In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, not far from Marquette, there lives a Finnish snow god named Heikki Lunta (Hank Snow.) Beloved and feared, he is responsible for delivering snow (by the flake, the inch, and the foot) to the doughty folk of the North Country.
Late one autumn night, the snow god Heikki Lunta and his son Heikki Lunta Jr. found themselves at the top of one of the tallest Porcupine mountains late at night. Heikki Lunta was surveying the pine-strewn countryside and feeling the wind currents in preparation for the first major storm of the year. But before he could make his final reading, he realized that he and his son would need to wait until dawn, which was several hours away.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I sank a ship?” asked Heikki Lunta of his son, knowing for sure that he hadn’t regaled his offspring with this, one of his favorite anecdotes.
“Uh, I think so,” said Heikki Lunta Jr., hoping to avoid a long story.
“I’m sure I didn’t,” said Heikki Lunta. “It was ten years ago, in 2015 —”
“Dad?” asked Junior.
“If I listen to this story, will you buy me a new PlayStation game?”
“No,” said Heikki Lunta. “The story is its own reward, as you shall soon see.”
“NOTHING is its own reward,” groaned Junior.
“That’s not at all true,” said Heikki Lunta. “The best things in life are free or obtained at a deep discount, often on clearance or by way of a scratch and dent sale. This is the story of how your dad sunk a ship.”
“What was the ship called?” asked Junior. This was not the question Heikki Lunta was hoping that his son would ask, but he was prepared for it. He assumed an expression that he hoped would appear serious but not solemn.
“It was called the U.S.S. Children Free With Paid Adult,” said Heikki Lunta.
“Seriously?” asked Junior, with exaggeratedly bugged out eyes.
Heikki Lunta kept his cool. “It had been an ore freighter, but it was then moored in Duluth for a while as a museum… and to make a long story short, the owner was a sensible man who saw no reason to waste good money renaming his ship just because it was going back into service on the lake.”
“Ha!” crowed Junior.
“The U.S.S. Children Free With Paid Adult cut a cyclopean profile as it knifed through the chilling chop of the late October water,” intoned Heikki Lunta, setting the scene. The scene-setting was for no avail. He waited for his son to stop laughing and periodically hooting “child free” and resume his usual expression of restless boredom.
“…through the chilling chop of the late October water,” Heikki Lunta tried again. Junior had quieted down, so he continued.
“The spirit of the Northeast Wind was there, of course.”
“I like that guy,” said Junior. “He has good taste in cars.”
“Yes,” said Heikki Lunta. “He was there, and he brought cold moisture with him. And Father Frost was there, blowing gouts of icy air across the sky. And a group of wendigos who owed me a favor for a bit of selective snow dumping in the early aughts showed up, and started dumping ice by the handful. And overseeing it all, there I was, like a conductor.”
Heikki Lunta’s eyes closed, reliving the storm. In his mind, he could see the layers of water washing over the prow of the boat, each rush of liquid leaving behind a thin coating of ice that accumulated by the minute. He could see the hail striking the deck, shattering and smashing upon impact. He could see the layers of snow piling up atop the ice, getting soaked, freezing and transforming the whole boat into an increasingly unwieldy freezing collection of scrap metal.
Junior peered into the night, trying to think of the power up items players could obtain in Avast: Laser Zombies!
“The ship slowed down to a crawl,” Heikki continued. “The steering controls froze and snapped. The ship eventually slammed into an island in the middle of the lake, and slipped into the icy waters. Debris was scattered for miles in every direction.”
“Whoa,” said Junior, perking up a bit. “Was anyone killed?”
“No,” said Heikki Lunta, watching as his son’s face fell. “They all managed to make it to the island on a lifeboat. That’s not the point, son. It’s not about killing people, it’s about demonstrating the awesome majesty of the wrath of winter. In fact, it’s better that those people on the U.S.S. Children Free With Paid Adult weren’t killed, because they were able to tell their friends and loved ones about the harrowing experience.”
“Wouldn’t it have been more harrowing if some people had died, though?”
Heikki stared blankly at his son for a while. Had he always been like this? Where was the pudgy infant whose main goals in life had been to hug his stuffed cow and eat the cream cheese off of bagels? Where had he gone? He had been a sweet child.
“It would have been more harrowing,” Heikki Lunta said. “But that’s not how it played out.”
“OK,” said Junior. “It’s still a pretty cool story.”
Heikki Lunta heaved his shoulders, sighed, and felt a sense of relief.
This story was originally published in The Wendigo’s Credit and Other Stories. James Norton’s fiction has also been published in the Whitefish Review and on the humor website McSweeney’s.