The floatplane touched down on Silver Lake, spewing sheets of water into the air. Pressing her icy hands against the passenger window, Kit Soriano tried to force back a shudder. This far north, the Rocky Mountains peaks thrust into the sky like teeth – old teeth, cruel teeth, with glacial lips pulled back into a snarl.
“Silver Claw,” the pilot called over his shoulder. “Last stop of humanity.”
David Soriano peered out his own window, then reached his hand across the seat to grip his daughter’s cold fingers. Silently they stared at this terrible place where they had come to find answers. Beyond the narrow beach, a few weather-beaten buildings made up the town. Past that, mountainous ice caps blended into clouds in every direction. At the north end of the lake, a glacier hundreds of feet high lay between the mountains like a mythic sleeping monster. Aqua and blue ice shone translucent in the sunlight.
“This is what mom tried to describe….” Kit gripped the dragon- shaped knife hidden in her pocket – she was going to need every ounce of magic her mother had said it possessed. There was nothing else left for her to believe in.
The pilot eased the plane to the dock and cut the engine. Kit’s ears still thrummed with the vibrations, when a series of rumbles and cracks rolled across the lake and through the skin of the plane. An ice monolith slowly split from the glacier and crashed into the water. Spray shot a hundred feet into the air. Shock waves raced across the lake, rocking the plane.
When Kit gasped and clutched the armrests, the pilot laughed.
“That’s Silver Snake Glacier.” He pointed to the ice cliff. “In spring it breaks up some — calving, it’s called. But you’ve never heard anything like the roars and howls that come from that ice snake in winter. I was holed up here one year when an early blizzard rolled in. I swear I thought the noise alone would kill me.”
Kit forced herself to stare impassively at the forbidding Alaskan landscape. “I’m not afraid of noise.” She would not, would not let this place defeat her.
The pilot shrugged. “Hope you’re not planning to stay too long,” he warned. “Once winter gets her talons into this country, it can cost you your life to go outside of town.”
“We’ll be back in New York by winter,” her father said. “We’re only staying a couple of weeks.”
Until we find her, Kit vowed.
The pilot heaved himself out of his chair, wrestled with the door, and showed them how to scramble down to the pontoon and then jump onto the dock. Kit shivered. Even though it was mid-August, the Alaskan air was cold through her fleece vest. She warmed up a little as they unloaded their gear.
A dozen of the town’s residents drifted down to the dock, but Kit kept her eyes off the kids. Those kids had lured her mother to Silver Claw – nearly a quarter of them were albino, a genetic mutation. Dr. Nora Reits had been a genetics researcher. Nearly a year ago she had disappeared without a trace in an early fall storm in Silver Claw.
Kit again touched the silver pocketknife nestled in her pocket.
Magic find her, she prayed silently. Warmth tingled against her skin – the connection was still strong. Relieved, Kit turned her energy to separating their gear from the supplies ordered by the residents.
A lot of folks were on the dock now. In spite of herself, Kit sneaked a look under her lashes. The albino kids had snow-white hair and glacier blue eyes. Unlike some albino people, their sparkling glances showed good eyesight and they glowed with health.
“Dr. Soriano?” A big man with red hair stuck out his hand to Kit’s father. “I’m Pat Kelly, mayor of this place. I wish I could welcome you here under better circumstances.”
Dr. Soriano shook hands with the mayor. “We appreciate your willingness to let us get some closure on my wife’s disappearance.”
The mayor nodded. “I understand your feelings. We lost one of our own boys in that blizzard. This is a hard land – beautiful, but hard.”
“Yes,” Dr. Soriano said gazing at the ring of jagged peaks. “But I’m hoping the clinic will be a useful return for your hospitality.”
“My mother-in-law will keepyou busy, even if no one else does,” Pat replied with an easy smile. “It’s a long flight to Anchorage when the problems are the aches and pains old folks feel every time the weather changes.”
As Kit reached up to grab the rest of their bags, she drew a deep breath. After all the setbacks and problems, she could hardly believe they were really here.
It had taken her father weeks to work out their journey. Getting to Silver Claw would be no problem – a regular flight from New York City to Anchorage and then they could book seats on the floatplane that delivered supplies to the town every couple of weeks. But inquiries about where to stay had been discouraging. There was apparently no reliable Internet connection that far north, and so all communication was by snail mail. A letter from the town council, signed Mary McGough, Secretary, had been brusque. The council regretted there was no hotel in Silver Claw.
Dr. Soriano’s lips had thinned as he read the letter aloud to Kit.
“Isn’t she the person Mom rented a room and office from? Wasn’t it above a store or something?” Kit had asked.
“Yup,” her dad said. “Let’s try this one more time.” That evening, he wrote back politely requesting that he and his daughter rent the room that his wife had previously occupied.
