On the road leading east out of Kalundborg, with its church of five brick-red towers like rockets, medieval art deco, Michael felt the bicycle get heavy. Lisa, his wife, glided effortlessly past him while he pushed harder, legs pumping more and more each minute for a kilometre or two, until his speed slowed to a drag.
He had quit smoking so that he could manage this late summer tour through Sealand, but the evidence of his increasingly difficult-to-pedal five-speed showed that the years of nicotine had had a profound effect on his energy and physique. He was surprised, since he had managed yesterday so well, and now they were on the flat. In the end, limbs like lead, he was forced to stop altogether, straining to catch his breath.
It's all the camping gear plus being out of shape and tired from the day before, he thought, panting, arms on dropped handlebars, before he hung his head down to stretch his stiff neck muscles and saw the flattened tyre. He was in the midst of changing it when his wife rolled up beside him by the tree where he had stopped.
"You could have called out - I was miles ahead before I noticed you were gone," she exaggerated.
"I tried, but you were off in your own world, not listening to anybody but yourself, as usual."
Already, two days into the holiday, the sharp edges were showing.
She knew well enough to let him smoulder while he silently carried on with the repair, not once looking up at her.
The change effected, the cycle still upside down, bags and tools spread around him on the motorway verge, he spun the repaired wheel to see if it ran true before tightening the wing nuts. Angry at himself, he ignored his wife's call for attention.
"Okay, don't bother. It was just something I thought you'd like. In fact, I know you would have."
Curious in spite of his ire, he looked up a bit too late, in slow comprehension, at the bare bodies of two fellow cyclists, young blonde women glowing in the sunshine. Blithely zooming past along the highway, they were clad only in bikini bottoms, obviously topless, and oblivious to the heavy morning traffic, which was, however, not oblivious to them. In their twenties, Lisa said later, when they were on speaking terms.
Ah, Denmark, he said half-aloud to himself, wishing for a cigarette.
Their goal for the day was a camping place that took in cycle tourists, a leisurely fifty kilometres to the south-east. They made good time once the tyre was replaced, and an hour after midday found themselves in the basin of what in other countries would be called a creek, but here in Denmark was dignified with the title of river.
An inn or kro was just off the road that bridged the tree-lined stream. A couple of late-model cars stood parked before the large building. Lisa, in the lead, slowed abruptly, pulling into the gravelled drive. Michael braked behind her and walked his bike, still straddling it, over to the glassed-in menu displayed outside, which was already under his wife's intense scrutiny.
"I know. You've told me so much about these places that I've got to see one, even if we only have a coffee."
Lisa, grown up in Norway, had been taken as a child by her parents to the neighbouring land in the south on holiday several times. Twice, the family had stayed a few days at these inns. Old post stages and hostelries for the most part, they had survived the transition to motorised traffic by converting to posh accommodations, with grounds to wander in, and fancy regional food served for guests and visitors, all at a premium. They had clearly impressed her - something special in what Michael suspected was a lonely childhood. Whenever the subject of Denmark came up, that of the kro, and the possibility of staying at one, invariably followed.
They dismounted, carefully locking their bikes, and, taking the small bags they had for valuables with them, entered the establishment, leaving the rest of their luggage strapped on. In the foyer dividing the hotel from the restaurant, they saw an open guest book, and the framed portrait of the Queen above it, surrounded by several group pictures with her at the centre of each. One of the labels below the photographs indicated that she had visited, eating dinner here five years before.
Inside, the place was oak beams and plate glass. Grubby in their cyclists' clothes, they chose a table near the door. Feeling somewhat more than vaguely out of their depth, particularly after having been put in their place by the hallway display, they watched the approach of the waiter with some trepidation. This tall man, with a Danish nose rivalling that of Hans Christian Andersen, did not however seem at all put out by their appearance. Perhaps because it was after lunchtime and there were so few others in the place, Michael thought.
