Forever Winter

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THE LADY OF THE JARS

It was snowing. It always snowed. That’s how she liked it.

The swirling white that enveloped everything, dusting and smothering all in a wonderland. There was more variety in snow she’d always thought. A sunny day was nice, for a trip to the beach or a stroll in the park; but sunny days were predictable, ordinary. It was what everyone wanted. Snow, on the other hand, created such chaos and difference.

Her cottage was nestled right by the huge stream that swept through the core of the little village of Hamani. It was near enough for her to grab the things she needed from the stores and the like, but just far enough on the outskirts where she could find the solitude and quiet that she relished. That’s not to say she was lonely. She was always visited upon by someone knocking on her door and trampling their life into her small little abode. Each day brought something her way, but she always had the choice of opening that small blue door of hers to see what awaited. Some days she would sit by the fire, listening to the rhythmic knocking on the door, picturing not the tired salesman trying to entice her to part with her coins; but instead the small wood pigeons or pheasants tapping their beaks on the wood.

She had been called many things in her time. She wasn’t old, though some days her bones seemed to be. She would bustle around her cottage with the spirit of a teenager, ignoring the small ache in her joints. The cold heightened it, but she would never admit that.

‘Witch’, that name had been thrown her way once. Princess too, though that had been even more painful to hear.

Most saw her as a wise woman with magic, but of the good kind that you knew you were safe to enquire about. She knew the flowers and the herbs, the healing nature of the world that surrounded her small little cottage by the stream with the forest overstretching its reach to her doorstep. People came with their children who would play in the snow and then toast themselves by the fire while their parents would acquire an ointment or potion to help with some pain. Sometimes the kids of the village would come to hear the stories she would tell over huge bubbling cups of hot chocolate, and ginger snaps to munch and make a mess with. The towering piles of books that dotted her home loomed over all who came there. Hers was a place of possibilities, and it was called ‘Dustings’, and she was the ruler of her own little kingdom.

Though she was an honest soul, people had no idea of the true power that dwelt in her little home. They saw the plants and spices that filled every drawer and nook. The witch hazel and birch that swirled in its hued state on the walls. Secrets gained from the botany books and fables that stuck out of sideboards and were lodged under table legs. But they did not know, and they never would, of what she kept in her secret room.

It had always surprised her really. No enchantment had kept it hidden, and the noise and light that came from the tiny room at the back of her cottage was enough to entice even the most mildly curious pair of eyes. Yet secret it remained, an indication of the respect many had for her more than fear.

Locked by a tiny key she kept around her neck; the secret room was not large at all. More of a storeroom usually catering to stored foods or cleaning materials. But here, here is where she kept her jars. Luminous and terrifying, magical and mesmerising. The jars were small really, able to be held in the palm of your hand. Each one filled with light and motion. She bottled them you see, the weather systems. She kept all aspects of the elements, siphoned off into their purest forms and then bottled. Her own collection of small ships. How she had learned to do this, only she would ever know. But there they are, lined up next to each other on her shelves in her secret place. She would rotate them into seasons, or sometimes calamities. A good thunderstorm would go well with heavy wind and hail.

These bottles were most precious to her, and she never misused them. She was always mindful of the good she could do, and the darkness she would always be able to lighten. Most precious of all were the snow-scapes. The blizzards and the flurries raging away in their little jars which had cooled to a frosted glass beauty there on the shelf. These she kept in their own section, away from the heatwaves and the monsoons. She would sometimes come and sit by these little vials and watch the dance of nature there contained behind the glass. A snow globe of the most literal sense. She wasn’t playing god with her treasures; she was only capturing the beauty of god.

These names the people had for her, she always smiled when she heard them muttered in hushed tones. But to herself, she was always the lady of the jars.


THE VISITOR

It was a strong blizzard that blew the snow and the ice that day. It blotted out the sunlight entirely, plunging the village in a darkening grey fog. No one left their house except for urgent business, and save for the howling wind, all was quiet. The lady of the jars was anxious, which explained the weather. She would sometimes open up a raging thunderstorm when the bad moods really took hold, but on the days when she was worried, the blizzards came to cover and dispel everything. The paradox of still and motion, certainty and doubt.

