6

Freshly cooked blood sausages were steaming on the table. Lemme went straight for the reindeer intestine, held it out for Sanne and laughed.

“Stop that! Shame on you!”

Rija was quick to stop her son when she saw that he was fooling around, insinuating nasty things about the stiff sausage.

Sanne restrained herself but couldn’t help giggling at the blood sausage.

“And you, Sanne, put away your telephone when we’re eating!”

Sanne grabbed her phone, which had just then started beeping again on the table. She peeked at it to make sure that it was just the battery, not a message, before she put it in her pocket.

“Dad. Have you heard the news? We’re gonna get a brand-new dirt bike track.”

“Oh yeah?”

Juho wasn’t really interested, but he let his son talk.

“It’s going to be as big as ten soccer fields, and it will be really close to us, right between the town and our neighborhood. They started clearing and leveling the land last week already, and when they build it, it won’t be more than a few kilometers away from here, so I’ll be able to ride over there right from home, and…”

Juho dropped the vertebra that he was scraping meat off of.

“Where?”

He was suddenly sincerely interested.

“Right between the town and our neighborhood, about four kilometers away on either side.”

“And what are you saying… the size of ten soccer fields… they’ve already started digging??”

“Yeah.”

Our memorandum, they promised to wait.

Lemme was still smiling, but when he saw his father’s face, the corners of his mouth drooped.

Juho’s cheeks turned red.

“Are you complete idiots? Utterly out of your minds?! A dirt bike track the size of ten soccer fields? A place that will be booming with noise around the clock, all year long? With a road there? And a parking lot? And big lights… and electric lines?”

“Well, yeah…”

“And what were you planning to do with your reindeer when there are bad winters? Now that the climate is changing so unpredictably, and the snow melts and freezes over and over until layers of ice lock up the grazing grounds? Do you think that the reindeer will go anywhere near such a site? A dirt bike track?! Where people buzz around like drunken flies?”

Juho pounded his fist on the table so hard that a glass of water tipped over and spilled down Chorre’s back and onto the floor. Chorre got startled and ran away, and at the same instant the telephone that Rija had commented on started beeping as if on purpose. Everyone felt instinctively that the atmosphere around the table was seriously heating up.

“Can’t our reindeer be somewhere else? They’re never there anyway, except for this year…”

Lemme was speaking in a low voice. He was trying to explain and restore calm, but Juho wasn’t listening anymore.

“Our own kids, just as stupid as the colonists!” Juho was really furious.

“Does one really have to explain everything for them? They’re like little children! Don’t you understand that we’re talking about the most essential piece of land that we have as backup? The one that will rescue us if such winters keep coming? If the winter grazing lands are covered with ice? All…locked…up!” Juho was speaking slowly, emphasizing each word as if he was talking to someone who was mentally handicapped.

“But it’s not…” Rija tried to head off the approaching storm, but before she managed to say anything, Lemme threw his fork down on his plate, jumped up from his chair, and ran out through the door.

The bike was heard revving up outside and Sanne ran after him.

“Where are you going?”

“Away from here.”

“Wait, I’m going with you.”

Sanne jumped on the back and Lemme took off through the forest toward the town.

7

“Let’s go.”

Sanne was pulling on the arm of her brother’s jacket. When the roar of the motor stopped, everything grew quiet and the darkness that suddenly crept in was eerie. Lemme had driven to the new dirt bike track, which was far from finished. There were excavators and bulldozers on the site. All around were just piles of sand, which Lemme had driven ruts in until he ran out of gas. Sanne was poking at her phone again. She tried to turn it on but the battery was completely dead.

“Try taking it out and warming it up in your hand,” Lemme suggested.

“I tried that already and it’s no use!”

Sanne wanted to slam the phone on the ground, but she tucked it into her pocket instead.

“All because you wouldn’t lend me your crappy precious charger…!”

Lemme didn’t answer. He didn’t know how many times he had repeated that Sanne, like everyone else, should get and take care of her own things, but he also knew that he could easily have let her borrow his charger.

At any rate, there was no point in arguing about it now. Now they had more important problems to solve.

“What should we do with the bike?”

Lemme had his own worries. He didn’t want to leave his new bike behind, after bringing it here in an angry outburst and without permission.

“Dad will understand if we put it to him nicely. He’ll come and pick it up…”

Sanne tried to talk her brother into leaving the bike there until tomorrow. She didn’t want to stay here, but she quickly understood that Lemme wasn’t going to leave his new dirt bike behind no matter what.

