We drive past built-up areas, past mountains, past white-coated plains, to a place where light pollution is merely a rumour. An eerie stillness greets us as we disembark. The sky is the darkest of blacks dotted with an array of fluctuating pinpricks. Only one word can describe our surroundings — desolate. Words tumble from our lips, hanging before us, held captive by the freezing temperatures — minus five, says our guide, amusement flickering in her eyes as we head towards the only building in sight. Toes numb as boots trample across the frozen terrain, cold seeping through to fingers despite two pairs of gloves. We are on the edge of who-knows-where, on the coast, on a beach, feet sinking into the depths of virgin snow.
A family lost their lives here last week, says our guide. We listen intently as she tells how they were all swept out to sea — be careful she warns. We edge away from the water, towards the patchwork of sparkling white, turning to face the sea, the tragedy replaying in our minds. We see it reflected in each other’s faces. Faces awash with moonlight. A sprinkling of which clings to the waves rushing towards us, crashing onto the beach, creating a curving delineation between movement and stillness. The waves sound distant despite their closeness, dwarfed by the bitter wind howling through our hats.
Wind chill factor is now minus seven, we are reliably informed. We shelter beside the wooden hut. A poster clinging to peeling paint advertises ice cream. Tonight they are serving hot chocolate with a shot-of-something-stronger. Candle light flickers against the windowpanes. We circulate, searching for warmth, prepared to tolerate these conditions for as long as it takes, unwilling to succumb to the hut’s temptations, eyes trained skywards. Conditions are perfect, says our guide. All we need is patience.
Hours pass, our resolve tested. We take it in turns to nip inside for hot chocolate, carrying it outside, warming our hands while warming our bellies, marvelling at how this is the same moon the rest of the world can see. It looks enormous. But this is Iceland. Celestial bodies sit low on the horizon at this time of year. We wait, growing colder and more impatient by the minute, scarves pulled over noses almost covering eyes. Reports of a hot chocolate shortage run rife. We grow despondent. Maybe it’s not our night. Maybe we’re not destined to see them, after all. We are on the verge of giving up. But then the Northern Lights oblige, wafting across the night sky, setting off a ripple of excitement and a flurry of camera action.
CR Smith’s work has been published in such places as 101 Words, Ink In Thirds, Paragraph Planet, Train Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, Verstype, Glove Lit Zine, Ad Hoc Fiction and The Cabinet of Heed. Website: crsmith2016.wordpress.com Twitter: @carolrosalind.
Image: Mats-Peter Forss