Ice massacre, p.5

Ice Massacre, page 5

 

Ice Massacre
 



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  So we waited as the boat groaned its way to the dock. I strained my eyes, but couldn’t see any people aboard.

  The crowd was quiet as mice. The only sound came from the waves lapping against the dock and the ship. Where were the sailors? Shouldn’t they all have been leaning against the railing, waving to their loved ones and shouting?

  A soft mumble, like a swarm of bees, passed over the crowd. I wasn’t alone in thinking something was wrong.

  One of the men on the dock split the air with a shout, startling me again. I clutched Mama’s nightgown—a childish action, but I didn’t care. She wrapped a comforting arm around my shoulders. The man was only announcing that the ship was safely tied to the dock. The sailors were free to disembark.

  The ship rocked on the waves for a moment longer, bouncing off the dock, and then a figure appeared at the end of the gangplank.

  He stared out at all of us. I didn’t recognise him in the darkness. All the men we sent out only one month ago were thick, strong men. This one stooped as he walked, and his clothes hung from his bony arms and shoulders like dead leaves.

  One of the men on the dock rushed to help. The frail man clung to him, and the dark figures shuffled down the gangplank together. When they reached the land, the sailor straightened, eyeing the crowd. He trembled under the yellow halo of the floodlight.

  I stood on my toes to see his face, unsure whether I should clap or cry for him, or just stay quiet. The choice was made for me in the long silence that followed. I grew more uncomfortable with each passing second.

  Someone pushed past us, breaking Mama and I apart. A woman in her nightgown and a man’s lumberjack coat fought her way to the front.

  “Hassun!”

  The crowd turned to look.

  Someone else pushed out of the crowd on the other side—a teenager, a girl of about eighteen.

  The two figures met the sailor in a teary hug. I dropped my gaze, feeling like an intruder on a private family moment.

  “Oh, dear,” said Mama, covering her mouth.

  I looked up at her. “Is he the only—”

  She put her hand on my hair and told me to “shh.”

  I remembered Mama talking about Elaila.

  The murmuring crowd became louder. I could hear people crying. Not far from us, a grown man started to wail. The anguished sound made me feel like my insides were sinking into the rocks at my feet.

  Papa turned and pushed his way out of the crowd.

  A gust of wind cut through the people surrounding us, blowing my hair across my face and making hollow sounds against the old boathouse. Mama looked as cold as I felt.

  “Can we go?” I whispered.

  She turned away, keeping a warm arm around my shoulders. I watched my feet as we left, not wanting to see the faces of all the grieving people.

  “Poor Elaila,” said Mama. Her voice was thick. “What evil, to be widowed at her age.”

  We walked home in silence. I couldn’t think of anything to say. When we opened our front door, Papa stood in the kitchen, staring out the window into pitch-blackness.

  “I don’t want to sleep,” I said. “Can we stay up and have tea?”

  “Go to bed, Metlaa Gaela,” said Papa, not turning away from the window. He sounded tired, but his tone dared me to argue.

  I turned and marched to my room, slamming my door loudly enough to make sure they heard it.

  The colour of the sky told me the sun was about to rise, and I rolled over to face my window. I’d hoped to watch Charlotte build a new web, like I sometimes had the privilege of seeing when I lay awake at night, but she wasn’t there.

  What happened to the other sailors?

  “Don’t think about it,” I said aloud, and rubbed my hands along my sheets, focusing on the texture against my palms. That was what Mama told me to do if I started thinking scary thoughts when trying to fall asleep. Distract my senses.

  But Papa’s angry voice echoed in my head, and when I closed my eyes, I saw his dirty, ape-like fist clenched around my fragile necklace. More than anything, I wanted it back. I wanted to hold the shells and feel their ribbed texture against my palms. I wanted to sleep with it beneath my pillow, close to me like I used to do with Lucky Ducky—my stuffed duck—before she got too frayed to sleep in my bed.

  How could Papa take it away from me? He never let me have anything fun. He probably threw it away without bothering to notice how pretty it was. And now I would never see it again.

