Ice massacre, p.7

Ice Massacre, page 7

 

Ice Massacre
 



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  I jumped back from Annith and closed my hand on the orange bag.

  “Well, thanks for bringing this, Annith,” I said loudly, then turned to see Mama stop in the doorway.

  “Hi, ma’am,” said Annith, staring at her own gumboots.

  “Annith was just bringing me my stuff,” I said cheerfully.

  “That was nice of you, honey,” said Mama. “Thank you.”

  She said it in a final way that did not invite Annith to stay over and play.

  Annith met my eyes and I grimaced apologetically.

  I stuffed the bag in my closet and left it to fester until September, then went back to the yard to continue helping Mama. Most days, I felt lucky when my chores were outside. Today, however, I did not feel lucky to be in the yard. It was gloomy and misty out, and my hair kept sticking to my face. The inside of my gardening gloves had grown wet long ago, and my jeans were soaked through at the knees and ankles.

  “Can I go inside and watch TV now?” I asked for the hundredth time after another hour of pulling weeds. I hadn’t given up on asking since I first got suspended, figuring she must let me watch something if I proved to be too annoying.

  In addition to the Eriana Kwai news station, we got a handful of channels from British Columbia, which meant I could watch some of the English television shows. TV was the only reason I liked learning English in school.

  “Of course not.” She stood, looking as sticky and as cold as I felt, and peeled off her gardening gloves. “Stay out here and finish weeding. I’m going out for groceries.”

  I glowered at the dirt beneath my gloved hands. She was just making an excuse to go indoors and be warm and dry.

  “It’ll take me hours to finish this by myself,” I said in a whiny voice. It was true—the weeds Mama made me pull were Ravendust bushes, a stubborn plant that grew all over Eriana Kwai and had deep, thick roots that clung to the ground. Mama hated them around the garden because its leaves were black as tar, and she said it made the whole garden dreary.

  Not long after our old, rusty car sputtered out of the driveway, I decided cutting the weeds would be faster than pulling them. I’d make double-time without Mama there to make me dig the roots all the way out.

  Mama and Papa always told me not to go into the shed because I could get hurt from Papa’s sharp tools, but I was ten now, and I would be careful.

  I opened the shed door to the sound of tiny claws scuttling out of sight. I squinted into the blackness, hunting for Mama’s pruning shears. Nothing but shadows met my eyes, so I slipped inside and felt along the wall for a light switch. The shed stunk like gasoline and mildew.

  My toes bumped into tools, and I stepped carefully over them. Still, I found no switch—though my fingers did break through a thick cobweb. I leapt back with a small scream.

  “Gross,” I whispered, wiping my hand on my pants.

  After a minute spent squinting at the shadows around me, shivering, I had the revelation that the light must have been above my head.

  My waving hand caught the chain and pulled. The light clicked on.

  My eyes fell immediately on the back wall. Above the lawn mower, hanging all by itself in the centre, was a black crossbow. Beside it sat three rusted coffee cans overflowing with bolts. Two were sealed in place by a blanket of cobwebs. One was recently disturbed.

  Papa’s Massacre weapons.

  I couldn’t stop myself from walking over. I pulled a plastic bin out from under the shelf and stood on top of it, bringing my eyes level with the crossbow.

  This bow shot Lysi. Before that, it must have killed hundreds of mermaids.

  Mouth dry, I closed my fingers around the nearest bolt. The cobweb crackled as I removed it from the shelf. The ammo sat heavy in my palm—solid iron, longer than my hand and wide as my thumb. I placed it back and reached for the crossbow. My arms shook, straining to support the huge weapon as I took it from the wall. The handle was cold—and also made of iron. I wondered why they didn’t make the whole thing out of wood, which would’ve been lighter.

  Beneath my feet, the bin creaked suddenly, and I screamed as it snapped under my weight. The crossbow fell from my hands and hit the lawn mower with a crack.

  My feet landed on a stack of books inside the bin. Heart jumping, I leapt out and stared down at the fallen weapon. Nothing was broken, except for the bin.

