‘Boxes,’ was my first impression, looking out of the coach window at the Icelandic houses along the road. White boxes with corrugated pink and red roofs, like Monopoly hotels, deposited haphazardly by some unseen giant hand.
“There’s no gardens,” said Fiona, my ‘other half.’
“No, that’s true.” There was grass around the houses but no enclosures.
She continued, “I suppose it’s the weather. Gugga said winter lasts eight months and they only have three hours of daylight sometimes.” Gugga being our guide.
“Maybe.” Surely there were plants that could stand a bit of ice and snow though?
It was late afternoon in October, the start of winter, and we were on the ring road, ‘Route 1,’ heading back to Reykjavik along the south coast. It had been a bright day, spring-like even. In just two months’ time though, temperatures would scarcely be above freezing and the 800-mile road could be treacherous.
The coach pulled up and we trouped out to gawp at an area of low cliffs with exposed basalt columns. Hundreds of hexagonal grey columns stood neatly in rows, five to fifteen feet high. Gugga told us how visitors had once heard beautiful singing coming from among them. Elves it was believed. With her short orange hair and green trousers, she looked rather like one herself.
“Is there a National Elf Service?” a plump German lady asked, smirking.
“No, but there are several elf and troll museums,” Gugga replied, with a straight face.
An hour later and the coach stopped for us to stretch our legs. The sun was sinking, and in all directions to the distant level horizon lay a grass and moss-covered lava field. A gentle, cool breeze swayed the grassy knolls, and the curiously knobbled rocks themselves resembled a sea of crawling amorphous creatures.
Back in the coach, I’d just taken out my trusted Lonely Planet guide when Erik, our driver, made an announcement over the speakers. “Hello everybody, sorry, there’s a problem with the fuel feed. They’re sending another coach.”
“Don’t worry, just have a little sleep until it gets here.” Gugga smiled reassuringly.
Night had quickly fallen and only emergency lights were on. We sat in the gloom, gradually aware of the falling temperature. Where the hell was this promised coach? Fiona huddled up to me, smiling brightly. “I’ve got you to keep me warm!”
“Look, it’s snowing,” someone said.
Sure enough, large flakes were clinging to the windows like white moths.
“Hey, there’s lights out there!” an elderly American lady exclaimed.
“What?” said Gugga. “There can’t be!”
Erik turned the emergency lights off. Now, it was almost pitch black in the coach. We glued our eyes to the windows, trying to see out in the gaps between the snowed-up areas. Sure enough, there seemed to be tiny dancing lights, although how far away it was impossible to tell. Surely it couldn’t be walkers? The lava was exceptionally hard to traverse.
“I’m going out,” said Erik.
“No, stay here please,” said Gugga.
A couple of minutes went by and the lights drew closer. Suddenly Erik turned the headlights on. “Huldufólk!”
We stood up, jostling each other to see a group of tiny men, perhaps two feet high. They were old-fashioned in appearance, wearing green tunics with black belts. They carried spears and wore low, rounded hats. The little men seemed unperturbed by the headlights and marched across the road, looking straight ahead.
“Mein Gott!” exclaimed the German lady, her bulk having claimed her a prime viewing position. “Das Hidden People!”
Before disappearing into the lava field on the other side of the road, the last one turned towards us. His face was broad with a bulbous nose and he sported a grey beard. He made a strange gesture, then turned back to follow his companions.
We stood in awe, and then suddenly the engine roared into life. Erik laughed and shook his head. “We can go!” The coach pulled off and we all relaxed.
“Did anyone get any photos or video?” asked Gugga, excitedly. “For the museums. Proof at last!”
Fiona and I looked at each other, feeling foolish. We looked around, then we realised we were not alone, no one had.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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