“Take the handle from the other side. We’ll push it!”

Lemme shoved Sanne over to the other side of the bike. The same vehicle that a moment ago had been showing off all of its horsepower, was now a heavy dead weight.

*

All around were abandoned backhoes and dump trucks like huge shadows in the darkness. It was a long way home. Especially now that they had to push a dead dirt bike. Lemme reasoned that there would be some streetlights along the road to light the way, but that was a detour.

“It will take us at least an hour to get there. We can take a shortcut along the path through the forest.”

Sanne didn’t really like that suggestion, but given that they had gotten themselves into trouble, it was best to choose the quickest and simplest solution. The construction site had been placed outside of town because the builders wanted to take advantage of the empty forest instead of tearing down buildings in town. Besides, dirt bikes were too noisy to be in people’s earshot. Here on the other hand, in the empty wilderness where there wasn’t a single soul, the darkness was free to level out all the mounds and bumps in the entire forest. Lemme had ridden along this way so many times that he knew the way almost by heart, even though he couldn’t see the path.

Once we get through this little piece of forest, it will be easier to follow the path over to the hills that lead up to the houses.

He glanced over his shoulder, to make sure that the town was to the north and they were headed south. All the while he kept talking to Sanne so that she wouldn’t think too much about the darkness and lose courage.

“Did you hear that they’re planning to open a McDonald’s and a movie theater in the new shopping center that they’re building in town? And in the basement they’re supposed to open a bowling alley…”

The darkness was nearly forgotten and the dirt bike wasn’t so heavy anymore.

“Really? When will it be ready?”

Sanne was curious because Lemme promised to treat her to a movie and a burger, since he was the one who got them into this mess by losing his temper. This was enough of an incentive for Sanne, who got so excited that she started to push the bike a little too fast. The wheel sank down into a little cleft between two mounds and put a stop to their progress.

“Dammit! Pull it back!”

Lemme was in a hurry now. It was almost completely dark and it was hard to see which way to go in the forest. He didn’t want to have to make any detours. The excavation vehicles still loomed large behind them at the site, but in front of them was nothing but pitch-black forest. Sanne bent down in order to pull on the front wheel, but she stiffened up as she grabbed ahold of it.

“EEEEEEEYAAAAAAAH!!”

*

Something let out a hideous shout that went right through their bones.

What’s that…? A fox? An animal in danger?

Sanne looked at her brother who was standing completely still and staring into the darkness. Neither of them made a sound. Now was no time for conversations or discussions.

“Hurry up!” Lemme yelled while trying to yank the bike loose.

“It’s stuck on a bush, you come do it yourself!” Sanne yelled back.

Lemme took a step, but with each step he took, there came a rustling in the bushes a little way off. He took another step and there was that rustling again.

“Holler at it to scare it away,” Sanne suggested anxiously. She had seen enough times how hungry wolves, bears, and wolverines had torn up reindeer as if they were paper bags. Lemme flapped his arms, yelled and ran a few steps toward the sound. Just then something moved. It flew out of the bushes and hid behind a nearby rock. Lemme ran back, and at the same time the something slipped from the rock to hide behind a nearby tree.

“EEEEEEEYAAAAAAAH!!”

The sound raised all the hair on his neck and Lemme stiffened up. He didn’t dare to move anymore. Sanne was still holding onto the bike, but she let it fall to the ground when she ran over to her brother.

“EEEEYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

It howled again and flew from the tree to another rock even closer. A moment ago it was on their right, now it was to the left of them, and they could see its movements out of the corners of their eyes.

“If it’s an animal, it sure isn’t afraid of us,” Lemme whispered.

Sanne agreed.

We have to get out of here.

The bike would have to be left behind, that was clear now.

“Let’s run back to the dirt bike track. Dad might be there looking for us…”

Sanne nodded and swallowed hard. The dirt bike track was closer than home and she knew that if they ran as fast as they could, hardly anyone could catch up with them.

“One… two… three!”

Sanne almost tripped as she ran, but she managed to follow her brother. They were fast, but the thing that was moving in front of them was faster than either of them. The tree that it had been hiding behind a moment ago was quite far away from the nearest bush, rock, or any other hiding place. That something was extremely fast, but now the distance was great enough that Sanne and Lemme got a glimpse of it. It was a little creature on two legs. It had a voice that could crush your bones and it moved with a speed that left the wind behind. Lemme and Sanne held hands. For an instant they were petrified by fear and struck by the same thought:

We have to get away from here, now!

