I will tell you this story as it was told to me.

Two weeks before christmas, the deacon of Myrka, a small village in the north-east of Iceland, rode his horse, Faxi, over to his girlfriend Gudrún’s farm to invite her to the Christmas celebrations that would be held at his church. Her farm was a bit of journey from Myrka, just across the Hörgá river.

That December had been cold and windy. The river was frozen and the ground was hard and brittle. As the deacon rode Faxi to Gudrún’s farm, it was as if his surroundings matched the warming of his heart with each stride. By the time he arrived, the weather was unseasonably balmy.

Gudrún was excited for the celebrations and they agreed that the deacon would come back and pick her up on Christmas eve. The deacon left his girlfriend’s farm on a cloud, with the steady gait of his horse gliding him across the mushy fields, which had thawed with the recent heatwave.

Icelandic horses are five-gaited, making them incredibly smooth to ride even on rough terrain. Experienced riders will show off by carrying a pint of beer while riding and never spilling a drop. The deacon’s ride was so smooth across the the slushy ground that he didn’t have time to react when the horse started crossing the Hörgá river and broke through the ice.

The next morning a nearby farmer saw a shivering horse standing alone by the river. The farmer recognized the horse. It was the deacon’s. The farmer began searching for the deacon and found his carcass, facedown in the water. The back of deacon’s skull was crushed in from banging against the ice as he fell into the river.

The river remained impassable until Christmas eve when the temperature dropped down and the river froze again. Sadly, no one had told Gudrún of the deacon’s fate. Dressed for the celebration at Myrka, Gudrún waited impatiently for the deacon to arrive.

There was a knock at Gudrún’s door. Her sister answered it, but there was no one there. “I’m expecting someone, Sister!” Gudrún said in excited annoyance. “They probably want me to answer the door.”

Gudrún was in such a rush that she only had put on one sleeve of her jacket as she stepped outside and just wrapped the rest around her. Standing beside Faxi was a man, all bundled up. She assumed it must be the deacon and scuttled towards the horse. The man lifted her onto the horse and then mounted Faxi himself, taking the reigns. Without saying a word to each other, they were off.

The night was both bright and dark as the clouds kept obscuring the light from the full moon. Gudrún gripped tightly onto the man. They were going so fast and her heart would skip every time it got too dark to see. Faxi stumbled slightly over a small mound of earth and Gudrún planted her face into the back of the man.

Stunned and a little sore, she pulled her face from his back to notice his hat and scarves had fallen down and she was looking into the back of his head, which had a large jagged hole, with the grainy white of exposed bone brightly lit by the light of the moon.

A Street Art mural of The Deacon Of Dark River in Reykjavík

“The moon is gliding across the sky, Death is riding; can’t you see a white spot in the back of my head, Garún, Garún?” said the deacon. Gudrún was paralyzed by fear. She knew it was the deacon, but he couldn’t say her name properly. Gud, you see, means “God” and the fact that the deacon could not say her name properly meant only one thing: he was dead and had returned as a menacing spirit.

When they arrived at Myrka in front of the church, the deacon said to Gudrún, “Wait here, Garún, Garún, while I take Faxi, Faxi, out of the graveyard, graveyard.”

Gudrún was sore from sitting so still during the long ride. She dismounted the horse and watched as the deacon’s body trudged toward an open grave in the cemetery. Finally she shuddered and snapped out of her state of shock, running towards the church as fast as she could.

She stumbled manically up the winding staircase to the bell tower, ringing the bells with all the strength she had. All of a sudden she couldn’t breath. The deacon had his boney, skinless hands around her waist and mouth, dragging her down the spiral stairs. Gudrún fought and kicked and almost broke free, but the deacon twisted his fingers into her hair and dragged her by her hair towards the open grave across the icy ground.

She dug her heels into the soft dirt around the open grave and when the deacon switched his grip, he grabbed the loose sleeve of Gudrún, the one that she hadn’t had time to put on, and it ripped at the force of his pulling. The deacon lost his balance and fell into the grave and the soft dirt around it fell on top of him. Gudrún crawled away from the grave, feeling her hands clench the hard, cold ground.

“Gudrún could never be left alone. She was haunted by the deacon for weeks. She couldn’t keep a hold on reality.”

Eventually, Gudrún was back in the church and up the spiral stairs and ringing the bells. She kept ringing them and ringing them until people came to her aide. The people of Myrka told her the deacon had been buried a week before and that she needed rest. A nice family was willing to let her spend the night and get her a ride home in the morning.

That night the deacon came to haunt her again, knocking at the window of her bedroom. She screamed and screamed, but when the rest of the house woke up there was nothing there but scarf in a drift of snow next to the window.

Gudrún could never be left alone. She was haunted by the deacon for weeks. She couldn’t keep a hold on reality. She didn’t know what was real and what was paranoia. No one else ever saw the deacon, but the moment she was left alone, she would scream herself hoarse.

Finally, a sorcerer from the neighbouring Skagafjörður, agreed to help Gudrún. He had a giant rock dug up from the ground and summoned the deacon’s spirit in the dead of night. Gudrún couldn’t stand seeing the deacon and screeched hysterically as the sorcerer condemned the deacon back to his grave and rolled the rock on top of it to keep his spirit there forever.

The rock is still there. You can visit it. It’s on a farm where the church once stood and next to the cemetery. The deacon has been trapped there ever since that night. Unfortunately, it was too late for Gudrún. The sight of the deacon that last time drove her completely insane.

Locals believe that the deacon’s spirit has stayed there, resting and waiting, and he will always stay there. Unless, of course, someone moves the rock.

If you find yourself near Akureyri, stop in and look at the rock: