In the depths of a night that's about to begin
with the feeling of snow as it melts on your skin
and it covers the land with a dream so intense
that it returns us all to a child's innocence
And then what you'd thought lost and could never retrieve
is suddenly there to be found on Christmas Eve
The sound of her boots breaking the snow is delicate and light, like meditated, unhurried piano notes. She walks gracefully between the pine trunks, their needles making a cover for falling snow above her head. Her face, a frozen petal of porcelain, eyes of crystalline frost, is framed by the hood of her white, fur-lined mantle. The air is still, the cold a pleasant hindrance, as Lumi is able to wander gloveless, touching each gigantic pine in thought. Each tree speaks to her in a unique way, telling of the earth and the sky, of what speaks the wind, what whisper the animals nuzzled against their roots, or perched among their branches. She hangs, on all of them a small snowflake ornament, carved from wood and embellished with quartz, feeling more whole within herself after each one.
A day has come, when night envelops Lumi’s forest, when light will soon be easily vanquished. This day will be short lived, not giving time to the earth to conserve warmth, foretelling the coldness of the coming night. The moon, gentle ally of the snowy hills, has remained visible even to the sun’s highest zenith, granting her presence for reassurance, and perhaps helpless compassion. This day comes every year, its following night threatening to drown the hearts of the brave and valorous into fear and emptiness. The thought of this coming battle sparks a roaring, caring fire inside Lumi; she raises her chin, keen to stand strong against the sharp cold of darkness.
As evening draws near, the dangerous obscurity slips close to her, hugging the shadows of the trees. A chillier wind picks up, stronger, catching her clothing in flowing waves. To Lumi, the wind’s patterns sound like familiar footsteps, quickly approaching in her direction. She looks to the horizon, seeing the sun still moderately elevated, emitting a warm glow on the glossy snowy hills. Suddenly, she can hear him breathing and few steps behind her, she turns around swiftly, the snow caught in the fold of her cloak sent glittering around her.
“You always hope that I will not come,” the dry, bitter coldness of the wind says. In front of her, the envoy of obscure fright and loneliness is beginning to take form, appearing in ghostly outlines in the shuddering shadows of the branches. Lumi can recognize his face for only a moment at a time as fluttering snowflakes pass through him. He looks as he always has, his features drawn by the expressions of the beauty in anguish and despair. He is the familiar face before the fear of the unknown, the human aspect of cruelty behind every feeling of terror and hopelessness.
“I know you wouldn’t disappoint me this way, Synketa,” she says calmly, tightening her hood under her chin as the cold turns gradually spiteful.
“Are you really wandering alone Queen Talvi?” He asks this looking around, knowing fully well that the four seasonal royal families are rarely unguarded.
“My mother was known as Queen, please call me Lumi,” she states, quite pleasantly.
“Did you think yourself safe? You thought the sunset would hold me?”
“I knew you would be beholding and licking at this day until it became sand,” she says, the revulsion of her words betraying her composed and agreeable tone.
“This day will finally end. I will conquer this night, and never bring it to an end,” he says, becoming more and more manifested as the light over the horizon turned to a shade of dark ochre.
“Yes, if you manage to worm yourself into the hearts of my sanctuary…”
“Daytime will be nothing but a memory.” The unbounded confidence is fully visible in his face, his eyes smoldering pits of obscurity.
“Have you never thought of joining me, Queen Lumi, of the Eternal Frost?” He extends a hand as a vicious gust of wind sent the shadows of the tree branches dancing on the snow.
“You have no understanding of eternity,” she snaps, “I am Lumi, the Page of Promise. I watch over their slumber, I remind that it is them who are everlasting, that fear is shallow, and the night only the potential of another day.”
She steps back as the sound of cracking wood drowns the whistling of the wind. Men and women, their skin made of thick tree bark honed with thick conifer needles and sharpened pine cones, their hair the soft, young needles of cedar, rip themselves from tree trunks. Some wear proudly on their wrists, the snowflake ornament bestowed by Lumi. They advance slowly before Synketa, allowing Lumi to retreat further, who is smiling brightly, content that her offering has been accepted.
She turns to run as the Tree Folk attack, or rather merely attempt to slow down Synketa; their outer shells are the toughest winter trees could have built up over hundred years of enduring the cold, and yet they are no match for the envoy of ceaseless nightfall. He fights swiftly and unpredictably, breaking wood as if it were thin sheets of ice, tearing layers of bark off arms and leg, breaking through bones of heartwood.
When enough have been debilitated, he surveys the direction Lumi disappeared to, he can’t quite make her out, but he runs after her. She reaches an outer part of the forest, where the trees become thinner and the moonlight more prominent. Synketa sprints as fast as terror can seize the strongest creature’s gut to ice-incrusted submission, but Lumi is propelled forward, wavering like a snowflake in the winter wind. Her white attire makes her difficult to spot on the immense carpet of snow.
