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Sample Chapter

  • Chapter 1
    Every mile is two in winter.” -George Herbert

    Tabitha’s mood was somber as she walked through town searching for her parents. They had to be here. Somewhere.
    The snow was piling up well past her ankles, but – though the sun was almost down – she was determined to find them. She couldn't seem to think of anything else at the moment.
    She padded through the snow barefoot, though why she was without shoes she couldn't seem to remember. She supposed that she really didn't need them, since her feet didn't feel cold at all.
    She walked the streets of Aspen Lake, not caring which direction she went next. She was certain that if she kept walking long enough, she would find her mother and father.
    A cat crossed the path in front of her. Stopping briefly to look up at her, it was as if the cat was waiting for Tabitha to follow. A light dusting of snow had settled on its black coat, and the flakes caught the setting sun just enough to make the cat seem like a glowing beacon in the growing twilight.
    “Aren't you cute,” said Tabitha. It continued to look at her, but did not respond to her comment. After several moments, the cat turned to walk off. It turned back once, waiting for her to follow, before continuing on.
    Curiosity got the best of her, and Tabitha followed the green-eyed creature on a winding path that led through a wooded area to a place just outside of town where she found herself standing on the bank of a good-sized lake. The wind tossed Tabitha's dark brown, curly hair back and forth between her shoulders as she looked out over the water. She had been expecting to see something fascinating, yet waiting for some time, a sense of disappointment washed over her when nothing presented itself.
    She glared at the cat which sat licking a paw several feet away from her, as if to silently reprimand it for taking up valuable time that should be spent finding her family.
    “Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked the cat. Again, it ignored her.
    “Fine. I have better things to do anyway.”
    As Tabitha began to walk back towards town, something – a feeling perhaps – made her glance back over her shoulder once more towards the animal that remained stubbornly where it was, though instead of seeing the lake after which the town was named, she now saw an enormous waterfall. In the spring it would have been cascading into the pool below, but winter's taint caused it to trickle gently over frozen tubes of ice. Regardless of the season, it was still quite a sight to behold.
    Tabitha eyed the cat, “Now that's more like it.”
    Her interest renewed, Tabitha walked to the edge of the pool and sat on a large rock, taking in everything around her. She could feel the cold radiating from the tremendous icicles as the scents of snow and pine fought for her attention. For the moment, she was content, without a care in the world.
    The cat wandered over nonchalantly to where she sat. It sat for a moment, as if also considering the grand experience of the area, and then, with a look up at her, began to move around the edge of the pool closer towards the falls.
    Tabitha heaved a heavy sigh. “You're just not going to leave me alone, are you?”
    Following a cat was not on her list of things to do. She was supposed to be searching for her parents. Nonetheless, she rose to follow, her bare feet making large prints in the snow where the cat's small ones had been. It did not take her long to catch up with the black creature, which was strolling slowly, yet purposefully forward.
    She turned to look back at the town, thinking again that this was not helping her find her parents. She noticed bloody footprints behind her on the rocks. Wondering whose they might be, she glanced down at her own bare feet and saw that they were bleeding from cuts acquired on the jagged rocks.
    Her feet were of no consequence to the cat though, who lightly jumped from rock to rock, nearing the frozen waterfall with each step, then disappeared entirely into a small recess of ice that had been formed by the water flow.
    Ignoring her injured feet, she moved forward, curious to see what the cat had found. She slipped on an icy rock and fell down hard.
    “I thought curiosity was supposed to kill the cat, not the girl,” Tabitha groaned as she gasped in pain. The cat looked back at her with a look that suggested it had not found the comment amusing.
    Pulling herself up, she reached out to the ice wall to steady herself. Noticing something within the ice, she used her sleeve to wipe the area clear. Tabitha cried out in shock and frustration. Behind the barrier was her mother. She was trying to say something to her.
