Joel let the roller blind run up very fast, so as to make a loud smacking noise.
It was like firing a cannon to salute the new day.
He stared out the window in surprise. The ground was all white. He had been fooled yet again.
Winter always came creeping up on you when you least expected it. Joel had decided last autumn that he would never allow that to happen again. Before going to bed, he would make up his mind whether or not it would start snowing during the night.
The problem was that you couldn't hear it snowing. It was different with rain. Rain pattered onto the corrugated iron roof over the cycle rack outside the front door. When the sun shone you couldn't hear that either, but the light changed. Wind was easiest of all. Sometimes when it was blowing really hard, it would whip into the walls so fiercely that it felt as if the house was about to take off.
But snow came creeping up on you. Snow was like an Indian. It moved silently and came when you least expected it.
Joel continued gazing out the window. So winter had arrived now. There was no getting away from it. And he'd been fooled again. Would it be a long, cold winter? The snow that had fallen now would stay the longest. Because it would be underneath all the snow that came later. The first to come was the last to thaw. And that would be at the end of April, or even the beginning of May.
By then Joel would be fourteen. He'd have grown almost half an inch. And lots of things that he knew nothing about now would have happened.
The snow had arrived.
And so it was New Year's Eve. Even if it was still only November.
That was how it was for Joel. He had decided. New Year's Eve would be when the first snow fell.
His very own New Year's Eve. When the ground was white, that was when he would make his New Year's resolutions. If he had any.
And he did. Lots.
It was cold on the floor. Joel fetched a pillow from his bed and put it under his feet. He could hear his dad clattering about in the kitchen with the coffeepot. Samuel didn't like Joel standing on his pillow, so he would have to be ready to move away smartly from the window if the door suddenly opened behind him. But Samuel rarely came into Joel's bedroom in the morning. There was a risk, but not much of one.
He watched a single snowflake slowly floating down to the ground, to be swallowed up by all the whiteness.
There was a lot to think about when you were thirteen years of age. More than when you were twelve. Not to mention when you were eleven.
He thought he had learnt two things since it had started snowing last autumn: Life became more complicated as time passed by. And winter always came creeping up on you when you least expected it.
Joel thought about the previous evening. It had still been autumn then. After dinner he had pulled on his boots, grabbed hold of his jacket and leapt downstairs in three jumps. As it was a Sunday evening, the night train heading south stopped at the local railway station. It was rare for anybody to go aboard. And even rarer for anybody to get off. But you never knew. Besides, Joel used to slip little secret letters into the postbox in the mail coach.
I have my eye on you. Signed J.
Always the same text. But he would write different names on the envelope, taken at random from his dad's newspaper. He made up the addresses himself.
9 Miracle Street. Or 12 Blacksmith Lundberg's Avenue.
Joel thought that there might be an address like that somewhere in the world. But as he also suspected that the post office had secret employees who spent all day and night tracing people who sent letters to invented addresses, he didn't dare to use the names of towns that really existed. And so he would study the latest issue of Where When How in the school library. That was an annual that listed things that had happened the previous year. Right at the back was a list of all the towns and villages in Sweden. It told you which places had grown bigger and which ones had become smaller. The little town where Joel lived always grew smaller every year. That confirmed Joel's suspicions. Nobody wanted to carry on living here. Nor did anybody want to move here.
If things turned out really badly, he and Samuel would be the last two people in the place. He'd once tried to explain this to Samuel, but his dad only laughed.
"There'll always be people living by the river," he'd said.
"But does it have to be us?" Joel had asked.
Samuel didn't respond to that. He just laughed again, put on his glasses and started reading his newspaper. But Joel had been able to check in Where When How that the towns he had written on his envelopes did not exist in Sweden. Neither Joelsville nor Sprucehampton.
He never stuck stamps on the envelopes. He drew them on instead. Old men with long noses. As the letters were fakes, he didn't think it was right to use genuine postage stamps. And then he had to be careful when he slipped them into the postbox on the mail coach. Stationmaster Knif had sharp eyes, and was apt to flare up and lose his temper. But Joel hadn't been found out so far. He'd written in his notebook that he had now sent eleven letters in all with the southbound express train.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from When the Snow Fell by Henning MankellCopyright © 2009 by Henning Mankell. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.