Synketa finally manages to see her silhouette, disappearing behind a large wall of ice, the base of a rock mountain. Thinking of finally cornering his prize, he runs ahead blindly, smiling to himself with contempt…Could it really be so easy, after all these years?
Suddenly, the ground begins to shake; the stray snow stacked on the mountain’s edge is jounced off into silvery waterfall avalanches. Large boulders of ice break off above his head, forcing him to jolt from side to side in order to avoid them. In this confusion, he cannot see Lumi, he wonders if the mountain might swallow her up before he gets his chance to personally assassinate her. Something gigantic breaks away from the mountain and the shaking becomes the snow muffled, mammoth thumping of footsteps.
Synketa stops shielding his eyes from falling debris and looks up, tilting his back to manage to see what now stands before him. It’s a Snowman, an amass of three very large balls of snow and rock, its arms two full elm trees, it’s face a proud frown of icy greywacke. It advances towards Synketa, attempting to punch down and pound him to the snow-covered ground beneath him, finger branches curled into fists.
Synketa dodges the first blow at the very last second, not giving his aggressor a chance to change his trajectory. When the second blow comes, the emissary of mankind’s first black torpor is already mentally prepared; he jumps aside again when the wooden knuckles are less than a meter away, but at lightning speed jumps back onto the hand, grabbing on to it by stabbing small hand-blades into the lumber. The giant screams, sounding like violent winds hitting against the rock wall, while Synketa climbs up the tree, then the snow surface, towards the head. Trying to shake him off, the Snowman flays his arm aggressively, straining in vain to grab at the tenebrous parasite with his spare arm. Synketa reaches very quickly the top of the cranium, taking only a moment to calculate, before executing his hit, bringing down the little knife upon a single, decisive rock. A crack forms between Synketa’s legs, and grows, streaming down in both directions, splitting the head of the Snowman in two. Synketa quickly climbs down to the torso’s ball of snow before it breaks apart, then jumps down in the cold cushion of powder below. Without its skull, the rest of the icy giant loses control and topples over; Synketa looks upon his defeated opponent for a twinkling of time, before climbing over him, rushing back on Lumi’s trail.
He finds a narrow passage through the rock wall leading away from the forest that no doubt Lumi used to escape. When he reaches the other side, Synketa can see clearly the stone walls of Lumi’s citadel, its roofs almost completely covered with sugar-like snow. As he approaches, large icicles hanging from the parapet fall elegantly in front of him, their sharp extremities entering the snow with the flashing and piercing sound of a knife-edge. They are females, their become bodies slightly curvaceous as supple visages, faint traits on the ice’s surface, form. They smile and giggle as they begin to perspire, water droplets webbing itself with the falling snow creating crinoline gowns on their figures. They straighten up, standing confidently on the very tip of their ice foot, glistering in the moonlight. Their skeletal, frost blue arms rise in tulip-shaped crescents, as newly formed necks, tilt heads a bit to the side.
The Ballerina Guard begins to twirl in unison before Synketa, creating at their base, sharp waves of spiralling snow, menacing to cut at him. Each dancer catches a surge of the rising wind’s strength, spinning it to their snowballing and swelling rhythm, generating a collection of perilous cyclones in which a volley of ice shrapnel roams freely. Synketa manages to run through a seducing whirlwind, getting cut by a thousand freezing needles, and yet continues to progress towards the stone wall. The Ballerinas follow, trying to wrench him off as he climbs to the top. Desperate, they twirl violently into one another, their icy centers melding to craft themselves into a much bigger icicle, and by consequence, a much greater blizzard storm. Synketa holds on to the ramparts with nothing but fingers, his body being sucked away. He closes his eyes, summoning all of his power, and delivers, against the force of the wind, a large kick upon the wall. The barricade shakes, the amass of snow on its ridges is shocked towards the Ballerina Guard, burying it, forcing it to stop revolving. Ready to seize this moment of weakness and confusion, Synketa delivers another dominant kick, throwing the rest of the load over the icicle, driving it to topple over. A large cloud of ice powder rises up with the tremor; the Ballerina is shattered in half, beaten.
Synketa doesn’t look back; he climbs to the allure and looks over the wall, at Lumi’s city. It must be long passed midnight, the streets are empty, but each indoor is alight, music fleeing under the doors gets picked up by the wind, the glow of candles seeping through the window panes, the voices of enchanted beings behind every wall, children sleeping securely in their feather beds. He burns with frustration, conscious that all these people are purely ignoring the cold silence of his night, and instead celebrate in blissful shelter, hiding, probably at Lumi’s illusory direction.