  It wasn’t up to him to decide who I was allowed to be friends with. I was ten years old already, and I could be friends with whomever I wanted.

  My anger at Papa thickened the longer I lay there, until I brooded about him for so long I was sick of thinking about him.

  This was all Dani’s fault. If she hadn’t blabbed to her papa for the sake of making me miserable, I would be hugging my necklace right now instead of my cold bed sheet. Someone needed to teach her a lesson about meddling in other people’s business. I couldn’t let her win.

  A knock sounded at my door.

  “Time to get ready for school,” said Mama.

  I sat up and looked out the window. The sky was blue already, and I hadn’t gotten a moment of sleep. I pulled on a pair of brown pants from the floor of my closet, ripped a t-shirt from its hanger without looking at which one it was, and marched out of my room.

  I didn’t want to lay eyes on Papa, so I bolted out the door with my backpack before Mama had the chance to tell me to put my gumboots on. I stomped there in bare feet and messy hair, planning how I would confront Dani.

  “I think you should learn to keep your mouth shut,” I said, practicing.

  No, too wimpy. I tried more of a threatening approach.

  “You’d better watch who you tattle on, Dani.”

  Still not tough enough.

  Arms crossed, I waited in the schoolyard, rehearsing different threats in my head that ranged from “keep your pointy nose out of my business,” to “do it again and I’ll push you in the Eriana Trench.”

  When Dani arrived, looking smug with her hair clean and glossy, she saw my expression and balked.

  “What do you want?” she said, when I kept glaring at her.

  “Who did you tell?” To my satisfaction, my voice sounded even more low and challenging than when I’d practiced.

  She narrowed her eyes but didn’t say anything.

  “Who did you tell about my necklace?” I said, louder.

  “I didn’t tell anyone!”

  “Liar!”

  She huffed. “It’s an ugly piece of junk and it just reminds us of our curse. You can’t wear it.”

  “Well, I’m not wearing it, am I? You know why?”

  “Did you give it back to a slimy sea rat?”

  “No! I’m not wearing it because you’re a snitch!”

  She stepped closer so she was looking down on me. “Well, you’re a traitor. You’re a traitor just like your brother. I heard he didn’t want to go on the Massacre. I bet he went willingly into the ocean with a sea dem—”

  Abandoning restraint, I slammed the heels of my hands into her shoulders. She gasped, stumbling back.

  “I told you,” I said, yelling now, “don’t talk about my brother!”

  She made to shove me in the shoulders, but I clamped onto her wrists.

  “I hear mermen are hideous,” she said, lip curling. “So your brother will fit right in. I bet they made him king.”

  She yanked her wrists away from my hands, but I dug my nails into her skin.

  Dani shrieked. Her eyes filled with rage. Then her hands were attacking my face, clawing and scratching and grabbing for my hair. I closed my eyes instinctively as her nails dragged across my cheeks and lunged at her with all my strength. We toppled to the ground and I landed on top of her, flailing my arms and making contact with her neck and shoulders and head. She kicked upwards and we fell sideways. Then she was on top of me, and we still flailed, both of us screaming, no longer forming proper words.
When our skin became too slippery with mud, we grabbed each other’s hair.

  I opened my eyes. Her face was covered in mud, her teeth clenched in fury. She pulled my head down by a fistful of hair, bending my neck painfully. I roared, letting loose another blow to her neck.

  “Meela!”

  I didn’t look up to see who was yelling at me, but seconds later, a hand wrapped around my upper arm and hauled me to my feet.

  My other fist was still swinging, but a second hand grabbed that one and whipped me around. I found myself staring into the bulging eyes of Miss Paige.

  “Go to Principal Ray’s office,” she said, and she looked so angry, I thought her eyes might pop out of her head.

  “But she—” I immediately shut up when her expression darkened further.

  She let me go and pointed in the direction of the school. I shot one last glare at Dani and was pleased to see her covered in mud. Her normally thick, shiny hair was flat and damp, and she tried to wipe mud off her face with the back of her even-muddier hand.

