19th of December: Shelley Chappell
Shelley Chappell lives in Canterbury, New Zealand. After undertaking a B.A.(Hons) degree in English and History at UC in Christchurch, she explored theories of literature, culture, and fantasy when she wrote her PhD for Macquarie University, Werewolves, wings, and other weird transformations. Her academic work includes articles on fantasy motif metaphors and werewolves as a metaphor for race.

She is a member of the Christchurch Writers' Guild and SpecFicNZ, the New Zealand association for creators, writers and editors of fantasy and science fiction.

To find out more about Shelley and her writing, visit her homepage or find her on Google+, Goodreads, or Amazon.

Winter’s Touch

by Shelley Chappell

I escaped out into the storm. I didn’t care about the snow slapping my face and the wind pulling at my hair. I wasn’t afraid of winter. I wasn’t afraid of the storm. I was far more frightened of what was inside those strong stone walls. Of being hurt by human hands. Human words. Cruel laughter.

I ran towards the empty fields, lurching against the wind, travelling by memory more than sight, as the snow obscured the sky and I could not see past the snowflakes striking me about the eyes. I ran, and I stumbled, and I sobbed, and I ran some more.

It rolled through my head, again and again. The way they had looked at me. The unkind things they’d said. My weak attempt to retaliate, which only made their words sharper, brought them looming closer, shoved the pain so deep inside my heart it felt speared by a shard of ice. So I ran, and as the cold chilled me, I stumbled more and more. And as the numbness spread, I surrendered myself to it, thinking it would be nice to be numb. It would be nice not to feel… so much…

Pain brought me back to myself. Pain sparking in my fingertips, then across my whole body in a rush like water as feeling returned. I gasped and sat upright. It was dark and quiet and I did not know where I was. My heart thumped hard as a light appeared, a blue-green light with pink glimmering in its depths and at its edges. It illuminated a face that smiled at me and instantly calmed me.

“Do you know who I am?” the man asked me.

“Father Frost,” I breathed.

The smile widened and the man’s eyes shone like moonlit ice. “Well done, child. Not all know me in this form.” It was midwinter and so he was in the prime of his life — a spare, raw-boned man with a thick beard. Not young Jack, the boy with rosy cheeks and a crown of icicles, and not yet Old Man Winter, his hair and beard grown long and rimed with ice. Instead, holly and mistletoe wreathed his head and snowflakes sparkled in the sleek whiskers on his cheeks. Those features and the aurora borealis that flickered from his fingertips told me his name.

We crouched in a dark, still space inside the storm. The wind howled without and water dripped on us as though from ice melting above our heads.

“You had some trouble there,” Father Frost said to me. “You’ve had some trouble for some time.”

I dropped my eyes, but his next words drew my gaze back to him.

“I know what it is to be hated,” he said. “And I know what it is to be feared. But there are still those who love me. Who understand and respect me. And, if not now, there will be those who love and understand you.”

Tears pressed at the corners of my eyes. I shook my head, knuckles pressed against my mouth—not in denial, but because it hurt, to be looked at and understood, it hurt with a pain that was good, melting the shard of ice in my heart to a bare splinter.

”The very first time I was born, I was born dead,” Father Frost said gravely. “My mother breathed life into me, and my sisters raised me, but my brother did not care for me. I loved him. I still do. But we were not made alike, although we were born together. It hurts, that kind of pain. He never felt it, and so his days are always warm, his heart light. Mine weeps, and the rain floods the waters. But oft times I am happy, too.” He started to stand as he spoke, and when he cried out, “I am large. I contain multitudes!” his arms went up and back, and the dark stillness above us shattered like a clanging bell, letting in a cacophony of sound and sensation—snow struck me, wind buffeted me, spun me about. And then I realised he was spinning me. When he touched me, the wild sound of the storm became music, the snow and the wind counterpoints, and I felt the thrill of being alive.

He pulled me to a stop. “Look,” he said. I stared at the snow falling around us, the wind whipping the bare arms of the trees, the dark heavens above. The scene was bleak, dispiriting. He touched two icy fingertips to my eyelids. “Look again,” he said, laughing. I looked and saw the same tableau, but it was changed. The trees seemed to dance with wild abandon in the wind, the dark sky held sublime mystery, and every snowflake sparkled as it fell. I caught one on my hand and Father Frost caught my eyes.

“Why do I exist?” he asked me. I blinked at him, startled by the question. “So many people wish I did not. They find me cruel. Hard.”

“N-no,” I stammered, but I knew he spoke the truth. Winter was cold and long. We hid from him to survive. He ignored the lie.

“Life can be hard,” he said. “Death exists. And suffering. And sorrow. There is no denying it. But if we open our eyes, we can find beauty and good in even the darkest and harshest of times. That is why I am here! To teach you to look.” He pressed cold hands to my cheeks. A kiss of frost, and he was gone.

But a wide arc of shimmering green lit the sky and from the flickering shadows it cast against the snow, I saw where I was, and I saw the pathway I might take back. Heart quiet, with a garland of snow in my hair, I began to walk it. I heard the rustling of a bird’s wings as my boots crunched along the ground. Spring would come again, in the world, and in my life, and there would be a time for summer and autumn, too. But although today I lived in a world that was dark, and harsh, I knew now that I would prevail. For I had been touched by winter.

THE END (with thanks to Walt Whitman)

 

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If you like this story, visit Shelley on homepage or find her on Google+, Goodreads, or Amazon.

 

© Shelley Chappell, 2018ff