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Winter comes, and with it the annual Apple Hollow ice sculpting exhibition. Trixie Lyal is dragged down to the river one cold midnight to watch the display of magic. The winter wonderland of ice turns to a nautical nightmare when a ghostly ship appears on the river. The strangest part isn’t the vessel itself, but that it’s off-schedule for its reappearance. Trixie and Orion are tasked with finding out why the ghostly galleon has returned early, but their troubles only multiply when they stumble on a small girl in big trouble.Now they’re stuck babysitting as their search for the truth leads them from one end of the hollow to the other. Witches, wizards, and a few things in-between stumble into their path as they try to stay one step ahead of a creeping fog that threatens them, and their new small charge. The final problem? They have only three nights to figure out the truth and then the ship disappears, along with their answers. It’s a race to find solve the mystery before they become a part of it.
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Copyright © 2017 by Mac Flynn
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Continue the adventure
Other series by Mac Flynn
“If we get stuck out here I’m eating you,” I warned my companion as we marched through the cold snow that littered the sidewalks of the sleepy town of Apple Hollow.
Orion smiled. “You wouldn’t want me. I’m tough and stringy.”
I eyed his muscular body and a sly grin slipped onto my lips. “I don’t know. I think you’ve got some ticklish fat somewhere inyou.”
Orion held up his hands and diverted away from me. “Don’t do anything I’m going to regret.”
I raised my hands and wiggled my fingers. “Let’s findout.”
I lunged at him. He side-stepped with his super speed and I ended up landing head-first into a pile of snow and gravel. I came up sputtering. “That’s cheating!”
He stood over me with a grin on his face. A thick blanket was draped over one arm and dangled in front of my face. “You still have a lot to learn about being a werewolf.”
“Yeah, like how you talk me into these crazy town things,” I commented as he pulled me out of my self-imposed frosty prison. I brushed off the clumps of powdery cold snow and shook my head. “We’ll probably end up transformed into puppies by a gremlin.”
There we were, two idiots traipsing through the freezing cold at a few minutes short of midnight. A gray sky hovered above us and around us was the deep dark of the snowy night. My breath puffed out like a factory chimney working overtime on a Christmas shift. Now I was covered in the white stuff from my frost-bitten toes to my red nose. At that moment Rudolph had nothing onme.
“Tradition isn’t that bad,” he argued.
I snorted. “Remember Halloween? Mirela and her merry band of Amazonian witches tried to get everyone to go as flambes.”
He shook his head. “A half-century year old murder and the cover-up are an exception to therule.”
I arched an eyebrow. “I haven’t seen this list of rules yet. Is it a modified version of the Ten Commandments where Thou Shalt Not Shed On Thy Neighbor’s Carpet?”
Orion chuckled as he looped my arm through his. “Something like that, but you’ll likethis.”
I winced and pulled a bit of hard, sharp ice from my posterior. “Ring-side seats to Witches On Ice doesn’t exactly sound thrilling. Do they need a Zamboni or do they just use their brooms?”
He shook his head as he led me across main street and toward the river. “Neither. Mother Nature provides them with everything they need, and a little magic does therest.”
I furrowed my brow and shook my head. “I still don’t know about this. My reporter instincts are telling me something’s going to go wrong.”
Orion grinned. “Just relax and let the witches sweep you off your feet. Like this.” He swept me off my feet and into hisarms.
I yelped and clutched onto his thick jacket. “Will you warn me before you do that?” I growled.
He shook his head. “Nope.”
I folded my arms and buried myself in my warm coat. “You’re impossible.”
All around us people from the town and nearby countryside flowed down the street and onto the main road that led to the river. The body of water wrapped itself beside the single street beyond Main Street. Its gentle, ice-filled waters lapped against the shimmering ice that reached from shore to a third of the way out into the river.
A small park of trees and snow-covered grass lay between the last street and the river’s edge. The frosty ground sloped down to the river and slid onto the ice. By the time we arrived the park was filled with dozens of families. They sat on their own blankets and faced the river. Many had small lanterns placed beside them that lit the way to the shore.
Orion and I took a seat to the left side of the crowd close to the remains of an old bridge. Only the three towering concrete support pillars remained.
Orion set me down and spread out the blanket. He bowed his head to me and swept his hand over the layout. “Ladies first.”
