Vanessa woke stiff and sore, lying on a cold, hard surface. I’m on the ground. She deduced this without even opening her eyes. She was lying on her side, her cheek pressed into—ice? Snow? Whatever it was, the entire left side of her face was numb. Her ribs hurt.
What the hell did I do last night?
With an almighty heave, she rolled onto her back. Her arm had been twisted beneath her and it throbbed. Though she suspected alcohol to be the reason for her current state of affairs, she didn’t have a hangover. Or at least, she didn’t seem to. No pounding head or queasy stomach. She was a little thirsty, but apart from aching and shivering from being on the ground, she felt fine.
She opened her eyes.
Slate gray clouds hung above her, low enough it seemed she could reach out and touch them. The wind ruffled her hair, which was scattered across her face in matted tangles. She pushed it away and blinked. The light, despite being dull, felt over-bright and made her wince, like she’d been in a dark room for too long.
Somewhere nearby, muffled by the wind, she heard a voice. No, two voices. Men, talking.
She lifted her head and looked around.
What she saw baffled her even more than waking up to find herself on the ground. To say the view was shocking would be an understatement. The land around her was rocky and muddy with patches of green, but it ended in the short distance. Beyond was a broad expanse of water, a few shades darker than the sky. On the horizon was an undulating line of mist-shrouded mountains. Or, maybe they were just hills. They looked too small to be mountains.
This isn’t Reykjavik.
Or was it?
During her short stay in Iceland she’d discovered the scenery could shift from civilization to wild, awe-inspiring countryside quite rapidly. But, where were her friends?
Two men stood near her feet. They were tall—or, they just looked tall because she was currently on the ground. One was blond and probably in his mid-twenties, the other a young man with dark hair, perhaps a teenager.
They spoke Icelandic, but she swore she could understand them, so maybe they were also speaking English. She couldn’t possibly be translating, because beyond a handful of common phrases and random words she’d learned to make this trip easier, she didn’t speak Icelandic.
Her vision blurred. Maybe she was hungover. She struggled to hear them over the wind.
“…where she came from…”
“…would have missed her on the boat…”
“…if we should be worried…”
Neither of them looked at her, but instead were glancing nervously around, as though spooked by the situation. She supposed she might feel the same if she found a random girl passed out in the middle of apparent nowhere.
She pushed herself up on her elbows and sat up. Her back ached. Her neck was stiff. She looked down at herself and cringed. Her clothes were filthy. She also realized it wasn’t snow or ice her cheek had been pressed against, but cold, sticky mud. It was caked in her hair and smeared down her neck. None of this made sense. She wasn’t a heavy drinker. She had never in her life gotten so drunk she couldn’t remember the night before. She sure as hell had never passed out on the ground.
The two men were still ignoring her.
She grimaced. “Hey.”
They stopped talking and looked at her.
The blond one’s curls fluttered against his forehead. He had a chiseled, clean-shaven face, and the sharp slope of his nose and rounded point of his chin gave him an unconventional attractiveness, as did his pale blue eyes. He was what her friend, Jessica, would call a hottie with character. The other one had long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, his eyes dark as well. He couldn’t be much past eighteen. Both wore boots and jeans and were wrapped in thick wool sweaters of typical Icelandic fashion: the zig-zag patterned ring around the shoulders, the front zippered.
Just her luck, to wake up from her first-ever blackout, disgusting and covered in mud, in front of two hot guys.
“Um.” She shifted from side to side, trying to peel her ass off the cold ground. “Hi, I’m Vanessa. Vanessa Evanston?” She had no idea why she said this. Like they were going to proclaim, “Ah, yes! Vanessa Evanston, of the Connecticut Evanstons!”
The blond one knelt in front of her. He didn’t look repulsed, just worried. “Vanessa. How did you get here?” He spoke English for certain now, though it was with a thick Icelandic accent.
She stared at him a moment, woozy. His eyes were so clear she could almost see the surrounding water in them. The gray light washed out his skin but made his face distinct. He wasn’t just a hottie with character, he was downright handsome as hell. “I … was hoping you could tell me that.” She tried to stop staring into his eyes. “I don’t remember.”
The younger one stepped closer. “Are you American?” His accent was not Icelandic. Irish, she thought, though she wasn’t an expert on accents.
“Yes, I’m here with my friends on vacation.” Panic slowly began to replace confusion as her dominant emotion. “Where’s my purse? And my phone?” She patted the ground around her. “Where are my friends? Are they here?”
Handsome Guy narrowed his eyes. “Where were you last night? What do you remember?”
