I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, on Wattpad, and at Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.
The wind howled outside the walls of Nick’s space-cabin like a hungry yeti demanding for its own hot chocolate. He dropped a peppermint stick into the thick silvery, insulated mug and stirred the powdered chocolate into the steaming milk. The delicious chocolaty-peppermint smell filled the cabin. He inhaled the steam deeply through his nose and smiled at Vibeke’s upside-down face hanging down out of the loft.
“See? Hot chocolate. I like using the peppermint sticks to stir the chocolate. It dissolves and makes it just about perfect.”
He picked up the mugs and rotated around so that he didn’t yank the helmet off the table. As he stepped toward her Vibeke disappeared back up into the loft. Nick held back a grin and set both mugs down on the glass-top foldout table, each on its own Apollo 13 mission patch coaster.
He picked up the laptop and moved it up onto the windowsill beneath the porthole out into the flat dark snowy expanse outside. The emergency lights showed snow rushing past the window, blown by the wind but didn’t penetrate more than a couple inches from the window. He didn’t care about that. He activated the webcam to record.
Then he twisted back around and picked up the helmet and plunked it down on the table beneath the laptop. It took up most of the space between the mugs and the wall but the cameras would record most of what went on in the room, and the webcam would provide a wider, higher angle.
His chair scraped along the floor as he moved it back to accommodate the bulky suit and support pack.
Only now, as he sat down, did Nick turn and look up at the loft. Vibeke was there, squatting on the edge of the loft with her hands down between her wide-spread legs. As small as she was, her head nearly brushed the ceiling even though she was leaning forward. Her suit, as he could clearly see now, covered her entire body. The shiny green material clung to decidedly not child-like curves, her breasts swelling beneath the fabric as her arms pushed them together. Her hips were wide and strong-looking as she crouched on the edge of the loft. The suit’s material changed back to red again at her knees and covered her feet in red as well. It formed to her feet, but at her toes it separated into three sections just like her gloves, except each section was thicker and shorter. Oddly, her big toes appeared to be bending back to grasp the edge of the loft.
Nick added that to the growing catalog of strangeness. Along with how her skin-tight suit could have protected her in the snow, how she got here in any case, and what she wanted.
“Come on down,” he said. He gestured to the other mug of hot chocolate. “You’ll want to drink this while it’s hot. It will warm you up. You’re my guest, and you’re welcome to ride out the storm here.”
You couldn’t turn away someone under these conditions. Doing so could be a death sentence. She had to know that as well as he did.
Vibeke’s toes and hands released the edge of the loft and she simply stepped down like she was stepping off a curb.
She screamed as she fell.
Nick lunged to his feet without even thinking about it and stuck out his arms to catch her. Vibeke landed on his arms and he staggered. He nearly fell. He let her slip through his arms to stand on her own. She clutched his arms and trembled, her breath coming in quick gasps. Her head barely came up to his chest.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay,” Nick said. He resisted the urge to pat her. “Come sit down.”
He turned and saw that his quick movement had dragged the helmet almost into the hot chocolate mugs. A tiny bit had sloshed out of his, but for the most part they hadn’t spilled. That was lucky. He hated to see good hot chocolate go to waste. Even if he had to make it from powdered milk.
Vibeke moved carefully around the table and stepped up onto the chair, squatting on it instead of sitting, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees while she watched him with wide golden eyes.
Nick settled carefully back into his seat, taking care with the support pack. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Her voice was quiet but firm.
He gestured to the hot chocolate mug. “Go ahead and try it. It’s not bad.”
For demonstration he swirled his peppermint stick around his hot chocolate and then picked it up and took a long sip. It was cooling, but was still hot. Not enough to scald, but hot. The rich chocolate and peppermint scents filled his breath and the drink seemed to send energy singing along his nerves.
“You have to watch that first step,” he said. “It’s a big one.”
That gained him a very nice smile and she ducked her head as she wrapped both hands around the oversized mug as if it was an espresso cup for a giant.
She took a tiny sip through pursed red lips and then she smiled a wide open smile. Rows of pearly white teeth greeted him. She put the mug down and pulled out the dissolving peppermint stick. Experimentally she licked along the length of it, her pink tongue flicking out and along the smooth shaft.
