Authors: Neal Shusterman
About the Author
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When a glacier calves, you can hear it for miles, the crashing ice echoing back and forth between the towering peaks on either side of the bay. Sometimes you feel it before you hear it—a vibration in your bones that makes your whole body resonate like a tuning fork.
Bones. They know the call of the ice. They sense the relentless push of the glacier. Not just the bones of the living, but the bones of the dead, too.
I’ll tell you what I know—the strange things that happened one bleak and terrible September. I’ll tell you once, but I’ll deny I ever said it, and you’d be better off if you forget you ever heard it. But I’ll tell you all the same.
People say it all started the day that newlywed couple died at the face of Exit Glacier, but they just say that because people like things to have a beginning and an end. It makes them comfortable. The truth is, it started before any of us were
born. Maybe even before there were people here at all.
“This world is older and stranger than any of us knows,” my dad said. “Never forget that, Anika.” My dad’s a helicopter pilot. In high season—that’s summertime—he makes his living taking tourists up into Alaska’s big sky to get a firsthand look at Nature’s Majesty: the Harding Icefield and the many glaciers that carve their way down the mountains, feeding into Resurrection Bay. We lived in Resurrection Bay—my dad, my brother, and me—in the port town of Seward.
Seward, not Sewer. It was named after the guy who bought Alaska from Russia. Not our fault he had a lousy last name.
In Seward, it’s all summer trade. A lot of businesses close up come fall, and people leave for the winter. But there are enough uses for a helicopter pilot in Alaska that my dad has plenty of work all year-round, so we stay.
On the day those newlyweds died, Dad got quiet and paced around the house, doing things like looking in the refrigerator as if he might find something uncommon in there, then turning the TV on and off, like he forgot what show he wanted to watch.
“You think he saw it, Anika?” my little brother, Sammy, asked as we watched our father bumble around the house that evening.
“He couldn’t have seen it,” I told him. “He was flying people up to the ice field when it happened.”
“Yeah, but he coulda seen it from the sky while he was
The truth was, Dad had given that very same couple a helicopter tour the day before, but the winds were too rough to land. Still, they wanted an up close and personal experience with a glacier, so they took a self-guided walking tour, right up to the face of Exit Glacier. It’s a glacier that hasn’t reached the sea for maybe a thousand years. It just kind of stops a few miles inland at the silt-filled remains of its old track, which now looks more like a tornado path—a long stretch of earth cleared by nature’s force and filled with little hills that mark the glacier’s advance in winter and retreat in summer, when it melts faster than it flows. And glaciers do flow, just very, very slowly.
The newlywed couple ignored all the big red signs that said
DANGER! STAY AWAY FROM FACE OF GLACIER
! They went right up to it, touched it, and even got some old lady to take a picture of them while they stood in front of it.
That’s when a hunk of ice about the size of a Hummer calved off the glacier directly over their heads, and, in seconds, newlywed became newlydead.
“I think the glacier kilt ’em on purpose,” Sammy said.
“Keep your opinions to yourself,” I told him. “Especially the stupid ones.”
So that night we had soup for dinner because Dad was too distracted to cook.
“I should have landed with them yesterday,” he kept mum
bling. “If I had, they wouldn’t have gone out today, and they’d still be alive.”
“It’s not your fault, and you know it,” I told him.
“I know, I know; I’m just saying.”
My dad’s life is a box of “what ifs” neatly wrapped up in regret. Like the way he blames himself for Mom dying, even though he wasn’t even in the room when Sammy was born. It’s as if he thinks that if he feels bad enough about it, he’ll wake up one day and it won’t be true.
Me, I’m a realist. Things are the way they are. I move forward, kind of like a glacier—slowly and with no regrets, because I know what it takes to be happy.
The next morning the picture of the newlydeads that the old lady took was all over the papers—and not just the local ones—because it caught the smiling couple
the falling piece of ice just a few feet over their heads. It was one more thing for Dad to make himself miserable over.
It was the third week of September. With fall setting in, more and more people were closing shop for the winter, escaping to wherever it was summer folk lived for the rest of the year. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town here, but for the first few weeks it always felt like one until we got used to it again.
