Originally, Khell and her dad had planned to sleep on inflatable mattresses in what would be their new bedrooms. After some exploration though, it proved to be less of a great idea. The entirety of the old house hadn’t been lived in for the past few years, and needed a good sweep at the very least. In the end, dad and Khell set up camp in the basement, near the fireplace.
Though Khell would never admit it, she was happy that they’d ended up sleeping in the basement. Without her own bed and her own stuff, her new room was just another strange place in a strange house. Khell wasn’t sure she was willing to sleep there alone just yet.
Not that Khell was getting any sleep here in the basement. It was far quieter in the country than it had been back home. There were no cars; no people walking around outside. There wasn’t a neighbour’s radio playing, or even neighbours for that matter. Instead, Khell lay on her inflated mat listening to the sound of the wind, and the crackle of the fire. There were various creaks and groans as the house settled, and somewhere upstairs, there was a dripping faucet. Khell had never known quiet could be so loud. It was when dad started snoring that Khell accepted that she wasn’t getting to sleep any time soon.
Khell snuck out from beneath her covers, and crept up the stairs to the main of the house. She’d expected the old house to seem creepy at night, and was amazed at how bright the rest of the house was in comparison to the basement. Even without the lights on, the night stars shone through the many windows, and lit the house adequately.
Systematically, Khell tracked down each noise she could hear. She found the dripping faucet in the second floor bathroom that she didn’t know existed till now. She found a part of the window plastic was loose, and flapping in the wind; though there was nothing she could do about it right now. There was, in fact, little that Khell could do about most of the noises the house made; she hoped that just finding them would let her sleep though. Rattling vents, loose floorboards, squeaky window panes; Khell catalogued them all.
In the end, Khell found herself standing in the middle of the library. She’d been certain that she’d felt a breeze come from the otherwise cozy room, but after checking the large round window, she’d found none. She could still hear the wind in the library, but it didn’t seem to be coming from outside. Khell did a few circles, and came to the conclusion that the draft was coming from near the central table. She checked the ceiling, and she checked the vent in the floor, but neither seemed to be the culprit.
Khell shook her head. The breeze was stronger now, and carried the crisp smell of winter. It seemed to be coming from the center of the table, but there was nothing there but the book she’d found earlier. Absently, Khell picked it up, and played a bit with the moving circles on the cover. She ran her hand along the edges of the pages, and nearly dropped the book in surprise. The breeze was coming from inside the book, as was a slight whispering sound.
“That’s not possible,” Khell told absolutely no one. She tried the latch again, but it still held the book tightly shut. Khell felt the edges, and still there was a breeze. Deep inside the book, the wind whispered sounds that nearly made words. Khell stared at the book a long time before finally holding it to her ear.
“Khell,” the book whispered.
Khell awoke with a start, and looked about. She was sitting in a large leather chair in the library; and from the ache of her back, she could guess that she’d been sleeping in the chair for hours. The book was on her lap when Khell looked down; and was still sealed shut. There was no wind escaping its binding, and there was no whispering.
Khell put the book back on the table, sure that she’d just dreamt the whole thing. After all, books didn’t have their own weather; and books didn’t whisper your name. She tucked the last of the night to the back of her mind, and went to find her dad. She could hear dishes and movement in the kitchen, and was certain he was there preparing breakfast.
“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Khell demanded as she stormed into the kitchen. “I was sleeping in the library. I mean…” The rest of Khell’s complaints dried in her throat as she looked around.
Khell’s dad wasn’t in the kitchen. Instead, sitting at the table, was a girl about Khell’s age. Her hair was coal black with fire engine red tips; the same colors as most of her clothes. She wore old striped socks of the same black and red, and had transformed a second pair of striped socks into arm warmers. The girl smiled at Khell’s confusion, and ate a bowl of cereal.
“Your dad’s outside,” the girl offered finally. “My grandpa’s digging you folks out.”
“Oh,” Khell replied quietly. She wasn’t sure what else to say.
“I’m Ana,” the girl added. “I guess I probably should have started with that.” Ana thought on it. “Hello, I’m Ana, and your dad is outside,” she tried. “Yeah, that would have been better.”