Having greeted them politely, and handing them their menus, he left them to make their choice.
Their budget did not allow for much luxury, and a quick glance down the menu reconfirmed that there was little they could afford other than coffee and a dessert. When they ordered, a look of slight disapproval flew like a fast-moving cloud over the waiter's face, but he remained polite, and without comment went to the kitchen in back.
In the idle interval between ordering and the arrival of their peach melbas, Michael turned through the pages of the brochure describing the inn, a copy of which was on each table.
"Look here: it says that this place was founded in 1466, and it has its own section of the stream where guests can fish."
Lisa's reaction was to look towards the back to see if their order was on its way; Michael was liable to these fits and displays of instant expertise every time he came across a piece of glossy tourist literature. She easily could have done without his pedantry but, for the sake of peace, let out a noncommittal grunt, and kept her head turned.
Awaiting the next outburst of didactic commentary, she was therefore surprised when nothing further issued from her husband's lips. Curious in spite of herself at the unexpected hiatus, she turned back in her seat to face him.
He sat there still absorbed, reading the text diligently, even when the waiter came with the coffees and fancy ices. Having left these on the table, the man was about to move away when Michael halted him with a word: Kirkehøj. In fact, Lisa thought, he stopped dead in his tracks, perhaps even blanching momentarily, before pretending to ignore what had been said, and walking away.
"What's that? From the look of him you would have thought you'd just told him he'd gotten the boot."
"I dunno. It's a place nearby. I saw it mentioned in one of the tourist mags we got from the travel show last year, but it was so fuzzy on details that I thought I'd note it down, and get better directions later. Then I forgot about it, until now." He shoved the open brochure over to her, pointing at a paragraph halfway down the page.
"It's a place like that one in Portugal we read about in the old Rough Guide. You know, that spot down in the Algarve where cars come to a hill, and roll up it of their own power, if they cut their motors. They don't have it in the new edition; anyway, there's supposed to be a place nearby here where the same thing happens. There's something like it in Australia too, I think."
Lisa did in fact remember the Portuguese description; sometimes, grudgingly, she had to admit that Michael came up with interesting things.
"Wasn't it to do with an optical illusion, something like the natural lines of perspective making you think you were looking up a hill when in fact it runs down?"
Michael was in the middle of a spoonful of peach, and she waited for his answer.
"Yeh, that was one of the explanations. Another was that there was some magnetic anomaly underground, which pulled the cars uphill, but you could hardly believe that - too much plastic and aluminum in those today for that to happen."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Only that we get directions from the waiter and take a look for ourselves. It could be fun to see. None of the material I've read locates it precisely. This little bit does make it sound more than just a local legend - let's ask the waiter and see if he can tell us."
Having signalled, they waited while the man came over with the bill.
Michael, switching from the English he and Lisa used between themselves, threw the question at the man in his best Norwegian without even waiting for the reckoning. The Scandinavian languages were, at least in theory, claimed to be mutually intelligible.
"We want to see Kirkehøj. Can you tell us how to get there?"
The waiter, no longer nonplussed, stood staring at Michael as if he had been addressed in Martian.
"It's your Anglo-Norwegian. He doesn't understand it. Let me handle this."
Relieved, Michael listened to his wife reframe the question in her native Norwegian. The answer, in an impossible dialect, sounded to him to be an offshoot of Hawaiian, seemingly devoid of consonants. Only after years in Scandinavia could Michael make out Copenhagenese, of all of Denmark's multitudinous dialects, and then only if clearly and slowly enunciated. This brogue had defeated him.
Lisa seemed to have no problem with the thick local accent, but a frown crossed her brow when the man marched off, obviously relieved to have left the couple.
"He says he really has no idea where the place might be; the owner wrote the pamphlet, and he's not here today. I get the feeling he knows more than he's letting on. But I have an idea: get the map."
Michael lifted his eyebrows, but dug out the topo, cycle-ways marked in, and spread it out on the table between them, opening it to that part of the route where they now were.
