Posts Tagged ‘winter’

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Episode 183: Hat Trick by Beth Cato


Hat Trick

by Beth Cato

 

“The pond is open today!”

No one else was in the kitchen, but I had to make the cheery announcement, even if it was just to myself. It was tradition. 

Mom’s St. John Ambulance books sat on the table, one still flipped open. She’d just gotten a job as receptionist at the old folks’ home and they had her taking a first aid course. At the far side of the table, two mugs touched handles like old friends. Two packets of cocoa – the best kind, with the little marshmallows – lay flat behind the mugs. I grinned. The cocoa would wait until we got back from hockey.

She used to always set out four mugs. Maybe I could still pull down at least one more.

“Chuck?” My brother’s door was open a smidge. The lights were off and he was sitting in front of the computer. The faint light from the monitor cast a spooky glow on his face. “The pond’s open, remember? You want to come?”

In the funny light, it took me a second to realize his eyes were shut. His hands were folded on his lap, graceful like when we had to sit all proper in church. It’s not like he needed to touch the keyboard.

“I’m busy, Sara.” His voice creaked like an old floorboard. Since he’d “manifested,” as the local Guild rep liked to say, Chuck had been able to listen and talk to computers. The Guild had even given us a brand spanking new Tandy 2000 so Chuck could hone his skills.

He used to have lots of other skills, too. A husky singing voice. Quick wit. A mean slapshot. 

“But this… it’s the first day.” My shoulders slumped. This had been our tradition since I was five, wearing awful figure skates with pink laces. I mean, the first day on our pond! This used to mean everything to our whole gang – me, Chuck, Chuck’s best friend Jeff, and my buddy Amaud. 

“Fine,” I muttered, shoving myself from the doorway and stalking to the kitchen. If I had a superpower, I’d still play hockey. Maybe I’d even be better, depending on what I could do. Our little town of Red Hawk already had crazy odds, with two manifested kids. Even Edmonton, as big as it was, only had five.

“Hockey day! Hockey day!” I chanted beneath my breath as I rummaged around in the kitchen. I refused to let Chuck ruin my morning. I charred some toast and slathered on gobs of butter to compensate. I glanced at the St. John Ambulance book as I chewed, and all the information flooded back into my head from when I was stupid enough to skim through it a few days back: bloody arms, tourniquets, rescue breathing, brain trauma. I gagged and forced myself to swallow. I should have known better than to even look between the covers, with how my memory was and all. “Eidetic memory” was the fancy term for it. My grandpa memorized the whole Bible and could spout passages on request. Mom said she’d kill to have inherited the family knack, but she didn’t know how things were in school. Everyone hates know-it-alls. Hates in a mean sort of way.

A minute later, I swiped the crumbs onto the floor, grabbed my gear and bolted out the door.

The morning smelled all wet and fresh, ice crystals zinging in my nostrils. The sun glared through gauze-thin clouds, and I glared back. I didn’t want a warm and sunny day that’d make all the ice melt. Snow crunched under my boots, and my tied-together skates swayed against my shoulder. My freshly-taped hockey stick felt perfect in my grip. 

Up ahead, Amaud waited for me under our meeting tree. He’d accidentally crushed his glasses a few days back and his face looked bare and weird without them.

Amaud was the other gifted kid in town. He wasn’t a technophile like Chuck. He was big. Like, refrigerator-sized big, and still growing. That also had its own fancy term, “myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy,” but what it really meant was Amaud was becoming some super muscle man.

It was weird to think of Amaud as a man at all. I mean, he was twelve, same as me, but I was still totally average and now he towered over me. 

I wouldn’t be average forever. 

“Where’re your skates?” I called.

He shook his head, like in slow motion. “Don’t fit,” he said in his low mumble. His hockey stick was too short, just coming up to his chest. Even his snow shovel looked stubby next to him.

Amaud never said much. Kids always teased him for being slow, but he was really super-smart except for math; that’s how we met, because our teacher made me start tutoring him back in first grade. But Amaud read Shakespeare for fun. No one else in school did that. No one would want to.

“You said your skates fit in October!” My voice squealed. Snow shivered from a branch overhead.

“My feet’ve gotten bigger since then.” He shrugged.

“Well, you were going to be goalie, anyway. Don’t think you’re getting out of it.” He was no Grant Fuhr, but at the very least Amaud could stand there and let stuff bounce off him.

First Chuck, now this. I stalked past Amaud and blinked back tears.

His voice softened. “I’m not trying to get out of it. I like playing hockey with you.”

