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A frigid whorl of air blew fat flakes of snow up Ellen's right nostril -- her left was frozen shut. She would have grimaced, but her face was too numb to move.
"Edgar, g-get that f-fire going," she said through chattering teeth.
Her twin brother rubbed together two wicker reeds, hoping to set fire to the rest of the hot-air balloon basket heaped in the snowdrift.
They had traveled in the airship for weeks, leaving behind the warmth and familiarity of Nod's Limbs and trading it, day by day, for air that bit ever more crisply into their skin, and fields below that changed from green to brown to (as of three days ago) white. The weather turned cruel, and the balloon itself had become laden with sheets of ice during an arctic blizzard. With fuel for the burner and rocket thrusters running out, the basket had sunk lower and lower, until it scraped the rocky ground. They could see nothing beyond the dense curtain of snowflakes, and when the balloon itself brushed a rocky outcropping, it cracked apart like peanut brittle. Now there was nothing left in Edgar and Ellen's world but freezing winds, snow, and a pile of wicker that refused to catch fire.
"I s-saw a spark!" called Edgar. "White hot spsparks...everywhere..."
"For the l-last time, those are sn-sn-snowflakes," croaked Ellen.
"Right you are," said Edgar deliriously. "Burning h-hot snowflakes...Come here, l-little fellas...."
He began to dance about, attempting to hug the snowflakes for warmth.
Ellen pulled a holey blanket over her head, the only real protection she had against the weather besides the ratty footie pajamas she and her brother always wore. In just a few hours of snowy torment on the forsaken mountainside, her brother had gone mad, truly mad, and she knew she could not be far behind. She glanced at Pet for some sign of hope, but the little creature had drawn its mound of hair around its single eye, until it appeared to be no more than a fuzzy snowball. Whether it was warm under that insulation she could not say, for Pet had stopped moving an hour ago, and the blowing snow was beginning to pile up around it. Soon it would be buried and lost. As would they all.
Her brother pulled his arms all the way inside his pajamas, leaving the sleeves to flap maniacally as he bounded in circles, singing nursery rhymes. Ellen's lids narrowed, and she could feel ice working to seal them shut. Would her eyes close now for the final time?
Then she heard Death itself call to her.
"Four," came a ghostly voice on the wind.
"M-Minutes?" she asked the swirling snow. "Or hours?"
"What did you say, Sister?" said Edgar, stopping his frolic.
"D-D-Death calls, Brother," Ellen moaned. "Proclaiming the m-m-moment of our d-doom. In f-four."
"Sister, you've gone mad," Edgar announced. "Stark-raving, full-tilt, nuts-to-you -- "
That's when the golf ball hit Edgar in the head and knocked him out cold.
The little ball rolled to a stop near Ellen's toes. It really did look like a golf ball, down to the pitted dimples across its surface, except this ball was neon purple and stood out brilliantly against the snow.
A man's head popped up from behind a rock. His bushy beard was crusted with ice, and he wore a Scottish tam o' shanter (though the thin, little hat did not look like it could possibly keep him very warm).
"There you are, little rascal!" the man said. He called back over his shoulder, "Found it, Knute! Going to be a two-stroke penalty to get you out of the rough, you betcha."
Another head popped up beside the first. This one wore a sensibly warm woolen hat, but when this fellow leaped over the rock to stand before her, Ellen noticed that he had on insanely ugly golfing knickers.
"Ah, snorft!" he cursed. He pointed a golf club at the purple ball. "I can play it where it lies, you watch. Little girl, would you mind moving your toes? Torbald here thinks I can't get back on the fairway with a five iron."
"Pff," said Torbald. "Ten frøstendollers says you slice it left."
Ellen considered her situation before responding. "Are you Death?"
"No, I'm Knute," said the man. "I have a cousin Dethborg, but you probably don't know him. He lives in Hjarnbladder."
"Oh," said Ellen. "I see. You h-hit my brother with your ball, Knute."
"Well, I did call fore," said Knute. "Oh, but maybe you didn't hear me over the howling winds. I'm sure sorry about that. You should head back to town and have his noggin looked at."
"T-T-T-T -- Did you say t-t-t-t -- "
"You can take our golf cart," said Knute.
Ellen peeked over the rock and saw their "cart": a small red dogsled attached to a team of huskies. The dogs also wore plaid tams. "I believe I'll accept your offer," she said at last.
"Good!" said Knute. "The dogs know the way to Frøsthaven Happy Healing Hospital, don't you, pups?" One of the huskies yipped. "We've got a couple of fur parkas for you too. Looks like you caught a bit of a chill, eh?"
"Hurry up there, Knute," said Torbald. "There's nine holes to go before it gets cold."
Knute sighed. "Wish it weren't so skortkraggen hard to get a tee time on this course."
With that, Knute sliced the ball wide left. It ricocheted off a jagged finger of ice and plummeted into a crevasse, never to be seen again.
Copyright © 2008 by Star Farm Productions, LLC