I decided to go up to Exit Glacier after school the next day—not just because of the tragedy, but because it had always been my favorite place. I could go there alone and not feel alone. I could go there with friends and somehow have a
better time just because I was there. I’d read my favorite books there in the glacier’s shadow and had written my best poems. I was never dumb enough to get too close to its face.
Going there on that day, though . . . it was more than just wanting to be in the company of the glacier. Maybe I was having some kind of intuition or even a premonition—not the kind you see, but the kind you feel in your gut when you know something big is about to happen.
I went as far as last year’s moraine—the mound of earth that marks how far the glacier pushed last winter before the summer sun melted it back. It was a good fifty yards from the face of the glacier. There were other people around, too—lookie-loos watching as the workmen hacked at the ice with jackhammers and a bulldozer hauled ice away—all behind a police line that had gone up one day too late. They were trying to find the dead couple, but there was a lot of ice left to move.
I was content to keep my distance. I closed my eyes, held out my arms, and felt the glacier breathe.
Glaciers do breathe. It’s a scientific fact. Cold air is heavier than hot air, and so, depending on where you’re standing, you can feel the cold air breathing off the glacier, or the warm air rushing in. I always thought it was more than that, though. A glacier’s breath is not a soulless thing. It’s vital and fresh. It’s the reason why tourists can’t capture the truth of it on film. Because it’s not what you see; it’s what you
stand in front of a wall of ice.
As I stood there, feeling the breath of the glacier flow around my upturned palms, I finally realized the reason I had come. I had come to ask a question.
Why did you take those people?
What had they ever done to you?
And I didn’t just mean this couple, but all the people who had lost their lives to Exit Glacier over the years. Ice climbers who tried to scale it and fell. People who slipped into a crevasse and were lost. And the many who, like this sad couple, became victims of falling ice.
And then I heard a voice behind me.
“You look like an idiot!”
I put my arms down and turned around. I knew that voice better than anyone’s in town. It was Rav Carnegie, all spiky black hair and smirks. I hadn’t spoken to him yet this school year, since we were giving each other a mutual cold shoulder.
“At least I have to work at it,” I told him. “But
look like an idiot without even trying.”
He laughed at that and then climbed to the top of the moraine with me. “Have they found the bodies?” Rav asked.
“They wouldn’t still be digging if they’d found them.”
Rav is what you might call my off-season boyfriend. During the summer, we hate each other, mostly because he’s jealous
of the summer boys I date, and I’m jealous of the summer girls who are always hanging around him. Then the summer people go, we make up, and it’s back to old times.
Rav is short for Raven, which he hates, and Carnegie is a name his parents made up because they were musicians and had once dreamed of playing in Carnegie Hall. When it didn’t work out, they’d settled for stealing the name. People think he’s part Tlingit because of his dark hair, but he’s not. I am, though, on my mother’s side. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt a connection to the ice.
“They’re never gonna find them,” Rav said as we watched the bulldozer haul away another heaping shovelful of ice. “The glacier moves forward faster than they can take the ice away.”
“It’s so sad,” I said.
“They were stupid,” said Rav. “Tempt fate, and guess what? Sometimes it gives into temptation. Starburst?”
He handed me the piece of candy, and I took it. This year a Starburst was the signal that we had made up.
We stood there for a while talking about the new school year and how tenth grade wasn’t much different from ninth grade. As we turned to go, I felt a chill that penetrated deep. The breath of the glacier made my neck hairs stand on end, and there was a rumbling in the earth.
“Did you hear that?”
Rav shook his head, maybe because it wasn’t a sound at
all, it was a feeling—that vibration in my bones. I looked to the glacier just in time to see a hunk of ice the size of an eighteen-wheeler break free from the face and begin a long, slow plunge.
The workmen ran for cover, but the bulldozer driver was caught in his cab. He kicked at the door in a panic until it finally swung open, and he leaped out just in time. The massive chunk of blue ice hit the bulldozer, completely burying it.
“No way!” said Rav.
The workmen, now a safe distance away, peeled off their hard hats, scratched their heads, and counted their blessings.
Then I noticed something that no one else had seen yet. I had to focus all my attention to make sure it wasn’t just my imagination.
Rav must have noticed the look on my face.
“What is it?”
“The glacier. It’s moving.”
“Glaciers are always moving,” he pointed out.
