Eric took the last sip of coffee from the mug, it tasted bitterly cold. He then holstered his gun, slid on the gloves and went out of the cabin, right into the freezing heart of the arctic circle.
He stood outside for a moment, feeling the cold air wrapping him like a blanket, he could feel the prickle on his skin, freezing the hair on his face. He checked his watch, -30 C.
It was pitch dark, like someone had draped a dark blanket over the earth. He took out his night vision goggles and looked around, the snow bathed in the green hue. It was stillness, for miles.
He took them off, the world turned dark again, he looked at the label on the goggles.
‘Property of the Border Control Force’ He chuckled
In his 10 weeks of posting, he hadn’t seen a single living being except a snow fox hunting for fish, the only highlight in the 10 weeks of mundane boredom.
He walked ahead, the snow muffling the sound of his panting.
‘Today should be a little exciting though’, he thought. It was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the most magical time in the world, ‘when the spirit world and the material world are at the closest’. At least that’s what the handbook said. All he cared was watching the sun rise, even it were for a few hours.
He looked back at the cottage, the exterior was concrete, camouflaged against the background, only the trail of smoke coming from the chimney gave it away.
Even though it was supposed to be a border crossing, there wasn't much there to stop anyone from going across. There was no fence, no wall, just a concrete building. You could still get in the country, all you had to do was take the thousand KM of unguarded border around the arctic. It never made sense to him, at least till he read the handbook.
He still remembered the day when he saw the ad in the newspaper. ‘Strong-willed and able bodies men needed at the northern border control, Ex-military servicemen preferred, handsome 7 figure compensation for 3 months of placement’
At first it seemed too good to be true, what kind of work would give this kind of compensation? Besides there was no other border nearby, it’s not like they had refugees dropping in from the arctic. But the pay was good, the lead seemed solid, so he applied.
There was just one interview, ‘The position is mostly ceremonial’, they said. All that he had to do, was not let anyone pass through the building. They didn’t really explain why anyone would want to cross into the border by breaking into a checkpoint. But decades of military service had taught him not to ask questions. He signed the waiver, agreeing that the ministry had no liability in case of accident. He had signed this waiver a dozen times. He only hesitated for a moment when they asked for his next of kin, so they could transfer the money to them, just in case.
Eric had spent most of his life alone, he got recruited in the military when he was 19, got into special ops and did covert missions across the globe. The only family he had ever known was his team. A team that was all scattered now, blown in the wind like autumn leaves. He couldn't think of anyone.
He looked at his watch, still 2 hours till the sunrise. He could feel the blood slowing down in his hand and feet, the Human body's intrinsic mechanism to divert the flow of warm blood to the core organs by sacrificing the extremities. He walked back to the cabin. Making sure to clean his shoes before coming in, he didn’t want a puddle inside.
The inside was warm, he took some logs and threw them in the fireplace. He looked around, there was nothing much for him to do. The cabin was stocked will all the essentials. Canned food of every kind, fuel, wood logs for burning that could last him a year. The only thing he missed was alcohol, the interviewers were adamant about not having alcohol. ‘It impairs your judgment’ they said.
Not like being stuck for 3 months in the dark and cold wouldn’t impair you any way?
He sat down and opened the only book that was present in the cabin. Even though he had already read it a dozen times, he still enjoyed it.
The Essential Guide for the Northern Border Guard
It was a fascinating read, probably written a hundred years ago, similar to a military service manual. There were copious amounts of handwritten notes written on the margins, indicating that it had passed through numerous hands.
The first half mostly talked about survival, it talked about hunting, basic moving patters of arctic animals, Making traps, Keeping yourself warm. What to do in case you fell in the icy water? (Pray for your salvation, wrote someone on the margins). It was the second half of the manual where things got really interesting.
The Guide to ETBs ( Extra Terrestrial Beings)
‘The Northern Border Guard has a special duty that distinguished it from other borders, the northern border exists as a border between the spirit and the material world. In a balanced world, the spirits keep to themselves, however when there is imbalance the spirits (or ETB’s as the book called them) cross into the material world. Once they are allowed into the material world they can wreak havoc in different ways, they can cause flooding, typhoons, natural disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis. As a Northern Guard, it is your duty to protect the border at all costs’
So every time there is an earthquake it means someone has botched his job, Eric chuckled.
‘The only way an ETB can enter the material world is through special gateways, each gateway has a border control post. In order to enter the material world, the ETB has to enter the post and exit through the other door. They have to do that in the presence of the human, by outwitting them.
They cannot harm a human while passing. It is only when they pass through they can achieve their full form.
There has to be a human at all costs at the post, otherwise the spirits would have no barrier in entering. Having a human provides the only line of defense against ETB’s’
Further chapters described the spirits, their preferences, their weakness and their powers. It was a fascinating read. Read like a military version of the fictional stories his parents used to tell him as a child.
He skipped ahead to his favorite ETB
The shapeshifter is a rare but one of the most cunning and dangerous ETB. It can achieve the form of any living or non living entity to deceive the Border guard. It is also able to sense the desires and emotions of a human and then use them against him.