  I breathed deeply to calm myself, glancing over my shoulder impulsively. My eyes fell onto a pair of pruning shears hanging near the door.

  Remembering I was supposed to be gardening, I snatched up the shears. I turned off the light and backed out of the shed, leaving the crossbow on the ground. I felt silly, but my pulse raced and I didn’t want to be near those cold, dark weapons.

  I wished I’d never gone into the shed. The sight of the crossbow and bolts only made my chest tighten. My eyes blurred with tears, which I blinked back as I chopped the Ravendust weeds with vigour.

  I finished quickly and went to watch TV, knowing it would be a while until Mama came home.

  TV did nothing to lighten my mood. I watched SpongeBob and Plankton sing about friendship, and when that was over and Carly and Sam started celebrating their best friend anniversary, I changed the channel.

  I was about to change it again, not caring to watch the news, when I noticed the scene in the background: it was the beach, not far from where Lysi and I met every day. Annith’s mama was Eriana Kwai’s news anchor, and she spoke very seriously into the camera.

  “You can see behind me the devastation caused by the demons. The origin of this boat is yet unknown, but it raises questions about the state of fishing in other countries. It seems the demons are doing everything in their power to clear these waters.”

  I stood and moved closer to the television, as though that would help me see behind her more clearly. An empty fishing boat had washed ashore; it was tipped on its side, exposing its barnacled hull to the sky. The fishing nets were torn in dozens of places, strewn across the rocks. The sight of the upturned boat made my stomach queasy, and I tried not to think about what happened to the fishermen who were aboard.

  The camera turned towards the sea. I watched the rocks and the waves go by, feeling wistful.

  Then something on the beach made my heart jump. Was it—it couldn’t be—was I imagining it?

  I put my hands on the sides of the television as if to push myself through the screen.

  The story switched to an interview with the old man who owned the grocery store.

  “No!” I said, pushing my face closer still. “Go back!”

  “Ordinarily, the price of fish in a shortage would skyrocket,” said the old man, “but I’m afraid I can’t even say that. The price of fish hasn’t moved, because there simply isn’t any fish. Our seafood deli is bare. Our main export has stagnated. The price of goods is through the roof and will continue to escalate until we find relief from the mainland.”

  They never did go back to filming the beach. I backed up and sat on the couch, staring at the television blankly.

  I was sure of what I’d seen on the beach: a rock tower stacked against the shoreline, subtle, but definitely there. Lysi had been there, and I had never shown up to meet her.

  She was alive!

  My heart leapt, anxiety and excitement gurgling in my stomach.

  When did she expect me? Did she still expect me at all? She could have abandoned the tower days ago. Or maybe she left it up for a reason.

  She must have thought I was horrible, not showing up to meet her after what Papa did. She must have thought I didn’t care whether she was alive or dead.

  I glanced desperately towards the front door. She needed to know I was sorry, and that I never wanted Papa to hurt her.

  The only problem was that I was still grounded. Going anywhere would be impossible, never mind the beach.

  The trouble I would be in . . .

  I wandered to my room and leaned on the windowsill, hoping to spot Charlotte. Her web was gone, blown away by wind
and rain.

  I stared, instead, into the empty woods until the front door opened and Mama called my name.

  “Help me unload these,” she said, passing me one of two bags of groceries. “Then we’re going to Elaila’s to give her this pound cake in condolence.”

  I placed the milk and butter in the fridge, recalling the news coverage and wondering how much all of this cost, and if it put Mama and Papa’s bank account under stress.

  Mama set the pound cake on the counter. I gazed at it with a watering mouth. “Can’t we keep it for us?”

  She smiled down at me. “I’ll get a treat for us next time, all right?”

  It took only a minute to unload the groceries, and then Mama made me carry the pound cake to Elaila’s house.

  “Did you finish the garden?” she said as we crossed the dead-end dirt road.

  “Yes.”

  “After this, you can help me cook dinner, and then I won’t make you do any more chores today.”

  I sighed gratefully.

