hand. And he was uneasy with savage butchery taking place on his doorstep.

Shortly thereafter, their neighbor Ronnie stopped by. He thought Paul should know that Eddy, who lived in an adjoining hollow to the north, had been bragging about poaching on their land.

Ronnie said, “He has been saying it around. I don’t like it; we are all neighbors here. We should be helping each other, not hurting,” he said with a shake of his head. “It’s also kinda’ dumb, if you ask me.

He says he has been going up on your land and digging ‘sang out of season. And he laughs about it.” Ronnie frowned, which looked out of place on his usually happy face. “I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. But, I thought you should know.”

Paul was grateful to Ronnie, but was livid. He didn’t like the idea of a hostile person coming onto his property. But this fellow was bragging about digging ginseng out of season. Not only was that illegal, it also was harmful to the ginseng. Ginseng should only be dug in the autumn when it has ripe berries; those berries should then be planted at the site were the parent was dug up in order to replenish the population. It was worse than what he was doing to the deer. He wasn’t just destroying an individual, he was destroying all their descendants as well. It was wrong and infuriating. Paul felt remiss in his caretaking and exposed for the first time since they moved here. He decided that he needed to take action.

To begin, Paul used much of his anger to add strength to the protective bubble around the property. But to manifest this protection more palpably, he cut four 2x4 inch tiles out of oak scraps left over from work on the house. He burned the rune Algiz into all of them, and along with a quiet protective ritual, nailed one on each of four oak trees in the east, south, west and north ends of the property. No one who meant harm to his kith and kin was welcome. He set his intention so that no unwelcome guests would be safe here. He asked all who listened to aid in this task.

Since he was using Norse protective magic, Paul briefly considered placing a threatening sign at the north end of the property declaring “Trespassers Will Be Blood Eagled”. This referred to a particularly grizzly execution method practiced by the Vikings, at least in legend if not in fact. It is described as a ritual in which each rib of the offender is hacked, one by one, from his backbone. Then, through the jagged wound, his lungs are ceremonially plucked out and draped delicately over each shoulder. The arranged lungs form the image of wings across his back, suggesting a majestic eagle. Of course, the victim dies a painful macabre death, as his lung wings flap with his dying breaths.

Paul decided against putting up the sign. He didn’t care to find Eddy’s dead body in the woods, after he slipped, fell, had his lungs ripped out by two sharp sticks. Long experience with magic had taught him that this was the sort of way his spell might manifest in the physical realm. Besides, according to the old stories, the Blood Eagle was reserved for treasonous noblemen. And though poaching could be considered treason against your neighbors, there was nothing noble about Eddy.

For the moment, Paul felt he had done all he could and went about his business. On his next regular patrol of the property, he paused to check the northern rune, the one farthest from the house and closest to Eddy’s place. He was stopped short in his tracts and stared uncomprehendingly at the tile for an instant. The Algiz is a rune that is shaped like a capital letter Y but with a third central spike to make it look like an upright fork. But he burned Algiz on this tile was obscured. Paul looked more closely and saw that a stick-insect, a walking stick, was sitting on the face of the tile. Its body was lined up exactly over the upright line of the rune, with its head making the third spike. It was holding its front legs up at an angle, and they were exactly mimicking the shape of the Algiz.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Paul blurted out. “I guess that means the land spirits approve.” Paul walked back to the house confident that the faeries, vaettir, elementals, whatever word one might choose, were his unequivocal allies in this conflict.

The spirit world had never been foreign to Paul. He knows that the spirits express themselves in many ways. A physical sign, especially an improbable one, is like a calling card from the ethereal. This walking stick, made it perfectly clear that the spirits were aligning themselves with his request for protection. So, when a few days later, Paul noticed dark hulking impressions several places around the property, it didn’t take him long to realize that they were hanging around his runes. He only saw these figures in his peripheral vision; of course they vanished when he looked directly at them in broad daylight. They seemed generally humanoid, grayish and neither threatening nor friendly. “They almost seem like they are on watch, or on patrol,” he thought. And then the realization hit him.

