|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
Nœkken of Norway
The Tarn of Peril
"Whatever you do, laddy of mine, you must keep away from Bjerke Tjern!"
This warning, uttered in a squeaky voice by the wrinkled lips of Borghild Bjornsdatter, was my first introduction to that pool of mystery and death which the Norwegian country-folk called "Birch Tarn."
"Why do you say that, Granny?" I asked in my labored and somewhat broken Norwegian, "What's the matter with Bjerke Tjern?"
"Matter enough," she whined. "Anybody but a fool would know that Bjerke Tjern is the place where Nœkken abides. That ought to mean something to you, laddy mine, because it was Nœkken who slew all of your uncles."
It was true that my father's three elder brothers had all disappeared under very mysterious circumstances and that neither their bodies nor any other traces of them had ever been found. I had also heard rumors that their deaths had been accomplished by supernatural influences; but naturally I had given no credence to this superstitious nonsense. It was because of this complete and sudden eradication of my Norwegian relatives that I, the last male descendent of the Lungaard clan, had been sent from America to take over the management of the family estate requiring supervision.
"Are you sure that Bjerke Tjern is haunted, Granny Borghild?" I laughed. "If that is true, it makes me all that more eager to visit that interesting spot. I'd love to meet a huge Trold or a band of tiny Nissen. Perhaps I might be lucky enough to run into one of those beautiful golden-haired Huldren and have a dance with her."
"Scoff all you please," the old lady grumbled, "but if you have an ounce of brains in that noddle of yours, you will keep away from Bjerke Tjern, especially at night."
Stubbornness is a typically Norse trait. Some call it determination and class it as virtue. Others regard it as stupid, mulish perversity. Take your choice. For my own part, I must have inherited some of this Scandinavian obstinacy from my ancestors, for I had hardly finished supper that twilight summer evening, when I became obsessed with an overpowering desire to visit the very place which I had been warned to avoid
Outside, near the ponderous log stable I found one of the Lungaard farm hands.
"How do I get to Bjerke Tjern?" I asked him.
For a minute or so, he just stared at me fearfully, his eyes bulging, his lower lip sagging.
Somewhat impatiently I repeated the question.
Finally he found his voice and stammered, "You'd better not go up there, Sir."
"Never mind the advice," I snapped. "Are you going to tell me how to get up to Bjerke Tjern, or"
"It's up there," he muttered, pointing to a cleft in the mountains just north of our farm.
For a few hundred yards the trail was plainly marked; but it wasn't long before I had to force my way through a dense growth of weeds and underbrush which choked the remainder of the path. It was quite clear that the way to Bjerke Tjern had not been traversed for some time.
Crawling, climbing, stumbling over branches and creepers, I finally worked my way up to the gap in the hills, which the farm hand had pointed out to me.
When I reached the highest point in the path and looked down into the bowl-like depression on the other side of the ridge, the sight of which met my eyes made me gasp with delight. Below me lay a small lake, almost perfectly circular in outline, with the loveliest little toy island set in its exact center. Never in my life have I seen a body of water so clear and so still. Not even the tiniest of ripples disturbed its placid surface. It might have been frozen over, except that even the smoothest of ice could not possibly have reflected the surroundings with such perfect faithfulness. Like an image in a flawless plate glass mirror, the mountain peaks, the clouds, the gaunt white birch trees, the toy island and the lily pads were counterfeited within that magic circle of water.
It was about nine o'clock of a summer evening, although the sun was still visible. Like a great crimson ball it hung just over the hill to the southwest. With incredible speed it rolled downward. By the time I reached the ridge it had slid out of sight behind the horizon. Down in that cupped amphitheater in which the tarn lay sleeping, the direct light of the sun must have vanished some time previously. Strange to say, however, it seemed to be illuminated much clearer by the mysterious Norse twilight than by the glare of a noonday sun.
One thing that heightened this illusion was the total lack of shadows. Like fluid light, the ghastly, crepuscular glow seemed to flow into every nook and cranny, bringing out all the details with startling clearness.
The light was not the only thing which had been transformed. There were equally drastic changes in the sounds which reachedor rather railed to reach my ears. A few minutes earlier the woods had been teeming with life. Numberless birds had been twittering and chattering in the branches. Twigs had crackled beneath the steps of small animals. The leaves had rustled continuously as they were whipped about by the brisk west wind.