I grunted. The pond was just over the rise. My feet crunched through a thin layer of ice with every stomp, the crystals scratching through cloth to my calves. I suppose I could have let Amaud go first and plow through, but I wasn’t lazy like that.

“Did you finish your math homework?” I asked, needing to change the subject.

“Started it.”

I squinted at the annoyingly bright sky. “Started it, meaning you did one page and stopped at the word problem, right? ‘Mary ate 3/8 of a pizza, while Michael ate 1/16, while little Susan ate 1/32.'” I saw the words in my head, clear as if I held the book in front of me. A neat trick but no superpower; superpowers did something. All I could do was bore people to death. Or open my big fat mouth yet again and cause half the class to pin me down on the playground and shove snow down my sweater. “I’ve shown you how to do common denominators a million times. It’s no different when the numbers are stuck between words.”

“Hate math,” he muttered.

“I know.” Amaud wouldn’t have made it past basic addition without me harping on him every day.

I frowned and tilted an ear. I could swear I heard kids laughing and the thuds and whispers of skates on ice, but this was our street, our pond. The kids on the other side of town had their indoor rink and all – why’d they come here? I started to jog. Amaud huffed behind me, his heavy feet pounding.

Older kids in blue jerseys cluttered the ice. These guys had gotten here early. The ice was scraped clean. White gouges gleamed across the surface and cast-off boots designated the goals on either side of the pond. The sweaters were from the high school team, complete with a blazing red hawk embroidered on the front. Chuck used to wear one before his brain started computer-talk.

I recognized a tall mop-head of red hair. “Hey, Jeff!” Angry as I was, I knew not to try and run or I’d just flop down the slope.

Jeff swirled off from the rest and scraped to a stop right in front of me, his face ruddy with exertion and cold. “Hey, Sara.” 

He had been Chuck’s best friend since preschool, like my second brother as far back as I could remember. He always drank his cocoa out of an old Christmas mug showing Santa and his sleigh. About now, I felt like shattering that mug to a million pieces.

“What’s all this?” I jabbed my stick at the players. “This is our pond. Your team can practice at your own rink, or on one of the ponds on the east side.” 

The one time I’d tried to skate at one of their ponds – it had a changing room shack with heaters and everything – the kids demanded I pay admission and laughed the whole time, knowing I could never pay.

Jeff looked past me. “No Chuck?” Sadness flashed in his eyes, and he blinked it away. “Hey, Amaud.”

“No.” My word came out as a growl. “Listen, this is our–”

“Emphasis on ‘our.’ Look, Sara, I live here, too. I’ve been coming here since before you were born. The school rink is hosting some event today and I invited the guys over.”

“So can we play, too?” I met his eye.

Jeff cringed. “That’s… probably not a good idea. Look, Sara, you’re a sixth grader. Some of these guys are seniors–”

One of those seniors zoomed by. “Hey, come on, we’re playing a game here! Tell the little girl to go build snowmen with the other kiddies.” The other players laughed. 

I looked past Jeff to where three girls in puffy coats were building snowmen along the little ridge that separated our pond from big pond beyond. They couldn’t have been older than five or six. Heat flushed my cheeks.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” said Jeff, a pleading note in his voice.

“This was our pond,” I snapped.

“Well, the old gang isn’t what it used to be.” Something shifted in his face then, making him sound colder. Older. He skated backwards and away. Ice spat off the blades.

“Come on,” I said to Amaud without looking at him. “Let’s go shoot pucks on the big pond.”

We trudged along the snowy shore. A few low whistles and utters of, “Damn,” showed they recognized Amaud’s presence – not that he could be ignored. I got angrier with every step. One of the little girls tried to say hi and I just glared until she shriveled into her fluffy hood.

No one was on the big pond. No one was supposed to be on the big pond, really. It was too big to freeze in the middle. But along the shore was okay, and better than nothing. That’s almost what I had – nothing. I fumbled the puck out of my pocket and thwacked it, hard.

“You could have like, done something!” I snarled at Amaud. I knew I shouldn’t take it out on him but I couldn’t help it.

“Like what?”

“You could throw them off the ice! Do something! I’d do something!” I flung my skates into the snow bank. I didn’t even feel like putting them on now. I just needed to hit things.

Amaud walked along the crunchy shore. I could see the puck from where I was, but he walked past it three times before he plucked it up and tossed it back my way. He really needed his new glasses. 

“I dunno.”

“No, you don’t.” I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Chuck, Jeff, Amaud… everyone was changing. I hated it. And if I had to change, let this be the time. Let it be something brilliant. I could burst out of my skin like a butterfly from a cocoon. 

