Hiccup held her close, his face nearing hers slowly and deliberately. She felt safe in his arms, waiting for his lips to touch hers. She wanted this—needed this. When their lips did touch, she felt a thrill of excitement pulse through her. She placed a hand on either side of his face, holding him close to her.
Under her skin, his own suddenly turned sour and chalky. Surprised, she pulled away from him, and let out a noise of terror and disgust as the face of a half decomposed body gazed back at her. She tried to step away from him, but his icy grip held firm on her arms, keeping her from moving. She struggled, but her body seemed frozen with fear. His face was drawing closer to hers again, not out of love or lust, but out of hunger. She screamed, but no noise came from her mouth.
Finally, she broke free of him. She ran, but the world seemed to be spinning, and she fell more than she moved forward. The trees twisted and roots grabbed at her feet, tripping her. The sky became the ground, and the ground the sky. Mice were as tall as a house, and elephants ran underneath her feet.
She heard someone calling her name. Was that Hiccup? No… it couldn't be… No voice that twisted could belong to that sweet man.
Something grabbed her from behind, an icy grip not meant to let go—Astrid gasped as she sat up in bed, drenched in a cold sweat. She sat there, breathing heavily, trying to regain control of her breathing.
She took inventory of her surroundings, and confirmed that she was indeed in her bed in her room. Stormfly stood on the ground beside her, but besides the dog, she was completely alone.
It was just a dream.
But such a dream, she thought to herself, knowing she would not be able to sleep again. She looked over to the windows, and saw in the moonlight, the painting of Hiccup on the wall. "Don't look at me!" she cried out angrily, covering her face. Stormfly whined.
Finally, she could stand it no more. She stood, walking to her writing table and grabbed a letter opener. She dragged her chair to the wall, standing on it. She stood, face to face with the painting of Hiccup, gazing directly into his eyes. She gritted her teeth, and slashed his face with the knife.
She glared at the now disfigured painting.
As the shifting shadows and swirling lights slowly took over her vision, and the surroundings of the past took over her own, she found that she was not in her own time. "No… please…" she whispered, grabbing her hair and pulling slightly, in an attempt to pull herself out of the fantasy. She heard shouts outside and stepped down from the chair, going to the window and pulling the curtain away from it. Outside she could see lights—torches.
There were many men walking about—none of whom looked friendly. They were dressed strangely—not in any uniform she could recognize. Her eyebrows furrowed, looking back to the bed, wondering where Hiccup was. He was not there.
She felt a pang of worry. Where was he? Who were these men?
She quickly turned and fled from the room, wishing Stormfly could travel to the past with her—for she did not want to do this alone. But whatever was happening—it could only be important. She found her way out of the house, and out onto the lawn. The men, as she expected, paid her no heed, for they could not see her. They spoke with many accents and languages, most of which sounded English.
The British? she thought to herself. Did the people Hiccup and his family spied for find out about their betrayal?
She would have turned back, hoping to find a way to return to her own time, when she heard someone cry out in pain. Her eyes widened, and she took in a quick breath for she swore she felt pain in her own body from the cry. "Hiccup…" she whispered. She took off towards the cry, heading towards the center of the encampment. There were not many people here, just guards, and a man walking away from a large post, tied up to which was…
"Hiccup!" she cried out, hurrying over and kneeling beside him.
Hiccup sat against the post, his hands tied above his head. She could hardly see his skin, for it was covered in dirt and sweat and blood. He looked at her, eyes bleary with pain, but he managed to register who she was.
"Astrid…" he coughed, blood dripping from his mouth with the word. "What are you…"
"Who did this to you?" she demanded.
He shook his head, coughing more. "My parents…" he whispered, a desolate look on his face. "They're…"
"Hiccup—Hiccup!" she touched his face, but when he winced in pain she quickly retracted her hand. "Speak to me, Hiccup—who did this to you? Was it the English?"