Three weeks later a second response from the town secretary stated that she was using the space Dr. Reits had rented for storage and so it was no longer available.
“I don’t think they want us,” Dr. Soriano had told his daughter over macaroni and cheese.
“I don’t care. You promised me...” Kit looked challengingly into his eyes.
“And I keep my promises,” he’d said. “Have some salad. It’s only a little brown.”
After dinner, while Kit had loaded the dishwasher and then tackled physics homework, he had written a third letter to the town council.
Dear Members of the Council,
I am hoping that we will still be able to work out the details of my daughter’s and my visit. We are com- ing to Silver Claw. As east coast city people we don’t have a lot of experience with wilderness camping, but we will come with tents and backpacks and set up on the glacier itself, if necessary.
However, I have a proposal for you. I am a medi- cal doctor and I’m willing to operate a free clinic for the residents of the area in return for accommodation and supplies while my daughter and I are in town.
We will be arriving on August 12th, with or without a place to stay.
David Soriano, M.D.
The next response came from Pat Kelly instead of the secretary and it was a lot friendlier. A new cabin had been built for his family and he was willing to let Kit and her dad use it for a couple of weeks. He sympathized with the Soriano’s need to see the town where Dr. Reits had spent her last few weeks. The residents of the town would be pleased to welcome them.
Kit and her dad flew from New York on August 11th, spent the night in Anchorage and the next morning boarded the small floatplane.
After all her thinking and worrying, it seemed to Kit that she was in a dream as she stood at the edge of the dock and gazed across the wild landscape. The glacier glinted, shifting colors like a living, crystal animal.
Mayor Kelly turned from Dr. Soriano to the people standing on the dock behind him. “Here, you kids give a hand. Kirsi...Dai...grab some of the bags.”
Two of the older albino teenagers, a girl and boy, left the group. Both were tall and strong, their white-blonde hair ruffling in the steady breeze. They radiated health and were incredibly good looking. Mesmerized, Kit realized with a small shock that they were better than good looking – they were the most beautiful teens she had ever seen. They were graceful, perfectly proportioned, and there wasn’t even a zit to be seen. Kit thought she could hate them just for that.
As Kirsi leaned down to pick up luggage, she turned cold blue eyes toward Kit. “You shouldn’t have come here,” she hissed. “You soft city people don’t belong.” She hoisted the heavy pack over her shoulder with ease and strode away without a backward glance.
The breeze off the lake quickened. Kit shivered.
“You’ll get used to the temperatures,” Dai said beside her. He appeared about seventeen, a year older than she was. Up close, Kit thought his looks alone could warm her up.
Kit made a grab for her peace of mind and shrugged. “I’m not afraid of the cold.”
“That’s good because sometimes we get a lot of it. I’m Dai Phillips.” He stuck out his hand to shake.
Kit hesitated a split second, then shook his hand. It was so very warm and firm. A responding flash of heat shot through her. This was not normal for her at all.
“I’m Kit.” At home the kids either didn’t touch or did hand slaps and fist bumps. Nobody under forty shook hands.
Patrick Kelly picked up one of Dr. Soriano’s medical cases. “We do appreciate your willingness to run a health clinic even for two weeks, Doc,” he said. “Hey there, Jancy. You, Mikey. Help the doctor with his bags.” Two red-haired children each picked up a suitcase. “Dai, are you going to stand around all day or are you going to help that little girl out?”
Hot color flushed Dai’s face. “Yes, Uncle Pat,” he said under his breath. He reached for a duffel. “This yours, Kit?”
“I’ll get it,” she said. “I packed it. I can carry it.” She hoisted it up and over her thin shoulder. “And I’m sixteen…not a little girl.” She knew she looked too young and fragile to be in the wilderness. But she also knew that her slender bones were connected to tough muscle.
“Okay,” Dai said. “But it’s a bit of a hike to the cabin and I’m used to the path.”
“Whatever.” Kit slid the bag back to the dock, refusing to allow even a flicker of relief to cross her face. She’d jammed it with everything she thought might be useful – survival gear, guidebooks, contour maps, compass, and a Swiss Army knife.
Dai’s deep blue eyes searched her own.
“What?” Kit demanded. His intense gaze unnerved her.
Dai leaned over and lifted the bag like it weighed six ounces instead of sixty pounds. “It’s good you’ve come to us — you’re the kind that’s called.”
“Called? Called what?”
“Called by the mountains and wilderness. By the heart that beats up there.” Again, his eyes pierced her own. “Your mother was the same. You both belong here. I feel it.”
Kit felt a lump rise sharply in her throat so she turned away and stared at the town as though fascinated by the worn clapboard structures. Kirsi stood at the top of the path, arms folded, looking stonily down at the people on the dock. Kit stared back defiantly.
