The Cold People
It was another Spooksville mystery.
The town was freezing, and it was summer still. The cold weather was as strange as the boiling temperatures of a couple weeks earlier, when Adam Freeman and his friends had run into aliens. None of them could understand what had brought on the chilly snap. That Monday morning—when they first got up—every window in town was coated with a fine layer of white frost. Little did they know that by the time the sun went down, there would be frost inside many of the people who lived in Spooksville.
Adam, Sally Wilcox, Cindy Makey, and Watch started off the day by having their usual milk and doughnuts at the local bakery. Actually, because of the cold, they each had a cup of coffee as well, just to warm their bones. Watch had a thermometer in one of the four watches he regularly wore, and he studied it as they munched their food. He said he doubted the temperature would get above freezing all day.
“It’s still in the low twenties,” he added. “If we’re going to be outside today, we’d better keep moving.”
They took Watch’s suggestion to heart and decided to spend the day hiking in the woods in the hills around Spooksville. They pedaled their bikes until the road ran out and then hid them in some trees. Adam had been up in the hills before, of course, when he visited the Haunted Cave and the reservoir. But he had never been into the woods. He was amazed at the size and variety of the trees.
“This forest is like something out of Hansel and Gretel,” he said as they hiked along a narrow path covered with pine needles. He wore a heavy jacket, which he unzipped as he walked. The exercise was taking away some of the chill.
Sally snorted. “Hansel and Gretel were light-weights.
They had only one witch to kill, and they got famous. We get worse than that every week and no one writes about us.”
“We need a press agent,” Watch agreed. “Our life stories need to be on TV.”
“Personally I like being unknown,” Cindy said. “I don’t need all the money and fame.”
“Wait till you’re a few years older,” Sally said. “Money and fame will be what you crave most.”
“I think all that stuff is superficial,” Cindy said.
Sally snickered. “Spoken like a true liberal. In this world you’ve got to cash in on whatever, whenever you can. For that reason I’ve started to keep a journal of my experiences. If I don’t die in the next ten years, I figure I’ll be able to auction the movie rights to my life.”
“Am I in your journal?” Adam asked.
Sally hesitated. “You’re mentioned in a small footnote.”
It was Cindy’s turn to snicker. “I bet the whole journal is about Adam.”
“That’s not true,” Sally said quickly.
“Ha,” Cindy said. “Prove it. Let us read it.”
“You can read it,” Sally said. “In exchange for a million bucks.”
As usual, Sally had the last word. They continued
up the path without further conversation. The path narrowed as the trees grew thicker and pushed in from the sides. The way the heavy branches hung over them, it could have been close to dark—the shade was that deep. Yet Adam could still make out his breath as he exhaled. Once again he wondered about the strange weather, and what could be causing it. He knew there must be a reason.
They were finished exploring and about to turn back when they spotted the Cold People. Adam saw them first, but thought he was just seeing huge blocks of ice jammed between trees. That in itself would have been strange. Even though there was frost, there was no actual snow or ice.
“Hey,” Adam said, pointing to a spot fifty feet off the path. “What’s that?”
They all peered in the shadows.
“Looks like a glacier,” Sally said.
“The ice age would have to arrive for us to have a glacier here,” Cindy said.
“This town is not known for standard weather patterns,” Sally said. “Two winters ago we had an iceberg float into our harbor. It hung offshore for a couple of months. We had incredible snowball fights, until a polar bear came out of a hidden ice cave and ate Buddy Silverstone.”
Cindy snorted. “I don’t believe it.”
“There actually was an iceberg,” Watch said. “But it was an Eskimo who came out of the cave. And he just invited Buddy to dinner.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t tell Buddy that he was the main course,” Sally lied.
“Would you guys stop arguing and tell me what we’re looking at,” Adam said.
Cindy squinted. “Looks like big blocks of ice.”
“We know that,” Sally said impatiently. “But what is the nature of these blocks of ice? Are they composed of frozen water? Are they from this planet? You have to ask yourself these questions.”
“Why don’t we walk over and have a closer look,” Watch suggested.
It was a reasonable idea, although it was harder to get to the ice blocks than Adam would have imagined. The trees were so dense that he felt as if they were threatening to squeeze him to a pulp. No pun intended, he thought. But he realized he must be flashing back on his first day in Spooksville, when a tree had, in fact, tried to eat him alive. He had thought at the time that that was a strange day. Looking back, it had been pretty normal for Spooksville.
There were not the two or three blocks of ice they
had seen from the path, but literally dozens. Some were lying down, others stood jammed between tree trunks. They were almost all identical in size, seven feet long by two feet deep and wide. Adam and his friends knelt by the first one they came to—which was lying flat. Watch tried brushing off the outer covering of frost. But still they could not see to the center of it.
Yet they could make out something in there.
Something large and dark.
“These are shaped like frozen coffins,” Sally said softly.
“Where did they come from?” Cindy whispered, fear in her voice. Up close, the ice blocks were sort of scary. Watch continued to brush at the outer frost, probably hoping to clear the ice.
“I don’t think the ice-cream man put them here,” Sally said.
“This block is really cold,” Watch said, pausing to breathe on his unprotected hand. “And I don’t mean it’s ice-cold.”
“What do you mean?” Cindy asked.
“Let me show you,” Watch said. He took off the watch that had the thermometer and laid it on top of the block. He left it there for perhaps ten seconds
before he snapped it back up. He studied the reading. “Ten degrees Fahrenheit,” he muttered.
“That’s twenty-two degrees below freezing,” Sally whispered, amazed.
“That’s a lot colder than the air temperature ever gets around here,” Adam said.
Watch nodded. “Unless these blocks were just dropped here a few minutes ago—which I doubt—something inside them is generating this incredible cold.” He tapped at the block with the knuckles of his right hand, then leaned over and sniffed it. “I don’t even think this is frozen water.”
“What is it, then?” Cindy asked.
Watch frowned. “It has a faint ammonia smell. But it’s not ammonia.” He glanced at Adam. “I’d like to thaw one of these out.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Adam asked.
“No,” Sally and Cindy said quickly together. They glanced at each other in surprise. They seldom agreed on anything. Sally continued, “There may be something inside we don’t want thawed out.”
“Like what?” Adam asked.
Sally shook her head. “You know this town. We could have anything from a bloodthirsty vampire to
a blob from Planet Zeon inside here. I have a personal rule against fooling with any strange artifact that might end up eating me.”
“That rule must make your journal pretty boring,” Cindy remarked.
“There’s a problem here that we’re forgetting,” Adam said. “It’s freezing today, and it’s still summer. These blocks are colder than freezing. So is it possible there’s a connection between the two?”
Watch nodded. “Good point. But I know for a fact that these blocks alone are not cooling off the entire town.”
“I’m not saying that,” Adam replied. “What I mean is these blocks may have come here today because it’s cold.”
“You mean whoever put them here might be making it cold?” Cindy asked.
“Exactly,” Adam said.
“I think we have to take a chance,” Watch said. “We have to thaw one out. Maybe there’s nothing inside any of these blocks.”
“I have my Bic lighter,” Sally said reluctantly. “We could gather some dry sticks and build a fire beside it.”
“But the fire might hurt whatever is inside the block,” Cindy said.
“Personally, I’m not worried about that,” Sally said.
“If we’re careful with the flames,” Watch said, “I’m sure we can avoid damaging the contents of the block.”
Adam nodded. “I do think we have to have a look at the inside. I know I won’t be able to sleep wondering what’s in it. As long as we all understand that we probably won’t be able to freeze the block again.”
Sally nodded. “This is like opening Pandora’s box. There might be no way to close the box.”