I know, I know. NaNoWriMo is over, and so I shouldn’t really post any more extracts from my novel up here – but hey. That’s the beauty of being the Proprietor, isn’t it? You can sort of do what you like. By the way, I still haven’t come up with a better name for the book, so if anyone has any suggestions, you know where to fling ’em. Think ‘ice’, ‘creature’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘ancient’ – that sort of thing.
This week, we pick up shortly after Emmeline and Thing were spotted as they attempted to hide from the men who meant them harm…
Emmeline and the Ice-God
‘Whoop! It – whoop! – was so fast! I – whoop! – I couldn’t –‘
‘Yes, yes – that’s fine! Just calm down, please, won’t you?’
‘But we can’t – whoop! – just calm down! They’ve taken her! Or don’t you – whoop! – understand what kidnapping actually means?’
‘Look, Thing – is Thing your name? – you’re not going to be able to help Emmeline if you suffocate to death. All right? Now, calm down. I mean it. Get your breath, and then tell us everything you remember.’ Thing nodded, trying to get his thoughts in order. He was still clutching Emmeline’s satchel to himself, and had refused to let go of it for any reason. The severed straps, hanging like broken arms at either side of the satchel itself, reminded him how important it was to get Emmeline back and return her most treasured possession, as soon as possible.
‘Right. Well – whoop – we were climbin’, right, up to the crow’s nest, like you said, when some fellas – whoop – lots of ‘em, just sort of appeared, yeah, and they turned this big light thing on, and they used it to – whoop – find us.’
‘A light? What sort of light?’ Edgar’s voice was calm, despite the fact that his left arm was a slab of agony. He’d been shot, and the White Flower didn’t have the time or expertise to patch him up properly. He’d been bandaged, and a wad of cotton placed tightly over his wound, and that would have to do for the time being. He glanced over at Sasha, whose face was white as a bone. Her every muscle was tensed, listening to Thing.
‘Dunno – a searchlight, I s’pose. Big round thing. Swivelled.’ Thing demonstrated swivelling with his free hand, just in case they hadn’t got the picture.
‘Okay, that’s fine. So, then what happened? In your own time.’ Sasha’s words were quiet and calm, but Edgar had known her too long to be fooled by that. Her eyes flashed, and her lips were drawn thin.
‘The blokes kept the light on Ems, yeah, and then they flung up some sort of – whoop – net, or somethin’, and they, like, dragged her off the ladder.’ Thing made a sucking sound with his mouth as he showed them, with a hand movement, exactly how Emmeline had fallen. ‘They caught her, and then they tied ‘er up, and they took this away from ‘er –‘ he gestured toward the satchel. ‘Then, they carried ‘er to the edge and just chucked ‘er off.’
‘Chuck – chucked her off?’ repeated Sasha. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Sure as I am that you’re all a bunch of – whoop – idiots who can’t understand plain English,’ muttered Thing.
‘Did she scream? Cry out? Anything?’
‘Nah. Tough as nails, is Ems.’ Thing blinked hard, trying to focus on the battered leather satchel. A few loose threads were fraying around one of its corners and he toyed with them until he was pretty sure his eyes weren’t going to leak, and he could look up again.
‘They must have had her in a harness, or something,’ said Sasha to Edgar, her voice low. ‘Surely? They wouldn’t risk – they couldn’t risk – actually losing her…’
‘I’m sure you’re right,’ murmured Edgar in reply. He placed his uninjured hand over Sasha’s and gently gripped her fingers, which were cold and stiff. He tried to rub some life into them.
‘So – what’s the story with all this?’ asked Thing. He looked first at Edgar, and then at Sasha. ‘I mean, why’s everyone after Emmeline? What’s she done? Only a kid, isn’t she?’
‘It’s not really something – well. It’s not something we can share, let’s put it like that,’ said Edgar, in a low dark voice. ‘She – or, rather, her parents – are involved in something big. The men who took Emmeline probably intend to hold her for ransom, or have been paid to bring her somewhere.’ Edgar was hit by a wave of agony and his words hissed to a halt. He clenched his teeth and grunted, his good hand flying up to the wound on his shoulder.
‘You all right?’ asked Thing, his eyes wide.