“My mother didn’t belong here and I don’t either,” she turned and told Dai. “I’m going to find out what happened to her and then you’ll never see me again.”
She picked up a bag and marched up the path toward Kirsi. Other men and children took the rest of the luggage. The remainder of the people finished unloading boxes of supplies from the plane and began hauling them up the hill toward town. Dai strode after her, whistling off-key. Kit glanced back at him. She had never seen anyone so vibrantly alive. And he had talked about her mother. Had he gotten to know her? Would he have information that would lead Kit to her?
Abruptly she slowed down, matching her steps to his. But with a cool glance, he trudged faster away from her, still whistling. Kit’s eyes narrowed, but she followed without comment. In a moment she had reached Kirsi. The girl looked her over like she was a dead fish washed onto the shore.
“Stay away from Dai. He has no use for your kind,” Kirsi mocked. “What kind is that, Kirsi?” Kit demanded.
The girl’s lips curled into a sneer. “A weak outlander. You’ll be very sorry you ever came here.” She shoved past Kit, knocking her off balance.
Regaining her footing, Kit glared after her. “I think you will be surprised.” She made no effort to catch up, waiting instead for her dad and the others.
“The house is this way, Doctor.” Mayor Kelly gestured along an overgrown dirt road that edged the lake. “The clinic building is in town, but this cabin has an incredible view of Silver Snake.”
The cabin sat on a rounded hill overlooking the lake. The building was made of shaped logs, with a fresh look about them. Shuttered windows along the sides were wide and evenly spaced. A long porch was angled to face the glacier.
Everyone trooped through the screen door, but Kit dropped her bag and leaned on the railing, looking towards mountains and ice. Behind her, voices filled the cabin. But out here, the stillness folded into a sense of being on the edge of another world. Kit breathed deeply, tasting the tang of wilderness, and another acrid scent — sweet and bitter mingled. She tossed her head to let the clean air wash over her. After the long despair, she was coming alive again. Kit remembered how her mother had described this place in her letters...
Silver Snake Glacier drapes the mountains like a huge sleeping animal. It really seems alive, shifting with every color that ever existed. I hope you get to see it some day – it must be one of the wonders of the world! I am going to hike up there and see if I can fathom its secrets. Something that otherworldly must have secrets, Kit. Devin tells me the glacier is riddled with crevasses and caves – a beautiful but deadly creature, I guess. It wakes when the winter storms howl over the mountains….
Dai came out on the porch and stood beside her. Despite herself, Kit was too aware of the warmth he radiated. Of those broad shoulders and lithe build. She’d never been this aware of the boys at home. Pheromones. He must be radiating mutated pheromones and she was feeling every one of them.
Another crack shattered the quiet of the town.
“Loud, isn’t it?” Kit said turning to him. She froze. His eyes were a deeper blue. She’d swear they had darkened. Ridiculous. Even weird eyes, genetically mutated eyes, shouldn’t change color. It had to be a trick of the light.
“This is a great time of year to be in Silver Claw.” Dai’s expression once again lightened to an easy smile. “There’s hiking, hunting and fishing during the day and bonfires and get-togethers at night. Mary McGough at the general store gets in movies now and then.”
“Sounds terrific,” Kit said, “but I already have plans.” She forced herself to turn away from those hot, mesmerizing eyes and look back at the cold waters of the lake. Her mother had said native legends put some kind of mythic beast in those cold depths.
Then Dai’s hand, hot and strong, gripped her arm. “There are no other plans in Silver Claw,” Dai told her. “You’ll be smart to listen to me.” The warning in his voice was unmistakable.
“Or what?” Kit challenged. How friendly or how dangerous was this guy? He was like fire and ice. Already this place was freaking her out, all beauty and danger.
His eyes shifted even darker, making that weird sense of warmth flare through her again. She didn’t know whether he would have answered or not because they were interrupted by the door swinging open. The moment bled away.
“Kit,” her dad called. “Which bedroom do you want?” “Excuse me,” Kit stepped past Dai and followed her father.
Inside, several men and women had settled on the sofas and chairs. Dai came in after her and crossed over to Kirsi who leaned against the far wall. As they stood talking in quiet voices and sometimes glancing in her direction, Kit felt another surge of anger. Were they talking about her? And why should she care?
In the meantime, two women were opening and shutting the cupboard doors in the kitchen area, calling on Dr. Soriano to admire how thoroughly they had stocked up for him.
“My wife is bringing some lasagna over,” the mayor said. “A bit of a welcome to let you get yourself unpacked and settled tonight.”
“Dr. Soriano,” Dai struck in, “my mother said I’m to ask you for dinner tomorrow at seven, if you don’t have other plans....” He glanced mockingly at Kit.
