Someone was knocking at the door. Norma stopped and looked up, straining to hear it again. This time it was unmistakable. Norma rose from her chair, crossing the room to the door. She wondered who could possibly be on the other side. For most people, a knock on the door was not as puzzling as it was for Norma. Most people were not Norma.
She drew the door open only a few inches. Already she could feel the arctic wind hurling itself at the door desperately. Almost as desperately, a boy hurled himself at the barely-open door. Surprised to find a person, Norma threw the door open and pulled him inside. Quickly she slammed the door and grabbed a heavy blanket. She wrapped it around the boy and helped him into her chair.
Norma stepped back and studied him. His hair was dark, but his eyes were ice blue. Although he was wrapped in the blanket, she could tell his clothes were not the sort worn by one crossing the frozen tundra. The boy had not spoken and stared into Norma’s eyes. The only sound was the wind against the house.
“Where do you come from?” asked Norma. “And how did you come to be on my doorstep here at the end of the world?”
They stared at each other and time slowed down. Finally, the boy answered.
“I am looking,” he said pausing, “for the city of Embra.”
At this Norma smirked – Embra. This was not the first person she had met who was looking for the place. However, she could not disguise her amusement and the boy scowled sharply.
“Embra is a fairytale. It does not exist,” she explained, certain she was not the first to tell him this.
“It does,” the boy replied seriously. “I’ve been there.”
It was then Norma noticed something. Though he did not stand to her shoulder and his face was youthful, this boy was not a normal boy. Something in his eyes made her question. She had heard tales of Embra in her childhood – a city in the middle of the ice where the folk did not mind the cold but flourished there, even lived longer than outsiders.
Norma drew up a chair and sat down near the boy. She looked at him questioningly, and he began to tell his story, starting as most do, at the beginning.
“I was born in Embra. However, as all Embrans do, when I neared adulthood I was sent to live in the warmer lands. After a time, I was to decide whether I wish to return or remain in the outside world.”
The boy’s eyes darkened as if he were afraid. “If I do not return before a year, I will be unable to return. Already I am beginning to forget.”
Norma was speechless. She believed the boy without doubt but had no idea what she might do.
“It is forbidden for outsiders to enter Embra,” he said, his voice breaking, “but I cannot find it alone. Will you help me?”
The boy’s eyes widened and darkened even more, if possible. What could Norma do? She didn’t even know his name, yet felt drawn to him, as if she could somehow slip into the dark pools of his eyes. Silently, she nodded.
It was still dark when they rose in the morning. The boy, who had told Norma to call him Phineas, was sitting alert near the door. Norma gathered a few items – food, drink, and a warm coat for Phineas, though he seemed not to need it. Slowly they climbed the hill behind Norma’s house and descended into the frozen wasteland.
They marched for hours, Phineas stopping often to close his eyes. It was almost as if he were listening to hear the city calling. Many times, it seemed he had frozen in place and Norma had to shake him to bring him out of his trance. As the sun began to dip low in the sky, they came to a rocky area. Here they could pass the night safely in a cave. As soon as the sun began to rise, Norma woke to find Phineas sitting bright-eyed by the entrance as though he never slept, yet his eyes never tired.
Days went on in this manner, with Phineas wandering and Norma keeping him going. Finally, when Norma was certain they must turn back, something caught her eye on the horizon. She looked at Phineas, whose eyes lit up. He took off running, leaving Norma behind. She watched him disappear into the city, realizing she would never see him again. Over the endless days she had grown attached to Phineas, though she knew little about him.
Suddenly, Phineas paused and turned. His eyes flashed and Norma knew that they would remain connected forever.