“Stop!” Erling protested, struggling to free his arm from Benton’s grip. “I told you I wasn’t going in.”
When Benton showed by at Erling’s bedroom window and begged him to sneak out, to go see the dig-site that his father, an archeologist, was overseeing, Erling protested; not only would his parents be furious if they found out, but it was probably dirty and could be very dangerous. Yet, no matter how many concrete reasons Erling provided Benton, the English boy refused to listen. Erling complied with the disclaimer that he would not be setting foot inside the gate.
Erling affixed his large black-rimmed glasses over his sea-green eyes, changed out of his pajamas, and followed an eager Benton twenty blocks on his bike.
“I don’t get you,” Benton said, releasing Erling’s arm, “you are supposed to be a Viking! A strong, brave warrior, not a short four-eyed freak that’s afraid of something buried halfway in the dirt. You are the dorkiest teen-year-old I’ve ever met.”
Erling was going to suggest to Benton that if that was what he thought of him, than he didn’t have to be friends with him, but instead he said: “Not all Norwegians have Viking blood in them. What about that sign?”
Benton drew a mental line from the tip of Erling’s pointed finger to a sign on the gate. It read “Holde ut!” in large red letters. Benton shrugged his shoulders, causing his long blonde hair to bunch up around his neck. “So.”
“Well, if you paid enough attention in class, you would know what that means.”
“Give a bloke a break,” Benton said, straightening his golden locks with a swipe of his hand, “I’ve only studied Norwegian for two months.”
“It says ‘Keep out!’”
“So! My dad is the head of the entire excavation.” And with that, Benton pushed the gates as much apart as the chain would allow and slid underneath.
Erling looked down the winding road to this left, eerily alight in the orange glow of the dim streetlights. A gust of wind raked up dried leaves from the sidewalk—the debris made a loud screeching noise as it flew over his sneakers. Reluctant and sighing, Erling pushed his way under the chained gate and ran to catch up with Benton. Their bikes stayed behind, huddled together against the fence.
“I can’t see anything,” Erling complained. All he could see was a foot in front of him and the outline of Benton’s slender face next to his.
“I know where I’m going. In a minute you will see the most well-preserved Viking ship ever uncovered.”
“The most preserved, huh?” Erling knew that the most preserved ship ever discovered was the Oseberg ship, whose parts date as far back as 800 AD. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but—”
Erling’s last step did not hit ground. He felt himself slipping, when Benton grabbed hold of his collar and pulled him back up. Benton yanked him to the left and for once he Erling didn’t mind being directed.
They came to a stop at a generator; it took both of them pulling the recoil rope to start it. Humming to life, the generator lit a series of floodlights that circled a crater-sized whole in the ground that stretched the size of two football fields. Erling backed away from the edge knowing that a few moments ago that if not for Benton, he’d have fallen to the bottom in the dark. He was contemplating how to thank him, when he saw it.
In the middle of the huge excavation site was a huge wooden ship, buried partially in the ground, its mast towering up in the air.
“That has to be at least one hundred meters long!” Erling exclaimed, forgetting all about his fears of getting into trouble for breaking and entering.
“One hundred and fifty, I think,” Benton assured, a smile creeping across his thin lips. “I told you it would be worth it, didn’t I?”
The two of them very carefully made their way down into the dig site. Up close, they discovered the intricate carvings on the side of the ship—carvings of screaming faces.
“I saw the Oseberg ship last summer when my dad took us to the museum in Bygdøy,” Erling said as he ran his fingers over one of the carvings, “and this ship is definitely more preserved. I wonder what these carvings mean.”
“Don’t you recognize them? They’re Draugar.”
“You really aren’t a Viking. Come and I’ll show you.”
Erling watched Benton climb effortlessly up a steep incline of dirt that lead to the floor of the ship. When it came Erling’s turn, he clawed his way up, knowing no other way to traverse the mound than to dig his hands into the dirt. On his way up, he caused a lot of dirt and rock to fall to the bottom of the mound.
“Be careful,” Benton’s voice called out from somewhere atop the ship, “there is probably something important in that mound, because my dad wouldn’t let me near it.”
When Erling was close enough to the top that he could see the wood of the ship protruding out of the mound, he pushed with all his might and bounded onto the floor of the ship. He watched from the edge of the ship as the mound broke in two and a large stone, covered in ancient runes, fell to the bottom of the excavation site and shattered.
“That can’t be good,” Erling said under his breath.
Benton, who was looking over the detail woodwork on the mast, turned to look at Erling. “What was that?”
“Uh…nothing,” he replied as he got up and joined Benton at the mast. “What did you want to show me?”
They walked to the far right corner of the ship where there was another large mound of dirt. “That,” Benton started, pointing at the mound, “is a Draugr burial mound. A Draugr is an undead Viking.”
Erling laughed. “An undead Viking? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“No seriously. You can see it now because somewhere under the dirt close by is a rune-stone that keeps it trapped in the ground.”
Erling swallows hard, thinking about the rune-stone that he single-handedly destroyed with his clumsiness.
Benton continued explaining, his back to the mound. “You would know that I was right if the rune-stone wasn’t intact underground somewhere. The Viking-zombie would be here.”
“Maybe we should go home now,” Erling said, his fear renewed. But Benton didn’t seem to hear him at all.
“The have the power of shape-shifting from animals to giants.”
There was more to Benton’s undead-Viking-history-lesson, but Erling didn’t hear him. He was too shocked and terrified to see a huge black stallion rise out of the mound. The beasts back was twisted and broken. It had no ears. No tail. Erling was frozen with fear, unable to more or warn Benton.
The black horse disappeared behind the mound and for a moment Erling was able to breathe. Suddenly massive hands pulled the frame of a monster over the mound and into the light—its red hair was woven into knots around its chin, its jaw broken and dangling, its eyes piercing red. It rose up so high that it made the mast of the ship seem small. The Draugr growled, grabbing Benton’s attention for the first time, but it was too late.
The Draugr scooped the two of them up in its massive hands and squeezed them until there was nothing left but a red stain on his palms.