I don’t have the heart to turn Rabbit and Frog back out into the cold after taking me to my door. I smuggle them in under my coat and they make themselves at home in a nest of my stuffed animals.
But I don’t sleep. The face of the frozen man and future telling sticks keep me awake till I hear Auntie’s alarm from up the hallway. With dry eyes, I tiptoe to start the day, carefully hiding Frog and Rabbit behind my slippers and the crisply folded corner of my blanket.
While Auntie gets ready for work, I feed the dogs and start breakfast. Everything is done and piping hot when Auntie is showered and ready to eat. As I pick at my food, the dogs sniff at my clothes instead of begging Auntie for scraps, their noses right where I held my friends last night. To keep Auntie from suspecting I share my bacon with the dogs. I’m not really hungry anyway.
Time doesn’t move as fast as it should till Auntie shuts the door behind her and I let the dogs run wild out in the back yard so I can give Frog and Rabbit the chance to come out of my room.
“Where would the Cold One be hiding?” I ask Frog, kneeling at my bedside looking at both animals perched on my bed.
“I don’t think even Marsalla knows that.” Rabbis says, grooming her ears as she talks.
“We could ask her.” Frog fidgets, his webbed feet not happy on my plush blanket. “She could at least direct us somehow.”
“Let’s go now!” I bounce to my feet and run for my clothes. Rabbit follows with Frog on her back, waiting on the kitchen chair out of reach of the dogs when I let them in from the cold. I carry the small animals with me to the front door and lock everything up tight before dashing to Marsalla’s. It starts to snow on the way there, covering my tracks as I sneak around to the back door.
I only knock once and she opens the door, pulling me out of the cold with a smile. “What can I do for you today, Boot?” She says after closing the door against the wind.
“We need to know where the Cold One is.” Rabbit says, jumping from my wet and cold arms into Marsalla’s warm and dry ones.
Frog stays in my elbow where the snow didn’t reach. “Or at least point the way.”
“Ah, I think I can help you out there.” Marsalla smiles that grin where I can tell she knows something and turns to her kitchen. I take off my boots and leave them with my coat to drip in the hallway before I follow.
“Mama was good at the sticks. She could read the future of things using branches, bones, even chopsticks. If I dropped a handful of pens, Mama could see something to tell me.” Marsalla let Rabbit jump down onto the counter a good distance from the bubbling pot on the stove. “My specialty is water. I can read shapes in the ripples and reflections and it can tell me where things are.”
When Marsalla looks into the big copper pot boiling on the stove, the rest of us lean in, too.
“Uh, I can’t find anything if all I see is your faces.” She says.
Blushing, I back away and Marsalla turns off the pot. She watches as the steam coils up to the ceiling. I try to be patient as she looks at the water but it’s worse than waiting for the huskies to do their business outside during a really bad snow.
“I should have known.” Marsalla sighs, taking a mug down from the cabinet and tossing a tea bag into it. Pouring water on top, she points for me to sit.
Once I’m comfortable and Frog is bouncing on my shoulder with impatience, Marsalla sits next to me with a plate of goodies fit for all three of us; cookies, veggies, and a small cup of maggots for Frog who hops down right to them to eat.
“Go back to the frozen prince and follow his direction.” Marsalla shivers. “He will show you the way to the Cold One.”
I look up at Marsalla from my cup of tea with complete awe. This is what I expected from a witch who the whole town fears.
“Sorry, Boot. You don’t have time to wait for your clothes to dry before going onthis trip.” Marsalla pats my head with the same tender stroke she used on Rabbit’s fur. “Go on. Finish your tea and all of you, eat. By the time you guys are dressed and ready, I’ll have a bag packed for you.” Marsalla tucks that same curl behond her ear. “I can’t go with you but I can make sure you’re well stocked for your trip.”