Hiccup shook his head slightly, and said, "You need to go…"
"I'm not leaving you," she fought against the tears in her eyes, "I'm going to help you." She rose and went to grab the ropes restraining his hands. Her fingers could not grasp the rope, however, and no matter how she tried, she was not able to free him. She knelt beside him again, "Hiccup, it'll be alright. I'll save you."
He shook his head. His consciousness was slipping, she could tell. She looked down to see his shirt, stained red and brown with blood, had many holes. Holes created by various devices of torture. She found herself filled with a rage she had never experienced before. A kind of helplessness. "Please…" she whispered, "It'll be alright… I swear…"
"Go…" he managed to say, looking past her. She turned her head to see the shadow of a man approach them.
Impossibly tall and broad, the man looked every bit evil. "Hiccup," she said, looking back at him, "I need you to know—I love you too. And… if—"
He silenced her with a look. It was not one of anger—but of sadness, and, she dared to say it, love. He knew. He would always know.
She rose, backing away from both him and the approaching man. She stood, shaking as she fought back against the waves of emotion wracking her body, watching as two men kicked Hiccup in the gut.
The leader paused, just before Hiccup, and turned where he stood slightly, gazing directly at Astrid. A cold sense of fear spread over her, as she looked into his cold, empty eyes. Perhaps because she was not really there—or if she was, only in the spirit plain of existence, but she could tell this man was unholy. There was something dark and evil inside him.
The man turned away from her, removing from his belt what looked like some kind of cork screw. As he positioned it at Hiccup's forehead, Astrid let out a noise between a gasp and scream. She gasped as the world returned to a more familiar one. She looked around wildly. The torches and men were gone, as was the heat of summer.
As was Hiccup.
Stormfly whined at her feet, gazing up at her with amber eyes. Astrid let out a choked noise, before turning and running off, heading to Eret's cottage.
"Eret," she shouted loudly, knocking on the door when she had reached his house, alerting him to her presence.
The door opened, revealing him. He stared at her with a confused expression, taking in her disheveled appearance.
"You must tell me," she demanded. "I cannot take it any longer."
He gazed at her with scrutinizing eyes.
"I will go mad if this goes on any longer."
"Then go," he said. "Go with that man to Boston. You will be safe if you do. If you never return to White Oaks again, you can live."
"I can't," she said. "I can't just leave them here. You must tell me what happened to them. I can help them. Then I will be forever free of them."
Eret set his jaw, and stepped aside. She followed him in. "Please tell me, Eret. I must know. I deserve to know why this is happening to me. Why it happened to them."
Eret sighed. "It was too late for them," he said. Then muttered, more to himself, "I tried to burn them, but they would not burn."
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"Have you ever heard of Drago Bludvist?" Eret asked her.
"No," she said, frowning.
"You wouldn't have," he said. "After it all, even the British denied his association with them. He—and I—are the reasons the Haddocks are still here. Why I'm still here."
She waited for him to continue.
"They cannot rest," he continued. "They are forever chained to the earth, and yet… disembodied. They are prisoners of their own sins."
"What sins?" she asked.
"They did not choose—not until it was too late," he said.
"Choose what?" she prompted. "Between England and America?"
Eret paused, glancing at her, before nodding. "It was in the war," Eret said. "They were what was called Tories."
She waited for him to continue.
"It is not what it is that matters, but what it meant. Meant to them, and meant to Drago," Eret said, putting the flower pot in his hands down on the table.
"Drago did something to them?"
"He was part of the British army," Eret said. "The Haddocks—well, when the war started, they were on Britain's side. But they lived here, and people trusted them. And so it did not take much convincing to have them use that trust."
"And… they became spies?" she asked.
She waited again for him to continue. To tell her something she did not know.
"Soon, they could not stand the destruction around them. They began to change their minds. They had made friends here—allies. They decided they could not turn against their new land and people. And so they joined the fight for independence—truly joined."
"So they defected against the British Empire," she said. "What then?"
