Today's Reading

It was a piercing yell, so disturbing in the darkness and quiet that Daníel's muscles tensed in shock. After that, there was a confused noise and it took him a moment or two to work out that Gunnlaugur had cannoned into Ármann, sending them both flying.

There was a moment's deathly silence.

Daníel stood rigid with fear for several seconds, trying to work out what had happened.

Gunnlaugur had seen something, that much was obvious. 'What's the matter?' he asked, but there was no reply.

Then, his limbs obeying him again, Daníel walked a little further into the hut, peering to both sides and illuminating the interior with his torch, but he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. He shone the beam straight ahead, at the wall facing the door.

The sight that met his eyes was so unexpected, so shocking, that his heart missed a beat.

Daníel tried to cry out but couldn't utter a word, couldn't move, just stood there, staring.

He felt suddenly cold all over and the shivering spread through his body with terrifying speed.

He had never been so afraid in his life.

FRIDAY 
One day earlier

DANIEL

Ármann, who had offered to drive, was the life and soul of the party as usual, doing his best to keep them entertained during the journey, but the series of amusing stories he reeled off met with indifference from his passengers. It wasn't the fault of the stories, it was just that there was a time and place for everything and this wasn't it. Daníel was dead tired as well as hung-over from the night before, and the others seemed similarly subdued. In the end, Ármann had lapsed into silence. No one else spoke, the radio was off and the only noise now was the roar of nailed tyres on the rough gravel road. Outside the windows the treeless landscape rolled past, bleak, grey and forbidding, only the high moors in the distance touched with white.

As he stared sleepily at the view, Daníel reflected how little he knew about the east of his own country. He had a hazy idea of a fjord-indented coastline and a reindeer-haunted wilderness of mountains and moors inland. A controversial hydro-electric dam. The region was associated in his mind with hardy farmers, fishermen and hunters, a world away from the urban sprawl of Reykjavík where he had grown up, though it was only about 350 kilometres as the crow flies.

They had taken it for granted that Ármann would see to everything, as always. He had shouldered responsibility for the entire organization of the trip, finding a time that suited everyone, and booking flights, a rental car and accommodation. Somehow Daníel had fallen in with all his suggestions, even the absurd idea of a ptarmigan shoot. The plan was to fly out to the east on the Friday, spend Saturday and Sunday morning shooting on the moors, then head back to town again on the Sunday evening.

They had slept off last night's pub crawl, more or less, but in spite of that Daníel hadn't felt up to doing any of the driving. He was still recovering from the bumpy flight out east in the small plane, with the bad coffee and the powerful stench of fuel, none of which had helped his hangover. Now he was sitting in the back with Helena. To give Ármann his due, he'd hired a good car; a big off- roader with plenty of leg room. The combination of a comfy seat, warm air from the heater and smooth suspension was causing Daníel's eyelids to droop. All he really wanted was to sleep until they reached their destination, as he knew that if Ármann and Helena had anything to do with it, they were bound to have another late night.

They had made the most of their evening in Reykjavík yesterday, hitting the town in style. Daníel had appreciated the chance to catch up with the latest changes, as he hadn't been home to Iceland in two years and the city had undergone a transformation in his absence. New restaurants had appeared in place of some of his old favourites and the harbour area was unrecognizable, dominated now by luxury apartments and a five-star hotel. More new hotels had opened or were about to, and the down-town area had a more cosmopolitan feel to it than ever before. He had even found a jazz bar near the parliament building, something he would have associated more with New York than Reykjavík.

The restaurant they'd chosen had been one of the recent additions, and so had the bars and clubs on their crawl, and the city centre had been buzzing for a Thursday night in November. The weather had been beautiful too, with clear skies and chilly temperatures, and the forecast was for more of the same in the east of the country over the weekend, colder though, with the possibility of a bit of precipitation thrown in.

Every time Daníel came home, he realized it took him longer to acclimatize; he found the cold a little harder to bear and had less patience with the wildly unpredictable weather. But he didn't want to risk losing face in front of the others and be told that he was going soft in the UK. In this, as in so much else, he felt his acting talents were being tested to the limit. It was vital never to let the mask fall, whether in relation to the cold or his career.

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