Nick quickly turned his attention back to the window. “You got lost out there? In the storm?”
She shook her head, dropping the peppermint stick with a plink back into the hot chocolate. “No. I didn’t get lost. I found you.”
She said it so calmly, so matter-of-factly, that Nick was surprised. He had almost expected her to claim she didn’t understand English given her interesting accent and the few words she had said.
Nick glanced at the cameras and back to Vibeke. A delusional fan? “You came here looking for me?”
She picked up the mug and sipped again, her eyes half-closing with apparent enjoyment. She swallowed and said, “Yes.”
“How did you get here? I didn’t hear a snowmobile. Did you drive through this?” Whatever she had come on, it would have been buried by now with drifting snow. He would have to help her dig it out before she could leave.
“Donder brought me,” she said.
“Donder? Is that a friend of yours?”
“Yes,” she said. She sipped more hot chocolate.
Nick didn’t get it, there was no need. He could see the whole of the space-cabin by turning his head. Except the loft, and he didn’t think there was anyone else up there.
“Where is Donder?”
She looked at the porthole where the laptop sat. “He’s out there with the others.”
There was nothing about the line that was comforting. Others? Outside in these conditions?
“It’s not safe out there! We need to get them inside.”
She giggled. It was a sound like bells tinkling happily. She clutched the mug and giggled some more.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “What’s so funny?”
She looked up at him, her golden eyes twinkling, dimples standing out on her cheeks. “You are very funny. Donder and the others will be just fine. They enjoy the warmer weather.”
Clearly his guest — however pretty and odd — was crazy. Crazy accounted for just about everything. Maybe not her outfit, exactly, but it was something that he might expect someone would have to be crazy to wear in the middle of a blizzard.
“They could freeze. If your friends are in a car and think they can run the engine to stay warm they’re especially stupid because that’s a good way they could gas themselves with carbon monoxide.”
Her head tilted to the side again. “Besides they wouldn’t fit in here.”
Crazy. Head-shaking crazy. At least he had on his suit. It wouldn’t take long to put the helmet back on, pick up his gloves on his way out and go see if he could find them. Hopefully this time his tether wouldn’t come loose again —
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Did your friend unhook my tether out there?”
Her head tilted the other way. “I don’t understand.”
She lifted her mug and sipped at the hot chocolate.
“When I was outside I had my tether —” he pulled it out from the spool to demonstrate. The metal was still cold. “It’s a safety line so I could make it back here and it somehow was unhooked from the wall outside.”
Vibeke put down the mug. “Donder or one of the others might have unhooked it. I’m sure they didn’t realize what it was.”
Nick tried to contain his frustration. “I could have gotten lost. I might have died out there if I hadn’t found my way back.”
“I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm, if he unhooked your tether,” Vibeke said. “You’ll understand when you get to know him.”
“I don’t know that I want to know him,” Nick said. “You seem nice enough, but this whole thing is pretty strange, don’t you think?”
“You live alone in a home designed to explore other worlds,” she said. “Isn’t that considered strange?”
“Maybe, but I would realize that unhooking a tether in the middle of a blizzard was probably a bad idea.”
“Donder wouldn’t,” she said. “He’s curious, that’s all. And it could have been one of the others. Any one of them might have wondered about your tether without realizing you were on the other end.”
Curious? This Donder – what kind of name was that? He didn’t know, but Vibeke was just as strange a name. In any case Donder probably got made fun of as a kid for being a dunder if he was the sort that would disconnect tethers in a blizzard. And what about the others?
“Just how many friends do you have out there?”
“Eight.” Vibeke made a slurping noise as she drained the last of her hot chocolate. She tipped her head back even further, sticking out her pink tongue and dripped the last dregs from the mug onto her waiting tongue.
She set it back down on the coaster and smiled at him. She picked up what remained of her peppermint stick with her three-fingered green glove and wrapped her lips around it, sucking it into her mouth while she watched him.
Conscious of the dead-air, and feeling a bit awkward as he watched her, Nick glanced over at the helmet and smiled for the camera. He lifted an eyebrow as if to ask the viewers what to do next, and then faced her again.
“Tell me, Vibeke, why did you come looking for me?”
She bit down on the peppermint stick, crunching it loudly, shoving it back into her mouth all at the same time. Crunch, crunch, crunch.