‘…it flew straight into the aurora; never came out the other side.’

‘Long title?’

‘That’s not the title; it’s the first line of dialogue spoken by the child.’

‘Then it should say, “said the child”.’

‘It does.’

‘You know… if I find you are lying…’ Jólakötturinn studied a black paw.

‘That’s the cat speaking?’

‘Yes.’

‘It was not clear.’

‘Because I’m nervous.’

‘Read.’

‘…you will kill me, yes I know,’ said the child. ‘But if I tell only truth..?’

‘I may eat you anyway; I am reputed to be evil. Or, I could drop you into a time-pool, dooming you to relive your life in ever diminishing circles.’ Jólakötturinn’s undulating silhouette bled away into feral shadows. ‘Tell me where you first saw it.’

‘It outpaced the moonlight across the sea beyond Katla. I so longed for the sight but it left me breathless,’ said the child. ‘Eight labouring beasts pulled the sled, heads stretching, harnesses straining. It lurched wildly. It was full-laden, piled high with sacking and packages. The heave and pitch resembled a craft upon a tossing sea, not a clear sky.’

‘‘You dare not lie to me, yet you would expect me to believe in a myth.’ The cat’s paw grew thick with scimitar needles.

‘It would be paradoxical for you to eat a child for believing in myths.’

‘I am contradictory by nature, and, should you survive this evening, you will be a child no longer.’

‘Your visits confer adulthood then?’

‘Brushes with death always age you.’

‘The sled reeled as the beasts battled for more sky to clear the mountain. A package fell. It rolled twice before nestling in the snow.’

‘What happened to the sled?’ Jólakötturinn urged.

‘I had eyes only for the package. Scarlet it was, glistening like a fresh heart on a laundered sheet. I opened the window and ran to retrieve it.’

‘I could check this by retracing your tracks.’

‘It was my tracks that led you here,’ reminded the child.

‘True.’ Slit eyes bore down, before snaking away to the last embers of the fire. ‘And that is the present, by the grate?’

‘Yes.’

‘You must open it.’

The child fetched the present. Pearls of melting snow beaded its ribbons. ‘It is tightly wrapped.’

The cat stretched out a claw and the ribbons fell away. The child pulled aside the paper unveiling a crepuscular object every bit as shadowed and forbidding as Jólakötturinn’s presence.

‘What is it?’

‘A book.’ The child’s hesitant fingers explored the pitch-black cover where raised letters spelled out a title that whispered of nights in arctic climes. The book opened, revealing ornate script surrounding primitive wood-cut illustrations.

‘Read it.’

Here then was Jólakötturinn’s trap, for the text revealed as fiction the tale the child had just claimed as truth.

‘I…’

‘What is the book about?’

‘It’s this night’s story. It’s about your visit to this cottage.’

‘Ah, does it tell what happened to the sled?’

‘Yes.’ The child read from the first page: ‘It flew straight into the…’

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