But now, after sun-down, all these sounds had been suddenly hushed. Not a breath of air was stirring. Not a bird chirped. Not a branch creaked. It was as if Mother Nature was angry with her children and put them all to bed before their time.
In that deathly, sepulchral silence, I found myself treading on tip toes, almost holding my breath for fear that I might miss hearing some slight sound to tell me there were other living creatures besides myself in that place of mystery.
Carefully and stealthily I clambered down the slope which led to the pond. Cautious as I was I couldn't help making a lot of noise. Each time a twig snapped or a pebble rolled down the hill ahead of me, the sound seemed to be magnified and repeated again and again by the echoing hills which guarded the tarn.
When I reached the grassy shore my nostrils were greeted by a delightful perfume. Clearly it originated from a fleet of water lilies which rode at anchor a dozen yards beyond my reach. The waxy blossoms, nestling among the oval leaves and spear-shaped buds, were as beautiful as they were fragrant. I had an intense yearning to pluck them.
Searching for a way to accomplish this purpose without exposing myself to the frigid waters of the lake, I stumbled upon a weather-beaten rowboat. It was an ancient pram, exactly like the small boats which the Vikings used in olden days for making short trips across the fjords. Staunchly built of oaken planks it had obviously rested there, embedded in the mud, for many years.
Despite its age, the skiff looked quite sound and seaworthy, except that it was half full of rainwater. I tried to empty it by tipping it over on its side, but it was too heavy for me alone to handle. Then, a few feet away I discovered another mysterious object. It was a silver-mounted drinking horn, such as the Norsemen of yore used for quaffing their mead.
Using it as a bailer, I soon had most of the water out of the boat. I expected to have a job loosening the craft from its muddy bed, but it slid out easily at the first push I gave it.
Tossing the drinking horn into the bottom of the boat, I looked around, half expecting to find a pair of ancient oars conveniently laid out for me, but in this I was disappointed. So I opened my jack-knife and cut down a birch sapling. Amputating the top and lopping off the branches, I fashioned a stout pole about fifteen feet long. Equipped with this, I stepped into the pram and shoved off.
As the prow of the craft nosed in among the moored lily pads, I leaned over the stern and thrusting my hand far down into the water caught hold of one of the wiry stems and jerked the blossom loose.
Hardly had I plucked the water lily when I felt a jar which made me almost loose my balance.
The boat began to move!
Straight for the center of the lake it headed, gliding silently along as if it were being towed by an underwater cable. I peered into the water on both sides of the pram but could see nothing but the lily stems and the angular furrows which the nose of the boat was plowing in the clear, transparent water.
Halfway to the island the skiff stopped abruptly. I heard a cracking sound and was horrified to see the thick, oaken sides of the boat bend inward as if they were being crushed between the jaws of a powerful, hydraulic press. Along the seams in the bottom of the craft two large cracks yawned. Water, cold as a glacier stream, began to gush against my legs.
Grabbing the drinking horn, I started to bail in frantic haste.
THEN I SAW IT!
Between me and the island, another smaller isle reared itself above the surface of the water. At first it looked like some floating, inanimate object, so formless and so lifeless did it seem to be.
Slowlyso slowly that it didn't stir up a single ripple in that glassy surface, the Thing swelled upward until two bulging emerald eyes came into new just above the water level. How can I hope to describe what I saw in those unspeakable eyes? Hunger, lust, ferocity, wickedness, cruelty, and devilish, murderous hate were all written there.
In my terror I forgot to bail, but it wouldn't have made any difference anyway for the gunwales of the pram were already awash. The frigid water made my legs feel as if they were frozen in a solid block of ice.
Then the fish, or animal, or whatever it was, began to move leisurely toward me.
I waited no longer. Pulling myself out of the damnable spell of fear which had taken possession of me, I stood up, placed my feet against the high stern of the pram and with a mighty kick, dove into the icy water. Luckily for me I had done a lot of swimming in my youth. Apparently Nœkken (I suppose I may as well refer to that Thing by its Norse name) had never before had to deal with a swimmer who knew the Australian crawl stroke. Otherwise I am sure it would not have permitted me to get such a start. I must have broken a record for the twenty-yard dash in the sprint I made that day. Nevertheless, I had barely scrambled up on the bank when I heard Nœkken slithering out of the water behind me. Without turning around I ran toward the path with all the speed I could muster. I hadn't taken more than a few steps when I stumbled over an exposed root and fell flat on my face.