“Great,” Dr. Soriano said. “That’s very kind. We’ll be there. Now Kit, what about that bedroom?”
Three bedrooms opened off the kitchen-dining-living area, so Kit chose one where the window faced the glacier. While her dad chatted with the people who had helped bring their belongings up, Kit hauled in her bags. Methodically, she unpacked her clothing and filled the drawers of the wooden dresser. She left all her survival gear in the duffel bag, zipped it up, and pushed it far under the bed.
“Kit!” her dad called. “The most marvelous dinner is being spread out here for us!”
The main room was packed with big, loud strangers. It seemed like everyone who had come down to the dock had migrated up to the cabin and brought a few friends along. Did any of those open, friendly faces hide the secret of her mother’s disappearance? She wanted to shout at them, demand they tell her what they knew, but instead she forced herself to paste on a fake smile.
“Please, you must stay,” her father was urging.
With only a brief show of reluctance, everyone dug into the lasagna, salad, bread and meat that all seemed to have magically appeared. Kit picked among the dishes and settled in the remotest corner of the sofa. Dai left Kirsi and perched on the arm beside her. Ignoring him, Kit took a bite of the dark meat. Flavor exploded in her senses.
“Backstrap,” Dai said. “The tenderest and tastiest part of a moose.” Kit put her fork down but chewed on. It was good — different from anything else she’d tasted. “Great!” she mumbled through her full mouth.
“You’re honored,” Dai said. “That’s probably the last of Uncle Pat’s winter store. He’s the best hunter in town, but we try to only hunt moose in the fall and winter.”
Kit cut another piece of meat and popped it in her mouth. “The only moose I ever saw for real was in a zoo. It was big and sad looking so it seems cruel to hunt them.”
“We have to eat and there aren’t many fast food restaurants in the wilderness,” Dai replied. “Besides, those hamburgers don’t come from carrots.”
Kit took a big bite of her bread to avoid answering. She knew he was right, but she didn’t want to acknowledge that the rules were different here in Silver Claw. With mountains, lakes and glaciers surrounding them, they hunted to eat. They killed to survive.
A burst of laughter filled the cabin. She tried another bite of backstrap. It tasted fine on her tongue. Kit looked around at all the handsome, strong faces. She would learn what they knew, she vowed. And if they had secrets, she would find them.
Despite their protests about letting the Sorianos unpack, the townspeople didn’t leave for hours. By the time Kit could finally get to bed, she was too wound up to sleep.
Outside, twilight had eased over the land, casting the mountains into dark relief. The luminous hands on her watch read 11:03 but the sky still shone dusky blue. Kit sat on her bed, wrapped in a quilt, looking out toward Silver Snake Glacier.
It drew her, called her, just as Dai had said it would. Her mom’s letters had described the hours she spent hiking by the glacier. She wrote that the sight and sound of the ancient ice relieved her frustrations when the townspeople refused to cooperate with her research.
And that’s how I’ll start, Kit decided; she would go to the places her mother had described, try to find some kind of clue her mother may have left behind. Looking out the open window at the immense distances and peaks, Kit wondered with a sinking heart whether she would be able to find the places from the descriptions in the letters. In New York, hemmed in by buildings and streetlights, she had not been able to grasp the vastness of the landscape.
Her father came in, set a lantern on the table beside her bed and sat down.
“They seem like nice people around here,” he said at last.
Kit rolled her eyes. “That’s what Mom said...until they found out what she was doing.”
Her hand slipped under her pillow to touch the knife and the packet of letters. In the last one, Nora Reits had written in an excited scrawl from her office over the general store. She had said she would try to slip the letter into the outgoing mail sack before the floatplane arrived. This flight, she was sure, would bring lab results for the blood samples she had coaxed from one albino boy. Kit got the letter two days after her mother disappeared.
“Kit, it was a simple hiking accident,” her dad said. “You know she hiked up there alone, even though the weather was threatening.”
“Then why did the lab results disappear?” Kit demanded. “And the searchers didn’t find a body. They’re keeping her somewhere. I know it! My knife....”
“Kit, don’t start about that knife again.” Her father rubbed his hand over his face; his eyes were exhausted. Kit fell silent.
If only he would believe what Kit knew against all reason was true. Her mother was alive.
Another crack reverberated through the air. The lantern flickered.
Somewhere, out there, Kit knew her mother was alive.
If you want to read more, Dragons of Frost and Fire is on sale on Kindle and all ebook platforms! Also available in paperback! If you have enjoyed Dragons of Frost and Fire, try the companion novel Dragons of Desert and Dust! Dragons of Wind and Waves, the third companion novel in the Dragons of Earth, Wind, Fire and Air series, will be released in 2018.
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