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Authors: Marie Loughin

Tags: #urban dark fantasy, #dark urban fantasy, #norse mythology, #fantasy norse gods

Valknut: The Binding

BOOK: Valknut: The Binding
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Valknut: The Binding

 

Marie M. Loughin

 

 

Smashwords Edition

Valknut: The Binding
is a work of
fiction. Names, characters,

places, and incidents are the product of the
author’s

imagination. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living

or dead, or to actual events is entirely
coincidental.

Copyright 2011 by Marie M. Loughin.

Cover art and design copyright 2011 by
Vanessa Chan

All rights reserved.

Published by Ottertail Publishing

This ebook may not be reproduced in whole or
in

part without the author’s permission.

Please support the author by purchasing your
own copy.

For more information, please contact the
author at

[email protected] or visit

http://marieloughin.com

This book is dedicated to
Leonard Bishop

 

1922 – 2002

Chapter 1

 

The diesel engine rumbled. Lennie Cook felt
it through the ground under her feet and convinced herself that she
shook from vibrations rather than fear. The roar escalated as the
train drew near.

Too fast. She glanced nervously at the shabby
old man beside her. “It’s coming too fast.”

The man squinted into the westerly sun and
waited, dragging on a hand-rolled cigarette. A warm breeze lifted
his shaggy hair. Fine lines creased his cheeks, forehead, chin,
even his lips, as though the sun had baked away the inessentials
beneath. One eye was a sunken lid of puckered flesh. The other
glowed crystal blue in the sunlight. He waited a moment more, two
clouds streaming from his nose. Then he pinched the burning end of
his smoke and dropped the stub into his pocket.

“Run.”

So Lennie ran, racing along the tracks,
chasing the old man in a spray of cinders. The train gained speed
as it left the yard, and her feet flew and her heart filled with
the reckless joy of the child she had been. Then a branch caught
her leg and she stumbled. The train loomed closer. The old man ran
on, swift as a young athlete. Doubt jittered through Lennie’s
mind.

I must be insane to follow this guy.

But he knew something about her father, maybe
even knew where he’d gone. She might not get a better lead. She
followed.

The train caught them and pulled ahead. Two
engines on this one. Hot air whipped her face as they went by. Then
came the cars—grainers, refrigeration cars, boxcars—avalanching
past.

“This one,” the one-eyed man yelled. He
dropped back and drew even with the front of an open boxcar. In one
fluid motion, he leaped, caught the door latch, and swung
inside.

Air burned down Lennie’s throat. Her aching
legs churned. She thought of her father and mustered a final burst
of speed. 
You sure as hell better be out there, you son of
a bitch!

Then she caught the door latch, felt it jerk
her shoulder, and her feet lost the ground. She grabbed hold with
the other hand and swung toward the opening. She missed. Her legs
banged against the doorframe and fell back into open air. Wheels
thundered a few feet away. Sweat slicked her palms and she pictured
her body tumbling, rolling under the train, cut in half.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Her legs
careened over a pile of rubble. One hand broke loose. The wheels
loomed—giant, crushing circular saws. Her other hand somehow stayed
hooked on the door latch. Pain screeched through her arm as her
body swung and twisted. Her feet clipped the ground and her hold
slipped. Before she could fall, a hand shot from the doorway and
caught her wrist. She was dragged aboard with agonizing slowness,
the hard lip of the doorframe grinding across her ribs and hip
bone.

She huddled on the floor, sides heaving.
Shudders ran through her body. Gasping sobs tore her raw lungs.
Unable to shake the image of those wheels, spinning and shooting
sparks, she curled tightly and wrapped her arms around her
head.

“Easy, there,” someone said. She felt a
reassuring pat on her shoulder. The thunder faded to a muted rumble
under the metal floor. She was safe inside the boxcar, warm in a
patch of sunlight. She forced herself to take a few deep breaths.
Pain lanced her strained arm as she pushed herself upright. How had
that old man boarded so easily when she, once a star sprinter for
her track club, had nearly ended up under its wheels?

