PART TWO: DEFROST
I tugged at my friend’s hand.
“Yumi, he’s dead. We should go… get somebody.”
But Yumi, of course, was way too curious to leave.
“I’d like to chat with Master Kinotsuka first. See if he can tell us what happened.”
Now you might be thinking, “But he’s frozen solid and dead as anything, Yumi,” but that would just prove you haven’t spent much time around my creepy friend.
And anyway, at least it was nice and cool in the house. The big block of ice dripped cold water, and filled the house with its lovely glacial presence. I could have hugged it, except that I could see Master Kinotsuka inside, sitting there, blue and eyes a little buggy but otherwise looking perfectly preserved. Looked like he was doing some reading with his breakfast, as I could see what looked like a book on the table next to his bowl of oatmeal.
Yumi put a hand on the ice. Her fingers are very long, and she keeps her nails even longer, all pointy like little knives. Today they were painted a bright sky blue, to match her robe.
“This ice is very unusual.”
“Why do you think it’s unusual to find a huge block of ice in somebody’s kitchen on the hottest day of the year, Yumi?”
If you realise that wasn’t a sarcastic rhetorical question, you’re starting to get the hang of being around Yumi.
“Well, it hasn’t been here very long. And it’s… angry.”
“The ice is angry? Is it talking to you?”
“No, nobody will talk to me. This is so annoying!”
I came over to stand by her, trying to peer into the big block of ice.
“That’s a book in there, beside the bowl, isn’t it? What’s it say?”
We both peered. The ice made everything inside all wavy and wobbly and impossible to read. I looked around the room for something to chip through the ice, and saw the pot sitting on the stove.
“Just a minute.”
I crossed over to the stove and opened up the front. Most of the fire had burned out, but there were still some glowing coals inside. I found some tongs and grabbed a big one and dropped it on the ice.
It melted a hole in the ice and went out, drowned in water.
I went back for another and this time just sort of rubbed it around on the surface of the ice, so it stayed hot longer. I was able to melt away nearly all the ice on top of the book.
“Good thinking, Hoshi. I can break through that now. Stand back.”
Yumi took out the beautiful white and blue fan she always carried and raised it up high over her head.
“Be careful, Yumi.”
Believe me, you don’t want to get smacked by Yumi’s fan. It looks like nothing, but I’ve seen her shatter a whole barrel full of demonic pickles with that fan.*
So it came down, and it didn’t just break the ice, it shattered half the block and totally destroyed Master Kinotsuka’s kitchen table. There was wood and ice and frozen oatmeal everywhere. The other half of the ice block still stood there, untouched, with Master Kinotsuka still sitting there inside.
“Yumi, what did I say?”
We picked around in the mess and found, amongst shards of ice and splinters of table, the book, which wasn’t nearly as water-logged as I’d thought it would be. I flapped it a little to shake it dry.
“’Ancient Rituals of the Mountain Clans’. Well, I guess that makes sense. He teaches history. I mean, he taught history. What is it, Yumi?”
Yumi was frowning at a chunk of ice melting in her hand.
“This ice isn’t angry anymore. It’s just ice.”
She started poking through the remains of Master Kinotsuka’s kitchen table. I leafed through the book. It was pretty interesting, full of pictures of weird ninjas doing weird dances and praying or whatever. But after a while, Yumi was still down on her hands and knees picking through ice shards, so I went out into the parlour and poked around.
“Yumi, we should really go get a grown-up and tell them about this. I mean, he’s really dead. We’ll get in trouble if we don’t tell somebody.”
Yumi didn’t respond. I went to the front door and rooted through the papers piled there. I found an empty package lined with oilcloth, like whatever had been inside needed to be kept dry or something. There was a return address written in a shaky sort of hand.
“’The Hallowed Archives of Icefall Monastery.’ Huh. Hey, Yumi, you find anything that looks like it’s from a monastery?”
I was about to close the front door, hoping it would at least quiet the REEEE REEEEE REEEE from outside a little, when Yumi called out.
“Look at this, Hoshi. I’ve got it!”
I turned to look at the archway and Yumi stood there, a huge smile on her face, and a chunk of ice in her hand.
“You’ve got what?”
