Excerpt- Witchbone: The Goblin’s Winter

Events bloody and mysterious bring Danny Hallow back to the town of Eddystone, New Hampshire…

 

newspaper

 

Link to: Witchbone Book One: The Goblin’s Winter

 

It was the coldest February the current residents of Eddystone, New Hampshire could remember. It wasn’t the coldest on record. That had been over one hundred years prior. People reminded each other of this as they waited for buses, walked to their mailboxes or dropped off their kids at school.

Not the coldest!”

Been colder!”

They survived it back then, we’ll survive it now.”

Yup.”

Eddystone’s denizens went about their business bundled up like arctic explorers, faceless, gender-less. Neighbors stood right next to each other and didn’t know it, wrapped tightly against the frigid air. They laughed and joked and were stoic about it for the first week.

After the temperatures remained well below freezing for eight days straight with no end in sight people began to lose their sense of humor. It was no longer an adventure. It was brutal. They stood in silent huddles, faces buried in scarves, hands thrust deep into pockets, eyes closed, keeping the lip balm handy, waiting for it to end.

The swift waters of Kingston Creek were solid ice from shore to shore. Frost glazed the corners of shop windows, inside and out. Pipes froze and burst. Road pavement shifted and heaved, causing accidents and vehicular damage. Outside recess was perpetually canceled.

Intrepid local photographers captured images of the frozen salt marshes, the frosted trees at sunrise. Sea smoke rose off of the ocean, making the abandoned buildings out on the Fingerbone Islands look even spookier than usual. It made for pretty photos, but other than that everyone agreed it was a bloody nuisance and spring couldn’t come fast enough, thank you.

Sharks died. It was in the local newspaper. Threshers washed up on the beach, mouths agape, sea smoke coiling around them as if the cold ocean was reaching out to haul their little shark souls back into the deep.

That might be the creepiest sight I’ve ever seen,” said the Sheriff, standing by the young fellow from the DNR, who was examining the frozen shark. The poor creature looked like it had just come out of an ice house.

They’re cold-stunned,” said the fellow. He poked the thresher again. “Frozen solid.”

I know just how he feels,” said Sheriff Protheroe. He looked down at the empty black eyes of the beached shark. It was one of several that lay along the sand, gray waters of the Atlantic crawling up the beach and licking at their lifeless fins. What a sight, he thought. He wasn’t a superstitious man, but if he had been, he might’ve felt like this was some kind of bad omen. The Sheriff shivered and crossed his arms, trying to turn his attention back the DNR fellow.

Over on Whicher Street, Ellie Homing sat at the breakfast counter in the cottage she shared with her mother. A small girl with blonde curls and green eyes, she poked at the tasteless eggs her mother had set in front of her. Usually she liked her mother’s cooking, but lately the quality had been lacking. She knew it was because her mother missed Mr. Enoch. Ellie missed him too.

Her mother glanced over at the television. The weatherman was dressed up in a yeti costume, pointing to another record low hovering right above where they lived. Ellie groaned and fed most of her eggs to Daisy the dachshund when her mother wasn’t looking.

On the edges of Kingston Creek, Ezra Harker prowled around in the thickets. He was tall for eleven, thick hair long and unkempt, with eyes the color of newly minted dimes. A heavy black leather motorcycle jacket was worn over black jeans and a black sweater, ending in black steel-toed boots. He was lanky, wolfish and coated in a carefully cultivated layer of dirt.

He moved stealthily, checking his traps. He often set traps and snares for standard hunting purposes, but for the last week he’d had a different goal. Catching something new. Something hungry, clever and undeterred by the cold. A predator.

The traps were not just empty. They had been tripped with no sign of what had taken the bait and had been deliberately broken or ruined as if they had angered his intended prey. There was no blood or hair or any other organic trace of the trap evaders. He scowled in frustration. He took pictures of the traps and the surrounding areas for later study and reference.

He decided to go poke around in the salt marshes next. He’d seen some strange little tracks over there two days ago. He shoved the camera into his beaten and worn old backpack and headed off to new hunting grounds.

Over at the Eddystone Public Library, Churchill McGee and Unwen Shaw wanted to hang a flyer on the bulletin board. The librarian looked at the two children, a skinny boy with freckles and hair like sandy cotton candy, the other a sporty-looking girl with ebony skin and chocolate eyes, curls pulled back in a big bunch. Raising an eyebrow over her cat’s eye glasses, perplexed, she said, “What is it again?”

We’re starting a club to play old school tabletop RPGs,” said Church.

What’s that?”

Role-playing games,” said Unwen.

Video games, you mean?”

No,” said Unwen, trying to be patient. “You just, like, sit around a table and use your imagination and roll dice and stuff. Tell a story.”