‘I’ll live. Now, can you tell us anything you remember about the men? What they looked like, sounded like, how many there were, anything like that?’ Edgar spoke quickly, his voice sharp with the pain he was doing his best to suppress.
‘Right – yes,’ said Thing, slowly. He closed his eyes and did his best to remember. A dim and indistinct picture started to form in his mind – men with bald heads, men with hats, stout and skinny men, all shouting. ‘There were a lot of ‘em. I can’t say how many. It was hard to see from where I was perched, you know? With the light, an’ all?’
‘Of course,’ soothed Sasha. ‘But please – you must try.’ Thing closed his eyes and screwed his brain into a knot.
‘There was one guy,’ he said, a memory coming to the surface like a rising bubble. ‘Tall, skinny fella with skin so pale it looked dead, you know the sort. He was either wearin’ dark glasses or he had the oddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Looked straight up at me at one stage, an’ I nearly lost my grip on the ladder.’
‘Why was that?’ Edgar was afraid to look down at his bandage, convinced he’d see blood seeping through. He focused on Thing, and tried to block out the pain. The cabin all around them was full of White Flower members, working to get their operation back on track, removing the dead and treating the wounded, and he let his suffering soak away into the hustle and bustle. Focus, he told himself. There’ll be time for self-pity later.
‘Dunno, really,’ Thing was saying. ‘It was like he was readin’ my mind, or somethin’, or gettin’ inside my head, more like. I felt, when he was lookin’ at me, that I was a lump of rock buried in the earth, cold and alone and forgotten, and that no matter what I did I’d never be able to change it.’ Thing stopped talking, his throat dry suddenly. He realised his heart was thudding inside his chest, like it used to do in the old days, before his family had… but he couldn’t let himself think about any of that. He shoved his thoughts away, putting them carefully in a box in the cellar of his mind, before locking the cellar door.
‘No,’ whispered Sasha. Thing was vaguely aware of her putting her hands to her face.
‘What is it?’ he asked, trying to clear his mind of memories.
‘It’s the worst we could’ve expected,’ said Edgar.
Emmeline had never been so cold, or so cramped, in her life. As well as that, she was dealing with the most severe seasickness she’d ever felt – which wasn’t saying much, really, as until the day before, she’d never set foot on a boat – and her stomach churned inside her, both with queasiness and a deep, bone-grinding hunger. If she’d eaten anything, she would have thrown it all back up again, but the men didn’t offer her any food. She thought, longingly, of the ice-cream that Thing had brought to her window. It seemed like ten million years since she’d seen him, but in reality it could only have been a few hours.
I hope you’re all right, she told him, inside her mind. I hope you found help, and that you’ve gone to the captain and explained everything, and that he immediately turned the ship around to follow me… Hot tears bubbled up under her closed lids as she realised that, whatever Thing had managed to do, it most certainly did not involve convincing the captain of the cruise ship to pursue her. For a start, how would he know where to go? The ocean was vast, and the ship Emmeline was now being held captive in was tiny by comparison. It was dark, and hard to see, and the weather was beginning to turn. It would be like looking for a teardrop in a lake.
‘Well, well!’ A voice burst into Emmeline’s mind, and a trapdoor into her tiny, frozen prison was lifted. Outside, she could see cold, sparkling stars and wind-blown spume, and the sound of raucous laughter trickled in through the gap. ‘Everythin’ all right in here with you, your ladyship?’
‘I – please! I need –‘ but the man was already gone. The trapdoor clacked back into place, muffling his laughter as he replaced the padlock. They had been doing this at regular intervals, Emmeline realised – looking in to check whether she was alive, and conscious, but not actually giving her anything or finding out if there was anything she needed. She was desperately thirsty and in terrible pain from being tied up. As well as that she really had to go to the loo again, but the thought of using it on a ship full of men like this made her shudder.
She tried to settle into a corner, doing her best to keep herself warm. Think of fires, and sunshine, and hot soup, she told herself. Think yourself warm! After a few minutes of this, however, she had to give up. Thinking about warm things was only making her feel colder – and she was starting to see her breath in the air like a tiny cloud, so she knew she wasn’t imagining it. Inside her prison, she was freezing.
Where are we going? she thought, fearfully, just before exhaustion took her under.