“I don’t hurt people. You don’t hurt people.”

“I don’t know. Maybe some people should be hurt.” Tears burned in my eyes. I knew I was saying stupid stuff, but I wanted to get it out. See if it helped me feel better.

It didn’t.

“I want to help, not hurt.” Amaud’s voice was soft as he kicked the puck back at me. Anger made me feel too hot beneath my coat, even when I was standing still. “I want to feel like I’m going through… this for some reason. A purpose.” He motioned at his massive body.

I wanted that purpose, too. I wanted to fly. I wanted to heal people with a touch of my hand. Maybe not talk to computers like Chuck, but there were lots of other powers out there – fire from fingertips, cold creation, fast running, amazing hearing. Dozens more, probably. 

“I hurt all the time.”

Those words came from nowhere. I blinked at Amaud. “What?”

“I hurt all the time. I can feel my muscles stretch, even when I sleep. They say – the Guild people say – that I’m going to be so big and heavy it’s going to mess with my joints. I may not be able to walk by the time I’m forty.”

“Oh.” I don’t think I ever heard Amaud say that much at once. “But the Guild, they have healers. They can take care of you, right?”

He shook his head, slow and swaying. “I don’t know.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I still had that awful, raw knot in my chest, that tight feeling that had been there since Chuck started listening inside his head instead of with his ears, since Amaud’s body started changing to something big and foreign. They were special. Different. Isolated in a way, yeah, but… amazing.

I wanted to be amazing, too. Not just the weird girl who had to sit at the front of the class so no one beat her up.

I handled the puck with my stick, then I reeled back and struck it with all my strength. In my head, I could see it like an old cartoon – flames and contrails, like a rocket to the moon. In reality, it skittered over the ice and landed on the far shore.

“I’ll get it,” I said and set down my stick. Amaud would never be able to see the puck that far away.

All of a sudden I felt deflated. Tired. I didn’t know what to think anymore, about Amaud or any of this. The echoes of the hockey players at the little pond seemed to dully ricochet in my head. A small gust of wind slapped my face as I walked along the shore. Icy stones squealed beneath a thin sheet of snow. 

It took me a few minutes to find the puck. It had bounced off a tree or two and landed on a little drift. I trotted back towards the pond.

The first thing I saw was glaring pink – a little girl’s coat – way out in the middle of the big pond. My heart just about stopped. Then I saw Amaud crawling out on the ice, halfway from the shore to her.

“Oh, God,” I whispered. The puck fell from my hand. “Amaud! Amaud! Go slow, okay? Be careful!” What had he been thinking?! Why didn’t he yell for help? I’d never heard him yell in my life, but now would have been the perfect time. He probably weighed three hundred pounds. The ice out there’d be thin as skin.

I ran down the shore, screaming. “Jeff! Jeff! Guys! Help!”

They came. I may have wished them terrible pain ten minutes before, but they ran over that crest. There was a split-second pause as they assessed everything, then most of them ran towards me. One headed the other way, to the firehouse.

That’s when I saw the girls, all three of them. One without a coat.

“Amaud, stop! It’s just a coat!” I screamed.

He stopped. The pink coat bobbed about twenty feet away, and had to look like a real kid in his fuzzy sight. He edged backward, slowly. The other guys clustered along the ice, waiting.

“Come on, Amaud,” called Jeff. 

It happened so fast, so very fast. That vicious crack that made my whole world break. His legs sank in, but not his upper body. He clutched the ice with his hands splayed out.

There was another crack. Amaud was gone. Just, gone.

I stopped breathing. Everything stopped. “Please, God, please.” I took two steps forward and stopped. I never felt so helpless in my life. Powerless. Jeff and another guy flung themselves down, belly first, and slid out towards that awful black hole. It hurt to watch, it hurt to think they all could die, trying to save Amaud. Big wonderful Amaud.

An arm flailed upward. A head. His hat was gone, his skin so white, so terribly white, his hair black, then he was gone again.

Another flail. A splash. Seconds stretched out like hours. They were almost there. The pond was so shallow. Maybe – maybe he can stand up. Jump up. Something. Another hand out. A brief gleam of face.

“Hang on!” yelled Jeff. The girls wailed in an awful chorus.

The guys were at the hole. Reaching in. Fishing. I took another step forward, willing something to happen, aching for some kind of miracle.

“We got him!” screeched Jeff.

Then they had an arm, somehow. A third guy joined them. I recognized the slick black of Amaud’s coat. 

