Midnight Hollow, The Carpatian Mountains in Transylvania, Romania, Europe
“The land beyond The Forest”
After an uneventful flight, Granny and Taïga arrive in Romania in the morning. The pristine autumn air carries a promise of snow and they are both freezing, riding in an old cabriolet.
‘You should have transformed the car into a limousine, Granny!’
‘But I can’t drive a limousine! And this is the only car I know how to conjure up, so be quiet now and put on your safety belt…’
‘There are no safety belts, Granny… Do we have long to go? I’m hungry.’
‘It’s up in the mountains over there.’ Granny points towards the skyline of dark foreboding mountains, and Taïga shudders. ‘Here, take this apple. We’ll stop for dinner, or rather lunch, along the way…’
Taïga has slept most of the way through the Romanian countryside, snuggly wrapped up in a warm blanket, but Granny has to wake her when they enter Midnight Hollow.
‘Look at the houses, Taïga. Aren’t they beautiful?’
Taïga nods sleepily. ‘But it’s so dark, Granny. Where’s the sun? What time is it?’
‘Soon two p.m. But it’s only four a.m. back in Moonlight Falls. That’s why you are so tired…’
‘Watch out, Granny!’
Granny has strayed too far over to the left side and the car coming from the other direction honks his horn angrily.
The driver glares at them, slowing his car down and shouting something unintelligible to them as they pass.
Granny is unfazed. ‘I just hope the rude man is not our future neighbor…’
Taïga turns around in her seat and watches the car vanish around a bend in the road. ‘Do you think we’ll learn the language soon? “Du-te dracu! Boule”*…’
‘I’m sure that’s not something you should add to your vocabulary, Taïga!’
She turns back in her seat, ‘Tell me about your sister, Granny’
*Go to Hell, you idiot!
What is there to say…’ As a teenager Missy fell madly in love with my boyfriend, Magnus Darkling, and since then our relations have been sparse and cold. Her relations in general are sparse and cold. Her mean streak has permitted her to specialize in ghost hunting and she also practices black magic and voodoo. She’s horribly clumsy, and a terrible blunderer! I’m more than a little worried about us all living together under the same roof…
But of course she doesn’t tell her grandchild all this.
She clears her throat. ‘Ahem… Missy is my younger sister – I was thirteen when she was born… Err… She’s not married – at least not that I know of – and she has a cat…’
Taïga’s eyes grow misty. She misses Minuit terribly…
The firemen found the charred body of the old cat, and they buried her in her favorite spot in the garden before leaving Moonlight Falls. Taïga thought she didn’t have any tears left after Mrs. Brown passed away. She was horribly wrong…
‘Look! That seems to be a post office of some kind.’
Granny parks the car and jumps out. ‘Stretch your legs a little while I go and ask for directions. But don’t stray too far!’
Taïga doesn’t move. It’s too cold to let go of the warm blanket.
Granny is soon back, waving a slip of paper. ‘We’re not far!’
Taïga yawns, but straightens up at the sight of an ominous edifice.
‘What is that, Granny?’
‘I think it must be the church the woman at the post office mentioned. We should turn right soon…’
‘It looks like something out of a scary movie… I bet there are vampires living in the crypt, Granny!’
‘There are no such things as vampires, Taïga.’
‘I’ve read Dracula. And Mom told me not to mess with them.’
‘Have you seen one?’
‘Well. Normal. They don’t exist.’ But she doesn’t sound convinced.
Taïga doesn’t let go. ‘I’ve never seen a platypus either, and they exist.’
‘You’ve seen photos haven’t you?’
‘Yes, of course I have!’
‘Have you ever seen a photo of a vampire?’
‘No! But you can’t photograph them and they have no reflection in mirrors neither!’
Granny glances at her grandchild. ‘Says who?’
‘Well… Books and stuff…’
Granny just snorts and turns right, into Breach Bend…
‘There it is!’ Taïga hollers, ‘Number 46!’
Granny screeches to a halt, backing to verify. ‘You seem to be right, dear.’
Taïga leans over and actions the horn. ‘Tuuut! Tuuuut-tuuuuut-tuuuut!’
The door opens on a feisty redheaded woman. Taïga gapes. She had expected someone a little more like Granny. In fact she had expected a kind of Granny-clone with lesser wrinkles…
‘Park over there! I’m coming!’
They park next to the house and starts unpacking. Missy soon comes to greet them. She lets go of her cat, and looks Taïga over.
