Winter Damage

A bone-chillingly powerful debut novel that traps you in its icy grasp then thaws you from the heart out – for readers of Meg Rosoff, Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness. Just before Christmas, Ennor Carne sets out on a quest to find her missing mother. The home she leaves is a broken-down trailer, with her sick dad and her little brother and a few skinny cows, which are all that's left of what was once a family farm. She takes warm clothes, what food she can find, a map and a gun - but nothing, nothing can prepare her for what lies ahead . . .

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2. CHAPTER TWO

The cramped fold-down bed where Ennor lay was full of loose springs but it was her bed and she loved it. She stared up at the ceiling and wondered this way and that, her head a buzz-bulb full of impossible questions and unfeasible answers. She knew Trip was awake because she could hear him whispering to his buddy horse beneath the sheets and she knew he was talking about Christmas by his cheerful tone.

‘Mornin, buddy. I can hear you over there, you know.’

Trip giggled.  ‘And buddy horse.’


‘Mornin, buddy horse.’ She smiled.


‘Mornin, sister. Mornin, Ennor. Is it breakfast?’

Ennor rested up on her elbows. ‘Well I guess so.   Porridge OK with you?’


Trip peeked out of his bed and pushed his nose up against the window. ‘It’s stopped snowin. Can I go look for eggs, please?’

‘Well good luck in findin any but OK we can go take a look.’ She counted to three before leaping into the cold damp room and she added layers of clothing to the ones she’d slept in. She told Trip to dress quickly so they could look for eggs straight off and she looked in on her dad, like she did every morning to stop the worry that had her restless each night.

Out in the porch Ennor made Trip put on his wellies and not the hikers and they put on their dirty work coats. ‘Weather got worse in the night,’ said Trip as they trampled fresh snow in a pattern towards the barn.


‘A right little genius you are, int you?’

She pulled his bobble hat down past his ears and they continued on their way.


In the barn the cows slumped on the dirt floor chewing and the chickens sat startled and at odds with the sudden change in weather and were everywhere awkward. Heads and necks sprang from crates and broken bits of machinery, each one of them up and over and out of reach.

‘Why do they always do that?’ asked Ennor.

‘Do what?’

‘Roost everywhere but the coop when you’re hankerin after an egg.’


Trip shrugged. ‘Cus they don’t like sharin. Don’t worry, I’ll get um.’


Ennor watched him disappear into the wall of junk and she shouted for him to be careful.

The wind outside was close to gale force and it raged through the barn’s loose panels and filled the place with a thousand whistles that crawled up Ennor’s spine like fingering boys.

‘You found anythin?’ she shouted above the noise. ‘Trip?’

‘I see somethin,’ he called back.

‘What? Better be eggs or we’re goin in.’ She crouched to the ground and peered into the hole.

‘There’s a load of old clothes.’


‘Any eggs? I’m startin to freeze to the spot here.’


Trip pushed himself further beneath the machinery and Ennor bent her head to look where his legs had been.

‘Eggs,’ he exclaimed. ‘I knew it, the little buggers, there’s loads.’

‘Hey, no swearin.’

‘You do.’ He reached out a twist of rag with seven eggs piled against each other and handed them to Ennor.

‘Good work, buddy.’


‘Seven, that’s lucky right?’


‘Lucky when you’re hungry. Come on out now.’

‘There’s a load of old stuff in here.’


Ennor stood and counted the eggs over and waited for him to reappear.


‘We could sell some of it.’


‘Everythin worth anythin has been sold already. Now come out.’

‘What about this?’

Trip reversed out of the hole in the junk wall and handed her an old picture frame.

‘Is it gold?’ he asked.

Ennor’s fingers twitched like triggers as she stared at the faded photo of Mum and Dad on their wedding day.

‘It int gold,’ she said.


‘We could sell it on the internet.’


‘How’d we do that? We don’t have a computer. Anyway there’s no internet no more.’


‘We could ask Butch to help.’


‘Butch int allowed usin the computer.’


‘Why not?’ He grabbed the frame from under Ennor’s arm.


‘Cus his dad’s a bastard but you dint hear it from me.’

Trip held out the frame in front of him to look at the photo. ‘He beats him, don’t he? You don’t have to say, cus I know.’