  I stomped to the school, rubbing my hands on my pants, uselessly trying to clean them off. The best I could do was push the hair from my eyes and wipe the snot from my nose. I must have looked as sorry as a stray dog. My bare feet made sticky sounds on the floor of the empty hallway.

  I passed empty classrooms and tried not to let the other teachers see me. The artwork on the walls of the hallway mocked me—glued pieces of braided grass and flowers that reminded me of seaweed, and drawings of friends smiling together in a sunny field. I even saw a few hopeful paintings of a docking ship, and complete families holding hands as someone’s older brother returned from the Massacre.

  My stomach knotted as Principal Ray’s office drew near. By the time I reached the door in my ever-slowing pace, Miss Paige was only seconds behind me. The principal’s eyes swept over me, then over Miss Paige’s serious expression. His rosy cheeks drained of colour, like I’d just brought a thunderstorm to his perfect day. Miss Paige walked past me and shut the two of them in a small adjoining room.

  I sat on the Bad Kid Chair at the far corner of the office—a ratty kitchen stool I’d seen two or three times before. Grey and torn, with an odour like mildew, it possibly hadn’t been replaced since the beginning of time.

  By the time Principal Ray and Miss Paige came out, I was shivering from the wet mud.

  They didn’t even ask me what happened. The principal just rubbed a hand over his bald head, scanning me up and down once more.

  “Go home, Metlaa Gaela,” he said. “You’re suspended. I’m calling your parents so they know you’re coming.”

  CHAPTER FIVE

  Consequences

  Their faces told me it would be stupid to speak, so I rose without a word, feeling like my brain was sloshing in the same gritty water dripping from my hair. I took my backpack from Miss Paige and let myself out of Principal Ray’s office. My feet seemed to move without my control, taking me across the schoolyard, past Eriana Trench, and back to the road. I didn’t make eye contact with anybody I passed, but I felt gazes on me in my mud-covered state.

  The rain started, but I was already wet and I decided it would be good if some mud washed off my skin before I walked in the door. Coming home early was embarrassing enough; I didn’t need to look like I’d spent the morning making mud pies.

  It occurred to me that once I made it home, I wouldn’t be allowed out again for a long time. I turned off the road and traipsed through the woods, stopping at the edge of the beach.

  A small rock tower waited for me at the shoreline. I hesitated. I couldn’t help but feel like Papa and the missing sailors and Nilus had all put their arms across my path, stopping me from going further.

  The rain soaked my hair until I felt like I’d just taken a bath. I pushed forwards. I picked up the rock at the top of the pile and threw it as far as I could into the water.

  The sound of the rain drowned out any noise it made when it landed. But she would hear it under the water.

  Sure enough, a blonde head poked out of the waves some ways away. It sank back down, and seconds later, she was right at the shoreline. She eyed me, plainly wondering why I’d come so early.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I plopped down on the wet, jagged rocks, and my tears started flowing.

  “Oh, Mee, don’t cry,” she said, pulling herself from the water.

  Her arms wrapped around me in a hug. Her skin was cold as always, but her embrace was soothing, so I buried my face in her hair that smelled of seawater.

  She patted my hair and said nothing until I was able to stop long enough to explain.

  “Papa took away the necklace.”

  I couldn’t look at her when I said it.

  She was quiet, but after a moment, she hugged me tighter.

  “Don’t let that old man get to you. He probably wanted to keep the shells for himself.”

  I shook my head, spraying water from my hair. “He hates the sea. He always says—”

  I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how much he hated mermaids, how my parents would lock me in the house forever if they knew where I ran off to all the time.

  Lysi pulled back, looking at my puffy eyes. “I can make you another one, Mee. Please don’t cry because of that. The ocean is full of shells. I’ll make you an even nicer one. You can hide this one so your papa won’t find it.”

  I smiled a little and wiped my eyes, rubbing dirt and sand across my face.

  Lysi laughed. “You can be so messy.”

  She wiped the dirt from my face with a clean hand.