‘The only way’, the book said ‘To thwart the shapeshifter was to gaze in its eyes, and then say its name, Kilmus. Having their name uttered would break the spell and the spirit will be forced to flee.
‘However, it is important that the name must not be said to the wrong entity. If the word is said to the wrong entity, then the person will permanently lose a function of their body.
‘Under no condition the Shapeshifter be allowed to cross the checkpoint, after achieving its form, the shapeshifter can be a deadly foe and cannot be neutralized using conventional means’
Eric chuckled. Maybe a silver cross and some holy water would do the trick. ‘It all seemed like good stories, someone had fun while writing them’, Eric thought. He had seen his fair share of horrors in the world, nothing could compare to the tragedies that humans inflicted on their fellow beings.
If there were spirits, they should be escaping the material world. Not entering it.
His wrist watch beeped, sunrise in 5 mins. He quickly dressed in his parka. After some deliberation, holstered his gun and went out.
The horizon slowly started to turn orange, the snow started glinting like crystals. He took a deep breath, it was one of the most beautiful sunrises he had ever seen, an endless plain of pearly white, slowly being colored orange, The hand of God just brushing the landscape.
It was at that moment when he saw a red dot moving on the horizon, He quickly took out his binoculars.
It seemed like a car, not just any car, it looked like a super car.
It cannot be.
It was coming towards the post, blowing a cloud of snow in its wake. He could hear the roar of the engine. He quickly took out his revolver and checked the magazine. He then ran towards the post. Secured the front door and took his position. Whatever this was, it wasn’t normal.
The car stopped a few meters away from the post, it was a Ferrari, but it seemed bigger, like someone had taken a road car and then reinforced it to ride on snow.
He took out his revolver.
The door opened and out came a woman, a most beautiful woman Eric had ever seen, she was wearing a red dress, the kind a woman would wear for a royal party, not the fucking arctic. She seemed totally unfazed by the cold.
Eric felt his throat constrict. This isn’t right. ‘Hands on your head’
The woman hesitated for a moment, and then raised her hands, her rings glinting in the sunshine.
‘What are you doing here’?
‘I was just cruising around officer. Can’t you see?’ She smiled. Eric felt a pit in his stomach
‘How did you come here?’
‘Well, if you must know officer, somebody convinced my late husband it was a good idea to buy a nuclear ice breaker and convert it into luxury ship, unfortunately he passed away before he saw the completion of his baby’ She chuckled. ’So I thought, why not celebrate the start a new life by cruising through the arctic’
Eric was silent, he was still trying to process what she said. Her voice was sultry. He could smell her perfume. It felt overpowering
This doesn’t make sense
‘Aren’t you going to invite me inside officer? She smiled.
Alarm bells were now ringing inside Erics head. ETB’s didn’t seem so fictional anymore.
He took a deep breath, looked into her eyes, they were surprisingly warm. Eric could feel his knees getting weak again.
‘I know who you are, Kilmus’
For a moment, nothing happened. Then all strength seemed to leave his legs. He fell hard on the snow.
‘Are you ok officer’?
The woman rushed towards him.
‘I… I can’t feel my legs’ Eric stammered
‘lets get you inside first’
She lifted him by the shoulder and took him inside, lowering him near the fireplace. Eric was still shaking. He couldn’t believe what just happened. He pinched his leg. There was no sensation. His heart was racing, he propped himself up.
The woman came inside again, this time she was carrying something. Something wrapped in a blanket. She gently lowered it near the fireplace.
‘Isn’t she pretty?’ She smiled. ‘I found it abandoned while I was coming here, maybe she lost her mama’
Eric looked, It was a baby fox, her pearly white skin glinting like emeralds. It had glowing red eyes, like two heated embers. Their eyes met for a second and in that moment, It all clicked in his head. He lunged for his revolver while the fox shot towards the door.
He was about to press the trigger when a heel came flying. He felt his head split into two.
‘You freak,’ the woman was yelling ‘I will not let you harm an innocent animal’ Eric could feel blood dripping into his eyes, everything was hazy. He could hear the baby fox was clawing at the door. Trying to get out.
The woman was trying to pet the fox, ‘don’t worry, I will not let the bad man hurt you’
You want to get out, i’ll set you free baby fox’
’Please…’ Eric begged ’Don’t let it out’
There was a gust of cold air, Eric felt his face freeze. His heart sank as the fox disappeared in the snow.
He crawled outside.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself, I never thought border guards could be poachers, harming the wildlife’
He lied on his back, wiping his eyes. The sky was turning dark, it was almost sunset.
There was a thunder above him, dark clouds formed right on top, turning into a cyclone, engulfing him. The force of the wind lifting him, Lifting him into a dark tunnel.
Eric could hear the delirious screams of the woman down somewhere, he didn’t feel any cold. He didn’t feel any fear. The air was whipping him around. He felt as light as a feather, flying.
The wind lifted him up, up till he came face to face with those ember red eyes. There was a cackling somewhere.
Eric closed his eyes, in those last moments, before his flesh was stripped from his bones and turned into ash. It wasn’t fear that he felt. It was respect.
He put his hands together, and slowly clapped
‘You sly son of a bitch’