Although the weather was often cloudy at this time of year in the Gulf of Finland, this particular afternoon was much greyer than usual in downtown Helsinki. This famous city of artists and writers, the capital of Finland, was a popular place for foreign exchange students come to study architecture, literature or drama from abroad. Indeed, two such students were currently speeding down Aleksanterinkatu Avenue in their rented Fiat. The driver did a wild turn to avoid an incoming tram, following the road towards the Senate Square.
"...Like I was saying, Martin, you really should consider joining our class next semester. Verdammt, we could sure use a creative mind like yours on the team!"
"I've already told you, Ulrich, my specialty is engineering," said Martin, "I'm simply not cut out for such things; inspiration, fantasy... What was that you were telling me about the other day, about Tove Jansson?"
Seventeen-year-old Martin Park was from England. The only son of a decorated RAF officer killed in action a few years back, he had decided to follow the family's profession of engineering, enrolling into the University of Helsinki. His German friend, Ulrich Urchs was a literature student, a few years ahead of Martin, and a bit of an eccentric nerd as far as Martin was concerned.
"The Moomins, ja," replied the German enthusiastically, "Tove Jansson made an enormous breakthrough in Finnish literature with her works. She laid the foundations of modern literary culture she did, that woman."
"I thought she wrote those stories for children," said Martin, carefully refraining from using the word 'silly', knowing how touchy Ulrich could be about literature. In truth, he didn't know very much about the Moomins, aside from a few scanty episodes he used to watch on the telly as a kid. Although, like every culturally-aware person, he'd read a book every once in a while, Martin didn't believe in dreaming – his late father had always said that braving the harsh reality was better than shoving it under the carpet with some fantasy. Martin had always admired his father and after he'd died, he'd taken his teachings even more seriously and quickly moved on with his life.
"Oh no, it's much more than that," said Ulrich, "That's what people often fail to appreciate about stories – literature is more than just good writing, entertainment and cultural expression. It's one of mankind's oldest and most effective remedies for the mind and soul. Tove Jansson herself felt trapped and depressed when war struck Finland in the 1940's so she created the world of the Moomins as a means of escape to happiness so to speak – a happiness which she continues to share with future generations." Others would have thought Ulrich was plain mad or simply obsessed; but, personally, Martin didn't know what to make of his friend's peculiar hypothesis.
"There's a big difference between fantasy and reality, you know," he told him, "What's the use of escaping the truth by daydreaming of something that isn't even real?" Ulrich fixed him with the gaze of a philosopher.
"Mein Freund, there's a thin line between your heart's true desires and the barriers of the real world. When you're deprived of something you desire so badly, like, say, the happiness of being part of a big and loving family, then your subconscious must let it out somehow; even by giving you the blessing of inspiration to put it down in writing. It's simply as inevitable as your own breathing. You have to live it, even in your own mind, and that's what gives you a sense of consolation."
Those words stung Martin bad; he was a staunch level-minded person at heart, but, truth be told, the loss of the father had left him extremely lonesome. He had no siblings or relatives, no one except his widowed mother, who had been affected by the death of her husband even worse than her son was, making her depressed and withdrawn. But, what sense of closure could he possibly hope to find through a storybook? The very idea was absurd.
"Some creative minds have taken it a step further," continued Ulrich, "You remember the story of that boy who met the characters of his favourite book in another dimension?" Martin suppressed a hollow laugh, "Anyone who enjoys reading Watership Down back in England knows that story."
"So, what lesson of life do we learn from it then?" asked the German, sounding a little too much like a psychiatrist trying to snap his patient out of a spell of depression. But Martin wasn't in the mood to discuss it any further. The loss of his father was entirely personal and he'd overcome it eventually, as he always did all his problems.
As they crossed through the Rautatientori Square, Martin asked Ulrich to pull over, "Could you drop me off here please, Ulrich? I've got some library work to do for my assignment over at the Kamppi Centre. Bloody thing's due in next Monday. I can catch the tram back to campus."
"You sure? It seems like there's going to be quite a downpour," said Ulrich, pointing at the cloudy sky. But Martin, who regularly saw worse weather back in England, was unconcerned, "Never mind. This raincoat will shed water." Grabbing a battered RAF-issue rucksack, which had once belonged to his father, and which he now used to carry his laptop and books around with, he stepped out of the car.
"Auf Wiedersehn, Martin!"
Biding his friend goodbye, Martin donned the hood of his raincoat and hurried along the pavement towards the Kamppi Centre a few blocks away. This neighbourhood was one of the best in all of Helsinki, with the Finnish National Theatre and the Ateneum Museum of Arts – what had formerly been the Academy of Fine Arts, the alma mater of Tove Jansson. This was the place where fans of Finnish art and literature, like Ulrich, liked to hang around in.
Walking over to a nearby kiosk beside the railway station to buy himself a drink before he went to the Kamppi Centre, mostly because he hated the cafeteria's ridiculously high prices there, he happened to glance at the Ateneum across the street. The Tove Jansson collection, he'd heard, had recently been moved there in memory of the long-deceased writer and was now being exhibited to the public. Outside, the newly-erected bronze statue of a Moomin figure stood tall and proud.
Paying the kiosk vendor and pocketing his Cola, Martin scurried over to the statue for a closer look. It wasn't much to look at; roundish, chubby and with a long, snout-like nose, it looked more like a stuffed toy hippopotamus for children to cuddle in bed. His friend's talk earlier seemed more absurd than ever. This was the alleged southing of a tortured and lonely soul? Not likely!
He didn't know how long he stood there when he suddenly became aware of the heavy rain droplets trickling down the sides of his raincoat. The sky had gone completely dark and lighting flashed brightly overhead. It was a heavy storm all right, making Martin regret his decision to take a detour here. He didn't particularly mind getting soaked, but he didn't want to risk ruining his brand-new laptop in his bag. Not only was it an expensive machine, but all of his university work was on that damn thing! All around the plaza, pedestrians were running for cover. The entrance to the tube station on the other side looked like it would provide some shelter.
Hurrying back across the square, he slipped on the wet paving slabs and fell flat on his face. Muttering a curse at his muddy hands and bruised kneecaps, he grabbed hold of the nearest thing for support – a steel flagpole, flying the Finnish flag. This was a big mistake.
During thunderstorms, any person with an ounce of common sense knows better than to walk out in the open, where lighting strikes the tallest object in sight; more importantly, nobody dares touch any exposed metal surfaces that attract lightning like magnets. Before Martin could realize his mistake, the damage was done.
A bolt of lightning, the granddaddy of all lightning strikes, struck the tip of the flagpole; in the fraction of a second, his hands, still clutching the pole, burst with an agonizing pain that instantly engulfed every inch of his body.
The ground seemed to open beneath him like a trapdoor; his universe exploded all around him in a blinding white light as he found himself falling through a vast nothingness, which seemed to reach beyond the boundaries of physical reality itself.
Author's note: This is my first Moomins fanfic. I hitched upon the idea after recently rediscovering some old episodes of Moomin which I hadn't seen in twenty years and forgotten all about. I'm currently reading the novels and see how I can wrap them into this story. Tribute to my old pen-friend RogueFanKC for the Cross Bearer (also on ). Enjoy and PLEASE REVIEW!