Something heavy and cold and slimy flowed over my foot and wrapped itself around my left leg. Then I felt myself being dragged, slowly and relentlessly toward the water. I managed to twist my body around so that I was in a sitting position. Glaring at me, only a few feet away were those horrible, fiendish eyes. They were embedded in a loathesome mass of translucent glair, resembling the body of a colossal, shapeless jelly-fish.
One edge of this preposterous monster had wrapped itself about my leg. The opposite side of it was still in the water, six or seven yards away. Apparently without effort, the creature seemed to flow along the ground, dragging me along with it. Frantically, clutching for something to hang to, my hand closed over the top of the birch sapling which I had dropped there a few minutes before. Using it as a whip, I struck again and again at the part of the beast which gripped my leg.
Against such a formidable foe my improvised weapon seemed ridiculously puny; yet it proved to be far more effective than I could reasonably have expected. Beneath the stinging blows of the switch, the jelly-like substance cringed and drew back. Jerking my leg free from that dire embrace, I leaped to my feet and dashed madly up that tangled trail which (in my hopes at least) led to safety.
As I crashed down through the underbrush on the southerly slope of the ridge, I saw, looming up before me, the figure of a man. It was Lars Thorvaldsen, Borghild Bjornsdatter's grandson.
Tall, broad-shouldered and blond, with prominent cheekbones and a firm, determined mouth, Lars was a typical Nordic farmer lad. Of all the men and women who made their home at Lundgaard, Thorvaldsen was the only one who had been educated beyond the rudimentary requirements of the local country schools. Having displayed unusual interest in scholarly attainments, Lars had been awarded a stipendium and a scholarship at the University of Oslo. He spoke perfect English, with the meticulous inflection of an Oxford graduate.
"Hi, there, George!" he greeted me. "Where the devil have you been? I've hunted for you endlessly."
"I've been to Bjerke Tjern," I panted. "There's athere's a"
As I paused to catch my breath, Lars suddenly grasped me by the arm and cried, "What's the matter with you man? You look like you've seen a ghost!"
"I have!" was my excited response. "I've seen Nœkken!"
"You've seen what?"
"Nœkken," I whispered. "Granny Borghild was right. There is something something horrible, something supernatural up there in Bjerke Tjern!"
I half expected him to make fun of me. Instead he put his arm around my shoulder and said in a kind, soothing voice, "You're all excited, my boy. Here, sit down on this log and tell me what happened."
After first casting a furtive glance behind me to make sure that I had not been followed, I sat down and, in short, jerky sentences related to him my encounter with the monster of Bjerke Tjern.
In concluding my narrative I said, "I know, Lars, that you are not superstitious like the rest of the folks around here. You probably think I've been seeing things. But I'm telling you that I saw Nœkken just as clearly as I see you now. It caught hold of me and tried to drag me into the water. I'm sure it wasn't imagination on my part."
"Of course it wasn't," he conceded.
"Then you really believe meyou think that Nœkken actually exists?"
Without waiting for me to finish my sentence, Lars went on: "I've made quite a study of Norse folk lore. It's a very interesting subject. Most so-called educated people are inclined to dismiss these stories lightlyregarding them purely as myths, which they think are based solely on ignorance and superstition. My investigations have led me to the conclusion that, after due allowances have been made for exaggerations which may naturally be expected when narratives of this sort are retold again and again, all of these familiar stories originated in actual, true experiences of sane, sober human beings."
"Do you really believe that?" I asked in astonishment.
"Most certainly," he assured me. "There isn't one of these so-called supernatural beings, mentioned in folk lore, that cannot be explained in accordance with well recognized scientific facts."
"For; instance?" I prompted him.
"Well, suppose we start with Trolds. They were nothing but giants. Real giants are not at all uncommon, even today."
"True enough," I corroborated him. "And one of the best known of the modern giants is a motion picture actor and was born in Norway."
"There are plenty of other giants, besides those who exhibit themselves in shows," Lars rejoined. "Science explains them as eases of overdeveloped pituitary glands. Most of these giants are sensitive about their abnormal size. Consequently they prefer to live apart from other people. That trait ties in with the stories about Trolds, who were supposed to lead solitary lives."
