I had been positively surprised when Merete called to ask if she could come over this evening.
“I want to discuss the last installment of my article series before I send it to the editor later.”
“But don’t you have that ready already?” I asked, remembering that a couple of days before, she had texted me to say that she was finally finished with the writing.
“I need to change a couple of things and since you’ve been in this as deep as me, or even deeper, I want to run the things by you.
She also wanted to take some new pictures of both Nellevine and Ramshaug, and I didn’t really mind as the weather looked as if it would be nice this evening.
I had taken out shrimps from the freezer which was now defrosting and the house smelled of the brownies I’d just baked. I had both been running with Mica and kayaking this morning, so I was taking a shower. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. The three weeks I’d spend here, had certainly done my body good. I had a nice golden tan all over. And although the mirror didn’t show it, I had definitely toned up and got fitter. With a soft, thick bath tower wrapped around me, I went into my room to find something to wear. I settled on a pair of light blue jeans and a white top. After some hair and face touch ups, I went downstairs.
Merete came at 7PM precisely. I had asked her to bring fresh bread since she was coming from town, and she handed me a delicious smelling loaf which was still warm. She looked tired and a little pale, so I ordered her to sit down at the kitchen table and gave her a coke zero.
“Tomorrow its mid-summer,” I said and sat opposite her. “I wonder if this mystery will come to an end then. If we can find the answers to who did everything.”
Merete laughed. “That’s in books,” she said. Her tone annoyed me. She sounded like a grown woman who was talking down to a small child. – Get over it Sandra, I thought. I was in the time right before my period where I have massive cravings for sweet things as well as a very short temper.
“Oh well. It’s not as if I’m really expecting it. But it would be really nice,” I said with a sigh.”
“But at least you know a lot more than what you did before you came here. You didn’t really know anything about your father did you? And you found your paternal grandma. Plus I bet your conscience feel better too now. About your mother I mean.”
I had to admit that she was right. Even if I’d never get all the answers, I knew a lot more about where I’d come from and who my family were. I wanted to ask Emma if she could take me to their graves tomorrow so I could pay my first respects. I was so sorry I’d never known them.
“I guess you go on maternity leave pretty soon,” I said.
Merete nodded. “From next week.”
She hadn’t got any bigger since I had met her two weeks ago. But she was looking so huge already; I hoped she wouldn’t grow anymore in the next three weeks.
We got up after having devoured all the shrimps as well as a lot of the brownies. I tidied up and we went to the hall to put on our shoes.
This evening reminded me a lot of the evening I’d gone out with Markus to meet Christian Holm, only to find him hanged. I was sure something like that wasn’t going to happen this evening, so I felt relaxed and happy walking next to Merete. It was just past 8 o’clock, and taking the pictures of the torches in the evening sun would turn out some great photos.
“Wow, this is beautiful,” Merete said in awe. We had gone through the magic forest. I, with certain apprehensions, and Merete eagerly observing everything looking like she was in deep thought.
“Have you never been out here before?” I asked.
“Of course. I was here the other day, I mean a couple of weeks ago to take some photos for myself.”
She opened her bag, and took out a brand new, expensive digital camera. I had been wanting this exact model for a long time, but hadn’t been able to afford it. She snapped a few pictures of the torch from different angles. Then she snapped some of me in front of the torch. She made me do different poses and we actually had quite a bit of fun. I’m so glad I found her, I thought perhaps for the umpteenth time in the past couple of weeks.
“Let’s go to Nellevine now while the light is still good,” Merete said.
“Do you know why the magic forest is called the magic forest?” Merete asked as we made our way on the bumpy path towards Nellevine.
“No, but it sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Maybe it is the atmosphere of the forest, or maybe things magically disappear in there?”
The atmosphere around us now felt somehow charged. Not magical. Or, I thought to myself, mayb the forest contained an evil magic that made people hang themselves.. I felt a little chilly despite the warm evening. I told myself I was stupid. That this entire mid-summer business had gone completely to my head.
“Are you thinking about something?”
We had reached Nellevine and I noticed that it was almost 9 o’clock.
“Not really,” I said. I didn’t feel like sharing what I’d just been thinking.
“That’s good,” she replied and took a step closer to me.
“”Let me start by taking a picture of you by the torch. You are after all, the last victim of Nellevine’s revenge.”
All the time why she’d been speaking, she had been rummaging in her bag. I presumed for the camera. And she had indeed taken it out. But she had taken out something else too. And I found myself staring right into the barrel of a pistol.
“W.. .What?” I stuttered, not quite believing what I was seeing.
“You heard me Sandra. You heard me very well. Please repeat what I said.”
I swallowed, unable to form the words. Unable to fully comprehend them.
“Hello, I’m waiting” she said in a singing tone.
“Last victim of Nellevine’s revenge?” I said after a while. It came out more like a question than a statement.
“Ten points to Sandra,” she said and snapped a picture.
“I am going to enjoy looking at this in the years to come. That look of terror on the last victim’s face.”
She laughed almost happily and snapped some photos of the torch too before she put the camera away. The pistol however, was still firmly in her hand and still pointing at me.