“I’m Khell,” Khell introduced. She rubbed her arm nervously. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting guests.”
“Yeah well, we sorta surprise visited,” Ana explained. “Grandpa saw you folks pull in yesterday, and saw that your car was still at the bottom of the hill this morning. He figured he’d come and dig you out.” Ana nodded. “Neighbourly, and all that.” Ana took another spoonful of cereal. “Same idea of neighbour and all that, he said I should show you around town today, if you’re up for it?”
Khell nodded her agreement. She wanted to get dressed and eat some breakfast first, but seeing town with someone was better than seeing it without. Besides, she really didn’t want to be around when the movers arrived. In less than an hour, her and Ana were outside, ready to go to town.
“This has got to be a big change for you,” Ana commented with a gesture to the property. “I mean, you’re from the big city, right?” She didn’t wait for Khell to answer. “I’m going to move out there. You see if I don’t.”
Ana continued on, as much to herself as to Khell. “I’ll finish high school, cause I’m already in the midst of it, but I tell you girl; first chance I get after that I’m out of this town.” Ana looked Khell over as though measuring her up. “You can come with, if you like,” she offered. “I mean, coming from the city; you can’t be that impressed with Quarrytown, right?”
Khell shrugged. “I haven’t actually seen the town yet,” she admitted. “We just got here yesterday.”
“Are you kidding?” Ana trudged through snow drifts as she walked around the house. “You live up here on King’s Rock, and you haven’t even seen the town yet?”
“King’s Rock?” Khell repeated, following behind Ana. “Why’s it called that?”
Ana didn’t answer right away. Instead, she waved an arm towards an outcropping of stone; prompting Khell to look over. Khell edged up the rock, and stared down the hill.
Khell gasped as she looked down. “I can see the whole town from here,” she said. “I mean; the downtown at least.” She looked back at Ana, and rolled her eyes. “And that’d be why it’s called King’s Rock,” she noted.
“Yup,” Ana replied. She walked back to her grandpa’s truck, and pulled a long wooden toboggan from the back. “Nice thing about being up here is that you have the best route to town as well.” Ana thought about it. “Well, during the winter at least.”
Khell stared at the toboggan uncertainly. “I don’t know,” she replied slowly. “Isn’t that a bit…”
“…Childish?” Ana smirked at Khell. “Sure. Probably is. It’s certainly unladylike; if you care ‘bout that sorta thing. You know what prim and proper gets you around here though?” Ana pointed at the town below, then off to the other side of the hill towards the road. “It gets you an hour and a half walk to town.” Ana patted the seat of the sled. “This is much faster.”
Khell looked at the hill. What she was actually going to say was ‘isn’t that a bit dangerous’, but felt it’d just sound foolish now. Ana was already setting the toboggan down on the edge of the hill.
Khell looked at the trees along the hill, and thought about the random rock cliffs that grew around her driveway as she sat behind Ana on the wooden toboggan. “You know a safe path down, right?” she asked.
“I know a path down,” Ana replied. “Least I’m pretty sure there is a path Gravity has a lot to do with finding it.” She looked back at Khell, and gave a half shrug. “I’d probably hold on tight, if I were you girl.”
They managed to make it down the hill without impaling themselves on a tree, though Khell was certain that they’d come close to two separate occasions. They did manage to flip the toboggan a few times, and actually ramped it over a large rock once. In the end, the girls were covered in snow, and giggling with the adrenaline rush. Ana dragged the sled behind them as they walked into town.
Khell looked about. The downtown looked the same as it had on her pamphlet, save for the flowers being replaced by large drifts of snow. The streets were quiet; seemingly devoid of life. There were a few people here and there, but not many.
“Where is everyone?” Khell asked.
“School or work,” Ana replied with a shrug. “Almost no one is in town during the day.” She pointed off down the road. “Factory up there makes cement; or packs cement; or whichever. If you don’t work there, it’s because you don’t work in town.”
Khell nodded. “I forgot that there’s school still,” she admitted. Holidays were coming up, so there was little reason for Khell to start a new school quite yet.