Oh,” said the librarian, not understanding. “I suppose that should be fine,” she said, waving them on. “Go ahead and post it.”

Thank you,” said Unwen.

They tacked up their flyer between an ad for a cleaning service and a notice for a missing cat, one of several for missing pets that peppered the notice board and spread onto the wall beyond. They looked at it hopefully, willing it to get attention. Neither one of them had ever tried to start a club before.

They’d made tearaways at the bottom with Church’s phone number for people to contact them. They’d specified it was for kids only, preferably 6th graders like themselves. No adults out to re-live their youth allowed.

Impulsively, Church reached out and pulled off one of the tabs. Unwen looked at him, puzzled.

It makes it look like people are already interested,” he explained, “if there’s one taken already.”

Ah,” she said. “Clever.”

Thanks for sounding so surprised,” he said.

She laughed. “You have a good idea every once in a while,” she conceded. “Not hardly ever, but, you know.”

He bumped her shoulder with his, and she bumped him back harder, making him run into the water fountain. “Oops, sorry,” she said, breaking into a run.

They chased each other down to the Children’s Center to hang out. The kid’s section was getting a little babyish for them, but they weren’t confident enough to go up to the Teen Floor yet. On the way there they discussed theories as to why there were so many missing pets up on the notice wall all of a sudden, cats, dogs, even some chickens.

They probably headed south, like the geese,” offered Church. “I would if I could. This weather sucks.”

Alien abduction,” pronounced Unwen. “Definitely.”

They ran down the second flight of steps and down the hall to the friendly and, most importantly, warm environment of the Children’s Center.

Two hundred and twenty-six miles away, coming over the bridge in Fishkill, New York, Danny Hallow was ensconced in the back of Miss Grace’s old green Volvo wagon. He’d been given the small third row all to himself for the trip to New Hampshire.

Danny had turned eleven the previous October. He had dark brown hair and eyes that were night-sky blue. He was small for his age, thin and pale as naked bone. His teeth were sugar-white and unusually sharp, a trait he was told ran in his father’s family.

Danny was a nickname for Danzellan, not Daniel as people usually assumed. Danzellan Wildwood Hallow. He was stretched out across the seat with his headphones on, blocking out the world. Scissor Sisters sang into his ears, not in the mood for dancing, no dancing today. He tapped the toes of his sneakers together, following the beat, as he doodled in his sketchbook with colored pencils.

Mr. Murray sat in the middle seat, books and maps spread out next to him. Silas Murray was a tall, slightly built gentleman with graying black hair that waved back from his face like a bird’s wings. He had kindly, vaguely Asian features and eyes as black as obsidian. He taught Danny about math and history and grammar and table manners. He was the only reason Danny maintained passing grades in school, because while Danny was far from stupid his attention span for academics was low.

Ali was up front in the passenger seat. Angel ‘Ali’ Ramirez was a dark man shaped like an iron barrel, all big guns and belly. He wore thick glasses and showed Danny how to do things like cook and fish. He liked to entertain Danny with wild tales about his childhood in Puerto Rico and his time in the Army. He dressed as Green Lantern every Halloween, even when it was pointed out he didn’t have the ideal physique for skintight spandex.

Gloria Jean Grace was driving. A tall woman with freckled, caramel colored skin and long braids she always wore pulled back, she was the scolder, the worrier, the don’t hurt yourself-er. The enforcer of rules and a tough task-master. She considered it her job to raise Danny ‘properly’, because the boys were too easy on him. She was a public defense lawyer and took Danny to protests and trials and political rallies. “Better than the circus,” she’d say, though Danny would have liked to go to the actual circus at least once.

These were Danny’s Keepers. He’d called them that from as far back as he could remember. His Keepers, The Keepers, My Keepers. They kept him safe, they kept him fed, they kept him entertained most of the time. They loved him, even though he wasn’t their own.

Danny had been in their care since he was four or five years old, he wasn’t sure. They were the only parents he could recall. His mother and father existed only in random memory snatches, faded old Polaroids shelved at the back of his mind.

Danny had been keeping himself busy and quiet, drawing pirate ships battling for supremacy on storm-tossed and unforgiving seas. They exchanged cannon fire, the smaller ship blowing the mast clean off the bigger one. The guys on the captured ship had to walk the plank into shark-infested waters, mateys. Aaaaargh, no prisoners. He poked around for the crimson pencil, to use for the spurting blood.

The captain of the defeated ship was begging for mercy when Danny noticed that the rain, which had been wiggling down the window like silvery minnows for the last four hours, had turned into soft snow.

Danny sat up, leaned forward and let his arms hang over the back of Mr. Murray’s seat. “It’s snowing,” he announced.