"They began to spy for the Americans," Eret said. "And… for England. As I said, they could not choose sides. They tried—we all did—but Drago is not one to easily jilt."
"So they were spying for both England and America?" she asked, annoyed that Eret was taking his time.
Eret nodded. "Spying for the Americans was the only way for them to live here and not be killed," he said. "Spying for England staved off assassination for defecting to the continental army. Mind you, their hearts were with the Americans."
"I'm assuming this Drago found out about it," Astrid said.
Eret nodded. "It was some time after the war, when it happened."
"What happened?" Astrid pressed.
Eret took in a deep breath. "England denounced Drago's association with them after the war. He, and his men, were exiled. He did many things during the war, things that even our enemies could not stomach." Eret sighed, "He was a truly evil man, Astrid. England herself did not care much about the Haddocks after all was said and done. They would never be able to return to England, but… England was willing to forget about them and their crimes against her. But Drago…. He could not forget. Hiccup was tortured—Mr. and Mrs. Haddock, tarred and feathered. Hiccup was killed as well. I… I was spared but… Something snapped. I killed Drago with my own hands. I don't even remember doing it."
Astrid watched his passive face, and wondered if all that he was saying was true. But it was all so strange and obscure, and with everything that had happened so far, it could hardly be anything but the truth. "What happened then?" she asked.
"If I hadn't done anything—none of this may have happened," Eret said. "But… Drago was… as one would put it, something dark and evil," Eret paused, gathering his thoughts.
Astrid did not doubt this. Drago seemed to her to be something other worldly in a way. Almost as if he had one foot in death himself.
And he had looked straight at her—seen her, when no one but Hiccup had been able to before.
"By killing him," Eret continued, "I released something into White Oaks. Something that kept me alive for a hundred years, chained to these grounds. Something that did not allow Hiccup, Valka, and Stoick to pass on."
"Is Drago still here?" she asked.
Eret did not reply. "When I killed him, his blood and soul seeped into the Earth. Mutilated it. Poisoned it. That is why they… why Hiccup is so different than you remember him in the past. His existence is tied to Drago's. That is what gives the paintings life. Why the Haddocks are tied to this world, though it has been a century since their death. It is because their fate melded with Drago's. There is not much left of him now, except his hate. You will not see his ghost roaming the halls or grounds. He is all but gone. But his hatred… his twisted nature… over time it transformed the Haddocks. In a way, they too, went mad." Eret paused for a moment, before continuing, "There is little records of him now—England put much effort into erasing his existence. He did much that even they, at that time, were ashamed of. I put the Haddocks' bodies to rest in the mausoleum… but they can never truly be at rest. Only with a sacrifice—something pure and holy. Someone pure and holy, can help them now."
She took in a deep breath. "Thank you for telling me, Eret," she said calmly. She turned and headed to the door. She stepped outside into the chilly December air.
She felt his eyes on her for a short while as she walked away, until finally, he closed the door and the windows darkened. When she was sure he could not see her anymore, she changed course and broke into a run, Stormfly at her heels, grasping the key around her neck and heading for the mausoleum.
She inserted the key into the lock with ease. Too much ease, she would have thought if her mind had been working properly. She turned it slowly, hearing its mechanism work and unlatch.
It had to work. It had to.
She opened the door, a rank, putrid smell rising up to meet her from within. Inside was dark, but she could see three coffins through the darkness. She looked over her shoulder, at the center of the dead garden surrounding the mausoleum. The three Haddock ghosts were standing there. She stepped aside.
They floated quickly towards the open door of the mausoleum, picking up speed as they did. She could have sworn Hiccup hesitated moments before entering after his parents, turning to look at her for a split second, before entering as well.
There was a moment of calm, before suddenly, everything turn red.
Astrid found it difficult to breathe, before she realized she was no longer breathing at all. Not air, at least. She looked up at the sky, and saw above her, a large red moon. Larger than any moon she had ever seen. Redder than any red.