“I wouldn’t sweat it,” Ana said. “I forget there’s school sometimes too.”
Ana led Khell down the quiet streets to a little coffee shop called The Steamer. It smelt of fresh bread and ground coffee, and Khell liked it right away. Plus, it was warm, and Khell was not. The woman behind the counter smiled friendly at the two girls as they entered The Steamer. Her smile faded immediately as she recognized Ana.
“You turn right round and walk back out that door Ana Hickory,” the woman commanded as she picked up the phone. “I’ll be calling the school right away; you see if I don’t young lady.”
Ana put her hands up in a mild surrender. “Relax, Ms. Lois,” Ana insisted. “My grandpa knows I’m not at school today.” Ana pushed Khell forward, using her like a shield. “This is Khell,” she introduced. “Her and her dad just moved into the old Allens place.” Ana smirked. “Grandpa’s digging out their driveway, and I’m playing tour guide. Figured I’d start her here.”
Ms. Lois narrowed her eyes dangerously at Ana, but she put the phone back on its cradle. Her scepticism was replaced with a wide smile as she looked from Ana to Khell.
“Well of course,” Ms. Lois agreed happily. “Where else would you start? Welcome to town,” Ms. Lois beamed. “Kelly was it?”
Khell rubbed her arm. “Just Khell ma’am.”
“Well.” Ms. Lois’s smile faltered ever so slightly. “That’s interesting, isn’t it?” She rolled Khell’s name around her mouth a few times, as though trying out a foreign language. “How do you like some coffee, Khell?”
Khell sat with Ana at one of the large booths near the window. From here, Ana was able to point out most of the interesting places in town. The bookstore was directly across the road; looking sad with its papered over windows. There was a hardware store beside it, and a second hand clothing store beside that. Down the road was a restaurant, an ice cream parlour (that was closed for the season), a sports outlet, and a few knick knack stores.
“That’s about it,” Ana announced, finishing her virtual tour of the town. “Nothing that you’d find in the city. No mall, no McDonalds. Nothing much at all.”
“I think that’s what my dad likes about it,” Khell agreed.
“Yeah; it’s an old people’s paradise,” Ana agreed. “What about your mom? Is she looking forward to moving here?”
Khell fiddled with a napkin. “It’s just me and my dad now,” she admitted quietly.
“Ah, sorry,” Ana said. She shrugged. “I understand what it’s like,” Ana told Khell. “It’s just me and grandpa, which I guess is the same really.”
Khell looked over at Ana. “Are your parents…” she wasn’t sure how to politely finish the sentence.
“Nah. They’re both alive,” Ana said. “Alive and well; I guess.” She sipped her coffee, and poured another healthy portion of sugar into it. The two girls sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Hey,” Ana asserted suddenly. “You haven’t seen the quarry yet.” She grabbed Khell’s hand, and dragged her out before she could protest.
The quarry was a good ten minute walk out of town. Khell and Ana took turns pulling the other in the toboggan once they’d left the main road, which made the walk take all the longer, and yet made it feel that much shorter. Before Khell knew it, they were leaning on a small fence, staring at the ice covered quarry.
“It’s over 100 meters deep in some areas,” Ana explained with a wave towards the rock pit. “It’s pretty deep every part though. Some say that there’s still work equipment at the bottom; you know, pumps and generators and stuff.”
“Does anything live in it?”
“Oh yeah, tons,” Ana replied. “frogs, turtles, and fish.” Ana shrugged “Don’t honestly know how the fish got into there, mind. I mean, the lake’s landlocked right?” she thought on it a moment. “I guess someone dropped the fish off, and then they, you know, however fish do it.” Ana mashed her hands together, to suggest fish ‘doing it’.
Khell giggled, and gave a nod. “typical lake stuff though,” she commented.
“Well, all ‘cept for Old Snapper of course,” Ana replied. She smiled slyly at Khell’s look of confusion. “Old snapping turtle,” she explained. “Older than me; maybe older than even my grandpa.” Ana leant in as if sharing a secret. “He’s been there forever really; or at least as long as there’s been water right? Folks say he’s at least the size of a motor boat.” Ana held her hands out wide, to suggest size. “He could be bigger.”