Another sharp crack. No one moved. They didn’t drop in, but they were slow to move after, like an old man from a hospital bed. Together, they somehow pulled him out. He was big, limp, and sleek like a walrus. So, so slowly, they eased him backward. They didn’t dare to stand up for another twenty feet, and then they dragged him as a team.

Amaud’s eyes were closed, his head slack. They set him down on the snow and he was just there.

I ran forward. Dropped to my knees. I touched Amaud. He was cold, achingly cold, dead cold. I willed something to click in my brain. That magic, that superpower, a healing touch. 

“What do we do?” asked one of the boys. They were all panting, drenched and shivering.

The images flashed in my head. Page 36 and 37 of Mom’s St. John manual. One of my hands tilted Amaud’s head back, chin jutting up.

Pinch his nostrils shut.

Open mouth and check for obstructions.

Breathe.

I brought down my lips over his. The chill of his lips sank into me and ached in my jawbone. I sealed my mouth over his and released two quick breaths. Releasing his nose, I looked at the rounded wetness of his chest. No movement.

Again.

Again.

As I looked at his chest again, breath warmed my ear. I gasped, recoiling. Amaud’s dark eyes were wide open. A violent shiver quaked through his massive body.

“We need to get him warm, out of these clothes,” I said. Page 63.

“Firehouse,” said Jeff. The other guys moved in and hauled up Amaud by the coat and legs. I worked my way in between them to grab Amaud’s hand. It was icy, like a fish from the freezer. He convulsed.

“Hey,” I said.

His eyes found mine. “Hey-y-y.” His teeth rattled.

“That was amazing, Sara,” Jeff said as he huffed for breath. Water and sweat beaded from his jaw. The guys leaned forward and struggled up the ridge. 

“You guys, too. You got him out.” I grinned down at Amaud. “Hang in there. You’re going to be okay.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. We’d saved a life. I’d saved a life. I hadn’t needed to manifest a thing – no healing, no telekinesis.

I sandwiched Amaud’s hand between my palms and rubbed briskly. Maybe I’d warm him some. 

And maybe, just maybe, my brain would still let me do a little something more.

In any case, I wasn’t about to let go. 

 

END

 

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Cast of Wonders 162: Sister Winter by Jenni Moody


Sister Winter

by Jenni Moody

We were just going to bed when the townfolk came, led by Mrs. Hutch with her know-all voice.

I climbed up the cabin ladder to the loft, careful to curl my toes over the rough beams of wood. Ma had fallen off the stairs just a week ago, and now she slept downstairs on the sofa. The cabin was just one big room, so she could still yell up at me and Minn to make us quiet down.

Minnie had the covers pulled up over her head. I could see her eyes shining out from a little hole, like a cat in her cave.

“Move over, Minn.” I swung my legs under the covers. She scooted back, and I pressed my feet against her thighs.

Minnie wrapped her hands around my feet. Their warmth prickled. “So cold!”

The underside of the covers twinkled with little points of light. Minnie touched her finger to the sheet. When she pulled it back there was a warm, red star there. She made two rectangles, a star in each corner of the boxes. An arc of stars lead from the bottom of one rectangle to the center of the other. My feet in Minnie’s hands.

(Continue Reading…)

Episode 111: Staff Pick 2013 – The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer by Jess Hyslop

Show Notes

As our longtime listeners know, Cast of Wonders takes the month of January off each year, so we can recharge our batteries, and get out in front of the next year’s production schedule. And this year is no exception. However this January instead of leaving you with an empty playlist, Cast of Wonders is proud to present our Staff Picks!

Graeme, Barry and I (Marguerite) have selected our personal favorite story from 2013, and even further back in one case. Each of us will introduce the story, and talk a bit about we found so memorable about that particular tale.

But “Ahhh!”, I hear you say, “January has four weeks, and there’s only three of you! What are you going to do the last week of the month?” Well I’m glad you asked, because we’ll re-play our Small Cast, Short Form Parsec award winner, “Now Cydonia” by Rick Kennet, to transition you into a new year of what we hope to be even more award winnings stories, week after week.

And since I’m here, I guess that means I get to go first!

Barry and Graeme invited me to become the Editor of Cast of Wonders right before Christmas in 2012. I had just moved to the UK a few months prior, and the shorter days and significantly colder weather was starting to affect my mood. In January, while juggling a crushing course load in law school and frantically reading slush to be ready for the February episodes, I read the first submission that made me cry.