"Sounds reasonable," I commented. "But you could hardly say that Nœkken"
He interrupted me with, "Giants are not the only freaks that can be accounted for by endocrinology. Take for example the little people who are called Nissen. They were nothing more nor less than midgets, of which there are thousands in existence today. Every biologist knows that midgets result from deficiency in the secretion of the thyroid gland. This hormone, you know, has been isolated and has been given the name of Thyroxine. Analysis shows that this substance contains iodine. It is a well known fact that midgets are prevalent in places where people drink water from melted snow and which consequently contains no iodine. Hence we would naturally expect to find many dwarfs, or Nissen, if you want to call them that, in the mountainous sections of Norway."
"To be sure," I agreed. "But the Trolds and Nissen were at least shaped like human beings. You could hardly attribute a monster like Nœkken to glandular disturbances of animal beings."
"Don't be so positive about that," he contradicted me.
"Just this. Nœkken of course is not human in originat least one would hardly suppose so, to judge from the generally accepted descriptions of the being, with which your account seems to agree remarkably."
"Then in the name of creation, what is it?"
"My theory is that Nœkken is an abnormal development of some simple, extremely low type of organism."
"For instance," I persisted.
"Well it might be an over-developed amœba."
"Amœba?" I questioned. "What in the dickens is an amœba?"
"It's a microscopic organism. You know what protoplasm is don't you?"
I didn't know, but I nodded nevertheless.
"That's all there is to an amœba." He went on, "It's just a single-celled blob of protoplasm. It can change its shape at will. That's how it got its name. Amœba comes from a Greek word meaning change. The amœba obtains its food by wrapping itself around other microbes and digesting them."
"Do you mean to infer that Nœkken mistook me for a microbe?"
"It probably wasn't particularly choosey about its diet," Lars laughed. "To a monster such as that, almost anything living would be acceptable food."
By this time I had recovered sufficiently from my fright so that I could appreciate the ludicrous aspects of the adventure; so I came back with, "Is that so? By the way that baby went for me, I am sure it regarded me as an especially delicious morsel."
"Maybe so," Lars conceded.
"And, furthermore," I continued, "I don't think that thing I saw at Bjerke Tjern was anything like an amœba."
"According to your description it was very much like a gigantic amœba," Lars disagreed.
"But I thought you said an amœba is just a single cell."
"Correct. What of it?"
"Oh nothing," I said sarcastically, "Except that a single cell is always microscopic in size."
"Not necessarily," he contradicted me. "The yolk of an ostrich egg is a single cell and you could hardly call that microscopic. Nevertheless you are right when you infer that amœbas and other protozoa are usually minutely small. When one of them reaches maturity it divides forming two daughter amœbas. Sometimes two amœbas fuse together to form one organism."
"What of it?" I challenged.
"Just this: It is quite conceivable that, under certain conditions, which may happen to exist in Bjerke Tjern, an amœba might continue to grow without dividing until it reached gigantic proportions."
"And if that happened would it still be a single cell?" I asked.
"I don't see how it could be possible for a single cell to be so large."
"Why not? After all, size is relative. The yolk of an egg is probably millions of times as large as a microbe. Yet each of them is a single cell. And surely it wouldn't take more than a few million yolks to make a creature the size of Nœkken."
"All right," I said. "Suppose we assume that the Thing in Bjerke Tjern is an overgrown amœba. What then?"
"Nothing except that I think it is your duty to exterminate it."
"What?" I yelled.
"I said it is your duty to exterminate Nœkken before it kills any more people."
"No thanks," was my emphatic response. "I've had one bout with it. That's plenty."
As if to express his contempt, Lars cleared his throat and spat at a cluster of caraway stalks which grew beside the path.
"So you're afraid, are you?" he sneered.
"Not exactly afraid. But what's the use of borrowing trouble?"
"I just told you why. A monster like that is a constant menace to human life. It ought to be stamped out before it kills any more people."
"Granted," I agreed. "But why should I do the dirty work?"
Speaking in a disdainful tone, Lars said, "Because Nœkken has already killed three of your father's brothers. You are the only one of the Lundgaards who is left here now. Aren't you man enough to understand that you are the one who should avenge the deaths of your kinsmen?"