  Elaila opened the door wearing a hole-filled nightgown that was frayed in more places than not. Her hair was piled on top of her head in the remains of a ponytail, greasy locks falling loose on all sides.

  “Hi, honey,” said Mama. “Is this a bad time?”

  Elaila shook her head. Her normally youthful face was swollen and blotchy, and her red nose made her look like she was suffering from a cold.

  “Come in,” she said thickly.

  “We brought you a cake,” said Mama, pushing me forwards.

  I handed the cake to Elaila and tried to smile. She took it and beckoned us inside without looking at me.

  “That’s nice,” she said. “Should I make tea and . . . and . . . ? Here, let me get some plates.”

  “No, that’s all right,” said Mama. “We won’t stay long.”

  Elaila set the cake on top of a pile of unopened mail and flyers on the counter, then turned to face us with swollen eyes.

  “Look at me,” she said, sounding disgusted. “I’m a widow to an unfaithful jerk.”

  “Now, honey,” said Mama, stepping over a pile of coats and shoes and guiding her to the kitchen table by her shoulders.

  “I haven’t slept since the Homecoming. It’s bad enough losing a husband, but . . .” She lifted a hand to her mouth, and when no more words came, she waved it dismissively.

  I cleared dirty clothes off a kitchen chair for her while Mama rubbed her back. “You have every right to grieve, Elaila.”

  “I’d be proud of him if I found out he went down fighting,” she said, collapsing into the chair I pushed behind her. “But by the sounds of it, he went down . . . smooching!”

  “I was quite surprised,” said Mama overtop her sobs.

  I stood rooted behind them, dumbfounded. Did Elaila think her husband dove willingly into the ocean with a mermaid? Did she think he betrayed their marriage that easily?

  She went on, her voice growing steadily higher. “Thirteen years old, we started going out. I never thought he’d betray me.”

  “He didn’t betray you, Elaila,” I said, unable to keep quiet any longer.

  Mama and Elaila turned to me with wide eyes.

  “I know Sam loved you. He would never betray you.”

  Elaila gazed out the window with a trembling lip. “That’s a sweet thought, Meela.”

  “He did love you,” I said. “Their allure is more complicated than that. Mermaids can hypnotise even the most loyal men, if they want to.”

  “Hypnotise?” said Mama.

  “Yes.” I stepped closer. “Men don’t stand a chance against mermaids. They fall under a trance.”

  Elaila raised her eyebrows at me. “What makes you think . . .”

  She and Mama made the briefest eye contact, but then Mama stood and put an arm around me. “Now, Meela, that’s enough. Elaila doesn’t need you intruding on her personal life.”

  “But—”

  “Thank you for inviting us inside,” she said to Elaila, who stared at us in wordless confusion. At least her tears had dried up.

  Elaila saw us out the door, and Mama waited until we reached the end of the driveway before saying anything.

  “What do you think you’re doing, making up stories like that?” she whispered, grabbing me by the elbow as we walked. “You’ll terrify people to death if you start talking about mermaids that way. As if you know them—as if they’re people!”

  “But she needs to know—”

  She jerked my elbow. “Stop it, Meela!”

  I looked at her in alarm. Her eyes were wide and her breathing shallow, as if she was about to have an asthma attack.

  “Sorry,” I whispered.

  She let go and her expression softened. “You can’t say things about mermaids that other people don’t know. They’ll wonder where you got it from.”

  “I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry,” I said weakly. I didn’t want to disappoint Mama any more than I already had.

  A voice broke through the clearing. “Hana!”

  Tanuu’s mama was running towards us, Tanuu trailing shortly behind.

  She stopped abruptly when she saw me and put a hand to her chest. “Oh, thank heavens, Meela.”

  Tanuu stopped, too, and his expression changed from strained to shocked to relieved.

  Mama turned to face them. “What is it?”

  They strode closer. Sweat glistened on their faces.

  “A demon,” said Tanuu’s mama between strained breaths. “A demon just snatched a child off the beach.”

  Mama swayed, and my hands flew towards her as though to hold her upright.

