Below are the first couple of pages:
It was almost startling how early in the day the darkness came. The time was only about
3:30 in the afternoon, but already
it was difficult for the man walking in the failing light of evening to make
out the trail back to the small cabin that he was renting. In addition to the
falling darkness, what made his walking even more difficult was that there was
snow on the trail. The snow had been packed hard by many footprints and had
become very icy.
As the man picked his way through the dark shadows of nightfall, he stumbled once on a limb that had broken off a tree and was lying in the darkness across the path. The icy trail made regaining his balance difficult, but despite his foot slipping from under him a little, he finally did manage to right himself and keep from falling all the way to the ground.
The walker was a young man of about twenty-six years old. His name was Anders Johansson. The place was in the midlands of Sweden. More specifically, it was in the province of Värmland. The year was 1876.
The darkness coming at this premature hour of the day had taken Anders almost by surprise, as if it were something out of the ordinary. But Anders knew that the early sunset should not have been unexpected. It was winter, and at these latitudes, the daylight hours were always fleeting at this time of the year.
Nevertheless, every winter Anders seemed to be taken aback by the untimely sunset. The reason that he was caught unawares by it was because of the stark contrast between the winter and the summer months. In the summer, the situation was just the reverse. The sun barely even set below the horizon in the summer, and true darkness only lasted a couple of hours. But now, in the winter, there were a mere five or six hours of daylight, making the day seem almost over as soon as it had begun.
Anders reached the front step of his humble cabin and stomped his boots to get rid of as much snow as he could before opening the door. He lived alone, so there was no warming and cheering fire waiting for him in the hearth. No smoke coming out of the chimney. The inside of the cabin would be cold. In fact, once he stepped inside, it seemed even colder inside the cabin than it did outside. It wasn’t really, but when one enters a house in the winter, almost instinctively he expects it to be warm. When it is not, the coldness seems all the more intense.
Every evening that winter, when Anders returned to his cabin and felt the coldness even inside, his thoughts returned to another winter, just a few years earlier. In this region of Sweden, that winter of the past was now remembered as “The Winter of the Great Hunger.” He had barely survived that year. Many people he knew did not. Even some of his own family had almost succumbed to the starvation of that winter.
Anders shivered inside of the cold cabin, but it was not only the temperature that made him tremble. Despite the fact that that winter of hunger was some years in the past, the memory of it still made him shudder.
Just as the early darkness caught him a bit unawares, so did these nagging and distressing remembrances of that frigid winter of starvation. Anders had not thought much about it in the winters that immediately followed it, only in that he was glad that it was over. However, this year, he was almost haunted by the memories. He did not know why those thoughts suddenly made a return, nor could he shake the visions of the past that came to him.