Lisa reached into her blouse and pulled out a little blue pendant he had not seen before. It was on a thin gold chain which Lisa lifted over her head, handing it to him. Examining it, he saw that the jewel was a clear aqua blue plumber's bob in miniature, made out of paste or plastic; it was hard to tell these days, with all the new materials.
"It's something I bought at the shop in Sankt Peders Stræde in town, when we were beginning our tour. The one that sells crystals and pyramids, New Age stuff."
Michael thought she had given up these enthusiasms long ago. At this news, he rolled his eyes, forbearing comment. Lisa appeared not to notice; she was evidently fired with the thought of seeing the place with the odd uphill trait.
"You're supposed to take it by the chain and hang it over the map, letting your thoughts concentrate on the place you want to find. It's called map dowsing. When you come to the right place, you'll get some kind of signal - it's different for each person."
"Christ," Michael muttered half under his breath. "Why don't you do it, since you're the expert."
Lisa blushed slightly, looking down. "It's supposed to have warmed itself between a woman's breasts; they contain the power of the earth and fertility. But the person the jewel has accumulated power from can't use it. I didn't buy it for this anyway," she added. "I only thought it looked nice, and wanted it for jewellery."
"I don't believe it! I thought you were over this mumbo jumbo!"
However, he held the dangling bit of glass over the map for the sake of family peace. Their relation was fraying already, and the point of the holiday, besides saving money, was to shore up their seven-year marriage. He had got the idea from a magazine article, about a family in the western United States who had re-cemented their ties through a horse-back ride under harsh conditions. The theory was that being forced to work together would make people appreciate the positive qualities of co-operation that come out under stress.
Musing over his ability to delude himself, he saw that nothing was happening to the pendant. It neither swung nor sung nor vibrated of its own volition, nor did any sudden shock or jolt run up his arm. He was taking it in his own precise fashion, paper quadrant by paper quadrant, each representing a square kilometre on the ground.
Then he stopped, looking bemusedly at the map, chain still depending from his fingers. Lisa saw it right off, and lifted her eyebrows in question.
"It's nothing really, just that I got the illusion the chain had warmed. Probably a pinched nerve from leaning on the handlebars." His tone did not sound convincing.
"Move it away. Is it getting cooler?"
"Move it back again. Well?"
Pursing his lips, as if unwilling to say anything, Michael finally mumbled, "The chain's warm when it goes over here."
"Here" was an unnamed spot on the map that showed an area of a square kilometre or less, a small plateau bounded by a stream in the middle of rolling farmland. The place was devoid of standing structures, displaying only the symbol for a medieval ruin, without caption. It lay a little way off their route; they would have to climb up from the small valley of the kro, and head east a few minutes to get there.
Putting the chain down, Michael looked thoughtfully at the map for a full minute, before folding it. He counted out the exact amount due, placing it on the plate with the bill. As was their custom, they watched until all staff were momentarily gone, and then stood up and walked out. This way they were spared the embarrassment of being seen not to have left a tip.
In the hallway, Michael stopped for a second, peering closely at one of the photographs on the time-darkened wall. He recognised their waiter, here in formal dress, standing next to the Queen. The label identified him as the proprietor. Michael followed Lisa out, fuming.
"We're going to the place, aren't we?" she queried.
"Absolutely. I have to see what that twit in there is covering up."
Lisa took the map and fastened it to the clamp on her handlebars. She was navigator, by mutual agreement. They settled on their bikes, tightened their toeclips, and were off.
They backtracked a few tens of metres to the other side of the way, where a road came out, and took that. It climbed gradually, then steeply, uphill. That Denmark is flat is true only in relative terms, and the couple were soon huffing and sweating until, with much relief, they topped out at the edge of the tableland.
Spread before them was a wide panorama, blocked only here and there by stands of trees and one small forest with a round white tower sticking out, the sole structure observable on the flat. Attainment of even small heights here repays the effort in vistas. They could see far about them, to the valleys and fields below.
