*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review. Trigger warning for childhood disease.
Camille and Bastien just had their second child and are of course overjoyed at the new arrival. But as time goes on, they discover the baby has severe heart defects and has to go through a long series of medical treatments.
Based on real events, this graphic novel shows the parents desperately trying to find solutions and the strain it has on their marriage, their first child, and even their grand parents. The art is gorgeous, especially when the parents hear what’s wrong and the doctors are describing what needs to be done and the risks. It’s overall hopeful since everyone tries their best to go through this painful and frightening situation. 4 out of 5.
“Leave the phone under the table and hide. When you hear me say so, blow the whistle in the bag!”
Rabbit dives into the bag and I push the phone under the scary mirrir where it disappears into the darkness. I can feel Rabbit squirming to find the whistle as I search for a big enough patch of shadow to hide me.
I crouch behind a giant pot that stinks of rusty ice. I can feel the cold seep through my mittens as the skittering grinds into the room and the Cold One drags herself near me. Her toenails on the floor hurt my ears and I fight really hard to keep from whimpering in pain.
The Cold One scuttles over to the table and leans on it so hard it groans. The small weight of the whistle is suddenly in the palm of my hand and fear steals more of my breath than the cold. I watch her curl her spindly hands over the edge and press her face right against the surface. I think for a second about wet tongues getting suck on poles but I bet the Cold One doesn’t stick to anything.
A horrible sucking sound makes me clap my hands over my ears. Frog and Rabbit burrow deeper into my coat and all I want in the world is to scream for her to stop. When I peek, I am instantly sorry I did as I watch jagged spikes grow from the bent back and hunched shoulders to make her look like a great big, scary, ice porcupine. The house shakes and groans as the noise stops and I swear it’s even colder; so bad my throat hurts when I breathe.
“Do it NOW!” I hear Marsalla scream and I take a deep, burning cold breath and blow on the whistle so hard, my face heats up. I’m exhausted and panting when I stop just in time to hear the little phone I left under the table say; “Run like hell! Don’t forget the necklace till help!” before it explodes in a burst of orange light.
When the bits of toy phone hit the ice, black goo leaks out and the Cold One roars. I don’t stick around to see any more and I do exactly what Marsalla sais. I hold the glowing candy out in front of me with Rabbit in my other arm and run as fast I my shaking legs and flopping bag will let me.
It’s seconds before I hear angry growling and scratching behind me and I dare to look back. Black ooze splatters around the Cold One as she runs after us, making such a mess, she slips in it, stumbling to the ice floor as I flee around a corner.
The candy jewel flutters when I make a wrong turn and gleams bright in the dark when I’m right. I nearly scream with joy at the sight of the front door but I feel a snag on my hood.
“Cheater!” The Cold One screams. “Sneak thief! Tresspasser!”
I hear the cricking whine of ice forming on my hood and pull hard to get away from the leaking ice monster. My hood doesn’t rip, it snaps where she touched it. In my panic, the candy necklace gets so hot, I have no coice but to throw it at her.
When it hits her in the cheek, a huge black mark of rot forms. I don’t watch it spread, I yank hard and run away from the wailing. The house is shaking under my feet. The wail becomes a howl when my mittens hit the door knob. I don’t even have to pull; the door crumbles to shards of frozen wood. I jump over them, side stepping the trap door, and reach the gate trembling all over. I don’t trust looking back anymore, not till I’m off the sidewalk and halfway into the empty street.
I hear Frog and Rabbit gasp as we all watch the house fall in on itself. Steam rises from the black ooze creeping over the whole thing. A blackend, clawed hand reaches out of the doorway, scraping at the wood. She screams louder, hissing and spitting under the rubble. I take a step back and bump into something soft. I hand hands on my shoulder and I look up to see the frozen prince smiling down at me. He gives me one calming pat before gliding around me.
His feet leave no prints as he passe the gate and walks silently up to the scratching hand. He looks at the Cold One, watches her try and crawl from the junk and I can see his skin glow golden brown. Light pours from his skin and with one final scream and a blinding flash, I’m pushed back by the force of a warm wind so hard, I pass out.
If you saw on my Facebook and Twitter, I finished another short story! Winter Boot was it. There’s probably typos but hey! Here’s the next chapter! 😀
The room around us is filled with the same light eating fog that surrounds the house, the floor so cold, I can feel it through my boots as I hurry to the dim outline of a door. I don’t wait long before squeezing through it and I don’t think about getting cought until I hear Rabbit’s horrified gasp.
“Sorry.” I whisper and my blush of embarassment is so warm, I’m sorta glad I goofed.
“Just be more careful!” She scolds me.