    “Mother! I can't understand what you're saying,” shouted Tabitha. She reached down for a large stone, and began to pound at the ice which was holding her mother hostage. From the other side, her mother was kicking and beating at the wall frantically. Then her movements began to slow, and finally stopped altogether as she was overcome by the cold.
    Tabitha continued to pound at the frozen wall, but the blunt stone was not furthering her progress, and eventually her arm began to tire. She could barely see what she was doing through her tears. Her voice was choked with emotion, “Mother, don't leave me!”
    Wiping her eyes, she looked again at her captive parent. Her heart caught in her throat as she saw her mother's eyes staring vacantly back at her from within the frozen prison. Was that accusation she saw within her mother's fixed gaze?
    Tabitha fell to her knees, weeping harder. Through her tears, she noticed the cat was sitting nearby, just flicking its tail back and forth as if nothing was happening at all. Casually, with a patience that is inherent within all felines, it finally broke its silence.
    “It's your fault, you know.”


    Tabitha woke abruptly, sat up in her bed and turned quickly to take inventory of her room, but her mother was nowhere to be seen. It had only been a nightmare, yet she felt the moisture on her cheeks, and – reaching up – realized that at least the tears had been real.
    The cat had obviously been real too. Ivy was looking up at her from the floor beside the bed, irritated to have been unceremoniously dumped to the ground when Tabitha woke so quickly from her dream.
    “Oh, I'm sorry, Ivy.” Tabitha reached down and picked the cat up, stroking her head quickly and then placing her down at the space between her feet. Falling back onto her bed, she stared at the ceiling in the dim, early morning light. When that provided no relief from her troubled state, she closed her eyes and covered her face with her arm.
    “Could that have really been the way my mother died?” Tabitha asked to no one in particular.
    She had been having lots of nightmares about her parents recently, the majority about her mother though. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, trying to force out of her brain the idea that her mother could have frozen to death.
    All of her dreams had one thing in common. Her parents blamed Tabitha for their deaths, for not doing something to help them.
    A tear escaped from the corner of her eye. It felt hot against her cold cheek. Shivering slightly, she noticed that the room had gotten very cold indeed. It's no wonder she had dreamed of ice prisons.
    Ivy must have thought so too, because she moved up Tabitha's chest and nosed at her arm. Pulling the covers aside, Ivy crawled underneath and Tabitha brought the blanket over them both. Ivy's body heat was comforting, and slowly began to warm her up. It wasn't long before Tabitha was asleep again. This time, thankfully, she slept undisturbed by dreams.


    A squirrel chattering outside of her window finally roused Tabitha out of her slumber. As she returned to consciousness, her senses began to feed her information about the shape that her day would take. The intense cold she felt told her that the fire was out, the smell of last night's dinner reminded her that she had not done the dishes before bedtime, and the depth of the snow that she could see outside of the window told her that her walk to town would provide plenty of exercise.
    “Alright, Ivy, time to get up.”
    The black cat only purred in response. Apparently she had no real desire to get out of bed.
    “Come on, lazy. We've got things to do.”
    Ivy rose and stretched, yawning, then jumped off the bed and sauntered over to lay near the remainder of the coals in the fireplace as if to remind Tabitha that she had no intention of doing any work today.
    Tabitha admired the cat's reticence, and wished she could get away with staying in bed.
    “I could blame it on the snow,” Tabitha expressed half-heartedly.
    Ivy's lack of motion seemed to be an agreement of sorts, but Tabitha knew that the snow didn't change a thing. She poured some food in Ivy's bowl nearby, which seemed to change the cat's mind about lazing the day away, rebuilt the fire, and then moved on to the “these have to be done before I can go anywhere” chores.
    Tabitha took housecleaning seriously, probably because the small cottage was really all she had left of her parents. It was small and quaint. Very few people would probably want to raise a family in something of that size, but Tabitha viewed it in her mind as a castle. Although, at the moment the “castle” porch had several inches of snow which would not shovel itself off. She supposed that it wasn't really necessary to shovel off the porch. Her home was off the main road, surrounded by pines and evergreens, so no one would see it or condemn her for not having cleared a path. The most the townsfolk would see would be the smoke rising from her chimney, if they even knew where to look, but she took a measure of pride in keeping her rustic cabin clean, and what she referred to as “picturesque.”