I grinned and gestured to the blanket. “Age before beauty.”
“Grace before gravitas.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Does that even make sense?”
He shrugged. “It’s the best I could come up with.” He glanced in the direction of the street above us. I followed his gaze and saw a procession of black cloaked figures. They marched in two columns, and each held a gnarled stick. “Let’s have this bantering later. It’s about to start.”
We plopped down and a hush descended over the crowd. The long procession of two dozen people marched down the gentle slope to the river’s edge where they spread themselves out shoulder-to-shoulder. They raised their sticks to the graysky.
A brilliant emerald green light burst from the sticks. The lights arched into the sky and speared the center of the river. At every point of impact ice was formed and spread like fire across the surface of the water until the entire river was covered in a thick sheet. The figures walked onto the frozen river to the center and turned to face the crowd. They raised their sticks again, and the tips glowed with the green light.
The ice from the river shot up and formed itself into a myriad of things. Giant castles with moats, elephants in a walking pose, even a small rabbit that broke free from the ice and bounced across the river. It hit land and sped around the families. The children pointed and screamed in joy. Several of the boys tried to catch the ice rabbit and ended up falling face-first into thesnow.
The rabbit bounced onto the ice to the far right of the crowd. I was mesmerized by the clink of its ice paws on the surface of the frozen river and watched it hop downstream.
Something beyond it caught my attention. A large gray fog bank sprang from the river and traveled upstream in our direction. The rabbit skidded to a stop and turned icy tail, but the fog was too fast. It swallowed the creation in its depths and I heard a horrible crunch as ice was shattered.
I wasn’t the only one to notice the incoming wall of dread. Many of the people stood and pointed. Others gasped and clutched their children to them. The cloaked figures on the ice lowered their sticks and turned their faces toward the fog. A horrible stench of ocean air hit me in thenose.
That’s when the giant ship broke from the fog. Its wooden bow pierced the sky and groaned beneath the weight of the rest of the ship that emerged. Tall, billowing sails on huge masts waved in the still air. There were closed portholes on the sides and the deck was completely empty.
The huge, pot-bellied hull broke the surface of the ice and sent long cracks up river. The ice sculptures shattered and fell into the openings in the ice. The cloaked figures scattered to either side of the river.
Orion and I jumped to our feet. Screams erupted from the crowd. Parents grabbed their children and fled up the hill. Off-duty officers directed the panicked traffic or hurried to the shore to help the cloaked figures away from the river.
I whipped my head to Orion and jerked my thumb at the ghostly ship. “What the hell isthat?”
Orion pursed his lips. “Trouble. Come on.” He rushed down the slope.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “The things I do for a scoop. . .” I muttered before I hurried afterhim.
Orion slid to a stop at the edge of the river. I skidded down beside him and grabbed his arm to keep me up. We both watched as the ancient groaning ship floated upriver against current andwind.
“That isn’t supposed to behere.”
I whipped my head around and saw Orso slide down the hill. He stopped on the other side of Orion who shook his head. “No, it’snot.”
“Where’s it supposed to be?” I askedthem.
Orion shook his head. “It’s not where, but when that’s the problem.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Come again?”
“That ship isn’t due to arrive for another dozen years,” Orso spokeup.
“You mean it’s got a schedule?” I questionedthem.
Orion nodded as his eyes followed the ship. “Yes.”
We watched as the ship sailed between the large bridge columns. “I guess that explains the lack of bridge. . .” I commented.
I looked upstream of the wooden sailing vessel. Another fog bank materialized from nowhere. The vessel sailed into the thick mist and disappeared. The fog itself dissipated until all wasgone.
I turned to the two men and crossed my arms over my chest. “This better begood.”
Orion shrugged. “There’s not really much to tell. The ship comes every thirty-three years, sails up the river three nights in a row, and then disappears.”
I frowned. “And nobody knows why it’s doingthis?”
He shook his head. “Not aclue.”
“But it’s early,” Orso spokeup.
Orion turned to him and nodded. “Yeah, by about twelve years, right?”
Orso pursed his lips and looked out over the river. “Yeah. I’ve never heard of it coming early before.”
“How long has it been coming?” I askedthem.
Orion shrugged. “About two hundred years.”
I furrowed my brow. “That’s a long time to have a sudden schedule change. And you guys are sure nobody knows why a mast ship is sailing up the river?”
