Icefire, page 1
For Val Chivers,
with special thanks to
Joseph Maude, Tom Gleeson, and Michelle
Water is so intricately laced that it is almost a continuous structure … it is as though liquid water remembers the form of the ice from which it came … water is tremendously flexible.
Supernature by Lyall Watson
(Hodder & Stoughton, 1973)
1 THE WISHING DRAGON
2 A VERY STRANGE ESSAY
3 A STICKY ENCOUNTER
4 BREAKFAST NEWS
5 THE MYSTERY OF THE TEAR
6 ONLINE WITH ZANNA
7 BONNINGTON’S TREASURE
8 THE HUNT FOR SPIKEY
9 ZANNA IN THE GARDEN
10 DAVID MAKES A WISH
11 AUNTY GWYNETH CALLS
12 FLOWER POWER
13 THE QUICKENED EGG
15 A SURPRISE AT HENRY’S
16 TO THE LIBRARY GARDENS
17 A MEETING WITH DR. BERGSTROM
18 THE TOOTH OF RAGNAR
19 AN OPEN-AND-SHUT CASE
20 DAVID MAKES PLANS
21 WELCOME TO THE FAMILY
22 CROSSED WORDS WITH HENRY
23 A DASH OF HONESTY
24 BLAZING ICE
25 AUNTY GWYNETH TELLS A STORY
26 SOMETHING IN THE AIR
27 HOBNOBBING WITH DILYS
28 DAVID TURNS
29 THE SECRET OF THE ROSE
30 THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
31 THE STORM
32 THE TRUTH ABOUT GWILANNA
33 THE FIRE THAT MELTS NO ICE
34 CLEANING UP
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wellaware Children’s Publishing Ltd.
42 Wayward Crescent
Dear David Rain,
Thank you for sending us your novel
SNIGGER AND THE NUTBEAST
which we have now had time to consider. Unfortunately, although we think your writing shows promise, we do not feel that a story about talking squirrels is currently right for our list.
We are sorry to disappoint you on this occasion and wish you every success in the future.
THE WISHING DRAGON
David, if your face grows any longer your chin will be scraping the soles of your shoes.” Elizabeth Pennykettle hung up her apron and half scowled, half smiled at her student tenant. “What’s the matter?”
“Give you one guess,” the tenant muttered cheerlessly. He walked into the kitchen, his mouth turned down in a curve of disappointment. In his hand, he was flapping a letter. As he approached the kitchen table he pushed the letter under the snout of a dragon, which was sitting by a jar of raspberry jelly. “Here, torch that.”
The little clay dragon remained unmoved.
On the far side of the table Mrs. Pennykettle’s daughter, Lucy, remarked. “You mustn’t say that to the dragons. They’re not allowed to burn things, are they, Mom?”
“No,” said Mrs. Pennykettle, glancing at the letter. “I take it that’s another rejection?”
David nodded. “Complete with coffee stain. This makes fourteen now. And they all say the same. Dear Mr. Rain. Thanks, but no thanks. No one wants to hear about Snigger the squirrel.”
Lucy immediately put down her sticks. She had been busy modeling a brand-new dragon, a handsome (if slightly bemused-looking) creature with wide, flared nostrils and enormous paws. She picked up the letter and frowned. “Well, I think it’s the best story ever.”
“You’re biased,” said David, peeling a banana. “I wrote it for you. You’re bound to say that.”
“It’s not a bad rejection, though, is it?” asked Liz, reading the letter over Lucy’s shoulder. “They do say your writing shows some promise. Perhaps you should forget about Snigger for a while and start working on something new?”
“Yes!” exclaimed Lucy, spinning in her seat. “The Adventures of Spikey the Hedgehog.”
Through a mouthful of banana, David said: “I’m not writing about silly hedgehogs.”
“But you said Gadzooks wrote ‘Spikey’ on his pad. And he underlined it. Twice. Gadzooks is your special dragon. You’ve got to do what he says.”