This was surreal. Maybe she was still passed out and having some crazy dream, brought on by one too many cocktails. “I was in Reykjavik.” She continued looking around. “But this isn’t Reykjavik, is it?” More cringing ensued on her part. “I didn’t go home with you guys last night, did I?”
That seemed out of character for her as well. She could barely flirt, let alone pick up a guy, let alone pick up two guys. She didn’t typically drink or carouse in a way that would put her in this situation, so it was utterly bizarre.
“No,” Younger One said. “We just found you out here a few minutes ago.”
“Where is here?” she asked.
“Grímsey.” Handsome Guy was still gazing at her in concern. “It’s an island. The only way out here is by boat.”
She struggled to remember the geography of Iceland. She’d been in love with the island for years and they’d made a detailed itinerary of places to visit before the trip. Grímsey sounded familiar, and then it struck her. “Isn’t that up north, near the Arctic Circle?” She boggled at him. “It’s the northernmost point in Iceland or something.” They’d been debating going there just to say they’d visited it.
Handsome Guy shook his head. “This is a different Grímsey, in Kaldrananeshreppur.” He pointed across the water. “That’s Drangsnes.” In the distance, on the mainland, were rows of buildings and houses, what appeared to be a small town.
None of those mouth-filling words sparked any recognition.
Younger One’s gaze pierced her. “We’re in the Westfjords.”
That rang a bell. An area also up north. Way up north. “How far are we from Reykjavik?” She almost didn’t want to know the answer. Dread filled the spaces inside her where panic had not yet taken root.
Handsome Guy looked up at Younger One. “About, say … 250 kilometers?”
“A hundred and fifty-five miles,” Younger One supplied, apparently for her American benefit.
Terror swept through her, though thankfully she was so stunned she didn’t immediately leap to her feet and start screaming. “How the hell did I get here?” She looked to the heavy clouds, as if they held the answer.
Horrible possibilities presented themselves. She could have been drugged and abducted. Her missing purse suggested she was at least robbed. Why would they dump her so far away from where they picked her up, though? Her stomach turned as she also wondered if she’d been violated. However, her clothes, though dirty, were in place, even her boots, and she didn’t feel … anything like that down there.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Handsome Guy tenderly touched her calf. “What were you doing last night?”
She swallowed. Her throat was tight and dry. “I was at a bar with my two friends, in the 101 District, in Reykjavik.” As she tried to recall the previous evening, she found the memory strangely faded, as though it happened a long time ago. “We came here for a week to sightsee, and we ended our trip in Reykjavik. We were dancing. I was only on my second drink. I don’t drink that much, not enough to end up passed out somewhere.” Again, she felt queasy. She had to have been drugged.
The two men stared at her, their demeanor so intense it made her feel like she was being interrogated.
“It was stuffy inside the bar.” She struggled to connect the dots. “I went outside to get some air and I—I don’t remember anything after that.”
Though she found, in truth, she did remember something. She could almost recall a voice, but she couldn’t hear the words, or discern if it was a man or woman. Someone calling out to her. One of her friends? She saw herself walking down a street, as if in a dream, but after that it was blank. The memory faded and vanished.
“Someone must have slipped me something.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I didn’t drink enough to pass out, I swear.”
“And they brought you all the way up here?” Younger One sounded skeptical.
She struggled to get up. “I need to call the police. I have to get help.” She stopped and looked at them, desperate, frightened. “Please, can you help me?”
Handsome Guy looked at Younger One again. They seemed to be sharing some silent conversation.
“We will take you back to Drangsnes.” Handsome Guy nodded in the direction of the town. “No one lives here. Only tourists come out here.”
That sounded bad. Whoever brought her here expected her to not be found for a while.
“We thought you might have gotten separated from a tour group,” Younger One said. “But they would have missed you on the boat back. Drangsnes is small. News of a missing tourist would be everywhere by now.”
She was on the verge of hysterical sobs. “Please help me.” Her voice squeaked out tiny and scared. “Someone did something terrible to me.”
Handsome Guy reached for her. He grasped her arm. “Come on, let’s get you up.” He helped her to her feet.
Her legs were stiff and she wobbled. She was freezing, as she only had on the thin blouse and jeans she’d worn to go clubbing. Summer in Iceland, at least in the south, was mild enough she was able to leave her jacket at the hotel. But up here, it wasn’t so much. She wrapped her arms around herself, teeth chattering.
Handsome Guy quickly unzipped and slipped his sweater off and draped it over her shoulders. He wore a long-sleeved, formfitting white shirt beneath it. He was only a few inches taller than her, now that she was standing. So was Younger One.
“Thank you,” she murmured, and pulled the sweater around her shivering frame. The fabric smelled like fruity cologne.