“No,” I said. “This glacier is
And then he saw it, too. The glacier was pushing forward. Another chunk of ice fell, then another, then another. It was coming toward us. Not at the speed of an avalanche, of course—maybe just an inch or two per second—but for a glacier that’s lightning fast.
Now that bone-deep feeling was stronger than ever, and I
knew that Rav felt it, too, because he looked almost as pale as the cloudy sky.
Then something dawned on me, like a secret whispered in my ear—but it didn’t come through words. It came in that bone-feeling shinnying up my arms and legs, vibrating in my joints.
The glacier wants something.
It wants something, and it’s coming to get it. . . .
Glaciers are just like rivers. Watch a glacier in time-lapse, and you’ll see it surging forward, digging into the earth, dragging hundred-ton boulders along with it. Glaciers are forces of nature as powerful as floods or hurricanes. They just do their devastating business much more slowly. Most of the time.
There was no scientific explanation as to why Exit Glacier decided to surge forward as suddenly, and as powerfully, as it did. That first day they calculated that it was moving at a speed of fifteen inches per minute. That might not seem fast, but when a wall of ice a quarter of a mile wide decides to move like that, it takes out everything in its path: trees, buildings, bridges. Everything. In a single day it had pushed forward nearly half a mile and had ripped out a major highway on its relentless push toward Resurrection Bay. And we all knew there was only one way it could get to the bay:
Straight through Seward.
If the glacier kept on moving, it would reach the city in
three days and completely destroy it, pushing everything that couldn’t move out of its way into the sea.
I made dinner that night since Dad was off on an emergency run, flying geologists down from Anchorage.
“If I climb up on the roof, d’ya think I might be able to see the glacier from here?” Sammy asked me.
“No, but if you climb up on the roof, you’ll fall off and break your neck, and I’ll get to have your room.”
He threw a pea from his dinner plate at me but said nothing more about it. I’m not sure whether he was more worried about breaking his neck or me getting his room.
It was strange how the next day things went on as usual—at least at first. We had school that day, and although everyone talked about the glacier, we all went about our business, from class to class. It was surreal, as if the glacier’s approach was some alternate reality.
When I got home, though, reality hit. Dad had spent the day flying a team of experts over the glacier, so he knew more about this “phenomenon” than anyone else in town . . . and he was packing up all our belongings in his pickup truck.
You have to understand, this was more than just an evacuation for us, because to Dad, his home was very much his castle. See, after Mom died, Dad fixed up the house. He patched the roof, and painted the porch, and put up a white picket fence around the yard so that our house was the envy of Seward. It looked like the model of hometown America—but
with one problem. Our household was one member short. Still, Dad kept up the house, the yard, and that perfect picket fence religiously, like they were the only things keeping us together. But the truth was,
was the only thing keeping us together.
So you can imagine that seeing him packing up things in that prepanic kind of way made me feel like the world was coming apart all over again.
“There’s not much room,” he told Sammy and me. “Just take the things you really care about.”
He tried to comfort us by telling us that Seward wouldn’t be hit for two more days, but debris was already being shaken loose from the mountains and landing on the road to Anchorage. If that road got taken out, the only ways out of Seward would be by sea and sky—and there simply weren’t enough boats or helicopters to rescue everyone. After the initial numbness, people were beginning to leave town any way they could.
We couldn’t go yet, though; Dad needed to fly the geologists around, so that night he took our overpacked pickup, and we all went to stay with Rav and his dad, since they lived on higher ground that was out of the glacier’s path. Our fathers were good friends because they had found a common misery: dead wives. My mom died giving birth to Sammy. She was Tlingit, and one of her brothers had said it was punishment for marrying my dad, who’s not. Because of that, Dad won’t
have anything to do with that side of the family anymore. Rav lost his mom just a couple of years ago. She was an ecologically conscious woman, always trying to save nature—but nature didn’t save her. She wrapped her Prius around a tree one rainy night.
“When I can drive,” Rav had once told me, “I’m gonna get a car with a huge Hemi engine and guzzle gas like there’s no tomorrow, because nature deserves to suffer.”
Rav’s got issues.
Late that evening, while Sammy slept and Dad drank away his sorrows with Mr. Carnegie, Rav and I sat on his porch. Even from this far away you could feel the glacier churning up the earth and hear the fracturing of ice and the ominous falling of trees.
