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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Thin Ice

A Mystery

Alaska Wild (Volume 1)

Paige Shelton

Minotaur Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

One


The good thing about being suddenly overcome with fresh terror is that you forget everything else you were afraid of. At least temporarily.

The pilot next to me in the two-seat prop plane angled his almost toothless grin my direction and said loudly, “A little bumpy today. You’ll get used to it.”

I doubted that, but I was too scared to respond. Besides, we had to yell to hear each other over the engine; the headsets we both wore were merely ear protection. I swallowed hard and nodded, sure my face had turned gray, my lips thin. At least, that’s how I’d once described what a sense of terror looked like when it came over one of my characters. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was pleased that I’d nailed the description. And then the plane dipped again, my stomach following closely behind. I forgot about everything, characters included, but our plummet toward earth.

“Oh,” I said with a catching breath.

The pilot, his name was Hank, laughed and then scratched his chin. “This is nothing. Like I said, you’ll get used to it.”

Not riding in this sort of plane ever again might be a good reason to never leave my new home. Surely, Benedict, Alaska, would suit me just fine. Everything was going to be fine. I was going to be fine there, feet on the ground, all the time. Totally fine.

We moved through a layer of gray clouds that dissipated quickly and the world beneath became exposed. I gasped at the sight, but I was sure Hank didn’t hear. I was on the way to a small village, but all I could see from above was landscape so beautiful and gigantic that it stretched the edges of my very soul. Mountains, ocean, tributaries, wilderness, big puzzle pieces of geography with long borders. The small plane and our small selves were mere specks in comparison. And that was exactly what I’d wanted, what I’d searched to find—I silently reminded myself. If this expansive place didn’t swallow me whole, it would hide me well.

“What’s that you got there?” Hank asked as he nodded at the item on my lap.

“It’s a typewriter,” I said loudly as I looked at him. If he didn’t hear me, he could probably read my thinned lips.

“You’re sure hanging on to it tight,” he said.

I hadn’t noticed, but I was holding on to the old Olympia’s boxy clip-on case for dear life. If I died and it remained intact, at least it might make a good souvenir for my agent or editor.

“You write?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” I lied. In fact, I wrote a lot. As a writer, I spent most of my time typing. At least I used to. I’d brought the Olympia with the hope that I would be able to work again. I still had deadlines. I just had to figure out if I could do what I needed to do to meet them. Write. Create. Come up with fictional stories, thrillers. “It’s a family heirloom,” I lied again.

I’d bought it myself twelve years ago in a pawnshop hidden in the Missouri Ozark woods. I’d written every one of my six bestselling novels on it, but I wouldn’t tell Hank about those either.

“Yeah?”

I nodded.

“Okay. Cool,” he said as his eyes flitted over the c-shaped scar on the side of my head.

I’d had to take off the cap I’d put on to cover the scar so the headset would fit. The staples were gone and the hair around the scar was already growing out from the surgical shave, but the cut line was still conspicuous, without the cap at least. It would probably always be somewhat noticeable, or so my neurosurgeon had said. She’d mentioned that part after telling me that my brain hadn’t been damaged badly and would recover fully; relief had overridden any vanity, but Hank’s searching eyes sent a self-conscious wave through me. I pushed it away.

“Why are you coming to Benedict?” Hank asked a moment later. He didn’t ask about the scar.

“I’m moving there,” I said.

“Why?” He gave me a full once-over with his eyes. There was nothing lascivious about the inspection, just curiosity.

“I wanted to get away for a while.”

“Mission accomplished, little lady. It’s a great place. You’ll love it, and it’s made for people who want to get away for a while. Or forever, I suppose.”

I cringed inwardly at “little lady” but sent the man currently in control of my survival another understanding but forced smile.

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“A room at Benedict House.”

It had been the pictures I’d found on the hospital’s Internet of the old hotel that ultimately sold me on Benedict, Alaska. A timeworn, two-story building on the corner of the quaint, minuscule downtown, its Russian architecture was interesting; white with blue trim and topped by a golden dome. It was somehow both welcoming and regal, invulnerable, maybe fortress-like. Via Dr. Genero’s computer—so no one could trace the search to me—I’d also looked at pictures of the nearby Glacier Bay and the surrounding mountains and glaciers, which had seemed big but not as big as they looked in person. However, it had been that old hotel, a place that seemed to promise safety and security, that had made my decision. As it was, I hadn’t had much time to consider many options. I’d sneaked into the office with only a fifteen-minute or so window to use the computer unnoticed. I’d left the office just as a nurse walked around the corner. She’d smiled at me, her eyes flitting over the scar, which had been even more obvious two weeks ago, but she hadn’t seemed curious as to why I was in that hallway, a wing with only doctors’ offices, in my hospital gown and sweatpants.

“Oh, I see. What did you do to get put into Benedict House?” Hank asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said after a pause.

He looked at me with furrowed eyebrows and a mouth agape. He said, “What do you know about Benedict House?”

“It’s a Russian Orthodox Church building that was converted to a hotel, and had a room available?”

“Huh. Interesting.”

I looked at him. “What’s wrong with the Benedict House?”

“I didn’t know they were open to renting out rooms.” He rubbed his hand over his chin again.

“A hotel not open to renting out rooms?”

“Well.” He shook his head at himself. “Not important. Hang on, we’re almost there.”

The plane dipped and tipped, and I held on to the typewriter even more tightly. I wished for the mysterious conversation about the Benedict House to continue if only to distract me from the impending crash.

I looked out at the landscape again and tried to breathe evenly. A couple of hours ago, I’d stepped off a bigger, normal-sized plane in Juneau and had been greeted by a cool, rainy day. However, my glimpse out of the bigger plane’s window of the coastal city made me wonder if I should have chosen it over Benedict. Juneau wasn’t big, but it was civilized. The flight in the smaller plane had taken us through lots of clouds, but now that we were well underneath them, I could see very little civilization.


Copyright © 2019 by Paige Shelton-Ferrell