"I guess I'm man enough to assume any responsibilities that rightfully fall on my shoulders," I retorted angrily.
"Spoken like a true Norseman!" Lars exclaimed. "What do you say we go for Nœkken this very night?"
"We?" I echoed. "You mean that you will help me kill Nœkken?"
"Certainly I will help you. That is if you want me to."
"I'll be grateful for your assistance," I assured him. "Never having hunted for giant amœbas, I'll probably need coaching. Just what is the proper procedure in a case like this?"
"I have a dandy Krag-Jörgensen rifle," he told me. "And I'm sure I can scare up some kind of gun for you. I'll go and fetch them."
"What's the hurry?" I hedged. "Why do you want to go after it to-night?"
"Because it is evidently out hunting for food to-night. If it finds something to eat and returns to its lair it may not show up again for a long, long while."
"But it's getting late." Showing him my wrist watch I protested, "Look it's nearly eleven. In a few minutes there won't even be enough twilight to see by. Why can't we wait until to-morrow morning?"
"They say Nœkken never makes his appearance by daylight," Lars reminded me.
"Then let's make it to-morrow evening."
After a sleepless night, pregnant with dread and worry, I arose early and went to the huge room which served as kitchen, refectory and assembly room at Lundgaard.
Early as I was, Granny Bjornsdatter had risen ahead of me. She had finished her breakfast and was sitting by the stone hearth embroidering a wonderful Hardanger tablecloth.
After we had exchanged greetings I said, "Please tell me more about Nœkken, little Grandmother."
"What do you want to know about it, laddy of mine?" she mumbled through her toothless lips.
"I'd like to know what Nœkken looks like and how it behaves." I suggested.
"Nœkken takes many forms," Borghild began.
I was somewhat startled to hear that. It tailed so closely with what Lars had said about the proclivity of amœbas for constantly changing their shapes. However, Granny's next statement was not nearly so scientific. It was, "Sometimes it takes the form of a dog or wolf. At other times it makes itself look like an oaken chest with copper bands. When some nosey dunce goes to investigate opi! Out jumps Nœkken and the dunce is in his power!"
"Nœkken must be a clever fellow," I remarked.
"You have said it. But its favorite trick is to take the shape of a big, black horse. When he catches sight of his victim he snuggles right up to him and coaxes the fellow to climb up on his back. If he is fool enough to do it, opi! Nœkken gives one big leap out into the tarn and devours the dunce with one big gulp."
"But doesn't Nœkken stay in the water most of the time?" I asked.
"Yes. It's only when he is very hungry that he starts hunting on land. Generally he is content to lie in wait, floating quietly on the surface of the tarn like a stump or a log. Sometimes he contrives to have a pram handy, by the shore of the tarn. If any man is fool enough to get into that boat, he may as well say his prayers."
I was becoming more and more interested in Borghild's dissertation.
"What happens to the dunce if he gets into the boat?" I asked eagerly.
"First Nœkken sneaks up under the water and grabs hold of the bottom of the pram. Then he gives it a tug and tows it out into deep water."
"And then?" I prompted.
"Sometimes he tips the boat over. But his favorite stunt is to squeeze the pram until it cracks open."
Reaching out she picked up a small match box and held it up in her bony fingers as she went on, "Nœkken is so strong that he can crack the stoutest boat just like this," and she crushed the flimsy box, scattering the matches all over the floor.
"What happens next?" I said with a shudder.
"Naturally the boat sinks and the dunce is at the mercy of Nœkken. It doesn't matter whether he can swim or not, Nœkken is sure to get him. Sometimes he gobbles him up with the first gulp. But if he isn't very hungry and the man is a good swimmer, Nœkken loves to play with his victim, like a cat with a mouse. Still another clever trick of Nœkken is to"
"Excuse me Granny," I interrupted her. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Certainly not, laddy of mine. What is it?"
"Suppose one wanted to do away with Nœkken. Isn't there some way one could kill it or exorcise it?"
"There is only one way I know to slay Nœkken, and that is with an arrow made of mistletoe wood."
"How about a silver bullet? Wouldn't that be a good thing to kill Nœkken with?"
"Of course not, you dunce. Silver bullets are for were-wolves. Any fool knows that!"
"But how should one of these mistletoe arrows be made? Are there any special rules to be observed?"