Grimacing, she squinted into the boxcar’s
shadowed corners, looking for the one-eyed hobo. “There are easier
ways to kill me,” she rasped, rubbing her shoulder. Her bruised
legs ached and blood seeped through a new hole in the knee of her
jeans. “I might even cooperate, as long as I don’t have to go
through that again.”

“Actually,” came the mild reply, “I think I
saved your life.”

The voice was clearer, younger than the voice
of the hobo she had followed. A stranger sat in shadow near the
door. She glanced around the boxcar and didn’t see the one-eyed man
at all.

Great. She curled shaking fingers around the
canister of pepper spray she carried on a belt loop. Just great.
Virtually unarmed and trapped with strange men on a moving boxcar.
She hadn’t been this stupid since she tried to follow her father
the morning after he had disappeared. An idiot kid with nothing but
a book bag stuffed with clothes, chewy granola bars, seven dollars,
and her favorite CD.

She eyed the man, hoping he wasn’t
unfriendly. Or too friendly. Maybe she should use the pepper spray
now, before things could get ugly. But the wind gusting through the
doorway might carry the spray into her own face. She flexed her
numb hand and found she could make a fist, though the torn skin on
her palm would hurt when feeling returned.

“Who are you?” she asked. The tremor in her
voice made her wince.

In answer, the stranger slid into the
sunlight. He was a little older than she. Or maybe younger—the
rails had a way of aging people. He met her eyes, then looked down
and rubbed the back of his neck. “Name’s Junkyard Doug. Most call
me Junkyard.”

Lennie relaxed a little. Just a hobo. She had
met several while searching train yards and hobo jungles for her
father. At worst, they were caustic and reclusive. Some were
helpful, even friendly. This one looked better than most, though
dust had collected in the creases around his mouth. His face was
smooth shaven with a pair of long sideburns. An orange bandana
covered brown hair worn in a short ponytail. Metal buttons covered
his faded jean jacket, including a smiley face pinned to the breast
pocket and a rusted button on the sleeve that said, “Gore in 2000.”
Only a little behind the times, Lennie thought wryly.

The guy seemed shy, probably harmless, and he
had saved her life. Nevertheless, she kept her fingers around the
pepper spray. “I guess I should thank you. You might have gotten
killed right along with me.”

“No problem.”

He said nothing more. Just sat quietly, arms
draped over crossed legs. She was about to ask where the one-eyed
hobo had gone when Junkyard thrust his hand into his jacket pocket
and leaned toward her. His face loomed too close, a collection of
hard angles that seemed harsh, even sinister. She gasped and pulled
away. Her hand convulsed around the pepper spray.

Junkyard froze, his gaze fixed on the
canister. Slowly, he sat back and drew his hand from his pocket. In
it were two Twinkies. He held them out to her. “Have one. Sorry I
don’t have more to offer you.”

Lennie stared at the packages and tried to
remember how to breathe. Her face burned with embarrassment. She
looked up and saw friendly amusement in his eyes. Still, she
hesitated before taking one. These Twinkies might be his whole
dinner. But then, he might be insulted if she didn’t accept it.

“Thanks.” Her fingers closed on a package.
She flinched at the touch of his calloused palm. “My name is
Lennie.”

The dust that covered the floor of the boxcar
now coated her hands as well, so she peeled the wrapper back and
ate the Twinkie like a banana. Junkyard ate his cake in three large
bites before she could even swallow her first. Then he stuffed the
crumpled wrapper in his jacket pocket and resumed his relaxed,
cross-legged pose, eyes fixed out the open door.

The train, which had been paralleling a line
of trees, broke into an open field of buckwheat. Millions of tiny
flowers blurred past, creating the illusion of a solid white
blanket spreading into the distance. It made Lennie think of bees
and beehives as she licked the filling out of her Twinkie.