The place was utterly quiet; they seemed cut off from all noise of traffic and the busy world about them. School had begun, and the local holiday-makers were back at their jobs. Far in the distance to the north, a car was visible on a highway. An acrid smell hung in the air; this late in the season, farmers were burning stubble, and the smoke of these small fires was visible in several directions, a long way off. The feeling was of total isolation.
The day was, in other words, as perfect as one could expect for the non-motorised traveller in a land so crowded as Denmark.
The road on top seemed exceptionally level; they could see it continue ahead clear to the other end of the flatness, without any sign of variation in the vertical.
"This can't be the place - look at it - it's as flat as could be. So much for your dowsing."
"Just a moment, Michael. What about that over there?"
Lisa pointed in the direction of the small wood, off to their right. Between that spot, a few hundred metres off at most, and the road on which they rested, was a low, but continuous rise. A small unsurfaced track, probably a farm road, led up it through the cut wheat between them and the trees. The tall, massive tower, with its conical roof, loomed there, its lower portion hidden.
"It's the only place where a road goes up - let's try it."
On these words from Lisa, they rolled off the paving and onto the track. Just before the incline upward, Michael halted, signalling Lisa to stop.
"Just a min, there's something I want to see."
Reaching into a pocket, he took out a large orange, bought in Kalundborg that morning. Getting off his bike, he walked a few metres closer to the woods, set the fruit upon the surface of the track, and stepped back.
At first there was hardly any movement, then slowly, and then with increasing momentum, the orange began to roll unevenly up the hill, its flight disturbed now and then by a small piece of stone or gravel, until it finally bounced off the way, lodging in front of a large rock.
"Incredible! I wanted to see if the action was magnetic, but it can't be. Let's try it with our bikes."
Astraddle, they half-kicked and half-walked a few paces forward and then halted. With a look to each other, they lifted their feet, and the bicycles started rolling, to all appearances up, gaining speed, going faster, and then faster still, coming to a stop at the top of the incline, just before reaching the wood.
They were both giggling in reaction to their short trip, made apparently in defiance of gravity's law, their sour mood replaced by hilarity.
"It has to be optical; it can't be anything else."
Lisa grinned back.
Laughter subsiding, Michael gazed about him for a while, then waddled over with his bike between his legs to Lisa, so he could see the map. Taking it up, he looked it over closely, turning it at one point to orient it to the landscape.
"That's odd. I'm sure we're where we're supposed to be, but that tower isn't marked on the map."
"Perhaps it's been built since?"
"Hardly likely. The map's dated this year. Look at it, it has to be a rundkirke."
"You mentioned a ruin here; maybe they've rebuilt it."
"If so, they've done it in the wrong place - the ruin is on the other side of the road, according to this. Look closely - all the groves and fields are in place, just where they should be."
A perplexed snort was Lisa's only comment.
Michael got off his bike and dug about in the handlebar bag, finally pulling out a guidebook. Paging through it, he stopped and began to read. Lisa was used to this; Michael could never let things be and enjoy an experience - he always had to have his reality strengthened and bolstered by something printed; for anything to exist, it had to be confirmed by a line on a map, or the printed word. She began to look about her, listening to the few birds in the trees, while steeling herself for another dollop of rapidly acquired and all-too-willingly-shared learning.
Her husband had stopped reading, she saw, but for the second time that day, he acted against pattern by not saying anything. Instead, he sat quietly on his saddle, a frown on his brow, staring intently at the church.
"What's wrong now?"
"Mmm. The book says there's only one round church left remaining in all of Sealand. It's not here. It's miles away at Bjernede. They doubled as fortresses, you know - I reckon when the kingdom was consolidated, they tore down those associated with local vassals with too much power. I know some say they were defence against pirates, but that was early on. Think Bornholm - it's far away from the seat of power, and has most of those surviving, probably because the central authorities hardly knew they were there."