    Having finished her chores, and confident that her castle was as tidy as she could make it, Tabitha dressed herself appropriately to brave a walk into town through the snow. As she left the house and moved to close the door, she was unsurprised that Ivy darted out of the door after her. The cat usually followed her just about everywhere she went, even into town. Most of the residents of Aspen Lake were accustomed to seeing the two of them together, and Ivy, being especially well-behaved for a cat, was welcomed into their shops and homes.
    “I was right. This is too much like exercise,” Tabitha quipped to the cat as they marched through the snow.
    Finally, she made it through the woods to the main road, where the snow was thinner and the walking much easier. It still took them almost a half hour more though to reach their destination, the River Run Inn. Off to her left she could see the lake itself, and only the lake. There was no sign of the frozen waterfall that had haunted her dreams.
    As she entered the town, which was – in her opinion – not too big or too small but just right, children were already hard at work, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at their friends. She saw a few parents out playing with their children, and felt a twinge of jealousy that she would never again experience such fun with her parents. Her mother would never see her finish school, or listen to her speak of her first kiss, or help her plan her wedding, or give her advice on how to raise her own children.
    The winter wonderland would not allow her to sink into depression though, the white blanket covering up both the town and her dreary thoughts. She couldn't help but smile as she considered the beauty of the winter landscape.
    Her smile ended about the same time she heard Ivy's warning hiss. Coming out of The Tank, which was the cleaner of Aspen Lake's two taverns, were Alek, Kaji and Cade, whom she had known for most of her life. They were all about the same age, but that's about where the similarities ended.
    Tabitha grimaced and picked up speed toward the inn, hoping that she could make it inside before they saw her. For some reason, they felt the need to constantly torment her. In truth, they did the same thing to every girl in the community. For some reason though, Tabitha found little comfort in that. They always felt it appropriate to be inappropriate.
    “Look, guys! It's Tabi and her tabby cat.” Aleksander laughed at his own joke. Cade and Kaji snickered in agreement, although it certainly wasn't the first time they had heard it.
    “She's a black cat, not a tabby cat, you moron,” Tabitha muttered under her breath. She did not vocalize it, 1) because she really didn't want to engage the three boys, and 2) because even if she explained it, Alek still wouldn't get it, so she narrowed her eyes, put her head down and just kept walking.
    “What'cha doing, girly?” Kaji asked, although he was clearly more interested in the snowball he was packing than in talking to her.
    “Don't you three have body parts to pierce or small animals to torture?” Tabitha tried to move away, but by now the boys were between her and the inn.
    Alek faked a look of surprise, which came off fairly realistic for someone who seemingly had no conscience. “You speak to us as if we are mere savages, dear Tabi. We wouldn't harm a fly … much.”
    Cade moved directly in front of her and crossed his hairy arms over what was truly a massive chest for someone only sixteen years old.
    “Move, Cade,” warned Tabitha.
    “Or what?” challenged the short, stocky young man.
    Tabitha's cheeks turned nearly as red as Cade's fiery hair. She knew there was no way she could get past the boys, even if she tried. Time to try logic.
    “Why are you starting trouble right outside of the inn? If Felicity hears you ...”
    “... she'll yell at us!” yelled Alek in falsetto. He cried out in mock terror and ran a few yards off, “Whatever will we do, guys?”
    “Be careful, Alek,” smirked Kaji. “She'll go tell her parents on us. Oh, wait, your parents are ...”
    Tabitha felt her fist ball up and her arm swinging before he could even finish the sentence. It was a wonderful punch, and it felt great to throw it, although Cade caught it before it could land on Kaji's nose.
