Long, long ago when Stockholm was a town under development, there lived a little boy called Ossian. And Ossian was a scared little boy.
Ossian’s father worked in central Vasastaden as a labourer, helping to build new houses and buildings.
Ossian and his family lived on the rural outpost island of Kungsholmen. Between Vasastaden and the island of Kungsholmen ran a canal, which had been dug out by hand not many years previously. Over the canal stretched a rickety old bridge.
The people of Kungsholmen lived in fear of what was in the murky canal water. It was said that as soon as the canal was built a huge serpent had slipped in from the lake Mälaren. The serpent was as long and as wide as the canal itself and it would eat children trying to cross the bridge.
One dark November day, Ossian’s father had gone to work and mistakenly left his napsack containing lunch on the kitchen table. Ossian ran quickly after him through the streets with the food. Eventually he got to the edge of the canal. His father was nowhere in sight. He put a foot on the bridge as if to cross.
‘If you walk over the bridge’, bellowed a voice, ‘I will eat you alive!’
Ossian looked into the canal and saw the giant snake rising up. Terrified, he threw the napsack at the serpent and ran as fast as the wind back through the streets and home.
A few weeks later, his father forgot his napsack again. This time Ossian tiptoed quietly through the streets until he reached the bridge. Fearfully, he slowly placed a timid foot on the first wooden tread.
He took a few extra steps. The serpent reared up infront of him. ‘You again! I will eat you if you go any further’
‘But I have to give my father his food’ stuttered Ossian
‘You will be my food’ hissed the snake as he opened his mouth wide.
Ossian dropped the bag and sprinted for his life back home.
The weeks went by and Ossian’s father didn’t forget his bag again. Until one day in January. The snow had come and the trees were laden with heavy frost. Once again, Ossian fearfully waded through the snow to the canal’s edge.
He looked into the water. But instead of a serpent, he saw ice. The water was frozen solid. On the surface of the water, he could see the distinct scales of the serpent. A patchwork of frozen scales like a honey comb filled the length and the width of the canal. The serpent was stuck. Confident that the serpent couldn’t move, Ossian ran across the bridge to the other side.
Centuries later, there are many of us who cross the canal. What we don’t realise is that the Karlberg serpent is still there. Oh, he doesn’t eat children anymore but satiates himself on rodents, birdlife, city waste and unfortunate kajakers. But in the winter, just like every year when the canal freezes, he can be seen.
You might think the scaly surface of the water is just ice patched together like a jigsaw puzzle. But no, it is the scaly skin of the Karlberg serpent.
It’s been rumoured that where the ice is thin, the occasional ice skater might just disappear, devoured by the hungry snake.
Dare you go ice skating on Karlberg canal this winter?