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.
"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 in you."
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 find out."
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 on me.
"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 the rule."
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 like this."
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 the rest."
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 his arms.
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 gray sky.
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 the snow.
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 the nose.
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 is that?"
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 after him.
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 and wind.
"That isn't supposed to be here."
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's not."
"Where's it supposed to be?" I asked them.
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 spoke up.
"You mean it's got a schedule?" I questioned them.
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 was gone.
I turned to the two men and crossed my arms over my chest. "This better be good."