Khell looked over at the quarry, then back at Ana, then to the quarry again. “Nah,” she said finally. “It’s not possible. I mean, what would a snapping turtle that big eat?”
“Well,” Ana offered. “There’s always a few kids that go missing every year. Tourists mostly.”
Khell shook her head again. “You’re having me on,” she insisted.
“If you say so.” Ana laughed. “No pulling the wool over your eyes, huh city girl?” Ana stepped over the small fence, onto the ice. She motioned for Khell to follow.
Khell stepped onto the ice reluctantly. “Is it safe?” she asked.
“Sure,” Ana replied without a second thought. “It’s been real cold lately, so the ice is good and thick. You don’t want to go too far out, mind, cause it never freezes completely over, but so long as we stay to the edge here, it’s safe.”
Khell slipped and slid as she followed Ana out onto the quarry. She watched her feet as much as she watched her new friend, and listened for any ominous cracking noises.
“Do you think it’s weird that folks like walking on the ice?” Ana asked suddenly. She ran a bit, and slid along the lake surface. “I mean, when you think about it, it’s really just walking. Heck, if you don’t have skates, it’s walking with difficulty.” Ana spun an amateur pirouette, and laughed as her feet slid out from under her as if to prove her point.
Khell helped Ana up, nearly falling over as well in the process. This really was just difficult walking, but it was still fun. “I’ve never really thought about it,” she admitted. “I guess it’s just different, right?”
Ana brushed the light snow off of her pants. “You know what I think?” she asked rhetorically. “I think it feels just a little forbidden; just a little wrong. I mean, walking on a lake? You shouldn’t be able to do that. I know it’s ice, and I know that’s just part of winter, but I think deep inside, your brain thinks you’re doing something impossible.” Ana kicked off into another slide. “Tiny winter magic, right?”
Khell nodded a quick agreement, but didn’t take her eyes off of the ice. She was certain that she’d seen something move below them. “We should get back,” Khell suggested suddenly.
Ana looked over at Khell. For a moment, she looked like she was going to argue, but it faded as she followed Khell’s gaze to the ice. A dark shadow slid beneath them as something huge shifted. It was easily the size of a bus, but rounded off. The monstrosity moved slowly; lazily, but it was steadily moving towards the girls, and certainly getting bigger as it came closer.
“No freakin’ way,” Ana said. “It can’t be.”
The ice groaned and buckled as the huge shape scraped against it beneath them. Its head was visible, though blurry, as it chewed at the ice beneath the girls. Khell could easily have fit in the monster’s mouth if it were to get through. She slid and fell as she tried to run. The whole of the quarry seemed to shake.
“Old Snapper!” Ana screamed. She grabbed at Khell’s hand; nearly falling herself as she dragged Khell to her feet. The girls ran and slid as they desperately rushed to get off the shifting ice. The ice bucked, and shattered as Old Snapper surfaced with a train roar of a hiss. The girls were flung forward, and landed with a crash in the snow bank at the edge of the quarry.
Suddenly, everything was quiet. Khell and Ana laid in the snow on the bank for a good few minutes before daring to look back at the quarry lake. The ice was untouched, save for their footprints. There was no break; not even the slightest crack. There was nothing suggesting that a giant turtle had surfaced.
Ana stood up, and brushed herself off. “Well,” she said. “That was new.”
“That was new?” Khell stared at the ice. She screwed up enough courage to tap it with her foot, but drew away immediately as if it were lava. “That was impossible. We were attacked by a giant turtle!”
“Giant ghost turtle,” Ana suggested. “In that it didn’t break the ice.” She rubbed her arms, and stepped a good bit away from the ice. Finally Ana shrugged. “I’m going to state the obvious, and suggest we don’t mention this to anyone, right? I mean; who’d ever believe us?”
Khell stared at the ice. It had broken with enough force to throw them through the air, and yet it was untouched. “Yeah, who would?” she agreed. She’d been part of it, and even she wasn’t sure she believed it.
That night, Khell dreamt cracking ice and giant turtles. The whole of her dream played to a soundtrack of flipping pages, and singing books.