He makes his way to the castle, at the very center of the city, where the most noise and light is coming from. With proximity to people, Synketa becomes a thick gas of shadow and slips inside without difficulty, oozing between the inflated skirts of ladies, the top hats of gentlemen. He can see children, scurrying from one table to another, chuckling ceaselessly, chewing on sweets and deserts. Lumi sits at the table of honour, past the gigantic chimney, slightly elevated on a dais; she cannot see Synketa, but holds a serious look under her eyes, pensive.
It’s difficult to notice Synketa, through the lively music mingling with the sound of laughter and joyful voices, with the colourful fusion to cloths, embellishments and flora, the benevolence of the blazing fireplace, the tender gleam of candle light. The dark cold can be seen through the windows, but feels like a distant delusion, from which one, mostly, feels sheltered from.
Still, he is there, in the shadowy corner of any heart. Everyone tries to be cheerful, to see nothing but the light and to feel nothing but gladness, but there is a truth that lies beneath every attempt to ignore the envoy of fear. With each person one is pleased to see again on a festival day, comes the ghostly face of someone who is no longer present. Those we miss, those we carry with us each day, those who have slipped into the obscure unknown, where we still dread to step, leave voids that cannot be fulfilled.
Are there really those who feel truly reunited with the entity of their love, those who feel truly contented, those who have lost nothing and feel no regret? If such a state of living should exist, how can the rest of us, who have walked on the fine thread above the abyss of perpetual disquiet should hope to carry on?
Synketa’s presence is felt around the room, and all feel the fear of loneliness, the desperation for a connection, for the shine of warmth in the icy, black winter. The music is dimmed, the dancing and the amused babbling stops, a sinister, cold air chokes the fire, while candles go out like small sighs. Lumi, in her chair, feels a chill slip beneath her mantle as her eyes fill with tears, staying firmly seated, watching as blissful faces depress to gray tones of sadness.
Something softly tugs at her sleeve and makes her turn to the left of her chair. Kukkia, the younger sister of the winter royalty, in her little angelic, ivory gown, is patiently looking up; her face glowing with life, her smile unyielding and her eagerness unrivalled. Lumi stoops down to be able to speak to her:
“Little Kukkia, how the sight of you is delightful,” she says, almost forgetting the heavy hold of Synketa’s presence.
“Has he come, the guest you said you would meet out in the forest?” The girl’s eagerness is bouncy and bright, completely immune, by purity and obliviousness alone, to the threat imposed by grief and trepidation.
“Yes, Synketa has joined us,” Lumi confirms, surveying the room for a physical manifestation.
Kukkia runs to the tip of the dais, considering the crowd with excitement, she laughs, the sound of her voice ringing through the room like the clear chime of a bell. People turn, as the mere look of her brings smiles and colours to their faces, the music picks up again, the sound of a violin resounding like an assertive beckoning.
“Are you here Synketa?” Kukkia shouts musically, stretching her closed hand into nothingness. “I have a present for you; have a Happy Day of Lights!”
Synketa loses his foothold among the joyful guests and becomes a single, spectral outline, appearing in the gloom between two chandeliers. He pushes through a group of dancers and approaches the dais, as people watch, mesmerized. The cold, the obscure fear of oblivion does not reach the little girl’s heart, Synketa find himself blocked, barricaded out. He kneels down in front of Kukkia and opens a palm to accept her offering; a small holly drupe, still plump and juicy, containing healthy seeds.
“Thank you,” he can only say to the girl, his form becoming more translucent as her luminous smile only grows.
“Lumi says,” Kukkia explains, “that when the winter passes, the seeds can make new trees.”
“Are you very certain of that, what if the spring never comes, what if it stays dark and cold forever?”
“It’s a promise.” Lumi says resolutely, putting a solid hand on Kukkia’s shoulder, her eyes, still wet, scintillating in the light. Synketa does not look at her, but instead only reflects upon the small fruit in his hand as he rises, losing more and more carnal consistency. He turns without shifting his gaze and begins walking towards the door, his palm still open. As he passes the candlelight of the central table, the energetic music of the orchestra, and the passion of the hearth, his silhouette finally disappears, quickly forgotten as the merrymaking continues, hearts once again filled with happiness, reassurance and hope.
Lumi walks to a nearby window, holding affectionately her little sister by the hand. On the horizon already glows the golden blush of dawn. She takes a deep breath, letting the tears escape her lower eyelids, the water freezes along her cheeks, turning to light snowflakes at they fall off her chin.
The longest night of the year has come to an end.
A holiday present for anyone who has ever read a single line of my work.
A special offering to anyone who had ever been unable to feel truly happy during the holiday season.
A special offering to anyone who had ever been unable to feel truly happy during the holiday season.
I love this, an amazing short story!
This is brilliant!