They held each other’s hands tight and ran. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, but the faster they ran, the wilder the screaming became. The howl went around them, from a rock to a tree, from a tree to a mound of earth, from there to another mound. It wasn’t rushing from one hiding place to another anymore. It was flying fast, counterclockwise. It was circling around them. Although it was far away, it had already gotten around them once. Now it was closer. It was behind them again, going around a second time. Suddenly it moved directly in front of them. It was very close, and its voice was so harsh that Lemme closed his eyes and had to cover his ears.

What the…?

Sanne, who was right behind him, shrieked when she saw what came into view in front of Lemme. She grabbed Lemme’s jacket and yanked him back.

“What?”

Sanne didn’t have time to answer, she didn’t want to try to explain what she had seen. She just yelled at her brother to sit down. She was all out of breath and frightened.

“That mental patient… this is what he was talking about. The devil-child… goes around three times!”

“What? Why are you blabbering about that now? We have to get away from here!” Lemme yelled.

“Hush! I think that old guy saw the same thing we are seeing now, and he said something more about it. He talked about reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It goes around three times… Amen, Our Father… He was trying to tell me something, but what was it?”

Sanne grabbed her brother’s jacket again, but this time she wasn’t joking.

“Don’t let it go around three times! That’s what he said.”

Lemme jumped up and pulled Sanne along with him.

“We can’t play games here, come on!”

Right when Lemme jumped up, the sound moved again. By now it was terrifyingly close. It seemed to be coming from all directions. It screamed and howled fiercely and moved like a bird in flight. Soon it would complete the third circle around them.

“Stop!” Sanne yelled.

She got left behind when Lemme started running.

“We have to recite the Lord’s Prayer…”

Sanne wasn’t quite certain what to do, but she knew that this was no joke, and that the crazy man by the swings had been telling the truth. Lemme was so frightened that he couldn’t focus enough to stop. He ran toward the excavation site as fast as he could, and the sound flew along at his side even faster. It went counterclockwise and it was catching up.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy…”

Sanne tried to hurry. She knew the prayer by heart, but in this situation it was hard to think straight. Lemme ran so fast that he tripped and fell. He jumped up and called to Sanne to come FAST!

“…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

Sanne didn’t manage to recite any more before she saw it. A pale, little naked child vanished behind one of the excavation vehicles right in front of Lemme. It had completed the third counterclockwise circle and that was the last thing that either of them saw before everything went dark.

8

The clock on the wall struck seven. Juho and Rija had been awake all night but the two kids hadn’t come back or called since yesterday’s outburst.

“I have to go and look again.”

Juho was restless. All evening he had called all of his children’s friends and acquaintances, and he had spent the night walking through the forest and calling their names.

“Hi, this is Sanne, you know what to do…”

Juho ended the call, and even though he was holding Lemme’s dead telephone in his hand, he called that one too.

“It’s Lemme here, call again later.”

*

Are they still angry?

Rija burst out crying.

What if something happened?

Fear was beginning to eat away at their strength, and their patience was running thin.

“Did you have to be so tough on him? He’s just a child! It would have been possible to reason with him if only you had talked with him on a sane level. You could have explained and he would have understood… but now maybe…”

Rija wiped away her tears and Juho’s heart sank. He sat down, leaned his elbows against his knees, and took his head between his hands. Chorre crept quietly up to his side and nudged Juho’s hand with his nose.

“Forgive me, dear… of course it’s not your fault.”

Rija bent down and pressed Juho’s head against her chest.

Juho straightened up his back.

“I’ll go to the dirt bike track, maybe there’s someone there now.”

He put his hat on his head and went outside. Chorre followed after.

*

The coach had just gotten to the construction site where soon there would be a brand-new dirt bike track. He was satisfied, in a good mood.

We’re going to be the most popular dirt biking club in the whole country. Ha! You can’t put up a track this size just anyplace!

Just then he saw the ruts that someone had made riding around and he guessed who that someone might be. Who might be that enthusiastic and also lived nearby?

That’s exactly how they become the best. By showing real interest.

He smiled to himself and stared at the beautiful spot they had found for the dirt bike track.

*

“Have you seen Lemme and Sanne?”

The coach was startled to suddenly find someone there.

Who’s that? I’ve seen him before…

As Juho came up closer, the coach recognized him.

Juho Joansu!