Jess Hyslop’s wonderful first-person narrative of a frost giant yearning for the touch of summer cut straight through my winter blues and reminded me of how good, how life affirming that first truly hot day of summer feels. Not just spring and rolling forward the clocks, but summer and that prickly, sizzling sensation on the tops of your shoulders when you wear a tanktop outside for the first time each year. Maybe, if you’re lucky, on the way to spend a day on the beach.

“The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer” is also the first story where the choice of narrator wasn’t really a choice so much as a lightning bolt of inspiration. I’ve been a fan of MK Hobson as a guest host and reader on Podcastle for years. I backed “The Warlock’s Curse”, the sequel to her smash hit debut novel “The Native Star”, on Kickstarter. The giant’s sense of humor, the gentle way it scolds as well as instructs the child, and the sensation of wisdom immediately brought MK’s warm and rich-yet-worn-around the edges voice to mind. I was thrilled when she accepted my request. Thanks MK!


The Giant Who Dreamed of Summer

by Jess Hyslop

What’s this–another visitor? How tiresome. I thought I had seen the last of you when the guards departed. I thought I had finally been left to meet my end in peace.

Wishful thinking. I thought I was beyond that, too.

Well, you must excuse me if I do not get up. These chains, you see…

What is such a tiny thing as you doing here all alone, anyway? Do your parents know that you are up here? I doubt that they’d approve. The hillside is steep and treacherous, and there are all sorts of dangers for a little flake like you. How your mother will scold if you tear your skirts! How your father will tut if you scrape your dainty ankle! How they will weep if you tumble from a bluff! And, my, how they will curse and stamp and rage if you end up in the belly of a starving frost giant.

I jest, child. Despite what you have been told, we giants do not eat people. It is only in your stories that such loathsome things occur.

Nevertheless, you should run along. Your parents are doubtless sick with worry, and I do not want to be blamed for your disappearance. Your King has made me miserable enough already. The last thing I need is to suffer more of his so-called justice.

What have I done? By the blizzards, girl! You must be the only person in the nation who does not know–or think they know–my transgression. It was trumpeted from the rooftops, shouted through the streets, declaimed across the land! The nation wept, child, if the criers are to be believed!

You really do not know?    

I could tell you, if you wish. It would be gratifying, after all, to tell someone what really happened. You want to hear the tale? Very well then. But first, you must promise me this: if you are found here, you’ll make it absolutely clear that I did not keep you against your will.

Agreed? Good.

Now listen closely–for this is the truth of it.

#

My crime is only this: I dreamed of summer.

Now, I know what you are thinking–that surely that is not my sole offence. I am a frost giant, after all–I must be guilty of hundreds of misdemeanours. Do not protest; I know what you humans think of us. To you, were are merely the beings who come with the winter, who arrive when the harvests are over and the mornings have begun to sparkle, who revel in the whiplash snap of cold and the bitter depths of long, dark nights. You dread the day you spy us looming over the horizon, loping across your lands with slivers of ice showering from our skin. We are the heralds of your hardship: the heavy crunch of our footsteps fills your hearts with fear. You call us lumbering, bestial, grotesque. You think us destructive and cruel. You blame us for your barren, icebound fields, for your clenching stomachs, for the blue tinge at the tips of your fingers. You look upon us, with our hailstone eyeballs and torsos dressed with rime, at the hoarfrost prickling our chins, and you shiver.

But the winter is not our doing. We are its slaves as much as you are–more so, in fact. For we frost giants cannot escape that frigid season: we must remain always in its clutches, or else we perish. Our lives are an endless migration, following the winter as it sweeps across the land. Where the snows fall, we must follow; where the ice melts, we must flee. We are forever running for our lives.

Have you ever felt your own lashes start to thaw and trickle down into your eyes?

I thought not.

My eyelashes were the first of me to go. Now my toenails, too, have vanished–these wet smears are all that are left. I have only managed to preserve my fingernails this long by keeping my hands tucked into my armpits.

I hope you realise how lucky you are. For although you must endure the winter once a year, you also see it pass. You can stay here when the ice-clouds disperse, when the wind’s bite becomes a caress, when the animals emerge from their nests and the icicles drip, drip, drip themselves away. You are here, too, before the winter comes, when the grain is cut from the fields and the leaves drift golden from the trees. But your greatest fortune of all is that you are here during that marvellous, mystical time, that season no frost giant has ever experienced, nor ever will… You are here for the summer.

I envy you so very much.