Orion and Orso glanced at each other. Orso sighed. “There’s always the Librarian. He’d know more about its schedule than anyoneelse.”
Orion nodded. “We’ll get right onit.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Wewill?”
“Then take this,” Orso advised him. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a receiver. “This’ll tell keep you in touch with everything that’s going on, and it can be used to call dispatch if you find the trouble first.”
Orion took the receiver and grinned. “We’ll make it arace.”
Orso returned the smile, but had to stifle a yawn. “Just don’t get anything snapping at your heels this time, okay?”
“I make no promises,” my erstwhile mate replied as he grabbed my hand and pulled me up the slick hill. “Later!”
“If there is a later,” I quipped.
“Don’t tell me your reporter instincts aregone.”
“They’re-” I slipped and nearly fell, but Orion’s firm hand pulled me to my feet, “-they’re a little frozen rightnow.”
“The library’s warm,” he pointed out as we crested the slope.
“So is home,” I argued.
Orion stopped and turned so we faced each other. “You really don’t want to look into this, doyou?”
I shrugged. “All I know is it’s late, cold, and I’m tired.”
“Well, we’ll fix all of that, but after the trip to the library.” He took my hand and led me down the snowy streets. “Think of it as a favor to the police.”
I snorted. “You mean a favor to the chief. Why isn’t he doing this himself?”
“He’s going to have his hands full calming everyone down,” Orion pointed out. We rounded the end of the street and caught sight of the library two blocks down. “That could take all night. Besides, the were-bears are less-well, less energetic during the winter months.”
“You mean they want to hibernate?” I guessed.
We reached the library and found all the windows aglow with light. The door was unlocked, and at the front desk was the shriveled Librarian. He sat on a stool and was hunched over an ancient tome with yellowed pages. Around him were stacks of books. He didn’t look up as we walked up to thedesk.
Orion leaned his elbow on the desk and smiled at the preoccupied old man. “We’d like some information-”
“On the ship,” the Librarian finished for him. The old man’s eyes flickered up and narrowed. “Elbow off the desk, please.”
Orion straightened and coughed into his hand. “This is a little urgent, Librarian. The ship-” The Librarian waved his hand near enough to Orion’s face that Orion jerkedback.
“Yes yes, I know. It appeared, and you wish for information on the legend, is that correct?”
Orion smiled and nodded. “Prettymuch.”
“It should be in here somewhere. . .” the little man muttered as he browsed the thick bindings of the tomes around him. “Ah-ha!” He grabbed a thin volume that was pinched between two thick books and tugged it out. The black cover was thick with dust brushed in one direction by its removal. The Librarian held the book between his hands and blew off the dust. The gray cloud flew into Orion’s face and made him sneeze. The Librarian held out the book to us. “This is what youneed.”
Orion pulled the dust from his face and took the book. “Thanks,” he chokedout.
Orion tucked the book securely under his arm, and we turned away and strode toward the front doors.
“And don’t forget it’s due in three days,” the Librarian calledout.
Orion paused and half-turned to the keeper of the books. “Three days? The usual checkout is aweek.”
A sly smile slipped onto the old man’s pale lips and the corners of his eyes crinkled. “But you won’t be needing that book any longer than that. Good day.” He turned away and began sorting books on a table behindhim.
I looked at Orion who shrugged and led us outside. I jerked my head over my shoulder at the retreating library building. “So is that what happens when somebody’s elected by committee?”
“If only anyone could remember when he was appointed to the position,” Orion remindedme.
He paused beneath a streetlight and pulled the book out. I caught sight of the cover: “Famous Ships of Apple Hollow: An Exhaustive Study.”
“You’re not going to read that right now, are you?” I questionedhim.
He shrugged and opened to the first page. “Whynot?”
I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. “I’ll give you two good reasons, and they’re both low digits.”
He smiled as his eyes scanned the pages. “You could try growing some fur. You need the practice.”
I glared at him. “It’s not easy putting all that hair back in. I ruined two razors the last time I tried to shavemy-”
“Here it is,” he spokeup.
Orion tapped his finger on the page. I rolled my eyes and sidled up beside him to look at the page. There was a bolded chapter title and a few short paragraphs. The opposite page showed a hand-drawn picture of the ship emerging from thefog.