‘All you need to know is you got a good daddy at home there and you should thank the Almighty for that.’

They retraced the circle of footsteps through the snow and Ennor clutched the eggs to her chest like a newborn.

‘Who’s these in the photo?’ he asked.

‘Dunno.’

‘How many eggs we got?’


‘Seven.’

‘Two each and one for buddy horse?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Why maybe?’

‘Cus buddy horse don’t like eggs and always gives it to you.’

‘Then I eat three.’ He smiled up at his sister as they entered the porch and she told him it was good to be smart but not with her.

They flicked off their boots and coats and Ennor carried the eggs into the kitchen and placed them on the side still wrapped in her mother’s old shirt.

‘Go see if Dad’s awake, will you? Ask him if he wants a boiled egg.’

She gathered an armful of wood from the pile in the porch and carried it to the stove, thinking about the photo as she stacked the oddments into a higgledy wall. Her mother and her father reunited as clear as black and white. It was a sign; it had to be.

There were whispers riding on the wind and the words lodged dead in her ears. A tumble of maybes and what ifs coming through the open door and she closed her eyes to the speed of things because sometimes ideas came too fast. Ennor needed to shut them out, rake over what had been planted, see what had seeded as a good idea. She slammed the door hard and slid the bolt to stop the rattling push and in that moment she knew what seed had been set. She could feel it split and multiply inside, a good idea growing into an even better plan, and she put the eggs into the pan and held the shirt close to her face. ‘Mum,’ she whispered.

‘He’s awake.’ Trip appeared in the doorway and stood leaning on the flimsy door frame.

‘What mood’s he in?’

He shrugged.


‘What?’

‘I showed him the photo.’


Ennor sighed. ‘Why’d you go do that for?’


He shrugged again and shook his head. The downturned mouth warned her that he was close to crying. His tears were always accompanied by shouting and throwing and a full day of stubborn silence.

‘Never mind. Go get buddy horse and I’ll set the table for three.’ She winked at him and waited to see if he would go down to the bedroom and he did.

‘Thank God for that,’ she whispered and she watched the eggs bounce about in the everyday pan she used for most meals. The last thing she needed was one of his tantrums when thinking was on the agenda.

She made a pot of tea and took a mug down to her father, placing it on the bedside table. She could see he was settling into one of his moods.

‘Got some eggs on.’ She stood with her hands on her hips and waited for him to look up.

‘Want any?’

When he didn’t answer Ennor left the room with a bang of the door that had the trailer rocking like a storm- tossed boat.

Back in the kitchen Trip set three eggcups on the table and sat down with the toy horse beside him.

‘Buddy horse says he might have an egg this mornin.’

‘Just one?’


‘Says he might try one.’


‘Would he like some fried toast with his egg?’

‘Nope. Horses don’t eat toast.’

They laughed and Ennor scraped the circles of mould off the last inch of stale bread and heated butter to fry it.

‘I love breakfast.’ Trip smiled. ‘I love everythin you cook me.’


‘Well that’s good cus the maid’s off sick and the chef’s on holiday.’


They ate five of the eggs and kept two back for Dad and Ennor put the radio on so they could listen to the weather report.

‘More snow comin.’ Trip nodded towards the radio. ‘Gonna get worse even.’

‘Well we’ll see. Can’t go worryin just yet.’


‘I int worryin. I like snow, don’t you, sister?’


Ennor sat opposite and closed her eyes to the taste of sweet egg and the homely memory of fried bread. ‘Don’t like the cold it brings.’

She told him to stop talking and eat while things were hot and half turned an ear to the news headlines.

‘What’s “economy”?’

‘Money and stuff.’

‘What stuff?’

‘I dunno, maths and that.’


‘Like mental maths?’


‘All maths is mental if you ask me.’


‘You like countin.’


‘That’s different, that’s just numbers for the sake of um. Now eat up.’


There was a knock on the kitchen window and a shadow passed and entered the porch and then the trailer door and shouted if anyone was home.

‘What the hell?’ Ennor jumped to her feet and prayed it wasn’t social services, not yet.

‘Who’s that?’ she shouted. ‘Doors are for knockin and waitin, not enterin.’