David sighed and let his gaze drift across the kitchen. It settled on the top of the fridge, where a so-called listening dragon sat: a studious-looking, bespectacled creature with ears like a couple of large rose petals. Dragons were everywhere in this house; Elizabeth Pennykettle made them for a living, in a room upstairs called the Dragons’ Den. Gadzooks, the dragon that Lucy had spoken of, sat on the windowsill in David’s room. Liz had made him as a welcoming gift when David had first moved into the house. In general appearance, Gadzooks was like most of the Pennykettle dragons: green and scaly with oval-shaped eyes and short, ridged wings. But in his left paw he carried a small white notepad and in the right he held a sawed-off pencil. He was special in the sense that, now and again, when David had been writing his squirrel story, Gadzooks had seemed to help things along by scribbling a word or two on his pad. The last thing he had written — some weeks ago now — was the word “Spikey.” Lucy had immediately decided that this must be the name of a hedgehog she had once glimpsed in the garden. But David had refused to be so easily swayed. And as the autumn days had gradually lengthened, his mind had dulled to the possibility that there was any meaning to the word at all. Indeed, if the truth be told, he was slightly tired of the presence of dragons and embarrassed by the fact that he had once allowed himself to believe that they might, in some way, be real. So when he spoke again his manner was blunt. “Lucy, let it go. I love Gadzooks, you know I do. But he only writes things because I imagine him doing it. He’s no more special than this one you’re making.”
Lucy sat back, looking incensed. “This is a wishing dragon. He can make things really happen.”
Across the room there came a slight hoot of derision. But this time the dissent was not from David; it had come from the pottery expert, Liz. She walked over and inspected the dragon, looping her red hair behind her ears so it wouldn’t trail into the still-soft clay. “You’ll be lucky, my girl. To make a true wishing dragon takes years of practice — and careful naming. Mind you, you haven’t done badly with him. His paws are very good. Excellent, in fact.”
“They’re out of proportion, surely?” said David. “He looks like he’s wearing baseball gloves. Why are they so big?”
“Because,” said Lucy, drawing out the word like a piece of gum, “you put your thumbs in his paws when you make a wish. Mom, can we kiln him? Please don’t say I have to smush him. I’ll think up a special name, right now.” And she closed her eyes and concentrated hard. “Gurrrr …” she said, meaning the name would begin with a G. “Gurrrr —”
“Reth,” said David, breaking in unexpectedly.
“Gareth?” Lucy turned up her nose.
“What made you say that?” asked Liz, flipping the handle on the outside door to let the Pennykettles’ tabby cat, Bonnington, in. Bonnington trotted straight to his bowl. He sniffed at his desiccated tuna-flavored Chunky Chunks, turned, and mewed to go out again.
Looking puzzled, David said, “Don’t know. It just came to me.”
“From Gadzooks?” asked Lucy, with a sparkle in her eye.
“Yes, but he wrote it in a funny sort of way.”
“Show me,” said Liz, pushing a scrap of paper in front of the tenant. “Jot it down, exactly how you saw it.”
“You left the a out,” said Lucy.
Liz turned the paper around. “No, I don’t think he did. That’s an archaic spelling. I’ve seen dragon names written that way before.” She drummed her fingers on the tabletop. “And you saw Gadzooks do this?”
David nodded and chomped his banana. Not only had he pictured Gadzooks doing the scribble, the dragon had stomped his feet several times and thrust his pad forward, as though keen to push the name right to the forefront of David’s mind.
“How do you say it?” asked Lucy.
“Guh-reth,” said Liz. “With a hard G. Guh.”
“Guh-reth,” repeated Lucy. “You say it.” She gave the tenant a nudge.
“Guh-reth,” he said tiredly, just to please her. He looked at the dragon with its impish smile and sent it a silent, disparaging hrrr.
“Lucy, try making a wish,” said her mom.
Lucy’s mouth fell open in astonishment. “Is it allowed? It’s David’s dragon.”
“What?” he coughed. “I don’t want it.”
“You named him,” said Lucy. “You have to keep him.”
David shook his head. “No,” he said firmly. “One dragon’s enough for me.”
