An icy-cold mystery adventure to warm your heart—perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library!
Something sinister has come to Glacier Cove, an icy-cold town that sits on top of an iceberg . Nothing bad ever happens here. Until now. And it’s up to Penelope March to stop it.
Mmm-hmm, that Penelope—the bookworm who lives in the ramshackle house with her brother, Miles. The girl with the mom who—poof!—disappeared. The one everyone ignores . . . except strange Coral Wanamaker, a tiny thing with raven-black hair and a black coat.
When Penelope meets someone who seems to know secrets not only about Glacier Cove but about Penelope herself, she and Miles are pulled into an ancient mystery. Together, they’ll face the coldest, cruelest enemy ever known. Looks like the girl who only reads about adventures is going to start living one.
Magic cookies! Volcanoes! Penguins! Sea monsters! And a girl hero with the strength and imagination to spring into action.
Years ago, scientists spotted a strange iceberg floating a hundred miles off the coast of Antarctica. That part of the world is full of icebergs, so one off by itself in the middle of nowhere isn’t so odd. The odd part is what the scientists found when they studied satellite images of the iceberg.
It was hard to tell from the grainy photos, but there appeared to be people living on the iceberg. A whole town, with roads and cars and houses. A school and a church. One image seemed to show a man walking a dog.
Three countries—the United States, Argentina, and Japan—sent explorers in small planes to the coordinates where the iceberg had been spotted. All three found nothing. The American and Argentinean planes returned with no answers; the Japanese plane never returned. Whether the iceberg had continued to float farther out into the ocean, or sunk, or melted, no one knew. But it was gone. As disappointed as they were, the scientists moved on to projects more sensible than looking for populated icebergs.
Penelope March woke up in her hammock with her lips stuck to page 287.
Most mornings, she opened her eyes to find a book over her face or tucked in her arm or under her head and serving as a terribly ineffective pillow. But on this particular morning she had to separate her dry mouth from the page. Painful as it was, far worse was the notion that she had only fifty-one pages left and would have to finish it later.
Penelope was twelve years old and loved books. Magazines. Signs. Instructional manuals. Anything with words, really. Her fingers often grabbed whatever was closest without her telling them to, like the time at the doctor when her hands got so itchy she spent an hour reading a pamphlet about the dangers of pancreatitis.
But Penelope especially gravitated toward books that included a “plucky heroine,” a brassy and clever girl who saved the day using nothing but her wits and cunning. She was currently reading The Impossible Glories and Misfortunes of Nicola Torland, M. Winston McCann’s thick and unforgiving book about an orphan who woke up with one of her ears missing and spent the next twenty-eight chapters figuring out who, why, and how. By the end of part one, Nicola Torland had become a double agent, a world-class archer, and the most respected philosopher in her country. And she was only fourteen. And had one ear.
Penelope examined her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She had two healthy ears and she had not yet become much of anything. She’d studied her own face so many times—the big eyes, the rowdy mop of hair, the chin so wide the freckles on one side did not seem to know about the freckles on the other—that she could no longer tell if she was pretty or hideous or somewhere in between. And she had tried desperately to stop caring.
She gave up and opened the medicine chest in search of toothpaste. Taped to the toothpaste inside the medicine chest was a note in blocky handwriting:
What word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
Penelope smiled. Oh, Miles.
Her little brother had been leaving riddles and jokes for her lately. Penelope and Miles shared a room in a tiny house on Broken Branch Lane, a drab street tucked into a valley on the south side of Glacier Cove. Their room had two hammocks, a desk, a little window, and not much space to maneuver. Privacy was out of the question.
Even on their modest block, neighbors whispered about the poor state of the family’s house, a ramshackle structure that appeared to be held together by little more than spit, tape, and luck. On unpleasant days, it waved and buckled like drapes in the wind. “That shack,” sneered their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Shaw, to her husband. “I thought last night’s storm would send it flying away, with the three of them inside it.”
Though the house embarrassed their father to no end, Penelope and Miles gave no indication that it bothered them. They had never known anything different. Both were simply grateful for the roof over their heads.
Glacier Cove did not qualify as a wealthy town, but some inhabitants certainly had more than others. The lucky ones dressed in nicer clothes, ate better food, lived in larger homes. However, even the lucky ones had to admit that Glacier Cove did not live up to its promising name. Sure, there was the Ice Lantern Festival in December, when every citizen over the age of six lit their own homemade orb, charging the sky with a rich orange glow that lasted for ten glorious minutes if it wasn’t a windy night. And every other February, there were the Deep-Freeze Games, a grand extravaganza of athletic competitions.
But the town was cold and dreary, and the snow that fell was not a peaceful, soft white but rather was rough and gray. If a child was foolish enough to try catching a snowflake on his tongue, he usually got an ice pebble in the eye. If you fell asleep with a runny nose, which was pretty much always, you woke up with a boogersicle. As you can imagine, dealing with a boogersicle that’s been forming on your face for nine hours is not an ideal way to start your day. Most people prefer breakfast.
In Glacier Cove, that breakfast usually included turnips, which grew in abundance, regardless of the season. How could a place so miserably cold, where the ground had been covered with thick layers of ice for as long as anyone could recall, produce so many turnips, which only grow in warm climates? The truth was, no one knew, and no one questioned it. Local scientists had taken advantage of the oddity and developed ways to use turnips to produce both gasoline and electricity. This was perhaps the town’s greatest miracle, unless you count the time the Funkhauser twins got frozen inside their chimney for six hours and only broke free by peeing on each other.
But Glacier Cove had floated alone in the middle of the ocean for as long as anyone could remember. In spite of the people’s ingenuity, they had a blind spot when it came to exploration. If there was a larger world out there, they certainly didn’t wish to brave the icy waters to find out.