“Come.” Her voice was brisk and I followed her. After a while, I realized she was taking me back to the magic forest.
“Where are we going?” I asked anxiously. I wondered if there was a way I could call or text Markus, Emma or even the police. But then I remembered to my dismay that I’d left my phone charging at home.
“Call it a holding cell,” she said. “It is not yet mid-summer and for this to be a mid-summer murder, it’s going to have to happen at mid-summer. In a few hours.”
“You’re sick,” I said. “Are you doing this just to get a current ending to your article series?”
“That’s actually a nice idea, but no. I wasn’t planning that. Although it will of course end up in the news section. But you see I’m not a journalist, so I can’t really publish anything.”
This was making less and less sense to me.
“Who are you then, really?” I asked.
“I like to show, not tell. We’re nearly there though.”
After what seemed like an eternity Merete stopped by some trees and pushed me in front of her so she could hold the pistol to my neck.
“Move,” she said and started walking through an opening in the trees to a tiny little cabin. Not loosening the grip or position of the pistol, she dug in her pockets and took out a set of keys and unlocked the door.
The cabin smelled as if it hadn’t been aired or used in a long time and it had two rooms. “Once inside, Merete started pulling her trousers down and her top up towards her breasts. I wanted to turn away, not understanding what she was doing, but she instructed me to watch, or she’d shoot. I watched in astonishment as she reached around to her back and unzipped something. And then, her pregnant belly came off.
“That’s better,” she said and put it on the floor. I could see now that it was a costume prop. She changed into another pair of trousers she had inside the bag and put the maternity trousers and the costume belly away. Then she reached up, and pulled at her hair. I didn’t need her to take the brown contact lenses off to realize who she was, but she took them off anyway. And there, with strawberry blond air and different coloured eyes stood Laura Nilsen, AKA clairvoyant Clara.
“I need to go prepare a few things. But I’ll be back in a few hours to kill you,” she said as casually as if she should have announced that she was going to get some butter from the shop. Then she picked up her bag, and went out the door which she locked
Now that the door was closed and locked, the cabin was completely dark and it was hard to make out anything. But after a while, my eyes grew accustomed to the dark and I could make out a small table, a rocking chair and two hard wooden chairs at opposite sides of the table.
I went over to the door of the other room. It was ajar, so I opened it fully and went in. There was a bed in the room and I could work out somebody laying asleep on it. But whoever it was had her back to me. For I could now see that whoever it was had long wavy hair. I took a couple of steps into the room and knelt in front of the bed.
“Hello,” I said in a soft voice.
The woman didn’t answer, but tried to shift on the bed. Then I saw that her hands were tied behind her back and the rope was fastened to one of the legs on the bedframe.
I started untying the knots around the bedpost. It was a complicated one. Whoever had tied it, had been good a knots. Finally though, I managed to loosen it and then I got to work on the woman’s hands. Those nots were complicated too, but after a few minutes, her hands were free and she turned over to lay on her back.
She was heavily pregnant, as if she was about to pop anytime. Her hair was long, dark brown and wavy and she had a lot of freckles. Slowly she opened her eyes, groaned and put a hand to her temple.
“My head,” she whimpered. “Did you drug me or something? I must have slept for hours.”
“I didn’t,” I said. I came just now and I found you sleeping here. Are you ok?”
“I’m fine except my head. It feels like the mother and father of all hangovers combined. Is she around?”
“Who?” I asked.
I shook my head. “But she’s coming back though.”
“We need to get out before she does.” The woman swung her legs on the floor and got up. She was a lot taller than me.
“I’m Merete,” she said and held out her hand.
“The real Merete?” I asked.
“I am as real as this place,” she said. I am Merete the journalist who works at Grimstad daily news. I assume you must be Sandra? The girl Markus called me about?”
“That’s me. But how did you end up here? And how long have you been here?”
“I’ll tell you everything later, but we need to get out of here before Laura comes back. She’s crazy.”
“I know that,” I said.
Apart from the door, there was only a very small window in each of the two rooms. They were both too high up and too narrow that we could climb through them.
“I guess we have to kick the door in,” I said with dismay.
“I don’t think I’m able to kick anything at all,” Merete said pointing at her belly. “I’d rather not give birth right here. And then there’s my head.” She rubbed her temple and leaned against the wall.
I gave an exasperated sigh.
“I’m going to give it a try,” I said. “It may not work, but it’s our only option.”
I went over to the door and looked at the lock. It looked very solid and I doubted that I’d managed to kick it open, but what else could I do? I lifted my right foot and kicked once. Then twice. The third kick sent a searing pain through my foot and I backed away wincing.
“You don’t have a hairpin or something?” I asked.
Merete shook her head.
“Only an elastic band I’m afraid.”
I waited a little for the pain to subside. Then, in frustration and anger I threw my whole body at the door which opened. I was so stunned that it took me a while to realize that I was in someone’s arms. I looked up and met Amund Andersen’s blue eyes.
“It’s nearly midnight,” he said. “And officially mid-summer. Let’s go inside and wait for Laura. She shouldn’t be long. He pushed me in and closed and bolted the door.