‘You look exactly like your mother.’ She grabs Taïga’s chin and turns her head slightly to the right, exposing her neck. ‘Hmm. She’s even got the grey mark. Even though the Council didn’t approve of her father.’
‘Why didn’t they approve, Missy?’ Taïga asks, pulling her sweater tighter around her neck.
‘Because they don’t know who he is, of course. Do you?’
‘Enough, Missy. Give me a hand, will you.’
Missy walks over to her sister and perfunctorily helps her unpack the car…
When Missy offered “shelter” to Granny and Taïga, it was more by obligation than because she really felt sorry for them… But Granny would probably bring her crystal ball, the palantír, along, and Missy has got her eyes on that particular item for as long as she can remember.
Oh yes, I can see it in the backseat… Just beside my sister’s broom… What is the child doing with my cat? ‘Watch out! Don’t hurt the cat!’
‘I don’t hurt him, Missy. Look, he purrs! I think he likes to be cuddled’
‘It’s not a he. It’s a she.’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Miezul Nopţii. That’s midnight in Romanian.’
Taïga burrows her nose in the silky fur, ‘Minuit…’
There’s only one guest room, so Taïga will have to share it with Granny. She’s secretly happy about it, since Mrs. Brown passed away, she hasn’t slept well…
They unpack and stumble to bed, too exhausted to worry about anything except sleeping.
Granny wakes up early the next morning and yawning she shuffles down to the kitchen. She just hopes her sister has changed, but by the look of the kitchen, she hasn’t – horrible colors and a cast iron contraption from the late 40’s – a stove, that from the look of it, never has served…
She goes through the cupboards in search of something edible to eat. We’ll just have to make the best out of it… First of all I’ll fix us some breakfast, then I’ll have to contact the school here…
Not a week later it’s Taïga’s birthday. It’s early November, but winter is already coming to Moonlight Hollow…
It’s so cold and misty, and dark. Some snow would lighten up a little… Ah, there she is! ‘Happy Birthday, Taïga! Here, the postman just dropped this off!’
‘It’s from Mom!’ Taïga eagerly pulls at the ribbon and discovers a smartphone.
Granny sighs. Her present will absolutely fade next to the gleaming device…
‘Can I go on the Internet?’
‘I’m not sure, with all these mountains around…’
Can’t wait to mail Derek! Or call him… I wonder what he’s doing. And will he speak to me?
‘Can I call Derek?’
Granny counts in her head, 8 o’clock minus 10 hours.
‘Yes, it’s late – 10p.m, but go ahead. I need to talk to you afterwards, I’ll wait for you in the study upstairs…’
‘OK’… Taïga types in the Vargas’ number on her brand new cell.
‘Hello Mrs. Vargas. I’m sorry to call this late. Is Derek there?’
She waits nervously. AnAnd then there he is, his soft voice sounding like he’s just around the corner and not halfway across the globe – 5,795 miles (9 326 km) away…
‘Derek! Hi! It’s me! Taïga! I got a cell for my birthday! Cool isn’t it? … Thanks… but it is the 5th today, you know! … What? … Yeah… Yeah… Sure! …. Who? Serena? … Are you kidding me? She can’t take my place, she can’t even- … NO! Of course not! … Soon… I’ll start school next Monday… Yeah… Uh-huh… Bye… Oh, Derek? Hug Teddy from me will you? I miss him sooo much! Byeeee!’
Bleh! Taïga sticks out her tongue to the telephone and grimaces. He can talk about Serena all day if he wants. “She’s trying out for the Bridgeport Academy Ballet School…” Serena. Really? It should have been me… Oh, how I hate her! And I’ll never call Derek again! Never!
Granny has prepared her speech since they left Moonlight Falls.
‘… so you’re about to become a big sister!’
‘Wow…’ Taïga doesn’t know if she’s happy or not. She has always wanted a sister, but… ‘Will I go to Monte Vista, and live with Mom?’
Granny swallows. She was afraid Taïga would ask that…
‘Well… We’ll have to talk about that with your mother first. For the moment you have to stay here in Midnight Hollow with me and your great aunt…’
Granny can see how her grandchild is struggling not to show her disappointment, but her green eyes are getting unmistakably misty.
‘It’s not that I don’t want to be with you, Granny. I love you! It’s just… just…’
Granny reaches out to Taïga and hugs her. ‘I know you’re not 15 yet, but I’d like to show you something special for your birthday. Let’s have a look into the future – or the past…’
Taïga lights up. ‘The crystal ball?’