The two men exchanged glances. Handsome Guy murmured a word in Icelandic, and the way he said it—with foreboding and dismay—made her ears prick.
Hidden people. She somehow knew what the word was, but not what it meant.
Younger One scowled, his eyes glittering. “You can bet.”
She had no idea what they were talking about, but she didn’t care. She just wanted to get to a phone, find out where her friends were, and piece together what happened last night.
They led her down a steep and muddy trail cut into the side of the island. The path was wide enough they could flank her and hold both arms, though near the bottom it narrowed and Handsome Guy stayed by her side while Younger One went ahead.
Tears slipped from her eyes and dried on her cold cheeks, but she struggled not to give in to full-on crying. She would fall apart after she got help. The fear inside her swelled until she could barely pull in a breath.
At least she had boots on, though they were going-out boots, not meant for rugged terrain. Still, they helped her not slip as the three of them descended to a gravel beach. There, a metal rowboat was tied to a rock and bobbed on the water.
She looked up. The cliff behind them was craggy, the island floor high above. “How did you find me up there?” Birds circled against the clouds. A few more hours, and they might have been feasting on her.
Younger One looked over his shoulder. “We came out to walk the island and we stumbled upon you.”
Though it seemed weird they would just walk around this island, she was grateful they had. She climbed into the boat and sat down on a plank across the middle.
Younger One got in behind her, where oars were propped inside the boat.
Handsome Guy untied the rope and hopped in, in front of her at the back of the boat. “It will take about fifteen minutes to cross,” he told her. “We will get you some clean clothes and something to eat and drink when we get there.”
She huddled into the sweater, the wind whipping her hair around her face. More tears slipped from her eyes.
As Younger One rowed them out into the water, the world expanded in all directions. The sky arched above, the view around her endless. The wind rocked the boat and made small waves break against the sides.
Handsome Guy gazed at her. He leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. His shirt rippled across his broad shoulders and exposed the thick column of his neck. “Vanessa?” His eyes took on the deep gray of the water. “Is that your name?” He spoke the V in her name like a W.
“I’m Gunnar.” He extended a hand. “Heimirsson.” He nodded to the front of the boat. “He’s Aedan.”
She slipped a hand from beneath the sweater and it was trembling, though she couldn’t tell how much was from cold and how much was elicited by emotion. She shook his hand. It was as cold as hers, but strong, his fingertips rough. She wanted to cling to him out of fear, desperately in need of reassurance and comfort, but she made herself let go.
She turned her head and spoke over her shoulder, trying to make her voice loud enough to be heard over the wind. “Aedan. Are you Irish? I thought your accent sounded Irish.” She needed some small talk right now or she’d go insane.
“My Ma was Irish.” Aedan grunted out the words as he worked the oars. “I was born here, though.” He had a frank, matter-of-fact way of speaking and she got the impression he didn’t want to chat.
She turned back around and dropped her gaze to the boat floor, so she wouldn’t keep staring at Gunnar’s face. In any other circumstance, she’d be happy to meet such an attractive, strapping, and kind man. She might even make some bumbling attempt to flirt.
A thought flashed in her head, from out of nowhere. You have met him before. She frowned. No, she hadn’t. She would certainly remember him. Unless … she had met him last night.
“You’re American?” Gunnar asked. “He heard your accent, too.”
She looked up.
A faint smile broke his lips, the first crack in his grave demeanor. He was trying to keep her from panicking, at least.
“Yes.” She pushed her hair out of her face. “My friends must be terrified. After I contact the police, I have to get in touch with them.”
“Are you hurt?”
“I don’t think so. Just cold and sore.”
They sat in silence for the rest of the journey, awkwardly not meeting each other’s eyes. She stared across the choppy water and listened to it slosh across the oars. Her mind raced but kept running into walls. Perhaps it was the effects of whatever drug still lingered in her blood.
As they drew closer to the shore, she turned and watched the town approach. Buildings with colorful gabled roofs were scattered across the hillsides above the water. Her stomach knotted as she silently and anxiously urged Aedan to row faster. His arms seemed to never tire, his shoulders working rhythmically. He was like a machine. She noticed when he glanced at her, the glint in his eyes was guarded and cautious.
“You can call from my cell phone,” Gunnar said. “It might take the lögreglan time to get here, though. They usually only have to come for poachers.”
Lögreglan. That meant “police.” Crime was sparse in Iceland, and violent crime barely existent, especially outside of Reykjavik. She’d read about it. Of course, she had to be the one to buck statistics.
They reached the shore, and the beach there was just as rocky as the one they’d left behind. Several other rowboats were tied to a wooden pier. Aedan climbed out and tied theirs up, and Gunnar helped her get out. She was even more unsteady now, the ground seeming to shift beneath her feet.
