Authors: Chris Mould
Pip and the Twilight Seekers
The winters are long, here in the hollow. Cold and thick and deep. Snowstorms sweep across the valley and through the city, tearing through the streets between the houses and piling drifts up against the doorways, whistling between the trees and lacing thick frost around the trunks and branches.
The clawed hands and spindly claws of the forest creatures had retreated into the barky holes of the Spindlewood trees. The thick white of the forest floor was free of their cloven hoof marks and lumbering footprints. Even Jarvis, the city warden, sat cooped up in his hovel, unable to venture out in search of strays. He hated children and he would stop at nothing to be rid of them. But right now, his carriage lay broken upon the ground, its axle crushed, the loose wheel discarded and covered in snow.
No one had moved for some time. Not since those three children had escaped the evils of the forest by the skin of their teeth and had Jarvis and the rest of the woodsfolk screaming after them.
But now the wind stopped. The hurling of snow and chilled air came to an abrupt halt. Beneath the deep drifts were shattered roof tiles and broken chimney pots. Fractured branches from nearby trees poked out like spring buds. But this was no growing season. The freezing winter was still waging war against the world.
“Crank up the fire, Esther,” urged Jarvis as he sat lazily huddled up to the fireplace with one hand and one hook tucked into his armpits. He watched, amused, as the crow pulled meager twigs from the basket and nosed them into place, dancing around the spits of crackling orange.
Eventually he rose from his chair and hooked back the drab, rotted curtain that framed his frosty window. He breathed on the glass and circled his hand on the pane. “The blizzard has stopped, Esther. It’s time to seek out our revenge and lay our hands on those pesky little city rats. We know they’re here. I always get my prize in the end,” he said proudly, one eye shut and the other squinting out through the glass, his bulbous nose squishing against the pane.
Jarvis had been tracking his mind back through the recent turmoil in the hollow. He’d almost had those three children in his grasp. He’d come so close to putting them in the forest keep. But they’d escaped and now he boiled with anger.
All through the blizzards that had followed after the children’s escape, he had sat inside and turned things over in his mind. He could still see them. The smallest was a young boy whom he knew to go by the name of Pip. The next, a young girl, memorable by her rats’ tails of hair and ragged clothes. But the biggest, a large boy, was somehow more familiar. That tubby-cheeked face kept coming to him. He’d seen it somewhere before and he knew it would come back to him if he thought long and hard enough.
“Time to venture out, I think,” said Jarvis, announcing his next move to Esther.
“But what of the carriage?” begged Esther. “And the broken wheel?”
“I’m going to walk to the tavern, Esther. Something is preying on my mind.” Jarvis seemed to be lost in thought.
He was about to step out through the door when he turned back. He wandered over to the hearth and, lifting his left arm, he sharpened the tip of his hook against the stone lintel. He took a long proud look at its pointed end, gave it a shine with the corner of his black cloak, and then wrapped the cloak around himself and disappeared into the night, leaving deep footprints in the thick of the snow.
Pip had not heard the expression “lying low” until now. Apparently it meant staying quiet and keeping your head down after having caused a ruckus. And so that’s just what was happening at the Deadman’s Hand. Frankie, Pip, and Toad had been hiding at the tavern while the blizzard blew over the city and all the marks of their escape from the forest were covered over by the snow.
But for how long were they safe at the inn? They didn’t know. Sam was on edge. His own son, Toad, was the first of the three children. Sam had harbored him since his birth in the hollow. The death of Toad’s mother had meant that he had done this alone. The second child was the boy Pip. He had arrived, quite by accident in the back of a carriage, in an attempt to escape his own grim circumstances, and not realizing that his escape led him to something far more dangerous. The third was the young girl, Frankie Duprie, whom they had rescued from the clock tower after her family had tried to escape the authorities. The rest of the Dupries were now thought to be imprisoned in the city jail.
They must tread carefully. Sam had already sent word through the city to the Duprie family that their daughter was safe at the inn. But who knew what might happen to the information along the way if it got into the wrong hands? The authorities would be all over him. And what about the forest people? They had already been riled by the escaping children. He did not want them knocking at his door.
They had been spending their days watching the blizzard while wrapped up cozy and warm by the fire. They’d baked cakes and pies and played games and ran around the building. Toad had shown Pip and Frankie all the secret parts of the old tavern and Sam had read them dark stories through the night when only the embers of the fire were left to light the way. “Just one more story,” Toad would plead as they sat on the edges of their seats into the early hours. And they would all cheer excitedly when Sam opened the pages again and began to read.