"Naturally. In the first place it must have neither a metal nor a stone head. The point must be sharpened with a dirk that has killed a man and must be hardened by heating it over a fire made of caraway stalks. Crow feathers are best for the end."
"How about the bow? Does that have to be made in any special way?"
"Of course not. Any bow will do. One can even throw the arrow if one is strong enough."
What happened after I left Granny Bjornsdatter I hesitate to tell. Even to-day I can't help feeling a bit ashamed of the way in which I permitted my supposedly educated mind to be swayed by atavistic superstitions. I excused myself by reflecting that Granny Bjorndatter's descriptions of the Thing at Bjerke Tjern had been amazingly accurate. Naturally I did not give any credence to the parts about the creature assuming the shapes of wolves and horses, but I had to admit that the account of what Nœkken did, to a dunce who embarked in a boat, coincided remarkably with my own experience. I began to think that Borghild knew more about Nœkken than Lars, with all his scientific training.
As far as the mistletoe myth was concerned, perhaps there was as much science as magic behind that idea. Who could tell us that the sap of this weird parasitic plant might not be poisonous to the thing that Granny called Nœkken?
I located a few sprigs of mistletoe in an old, run-down orchard belonging to one of our neighbors. From Lundgaard's stocked armory I selected a wicked-looking dagger with brownish stains on the blade. With it I fashioned two short arrows according to Granny's instructions. I also made a bow from a spruce sapling and spent a few hours practicing with it. Though I got so I could hit the end of a cask providing I got close enough to it, I certainly was no rival of Robin Hood or William Tell.
That evening Lars and I slipped away from the farm shortly after supper. I concealed my bow and my mistletoe arrows by rolling them up in a blanket of homespun wool which I lugged under my arm. In the other hand I carried a rifle. Lars was similarly armed.
When we reached the tarn, twilight had overtaken us, yet the natural amphitheater was illuminated with incomparable clearness. Taking up positions a few feet from each other, we sat on the grass with our backs against a couple of birch trees.
We decided it was best not to talk to each other. After all, what was there to say? Gradually almost imperceptably, the weird ghostly light faded. After what seemed at least ten hours of breathless suspense, I heard a rhythmic series of snores from the place where Lars was sitting. My eyes had become blurred from gazing at the glassy surface of the lake and I had just started to nod myself when I saw Nœkken. Only five or six inches of its body protruded above the surface in the midst of the fleet of lily pads which were moored about twenty yards from the shore. I would never have seen it had it not been for the luminous gleam in its baleful eyes.
Crawling softly to where Lars was reclining, I slapped him gently on the cheek. He awoke with a jump.
"It's there," I whispered. "Out there among the lily pads. You can see it can't you?"
"Like hell I can," he swore softly. "Where the devil is it?"
"Get your gun ready and I'll show you. When I turn my electric torch on him, let him have it. Are you ready?"
"Let her go!"
I pressed the button of my American flashlight and directed its beam straight into the eyes of the creature that lurked among the lily pads. There was a sharp crash followed by deafening reverberations which the echoes repeated and magnified to the proportions of a long peal of thunder.
Like most Norwegians, Lars was a dead shot with a rifle. At that distance he couldn't possibly have missed. In fact I am positive I saw the bullet spatter a tiny jet of spray just a fraction of an inch below one of the monster's eyes.
I expected to see the body sink beneath the surface, but instead it started to swell up like a balloon does when the gas is first turned into it. Then it moved slowly toward us.
There was no need for the flash-light now. Lars, I knew, could see his quarry plainly. He ran to the edge of the water, pumping bullets into that ominous form as fast as he could work the bolt of his gun between repeated loadings of the magazine.
Suddenly I remembered about my bow and arrows and ran back to my blanket to get them. When I turned around again, the Thing was only a few feet from where Lars was standing. The muzzle of his rifle was almost touching it when Lars fired his last shot and took to his heels.
Moving with amazing speed the monster slid along the ground in pursuit.
With trembling fingers I fitted an arrow to the string of my bow, took quick aim and let fly. The dart hit the earth more than a foot behind the pursuing beast. Before I had time to get a second arrow ready the forward edge of the creature shot out and gave Lars a resounding slap on the back, sending him tumbling to the turf. Then, repeating the same tactics as it had used with me, it wrapped a portion of itself about Lars' legs and started to drag him toward the water.
