Perhaps they should have been watching the grandfather clock. Owen and his mother had taken over a little house that had belonged to a woman called Mary White. To the rest of the town Mary had been just a simple shopkeeper. But Owen and his mother knew her as one of the links between a secret world and the world they lived in. More than that, she was the keeper of a secret. The grandfather clock was not just a timepiece. When you opened it you found a gateway into time itself, known as an ingress. Owen and Martha, his mother, knew the clock was important, but even if they had been watching it, they might have missed the sign, or not have recognized it for what it was. And besides, it was growing dark.
Owen lit the oil lamp and placed it on the table. The electricity supply was better than it had been but was still unreliable, and they were grateful for the wood-burning stove in the sitting room. It had been ten months since the moon had almost crashed into the earth, and the rebuilding was still going on. All over the world, power stations had been damaged, roads and bridges destroyed.
Owen was one of three adventurers who had traveled across time to the great City of Hadima in order to save the world. They had brought back a tempod from the City. The tempod was a rare hollow rock containing a quantity of time, enough to repair the fabric of space and time and send the moon back to its proper orbit. The Harsh had drained time from the world, disrupting gravity, and sending the moon plunging towards the earth. The adventurers had succeeded in stopping the Harsh, but the damage wrought on the earth had been terrible.
Even now the school in the nearby town was only open for three hours a day, and half the people had not returned, giving the streets a strange deserted feel. But still, the little house they had moved into after Mary had died was cozy, and Owen's mother was stronger than she had been for years. They both knew that there were battles to come, and that Owen's friends, the Resisters, would wake once more to defend the fabric of time, but these days they were happy with simple things, such as the pie his mother now set on the table, steam rising from the crust. Martha cut into it and put a slice on Owen's plate, the oil lamp casting shadows on his pale face that made him look serious and grown-up, until he reached for his knife and fork and dove greedily in.
"Take it easy," she said, laughing. "Leave some for me."
Perhaps that was the moment they should have looked at the clock, but they were content in each other's company, and in any event, it was nothing. Just the hands of the clock hesitating for a brief moment, trembling as if they bore a huge weight, and then moving on as normal. The only sign that something had changed.
A mile away Cati leaned on the parapet of the Workhouse, eating a supper of cheese and hard biscuit. She could see the light in Owen's window and wondered what her friend was doing. She shifted restlessly. She was one of the Resisters, fighters dedicated to protecting time. All of the other Resisters were asleep in a place beneath the Workhouse called the Starry, bound to remain there until there was a threat and they were called. Cati's job as Watcher was to guard them and wake them when needed. She lived in the shadows of time where no one could see her, and was only allowed to contact Owen in an emergency. Someday, she thought, she would get used to the loneliness of it.
She sighed and stretched. Every evening before she went to bed she patrolled the Workhouse, the ancient building above the riverbank that was the headquarters of the Resisters. To the outside world the building was a ruin, but Cati knew that it stood on an island in time, and had on many occasions served as a bulwark against chaos when the normal smooth flowing of the hours and years had been interrupted.
She knew every stone and every passageway and longed for the days when, instead of being empty and cold, the rooms were thronged with men and women. She walked through the great silent kitchens, then went to look at the Skyward, their friend Dr. Diamond's laboratory, which was hidden deep underground for the moment. Inside its glass walls the Skyward was dark and still, but she could imagine the doctor at work in it, inventing and studying. She half smiled at the thought--you were as likely to get a permafrozen rose as a cake from the battered old oven by the door, or find yourself seeing backward in time through a contraption made from what looked like old vacuum cleaner parts.
Her final task was to check on the sleeping Resisters. She went round the side of the building and carefully unlocked the hidden door to the Starry, the chamber under the earth where the adults and children waited for the call to rise. Beneath the domed and star-flecked ceiling, the Resisters lay sleeping, row after row of them on beds with their hands folded on their breasts, breathing gently. Her heart warmed as she saw familiar faces. Dr. Diamond, a smile on his face. Pieta, the brave and proud warrior, her strange mocking eyes closed for now. Cati shook her head, feeling the sleep of the Starry wash over her. If she stayed there long enough, the sleep would overcome her. With a wistful grin, she stepped back out into the fresh air and locked the door behind her.
If she had stayed another minute, she would have seen what happened. But perhaps she would not have known what it meant. It was only a small thing. For a moment everyone in the room held their breath, and then they breathed normally again.
Cati went down to her small room deep inside the Workhouse. She lit the fire she had laid and curled up in bed with one of Dr. Diamond's books--a history of the Workhouse. After a few minutes she put it aside. She was glad that everyone was safe again, and was proud of the part that she and Owen and the doctor had taken in bringing back a tempod from Hadima and using the quantity of time it contained to save the world. But, proud and glad as she was, she wished that something would happen. She didn't want the moon to come close to the earth again, or anything dangerous like that--just something to break the monotony of the days. She pulled the sheets over her head and tried to sleep.
In a forest far away--the distance measured not so much in space as in time--another girl about the same age as Cati would have given anything for five peaceful minutes in a warm bed. Instead she crouched at the base of a tree in the snow, drawing great shuddering breaths. She had lost her pursuit for the moment, but there was a long way to go and she was cold and hungry. The tree branches had raked at her skin, and her clothes were filthy and torn. Wearily she got to her feet and felt in her pocket for the last of the dry bread and cheese. She wolfed down the food and forced a handful of snow into her mouth to follow it. Then she crammed her battered hat onto her head and gathered her torn black shawl around her, a look of determination on her face. It might be too late to save her birthplace, the great city of Hadima, but perhaps her friends Owen, Cati, and Dr. Diamond could do something. And if not, she could at least warn them of the great danger they were in. Moving lightly in her high-heeled shoes, Rosie ducked under a branch and plunged into the trees. In a moment she was gone.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Frost Child by Eoin McNamee. Copyright © 2009 by Eoin McNamee. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.