‘The Palantír, Taïga. The Palantír…’
School of Hard Knocks
There are two schools in Midnight Hollow, One public and one private. As there is an English speaking community in Midnight Hollow, an International private school was created a decade ago, teaching in English.
So Granny didn’t have much of a choice, she has signed Taïga up for classes at the “School of Hard Knocks”.
After pacing the waiting room, looking at the school’s words of wisdom nicely framed on the walls, she has taken a seat and is patiently waiting for the headmaster to show up…
Already 3:15 p.m… If the headmaster isn’t on time, how can he expect the pupils to be? He’d better hurry, these wallpapers are so hideous I’m starting to get a migraine… And the words of wisdom? Geez… “Learn from your mistakes”, “You can learn more common sense from the School of Hard Knocks, than from any university”, “Streetwise is smart”, “Learn your lesson the hard way” etc. etc…
Finally the headmaster comes out of his office to greet her.
‘… your reputation has preceded you, Mrs. Grey. Welcome to Midnight Hollow! I hope you and your granddaughter will find our facilities to your convenience.’
‘Mr. Synapse…’ Hmm… Strange people in this town. Why doesn’t he take off his gloves? So pale… but we haven’t seen the sun since we got here, so why not?
‘Let me introduce you to Miss Holden. She’s our English teacher, but she also teaches Art and drama.’
I’ve seen dolls with a healthier complexion…And what strange eyes! … ‘… and I absolutely believe History of Arts is complementary with the English language, and shouldn’t be separated. What is your opinion, Mrs. Grey?’
‘Oh… I agree, Miss Holden. But have all teachers more than one subject to teach?’
‘Eh, yes, nobody wants to teach in our…’
‘Miss Holden!’ The headmaster interrupts her, and throws her a deadly glance. Then he turns to Granny with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. ‘You’ll excuse Miss Holden, she has some important things to attend to before classes tomorrow. Don’t you, Sarah?’
With her eyes downcast, she turns around and vanishes down the corridor.
‘Now, where were we? Yes, we believe in multi-tasking. Our PE teacher is also our math teacher! Shall we tour the facilities, Mrs. Grey?’
‘Miss Grey. If you don’t mind, I’d like to meet the other teachers.’
‘Certainly. After you, Mrs. Grey…’
‘Cedrick Winchester… It’ll be a pleasure to have your granddaughter in Geography and Religion, Mrs. Grey.’
‘Miss Grey. Religion? Could you please develop, Mr Winchester?’
Gloves again… I have to look into this…
‘Ahm Julian Poirot, and Ah teach Musique and Frrrench!’
Julian Poirot has a heavy French accent and Granny lights up!
‘Oh, vous êtes français ou belge, Monsieur Poirot?’ (Are you French or Belgian?)
Julian Poirot is at a loss for words. ‘Ahem… eh…’
Granny just looks at him. Home schooling is definitely an option… or boarding scool…
It isn’t easy to integrate classes’ midterm like this, but Taïga is tough. You don’t seem to learn much in Midnight Hollow, but her new classmates are quite fun. Granny has started talking about boarding school – abroad – can you believe it? Taïga can’t…
This afternoon they have P.E. She seems to be the only one at the skating rink who knows how to skate. Even the PE teacher is having trouble…
Karl Simon, the PE teacher is the only teacher who seems normal – or at least he’s the only one with a healthy complexion! Taïga was worried about all her teachers being vampires, but Granny doesn’t seem to think so, and she knows best, doesn’t she?
‘But I know how to skate, Mr. Simon. I can even skate backwards!’ Taïga protests when Mr. Simon wants to help her.
The PE teacher doesn’t listen to Taïga’s protests, just takes her hands and starts skating in a circle. He’s supposed to teach Taïga some techniques after all, but it’s he who frantically holds on to her hands…
Taïga thinks it feels like dancing with a llama… Well, it’s definitely not the last time she’ll get that feeling…
It ends up with Mr. Simon making them both fall. A disaster…
Because of the heavy snow the school has run out of electricity and the canteen is lit by small flash lights. Unfortunately the stoves aren’t battery driven…
A young boy she recognizes from her class stops at her table. ‘I’m Mitchell. Can I sit here?’
Taïga looks around at the almost empty canteen. ‘Yeah. Sure.’
