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Book of the month: Here be Dragons

Thursday, 5 April 2018

We just can’t seem to escape the snow lately. With the weather giving us flashbacks to the festive season, we’ve delved into our Christmassy mystery-turned-adventure Here be Dragons by Sarah Mussi. 

What’s more, throughout April, every purchase of Here be Dragons will come with a free copy of the sequel, Here be Witches, so you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself into the addictive and compelling world of The Snowdonia Chronicles.

After catching a glimpse of a strange boy on Mount Snowden one Christmas morning, Ellie Morgan can’t thaw the tension that surfaces. Torn between the chance of true love and unimaginable peril, no stone will be left unturned until answers are given. Just who – or what – lurks under Devil’s Bridge?

In this extract, Ellie encounters the boy for the first time on call out with her mum and the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team. The reality of this life or death situation suddenly hits her as her attention turns to the young girl they are trying to save – yet, what this girl reveals is even more unsettling.

Extreme temperatures and extreme occurrences go hand-in-hand in this twisty tale…

‘A boy!’ I shouted.

Mum shook her head. ‘You must be seeing things!’ she yelled. ‘Remember we’re not looking for a boy.’ She retraced her steps. ‘Keep your eyes peeled for a girl!’ she yelled across the storm. ‘Remember … description … alone … 17 … didn’t make it to the top … no information since … around here maybe … her phone battery’s probably dead … if she had equipment, she may still be alive … maybe.’

I dragged the binoculars out and scanned everywhere. It was tough. The clouds had closed in again behind us and covered everything except the very peak of Snowdon. Sometimes when they rolled back for a split second I could see the café on the summit, but of course that was no help. It’s always closed during winter. Only people who don’t know the mountain think up stupid stuff like: ‘Meet you at the café, on the summit, for a mince pie, on Christmas morning.’

We trudged on, keeping to the path. I never thought, not even for a minute, about the coincidence – about Christmas, and me wishing, and then the figure by Devil’s Bridge. I just carried on feeling mad at Sheila and stamping down the snow. The uphill gradient was steep enough to ward off the biting cold though, and by the time we’d scoured the upper pastures I was puffed and glowing with the effort.

But we didn’t find her. We debated what to do. Mum was worried that by the time they got a proper mountain rescue team up here, the girl might be dead.

‘Let’s go a bit further then,’ I said, ‘it’s not like we’ve left anything cooking, is it?’

So we headed out for the mountain proper. I kept my head down, searching for any tracks that might show where the girl had lost her way. It was a pretty difficult job, and up ahead was Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, the Black Cliff. I was praying she hadn’t strayed too close to that. There’s something about those cliffs that sends shivers into your chest. I tried to drag my mind away from them, but now I’d banished Sheila from my thoughts there was a curious space left behind. A space I didn’t want their gloom to fill up. I felt the coldness of their shadows reaching out towards us, then the image of that boy slipped uninvited right into my imagination to fill up the gap.

There he was, in my mind, as clear as if he was right in front of me. Standing by Devil’s Bridge, his face turned in my direction. And somehow, miraculously, he zoomed in closer. All the little details about him stood out. It didn’t look like he was wearing much of a jacket for a start, and he was smiling. He was handsome, with fine clear-cut features. He had thick tousled reddish hair, and his smile seemed inexplicably to be directed at me. Dark eyebrows framed his face, and even though I couldn’t have seen it, I got the impression they were knitted together in a frown.

A shiver ran over me. There was something forbidding in the way he was standing there, smiling and not-smiling. I felt I should look away; I should be scared of him, but instead a thrill ran through me, almost like an electric shock. And it seemed like our eyes met. And his were smouldering and filled with something I couldn’t quite place; something urgent, I think.

Suddenly he realised I’d seen him. (Although how he could have, I don’t know.) For a moment his smile broke, gorgeous, incredible, bright like the sun. Then he seemed to catch himself and grow angry. A gloom replaced all the radiance and, quick as lightning, he whirled away and vanished.

The vision faded.

‘There!’ said Mum unexpectedly.

I blinked.

‘Come on Ellie, stop daydreaming! Look!’

She turned and ran off the path at such speed that my stomach shot into my throat.

‘By the white rocks.’

To this day, I don’t know how she does it; how she can make out the tiny curled-up shape of a human being amongst snow drifts and boulders.

‘Call the team or anyone on duty,’ said Mum. ‘Sighting on the upper pastures, north side below the llyn. Quick! Give me your compass, mine’s at the bottom of my pack. I’ll plot our position and I’ll light up a flare.’

I unwound my scarf, looped the compass off my neck, gave it her, got on the mobile and called the Mountain Rescue Team. They were already half-way up the Ranger Path, and too far away to help, but the RAF helicopter was en route. If the weather allowed, they could land in minutes.

