Janet Shell Anderson

My husband Erik’s gone missing, Midsummer’s Eve, in Jamtland, at Trollnass, they call it, the place of trolls, a house by a lake. I have one picture he sent. It looks very alone by its lake, with the deep spruce forest around it, a pale, lovely house, mown lawn, perfect garden, white roses. In the garden there is a hedge, a topiary, a novelty, of course, a troll. But online I look via Google maps and the troll is in a different part of the garden. The house is a different color. Dark. Almost black.

I never fly. I did not go with him to Stockholm, to Husa, to Are. He went with his brother and sister. They went to find their family, their roots. Arctic people. Jamtish. Maybe Laplander. Now they’ve lost Erik.

My sister-in-law calls. His brother calls. They did not go with him to Husa or Trollnass. Maybe he went for a walk in the forest. Maybe he went for a walk by the lake. Maybe he went for a walk down the country lane with all the wild flowers and you know how forgetful he is, and time is hard to tell in northern Sweden at midsummer because the sun, you know, never sets. It’s odd. He looks like all the Helstroms here, they say. He looks just like the ancestors. Maybe he met a relative. So they explain. But he is not found. They come home.

I book a flight with Scandinavian Air and, afraid, I board. My mouth tastes like pennies. I fly across Canada, across the Labrador Sea, Greenland, north of Iceland, over the arctic, over dark, frozen water. It takes forever. I see the coast of Norway after seven hours. We descend. I take a train to Are in Jamtland and stay atthe Copper Mining Works Hunting Lodge. The copper mine is closed.

Erik’s great great great great grandmother Marta, two hours after delivering a baby son, left the baby in the stuga with her beautiful, drunken, layabout husband, Gunnar, drove a team and a sledge filled with coal to that mine. She drove through a winter storm, survived. Twelve days later, Gunnar left her.

I am located in a palatial room with silk sheets, a fireplace burning birch, a bath so complicated I can’t work it. Over the silk sheets, red fox fur reaches down to the floor. A huge copper spear hangs on the wall above the bed as if I might need it. Downstairs, the spa has fish to nibble the old skin off my feet as I bathe.

The moon rises like a piece of bone in a sunny sky and holds over the Norwegian mountains, and from the balcony of my room I see shadows below the hotel. Figures.

They must be people. They must be human.

Something moves in the forest toward Husa where Marta struggled with the sledge and the horses and the deep snow and the weakness after giving birth and the blood and the bitterness and delivered the coal because not to do it would be death, starvation, and Gunnar stayed at home with the new infant and drank and left twelve days later with another woman. Something in the forest moves and cries.

I love my husband.

I feel a breath, cold as ice, behind me.

Her portrait is in a museum. Marta. Pregnant. Plain. With the furry team of solid horses, with the snow, blue shadowed. I have seen copies of the picture. The story was amusing.

I’m not amused now.

I get out of Are at half past midnight, and dawn smokes over the hills. I go toward Husa, where she struggled, and see a red deer in the summer meadow. The forest is filled with coppery light. Trollnass is empty. That is the first shock. The garden is full of years of weeds. The driveway is overgrown. Small spruce encroach. Dark figures stand by the hedges, shaped like trolls.

A woman walks out the door, a bundle in her arms. An infant.

“He came back,” she whispers, closes her eyes and smiles.

Janet Shell Anderson has had work in Vestal Review, decomP, FRIGG, Grey Sparrow, and elsewhere, and published a “flash” novel. She is an attorney.