Instead, they ate their turnips and wore their coats outdoors and indoors. For twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes a day, they bundled up in gloves and hats, shivering and sniffling.
The other minute was even worse, because that was when the people of Glacier Cove showered. During that dreadful sixty seconds, off came layer upon layer of clothes, which smelled like a mix of dried sweat and rotting turnips. The typical Glacier Covian would turn on the shower, which spat out thick blasts of freezing water, and he would jump around and shriek like a blind baboon while he fumbled for the soap, which also smelled like turnips, to rub against various unpleasant parts of his pasty skin that ended up splotchy and irritated, angry at even a minute of exposure to the brutal air.
You don’t want to know about their baths.
After a frosty shower, Penelope walked into the kitchen with Nicola Torland tucked under her arm. She found her brother and father eating identical breakfasts: a bowl of Turnip Flakes, a glass of turnip juice, and a turnip. They had set the same breakfast for her.
“So, today’s riddle,” Miles said over the scrape and ding of spoon to bowl. “What word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?”
Penelope knew it was a trick question, like all Miles’s riddles were. But the more she thought about it—Shorter? How was that even possible?—the more her head hurt.
“Pen, Pen, Pen,” Miles chided through a goofy grin that could not be stopped by the heaps of cereal he was shoveling into his mouth. “I’m disappointed in you.” He glanced at Penelope’s book. “Did you know M. Winston McCann wrote naked? Every day, he took off his clothes and gave them to his wife. Then he locked himself in his room to write.”
“To keep himself from going to the pub.”
“Eat your breakfast,” mumbled their father, a large man with bloodshot eyes and a hurricane of a beard. He’d grown accustomed to their inside jokes, though he usually found himself on the outside. “You’re going to be late for school.”
“Come on, Miles!”
They tramped through the snow on Silver Sky Road, Penelope’s younger brother a good ten paces behind her. All elbows and ears, Miles tried to work himself out of a pair of handcuffs he’d found behind the police station last week. He had wriggled the handcuffs over his head with his double-jointed arms, but his bulky gloves certainly didn’t help. “Hey, wait for me!” he called. “Look! I’ve almost got it.”
Though a year younger than Penelope, Miles stood roughly the same height. Old ladies constantly mistook them for twins. But he and his sister were very different.
Miles liked books just fine; he just happened to prefer people. And people liked Miles, because he was always himself, and that self was happy. You know how newborn babies enter the world crying? Baby Miles did not cry. He slid out, wet and wild, rubbed his eyes, and glanced around the delivery room as if searching for answers. Finding none, he broke into what would be called a toothy smile if he’d had any teeth. It wasn’t until a nurse cut the umbilical cord that Miles began wailing, and that seemed more out of confusion. Hey, isn’t that part of my body you’re throwing away there? When he realized he didn’t need the cord after all, his grin returned.
On Silver Sky Road, even after wincing at the grotesque snap of his shoulder—which Miles had popped out of its socket so he could pick the handcuff lock with a paper clip—he smiled. He fumbled for a moment; then, click, the cuffs slipped into the snow at his feet.
As he reached down, though, Miles’s smile faded. His body froze as his eyes locked on something in the distance.
“Miles? Are you okay?”
Penelope followed her brother’s gaze across Silver Sky Road, past a bleak expanse of dirty slush, and the daily stab of fear nicked her chest.
The Ice House.
The kids had heard all the stories. The Ice House—a big, creepy mansion with an ice roof, ice walls, an ice door, ice windows, an ice driveway, and an ice porch with a swing forever frozen in place—had been built by a black-toothed vampire who slept in an igloo in the basement, guarded by a dog named Wolfknuckle that barked like a foghorn and bit like a tiger. If that wasn’t scary enough, a pair of testy ice gargoyles scowled from the roof at anyone who dared catch their hollow eyes. The only thing that moved was a giant clock over the front door, tick-tick-ticking to mark the minutes you had left should you dare to enter.
Some said the house’s halls were decorated not with furniture but with children. The foolish ones who had ventured inside, usually on a dare, had immediately turned to ice, their faces frozen forever in shock and fear at whatever horrible thing they had seen in their last moment.
All anyone knew for certain was that a strange old man named Buzzardstock lived there and that he had thin green hair and a mole on his nose with so much hair of its own that it looked like a small broccoli. On this particular morning, the thought of Buzzardstock’s broccoli mole was enough to convince Penelope to avoid the Ice House.
Miles bent to pick up the handcuffs, slow and quiet, so as not to risk disturbing Wolfknuckle. He bit his lip and popped his rubbery shoulder back into its socket.
“Let’s go,” said Penelope, grabbing her brother’s hand.
The siblings ran all the way to school, their boots squeaking in the fresh snow. On the way, Penelope noticed a small crack in the ice that perpetually covered Archibald Fountain in front of city hall, but she gave it no thought. She and Miles arrived sweaty and gasping for breath, just two more noisy children dashing up the school steps two at a time to make it to first period.
The bell rang, teachers tapped their chalkboards until things quieted down, and another day at Glacier Cove Academy began.
The whole school might not have been so carefree had they known that right beneath them, something terrible was happening. And if they continued with their lives as they were, they would all be dead within the year.
Excerpted from Penelope March Is Melting by Jeffrey Michael Ruby. Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey Michael Ruby. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the Author
Jeffrey Michael Ruby is the chief dining critic of Chicago magazine. He is the coauthor of Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Food, and has also played college basketball in Ireland, assisted in an autopsy, and sumo wrestled in front of 20,000 people in New Jersey. He lives in Chicago with his wife and three children. Penelope March Is Melting is his first novel. Visit Jeffrey at jeffrubymedia.com, @dropkickjeffy on Twitter, and instagram.com/dropkickjeffy.