Being extra, super quiet, I follow the tug of the hidden candy around my neck. When I slip on the icy floor and catch myself, I find the walls sticky; groianing umder the press of my mitten. I look down at my two friends and we all share the same look of stomach rumbly nastiness.
The jewel leads me down the squishy hallway to a grey, dirty cersion of Marsalla’s warm and pretty kitchen. A pot boils on the stove, way too small to fit the three of us inside it. I would snoop to see what is in it but the jewel shivers around my neck and pulls me around the corner.
Frog hunkers down deep in my pocket. Rabbit squeeks and pressed against me. I don’t think I’m breathing. My eyes tear as I focus on everything the three of us thought we would fine in Masalla’s home because of how people talk. But it’s here. All of it. Jars of creatures, most not moving and others wishing they weren’t, bones littering the floor, some with meat still on them, and a black table with a mirrored top covered in tiny animal skulls and dripping candles. And the smell… How could it just be in this room? How did we not smell it from the hallway? It smells like something the dogs rolled in that made Auntie throw up.
When the jewel urges me inside, I can almost feel it apologize.
Downy feathers fly up, disturbed by my steps as I move and forcing me to look around. I see my poorly repacked bag and rescue it from the floor. With it on one shoulder and Rabbit on the other, I move to the table. I feel the jewel heat up when I look down into it, wax smeared and dribbled all over the edges and a wet, red handprint in the center. The glass shimmers with the frozen man’s face, the handprint making the blue features look wobbly.
“What should we do?” Says Frog in a shivering whisper.
Before I can guess, a low beep comes from the backpack. With Rabbit watching for the Bone Woman, I pull out a tiny cellphone toy. Blinking in confusion as it beeps again in my hand, I hopd the pastel plastic up to my ear.
“Boot?” Marsalla whispers through the toy.
I sputter a minute before answering. “Yes?”
“A real phone won’t work there. I bet whatever is sucking up the warmth is sucking up all kinds of energy so I rigged up this toy.” Marsalla fumbles with the phone on her end. “What do you see?”
“It’s a mirror with candles on it.” I lean forward and shiver. “I can see the Prince’s face but there’s a red hand on him.”
Marsalla gasps. “She’s sucking the life right out of him. Don’t touch the glass. Don’t touch anything, actually.” I hear glass bottles being moved through the ear piece of the toy. “What else did you see?”
“Not much. The walls are sticky and the Bone Lady had us in cages.”
“Ugly, hunched, skinny old bat.” Rabbit huffed. “I bet she would eat me.”
“Boot, be careful! That’s the Cold One!”
I hear skittering heading towards us from the hallway, like the dogs sound when they run around the kitchen, nails clocking on the tiles.
“Get out of there! Whateve ryou do, don’t let her touch your skin!”
“I don’t understan-”
She’s draining the life from the Prince through his blood on the mirror! If she touches you directly, you’ll die!”
“I don’t like that.” Frog whispers. “I don’t like that at all.”
I more than “don’t like” what I’m seeing. The black stain in the distance is a scab on the landscape, eating the light around it.
I feel Rabbit’s weight press against the outside of my boots. “We really have to go there?”
“If we want to save the Frozen Man and end this winter?” I sigh, releasing a cloud of vapor from my scarf. “Yeah.”
Frog defiantly lifts his head higher out of my pocket. “I could get used to the cold. And the snow is kinda pretty.”
“Oh, hush.” Rabbit hisses, shaking her head so her ears fall back to her neck. “The sooner we go, the sooner we can go swimming again.”
I remember swimming. Sometimes I dunk my head under the water in the bath and pretend I’m in a warm lake. Craving the real thing, I move forward.
Only now do I notice how much distance we’re traveled. Familiar houses are shadows in the distance and only skeletal trees line the frozen river. The landscape is slowly devoured by the curling darkness ahead of us.
It only grows more silent as we get close enough for the house to take shape. If not for the shadows, it woul dhave been a normal house, complete with white fences and flowered curtains in the windows.
I stop across the street, watching the house and the dark when Rabbit bumps me on the heel.
“Boot, there’s a light in the bag.” She whispers.
The feelin gof the house watching back makes me round a silent, empty block to hide before fishing through the bag for whatever the light is. I probably shifted he bag and knocked a lamp back on.
I pull up what appears to be a candy necklace. The diamond shaped lump of sugar in the center is carved with the simple instruction; “Wear Me.”
All three of us blink at the glowing candy in confusion and a few moments pass before Rabbis finally says “Marsalla is weird.”
Braving a blast of cold air, I stretch the necklace over my head and quickly tuck it into my coat so I can put my hat and hood back on. Before I can zip up, I feel it tug me towards the house and it’s light-eating darkness. Reluctantly, I follow the candy’s instructions and approach on soft feet to make as little noise as possible. My friends are quiet as I move across the street and my eyes adjust to the dark in no time.