Oh, I am not saying that a frost giant’s life is always terrible. Winter possesses a harsh beauty of its own, and it is not as monotonous as you might think. Let me tell you, girl, the winter in your country is a mere chill compared to others I have seen. I have frolicked in the wastes of Terrmaril, far to the north of here, where the winters are long and black and starless, and the people burrow beneath the ground for warmth. I have witnessed the chaotic majesty of Elh-San, the great snowstorm that crashes across the Annilh continent every seventh winter, powerful enough to devastate a city in a day. And I have heard the howling of the wolves during the beast-winters of Rakkash, where the cold is so intense that it drives the animals mad. They stream out of the forests, heaving hordes of fur and claws that streak across the plains, chasing down sleds and devouring anyone in their path.

All these winters I have known, all these joys and perils I have faced… and yet I have never seen a summer. Of the autumn I have often caught a whiff, scenting the musty aroma of hay and apples when my tribe moves on a little too quickly. Springtime, too, I know something of; it is not unusual for us to glimpse the occasional snowdrop if we linger too long in one place. But summer… summer remains but a dream to me.

Do not climb into my lap, you pesky thing! Can’t you read the sign? I am a notorious criminal, unpredictable, possibly violent, and on no account am I to be fed nor touched.

I will also make a very cold seat.

Oh, have it your way then. Only watch where you put your feet. My left thigh has started to melt, and it wouldn’t do for you to slip.

Right, now, settle down.

Do you know how frost giants came into this world? But no–I don’t suppose you are taught such things. Let me explain; it will help you understand.

It was Winter who made us. Many aeons ago–when the peaks of the mountains were young and sheer, and the land lay unfurrowed for leagues on end–we were but ordinary giants, fleshly creatures like yourself (only rather larger), with speckled skins and coarse black hair and eyes of coloured jelly. We ate antelope and ox and boar as all giants did. We slept at the feet of hills and coupled beneath the boughs of towering cedars, our backs dappled with leaf-shade. We forded frothing rivers in the spring, ran through the summer fields, gorged on pears in the autumn, and huddled together through the winter. We were free to do as we pleased, and to wander where we willed.

What luxury my ancestors enjoyed! But such things cannot last.

Winter came to us. He swept in amongst the giants with his shrill laughing voice and his white-blasted hair, and he changed our race forever. Why, I do not know. Winter is a fickle being. Who can tell why he acts as he does–why one winter may be mild and moist and grey, and the next sharp and deadly as a headsman’s axe? Whatever his motivation, it is beyond a mortal’s power to resist. My ancestors certainly could not. They were helpless as Winter transformed them, freezing the blood in their veins and sucking the ruddiness from their skin, leaving them hard and brittle and blue. When the giants were altered to his satisfaction, Winter let out a giggle of glee. Then he whirled and ran, prancing away on the winds. My ancestors had no choice but to pursue him, stumbling and awkward in their strange new bodies. From that moment on, we frost giants were doomed to follow Winter, trailing him wherever he goes. His disciples. His slaves.

But although my chill anatomy shackles me to Winter, my heart has always yearned for Summer. In my imaginings, she is the most beautiful thing one could ever lay eyes upon, warm and kind where Winter is feckless and cold. I picture her dressed in dahlia petals, trailing a skirt of bluebells and daisies. Her skin is dark–like yours, child–and she smiles as around her she weaves long, balmy dusks and lush, green marvels.

Perhaps I am foolish. My family certainly thought so. They chided me for my peculiar desire. A frost giant, longing for Summer? It was bizarre, unseemly; it was needlessly reckless. My mother was especially vehement on the subject. Did I want to thaw, was that it? Did I want to end my days as a sad little puddle?

Here’s a lesson for you, child: sometimes parents really do know best.

I should have listened to my mother… but I did not. I persevered with my ambition. I knew, of course, that I would never have the opportunity to see Summer herself (how I grieved for that sad fact!), but at least I could try to catch a glimpse of her realm.

First, I sought out paintings depicting that fabulous season, and I gazed at them for hours. Those hot colours! Those golden tints! And, by the blizzards, those greens! My eyes drank it all in–and yet I was not sated.

I turned to music next. I visited the greatest musicians of each land and begged them to play me their summertime harmonies. Some curtly refused; some would not even open their doors to my knocking (though I was ever so gentle); some screeched and fled. But some indulged me, though they looked at me askance as they did so. I do not blame them. I must have seemed mad, squatting awkwardly outside their windows, held rapt by the melodies that floated out of the casements.