“Do you think you’ll leave Seward for good?” Rav asked me. “It would suck if you left for good.”
I was going to tell him that there’d be no Seward to come back to—that it was the end of life as we knew it. But instead I said, “We’ll have to see how bad it is.”
A breeze blew across the porch. Cold air out, warm air in. The glacier’s breath. I shivered, and as I wrapped my arms around myself, I must have caught the clasp on my charm bracelet, because it fell and slipped between the wooden porch slats, disappearing into the darkness below.
“I’ll go get a flashlight,” said Rav. When he came back, we went under the porch, squeezing into the low, muddy crawl
space draped with the abandoned webs of spiders long dead and a few old, cranky spiders that should have been dead but for some reason weren’t and were now really, really big.
But I wasn’t going to think about that. The charm bracelet had been a gift from my mom, so I’d deal with the spiders. Rav had a vested interest, too, since he had bought me a few of the newer charms.
However, once we had made our way to the right spot under the porch, the bracelet was gone.
“Maybe it’s still stuck in the slats,” I said.
We looked up; it wasn’t there.
That’s when I felt something brush across my arm. Something cold. I gasped and dropped the flashlight, and it went out.
“Don’t worry,” said Rav, “I’ll get fresh batteries.”
“It’s probably the bulb!” I called after him, but he was already gone.
I was alone now in the dark . . . but I had the eerie sense that I wasn’t alone at all. There was some light coming down between the slits from the porch—not enough really to see by, but enough to catch faint glimpses of things. For a second, I thought I heard breathing, and then something moved just a few feet away from me. Something big!
I panicked. I knew there were all kinds of wild animals in this area. Wolves and wild dogs. An angry raccoon could rip your eye out. A frightened bear cub could tear you to shreds.
I scurried away, painfully slamming my head against a crossbeam on the way. In my panic, I had lost my sense of direction and came up against the house instead of the yard. I turned again but banged up against a post—and now I could feel a presence very, very close to me.
Terrified of the dark and of the nature of this thing I couldn’t see, I desperately tapped my flashlight once, twice; and then on the third time, I must have hit it just right, because it came on—
—shining right into the face of the creature.
I yelped and leaped back against the wall of the house but held tight onto that flashlight, afraid to drop it again. Afraid of being left alone in the darkness with the thing.
Then I realized this wasn’t a thing at all. It was a person. A woman. Her clothes were tattered, her hair was matted, and her skin was so pale, it was almost white. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was her eyes. They were a deep, deep blue. A shade of blue that somehow seemed even darker than black.
And she was wearing my charm bracelet.
I was so shocked, so freaked out, all I could say was, “That’s mine. . . .”
She slowly turned her head to look at her wrist, then took off the bracelet, dropping it in front of me.
“Wakeful,” she said.
“Awake. Can’t sleep. Wakeful.” She tilted her head oddly, and her neck let out a sound like crackers crunching in your hand. “Don’t I know you?” she asked.
I shook my head, even though I knew I had seen her somewhere before. I was sure of it.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I
Then one of those god-awful, enormous, should-be-dead-by-now spiders came webbing down from the crossbeam up above, landing right on her cheek . . .
. . . and the moment it touched her face, the spider frosted up and froze solid. It fell to the ground with a clink, like an eight-legged piece of glass.
I screamed and bolted as fast as I could, dropping the flashlight along the way. I stumbled in the darkness until finally I came out from underneath the porch. I raced up the porch steps, just as my dad, Mr. Carnegie, and Rav burst out of the house, having heard my scream.
“What is it, honey? What’s wrong?”
“You see an animal or something?” asked Rav.
I couldn’t catch my breath. “No, not an animal.” I let them help me inside. My head was spinning.
“I saw . . . I saw . . .”
I sat down—no—I collapsed in a kitchen chair.
“Anika, you’re bleeding!” My father grabbed a towel and touched it to my bloody forehead.
“What did you see, Anika?” Rav asked.
I grabbed the newspaper from the table and pointed to the picture on the front page. The newlydead couple. The smiling woman in the picture.
I told them. “I saw
Stunned silence. No one knew what to say. Then a neighbor came bounding in.
“Did you hear? Did you hear?” he shouted, completely oblivious to what was going on around him. “The glacier’s changed direction!”
