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Pine Hollow District High School has been deserted since that first Friday in December, perhaps--some residents of nearby North Ridge say--for a day or two longer than that. No one alive knows for sure.
And the dead may walk, but they aren't talking.
The school had been built in an idyllic summer setting. It was cradled in a ring of steep forested hills, in a valley known locally as Oke Hollow. The official name, however, was Pine Hollow, and the school was named accordingly. Its building, designed for a maximum of nine hundred students (though it had not ever held more than five hundred) was surrounded by high mature pines and its playing field had been reclaimed from a tamarack swamp, at the expense of thousands of cubic meters of sanitary landfill and earth. The stream that had created the swamp had been diverted to form a natural boundary to the football end zone, and this brook and the woods beyond were ideal for biological and environmental studies. Moreover, the surrounding hills provided Group of Seven inspiration for the Art Department, the Music Staff regularly taught Beethoven's Pastorale, and the English Department had developed units on Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, Robert Frost and the Lake Poets of England. In July and August, the setting was perfect for this curriculum.
There is, of course, no school in July and August, so these various topics, with the exception of On Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, were irrelevant, except in parts of September and October and a few weeks in May and June. From November to April, the school was either miserably uncomfortable with damp winds or chillingly miserable with icy blaststhat swept down from the hills, since the building had been erected to specifications appropriate to the more temperate climate of the southern parts of Ontario.
Still, it was unusual when the volunteer firemen finally dug through the snow and ice, on that first Friday in December, to enter through a second-storey window, search the entire building for survivors of the record blizzard, and find no one there.
Here the facts become obscured in rumor.
Some say there were twelve bodies found and hastily buried by the rescuers, so that their families would be spared the detail of the horror of their deaths. However, the permit for the use of the school on Wednesday when the storm first trapped them shows that only eleven people were expected to be there.
Others say the rescuers found only one body, so terribly mutilated that they took it into the hills and buried it in the snow.
Others say he or she was alive when they found him or her, whoever it was, and he/she told them such unspeakable things that they killed him/her to stop his/her mouth ... and then they buried the body.
Still others insist it was Jennifer Dale who was found alive, with her head nearly severed from her body, and that, as they were carrying her out, somehow she rose and ran away from them, skimming over the ten meter drifts up into the hills. These are the ones who say also that, on cool October evenings, Jennifer can still be seen skipping through the knee-deep grass of the playing field, her head swaying grotesquely down between her shoulder blades.
Thus, but for that possible--but improbable--visitor, the High School has been deserted since that first Friday in December.
Tallow candles, set into niches in the carefully arranged circle of rocks, guttered in the moist, cool darkness of the swamp. Their flickering light revealed Thorvald as he stood in the center of the circle, hip deep in the brackish water. Before him, the young boy, no more than ten or eleven, lay on a flat rock which, because its surface was just below that of the water, gave the impression that he was floating in the stagnant pool. Despite the chill air, all of them were naked: the boy; the man, Thorvald, save for the heavy gold chain around his neck; the Worthies or Eldermen who knelt behind him so that the fetid water lapped at their shoulders; the women who stood beyond the rocks, mute observers of the timeless ceremony.
Thorvald intoned the ancient words that would invoke the crucial surge of the Power and raised in both hands the short spear with its ornate spearhead.
"O Mighty Wr-Alda, Ancient and Only One, grant this child the boon you bestowed upon our Lord Odin as he hung, pierced with his own spear, for a day and a night, upon the sacred tree, Yggdrasil. Grant him the insight and the wisdom. But, most of all, grant him Immortality. By losing this, his Mortal Left Eye, let him enter into the Realm of Those Who Shall Live Forever. In Odin's name and that of all the Aesir, I beg you hear my prayer and grant what I so humbly seek, not for myself but him."
He held the knife before his face now, sharp tip pointed downwards, and let the candlelight flicker on its gleaming surface. His one large eye regarded its chilling beauty and he moistened his lips for the time was at hand. Then, slowly, he lowered the blade toward the boy's face, until its point rested just below the left eye of the prostrate figure. The boy, fully conscious, stared up and did not move.
Then, uttering the final words of the invocation, Thorvald plunged the spear blade down and, in one counter-clockwise motion, carved the eyeball out.
Immediately, the old one-eyed woman, Eliss, was at the boy's side to stitch the eyelids together and staunch the flow of blood, which already spread a widening stain on the surface of the murky pool.
Thorvald held the boy's eye in his hand and waded to the edge of the circle. Here he held it out on his flat palm toward Alissa, his wife and the boy's mother.
"Look," he said. "The Mortal Eye."
And then he flung it far into the darkness.
Alissa smiled, with both pride and relief, for now Tyrstrom, her son, like Thorvald and the other Worthies of the Clan, would live forever.
It would have been terrible, she thought, had he moaned or shown any quiver of pain, for, even though he had passed all the other tests, that would have rejected him at the end. And there were only two fates for the boys when they reached their manhood. They either became Worthies, as Tyrstrom had just done, or ... Alissa refused to let her mind consider the alternative. It had been too close to happening.
For that matter, there were only two fates for the girls of the Clan, too. Either you bore male children, in which case you were allowed to live out your life to his puberty. Or, if you bore three girls in a row--or your son failed to become a Worthy--then there was the same fate as the rejected males.
Girls did not become Worthies. The best they could hope for was a son who did ... and then they were allowed to live their normal life span. Only one woman had ever become immortal, Eliss, the Mender. And the Clan had need of only one Mender. The rules of the Clan were clear and immutable.