  “You’re not much better,” I said, my voice thick, and I pulled a wad of seaweed from her coppery hair. I tried to smile, but it faded right away. “Now I can’t even go back to school. I got in a fight. I bet Papa’s going to keep me in the house ‘til I’m eighteen.”

  “No, he won’t,” said Lysi, though she sounded unconvinced.

  We sat in silence for a long time, and I watched the waves smash into each other and break into a white, frothy spray. I couldn’t stop thinking about having to face Papa. But what could I do? Stay out here forever? Live in a hut by the sea and never go home? The idea was tempting.

  “No sense in getting sad about it,” said Lysi, and I realised she’d been watching me intently. She reached over and tickled me until I was forced to start giggling.

  “That’s better,” she said.

  I wiped the last of my tears, still laughing. She always had a way of making me feel better.

  “Want to see something neat?”

  I nodded.

  She sat up and smoothed her hair, reminding me of a much older girl fussing over herself in the mirror. I sat taller as well, trying to copy the way she positioned her shoulders.

  “You ready?” she said.

  “Ready.”

  Lysi closed her eyes meditatively, and for a minute I considered sneaking around and scaring her from behind. But then she snapped them open, and I gasped. The soft whites of her eyes and deep blue irises had been replaced with a fiery shade of red.

  Her teeth were clenched in concentration while I sat frozen, staring with a mixture of fear and curiosity.

  “How do you do that?” I whispered, and the sound of my voice was enough to break her concentration so her eyes faded back to normal.

  “It only happens when I feel really angry,” she said.

  “What’d you do to make yourself angry?”

  She smiled and took a lock of her hair in her hand, twirling it around her finger. “Just now, I imagined your papa taking away your necklace.”

  I dropped my eyes, feeling my insides deflate again.

  “Other times, I imagine fighting off someone who comes to take you away from me.”

  “Like a kidnapper?”

  She slapped her hands on the ground and pulled herself towards me with her small, frail arms. She made her eyes red again as she said, “Like a big, scary, flesh-eating—”

  “Stop!”

&n
bsp; She stopped, letting her eyes drain back to normal.

  “You’re scaring me,” I whispered.

  “If you were a mermaid, you would be able to do that too.”

  I thought of myself with big, fiery red eyes and smiled, feeling devilish. “It’d be fun to scare people who make me angry.”

  I thought of Papa, and how scared he would have been if my eyes turned red when he tried to take my necklace away.

  “More of me will change as I become a grown-up,” she said, “like my skin and my teeth—and my fingers, I think.”

  I scanned from her hair down to her greenish-brown tail. “All the time? Or just when you’re mad?”

  “When I’m mad.”

  I looked at my hands, wondering how fingers might change in an instant.

  “I know how you could do that too, Mee. If you want.”

  I snapped my head up. “You mean you know the way to make me a mermaid?”

  She smiled coyly. “Maybe.”

  “Tell me!”

  She swirled her hands in the water for barely three seconds before the secret became too much.

  “Okay, I’ll tell you.” She leaned in and cupped a hand around my ear so she could whisper, as though protecting the secret from eavesdroppers. “My brother says a mermaid kiss will turn a human.”

  I gasped. “A kiss!”

  She giggled and fell backwards into the water, splashing me. When she emerged, she had stopped giggling and was looking at me curiously. “It won’t work until I’m a grown-up. I’ll know because my skin and my fingers and my teeth will all change, not just my eyes.”

  I felt a stab of disappointment. The ocean would have been my perfect escape. I was suspended from school; Papa was sure to yell at me and make me cry when he got home from work; Dani would be impossible to face once she found out I got suspended. I would gladly abandon life above water, especially to be with Lysi.

  “Well, I feel like a grown-up,” I said hesitantly. “Do you feel like a grown-up?”

  She thought for a moment. “Yes, I think I do.”

  I thought of Mama, who I might miss if I couldn’t see her every day. I might miss Annith, a little. But I definitely wouldn’t miss Papa.

 
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