The wood fence is decaying away and I try to ignore the fact all the edges are chipped with what looks like teeth marks. The candy light leads me and my friends right up to the front steps and to the door.
“So…” Frog says after a moment. “Do we knock?”
The necklace dims and I get the feeling that’s a bad idea. “Let’s just go in.” And I lift my hand to the brass knob.
“Boot!” Rabbit hisses in warning but I still give the door a shove. Frog and Rabbit hide deep in my pockets at the rush of warm air blowing out into the night but that’s all that comes at us. No monsters, no teeth, no nothing. So, I step inside.
“OW!” I wake to sharp pain in my finger and push it immediately into my mouth.
“Sorry!” Rabbit presses her little feet to my knee. “But you didn’t wake up when we tried to call you. We were scared you might freeze.”
“It’s okay.” But I feel warm. The blanket did a wonderful job. My nails are pink, I can feel my face, and my coat is dry as a bone.
“The sky is clear so we should make good time.” Rabbit looks out of the pipe as Frog refuses to leave the warmth of my coat.
Hungrier than before, I finish my leftover half of energy bar and some really salty beef jerky; the kind Auntie would never let me have. As I pack up, I run my tongue along my cheeks to enjoy the shadow taste of the dried meat. I only hope Rabbit can’t tell how much I enjoy it.
I suck on a thick hunk of sliced apricot as we walk. Cold blooded Frog stays in my pocket but Rabbit offers to spare me her weight and plods carefully beside me. With the pack on my shoulders, I don’t think an extra few ounces would have mattered much but I feel guilty about eating the beef jerky so I don’t argue with her.
Following the river is much easier without the snow whipping around but the bright sunlight reflecting off the drifts is blinding. I keep my eyes on the ground right in front of my feet, glancing up to make sure I’m on the right path before looking back down again.
“I would feel better if we knew where we were going or what to look for.” Frog grumbles from my pocket.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. Marsalla wouldn’t steer us wrong.”
“Oh, she’s your best friend now?” I’m shocked at the jealousy in Frog’s voice.
Rabbit chitters softly, laughing. “Any human who can hear us and doesn’t eat me is a friend to me.”
I can understand that. It’s always better not to get eaten.
Several hours pass before I realize there are no more houses around us and we all start to wonder if we really are going the right way. I think Auntie must be upset by noe. I didn’t think we would be back in time for supper but Auntie must be so worried by now.
When I see a dark smear in the middle of the white in front of us, I get a little worried myself.
It was a smart move to keep Frog and Rabbit tucked into my coat. It’s an even loner way to the lake from Marsalla’s house than from mine and I still need Rabbit to give me directions. By the time we’re there, my fingertips hurt and I bet my nose is red from cold.
Frog stays in my coat pocket while I crawl across the ice but Rabbit puts herself on my shoulder. I notice something different from the very first time I push the new fallen snow away from the man’s face. His lips are bluer against the full color of the rest of his face.
“Looks like we’re running out of time.” Frog sighs.
I push more snow aside, looking for a sign to know what do to do, and see the Frozen Man’s arm pointing down at his side.
“Down river.” Rabbit says, snuggling between my neck and the top of the backpack Marsalla gave me. The three of us look down the winding, blue ribbon of ice in the misty white with only darkness in the distance.
“That’s a long walk.” Frog says what we’re all thinking.
I hear Rabbit sight and I don’t blame her. A long walk doesn’t sound good in this weather. At least the snow hasn’t started to fall from the threatening sky.
“We better get as far as we can before it starts snowing again.” I pick up Rabbit from my shoulder and slide her next to Frog in my pocket so they can keep each other warm. The two of them barely fit so I waste no time and turn and walk along the riverbank in the direction the Frozen Man told me to.
It doesn’t take long before I’m shivering with every step and the cold turns my eyes fuzzy with tears. The third time I stumble and nearly fall on numb legs, Frog begs me to stop.
“There’s some old sewer pipes in the bridge up ahead.” Rabbit has to shout over a gust of wind that stirrs up the snow around ut. “They’re big enough to hide inside but small enough so the three of us can keep warm.”
“You can nap for a bit then keep going.” Frog sighs with relief at the thought of shelter and dives back into my pocket the second he’s done talking.
“But what if the Frozen Man runs out of time?” I shiver.
“You won’t be able to save him if you collapse here in the snow.” Rabbit’s voice is soothing as I walk in a daze, following her direction. The wind slows to reveal a small stone bridge reaching over the river, the ice under it frozen much thicker than further up river.