I heard some beautiful music. A flautist played me a sweet, rising tune embellished with trills, composed to imitate the playful nature of a summer’s breeze. A trumpeter surprised me with a series of sudden blaring bursts, which he claimed represented the waves of summer heat that rolled across the western deserts. A harpist enchanted me with a gentle cascade of chiming notes, notes that echoed the glinting of sunlight off rippling leaves. They were masterworks, all. But still they were not enough to appease me.

Then I heard about the garden.

There was a woman, it was said, in the country of Hafan, who was the most talented gardener of the age. Her name was Yalina, and people flocked from far and wide to look upon her handiwork. She cultivated hanging gardens and pleasure gardens and terrace gardens, gardens formal and gardens wild, gardens of flowers, of rocks, of tea, and of herbs. But her chief achievement, and the most famous of all her creations, was her summer garden. Encased in a house of glass, its plants bloomed all year round, preserved in an oasis of heat. The garden was the pride of Hafan, unrivalled anywhere else in the world. And, most importantly for me, it was said to capture the very essence of summer.

I had to see it. Do you understand, child? I had to see it. It was not a choice. When I heard about Yalina’s summer garden, I was drawn there as surely as hail to the ground.

My tribe agreed to winter in Hafan. They thought that visiting the garden would rid me of my restlessness and soothe my strange longings. When we arrived in the country, I could not wait. I left my tribe and ran to Yalina’s gardens (though I took care not to trample any hedgerows; see, we frost giants are anything but inconsiderate!).

People scattered in all directions as I approached my goal–some even screamed–but I was too excited by what I saw to be insulted by their rudeness. It was just as beautiful as I had imagined. The glass building stood as tall as I, illuminated inside by hundreds of blazing lanterns. It shone like a beacon–oh, the promise of that place! Just looking at it made you anticipate the warmth that dwelt within.

I can hardly express how badly I wanted to see inside it–how I ached to see the plants it housed, to smell the rich loam, to feel its heat–if only for a moment (for I was not so senseless as to forget my meltable body).

I ventured closer and peered through the panels. But, alas, the glass was entirely steamed over, and all I could see was a white fog as impenetrable as any winter mist.

You must understand: all I wanted was a glimpse, a breath upon my face.

I went to the front of the glasshouse and knelt before the entrance, careful not to knock the fragile structure. The door of the place was very small (you humans really are absurdly tiny) but I found that if I leaned over and placed my cheek against the ground I might see through it, when it was open.

I was careful, I swear I was careful. But why should you believe me? Nobody believed me then, and no one believes me now. I am a frost giant–a blundering, destructive beast–and I must have done it on purpose.

I held my breath as I edged my finger towards the door, hooking the tiny brass handle with a sliver of my fingernail. Then, slowly–ever so slowly–I pushed it down.

Oh, to turn back time!

As I drew the door open–as I felt, for one magical instant, a whisper of heat tickle my eyeball–the glasshouse shivered. It trembled all over like a newborn foal abandoned in the snows. It shivered, it trembled… and then it shattered.

Such a delicate thing.

I will never forget the sound it made. A great, sharp crack like all of your dreams splintering at once, then a monstrous crash like a wave beating itself to oblivion upon a rocky shore. I leapt away from the building, but it was too late. The beautiful glass structure collapsed before my eyes, and the shards fell around me like splinters of ice. In that moment, a rush of sensation flitted past me, a surge of heat and nectar and marigold–the whoosh of the summer escaping. And then it was gone, and in its wake there was only me: a wretched, heartbroken frost giant, kneeling in the remains of Yalina’s summer garden, howling my misery to the cold winter skies.

That was when the guards arrived.

Ah, tears. It is a new sensation for me, weeping. I never cried before my capture; my tears froze before they could fall. What a gift your King has given me, eh? The ability to weep before I die.

The rest of the tale is self-evident. I was surrounded, trussed up, prodded with spears. The guards hurled obscenities at me as I was led away. I was too stunned to resist. Somewhere, I could hear a woman weeping. Perhaps it was Yalina. I wish I could apologise to her, but she has never come to visit me.

I was dragged to the court and put on trial before your King. It was a horrible ordeal. He and all the spectators looked at me with utter hatred, as though I were some kind of murderer. I suppose I am, in their eyes–for everyone loved Yalina’s summer garden, and I destroyed it. I tried to explain, though I knew before I began that it would make no difference.

“I did not mean to ruin the garden,” I said. “I only wanted to see the summer.”

To which the King, who must have thought himself very clever, replied: “And so you shall.”

And you think us cruel.