Lucy’s face took on a hurt expression. “You can’t stay in this house if you don’t believe in dragons.”
“Yeah, well,” muttered David, tossing his banana skin into the trash can. He traced the grouting in the floor tiles with his toe as if he had something more to add, something he didn’t want to talk about now.
Liz noticed the movement but didn’t comment. “The maker may have one wish,” she said, turning the dragon face-on to Lucy. “That’s a rule among dragon-makers. It must be something beneficial and completely unselfish. You can’t just wish for a bar of chocolate. If you do, the wish will turn on you.”
“OK,” said Lucy, resting her thumbs in G’reth’s dished paws. “I wish, I wish, I wish … it would snow.”
“Snow?” hooted David. “How is that beneficial?”
“They like it,” said Lucy. “Dragons like snow.” As if to prove it, a gentle hrring sound echoed around the walls of the house.
David, who had heard this sound many times before (and had never quite got to the bottom of it), ignored the rumble and frowned in disbelief. “Why do dragons like snow? And don’t tell me they’re fond of skiing.”
Lucy shook her head till her ponytail danced. “No one really knows — do they, Mom?”
“No,” said Liz, carefully shaping one of G’reth’s wings.
“But when it does snow,” Lucy went on excitedly, “they sit by the windows and watch it, don’t they?”
“Yes,” said Liz, turning G’reth back and forth on his stand. “This really is very good, Lucy. You’re coming along in leaps and bounds.”
“There,” said Lucy, and stuck out a pimple of tongue at the tenant.
To take the wind from her sails, he gave a weather report. “Oh, bad luck. Sun’s out and shining. Not a flake of snow in sight.” He grinned at the Pennykettle women in turn. They stared back as if to say, “Give it time.”
Time. David shot his watch hand up. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I should have been at school ages ago. I’m supposed to be having a tutorial with …” Leaving the end of his sentence hanging, he shot down the hall in search of his coat.
Liz patted Lucy’s arm and told her to work on G’reth a little more. “Take him up to the den when you’re finished. We’ll kiln him when I get back.” Grabbing her car keys, she went after David. “Come on,” she said, overtaking him on the porch, “if it’s that important, I’ll give you a ride.”
On the drive into Scrubbley, Liz said quietly, “You seemed a little uptight in the kitchen. Not just about G’reth. Is there something on your mind?”
David ran the zipper of his bag back and forth. “I’m meeting Sophie for dinner tonight.” A smile spread slowly across his face at the mention of his girlfriend’s name. “She says she wants to tell me something important. I think she might want me to move in with her.”
“I see. Do you think you will?” David bit his lip and looked the other way. “We’ll miss you,” said Liz, taking his silence as a yes. “It’s going to be hard telling Lucy, though.” “I’ll come and see you. Regularly. I promise.”
Liz smiled and touched his arm. “If you need to move on, that’s all there is to it. You can’t stay in our mad dragon house for ever. Don’t worry. We’ll cope.” She brought the car to a halt at the gates of Scrubbley College. “Go on, we’ll talk about this another time. I hope you’re not too late. Who’s this guy again? The one you’re having the tutorial with?”
“Dr. Bergstrom. He’s a polar research scientist. He’s only in the country for three or four weeks, doing a sort of lecture tour.”
“Bergstrom,” said Liz, running the word like a spell off her tongue. “Is that Swedish?”
“Norwegian, but he works in Canada — with polar bears.”
Liz nodded and lifted her gaze. Her bright green eyes seemed suddenly very distant. “Well, he won’t mind this weather, then.”
David turned to the windshield.
Impossible as it seemed, it was specked with snow.
A VERY STRANGE ESSAY
That’s amazing,” David gasped. “Where did that come from?”
Liz rolled down her window and caught a few flakes. “Never underestimate a wishing dragon.”
David gave her a withering look. “Liz, G’reth did not do this.” He pulled up his collar and got out of the car. “I’ll probably stay over at Sophie’s tonight. Thanks for the ride. See you tomorrow.” He blew a snowflake off his nose and looked at the sky. “Weird,” he muttered, and hurried indoors.