We noticed,” said Ali from the front, smiling.

How much longer?”

A good long while,” said Miss Grace.

Is there a Starbucks?” asked Danny. “Can we stop?” He flopped back into his seat.

We’re only halfway there, Danny,” said Miss Grace. “Are you bored already?”

No,” he said. “Yes,” he amended. “I just want some coffee.” He slid down, down, disappearing from view. “Or I’ll die.” He held up one hand, flailing weakly. “Dying.”

All right,” said Miss Grace, in a rare relentation. “I suppose we could all use a pick me up.” She raised an accusing eyebrow at Ali. “Your fault,” she said, raising her Wagging Finger. “You’ve been giving him coffee since he was seven years old. It’s no wonder he’s such an addict. “

In Puerto Rico, we start mainlining coffee at birth,” said Ali. “It never hurt me any!”

We need to make better time,” said Mr. Murray, perusing his maps. He loved his maps. Ali had plotted their trip on his GPS but Mr. Murray was actually doing a better job with his maps, so Miss Grace was primarily trusting him for the directions. “We can’t stop at a hotel tonight, unfortunately,” Mr. Murray said. “The reading of the will is tomorrow morning. We have to drive straight through.”

The Will, thought Danny. He capitalized important words in his mind. His Uncle’s Will. The uncle he never knew existed until last week. Danny felt the prick of excitement again, like little bolts of electricity. His uncle had left him something. No one had ever left him anything in a will before.

He didn’t care if it was something fiddly or small. Just the idea was exciting. Of course, a million dollars wouldn’t be unwelcome. He’d voiced that concept to his Keepers, who had informed him that a million dollars was unlikely. The fortune his mother’s family once possessed had dwindled to nearly nothing, they’d said. It was yet another surprise to Danny that his family had ever had a fortune to lose.

Any money would be fine, five hundred bucks would do. Then he could get the entire Classic Universal Monster Action Figure Set that his Keepers hadn’t been able to afford last Christmas. They had gotten him the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was his favorite, and he’d been happy with that. Better one than none at all. But he wanted them all.

He didn’t know much about his mother’s family, other than that they were unusual people. He’d picked up on that from the stories his Keepers would tell him about growing up with his mother. They’d all been best friends through their childhood and teenage years.

As weird as those stories could get, he knew they were leaving things out. Dropping or obscuring important details. Danny could usually tell where the gaps were, either because they were obvious or because his JK would kick in.

The JK, code for ‘just know’, was rarely useful or impressive. Nearly pointless information would come to him in random bursts. He had just known where Ali’s keys were one time when they’d been lost. He’d warned them to move the grill because he just knew a tree was going to fall over in a storm. Things like that.

He and his Keepers called it the JK, so if he said he knew something they could quickly clarify if he meant he knew it via his mild psychic ability or by more usual methods. They’d told him this kind of thing was common in his mother’s family like his sharp, white teeth came from his father’s side. Genetic. Inherited. Just weird enough to brand him a freak and an oddball.

So, with the limited information Danny had been given of his family history he dared to hope his uncle might have left him something truly bizarre and interesting. A magic monkey’s paw. A trunk full of Atlantean coins. A map leading to pirate treasure. The imagination ran wild with possibilities.

He was suspended from school for two weeks, so the timing was perfect, though no one was thrilled that he was suspended from school. No one except Danny himself, who was overjoyed to have an impromptu vacation, especially following The Incident. He might never live it down.

The Incident was the reason Max was in his backpack. Danny peered in at the lump of fur and leathery skin huddled in one of his sweaters. He was sleeping. It was daytime, after all.

Max need anything?” asked Mr. Murray, looking up from his map.

Moths,” said Danny.

No moths in here,” said Mr. Murray. “Perhaps the coffee shop has moth-pops.”

Danny smiled at Mr. Murray with tolerant affection. Moth pops, jeez.

Mr. Murray knew it was worrying Danny that he couldn’t find any bugs to feed Max. Max was supposed to be hibernating this time of year. Danny was technically the reason Max wasn’t hibernating, so he was responsible for taking care of him and keeping him alive. He’d told his Keepers this was how he felt about it and they understood, though Miss Grace wasn’t overly enthusiastic about having a bat in the house.

The Incident. There were four different versions of The Incident. There was the school’s official version, which is what the other kids told the Principal and the Principal had told the parents. There was the version Danny had told his Keepers, which omitted a couple of details he wanted to avoid discussing. Then there was the version Miss Grace had come up with and told Danny to stick to like glue for anyone outside the four of them, the Danny’s Defense Team version.

Then there was what had actually happened.

gnomewood tree

 

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