“Glaciers don’t change direction,” said Rav’s father.
“This one did. It’s not heading toward the center of town anymore. It’s just gonna catch the edge. Now they’re saying it’s just gonna take out Dunbar Street and everything west of it.”
“That’s . . . great,” said Rav’s dad, still a little bit rattled by what I had just told them. “There’s nothing west of Dunbar Street but old warehouses.”
I shook my head.
“You’re wrong,” I told Mr. Carnegie. “There’s something else west of Dunbar Street.”
“What?” asked Rav.
I swallowed, feeling that chill of the glacier slide down my throat, making my stomach seize into a knot. “The cemetery.”
On Thursday, at about two thirty in the morning, Exit Glacier, having plowed through the forest before it, gouged its way through the fence of Seward Memorial Cemetery. It
took down headstone after headstone. It tore apart what few marble mausoleums stood there. They fell like houses of cards. The wall of ice churned up the hallowed ground, and then when the entire cemetery was under the massive sheet of ice . . . the glacier stopped.
Just as quickly and mysteriously as it had begun, the forward surge ended. Most people agreed that it was some kind of miracle. I wasn’t so sure.
In the morning, Rav and I ditched school. I think half our school ditched so they could join the crowds standing in front of what used to be the town graveyard, getting only as close as police would allow. Mostly, our friends and neighbors were hoping for a moment of TV fame; with all the reporters there, chances were good that some of them would be interviewed.
Rav and I didn’t crowd the barricade like the others because we were there for a different reason. Instead, we climbed to the top of an abandoned work shed, where we could have a better view of the whole face of the glacier, and we waited.
Rav was not happy about being here, but he wasn’t leaving, either.
“What you’re thinking is crazy,” Rav said.
“I should just walk away from you,” Rav said.
“Then why don’t you?”
“I guess I must be crazy, too.”
I smiled at him, and that seemed to make him a little bit
ill. He looked away. “You said you banged your head, right?”
“I didn’t bang it that hard.”
“It was hard enough to make you bleed,” he pointed out. “You were in pain and probably confused. How can you be sure of what you saw that night?”
“Because I am.”
We watched as the geologists took measurements and the reporters reported. Not a single piece of ice had fallen from the glacier’s face since we’d arrived.
“I really don’t want to spend a whole day watching a glacier not move,” said Rav.
“I know what I saw the other night—it
that dead woman,” I insisted. “And maybe it’s not as impossible as you think. The Tlingit traditionally believe that everything is interconnected. The earth and the sky, the ice and us.”
“You’re only half Tlingit,” he pointed out.
“Right, so the other half is annoyingly skeptical and needs undeniable proof.
why we’re here.”
“What do you expect to see? Dead people strolling out of the ice like zombies, looking for brains to eat?”
I turned back to the glacier. “No, not zombies. Not exactly . . .”
“I don’t know. There’s not a word for what they are.”
“And anyway,” said Rav, “most of the people in that cemetery have been dead since, like, forever. There won’t be any
thing left to come back.”
“Permafrost,” I told him.
“There’s permafrost six feet down. It’s frozen all year round, which means that a lot of people will be perfectly preserved.”
Rav got that ill look about him again, maybe even worse than before. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again when nothing came out.
We watched for a few more minutes in silence, then Rav asked me, “So, is your mom buried here?”
I shook my head. “No,” I told him. “Her family took her to a Tlingit burial site.”
“Oh.” He was quiet for a good ten seconds before he said, “Mine is.”
Nothing out of the ordinary happened at the glacier that day, or the next, so things began to settle back to normal. Many of the geologists and all the reporters left—the glacier was now old news. It sat there more still than ever, its leading edge hunched on the cemetery.
It’s funny how the rational world has a way of pummeling things that don’t make sense into a neat little pile that it can push under a rug and dismiss. That whole business with the woman under the porch, for instance. See, the next day some homeless woman was found shoplifting in town. She was one of the summer people who didn’t leave, because she appar
ently had nowhere to go. Even though this woman had blond hair and the woman I saw didn’t, it put enough doubt into my mind. Maybe that’s who I saw. After all, it was just in the dim light of a dying flashlight, and as Rav was so happy to point out, I
bumped my head. My thoughts might have been addled. That made more sense than anything else, and with things getting back to normal, I’d rather believe I was temporarily nuts than the alternative.
