Guin looked out from the carousel ride. Her dad and Esther had already wandered off. There was Esther’s son, Newton, standing by the nativity scene. He saw her looking and gave her a wave.
Snow was falling steadily now and it was a blurry screen against the wooden stalls and lights of the market. Through it, Guin caught a glimpse of long hair, big glasses and a hat with furry earflaps. It was the woman who had knocked her to the ground earlier. Guin felt a surge of anger. The bump had been an accident but that didn’t matter. Guin was eleven and bearing grudges took little effort.
The woman was still walking round with her nose in a book! She wasn’t even looking at the stalls! Guin tutted. People had no right to go wandering blindly around Christmas markets, not buying stuff and being a general hazard. The woman should buy something or go home.
Angry though she was, Guin couldn’t help but wonder what was so interesting about a book that could hold the woman’s attention completely. Guin suddenly wanted to know. The curiosity was threatening to overcome her anger, which made her angrier still. There was nothing an angry mind hated more than having its anger reasonably eroded by a more positive emotion.
The carousel slowed to a stop. Guin slid off Pokus the horse and down the wooden steps. Newton stood staring glumly at the nativity scene.
The woman with the heavy book trudged past Newton, each oblivious of the other. The woman had something dangling from the fingertips of the hand supporting the book. It was a five-pointed star, but no Christmas decoration. Even from a distance, Guin could see it was constructed from twigs and string, neatly bound and tightly secured.
Guin decided to follow her. “I’m here,” she said to Newton as she passed.
“Good. Good,” he said, still looking at the carved nativity. “Have fun?”
“Sure,” she said. The book woman was moving off through the crowd. “I’m just going to look at something for a minute.”
“Okay,” said Newton.
In the crowd, following the book woman was difficult. Guin was not tall and the afternoon shoppers pressed in closely, but glimpses of that flappy-eared hat drew her on. She saw the woman, cut away from the stalls and down a side route. However when Guin reached where the woman had been, she was gone. There was just a set of footprints in the settling snow.
They led up a dark and narrow alley between two houses. Here the snow had only fallen in a narrow strip down the centre of the alleyway. Above, the sheer white sky was a thin line between rooftops.
She didn’t see the book and the star on the ground until she’d almost stepped on them. The book lay open on the ground, collecting snowflakes in its pages. The star made of twigs and string lay next to it, like it had been dropped.
Guin turned about. The woman had gone. There were no people in sight at all.
“That’s weird,” she said. She picked up the book and the star.
It was possible she had simply dropped her book. People dropped things all the time. But this was definitely just weird.
“Just a little way,” she said, under her breath, “and then we’ll go back and find Newton.”
The path behind the houses ran up to a drystone wall. There was something on the ground by the wall: a flat shape draped over the wall. It was hard to make out in the gloom.
Guin made towards it. The shape began to move, sliding slowly over the wall. Guin hurried.
When she got close enough to see what it was, she couldn’t understand what she was seeing. Dangling from the top of the low wall was what appeared to be an arm-length glove. It was a peachy pink, skin coloured. It wasn’t an actual human arm: it was floppy and rubbery and quite lifeless. But if it wasn’t an arm-length glove, in a perfectly realistic skin tone, what was it?
There was something else: fat and round on the ground in front of the wall. Guin recognised that.
As she hurried closer, the arm-glove slid away over the wall as though pulled from the other side. The hand seemed to wave goodbye before disappearing. Guin crouched by the fat round object. It was a big winter hat with furry earflaps. She picked it up. There was something red and sticky on the brim.
Guin heard voices on the other side of the wall. No, not voices exactly, but high-pitched chittering chattering noises that were very much like speech. She stepped closer. Between the top of the low wall and the sweeping boughs of the trees there was only a black-green darkness.
“Hello?” she called.
There was no reply.
“You left your hat here,” she said to the darkness.
There was nothing for several seconds and then “Villast, útlendingur.”
The voices sounded close, like they were just over the wall, down by the mossy trunks of the nearest trees. Guin leaned nearer.