“No, I haven’t. Are you guys playing hide-and-seek? Haha…”

Juho was in no mood for jokes, and he shouted once more.

“Have you seen them?”

The coach, who of course had no idea about the seriousness of the situation, was taken aback, but after he had a chance to collect his thoughts and saw Juho’s despair, he shook his head.

“No, but somebody left some tracks here. I was just thinking that perhaps it was Lemme who had…”

Juho took a look at the tracks that crisscrossed over the sand piles and open land. The tracks were fresh.

“But you haven’t seen them?”

“I just got here, and they aren’t here.”

Juho started following the tracks.

“Follow around the edges and see if you can figure out which way they came and went in this god-forsaken mess!”

The coach was going to protest, but he held it in when he saw the man’s desperation and followed after him. They walked single file and examined and reexamined every track that could have led out of the sand-covered site.

“All for some damned entertainment. For such childish waste!” Juho started mumbling again. “For the sake of some damned idiotic wasteful entertainment…”

He felt the fear and grief clenching his throat so firmly that he could hardly breathe.

“It’s all your fault!” he roared.

“What?”

“That you people encourage our children with wasteful nonsense and make them rebel against us!”

The coach had had enough. He didn’t understand what the matter was, but he wasn’t going to put up with some stranger yelling at him and making a scene.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“This damned project!” Juho snarled. He pointed at the ravaged earth and waved in every direction where the machines had felled trees and torn up the ground. “You people are destroying our livelihood with this diabolical hole! And you didn’t even ask for permission! You’re doing it illegally!”

The coach was clueless.

“You mean the dirt bike track? What’s been destroyed? There’s nothing here. Just a completely empty piece of birch forest that isn’t used for anything!”

Juho spat on the ground and shook his head in rage.

“There’s no use talking to you people. You’re all idiots. Don’t understand a thing. And don’t give a damn either!”

“Give a damn about WHAT? We got all kinds of permits from the municipality, and there wasn’t ANYTHING here before. The closest house is several kilometers away… This site isn’t being used for anything. And what’s more, we live in the most empty place in the world, if you count the number of square kilometers per person. Of course we should make use of this empty wilderness, which is otherwise wasted! I don’t understand what you’re whining about. Your own children will get to come and train here. They’ll have lots of fun!”

*

Juho was about to let him have it.

“What good is having fun if we lose the means to earn our living? When we run out of money to buy dirt bikes and other playthings? When we don’t have anything anymore! Do you get my message? No, of course not!”

Now the coach lost his cool.

“You think I don’t understand? You people have everything you need! The whole wilderness is yours. The rest of us can’t even go near it! And what’s more, you get money from the government, so you can buy everything you need. The newest dirt bikes, snowmobiles, big cars. And cabins all over the place!”

“I know what you think. But you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground! Do you think that I buy dirt bikes and snowmobiles for fun? NO! Do you think that I buy a big car in order to show off? NO! I need a new snowmobile and a good motorbike because I have to go wandering miles away from civilization, in places where there often isn’t any telephone coverage. A new snowmobile is what keeps me safe! And I NEED a big car because I have to transport reindeer and dirt bikes and snowmobiles.”

“Why can’t you walk or ski along with your reindeer like real Sami people did in the old days..?”

“Do you think that the reindeer we have today just stand around waiting for people to come near? That’s impossible … and why should we … in that case you should also sell everything and move into a turf hut!”

Juho was on the verge of exploding. He was in no state to continue the argument.

It’s hard work educating people who are totally ignorant. It takes time, and that’s exactly what I don’t have right now.

“I don’t have the patience to fill empty skulls,” Juho growled at the coach and went to the car.

The coach gave him the finger.

Damned greedy Samis. They’re never satisfied!

*

Juho took a few long strides toward the car and then stopped short. There were tracks that led into the forest. He rushed after them. Ran until he found the bike in a cleft between two mounds, stuck on a shrub of dwarf birch.

Máret Ánne Sara (1983, Hammerfest, Norway) is a Sami artist and author. Her art focuses on Sami identity and livelihood. She has been greatly influenced by reindeer herding, which is a key component to Sami culture. Her work has been exhibited around the world, including at the Sami Pavillion during the 59th International Art Exhibition of the 2022 Venice Biennial and the 2022 Arctic/Amazon show at the Toronto Power Plant gallery. She has published two novels. Ilmmiid gaskkas / In Between Worlds, excerpted here, was nominated for the 2014 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.

Trafika Europe