    “That's not very nice, Tabitha. Kaji was just having a little fun. Kaji, apologize for having fun,” urged Cade. “There will be no more fun when Tabitha's around.”
    “Yeah, Kaji. Apologize,” Alek agreed with a smile.
    “Tabitha,” Kaji crooned as he batted his eyes, “I'm vewy, vewy sowwy for hurting your wittle feelings.”
    The stream of sarcasm was interrupted by the voice of Brin, the inn's cook. “Tabitha, where's that cooking knife you promised to bring me?” Her head was poked out of the kitchen window, and she stared at the boys in such a way as to suggest they not interrupt her conversation with Tabitha.
    “I have it right here, Brin,” smiled Tabitha. “I was on my way to see you when the boys stopped to chat.”
    “Kaji, why are you ignoring your mother?” Brin waved past him, as if to Kaji's mother.
    Kaji turned fast, guilt speeding the turn, too slow to realize that he was being teased. When understanding dawned, he scowled and looked back to see Brin grinning from ear to ear. Meanwhile, Cade stepped out of Tabitha's way, looking down to her hands for any trace of said knife.
    Tabitha laughed and ran up the steps, threw open the door, and made her way inside and away from the boys. Ivy was all too happy to join her as she bounded from boot print to boot print left by Tabitha, up the steps and sauntered through the door. Once inside, Tabitha took off her coat while Ivy began licking hers clean of snow. They paused in front of the fire just long enough to take off the chill. Tabitha had come to see Emma, her best friend. What she didn't want to do was see Felicity, Emma's mother, who owned and operated the River Run Inn.
    Felicity Tahlani was a woman of small stature with harsh auburn eyes, long golden hair, and rosy lips that seemed pinched into a permanent scowl. Her husband had passed away at the same time Tabitha’s parents did. She had no idea why, but Felicity's constant attitude toward her suggested that Tabitha was somehow to blame for the loss. That attitude made being around Felicity extremely uncomfortable, which greatly bothered Tabitha considering how cheerful and welcoming Felicity used to be before the deaths.
    Only once had curiosity gotten the best of Tabitha. She had asked Felicity what she had done wrong. The look she had received in return insured that she never asked the question again. Tabitha tried to remind herself that Felicity had lost her husband, but those reminders only went so far and covered so much.
    As much as Tabitha would have enjoyed ducking her and finding Emma on her own, there was a strict rule in place that all visitors to the inn had to be announced, therefore Tabitha made her way over to the front counter, waiting patiently for the inn's owner to finish checking in an older couple, even though there was no real guarantee that even then she would acknowledge Tabitha's presence.
    As expected, Felicity busied herself with “paperwork” upon the couple's departure, completely ignoring the fact that Tabitha was standing four feet from her. Finally, after Tabitha discreetly coughed a few times, Emma's mother peered at her over the rim of her glasses, eyes narrowing, and said, “Emma's upstairs folding sheets.”
    The way in which she said it did not in any way invite room for response or further requests, therefore Tabitha bolted up the stairs, pausing only long enough to look for Ivy, who she noticed had already curled up in the oversized turquoise chair in front of the parlor's fireplace. Upon reaching the upper level of the inn, Tabitha began searching for Emma. It wasn't a long search, because there were only six guest rooms. Standing in the hallway, she saw that all of the doors were closed except for room five, in which Tabitha found her friend busily engaged with the linens.
    Tabitha paused in the doorway and smiled. She knew that, despite her mother, Emma really seemed to enjoy mundane tasks like folding sheets. Tabitha could not seem to remember a time when she hadn't been friends with her. They had grown up in Aspen Lake. She had known Emma, Alek, Kaji, Cade and all the other town kids as long as she could remember, but Emma was her only real friend. At one time, their parents had even all been friends, but that was before the three deaths had changed everything.
    “Hi, stranger,” announced Tabitha as she moved into the room. “Need any help?”