"So what is this? If you're right, why is it still standing?"
"I'm not sure. It does look like a round kirk, with a witch's hat roof."
"So it must be one, you're saying."
"I didn't say that. There's only one way to find out - let's go over and look at it."
With that, they pushed their cycles through the short stretch of thick forest, before coming out in a clearing dominated by the structure.
Stopping at the gravelled park in front of it, they left their transportation there, and walked around the large building. Walls that must have been impregnable in their time were supported at several places by thick buttresses of brick, whitewashed and roofed with tiles like those on the cone-shaped roof of the tall tower itself. At the north door, they saw a bare imbedded stone by the portal, covered with runes.
"Well," Michael pontificated; "it's old enough by the look of it. There's no graveyard that I could see, but that protrusion out back must be a nave. It's got to be a church of some sort."
"Hmm. If it's a church, then it must be open - let's go inside; I've got to use the loo. If it's a proper church, then it must have one - all Danish churches do."
Before they went in, Lisa hesitated for a moment, thinking that they should have seen a cross, although there was none. Perhaps this edifice was something other than it appeared to be, something in private hands. She broke her mood with a cough, and reached for the door handle of blackened iron, which turned easily.
Entering through a small room, perhaps a våbenhus, where burghers left their swords and pikes behind when going in to the holy precinct, they passed through a second door set in the thick walls of the tower itself. Before them, in the dim illumination from the few windows, a number of massive round pillars were arrayed in a circle, bearing the weight of the floors above them. To the right, the hall that Michael had identified as a nave was visible through a large square doorway.
With the thickness of the walls, not a sound from the world outside penetrated the dark chamber. There were wooden chairs set about in rows, and Michael took this as confirmation that it was indeed a house of worship, although it had every appearance of being a fortress in addition.
They drifted over towards the pillars, and saw that the smooth upward-flaring capitals were covered with frescoes of a primitive medieval type.
"See here!" Lisa exclaimed. "There's a mermaid! And look to the right of it - it's the Paradise myth."
Michael came over to the pillar she was admiring. There was a fruit-laden tree, indeed, and a snake twining upwards between a nude couple, painted in washed-out ochre tones on the curving surface, long medieval faces in thick outline, upon a sickly yellow-green ground. The frontality, unusually, was devoid of any decorous hand across a breast, any modest fig leaf.
"It can't be that - this has to be showing something else." He pointed to the next panel, on the right of the tree, where the nude pair, and several others of both sexes, were suspended in the air, in the act of tumbling through space. A crenellated building to the right, rudely drawn, perhaps a tower, served like the tree to separate this panel from yet another further on.
"You've read it wrong - they're the souls of the damned, falling into Hell like in that Signorelli painting."
"Oh? Then why no flames or demons below?"
Michael paused, opened his mouth as if to reply, but stayed silent.
"I know you want to explore this place. Well, it's musty, worse than that Lithuanian cathedral last year, and I'm not interested. I'll go and try to find the ladies'. Go potter around - I know you will. I'll meet you back here." With that, Lisa set off on her search, and Michael entered the short nave.
Hanging low, depending from wires on the ceiling, was a model of a ship. These were not uncommon in Danish churches, but Michael thought it odd that one should be in a house of worship so far from the sea. It was hard to tell what period the ship was from, since the model seemed more like a wreck than anything else - its masts were broken and down, the sails and rigging torn, ribbing broken. Not what one expected in a land where neatness was a cult, and cleanliness an obsession.
Looking down and before him, he saw through the afternoon gloom a raised dais at the apse. The floor was slightly tilted in that direction. There was, he realised, no altar at the place where there should have been one. Maybe Lisa was right; this was no church. Perhaps it had been taken out of service long ago. That would explain why there was no indication of one on the map. On the other hand, any structure historically important, with period paintings from almost a thousand years back, by the look of their style, should have been shown.