She found the man grinning in the dull narrow hall- way and he held his hands in the air as if she had the cross-hairs of her dad’s rifle pinned upon him.

‘It’s Ennor, int it? Turned into a right handsome beauty, dint you? Just like that mother of yours, all dark and broodin.’

‘You with the council?’


‘Are you mad?’

She looked him up and down and was glad the cut of him was anything but official.


‘Dad home?’


Ennor nodded. ‘He’s always home.’


‘Heard he’s not well. Come to pay my respects.’ He smiled.


‘He int dead yet, why you smilin?’

‘He’s an old friend and I’m here to settle an old debt.’

Ennor guessed this was the old friend her father had been talking about. ‘Did he ring you?’

‘Yeah, somethin like that.’ He tipped his hat and she turned and knocked on the bedroom door.

‘Dad, you got a visitor.’ She showed the man into the room and she minded her manners and offered him a cup of tea and he accepted.

‘Who’s that man?’ asked Trip when she returned to the kitchen.

‘Friend of Dad’s. Nothin to worry bout.’


‘I don’t like him. He looks mean.’


‘Well looks int everythin. You bin taught that.’ She told him to clear the table and help dry the dishes and to hurry up because she needed to talk to Butch about something.

‘He’s your boyfriend, int he?’

‘Butch? Course not.’


‘You’re always over there.’


‘That’s cus he’s my friend. Now hurry up and you can go see the horses in the stable.’


They cleared away the dishes and wiped the sides and

Trip put the eggshells in the compost bin outside while Ennor took the cup of tea to the stranger and she told her dad she was going up to the farmhouse.

 

Butch’s bedroom was backalong familiar. The high ceiling with the pattern wrapped round the light fitting and the ugly red carpet that bounced when you walked was lodged someplace in her memory. She sat on the edge of his bed and waited for him to make coffee in the kitchen downstairs and tried to remember something about her early life the way you might remember a book, but her mind buzzed and fizzed with other things.

The bed used to be in the far corner of the room, she remembered that much, furthest from the window and furthest from the door. A well-sprung bed, where she supposed all her dad’s family had been made and born and loved until putting-out time. Somewhere in the house there was a room that had been hers but she’d never bothered asking and she never went looking. Half-cut memories were best left that way, half fantasy and the rest a blur not worth bothering.

It was just a house after all, just granite blocks and stone and slate.

Butch stood in the doorway with steaming mugs of coffee and he handed her one and sat down beside her on the bed.

‘How you feelin?’ she asked.


‘Same as.’


‘Chest playin up?’


‘It’s this weather. Makes my lungs wet or somethin.’

 ‘That’s a bummer. Weather’s gonna get worse.’

He leant back against the ornate footboard and held the mug to his mouth so he could breathe in the steam.

‘You don’t look too bad – not like before.’ Ennor wondered if he believed her because in all honesty he looked washed and scrubbed like an old rag. ‘Where’s your mum?’

‘Dunno.’


‘Your dad?’


‘Out shootin.’


‘What?’
‘Whatever he can. Deer, I guess.’


‘How’s he doin?’


‘Dunno. Don’t talk much, does he?’


Ennor propped herself up against the pillows and crossed her legs. ‘How’s he healin?’


‘All right. Wears a scarf mostly so you can’t tell.’

‘Lucky you found him when you did.’


Butch shrugged. ‘Don’t’ know what’s so lucky bout it. What’s this urgent thing you got to ask me? Saw me yesterday, dint you?’

‘It’s a favour.’


‘Go on.’


‘I’m goin away for a bit, short notice like.’


Butch took a sip of his coffee and waited for her to tell him where she was going.


‘Gotta get to the north moor. Gonna look for Mum.’

‘When you decide this?’


‘Just.’


‘What bout Dad? Trip?’


‘I gotta go for them. Mum can help us, protect us even.’ Ennor slouched into the duvet and waited until she could rely on herself not to cry. ‘That’s kind of why I’m here.’

Butch didn’t speak and he rolled them a cigarette with all the time in the world laid out between them. She watched his big blue eyes that were almost too big for his neat face stretch with added worry and she wanted to tell him it was just a joke but it wasn’t. She needed someone to look after Trip and that someone was him. Butch was the only person her brother trusted apart from herself and she knew he would be OK. He had to be.

