The kids arrive at the sideshow in the middle of the night …
This was the decision point. Up till then, all we’d done is sneak out and ride our bikes around in the dark for a while. I don’t know if you can “break and enter” a tent, but if we went in it would be trespassing at least. Lee and I unhooked the lantern and started fiddling with it, and Pounce and Mr. Spit looked at each other and nodded. One went left and once went right – reconnaissance. We’d all see the Frozen Cave Girl open her eyes and look straight at us. We were doing this.
Lee and I got the lantern set up—just bright enough to see. That plus a couple of dim flashlights would let us work without anyone noticing. Or so I very sincerely hoped. Murphy was a million miles away, no doubt thinking about all the questions he was going to ask the Cave Girl when we got her unfrozen. But Nina was looking around like she was paying serious attention. This bugged me a bit—that’s Nina using her Sensible Powers. Which means she was extreme likely to be noticing something obvious and important the rest of us were missing.
Pounce came back first, reporting in a whisper that the sideshow was dark and completely deserted as far as she could tell. Then Mr. Spit came, running low in his dirt colored Tshirt and old camo pants, his hair looking like a bunch of dried weeds, and he told us he’d run all the way down to the Midway and there was a big party going on, probably for the last night of the Fair. (We’d guessed that from the far away noise of course.) And even better, the snake lady in the top hat and the man with the horns were both there, playing in a big poker game with a people watching and it didn’t look like they’d be going anywhere soon.
Mr. Spit and I were ready to grab the back flap of the tent when Nina whispered “Wait. Listen.” We did. (Always listen to Nina when she uses Nina tone of voice.) We listened. Party in the distance: music and lots grownups talking at once. Close by, nothing.
Nothing. No generator clanking and buzzing, like we’d heard before. Right, the lights had come back on, so maybe they didn’t need the generator, but no refrigerator or freezer humming, no compressor turning on and off to keep a block of ice frozen on a hot summer night. I opened my mouth to comment and Nina put her hand on my arm, and then a heard it.
Drip. Long pause. Drip. Drip. Water dripping, slowly, landing on grass that was already wet. She was thawing. The Unfrozen Cave Girl was thawing and she had been for a while.
We all crammed through the tent flap so fast it was lucky we didn’t knock the tent down. As it was, Lee and Murphy got tangled up just inside, knocking over the chair with the Victrola on it. There was quite a crash. We all held still—if anyone was lurking around the sideshow, they would have heard that for sure. Just when we started to breath again, a spring broke inside the Victrola with a loud sproing, a musical metal sound, bright and sad and funny at the same time.
And then there was another sound, a crack of ice. We turned the lantern and the flashlights on the center of the tent. The box was open and the block of ice was dripping there, blue and silver in the lantern light, and we could see the Frozen Cave Girl inside, like a shadow. And I was positive, just positive for a long second: the ice is going to crack open and the Cave Girl is going to sit up like the Bride of Frankenstein in an old horror movie and we are all toast.
Nina screamed a little, and Lee sort of gasped. Spit stepped in front of them and Pounce. Murphy, next to me, was grinning like an idiot. Nothing happened. We took one more step forward, enough to see that there was a crack in the ice, right across the top, but not deep enough to let anybody out. The whole block was shiny with water. Drip. Drip. Drip.