As he pondered this explanation, or lack of one, he returned slowly to the entrance to the nave, coming upon a little door set into the thick walls of the tower at its end. Trying this, he found it open. A narrow passage with stairs going upward, and a faint glimmer from above. Lisa was not yet back, so he went up it, hands on the cold stone walls to either side. The gentry's passage, he thought, coming out on the next floor. These churches, he knew, represented in stone the divisions in society; this floor was meant for the local ruler and his retainers, who by having their service a stage above the ground level might avoid mixing with the common mass.
The pillars came up right through the floor: with all the heavy stonework about, he began to see the need for these and the enormous outside supports. A few square windows illuminated the area, but one, unglazed, was dark. Looking through it, he saw down into the interior of the nave. From above, it was possible to see the outline of a round structure, a base on the raised dais, where he had thought the altar should have been. Perhaps he'd got it all wrong, and a pillar had stood there instead.
But the prominent feature of this level was its decoration, echoing that of the floor below, but in greater profusion, ringing the wall as a frieze. The subject was decidedly un-churchlike: battle scenes right out of Bayeux, men and horses attacking, flailing, no attention paid to perspective; read from left to right, the violence increased, with bodies in chain mail flat against the painting's field, animals and their riders thrown in the air in all possible contortions, as if wildly fallen into space. In the background, in the only part of the picture given any sense of depth, there was a tower that, except for the lack of a peaked roof, would have passed for the building he stood in.
At that moment, a distinct feeling of ill ease came over him, perhaps at the notion that he was violating private property, but he controlled it with the thought that no monument of such importance could have avoided the 'heritage' wave which was the plague of Scandinavian lands just as much as it was in England. With that reassurance, he continued his progress through the large round room.
Following the frescoes, he discovered another narrow arched doorway with stairs leading up, these also spiralling like a corkscrew through the immense walls.
I'll go up there, he thought, for the view.
There was almost no light, until just before he came out. The exit was without railings; a thick and heavy iron-bound trap door stood upright to one side. This he grasped as he heaved himself through.
He dusted his hands, and then nearly fell from the shock, the explosion of noise as the trap slammed down behind him. Immediately, he went back to try it; he could think of nothing worse than being locked in an elevator, a ship's room. Imprisonment was his nightmare. Grabbing hold of the large ring that was the latch handle, he twisted and pulled, but the cover would not budge. Either it was too heavy, or some mechanism had set, locking it when it fell. He fought to control the panic welling up within him, and just barely succeeded.
Lisa's below; all I have to do is get her attention through a window. The two of us, one heaving, the other pushing, should be able to lift this thing if it's simply a matter of weight. If it's locked, she can undo it, and in the worst case, she can go to get help. Calm down, and see where she is, for starters.
Looking about him, he saw that this room, in any case, was more well-lit than the others. Four large windows were placed equidistant from each other. Here, there were only four slim pillars forming a square in the centre of the room. These were evidently enough to carry the ultimate floor, the ceiling above; with the cone-shaped roof resting on the outer stone of the tower. On the walls and on the floor, red and blue arcane symbols were chalked in, many of them arrows of varying lengths and thicknesses and design, pointing in the main towards the windows, forming corridors of passage along the ground and wall.
He went to the window closest to the now-shut and only entrance, coincidentally following a path outlined by the odd symbols. The opening had bars on the inside, and beyond the barrier was glazed with yellowish panes of irregular thickness that cast a sickly light on the interior. Viewing through them was difficult because he could not get close enough to the glass: a good deal of space - the thick walls again - divorced it from the bars. What little he saw suggested that there was only forest on that side.
He walked to the window opposite, to find the parking lot, and - he hoped - Lisa. Panic under control, if not wholly gone, Michael noticed for the first time, while going over, that the floor was definitely quite uneven. The whole surface was like a slightly tilted dish. To the right it rolled downward, ending perhaps a foot lower than where he was standing, but to the left, where the weak sunlight shone through, the floor was an equal distance higher than the spot at which he stood, on the axis of the slant.