‘Why don’t you eat? Don’t you like the food?’
‘I think it’s cool being out of electricity, but cold nachos are disgusting!’
Mitchell wolfs down his serving of nachos and French fries. ‘You’ll get used to it. It happens all the time…’
‘… and sometimes we don’t even have light, the Head always forgets to stock batteries… Good thing is you don’t have to go to school if it’s snowing too much!’
Taïga giggles, Mitchell is really talkative.
‘Hey? Why don’t we go to the winter fair together next weekend? There’s lots of stuff to do there!’
‘Just you and me?’
‘No, we’ll go with Jen and Leann too. Jen’s the blond girl right behind you.’ He rolls his paper napkin into a ball and throws it at the girl in pink, who turns around and sticks out her tongue at him.
Taïga smiles to herself. Finally she seems to have got at least one possible friend here. She’s concentrating on her cold food, so she doesn’t see Mitchell closing his eyes and pucking his lips towards her in a kiss.
One day when she comes home after school, she finds a stray dog sleeping on the porch.
‘What’s this? Is it mine? Oh, Granny, please – can I keep it?’
Ouch, it smells awful…
‘Well… first: “it” has already chosen to live here, I think… Secundo: I believe “it” is a “he”…’
… ‘and tertio : yes you can keep him – if you bathe him first! He really smells like an overflowing bin!!!’
The dog follows Taïga into the house, but when it comes to bathing him, things get complicated. After watching Taïga struggling and cajoling, Granny finally gets the stray into the tub with the help of magic…
‘Thanks, Granny! But why can’t you just get him clean with a brush of your wand?’
‘Because this is part of his education, Taïga. He needs to learn to obey and also to trust us, to know we won’t hurt him. Look, I think he’s enjoying himself!’
Taïga isn’t so sure about that…
‘I think I’ll call you Tramp – it suits you well… Now stay still so I can brush you, Old Missy will throw a fit if you run off shaking water out of your fur on her furniture!… That’s a good boy…’
It’s fun having a dog. You always have someone to play with and Tramp loves to play with Taïga.
But having a dog is not only about playing, there are a lot of responsibilities also. Like walking it early in the morning before going to school, and then again before going to bed at night…
Wonder if he’s online… YES!!! What shall I do? Log out!… C’mon… Uhoh… Too late.
Derek : ‘Hi Taïga! What’s up? You haven’t answered my mails?’
Mails? He’s written to me? Taïga : ‘Haven’t got a laptop… Granny’s promised me one for X-mas though…’
Derek: ‘Yeah, you lost a lot in the fire… And your brand new cell?’
Taïga: ‘Impossible to access the web with all these mountains! I’m in the library right now, I’m supposed to do some research on the founders.’
Derek: ‘So how’s school? Any new friends?’
Taïga: ‘This town sucks, but school is OK, I guess. Granny keeps talking about boarding school. You know what? I’ve got a dog! His name is Tramp, and I found him sleeping on the porch!’
Derek: ‘Lucky you! ☺ Gotta tell you – I’m receiver on the team!’
Taïga: ‘Wow! Raah team go!’
Derek: ‘You’d make a fantastic cheerleader!’
Taïga: ‘You bet!’
Derek: ‘BTW, talking about cheerleaders – Serena fell and sprained her ankle on our last match…’
Ha! Serves her good! Taïga : ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
Derek: ‘So she can’t try out.’
The ice is finally broken, and they continue chatting for quite a while, promising to keep in touch…
The only person who doesn’t seem to like Taïga is Old Missy. She’s always nagging about something…
‘What are you doing?’
‘Uh, a snowman! You can help me if you like.’
‘Help you? Don’t you know you shouldn’t make snowmen here?’
‘And why not? There are lots of them over there.’
‘Don’t answer back, young lady! Or…’
Old Missy turns around and walks inside the winter fair.
Or what? Taïga rolls her eyes and continues the decoration of her snowman.
When Missy comes back outside, Taïga is busy with her friends, having a snowball fight. Missy checks if someone is looking…
… then she completely destroys the snowman…
Luckily no one pays attention to Old Missy, who grumbling leaves the winter fair…
When Taïga gets home, she makes another snowman in the backyard. Painstakingly she dresses snow around the leftover trunk of a tree that was sawed down last fall, until it’s completely hidden under the shape of a snowman.
This one is for Missy! Ha! Go ahead and kick it…
Part I – End of Chapter 16