The moment I’m in the pipe, my body heat begins to fill the space. The smell or rust hurts my nose but my growling stomach is more important and I begin rooting through my pack for whatever goodies Marsalla packed for me. I find a box of energy bars, a collapsable lantern, packets of emergency blankets, mini bottles of water, and separate plastic containers of snacks for Rabbit and Frog. At least I hope the jar full of maggots is a snack for Frog and not some sort of spell I would later.
I put the lantern up so I can see into the very bottom of the backpack and fins a regular blanket buriet in the bottom. I wrap it around myself, leaving plenty of room for my friends, and I feel so warm. I’m almost tempted to take off my wet coat.
Rabbit snuggles into my lap. “Magic blanket.” She nods. “Better and safer than making a fire.”
“Bet there’s a lighter in there, though.” Frog finishes his meal and I cap the wiggling bugs before they can escape. “Just in case.”
I nibble at an energy bar, too tired to make conversation. I make it half way through before giving up and putting the rest away for later.”
“Get some sleep, Boot.” Rabbit lifts the blanket to let Frog scurry under and then settles herself next to my heart. “Don’t worry. We’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
I nod in thanks and close my eyes, sleep so very welcome even with the wind howling outside as my luluby.
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.”
“Me?” I back away from the sticks as if they’ll come after me. “If you can’t do it, how am I supposed to?”
“I wish I knew, hon.” Marsalla looks at me sadly. “Mama was the original witch of this house; the lady everyone was scared of. She had a way of knowing things. She knew she would die facing the Cold One, she told me never to go there, and she knew about you.”
A clock chimes nine in the other room. “You better go home, I don’t want you to get in trouble and if you’re seen here, you’ll have a lot of trouble.” She lifts Rabbit up to her shoulder. “Can you take her home?”
“We’ll keep her out of sight.” Rabbit chirps.
“And keep close to her.” Frog pipes up from my shoulder.
“Yes.” Marsalla lowers Rabbit and lets her jump to the floor. “She’s gonna need you two.”
I pull my coat on in a daze. “If two witches couldn’t win, what can I do?”
Marsalla hands me my hat with a smile. “Like Mama always said; the answers will come when they’re ready. You just have to pay attention.”
It shouldn’t be so much fun to keep a secret. Auntie always said I should be grateful for everything she’s given me; clothes, food, a home. She tells me she doesn’t have to share her life with me and it’s a gift and a privilege for me not to be in an orphanage where I would have to share everything. But the secret is all mine. I found it and I don’t have to share it, ever. If Auntie knew I was going to see Marsalla… I can’t imagine how she would punish me.
I have to try really hard to do my chores at my normal pace so Auntie doesn’t suspect I’m trying to sneak away. I’m nearly bouncing by the time she gets to bed and I make sure the dogs are so full, they can barely watch me walk towards the back door. When I step out the back steps and don’t see Frog and Rabbit waiting for me, I panic. Did they forget? Did they go without me? Did Auntie find them after all and I’ll never see then again?
“Pssst!” I hear from the front porch. “What is it with you and the back door?” Rabbit peeks around a snow drift twice her size the wind piled up on one corner of our porch.
“Her Aunt’s room is the front.” Frog scolds, hopping from her back. “Ready?” He says to me.
I tug my mittens tighter on my wrists and nod. Frog jumps right into my pocket and shouts in a relieved voice, “Follow my directions. Rabbit’s never been there.”
“With good reason!” She squeaks. “I’m sure the witch would love a new pelt to keep warm.”
Yeah, everyone calls Marsalla a witch. Her house is always lit with odd colors and different ones in very window. She never foes out, even for food, fuel, or firewood, yet her greenhouse is dark with plants. Neither kids nor adults dare to try and steal anything from her even if they were brave enough to go near the metal fence and cross the evergreen snarls in her yard to face the hunched figure whose shadow is seen in the windows. The old woman must live all alone because not a single sound comes from her walls.
Marsalla lives in the tallest house in town so following Frog’s directions isn’t necessary several blocks from her home. My footsteps slow and more than just cold makes me shiver.
“Go on, Boot.” Frog says, peeking up from my pocket.
“Sure. ‘Go on’ he says.” Rabbit cowers by my foot as I stare at the house from the street. “Marsalla doesn’t eat frogs or little girls.”
I shouldn’t feel so relieved when I find out I won’t be on the menu. My shoulders drop and I relax until a shadow looms behind me.
“What are you doing here?” A scratchy voice muffled by wool demands from all three of us.
Rabbit goes to run but the shadow is too fast, snatching her up in one hand and my collar with the other to drag us both to the lightless side of Marsalla’s home. There’s nobody on the roads to hear me scream for help but as the reflection of the street lights on snow fades into black, I hope Rabbit was right about not getting eaten.