“We’ll take you to our house.” Gunnar held her arm. “You can call from there.”
“You have cell service here?” She looked up and down the beach at the quaint, modest town.
“Yes, we even have Wi-Fi.” Gunnar chuckled. “This is a fishing village, but we have a lot of tourists.”
Down the jagged shore, to her left, stood a series of—hot tubs? They faced the water and steam drifted off them. People were in them, and more people walked along the top of the breakwater that separated the beach from the higher ground of the town.
Aedan led the way. They followed him up a set of natural stairs to the top of the breakwater and onto a paved road. The sun was starting to peek from behind the clouds, warming the back of her neck.
“This way.” Gunnar guided her. “It’s not far.”
As they walked, what she saw was like most of the architecture she’d already witnessed in Iceland: long wooden buildings, most one story, many roofs painted red, blue, or green. She couldn’t tell which structures were houses and which were public buildings, as everything was so nondescript. Salt-bleached light poles lined the chip seal streets. There were no sidewalks, or painted lanes. They passed people as they walked, but she met no one’s gaze.
At the back edge of town, where the land beyond rose in steep steps, Gunnar led them to the door of a single-story white house with a red roof. The grass in the small yard was littered with tiny white flowers. In the driveway, two vehicles were parked: a red SUV-style truck with a cap, and a blue car.
Stepping into the warmth of the house was like having a toasty blanket fresh out of the dryer thrown around her, and she almost broke down at the sudden relief. She realized for the first time how exhausted she was, and she’d only just woken up.
“I’ll get my phone.” Gunnar closed the door behind them. “Aedan, make her something hot to drink.”
Gunnar worked his boots off—heavy-duty hiking boots, caked in mud—and dropped them on a mat next to the door. Aedan did the same.
She managed to bend and work her own off, though her limbs were barely functional. Her toes were numb inside her socks. She wiggled them to try to get the feeling back.
Gunnar walked down a hallway opposite the front door. The interior of the house was tidy and cozy. The living room, in which they stood, had broad windows that let in the newly-emerged sun. The furniture was simple, the floor hardwood and scattered with throw rugs. There was also a fireplace. The air smelled of wood smoke and like the sweater she wore.
“You like coffee?” Aedan motioned for her to follow him through a doorway to the left.
“Sure.” She padded meekly behind him. They entered a simple kitchen, as neat and unassuming as the rest of the house. “It’s a good thing you guys were out there. I might have died from exposure.”
Aedan went to the counter, where a stainless-steel coffee maker sat. In the sunlight, she could appreciate he was quite a handsome young man himself, even if he gave off an odd vibe. His face was softer than Gunnar’s, also clean-shaven, his jaw square.
“Not likely.” His voice remained flat. “It doesn’t get that cold in the summer.”
“Lucky me.” She gave a humorless laugh and looked around the kitchen. Her gaze settled on a calendar on the wall next to her, with a picture of a landscape much like the one outside. Thank God she had come in July, and not the middle of winter.
Aedan moved to the sink and began filling the carafe. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to call the lögreglan just yet. We need to figure out what to tell them.”
Vanessa narrowed her eyes at the calendar. She only vaguely heard him.
Footsteps sounded. Gunnar walked in, holding a cell phone. “What are we going to tell them?” He stared down at his phone. “It’s an odd story.”
Vanessa looked at him, looked at the calendar once more, and smiled uneasily. “You’re a man living in the future, huh?”
Gunnar glanced up, a blond eyebrow quirked. “Pardon me?”
She pointed at the calendar. “I’m sorry, is it some sort of Icelandic tradition or joke? I don’t mean to poke fun, if it is.”
Gunnar looked at the calendar. “What do you mean?”
“That’s next year.”
Gunnar’s expression of concern returned. “What? No, that’s this year.”
She stared at him. Icelanders didn’t live on a different date system. She had never heard of such a thing, and it wouldn’t even make sense, if they wanted to interact with the rest of the world.
Aedan stood at the sink, carafe clutched in both hands, and his gaze bored into her. “What do you think the date is?”
Vanessa looked between them as dread made her blood, organs, brain, and entire soul go ice cold.
Gunnar turned his phone around and showed her the display; specifically, the date and time. “That’s today’s date.”
She backed away. “What the fuck is going on?” she whispered.
“What day do you think it is?” Aedan demanded.
Fear flashed in Gunnar’s eyes. No one could be more afraid than her, though. This had to be a hallucination, a delusion, or a nightmare.
She stared at the phone. Whatever happened to her hadn’t happened last night.
It happened a year ago.