So here I am, shackled in iron, held fast to the rocks of this hillside. At first, it was not so bad. My tribe stayed with me while the winter lasted. They comforted me in my plight, smuggling me handfuls of food and chasing away any humans who ventured near. My mother even petitioned the King for mercy on my behalf, but his heart must be colder than any frost giant’s, for he refused to grant me reprieve.

Now the winter has passed, and spring has taken its place. My tribe could not stay, and bade me tearless but solemn farewells before pursuing their course southwards with the snows. Your people started arriving, then, puffing their way up the hillside to gawk at the captive giant. Some worked up the courage to taunt me, calling me hideous names and even throwing stones. Stones are hurtful at the best of times, but in my softened state they are downright dangerous. Look closely–see, I am pitted with holes! My poor nose has suffered most; I lost a large chunk of it to a particularly well-aimed missile.

Don’t be silly, child–of course the guards didn’t stop them. I am condemned to death. What do a few stones matter?

Even the guards have gone now. The people grew bored with their mockery, and after a few weeks no one bothered to climb up here anymore. The guards were recalled soon after. They trust the chains to hold me here, until the end.

We frost giants take a long time to melt. It will be well into spring before I have thawed completely, though I expect my toes will not last the month. I shall try to protect my fingers for as long as possible, but inevitably they too will soon dissolve. My sense of smell is already wavering as my nose drips away from my face. In another fortnight, it will be gone. A week after that, and my hearing will start to fade. My eyes will probably last longer, but I will be blind before the finish.

By the time summer arrives, I shall be dead. I shall have dribbled away down the cracks in the rock and soaked into the earth. My dream will kill me, just as my mother feared it would.

Sadly, child, it is true. There is no use denying it. I will never know the summer, as I yearn to. I will never even know another winter.

What do you mean, you meddlesome mite? I tell you, it cannot be otherwise. These chains are forged thick and strong, bolted fast into the rock. Even the strength of my entire tribe combined could not prise them from their moorings. I cannot escape my doom.

What do you think you are doing? Take your hands off my face! Didn’t I tell you that I am delicate? You will only hasten my demise.

Are you listening to me? I said no–don’t pinch, girl! Ouch! Ouch!

But what is this? Child, you… you have remade me! Here I have a marvellous new nose, all over wood, and with no holes in it at all! And here, a handsome new chest of vines! My limbs are supple branches, my knees curling tree-knots–how agile I feel! I even have toenails again, little chips of bark, much sturdier than ice-flakes. And my hair–a veritable cascade of leaves! How they will shimmer and rustle in the sunlight!

And the chains too! Melted away, like snows at the passing of winter.

How did you do this, girl? What power lies in those tiny hands? How, by the four immortal Seasons, could you–

Oh.

Oh…

My Lady Summer, it is you. At last. At last.

Please forgive me, Lady. If I had known it was you, I would never rambled on in such a vein, never called you by such names! Please do not be offended, but I thought that you would be, well, older. That is no excuse, I know; I should have recognised you despite your child’s guise. Who else would boast that springing hair, those heat-bronzed cheeks, and such twinkling gold-green eyes? My mother was right: to have spent so long revering you, going to every length to behold a hint of your splendour, and yet not to recognise you when you arrived before my eyes… I truly am a foolish giant.

But surely you did not journey all this way, ahead of your season, just for me? Forgive me, but from what I have heard of your brother Winter, I was under the impression that we mortals were beneath your notice. I, certainly, am unworthy of your compassion. I am your humble devotee, but I never imagined you would pay me any mind. Who would have thought that after a lifetime following Winter, Summer would be so good as to follow me? I am overwhelmed by your kindness, my Lady. That you would do such a thing for a silly, heedless giant–and a frost giant at that!

But you are right: I am a frost giant no longer, thanks to you.

How can I possibly repay you for such a gift? Not only have you have saved my life, but you have granted my dearest wish. Oh, it has been a long time since I have smiled so.

Won’t the King be surprised! I shall have to pay him a visit, if only to see the look on his face when I arrive at the palace gates, all shine and sap and laughter.

But not yet, not yet. I believe I will stay here awhile, basking in the warmth as I was never able to do before. For what was to be my site of execution has become the site of my reincarnation–the site of my fulfilment. It seems only right that it should be here that I experience the fullness of the season I have waited so long to see.

Would you do me the honour, my Lady, of keeping me company? Please, sit here upon my shoulder, where the moss will make a most comfortable seat. Stay with me, Lady, and together we will await the dawning of your season. Together, we will welcome the summer–and let the winter fade behind us, like a dream.