“We have dead Vikings protecting the property,” Paul told his wife.

“Huh?” She asked, knowing that Paul often spoke in whimsical ways.

“I placed protective runes around the property, and now I am seeing large figures hanging around where I placed them. They are patrolling our perimeter.”

“How do you know they are dead Vikings?” She asked.

“I don’t really. I’m just calling them that since they are big and scary and hanging around the runes.”

“Okay,” she said, accepting his description for what it was, a fanciful explanation that allows for a small bit of understanding of an incomprehensible phenomenon.

Life remained quiet through the winter: no more rumors, no more decapitated corpses. Paul felt safe again. He thought the dead Vikings were doing a good job. Spring and summer came and went and the land felt content again. That next autumn, Paul ran into Eddy and his wife Loretta at a store in town.

“Hi, neighbor. How are you?” Paul asked. He noticed that Eddy didn’t actually look very good.

“Not great.” Eddy said. “I have been sick”.

“He is still recovering” Loretta chirped in.

Curious, Paul asked, “Really? What happened?”

“I’ve been in the hospital a lot. I had an aneurism”. Eddy said.

“It was on one of his arteries that go directly to his heart,” Loretta put in.

“They called it an aortic aneurism. And it was down here” Eddy said as he pointed to a point below his belly button.

“It was terrible” Loretta added. “He was in surgery for hours. I was so scared. Then he had to stay in the hospital for a week.”

“They split me open from here” Eddy pointed to a location well below his belt, “to here,” sweeping his hand up to his breast bone. “It was like they were guttin’ a pig”.

“That is terrible” Paul dutifully said, meanwhile remembering back to the no trespassing sign he had decided not to put up.

“That wasn’t the worst part,” Eddy said cringing a little. “What happen next was straight out of a horror movie.”

“Really? What?” Paul asked feeling a tickle up his spine.

“Just after I got home after having had my surgery, I was sitting and watching TV. Now, I thought they sent me home too early, but that do that these days. They sent me home with a few staples holding my innards in.” Eddy tenderly patted his belly. “I was watching TV when I felt wetness on my shirt. I lifted my shirt up an peaked under the bandages, and saw my guts spilling out of the incision.” He looked up eyes wide.

Paul was shocked speechless.

“It was awful!” Loretta said, “His insides were actually coming out! It was awful.”

“We called 911 and I had to be helicoptered out.” Eddy said, shaking his head. “they didn’t even want to chance it in an ambulance.”

Paul stood stunned listening to this grizzly tale.

“The helicopter ride cost me $30,000 dollars.”

“And we are still paying for it,” Loretta added. “And we will be for a while.”

“I can honestly say that I know what I am made of. I know, because I saw my innards spilling into my hands.” Eddy said as he looked down into his previously bloody hands.
Paul asked a little anxiously, “when did all this happen?”

“It was the middle of December!” Loretta pointed out enthusiastically, “I remember because you were back in the hospital over Christmas. It was awful”.

Paul walked away from this conversation thinking, “That was quite a story. I think I need to check the timing on something.” As soon as he got home, he lookedin his e-mail archives. He remembered he had discussed that whole “trespassers will be Blood Eagled” thing with a friend at the time. Scrolling back, he found the message in his sent folder.

December 7th. Just days before eddy was split from stem to stern with a steel blade, and his guts spilled out into his own hands.

Paul realized he had just received two vivid confirmations. First, yes, the rumors were true, Eddy has been poaching on their land. And second, yes, in fact, there were indeed dead Vikings patrolling their property. Or at least, something close enough to dead Vikings, complete with scalpel-sharp blades, as to make no real difference in a practical sense. In spite of their lack of physical bodies, they had no problem summarily eviscerating a poacher.

As soon as Emma got home he gave her the news: Okay, nobody actually died, but …the dead Vikings Blood Eagled Eddy!”.

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