The Next Travel Writer 2016 Logo
The Next Travel Writer 2016 Logo

The Barren Land

by Josephine Penfold

She was taking him into the middle of the Northern Atlantic; to the city of Reykjavik. Cold, bitter, unpredictable, but beautiful. He was sure there was nothing like it. It was another world. He desperately wanted to be lost with her, here in the whitened land.

A blizzard. Fast, furious whiteness circled around them. He reached for her hand, but she was so conscious of holding onto her hood whilst calculating every step so that she might not slip over in the thick snow that she neglected to see his appeal. They battled their way through the narrow streets that were soon shrouded by an unexpected darkness at such an hour. Damp and cold, they reached the shelter of a little bistro. They sat on wooden benches after removing their wet clothes and hanging them on the near-by radiator. The condensation fogged the glass almost entirely, except a little opening that exposed the frightful outside.  The fast-flying particles moved quickly creating a white canvass. He watched her glaring into the whiteness. Was this the new beginning? Whale and chips was the suggested dish. She chose the Catch-of-the-Day, he an Icelandic stew.

Warm and dry, he helped her on with her faux fur-lined coat as they made their way outside into the newly decorated streets. The snow fell gently now, tossing and turning on its way. Little bars and cafés glowed from the inside with people leaning against the little windows on circular throw pillows. The road was indistinguishable from the path and the streets all blurred into one white nothingness. He used the little houses that, though frosted, still revealed patches of their colour, to guide them back to their hotel. 

 The coach would be pulling up soon to take him and her away from the city lights and out into the white darkness. He stood in the door way of the hotel, hands deeply invested in his pocket. She was waiting on the bottom of the steps, listening for the sound of heavy wheels on the salt-gritted roads. He could see her breath and let out a sigh creating a little cloud that matched hers for a second until it dissolved into the icy air. The coach arrived and they boarded. He let her have the window seat. She gave him a small smile and he caught sight of her eyes. They were cold until the coach door was closed.

The coach started and slowly passed out of the city. This was the third and last possible night it could be seen. One last time. Was it too late? Would he be disappointed? He looked at her shaking under her woollen hat and longed to pull her close to him. Perhaps they weren’t meant to see it, he thought, perhaps there will be other times, with other people….Everything was black except for the uneven edges of the roadside that were reflected by the bright coach lights. She did not speak to him. She spent the journey checking the dark sky in search for some flicker or movement. He searched too, following her gaze from beside her. As they neared the Thingvillr National Park the roads winded round the mountains and the pair bumped up and down over the stagnant lava. A blonde lady stood up catching their attention as she spoke through the microphone. She had introduced the tour but had remained silent throughout the rest of the journey. But now she spoke, her broken English was muffled as the passengers moved towards the windows.  

Was this it? He took a deep breath and closed his eyes before he turned to look. In the far distance of the blackness there was a pale jade thin line that arched across the sky. He knitted his eyebrows. He could not see her face. She kept to her side. Confused and underwhelmed – was this really it? Was this all there was now?

The coach bounced up over the thick snow, coming to a stop. He stood to let her pass him and they followed the group towards a dimly lit building. Their feet sunk into the powdery snow as they struggled towards the warm café. The queue was long and he was growing irritable. He looked over at her, but she looked out towards the darkness. They left the café with nothing and walked slowly into the sea of snow – away from the crowds and the warmth, towards the mountain. A group of people with cameras chatted, distracting them from the sky. He gently guided her to follow him further out into the blackened whiteness.

The faint line of light still hung with patience. He looked at her. Nothing was coming of this. He stared down at the thick layer of snow that covered the tips of his boots until he felt her jolt beside him. He looked up. The green mist was slowly climbing up the siloquette of the mountain. Reaching the summit, it pulsed upwards but then sunk back down blanketing the top. They waited. Just he and she, the only two people in the world. It rested, but not for long. Soon it was twisting and twirling up high into the sky. A soft pink now grew from the green light spinning off into the blackness. Irregular waves created a path of light. He felt the pocket of his coat move. It was her. She had reached inside and grabbed his hand. The colours entwined into one perfect spiral, dancing like nobody was watching. 

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