Orion read aloud the chapter heading. “The Doomed Ship of Thirty-Three Years.”
I snorted. “That’s self-explanatory.”
His finger followed along with his reading. “The Doomed Ship is a three-masted sailing vessel that was first sighted along the Rumbling River in 1800 when it crashed into the old bridge, destroying the structure, and continued on its way. The vessel always appears from a dense fog and sails up the river some quarter of a mile before it disappears into an upstream fog bank. Nothing has been seen of its crew, nor does anyone know why it sails up the river as the vessel is more in line with those used for ocean-going voyages. All attempts to stop or even board the vessel have been met with failure.”
I glanced over the rest of the words and read them aloud. “Rumors abound about why this ship inhabits the waters. Some have suggested a curse that the ship navigate the world and it happens upon Apple Hollow on its thirty-three year long journey. Others have put forth a more romantic theory of separated lovers, and still more theorize that aliens are involved.” I snorted. “It always has to be about aliens.”
Orion smiled and finished the chapter. “Whatever the reason, the ship sails onward never slowing nor ceasing in its reliable schedule.”
“Until tonight,” I added.
Orion closed the book and pursed his lips. “Yes. I can’t figure out why, and this book was nohelp.”
A cold wind blew past us and left me shivering. “We can try figuring out this mystery in front of an electric heater with a warm cup of cocoa between our hands.”
His eyes widened and he snapped his fingers. “That’s it! Cocoa!”
I arched a frost-covered eyebrow. “Yes, cocoa. Cocoa good. Being warmgood.”
Orion grabbed my hand that was tucked underneath my opposite arm and dragged me toward downtown. “There’s no heater, but I know a great place for cocoa and answers.”
I sighed. “Let me guess, the Spellbinding Food diner.”
He looked over his shoulder and grinned at me. “That’s just the place, and Mab is just the expert on the paranormal that we’re lookingfor.”
The snowy streets were deserted. All the town was put to bed with visions of sailing masts dancing in their heads. We reached the street on which sat Mab’s diner and caught sight of the food place.
Orion stopped so fast I tripped and fell into his side. “This better not be more werewolf practice,” I growled as I straightened myself.
He stared straight ahead with his lips pursed. I followed his gaze and saw it fell on Mab’s place. The interior wasdark.
Orion let go of me and hurried forward. I stumbled after him across the slush and ice of the road. He stopped at the front door and I came up besidehim.
On the inside of the door hung a Closed sign, and on the outside was taped a small white envelope. Orion’s name was scribbled on theback.
He tore the envelope off and pulled out a folded piece of paper. On the surface was the following handwritten letter:
I have gone to find someone. Do not look for me, I will findyou.
I glanced up into Orion’s tense face. “So I’m guessing this isbad.”
He folded the note and tucked both envelope and paper into his pocket as he shook his head. “I don’t know, but I do know Mab’s never closed her diner.”
I arched an eyebrow. “Never?”
I frowned and looked at the Closed sign. “She was open pretty fast after that car crashed into the place, wasn’tshe?”
He nodded. “Within a few minutes after the investigation. Mab has a knack for cleaning up trouble.”
I turned to him and nodded at his pocket that held the note. “Looks like she’s found some that won’t disappear at the wave of her catpaw.”
The sound of a child’s scream interrupted our conversation, and our lives.
Orion and I spun around so we faced the way we came. A small figure raced out from a side street halfway down the empty main road. Their destination was the park, but their pursuers had other ideas.
Behind the short figure floated three dark, tall, thin forms shrouded in billowing black cloaks. The lower hem of their outfits stopped a half foot above the ground, but their bodies stopped higher. There was a gap of air between the hem and the road. Their long sleeves ended in the same limb deficiency. They leaned forward as though fighting a toughwind.
Orion’s sharp voice brought me out of my careful attention to detail. “Get ahead of the girl and grabher!”
I whipped my head to him and frowned. “How?”
He pointed at a side street to our right. “Take that way and get into the alley.” He started off on a fast sprint, but looked over his shoulder. “And watch out for thepit!”
“The what?” I yelled back, but he was already off on the chase. I shook my head and sprinted down the street and into the alley. “I don’t get paid enough forthis.”