At this other opening, by standing on his toes, he was just able to see the two bicycles in the gravelled lot. Of Lisa there was no sign. Perhaps she was on her way up, wondering where he had been for so long. Michael walked back to the central area bounded by the four slender columns, unwilling now for some reason to stray off to the sides, away from the demarcated chalked path.
He stopped there for a moment, realising that Lisa was sure to discover him within a very short while, and, calmed by the idea, further examined the chamber from this vantage point. He saw, after short scrutiny, that there were odd dark stains on the stone ceiling at the side of the room where the floor tilted down: some of these appeared to have been whitewashed over, and were seeping through, whilst others, quite large, seemed to be fresh, encrusting the surface exterior of the paint. Perhaps some sort of fungus which, once established, was almost impossible to be rid of in old buildings it infested.
Turning about, he saw that by the opposite wall, where the floor slanted up, the flagging was covered with similar splotches.
It was as he was contemplating this that he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a slight flickering. It could have been a nervous tick of the eyelid; he had been having these lately, and they had now and then affected his vision with odd flashes. Eye migraine, his doctor had called it; nothing to worry about.
But this was moving, while he was still: a slim green-grey smokiness with a tint of yellow, almost man-high, just out of the line of his direct vision. Could it be an effect of the dimming light, coming through the irregularly thickened old window glass? Again, a strong sense of unease came over him.
With the thought of dispelling the waxing gloom for a closer look, he fumbled with a shirt pocket flap to get at a small credit-card-thick torch he carried; a gimmick Lisa had bought him last year. As he did so, the button, which was hanging loosely by its thread, popped off and rolled onto the floor past the arrows, landing just beyond them on the side of the room tilting down.
Always a creature of habit and thrift, Michael reached down for it with the intention of recovery for future attachment, and, in the act, clumsily gave it a kick that sent it spinning further away from him, closer to the wall. Cursing to himself, he lunged for it, crossing the rows and ranks of arrows, smudging a few.
Just before his fingers closed on the thing, he saw it start sliding from its inert state, first slowly, and then exponentially quicker, smashing into bits - on the ceiling. As Michael began his own inexorable, irreversible slide after it, he had an inkling - no more - of his fate. In the sickening second he had left to him, he saw the shadow, now in clarified outline, close in on him from the right.
Having resorted perforce to the woodland when she found the church or fortress without amenities, Lisa was at this time approaching her bicycle. Just reaching it, she felt a flash of heat touch her skin, then warmth go through her, seeming to come from above. This is always the case, of course, when matter is rapidly converted to energy.
A feeling of lassitude and strangeness came over her, and she wondered if her time of the month had arrived. She felt, in any case, odd, and had difficulty remembering why she was here at all.
Getting on her bicycle, she noticed for the first time that another matching hers was parked next to it; alike in model - even the carrier bags were of the same make.
What a coincidence, she thought to herself as she pedalled away, that another tourist should be in the same place, isolated as it was, at the same time as her. Curious that she had not seen the person. Her head was slightly achy and spinning, and she was glad that she would soon be leaving this flat and lonely farmland, that she was now on her way to the camping-ground. The solitude was annoying to her.
She followed the road in the low rays of the evening autumn sun, tasting the faint trace of smoke still in the air, finally arriving at the lip of the plateau, where she set one foot down and stopped. Below she saw the small river the map had indicated, glinting in the distance like yellow glass. Away to the left was the road which would lead in another half hour to her end-point of the day.
Kicking to give momentum to her bike, she expertly slipped her foot into the toeclip, looking forward to the downhill freewheeling. The going was somehow slow here at the beginning, and Lisa began to pedal. With the ground dropping more and more steeply in front of her, she pedalled harder and harder.
And harder again.
Copyright (c) 2001 Don Tumasonis
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