    Emma turned around from the bed and smiled. “Nope,” she said. “I'm almost finished. Only one basket of sheets left.” She leaned around the bed to get the basket, and both girls noticed Ivy had wandered in and curled up in the freshly washed sheets. “Looks like someone is making herself at home.”
    “Ivy!” chided Tabitha. “How did you get up here so quickly? I just saw you down in the parlor. Bad kitty for messing up Emma's sheets!”
    Emma laughed. “I can finish later, but Ivy I don't want to rewash sheets because of your black hairs, so shoo!” With an air of annoyance, Ivy took her time getting up, stretched, exited the basket, and jumped up on the windowsill to see what was going on in the world. “So what's up with you, Tabitha?”
    “Had a run in with the boys,” admitted Tabitha, knowing that Emma would know exactly who she was talking about.
    “Yeah, I saw the good part from the window. Alek's big mouth got my attention, and I made it over to the window just in time to see you take a poke at Kaji. Shame Cade stopped you. It was a great swing.”
    The sound of horses got the girls attention, and they looked out the window to see two men riding towards the inn. Ivy jumped down at the noise and scampered out of the room.
    “They're jerks, Tabitha,” declared Emma. “Just ignore them,” she consoled as she picked up the basket vacated by Ivy to finish her folding.
    “Easier said than done,” determined Tabitha, and then sat thoughtfully for a moment before switching the topic entirely, “I see you’ve been promoted to sheet folder. Better than the mop girl role you played last week. Is Felicity still mad about the whole sneaking out to the cabin thing?” Tabitha reached over absentmindedly and grabbed a sheet to fold.
    Emma nodded, “I don’t mind doing this though, so if that’s the worst she has up her sleeve, I'm fine with it. I do have five days left on my sentence though, so I won't be out to the cottage till after that. I just don't get why she's so mad at you all the time.” Then, as if putting all the pieces together for the first time, Emma asked, “So why exactly are you here? Don’t get me wrong ... I love seeing you, but what made you brave the snow?”
    “Oh, you know me,” smirked Tabitha. “I just couldn't wait to see Alek and be made fun of for no apparent reason. Got my fix. I can go home happy now.”
    Emma put a hand on her hip and gave Tabitha a look. “Nice to know. And?”
    “I need some new boots … and a chocolate fix. Wanna come?”
    “Absolutely! Mother hasn't let me out since “the escape”,” Emma stated dramatically, quoting with her fingers, “and I have to pick up some new drapes for the parlor anyway. That's as good of an excuse to get out as any.”
    With the sheets folded, Tabitha and Emma headed downstairs. They barely reached the staircase before picking up the sound of raised voices, which were quickly identified as Felicity and Brin engaged in an argument.
    “Perfect timing,” Emma whispered to Tabitha. They threw on their coats. To her mother, Emma shouted, “Mom, I'm going to pick up the drapes. Be back soon!” and the girls were out the door before Felicity could register a complaint.
    Tabitha paused briefly at the door to see if Ivy was with them. “Probably off chasing a mouse,” she muttered under her breath as she closed the door and ran to join Emma.


    Ivy crouched as low to the ground as she could while slowly creeping forward, the blackness of her fur melding with the shadows of the alley behind the inn. Nose to the ground, she knew it hadn’t gone far, but for the moment didn't know where it was hiding. Poised, patient and ready to strike, Ivy waited for it to make a mistake. Seconds turned into minutes. Ivy moved backwards, staying close to the trash cans. She knew they would mask her scent.
    Her ears perked up as she heard tiny nails scraping against the brick wall of the inn. Finally her eyes picked up the movement of a little nose peeking out from under the shard of a broken tankard, and with a hunter's grace, she pounced, her claws digging into the tender flesh with a practiced ease. Before the mouse could even think of escaping, Ivy had broken its neck and begun feasting on the salty meat. Soon, all that was left of the mouse was a small red stain in the snow.
