In this instalment of Emmeline and her adventures, we see Thing getting crafty, Emmeline getting pushed to her limit, and a glimpse at the Baddie who is intent on using her to further his own ends.
Emmeline and the Ice-God
‘You ain’t leavin’ me behind!’ Thing’s teeth were set, and his eyes glittered. He clutched Emmeline’s satchel to his skinny chest like it was a lump of gold. ‘I ain’t lettin’ ya!’
‘Look, Thing, we can’t bring you with us! You have to understand!’ Sasha was busily packing away some sort of chart, so big that it would have covered a wall. Thing couldn’t read well enough to understand what was written on it, but a strange symbol near the top of the sheet caught his attention. It was like a large round eye with several wiggly ‘legs’ coming out of it. Something about it made him feel uneasy.
‘All I understand is that me, the only friend of the kid you’re all rushin’ about tryin’ to save, isn’t allowed to be part of rescuin’ her from whatever ridiculous situation she’s got herself into,’ snapped Thing, renewing his grip on the satchel. ‘I can help, you know! She trusts me!’
‘She doesn’t trust anyone, Thing,’ said Sasha, snapping the huge portfolio closed. She buckled it shut and slid it off the table and into a large case, along with several others. ‘She’s been raised that way.’
‘But she – she saved me, from that man –‘
‘She saved herself. You just happened to be there. Don’t you understand?’ Sasha turned and faced Thing, and placed her hands gently on his shoulders. She looked straight into his eyes, and Thing saw them soften and grow gentle. ‘I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, Thing. I’m sure Emmeline likes you well enough, but you’re not her friend. So, why don’t you go home and forget about all this, and let us take care of it from here?’
‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you,’ muttered Thing.
‘Pardon?’ said Sasha, confusion creasing her face.
‘Nothin’. Well, if you can’t bring me with you, will you at least tell me where you’re goin’?’
‘You know I can’t,’ said Sasha, straightening up and releasing her grip on Thing’s arms.
‘Does it ‘ave anythin’ to do with that weird eye-thing, on the map?’ said Thing, hazarding a guess.
‘What do you know about that?’ Sasha stood perfectly still, and Thing didn’t think he was imagining the look of frozen fear in her eyes.
‘Oh, you know,’ breezed Thing, improvising. ‘Only what Ems told me.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ snapped Sasha. ‘Emmeline is completely ignorant of anything to do with that map.’
‘Sure about that, are ya?’
‘Yes,’ said Sasha, but Thing saw a tiny twitch at the corner of her mouth that told him she was lying.
‘Interestin’,’ said Thing. Just then, Edgar came back into the room. Someone had rebandaged his arm, and given him some sort of pain-killing medication. His colour was back, and there was a sparkle in his eye.
‘Are you ready?’ he asked Sasha. ‘We’ll be docking within the hour, and we won’t have time to waste. We’ll need to get to – Oh. Hello,’ he said, finally noticing Thing. ‘What are you still doing here?’ He smiled down at him, and only his twitching fingers gave away his impatience.
‘I were just tellin’ Sasha ‘ere about Emmeline and the wavy eye,’ he said, straightening his back. ‘Nothin’ important.’
‘Emmeline and the what?’ he said, glancing up at Sasha.
‘The sun is warm,’ said Sasha, cryptically, focusing on Edgar.
‘But there is ice on the breeze,’ he finished, blinking.
‘Er – right,’ said Thing, into the silence that followed this strange exchange. ‘Anyway. We was discussin’ my role in the rescuin’ of Emmeline, actually, just as you so rudely barged in.’
‘Your role?’ said Sasha, snapping out of whatever spell she’d been in and staring back down at Thing. ‘You don’t have a role!’
‘That’s not what this says.’ Thing nodded down at the satchel in his hands.
‘That’s nothing! That’s simply Emmeline’s bag – all it has in it are her tricks, her gimmicks, her – her little means of keeping herself safe!’ Sasha frowned, throwing her hands up in the air.
‘Yeah, that,’ agreed Thing, ‘and also some very interestin’ papers on – ice.’ He felt his way into the next thought, very carefully. ‘Ice, and stuff what lives in it.’ Sasha’s eyes burst open like someone had slapped her on the back.
‘Are you – do you even – what are you talking about?’
‘Guess you’ll have to bring me along. ‘Sfar too much to explain before the ship makes landfall,’ said Thing, with a sniff.
‘But – what about your parents? Your family?’ asked Edgar. He laid a strong, warm hand on Thing’s shoulder. ‘Won’t they worry?’
‘Shouldn’t think my parents’ve worried about me for about ten years or so,’ he said. Edgar blinked.
‘How old are you, Thing?’
