*This YA Paranormal Short Story is a Prequel to the Ice Princess Trilogy. It was previously ePublished under a different title and has been revised. I have the Reversal of Rights Letter on file. The images are Public Domain.*
THE FINDING OF THE ICE PRINCESS
by Kimber Li
Movement drew Ophelia Dawson’s attention away from her twin sister’s babble. She took in a sharp breath at the most beautiful bird she’d ever seen. A barn owl lit on a birch tree across the café’s parking lot. It settled its golden wings and turned its white face and chest to her. Green leaves fluttered all around it. Barn owls weren’t supposed to venture so far north, but there the bird perched in the tiny town of Togo, Alaska.
Looking right at her.
She stared back for the longest time.
A tingling raced up Ophelia’s spine and she trembled a bit. She glanced at her twin sister and friends in the booth with her and caught sight of a boy walking out the door. The bells, dangling from the door handle, jingled very near his denim-covered backside. He disappeared before she could lift her eyes any further.
Joe’s Bar & Grille only had four orange booths and one set of moose antlers mounted on the plain cedar walls. Ophelia felt stupid for not having noticed the boy before or if he was cute or not. Not one new person had moved into their dinky little town in seven years.
“What’s with you?”
Ophelia looked at her sister’s absurd expression and realized she’d risen to her feet. “Well, I was just….” She pointed her thumb toward the door. “Be right back.”
Stepping into the sunshine, Ophelia searched for the stranger. To the north, the gray cinderblock high school peeked above birch trees and cottonwoods, and beyond them the eternally white Alaskan mountains pierced the vivid blue sky. To the south, clouds rolled in from the sea.
Once upon a time, ships brought tourists from all over the world to take pictures of Togo’s glaciers and wolves. Those tourists had spent money on hats and scarfs knit from muskox fur by Alaska Native artists. They’d eaten reindeer sausage like hot dogs. The business had enabled the townsfolk to survive the long, dark winters. But, a new ship hadn’t chugged into the harbor in seven years. Only fishing boats came and went, both commercial and private.
A bald eagle perched high in a spruce, no doubt selecting lunch from among the ducks in the nearby pond. But, the boy was gone.
Sadness descended on her, twisting into intense longing. She rubbed her aching stomach and walked back inside, wanting what she could not name.
Ophelia sank back into the booth and looked at her twin, still yapping like all life depended on her admission to costume design school.
Bianca had perfectly coiffed long, dark red hair, and light blue eyes. On perhaps the last sunny day of the short subarctic summer, she’d insisted they wear shorts and white tank tops. She’d thrown a fit when Ophelia pulled on a blue button-up shirt too.
“We should wear sweaters and long pants, like everyone else,” Ophelia whispered. She glanced at their friends all covered up against the Autumn chill. “People are going to think we’re weird.”
“We are weird. So what?” Bianca popped another French fry into her mouth.
It was the last Sunday before the beginning of their junior year. Ophelia had less than twenty-four hours of peace before Bianca’s new obsessions sent the snotty girls at school into a fashionable hissy fit.
A flash of red drew Ophelia’s attention back out the window.
A new Dodge Ram pulled up and Martin Brynner barreled out of the driver’s seat. Tall and buff, a red T-shirt hugged his chest and shoulders. His eyes were full of life and he smiled, revealing slightly crooked teeth. His dark blond hair was cut short, but still curled on top of his head. A scar streaked across his dimpled chin.
A hot blush swept over Ophelia from her cheeks down her chest and all the way to her toes. She pressed a fist to her lips, cleared her throat, and checked to make sure her hair covered her ears.
“Oh, dog,” groaned Bianca as he approached the café door. She would’ve said ‘oh God,’ but Ophelia would tell their mom she’d taken the Lord’s name in vain and then she’d lose her car keys. Again. “Martin is such a fraud.”
“He’s always nice to me.”
Bianca still wasn’t over making out with Martin after the prom, only to be dumped the next day. He hadn’t even been her date, but she never took such things well.
Ophelia feigned interest in her orange juice to avoid her sister’s glare.
“Be careful what you wish for.”
Martin pushed the glass door open and a jingling sound rose around his gorgeous smile.
“Hey, Ophelia.” He lifted an iPad in his right hand. “Can you fix this for me?”
“Sure.” She slid out of the booth and followed him to the only open table in the tiny café.
“He’s only nice to you so he doesn’t have to pay you to fix his little gadgets,” grumbled Bianca.
“Friends help each other.”
“Right.” Martin pulled out a chair for her and sat down. “It went blank on me.” He set the iPad down and lifted its black cover. “Had lunch yet?”
“No, but I’m fine.” She pressed the ‘on’ button.
“You always say that.” Martin’s blue eyes sparkled in the sunshine streaming through the window and he turned in his seat. “Hey, Joe, can you bring Ophelia orange juice and a chicken sandwich?” He knew she was diabetic and not allowed to eat and drink certain things.
The burly cook in a spaghetti-splattered apron waved a hand and opened his antique refrigerator.