But there were things going on in the town in those few days after the glacier had made its move. Had I been more observant, I might have noticed. I might have put two and two together.
Like the way our English teacher, Mrs. Mason, suddenly seemed to have no interest in teaching at all. And when the bell rang, she left class even faster than us kids.
Like the way that our mailman stopped delivering mail. He just stopped showing up. Word was that he didn’t call in sick or anything—he just locked himself in his house and wouldn’t come out.
Or the way Betsy down at the nail salon kept redoing her own nails, happy as a clam, instead of doing her customers’ nails.
But the only thing I noticed was the strange way Rav was acting, especially toward me. He was avoiding me; he wouldn’t even look at me in class. When I finally did corner him by his locker, he yelled at me.
“Just go away. I don’t want to talk to you, okay?” And he stormed off.
He failed a math test that day, and I figured that maybe he was mad because I’d made him sit on that stupid roof watching for the undead instead of letting him study. Rational. Simple. Easily explained away.
A week later, Dad went out on a date. Believe it or not, one of the female geologists he had been flying around had taken a liking to him. She was one of the few still in town to take readings, but I suspect that was just because she wanted to see more of Dad. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I wasn’t going to ruin it for him.
It was a bright full moon that night, and Dad was going to take her on a moonlit flight over the ice field. Very romantic. I, of course, was left at home to babysit Sammy, but at around eight o’clock, Rav turned up on our doorstep, knocking so timidly I was actually surprised it was him.
He stood there with his shoulders shrugged up awkwardly, like he was cold, even though he was wearing a heavy jacket. There was something on his mind. Something that was weighing on him so heavily, I could practically see his back curving from the burden of it.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have acted the way I did to you.”
Since Rav rarely apologized for anything, I decided to milk it. I folded my arms and leaned against the door frame.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” I said, pretending I wasn’t ready to accept his apology, even though I was.
“Yeah, and I’m sorry.”
That weight still lingered on him. As much as I wanted to make him suffer, I couldn’t. “Apology accepted. So what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said a little too quickly. “Nothing’s wrong at all. As a matter of fact, things are totally right.” He gave a weird little laugh; then he said, “There’s something I want to show you. I know it’s late, but do you think you can get out?”
“Sure,” I told him. “My dad’s not home anyway.”
Then Sammy, who had snuck up right behind me, asked, “Can I come, too?”
The look on Rav’s face said that Sammy wasn’t invited. I figured this might be about his apology and about us making up. The last thing I needed was Sammy along as a third wheel.
“No,” I told Sammy. His face got all twisted, and his body all limp boned. “Anika . . . ,” he whined.
I looked to Rav, but he shook his head. So I made a decision. “Sure,” I told Sammy. “. . . Of course, if you come, you’ll miss Dad flying by.”
“Yeah, Dad’s gonna do a low flyby and wave to us—maybe even set down and pick us up to take us with him to the ice field.”
“Really? D’ya think he’d land right on the roof?”
“Maybe,” I said. “You know how Dad likes to surprise us.”
Then I waited for a moment before I shook my head and said, “Naah, forget it. He’ll have to do it another time. You have to come with Rav and me.”
“Why?” he said, getting all twisty and limp boned again.
“You’re too little to stay here by yourself.”
He looked at me, deeply insulted. “Am not!”
And that’s all it took.
Sammy promised to be good and not to watch anything scary on TV. I left holding hands with Rav, wondering what he had to show me, hoping it was something fun . . . and never even imagining the truth behind it.
There’s a before, and there’s an after. There are those events that surgically slice your life in two; and once it happens, you know that you’re on the other side of that painful incision, and there’s no going back to the way things were before. If you’re lucky, the wound heals into a jagged scar. And if you’re unlucky, it never heals at all; it just keeps bleeding. The knife came down for me on that bright, moon-pale night.
As Rav and I walked down the street, he said to me, “You know, I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said the other day. About that woman under the porch.”
I shrugged. “I was just being stupid. It wasn’t who I thought.”
“I think maybe it was,” Rav said.
That got me a little angry. Had I been so convincing that I had him believing it, too, or was he just making fun of me? Either way, I had spent so much brain power trying to make the whole episode go away, I didn’t want to bring it back up again.