When the last bite was gone, Junkyard took
her wrapper and put it with the other in his jacket pocket. In a
noncommittal voice, he said, “Crazy thing you did, trying to catch
onto a moving boxcar.”

“You’re telling me! It’s probably the
stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Yes, she wanted to find her father. But she
had only intended to flash his photo around to hobos and yardmen,
not throw herself onto a speeding train. “I never would have tried
it, except that one-eyed man seemed to know what he was doing.”

The man—what was his name? Rollin’ Red?
Something like that. He’d made it sound so reasonable, like
hitching a ride with no idea when or where the train would stop was
completely sensible and logical. She struggled to recall what he
had said that was so convincing, but her memory of him was hazy, as
though she’d met him years ago instead of less than an hour. She
couldn’t even remember what he looked like, just an impression of
fading red hair and a single eye, as clear as sapphire. It seemed
the sum of all human wisdom could be swallowed in its depths.

He had been in the train yard, sitting on the
steps of a locomotive as if waiting for her. She remembered trying
to show him her father’s photograph. He hadn’t even glanced at it.
“I know who you’re lookin’ for—and I’m thinkin’ it’s about time you
found ’im.”

He’d lifted a closed hand in front of her
face and dropped something metallic, round, and heavy that bounced
at the end of a silver chain. Tarnished almost black, the object
spun slowly for a moment before she recognized it.

It was her father’s pocket watch.

With a painful flash of memory, she saw her
father in navy blue dress pants and a pinstriped oxford shirt,
pressed and neat, smelling of dryer sheets as he kissed her goodbye
for the last time. The watch was tucked as always in his front
pants pocket, leashed by its silver fob.

And years later, the same watch dangled from
the hand of a red-haired, one-eyed hobo. She reached out
tentatively and cupped it, felt its solid weight, the cool metal
against her skin.

“Where did you get this?” she whispered,
rubbing the tarnished engravings. But the hobo jerked the watch
from her hands. Her fingers knotted around the sudden void.
“Hey—give it back!”

She grabbed for it, but he calmly gathered
the chain and shoved the watch into the front pocket of his jeans.
A short silver loop stuck out, taunting her. She had never wanted
to hit someone so much in her life.

“It’s your father you’re lookin’ for, ain’t
it?” he said. “Well, you jus’ follow me if you wanna find ’im.”

“Follow you. Right. How dumb do you think I
am?”

But her hands ached where the watch had
rested. She wanted it back. Now. She glared into his one shining
blue eye.

Something had happened, then. Something she
couldn’t quite remember, and suddenly it had seemed reasonable that
she should follow the one-eyed man. In fact, she had no choice. She
had to find her father, before it was too late...too late...for
what?

The next thing she knew, she was hanging from
the side of a speeding train.

Junkyard’s voice pulled her out of the
memory. She blinked and found him looking at her expectantly. “Uh,
sorry,” she said. “I guess I zoned out. Did you say something?”

“No problem. I was just asking about this
one-eyed man. Where did he go?”

“Didn’t you see him? He climbed on board
ahead of me.”

Junkyard frowned. “Didn’t see anyone else. I
was taking a nap. Thought I heard a bird squawking, but it was you
yelling.”

“Well, he must be here somewhere.”

Lennie leaned into the shadows and let her
eyes adjust. Cardboard and scraps of packing material littered the
floor. A hand-truck lay on its side against one wall. Nearby sat a
thick, six-foot roll of packing paper, crooked and lumpy, as though
it had been rolled by a drunk. There was nothing else in the car.
Yet she remembered watching the old man swing on board as easily as
stepping into a parked truck. Deceptively easy.

“Where the hell did he go?”

Junkyard glanced around the boxcar. “Like I
said, never saw anyone, one eyed or otherwise. You sure there was
someone else?” He eyed her suspiciously. “You don’t look the type
to be drinking Sterno.”

BOOK: Valknut: The Binding
8.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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