The alley behind the main street shops was narrow and littered with trashcans, potholes, and alley cats that were mean-looking enough to scare the trio of floating ghouls I just saw. My feet pounded down the slick, hard-packed trail of snow created by vehicle tires.
I glanced around for any signs of a hole. “I don’t see a-what thehell!”
Ahead of me was a deep, round darkness. Two boards led the wheels of the tires safely across. My stumbling, panicked feet slipped on the ice. I careened toward the endless blackness. A fateful hop and I landed on the other board. The plank bounced up and down, and sent me teetering toward the pit again. I threw myself forward and hopped between bouncing boards until I reached solid but icy ground.
I didn’t have time to take a breath before my feet slipped out from under me. I crashed to the ground and slipped down the gentle slope toward the park. The little girl and her dark entourage came into view from the street to my left. Their hoods concealed all but their red, glowing eyes that were affixed on their prey. One of the creatures swooped down and stretched out a long, white clawed hand for thegirl.
I slid into her like she was home base and I was making the winning point. My legs swept hers out from under her, but I caught her before she hit the ground. We glided out of the pale grasp of the phantom just as Orion came up behind them. He pulled out one of his many small leather bags and stuffed his hand inside. A quick twist of the wrist and he tossed the contents of his hand at the creatures. The gray powder fell on them and ignited their cloaks.
The creatures let out a screech and scattered high into the air. They flickered like bad TV reception and melted into thinair.
I slammed my heels into the ground and put on the brakes. We stopped at the crest of the park and I looked down at my charge.
The girl was about eight with long, black shimmering hair that cascaded down her back to her waist. She wore a pair of worn jeans and a white blouse. Around her neck was a gold chain, and on the gold chain hung a small, ovular purple jewel with a black cat’s eye in the middle.
I glanced up at Orion as he walked up to us. “Do you knowher?”
He knelt on the other side of the girl and shook his head as he studied her. “No, and I didn’t hear about any new people moving in. She could be a runaway led here by thetree.”
“Well, whoever she is she’s really out,” I commented.
Orion grinned. “You smashed into her pretty good, and you’re not light.”
I whipped my head up and glared at him. “That’s stepping a few pounds close to me pounding you. Besides, you didn’t give me ample warning about that black hole in the ground.”
He held up his hands. “I never argue with a woman scorned, and that hole’s been there so long I forgot you didn’t know aboutit.”
“Somebody should vaporize that thing with magic,” I suggested.
He shook his head. “It’s been tried, but nothing works onit.”
I returned my attention to the girl in my arms. “Speaking of magic, we might just need some to get her to wake up.” I gave her a shake. “Come on. Snap out ofit.”
The girl scrunched her eyes shut and shook her head. “No. No! Please don’t leave me, Henry! Please don’tgo!”
I leaned down so our faces nearly touched and gave her a good shake. “Hey! You’re all right! You can relax now!” The girl’s face relaxed and her body went limp in my arms. I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t mean it thatway.”
Orion chuckled. “I think we’re stuck with her for a while.”
I glanced up at him and frowned. “Shouldn’t we be calling a Lost Paranormal Pipsqueak hotline or something?”
He shook his head. “There isn’t one, but we can take her to the police tomorrow. I think they’ve got their hands full tonight with thatship.”
I sighed and studied the waif in my arms. “So what do we do with her untilthen?”
Orion stooped and took her from my arms. He stood and pressed her against his chest. “Ever babysat someone before?”
I rose to my feet and arched an eyebrow. “You’re not serious, are you? I mean, some days I’ve got my hands full enough babysitting you, and you’re supposed to be my sidekick.”
He grinned. “Then tonight you’ll be the sidekick and I the ace babysitter.”
Orion walked past me with my mouth dropped to the parking lot. I balled my hands into fists and glared at his retreating back. “I’m not a sidekick.”
“Then how come you’re falling behind?” he called over his shoulder.
“Because I don’t want to catch some of your dumbness!” I snapped.
I growled and marched after him. We rejoined a half block down and I glanced at the sleeping bundle in his arms. There was a small smile on her lips as she cuddled against his chest.
My eyes flickered up to him. “So what were those things that were chasing her, anyway? The new welcoming committee?”
His face fell and his eyes hardened. “They’re called Death’s Messengers. They’re brought into this world by a curse and charged with taking the soul of the cursed one back withthem.”
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