I awake to an irregular plink-plink-plop sound of dripping water.
My face is squished against something solid. Slightly slimy. It smells of earth and mould. I open my eyes, pre-cringing for something nasty, but only see wood close-up. Why is my face pressed up against wood? And where is… “Nom?” I say, groggily.
There’s no answer.
What happened? I remember… snow, sharp snow and then it was raining blades of ice, a desperate sprint, falling into the house. A house that was clearly a trap of some kind and then… being really tried and falling asleep.
Into the trap.
Quickly, I sit up and look around. The house is melting. Normally, that’s the kind of statement that follows an afternoon of careless mushroom foraging, but in this case it really is. It was mostly ice to start with. The walls are no longer solid blocks of white but transparent and glistening. I can see the sun and blue sky through the ceiling. Water is dripping everywhere. Nom is on the same wooden floorboard that I am, just past my feet.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
She moves but doesn’t respond.
I prod her in the head with my boot, “Oi!”
She waves a hand at it and makes a grumpy sound like “wrnargle!”
That’s good. What’s also good is that I feel very refreshed, like I’ve had a solid night’s sleep. And while it is good, it’s also pretty ruddy suspicious.
I check my belongings. All my weapons are there. The Thing is still there, my little knife, the jar of balm Tosh gave me, my Tik Furs, even the rucksack of food, they all appear to be untouched. Hmmm. What trap did we fall into then?
I press at my sides in case I’m missing any organs. No stabs of pain. No gaps where there should be kidneys. No new injuries of any kind. It makes me nervous. I scoot over to Nom and give her a gentle shiggle. She blinks her big eyes, sees me and smiles.
“Morning, Shoo,” she says.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She smacks her lips and looks thoughtful, “Yes, I feel very good.”
“Are you hurt at all? Anything missing? Belongings or, um, body parts.”
Nom looks panicked at the suggestion and quickly checks her rucksack, she breathes a sigh of relief, “Food’s still there.” She pops a yellow fruit into her mouth.
“That’s great,” I say dryly. “And you? Are you hurt?”
She checks herself and shakes her head, “Nuh-uh.”
What the heck? That makes no sense. Normally if I’m knocked out, I wake up in some desperate situation with something trying to murder me. A good night’s sleep is not what you expect after stumbling into someone’s devious trap. Perhaps they weren’t home.
“Can you remember anything about last night?” I ask Nom.
She scrunches her wormy face up in wormy concentration. “No. I think I had a dream. I ate something strange, but it was yummy. Really, really yummy. Super yummy, like it’s the only thing I’m supposed to eat,” she looks like she’s lost a beloved pet. “But now I can’t remember what it was.”
She throws another fruit in her mouth but doesn’t seem happy about it.
“Don’t worry, maybe you’ll dream about it again tonight,” I tell her.
She brightens up at that thought.
I get to my feet and brush myself off. The floorboards that were made from ice are now half their size and, if I put weight on them, liquid mud squishes up over their edges. It’s pretty gross so I avoid stepping on them and it’s probably best to prevent slipping and landing on my arse anyway.
I help Nom up and we balance our way along the wooden floorboard and hop the short distance to the door.
Outside, the sound of trickling and running water is loud. There is less snow. Like, a lot less snow. There are still piles and drifts of it but it’s all melting. Around the cabin, the ground has become mud. It’s warm too, the air, not the mud. Not just cool, or not cold, but actually warm. I can feel icy air swishing around my legs from the melting mounds of snow, but I can also feel heat from the sun. My Tik Furs shiver in response and shrink themselves down.
The muddy earth exposed by the snowmelt is speckled green with little shoots of plants. There’s even a snowdrop, a Spring flower, bravely pushing through a patch of snow. The warm stream on the slope to our right has become wider and fast-moving. It’s more of a river now than a stream. I guess this is because the snow further up the slope is melting and running down. I hope no blue idiots in Ash End get washed away. That would be just terrible.
“It’s Spring,” I say, in wonder. “Nom, Spring has sprung!”
“It’s what?” asks Shoo.
“Spring. The season after Winter? Where the snow melts and everything grows?”
Nom shakes her head, “No.”
“What do you mean no?”
“There’s always just snow. It’s always Winter here. They used to talk about it down the mine. Snow for as long as anyone can remember.”
“Gods!” I say. “Either we were asleep for a lot longer than a night-”
“Just a night, I think,” Nom says and taps her head. “I can tell, up here.”
“In that case, we slept through something big.”
“Okay,” Nom shrugs disinterestedly and looks in her bag, “Shoo when we get to the next town, can we buy some different food? I’m bored of fruit.”
With a sigh, I take her hand and start walking towards the hill again. Maybe the walk will be a bit more interesting now that the ruddy snow’s melting. Plus, there’s less chance of my toes freezing and snapping off, which is a bonus.
“Different food?” I say. “I don’t see why not. What do you fancy?”
“Dunno,” she smacks her lips thoughtfully. “Meat maybe.”
“Sure,” I say. “Variety is the heart of a healthy diet, I heard.”
“Yes,” Nom says, going distant at the thought. “I would like to eat some variety. I hope it wriggles.”
“Um… Wriggles?” I look at her with concern. She smiles happily at me, innocently. “Okay, I mean that’s probably a little… undercooked for me but we’ll see what they’ve got.”
Nom gives my leg a quick hug, “Thanks, Shoo! You’re the best!“
Don’t judge, I tell myself. Chwillion, after all, dredge the bottom of a river for food, consider anything moving as a bonus and some of my favourite people are Chwillion. Nom’s just a different species, that’s all, with a different diet.
She hiccups and burps a cloud of icy air, “Shoo, can dreams give you indigestion?”