Instead of heading to his house, we turned left at the end of my street and walked toward Main Street.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
He took me to his father’s pub, which was closed. That was odd, because it was a favorite local hangout—especially this time of year when most of the other bars were closed for the winter. Even worse, the windows were frosted in that white, soapy stuff they use to mask the glass when a place goes out of business.
“My dad’s up north,” Rav said.
“You mean Anchorage?”
“No, I mean
, north. But he’ll be back soon.”
Now, in most other places when you say someone’s “up north,” it doesn’t mean very much; but when you live in Seward, Alaska, all you’ve got up north are places so cold you don’t want to go there. They call winter “The Hammer” because when it comes down, it hits hard, and all you can do is hunker down until the thaw. So the thought of his dad going north for any reason didn’t sit well with me.
“What’s he doing?” I asked. “Hunting?”
“Yeah,” said Rav. Then he thought about it. “Kind of,” he said. Then finally, “No, not really.”
“So where is he?”
“Prudhoe Bay,” he told me. I got a shiver just thinking of it. Prudhoe Bay is so cold it makes Resurrection Bay look like the Bahamas. It’s where the Trans-Alaska pipeline starts, way on Alaska’s northern shore, up above the Arctic Circle. One of the coldest places on Earth.
“You guys aren’t thinking of leaving here, are you?”
“No,” said Rav, then he thought about it. “I don’t know,” he said. Then finally, “Yeah, maybe.”
But before I could even consider the idea of life around here without Rav, he took out his keys and unlocked the pub.
He opened the door a crack, then slowly peeked in. It was dark in there. Only faint, diffused moonlight spilled through the clouded windows. I could hear music playing somewhere as we stepped in.
Rav closed the door behind us but didn’t make a move to turn on a light yet. It was guitar music playing, an acoustic guitar by the sound of it—a gentle, mournful plucking.
“Don’t be scared,” Rav said. “It’s important that you’re not scared.”
Then I began to get an awful feeling in my gut. The kind you get when the phone rings at two in the morning and you know in your heart of hearts, even before you pick it up, that it’s really, really bad news.
I reached for the light switch, but Rav firmly grabbed my wrist before I could.
“You know all that stuff you were saying? About how the glacier dug its way through the cemetery on purpose, like it knew what it was doing?”
“I never said that!”
“But I know it’s what you were thinking, wasn’t it?” And then he said, in a terrible whisper, “Well, you were right.”
He reached over and turned on the light.
There, in one of the farthest booths, sat a woman playing the guitar, but most of her face was still in shadows. Rav, still holding my wrist, pulled me toward the woman. Something was telling me I didn’t want to see this—that I didn’t want to be there at all. But my curiosity was more powerful than my instinct to run.
Her hair was dangling in front of her face and over the guitar strings as she played. The guitar was covered with frost; icy condensation spilled from its open hole like when you open a freezer door. Only then did I realize the entire room was very, very cold.
Rav said, “I brought someone to see you, Mom.”
She turned to me, her head moving in that same jarring, gritty way that the woman under the porch had moved. I instantly recoiled, backing right into Rav’s chest, but he stood there like a boulder, not letting me get away.
“It’s okay,” Rav said. I don’t know whether he was talking to
me or to this . . . this
in front of me.
“Don’t let this frighten you,” Rav said, but how could I not be frightened? I had gone to this woman’s funeral. She had been dead for two years. Even now her face bore the signs of death. Her lips were a little too thin, her eyes were set too deep in her face, her cheeks were too sunken.
Rav must have known what I was thinking because he whispered, “It was worse when she first came back, but each day she’s looking a little bit better. She’s not as confused as she was, either. Every day she remembers more and more. She’s becoming like she used to be.”
The dead woman held me in her gaze, her eyes a deep blue like the depths of a glacier crevasse. Then she forced her lips to form a smile. “Anika!” Her voice was both gentle and gruff. Inhuman. “How are you?”
Every ounce of me wanted to scream, but my throat felt frozen shut. I could only stare.
“Answer her,” Rav prodded. “Don’t be rude! She won’t like it if you’re rude.”
I cleared my throat and swallowed. “I . . . I’m fine. . . .”