‘Not sure, ‘xactly. ‘Bout twelve, there-thereabouts.’ He didn’t trust himself to look up, but he felt Edgar and Sasha share a look, one that was full of stuff that grownups did, tears and pity and disgust and all that stuff. Thing had long learned to ignore it.
‘Well – look. If we bring you – and it’s only an if – will you tell us everything that Emmeline discussed with you?’ Edgar’s words had sharp edges.
‘We need to see those documents!’ hissed Sasha.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Thing, his heart beginning to race again – not that you’d have known it to look at him. He kept his voice low and bored, and even chanced a yawn. ‘Whatever. Just let me come, yeah? I’ll be useful. Swear.’
‘Fine,’ said Sasha, trying to mask a yawn of her own behind her hand. ‘Come. But I’m not taking responsibility for you.’
‘That suits me fine,’ said Thing, who didn’t know what it felt like to have someone else take responsibility for him. ‘Now. Finally. Will someone tell me where we’re goin’?’
Hours were passing in Emmeline’s prison, but she had no way of knowing how many. All she knew was the cold was growing stronger, like a wild animal getting more and more enraged. It had started biting at her a long time ago, taking mouthfuls of her warmth away with it and devouring them, leaving Emmeline with nothing but her bare bones. An empty dish lay beside her, which had been filled with warm porridge-y gruel a while back – Emmeline had eaten it, but it hadn’t helped to take away the gnawing inside. She was in a constant state of half-asleep, never sure if what she was seeing or hearing was real, or dredged up out of the depths of her mind.
Vaguely, she heard a clatter, and a gust of bitter wind on her face.
‘Girl! Look lively, down there. The boss wants to speak to ya. Are ya decent?’ Emmeline didn’t reply, because the words didn’t seem to make any sense. The voice was coming from far away, bending and distorting as it travelled, until it reached her ears sounding hollow and twisted. It wouldn’t sit comfortably in her mind, so she ignored it. She was feeling tired, and just wanted to sleep. If she could only sleep, everything would be all right…
‘Woohoo! Girlie! Wakey wakey!’ Emmeline didn’t hear this, and so she didn’t move. ‘Here, Joe – she’s not doin’ anythin’. Give us a hand with this, willya?’ One of the men dropped down into Emmeline’s compartment, catching his breath at how cold it felt down there. For a split second he gazed at Emmeline’s small form, her bare legs beneath her grubby dress and her light jacket which didn’t even fasten properly, and shivered inside his heavy winter coat.
‘Get ‘er up here, Baker!’ called a voice from above, snapping him out of his thoughts. Quickly, he bent and picked Emmeline up, and within a few seconds she’d been handed out through the trapdoor and laid out on a couch in the body of the ship. Her skin was ice-cold to the touch, and her eyes were firmly fixed shut. The bits of her skin that could be seen were a uniform grey, and her breaths were shallow.
‘This is your fault, y’know,’ one of the men barked at another. ‘If you hadn’t insisted on getting started with that card game, we’d never have forgotten to check on the kid.’
‘My fault? That’s rich! Whose idea was it to put her in the fish store in the first place? I believe – and correct me if I’m wrong – that it was yours!’
‘Now, look here –‘ began the other man, his face reddening, but he never got to finish his sentence.
‘If one of you fools doesn’t get that child covered up and warm, this instant, you’ll all be forcibly unshipped in Newfoundland without a stitch of clothing.’ Nobody moved. ‘And I will not be paying any of you so much as a red cent.’ Instantly, the cabin was alive with movement. Someone grabbed a blanket and wrapped Emmeline snugly in it while someone else started warming up the stove to make her some soup. A third dispatched himself to find some thick clothing, and a fourth threw some sticks into the furnace. Gradually, some pink began to creep back into Emmeline’s face and her eyes started to move, ever so slowly, behind her eyelids.
‘Gentlemen. I want you all to feel for this child as though she were your own,’ announced the pale-faced man, looking around at the scar-faced, tattooed, gap-toothed crew he’d gathered around him. ‘On second thought, actually, I will say this: I’d like you all to feel for this child as though she were the only, treasured daughter of your employer – which, in so many ways, she is – and I want you all to know that whatever harm comes to this child will be revisited upon your own persons, times ten. If she freezes to death, you will be encased in a glacier having first been whipped raw. If she starves, you will be force-fed snow until you burst. If a hand is laid upon her body with the intent to cause her pain, that man will lose all four of his limbs and be left on the ice – alive, mind you – as a snack for the next passing polar bear. Am I clear?’ The listening men stood to attention, each of them focused utterly on the weird white-skinned man they’d allowed to convince them to come north. At this time of year? some of them had scoffed. He must be mad! But he’d shown them all the colour of his money, and, one by one, they’d caved.
And now, here they were.
‘As ice, sir,’ said one. ‘Clear as ice.’
‘Wonderful,’ he replied. ‘Don’t disturb me again until she wakes.’