She watched the only friend she had in the world light the cigarette in his mouth and he sucked hard until his lungs gave way to coughing and he passed it to Ennor.

‘It’s just a few days. I’ll be back before Christmas.’

‘Why are you goin at all? She left you, dint she? I thought you hated her?’

‘I do, did, but there’s bin a change, an emergency.’ She told him about the letter from social services and that they would take Trip if she didn’t have family to look after them. ‘They’ll stick Dad in a refuge. He int much cop, the way they see it.’

‘They’ll take you and all.’

Ennor sat up and looked at him. ‘Say’s it’s an institution. What kind of institution?’

Butch shook his head and said he didn’t know what to say.

‘Say you’ll do it. A few days tops, promise.’


‘What about your dad?’


‘He int up for much, don’t worry, the odd cup of tea and Trip will empty the slop.’


‘What’s wrong with the bog?’


‘No water.’


Butch nodded as if remembering she’d told him this before. ‘If my dad gets wind, he’ll kill me.’


‘He don’t need to know. You can sneak round, you do anyway.’


‘He’ll have me in the ground is what he’ll do.’


Ennor waited for the answer she was banking on and she watched him get off the bed and stand by the window. ‘Just a few days, right?’

She nodded.


‘How’d you know your mum will help?’


‘She will. She’s me mum, int she? Besides, it’s Christmas, she liked Christmas.’


‘Where you gonna look? The moor’s a big place on foot.’


‘I’ve got a great-aunt who lives not too far west. Not seen her in years but she’s Mum’s aunt, she’ll know where she is.’ Ennor slid from the bed and stood beside him. ‘Don’t go worryin bout me, if you are I mean, I’ll be fine.’

‘You could take my motorbike, if you can get fuel to put in it.’

Ennor shook her head. ‘Fuel’s scarce. Nobody got much and we int got any. Anyway your dad would go mental if he knew your bike was missin.’

They stood loose and wondering and Ennor asked again if he would do it and he nodded.

‘You better look after yourself. Don’t want no part if it blows up.’

‘It won’t and I will. You look after that brother of mine. He’s all I got in the world. Promise?’

‘I promise.’ He tried to smile and she could see there was more he wanted to say but he turned away and everything was as usual just friends and solemn between them.

They walked down to the stables and stood and watched Trip as he finished up the story he was telling the horses from his perch on an upturned bucket.

‘You’re lucky,’ he said to Butch. ‘You got your own horses and they’re real and everythin.’

‘Course they’re real. Wouldn’t get far on a pretend one. Maybe I’ll take you out ridin when Ennor’s away.’

‘Where you goin, sister?’

Ennor made a face at her friend and crouched to the ground beside Trip.

‘What? You were goin to tell him, weren’t you?’ asked Butch.

‘Course, in my own time.’

‘Where you goin?’ Trip asked again.


Ennor tried to explain that there was one thing she had to do before Christmas and then she kind of said it with just hints but to an autistic boy of seven there was only one way to say a thing and that was truthfully.

‘I’m goin to look for Mum.’


‘Mother?’


She nodded and waited for the whys but he shrugged and asked Butch when they were going riding instead.

‘One of the days,’ said Butch.


‘Tomorrow or the next day?’ asked Trip.


‘Maybe,’ he said.

‘Butch isn’t very well at the minute,’ said Ennor.

‘Which one?’ Trip demanded.


‘Tomorrow, maybe.’


Trip turned to Ennor to tell her he was going riding tomorrow and she wondered if he’d forgotten she was going away, but as they walked back to the trailer he asked if she was going to get Mother to bring her home.

‘That’s the plan. I’ll ask in any case.’


‘No harm in askin.’


‘Nope.’


They took their time as if both had things they needed to say and Ennor put her hand on his tiny shoulder and pulled him close.

‘You’ll be all right, won’t you, buddy? Just a few days tops, I promise.’

Trip nodded and his copper brown eyes that were like her own flashed amber in the bright white. ‘If you promise.’

‘And you’ll have Butch stay over to look after you.’

‘We’re goin ridin tomorrow.’

‘That’s it and there’s one more thing you gotta remember in all of this – you can’t tell Dad.’

‘I know that already. It’s cus he’ll flip.’