“Look how you’ve grown. Just like my Rav,” said the woman who had once been Mrs. Carnegie. “Come closer, Anika.”
Afraid to disobey, I swallowed my terror and took a step closer.
“It’s good to see you,” she said. “I’m so happy to be back.”
But the more I looked at her, the more I came to realize
that this wasn’t Rav’s mother at all. The truth was in her voice; it was in her eyes; it was in her breath—that flow of warm air drawing toward her, cold air flowing away.
“You’re not Mrs. Carnegie!”
Rav grabbed me, squeezing my arm to get me to shut up, but I just shook him off. “I don’t know what you are, but you’re NOT Rav’s mother!”
She slowly breathed in. . . . She slowly breathed out. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yes, you do!”
Then the smile left her face. She looked at me with cool calculation, and I thought at that moment she could either grab me and hug me or she could reach out and rip my heart out of my chest. For her it would make no difference. But she did neither of those things. Instead she said, “I have her body; I have her memories; I feel everything she felt: her frustrations, her fears, her hopes. And her love. I am her in every way that matters.”
“Except for one,” I told her.
“Stop it!” Rav shouted. I turned to him and shook him, trying to make him see.
“This is not your mother!”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Rav snapped. He looked at the woman sitting in the booth, then he looked back to me. “My mother’s soul is gone. I get that, okay? But now she’s got a new soul. It’s not evil, it’s just . . . different. It wants to be
whatever we want it to be.
wants to be my mother.” There were tears in his eyes now. “Who are you to tell me that it’s wrong?”
When I looked back to Mrs. Carnegie, she was smiling at me, tilting her head. Then she said to me, just as that other woman beneath the porch had:
“I know you. . . .”
“Of course you do, Mom,” said Rav, “it’s Anika.”
“No,” Mrs. Carnegie said, still smiling. “That’s not what I mean.”
Then she reached toward me as if she wanted to grab me with those pale hands.
“No, Mom!” Rav said.
She stopped short. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I forgot.”
And when I looked at Rav’s right hand, I understood. He had touched her. How could he have kept himself from doing so? His fingertips, all the way down to the first knuckle, were white and dead. Frostbitten. The result of touching a spirit colder than a frigid arctic night.
I turned and ran.
“Anika, come back,” Rav called, but I wasn’t turning around. I burst out into the street, and as I ran I could see the truth all around me now, everywhere I looked.
In one window, I saw the mailman dancing in circles with his dead bride, his hands frozen to the wrist and he not caring in the least.
In another window, Mrs. Mason, my English teacher, spoon-fed a baby in a high chair—a baby that had not survived to its first birthday.
And on a porch, a woman I didn’t even know sat in a rocker, gently creaking—but it wasn’t the wood creaking; it was her frozen bones. She waved to me, smiling that “I know you” kind of smile.
I just wanted to get home now, grab my brother, leave this place, and never come back.
I pushed through the gate and fumbled with my keys at the front door, only to find it unlocked.
“Sammy!” I called as I burst in. I could see that Dad wasn’t home yet. He was still off soaring over the glaciers with no idea what was going on in town. I didn’t know where we could go that would be safe, but anywhere was safer than here. We could leave Dad a note and hide up in the woods until he found us. “Sammy, wake up!” But when I went into his room, he wasn’t there. Sammy loved to play hide-and-seek with me; however, this was not the time.
“Samuel Randall Morgan,” I demanded, “you come out right now.” The one thing that always ended hide-and-seek was calling him by his full name. It was always my admission of defeat—proof that he had stumped me. Then he would bound out of his hiding place in victory. But not this time.
And then I began to think,
What if they got him? What if one of those things got him?
My head was spinning—I was
hyperventilating, so I made myself sit at the kitchen table.
They’re not zombies
, I told myself.
They’re not zombies; you said it yourself, Anika. They’re not monsters; they’re just
. . .
After all, Mrs. Carnegie didn’t hurt me. . . . They won’t hurt Sammy. Still, I couldn’t convince myself.
I splashed cold water on my face, trying to slow my racing thoughts. There had to be a logical explanation for Sammy’s absence. He got scared. He watched something on TV that frightened him, and he went over to one of the neighbors. Of course! That’s what happened! It was just a matter of finding out which neighbor’s house he went to, that was all.