Screaming with terror, Lars clutched madly at everything that lay in his way. Luckily he managed to throw his arms around a young birch tree, locking his fingers together and hanging on with superhuman strength which fear inspires.
"Help, George!" He shrieked. "Help me or I'm a dead man."
I picked up my rifle and pumped several shots into that horrid mass, taking care to aim at the parts which were farthest away from Lars' body. The bullets seemed to have no effect whatever on Nœkken. It continued to heave and tug at Lars' body until I could hear the joints of his shoulders crack.
When I had fired my last cartridge, I heaved the gun itself, straight at those two unspeakable eyes. It sank out of sight in that plastic mass of flesh, which closed oozingly over it.
Then I thought of my remaining arrow, which was sticking in my belt. I had dropped the bow when I picked up my gun. While I was hunting for it I could hear Lars groaning and screaming in agony. "Heaven help me!" he yelled in Norwegian.
"I can't hold fast any longer!"
Just then a miracle happened. At any rate, to my tortured, fear numbed brain it seemed like a miracle.
Although it was only a few minutes after three o'clock, dawn was beginning to break over the hill to the northeast of us. The spot we had selected for our vigil was near the southwesterly edge of the lake. The first beams of that morning sun which crept down into that wooded bowl seemed to drench both Lars and Nœkken in rosy light.
Aided by this unexpected illumination, I quickly located my discarded bow. Carefully fitting my last mistletoe arrow to the cord, I drew as close to the monster as I dared. As I sighted along the shaft, I saw something which had previously escaped my notice but which was now clearly revealed by the direct sunlight.
In the midst of that translucent mass of jelly-like glair there was a globule of darker hue. It was about the size of a watermelon and it throbbed and squirmed within the outer covering of protoplasm. For all I knew it was the creature's heartif it had a heartor it might have been its brain. Whatever it was, it looked like a vital organ and I decided that, if I was ever going to kill Nœkken, that inner spheroid would have to be my target.
Taking careful aim and drawing the cord of my bow back as far as I dared, I let the arrow fly. Straight through that slimy mass it sped, scoring a perfect bull's-eye in its central core.
A terrific shudder ran all through that enormous body. Slowly its grip on Lars relaxed and it sank down as flat as an enormous pancake. Feeling himself free from that terrible embrace, Lars crawled out from under the heavy body, which was now inert and lifeless.
"Are you all right?" I gasped. "Can you walk?"
"Can I walk?" he yelled. "No! I can't walk a step. But just watch me run!" and he dashed up the tangled trail at a pace that would have made Frank Wyckoff turn green with envy. Needless to add, I lost no time in following him.
Remembering somewhat tardily the warnings which Granny Bjornsdatter had given us we waited until high noon before venturing back to the tarn. We found what was left of my gun. The stock was completely missing and the metal parts were corroded as if they had been soaked in nitric acid.
Surrounding the remains of the weapon was a ring of matted grass, which was seared to a sickly yellow hue. It was covered with a slimy, glistening substance such as one sees on the beach where a jelly fish has melted in the sun.
"That's all that's left of Nœkken!" I announced. "When it was hit by the direct rays of the sun, it just melted away. It looks like your amœba theory is correct."
"You are altogether too modest;" he complimented me. "The sun may have had something to do with Nœkken's demise, but I don't think there is any question but that you killed it when you shot that arrow into its nucleus."
"Nucleus?" I questioned.
"Yes. That's what they call the central, vital portion of an amœba. It was so small in comparison to the size of the whole creature that I must have missed it completely with my bullets."
"Then you really think that the mistletoe arrow did the trick?"
"Yes. But any kind of arrow would have served just as well. The mistletoe had nothing to do with it."
"O, ja?" I said. The inflection I gave to the Norwegian word, sound exactly like the American slang expression, "Oh, yeah?"
I bent down and picked up what looked like the branch of a birch tree.
"Do you see this?" I went on. "It's the switch I used to beat off Nœkken when he tried to drag me into the water the day before yesterday. I guess you know now that it wasn't such an easy task to accomplish. Just take a good look at this branch."
He examined it and then said, in English:
"Well, I'll be a dirty name. If that isn't a sprig of mistletoe growing out of that birch switch. I'll eat what's left of Nœkken!"
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