The elevator on the ground floor opened conveniently and he was up four flights to the geography department quicker than he might usually have expected. He swept through the map room, catching a globe with the corner of his bag and almost spinning it off its stand. By the time he’d reached the offices along the faculty corridor he was slightly out of breath and warm under the collar. He took a moment to steady himself, then knocked at a door labeled SEMINAR ROOM.
“Come in,” said a voice.
David eased himself inside. He’d been hoping to see at least three other students, but the padded orange chairs around the low coffee table were all abandoned. He grimaced and glanced at the clock. He was forty-five minutes late. The tutorial had happened without him. “Dr. Bergstrom, I’m really sorry,” he began. “I — gosh, it’s freezing in here.”
It was then that he realized the window was open. A chill breeze was rattling the vertical blinds, making them clatter against the glass. On an open wooden stand beside the large chalkboard, a row of journals were flapping their covers. Even in his overcoat, David shuddered.
Dr. Bergstrom was standing at the window, looking out, his hands pushed deep into the pockets of his slacks. He was wearing a plain white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled loosely up to the elbows. Not a goose bump could be seen on his muscular forearms, just a gentle stream of honey white hairs that matched the color of those on his head. “You must be David,” he said, without looking around. His voice was even, as soft as the snowflakes floating past the window. It carried just a hint of the country of his birth.
“Yes. Excuse me, aren’t you cold?”
A smile touched the corner of Bergstrom’s mouth. “Right now, off the shores of Hudson Bay, the temperature will have fallen low enough to turn the sea to an icy slush. That’s cold, David. Glacial to you. Moderately chilly to the Inuit people. Still rather warm to a polar bear. It’s all a question of acclimatization. Do you want to tell me why you’re late?” He gestured to the arc of empty chairs.
David unbuttoned his overcoat and sat. “I, erm, got held up at home, sorry.”
Bergstrom closed the window and joined him. He had a classic Scandinavian appearance: wavy, well-groomed, collar-
The tips of David’s ears flared red. Many times in the past he’d regretted the day that he’d once let slip about keeping Gadzooks. The news had circled the geography department quicker than a virus infecting the Internet.
Bergstrom, swift to see his student’s discomfort, dismissed any awkwardness with a wave of his hand. “Please, don’t be embarrassed. I’m really quite intrigued by dragons. And as we don’t have time for a formal tutorial I thought we might spend a few minutes chatting about them.”
“I thought I was here to talk about geography?”
“You are,” said Bergstrom, opening a hand. “The study of the earth, its climate and inhabitants. That’s geography, isn’t it? We all have our place on this spinning rock. Why leave out dragons?”
“Because they’re not real,” David said bluntly. “They’re mythical creatures. We made them up.”
“And yet they’ve survived for centuries in our lives. I’m just curious to know how they came into yours?”
David glanced sideways, hiding a frown. Was he being teased here for being late? Where was Bergstrom going with this? Shouldn’t they be talking about glacial activity or rock formations or sea levels or something? What was the point of yapping about dragons? “I’m a tenant with a woman who makes them,” he said, answering the question as plainly as he could. “She’s a potter. She sells them at the market, in Scrubbley. She has a room in her house called the Dragons’ Den. She’s the one you should ask about dragons.”
Leaning forward, Bergstrom said, “I’m asking you. Come on, give me a folk legend. Anything. You have to have a story hidden away somewhere.”
David shook his head. “You’re not serious, surely?”
Bergstrom studied him carefully for a moment. “You forget, I live and work among the Inuit. Stories to them are like well-chewed bones: to be passed from mouth to mouth so their flavor might be shared and long remembered. Much of the history of the Arctic regions has been told across the light of a seal-oil lamp. Stories have a unique power, David. The Inuit believe they can capture souls.” He reached into his trousers then and drew out a gold-rimmed pocket watch. He opened it on the table in front of them. “This saved my life on the ice one time. Would you like me to tell you how?”
Other author's books:
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