The wind of the living world stopped. Leaves that were falling from the trees froze in the air. Stormfly stood frozen, mid-bark, on the ground. She felt herself the inclination to stay frozen—to not move.
Time stood still.
After a second, she realized she could move, and looked back inside the mausoleum when she heard a strange, inhuman rattling. The top of the center coffin was moving. The ghosts were nowhere to be seen. Had they entered their bodies? In that case, why were the bodies moving? It should have worked… it should have…
Her attention was brought to a far more pressing matter.
She gasped, forcing her lungs to take in air, and backed away from the door, suddenly realizing a flaw in this plan.
She stumbled backwards, feeling as though her bare feet were sinking into the ground. It seemed the earth itself wanted to keep her still, the dirt grabbing at her skin and holding firm. She finally put distance between herself and the entry way, standing in the center of the decaying garden, staring in horror at the scene unfolding before her.
They came out, slow, for their bodies were partly decomposed and no longer working as living, human bodies should. If she had been able to gather enough air into her lungs, she would have screamed. If she thought the decomposing Hiccup from her nightmare earlier that night that night was hideous, these were far worse. Valka and Stoick were almost mummified, covered in hardened tar and feathers, although parts of their decaying bodies were visible. Hiccup walked as though his body was no longer working properly, with a limp, what little skin he had gone or stretched grotesquely over diseased sinew and organs.
The Haddocks paused, staring at her for a moment. She heard footsteps behind her, and suddenly Eret rushed into the clearing. "Fool!" he cried out, but Hiccup reached her first, grasping her arm with his own rotting, decayed one, dragging her with inhuman strength towards the door to the mausoleum.
Still, she could not muster the energy to scream. Her lungs seemed to be collapsing, unable to draw enough breathe. Eret grabbed at Hiccup's hand, trying to sever his grip on her.
In that moment, the fog cleared in Astrid's mind. They never did have good intentions for her, she realized. She was a fool.
"I thought you loved me!" she managed to yell, attempting to pull her arm out of Hiccup's strong and icy grip.
Hiccup paused, though his face bore no resemblance of hesitation. But, as it were, it could not. There was not much left to it that bore any resemblance to the man she got to know. And yet she could feel within him hesitation. Did he feel guilt for what he was about to do?
"Don't do it, Astrid," Eret told her, "It's not worth it."
The three stood there, silent for a short while.
"Hiccup," Astrid said quietly, tears that refused to fall clouding her vision, mostly forming in anger, but also in desolation, "Was this all you wanted of me?"
Hiccup gazed at her with pale, empty eyes. Was she only imagining the sadness coming from within him? The guilt of selfishness? Or was she just projecting what she remembered of his past self onto the monster he clearly turned into? Were those mirages even real? Or illusions cooked up to lure her into a false sense of security? Did she ever even know or meet the real Hiccup?
Astrid's lips trembled despite her anger, "I don't want you to hurt anymore," she said quietly.
"Astrid," Eret interjected.
Astrid closed her eyes, and the act squeezed the tears out, letting them fall slowly from her eyes. "I'll—"
"Wait!" a voice called out clearly.
Astrid opened her eyes in shock, turning her head to look behind her.
Standing there, tall and lucid, was Aunt Marnie.
"Marnie!" Astrid said, shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"Don't mind me, girl," Marnie said, stepping forward. There was no tremor to her walk, no cloud over her face, no shake to her voice.
This was the Marnie Astrid remembered from her childhood, clearheaded and strong willed. Intelligent and strong. Somehow, within the realm of this dream world… the land between the living and the dead, her aunt had regained her sanity. Within this realm, she was her old self.
Marnie stood a short ways from them, breathing in deeply. "I have lived too long," she said quietly, her eyes closed, "And for much of that time, I have not lived." She opened her eyes, looking up at the red moon. "This place… it is no place for the living, Astrid." Her aunt looked at her with kind eyes. "Do not let them take you."