“This is the angry ice.”
“Well, it’s not really angry. Not now. But it used to be. It used to be filled with such rage it’s still echoing.”
Yumi held the ice up in front of her face. It was shaped like a sort of icicle, pointed at one end, and about as long as Yumi’s forearm. She squinted and stared at it close-up, like she was trying to see inside.
“This ice is old, Hoshi. It wasn’t frozen today. Come here, get another one of those coals.”
I rushed into the kitchen and pulled the last glowing hot coal out of the stove. As I held it up in the air with the tongs, Yumi touched the end of the icicle against it.
We both reeled as the house shook, and for a second it seemed like the whole city evaporated around us in a cloud of hissing steam, and as the mists boiled away I could see great heaving plains of ice in all directions, with dark upthrusts of bare rock towering high over head. The ice we stood on shook and burst apart into huge crevasses, and I felt myself falling, arms flailing as I plunged screaming into frost-bitten darkness.
Then Yumi grabbed my arm and I was back in Master Kinotsuka’s house and it was still hot as anything.
She was still holding the icicle.
“It doesn’t melt. But it sure didn’t like us putting that coal on it, huh?”
“Yumi, that was mailed to him. There’s a package at the front door from the, uh, the Hallowed Archive of the Icefall Monastery, and it’s lined with oilcloth. He got that this morning.”
“And it killed him.”
A voice called out from the doorway.
“Now, children, you precious children, what do you think you’re doing!? Stop that right now!”
Master Hayashi appeared, kind of freaking out in that way grown-ups do when they realise you’ve been poking around another teacher’s frozen corpse. It was all Takufumi’s fault.
He’d seen us leaving the school, and when he tried to follow he’d gotten nabbed by Master Hayashi, who found out about us, and then came after us, and five minutes later we were being marched back into the school, all the other kids grinning as Master Hayashi dragged Yumi and I along by our ears. I didn’t get a chance to see what happened to the icicle.
Sure, the teachers are scared of Yumi, but they don’t let her get away with everything.
Yumi giggled and danced along as Master Hayashi marched us down the hall. I tried to get my friend to talk a little bit.
“Why would an angry icicle want to kill a schoolteacher? Was it angry at him?”
“I don’t know.”
She giggled some more.
Master Hayashi stuffed us into the empty music room.
“Now, since I can’t trust you two little ones, I’ll seal the room up, so that even you, Sasori, can’t get out! And at the end of the day we’ll get to bottom of what’s going on here.”
I saw Yumi whispering something to Takufumi, and whatever she said it made him smile bigger than I’d ever seen anyone smile before. He was sure a lot happier than Master Hayashi.
The desks sat pushed back against the walls, facing the center of the room. Yumi and I jumped as Master Hayashi slammed the door shut behind us. I could hear her casting the spell to seal the door shut.
“At least it’s not so hot in here, hey Hoshi?”
“Yeah, Yumi. That’s great.”
No sooner did we hear Master Hayashi’s footsteps going away outside the locked door of the classroom than Yumi started jumping around and wiggling, grabbing at her robes like she was doing a weird dance or something.
“Wow, that’s so cold! I almost cracked up so many times in front of Master Hayashi!”
Still giggling, almost hysterical, she reached into her robe and pulled out the magic icicle.
She set it down on the floor, sticking up like a stalagmite, and pointed.
“Okay, spirit of frost, ghost of winter. I am Yumi Sasori, Daughter of the Thousand Dead Souls, and I command you to come forth and show yourself! Answer for the death you have caused!”
The voice that answered growled and rumbled like a landslide, huge masses of rock grinding against each other.
The room shook, and outside I could hear ongoing rumbling and kids’ voices rising up in confusion and alarm at the quaking of the floor beneath us.
“You will answer! A man is dead!”
ICE ENDURES. ICE WILL CRUSH YOU ALL.
The school shook again, and then the closet door at the back of the music room exploded outwards. A white, glittering wall of ice came rushing out, crackling and full of spikes and spars, driving us backward across the room.
“Well, I guess we know how Master Kinotsuka died.”
* Read “Yumi Sasori and the Case of the Vinegar Vampire: A Yumi Sasori Mystery”