‘How’d you know that?’


‘Cus he always flips with Mother things.’


Ennor stood with hands on hips and looked at him in disbelief.

‘Did I say somethin wrong?’


‘No, buddy,’ she smiled. ‘You said everythin right.’

 

Ennor sat at the table in the kitchen and ripped the lists from her notebook and tore them into tiny squares. Where she was going there would be no place for them. She would find her mother no matter what it took.

She tossed the bits of paper into the bin and turned on the radio. That way Trip and Dad would think she was about if they woke, and she put on her coat and wellies and hooked the torch from off the peg in the porch and squeezed it a million until the dynamo spun enough sparks to light her way. Outside it had stopped snowing and she asked God to keep it that way and she asked seven times for luck. In the barn the girls were sitting in a steaming clump and they watched Ennor with the usual suspicion, their eyes following her every move and the torchlight as it bounced like a beach ball between them.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she whispered and she told them not to try changing her mind when a couple of them answered back. ‘I got concerns bigger than you. Bigger and bigger still.’

Ennor climbed over them to reach the back of the barn and she told them not to bother moving and they didn’t.

‘It’s out here somewhere,’ she said. ‘Someplace among the crap.’ She was looking for an old rucksack she hadn’t seen in years. It had belonged to one of the farmhands who used to work the farm in summer, in the days when irrigation ditches needed digging and fences needed fixing, back when Dad could pay for the privilege of hired help. She remembered the rucksack because it was left with her in mind, some travelling lad who moved into the village and didn’t need it any more. Maybe he saw something in the young girl, some wild mustang spirit when really she was just showing off.

There was nothing about her but dreaming and the day to day. Wishing and dreaming and counting and praying; four things about Ennor Carne, just about. She climbed the ladder to the loft of ‘nothin but more junk’ and sat cross-legged on the floor. Most things weren’t even boxed and that was fine by her. She pumped the torch until her hand hurt and placed it on the floor beside her.

This kind of rooting and nosing usually made her sentimental but not tonight; tonight she was looking for the destiny rucksack.

She dragged the junk from one side of the space to the other and tied the torch around her neck with an old tie to go hands free. ‘Load of rubbish,’ she told herself. ‘Everythin useless or mouldy or both.’

Standing with hands in pockets she scanned the corners of the loft. There was one last bin bag she hadn’t checked and she tore at it until the rucksack fell free and she threw it down into the barn and climbed after it.

 

Ennor sat on the chair nearest the fire and looked the rucksack over. It was bigger than she remembered, way bigger, and it was heavy with metal tubing crawling up the back like a kiddie’s climbing frame. She told herself it was sturdy. Sturdy was good and, if all else failed and the snow kept coming, she could always use it as a sledge.

Closing her eyes she tried to picture herself out on the moor. Walking for real and not just the usual A to B. She wondered if she should be worried, because she wasn’t. The world was busted and damned yet Ennor buzzed with big-bang excitement.

She listed the everyday essentials: porridge oats, tea, the everyday pan, matches. What else? Her penknife, tarpaulin for sitting on, warm clothes, a blanket. She’d also bring a pack of playing cards and her notebook for writing, maybe even bring the picture frame, for proof.

She crept about the trailer, finding things and adding them to the rucksack, and when it was full she emptied it on to the kitchen floor and started again. She knew heavy things went on the bottom because that was common sense, but what if she needed some things more than most? The tarp she’d taken off their miserly woodpile was the most important thing, it was also the heaviest.

She stood at the sink and looked at her reflection in the window and she wetted her hands and scooped them flat against her hair. Butch would arrive soon to go through her plan and although she didn’t have one she’d agreed because it was nice to have company besides family in the trailer. She filled and set the kettle ready on the stove and banked the fire to roasting, then sat down. The rucksack sat next to her and she looked at it and sighed. If there were things she’d forgotten, it was too late now. It was packed to bursting and she had no thinking left for it.

The moor and all it had got was out there waiting for her in the dark, a cold rock thing, hard as nails. She got up and went to the airing cupboard in the hall. There was one last thing she needed to bring with her, a ‘just in case’ thing that she hoped never to use, but with all things upended in the country, something she just couldn’t leave without: the shotgun.

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