“Thank you.” Ophelia swallowed hard and kept her focus on the computer screen. She hoped he couldn’t hear her throbbing pulse.
Martin had specific tastes in girls. He liked them tall, large breasted, and willing to accommodate him in the backseat.
Ophelia was short, small-chested, and had a chronic case of virginity.
“He’s using you,” called Bianca.
Ophelia looked over her shoulder again at her glaring sister.
“Leave her alone.” Martin scowled back and folded his arms on the table. “Geez, your sister’s co-dependent.”
“We’ve shared everything.” Ophelia turned the iPad over and examined the back. “Including a placenta.” Reaching into her purple purse, she pulled out a Leatherman tool and unfolded a tiny screwdriver from inside it. “Maybe the battery’s dead.”
“Most girls keep make-up in their purses.” Martin grinned and tapped the zipper.
Ophelia’s face burned, but she figured romantic torture was better than no romance at all. “Bianca puts my make-up on for me.” Oh, dog, that sounded pathetic!
“You going to the Homecoming Dance with Trevor?”
“Probably, if he asks.” But, I prefer blonds.
“You’re too good for him.” Martin winked.
Ophelia ignored the obvious flattery and kept working on the iPad. “How would you know?”
Martin nudged her with his elbow. “We’ve been friends a long time. Remember knocking me off my bike and into a mud puddle when we were kids?”
She flashed him a smile. “You’ll have to send it to the dealer in Anchorage.”
“Thanks. Don’t bother with Trevor.”
Ophelia was taken aback by his comment. The cook set her sandwich and juice on the table. “Thank you.”
Joe’s Bar & Grille was too small for waitresses.
“Why not bother with Trevor?” Ophelia poked at her sandwich and picked out a bit of lettuce. “Bianca will throw a fit if we don’t both have dates for the Homecoming Dance. She’s been working on our dress designs all summer.”
“Things are gonna change soon, Ophelia. I’ll be eighteen tomorrow.” Martin pushed out from the table and ran a finger down her hair.
Ophelia shivered at his touch and watched him walk out. Seriously hot. She swallowed the amour.
Martin flirted with all the girls. She was only special because she fixed his gadgets for free. He hadn’t invited her to his birthday party and it was the biggest non-school event of the year. Still, she couldn’t help but imagine herself dancing with him under the crepe paper at Homecoming, maybe even with a tiara on her head.
Bianca came over and picked up her sandwich. “Martin’s a parasite.”
“Sometimes I really hate you.” Ophelia wrapped up her sandwich and took it with her. “I’m buying the groceries and going home.”
A few minutes later, an avalanche of Mountain Dew bottles and Snickers candy bar wrappers fell out of Ophelia’s Ford Focus when she opened the door. “Oh, dog, I wish my sister would stop cussing so she could get her car keys back!” She scooped the garbage up with both hands and hurriedly tossed it into the stinky green dumpster.
A wave of gray pain rolled over her head and coiled at the base of her neck. “Migraine, crap.” She grimaced.
A cry of shock brought Ophelia out of her pain. It wasn’t her cry, but it sounded inside her mind. She spun in time to see a creature fall from a tree in the thick cottonwood grove. A body hit the ground with a significant crash among the wild rose bushes and fireweed. “A bear?” But, it had a human shape.
Whoever, or whatever, it was had surely suffered major injuries. She left the dumpster and jogged down the little path, searching the ferns. “Hello? Are you all right?”
The bald eagle dove through the branches, breaking light, shrieking with talons open in attack mode. The fallen creature fled; cracking and snapping branches, large and powerful.
If the eagle was angry, the creature must’ve been dangerous. Ophelia had grown up in Alaska and witnessed the competition between predators many times.
Bald Eagles mated for life and protected one another fiercely. Still, it was late in the season for one to be in town. With a rush of wings, the eagle returned, flying low through the trees rather than above.
Ophelia stumbled back, fearing the bird’s path led straight to her.
The eagle swooped up and came to rest on a branch with a mighty flap of its wings, talons gripping so very near to her.
Ophelia’s eyes went dry from staring.
In silence, the barn owl fluttered in white and perched next to the eagle.
She now stared with both birds.
The two birds, fierce raptors both, one soundless and the other bold, sat together. This never happened in the wild. Ever.
The owl tilted its head to hear.
A twig broke somewhere down the path, deep in the brush.
The eagle launched forward again. The wind beneath its feathers swept over Ophelia’s face. And it shrieked.
“This is turning into a dark fairytale,” she whispered.
The owl stared at her.
“I’m just…” Ophelia knew the strangeness of explaining herself, as though the creature bore intelligence and a charge over her. “I’m going now. Bye.” She jogged up the dirt path and crunched through some golden birch leaves to her car.
Hardly a breath and the owl flew over her head and lit upon a fence post. “You’re following me,” she whispered. Another feeling rippled through her and she wondered after its source back down the path.
On to Chapter Two- https://iceprincesstrilogy.wordpress.com/chapter-two/
© Kimber Li, 2016 – 2017. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kimber Li is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kimber Li with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you.