    Upon fulfilling her need, she lazily padded out of the alley and onto the well-worn main street that went through Aspen Lake. She paused at the edge of the road and began to wash her coat with her tongue. The few people that passed by her did not even notice the cat, which was fine with Ivy as she did not much like to be bothered after a meal.
    “Why, hello there,” a nearby merchant asked what he saw as potential customers. “What can I do for you?”
    “We're looking for some old friends who used to live around here. Might you be able to guide us in the right direction?” came a man’s deep voice.
    “That is certainly a possibility, sir, as I know most of the residents of the area. May I inquire as to their names?”
    “Merric and Aiyana Hale,” the man replied.
    The merchant's face fell, “Oh my! I’m terribly sorry to be the one to tell you this, sir, but …” He paused, and then declared to the stranger awkwardly, “Merric and Aiyana passed on about two years back, just around this time of the year.”
    The man with the deep voice stopped to take in the information. Finally he asked, “What happened?”
    Looking up to make sure no one else was around, the merchant lowered his voice and leaned in closer as he said, “See, here’s the thing. No one really knows. Their deaths – along with the innkeeper's husband at the same time – have been a real source of frustration for the local authorities. But they did leave themselves a daughter behind by the name of Tabitha. She’s seen fifteen winters. I'd be careful who you ask about this though. It's a pretty sore subject for some folks, and still fairly fresh.”
    Ivy sat still, her tail flicking back and forth in a strange rhythm that made it seem as if she was taking in every word. As the conversation drew to a close, she moved across the road to go find Tabitha. The large, deep-voiced man almost stepped on her tail. He was easily over six feet tall. Much larger than anyone in their village. The man with him was much younger and thinner, but equally as tall, maybe a bit more. Their skin was tanned, and their hair matched their skin. It was obvious that neither of them were from the Aspen Lake area.
    Pulling her tail in and moving out of the way, Ivy threw up a quick hiss and went to find Tabitha.

    New boots, drapes, and fresh chocolate in hand, Tabitha and Emma made their way back to the inn. Ivy seemed to appear out of nowhere and joined them right before they hit the front door. Upon announcing their return to Emma's mother, the girls discovered that in their absence Felicity had come up with a list of several new chores which kept the girls busy until dinner. After the meal, Felicity quickly dismissed Tabitha, claiming she needed to start walking now to get home before dark. It was a completely transparent attempt to get rid of her, but that didn't lessen the truth of the logic.
    Tired from the long day and worn out from her trek home, Tabitha was ready for bed as soon as she walked through the door, but decided a warm bath would help to get rid of the cold which had quickly worked its way into her bones. Ivy parted ways with her, heading for the bedroom while Tabitha filled the small oval tub with hot, sudsy water as high as her chin.
    The long soak made her feel much better physically, but by this time she was exhausted. She stoked the fire and dragged herself into bed, trying to find a comfortable position. She turned her head to the left and to the right, which seemed to do nothing more than twist her hair in knots. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she felt the urge to cry. As usual, spending time with families in town made her miss her parents very much.
    She was tired of being alone. She hated not knowing what had happened to them. She wondered if someone was to blame for their deaths. If so, she wished she could make them pay. Tabitha found all the depression even more depressing. The reality was: She could never bring them back, and she would probably never know what happened. Frustration and anger building, tears came unbidden to her eyes. She thought about beating up the headboard, but knew she would be as effective in beating it up as she had in trying to hit Kaji.
    She was exhausted, but sleep wasn't coming. Her eyes scanned the room, searching mostly for release from the turmoil within her. She caught a glimpse of something under the small wooden wardrobe, but wasn't curious enough at the moment to get out from under the covers to see what it was.
    “I'll deal with it tomorrow,” she mumbled. She settled into bitterness and the tears finally stopped. It was hard for her to remember what real happiness was like. “I'll deal with everything tomorrow.” Her eyes closed, the day finally taking its toll, and Tabitha fell asleep wondering about last night's dream about her mother. What would it be like to be wrapped in an icy blanket of death?