Her aunt silenced her with a look. A calm, loving look that Astrid had all but forgotten her aunt was capable of. The older woman held out a hand, though Astrid could not move to take it. "My time on Earth is no longer worth living. It has run its course. There is no evil that can claim my soul now," Marnie said. "Live, my heart," she said, looking Astrid in the eye. She turned to look at Stoick and Valka, offering her hands.
The two walked to her, and Astrid cried out, struggling against Eret and Hiccup as she tried to intercept them, but the two held firm, holding her back. Valka and Stoick surrounded Marnie, and after a shuddering moment, their bodies turned to dust, the wind carrying them away into a forgotten past. Astrid cried out one last time as Marnie fell to the ground, motionless.
"You!" Astrid turned on Hiccup, "You're a monster!"
This time, she managed to tear her arm away from both Hiccup and Eret.
Hiccup shuddered, his body tremoring for a moment. Something—a shadow or smoke of some sort—fell away from his body, evaporating into the air with a hiss.
She felt what felt like sadness emanating from Hiccup. He reached out a hand for her. With lungs not meant to make noise any longer, the words "I'm sorry," escaped his lips. And even then, she was not sure if it wasn't the wind.
In that moment, she felt the bitter pang of regret. She felt pity. Perhaps he did love her, in his own way. Perhaps he was just caught up in a cruel time, and cruel punishment. Perhaps he loved her once, and his tortured fate and life twisted him into something she could no longer recognize. She reached out and took his hand, as he, too, turned to dust, and was swept away by a strange, foreign wind. The dust slipped through her fingers, as she choked. She stared at her hand.
She did not have long to mourn. It seemed not moments after Hiccup and his parents were swept away by the wind that suddenly, Eret collapsed beside her, gasping for air.
The price of immortality was great, it seemed, for he began to decompose before her eyes. His skin grew gaunt and yellow, darkening. He seemed to grow frailer as she watched, his hair turning white. He was gasping for air, but she knew in this world there was no such thing as a living breath. She rushed to his side.
"Don't leave me!" she said, gazing down at him, holding him close to her. His hand reached up to her face, but dropped away before he could touch her.
As he, too, turned to dust, she sat in the darkness, the red moon fading back to its normal white orb, time starting up again as if it had never stopped.
She felt empty—unable to process the events that had just occurred.
In a manner of seconds, everyone was gone, leaving her alone.
She took in a ragged breath, as Stormfly sniffed and licked her face, and she opened her eyes. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, and rose, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay longer?" Matthew asked as they climbed into his car. "The memorial service won't be long—I'm sure your uncle will appreciate if you attend."
"No," Astrid said, settling into the seat with Stormfly at her feet. "I need to be free of this place. It will feel good to return to Boston."
Matthew settled down beside her, and gave the order for the chauffer to start the car. "Are you sure?" he asked her.
"I am," she replied.
"I cannot help but feel as though your decision to take me back has something to do with your aunt's death," he said. "I am happy—that you have taken me back—but I feel as though there might be happier circumstances for it."
She looked at him, then behind them at the small window in the back of the car, as the grounds and manor of White Oaks moved farther and farther away. She looked down at Hiccup's portfolio at her feet. It was the only thing she wanted to take with her to Boston. The only thing she wanted to remember White Oaks by. Within it was only fond memories of Hiccup—the real Hiccup. Proof he existed. And among those pieces of brilliance and design, was a single drawing. A drawing that warmed her heart and gave her evidence that she truly did know him—the real him. That she meant something to him. That he meant something to her.
Something to hold onto—to remind herself of the love she felt for a man she would never see again in life. To brighten her darkest days, and to give her comfort.
To remember Hiccup Haddock. A man whose worth cannot be compared.
"I cannot live in the past," she said, looking at Matthew and smiling, "Life belongs in the future."
She leaned forward and pressed her lips against his, welcoming his warm embrace.
Thank you for reading this little story! It has been so much fun reading your reviews and going through this experience with you! It was an enjoyable story to write, and now I'm going to get to work finishing other stories I have started writing :)
See you soon!