I gave them the general location while Mum tried to hold on to the map and shout coordinates off the compass. Then she set off a handheld ground flare, so they would know exactly where we were and be able to assess wind speed. (Mum doesn’t trust GPS. She reckons it was due to GPS inaccuracy that Dad wasn’t saved.) I vaguely wondered why Mum was letting the flare off before attending to the girl.

As soon as I’d alerted the team, I chased after Mum. When I caught up, I immediately saw the problem: the girl had wandered off the path and fallen down a gully. The gully was icy and it needed two of us to get down safely.

‘You’re the lightest, can you go?’ shouted Mum.

I nodded and got out the rope and harness, grabbed the crampons and made sure I could reach the ice axe easily. Mum found a boulder to anchor the rope around.

‘Hold ready?’

I held on and readied myself. Then I started my descent, heart pounding. Poor hiker. Suddenly I felt so shamefaced. She wasn’t ‘stoopid’ at all, she was just a sad girl in a desperate state. I felt guilty too, because I was afraid. Afraid of what I might find. Afraid there might be frozen blood, broken bones.

Afraid she’d be dead.

For all my sixteen years, I’ve seen more dead bodies than I should. It never gets easier. Your heart flares up and beats against your throat, and then you don’t believe it and you try everything, CPR, mouth to mouth, pleading, shaking, screaming – as if you could call their souls back out of the darkness. And the press of frozen lips against yours haunts you, jolts you, just when you think you’ve forgotten.

I’m aching for the day when I can leave this place. Get back to that nice suburban street where people never fall off cliffs and howling winds never rattle you to sleep; where the sound of helicopters landing on stony plateaus is only heard in nightmares. I’m very selfish really. I just want a nice little four-by-four life. Four walls around me, four wheels under me, all designed to keep me safe.

Anyway, I hacked and slid and picked my way down the gully, wind blasting at my back. You know, the very
stones under my feet didn’t even move. They were frozen completely into the cliff.

First, get the thermal space blanket over her. I knew that. I knew the routine. And dreaded it.

Once down the gully, I rushed to the huddled shape. I didn’t know if she was dead or alive. I didn’t stop to check. I crouched beside her. I flung the blanket over her first. Everywhere was misty grey. The snow was thick and she was half sunk in a drift. I started to say ‘It’ll be all right. This is Ellie Morgan, I’ve found you now – the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team are on their way.’ My words hung in the air like an icy haze. ‘You’ll be fine. We’ll get you home. Try not to worry. Stay very still, until we can get you to the helicopter. Listen, that’s the helicopter now, right above us.’

I shifted from one leg to the other. I carried on chattering out words of encouragement.

I knew I had to examine her. I held my breath, bit my lip. Then I knelt. I tore my glove off. I felt for a pulse. I searched and found nothing. Her skin inside her jacket was icy. I tried again. There it was: faint and thready, but a pulse. The girl was alive! I breathed a rush of relief. I hadn’t realised how much I was praying she’d be alive.

Next, I checked her airways. I didn’t try to move her. She could’ve broken a leg, maybe worse. We’d have to wait for the helicopter. Mum yelled. I turned. I gave her the thumbs up. I gestured: What am I supposed to do now?

Above, the helicopter tried to land. There was enough space, quite a clear, level patch, but a gust of wind tossed the Sea King back into the air, as if it were a sweet wrapper. I was going to have to wait with the girl until they got down.

Mum shouted words of encouragement, but I was worried; sometimes it can take up to five tries and thirty minutes to get a helicopter down. What should I do? The girl was barely alive.

I tucked a second space blanket around her, and very carefully tried to prise a thermal mat under her head and shoulders. You lose a lot of heat through contact with the ground, you know. As I tucked the thermal in I noticed that the stones beneath her felt oddly warm. She couldn’t possibly have heated them herself. Must be some trick of the cold. I suddenly realised I might need to watch out. Cold can do that, you know. Make you think things are warm when they’re not.

Anyway, I tried to huddle in beside her, give her the best chance I could. If I could rouse her, maybe I could get some high-energy food into her.

I rubbed her cold hands between mine. She stirred a little. I rubbed more briskly. Suddenly she opened her eyes. She looked at me. I started the reassuring routine again, although I hadn’t got a clue how seriously hurt she was, or how long it was going to take them to get her out.

‘You’re going to be all right. You’ve just hurt your leg. Try to stay still. Llanberis Mountain … ’

‘There were monsters,’ she said. ‘I was so cold … there was a boy … told me to follow him … somewhere warm … ’

She was rambling. Shock can affect you like that. Extreme cold can make you hallucinate …

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