  “Gone completely?” said Mama.

  Tanuu’s mama nodded, her mouth tightening.

  “A friend of my pop’s seen it happen,” said Tanuu after a moment, when no one else was able to speak. “He thought the girl on the beach was Meela. Must’ve looked just like her.”

  His eyes flicked over me. I felt strangely blank.

  “Who was it, then?” I said.

  Tanuu’s brow pinched and he shrugged.

  “I’m just glad you’re all right,” said his mama, and suddenly she had her arms around my head and my face pressed into her chest. I had to turn my head so I could breathe.

  When she let me go, Mama still looked like she was about to fall over.

  “Let’s go inside and make you some tea,” I said, and this time it was me grabbing Mama by the elbow.

  She looked down at me as if coming out of a trance and opened her mouth. No sound came out at first, but then she managed, “Yes. Yes, let’s do that.” She looked at Tanuu and his mama. “Won’t you come inside with us?”

  Tanuu’s mama must have also thought Mama was going to faint, because she said, “Yes, that’d be a good idea.”

  I led the way inside, dreading spending time alone with Tanuu while our mamas drank tea. Annith and I usually pretended we were deer living in the woods, or witches brewing potions inside a hollow stump, or giants and all the pinecones were tiny horses we kept as pets. Tanuu wouldn’t like those games. He would think I was a baby, or stupid, or boring.

  To my horror, Mama put a hand to my cheek when I sat her down at the kitchen table and said, “Why don’t you two run off and play while us mothers have a minute to chat?”

  I hoped Mama would read my expression, but she either ignored it or didn’t see it, because she forced a tight-lipped smile and patted me on the bum to push me away.

  Tanuu and I walked outside in silence.

  “Well, what do you want to do?” I said.

  He crossed his arms and shrugged, taking in the patch of grass we called a backyard. Suddenly, he seemed a lot more timid than when we were at school.

  “We could . . .” I began, but then didn’t know what to suggest, so I trailed off and turned my gaze towards the ocean.

  “That a cliff?” said Tanuu. He was looking at the ocean as well.

  “Not a big one.”

  We walked over and I pushed a few bran
ches of Ravendust out of the way so we could peer at the rocky beach below.

  “If you lay down, you can get closer to the edge without your knees wobbling.”

  We did so, and slithered up to the edge so our faces and arms were suspended in the air, far above the rocks. The waves crashed against the shoreline and the seagulls cried.

  “I’m happy it wasn’t you.”

  I stared at him. “What wasn’t me?”

  “The girl that got . . . the mermaid. I’m happy it wasn’t you.”

  “Oh,” I said. “Well—me too.”

  I noticed how close together we were and my face grew hot. But I didn’t shuffle away because I thought that would be even more embarrassing.

  “I wonder who it was,” I said, turning back to the sea.

  He didn’t say anything. I tried to think of a girl I knew who looked just like me, but plenty of girls on the island might look like me from afar.

  We would find out who it was soon enough, and I shuddered to think one of my schoolmates was gone forever.

  “Heard you’re grounded,” said Tanuu after a while.

  I didn’t look at him. “So?”

  “Is it true?”

  “Where’d you hear that?”

  “From Haden, who heard it from Annith.”

  I sighed. “Yeah.”

  “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but Dani deserved it. Getting socked in the face. Whatever you was arguing about. She’s not very nice.”

  I gawked at him, but his earnest expression made me laugh.

  “I thought all boys liked her,” I said.

  He made a face. “Not me. Not any of my friends.”

  We made eye contact, and I turned to the water again. I still felt his dark brown eyes on the side of my face.

  “Four-leaf clover,” I said, and plucked it from the grass.

  “Is not. That’s just three leaves and one of ‘em ripped.”

  “No, it’s real!” I held it up to his face so he could see it more closely.

  He studied it for a minute, then seemed to deem it real. “Better make a wish, then.”

  I twirled it between my fingers, thinking of Lysi.

  Tannu cleared his throat after a moment, and he hesitated so much before speaking that it made me look at him sharply.

 
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