She had woken that day with a feeling. Something nibbling at her mind like a bird pecking at her finger. She had pottered about her cottage, finding things to do to occupy her brain. Changing the sheets, dusting the ornaments, cleaning the kitchen cupboards. All to subdue that fretful feeling inside. But her skull itched, and her fingers twitched. Something was coming, she felt it in her bones. She knew the something was different, a thing that was to impact her life and change her course drastically. This, in part led to her anxiousness. Though unafraid of change, she worried she might lose her power to bottle the wonders that she had kept hidden and safe. This was the one loss she feared, the change that worried her. Her own priceless art gone.

Her fear did not stem from any irrational place, the very threat of loss had loomed over her life since she could remember. Some things she felt she were merely the caretaker of, and when these things left then she felt she had done her service. Like the animals of the forest she helped heal and raise back to health. But other things, like her precious magic weather, the scar was much too deep to unpick; and which would ooze a hurt if the control was taken from her. For taken is the only way it was likely to leave. Forces seemed to swirl around her little cottage all the time, threatening to harm her, and put an end to her meteorological meddling.

She looked outside. The flurries had whipped up high on her window and she could barely see to the end of the small path which led to the dirt track towards the village. A lonely lamplight shone off in the distance, the one which swung over her path from the mound in the middle of her garden. It hummed and glowed pitifully in the blanketing white, like the heart of a huge beast teetering on the edge of eternal sleep. She sometimes liked to watch the huge fluffs of snow caught in that lamp, like little wads of dust that floated in the world like dandelion heads that were destined to send their seeds off too new places. The snow travelled seemed to float with its own journey in mind.

All of a sudden, a loud bang sounded above her cottage. It boomed in through her walls and knocked picture frames off the shelves. She let out a small yelp and clutched her chest, as if shook internally from some slumber. She knew it was beginning there, on that snowy day. At eleven o’clock in the morning. She knew, and she suddenly smiled.


EUROPA DOWN

She pulled open her back door, the wind hurtling inside like an invisible hand knocking through. Though she had control over the weather, it wasn’t an on,  off magic that tingled in her fingertips. She knew there was a time delay in which to shift into a new weather pattern. Making the unnatural, reasonably natural. She hadn’t even gone to her small secret room to change the weather; her heart was hammering in excitement and she hadn’t bothered. Besides, the blizzard added to the drama that was unfolding in her backyard.

She stepped out into the cold and was suddenly covered with thick snowflakes. Her feet were icy, she had stepped out with only her slippers on, but the pull was hastening her forward; caring not a button for the numbing that quickly came in her legs. She pulled her jumper up over her mouth and ploughed on through towards the thing she could see now. She noticed the remnants of stardust peppered across the sky above her. Something had landed at the bottom of the garden. An asteroid, or could it be…… No, it was alive. Her blood told her that. It pulled and ebbed inside her seeking out the magic of life, seeking out the different.

She made her way forward, her eyelashes thick with snow and ice. Her heart was pounding, it drummed in her ears against the wind. The warm blood sloshing noisily against the wall to her skin.

Then suddenly, she was there. Standing over it. In shock for the sight before her eyes. Stardust splattered the snow around. Golden fragments coated the ground and the air, locked in a static tableau of exploding space. The gold drifted off into the air while the stained ground faded to a neon blue. The impact had made a large dent in the soil, like a giant ice-cream scoop had plunged into the earth. At the bottom, covered in strands of blue was what she knew it must be. The fallen. Some called them fallen stars, objects from the cosmos that littered the earth when they tumbled from heaven.

She looked in closer, her mind suddenly skimming that book she kept safe inside her cottage along with her jars. Then she saw the blue tendrils stiffen, like neon roots tightening around their precious cargo. Bits of snow and dust seeped down in-between each one, melting into a liquid that oozed and formed around the body. Encasing it in a protective shell.

Europa, that was what this was. Her mind had summoned the right passage in her book, she saw it now clearly in the bright blue font that had burst off the page. That book which had come to her from her mother. The secret to her magic and light in her heart. It had come before, once before long ago. All the way from another space.

The girl from Europa. Now in a small hole in the bottom of her garden. And she knew there, in the whistling silence that time was short, and things would always be different from here on out.


ICE AGE ON THE EDGE OF SPACE

She slept of course, that’s how she’d gotten there. Trapped in a dream that travelled across sky and time. It wasn’t far really, not within her scheme of things. Europa was really the backyard to Earth’s green and blue house; compared to other places she’d been and seen. The trip was quick, a blink of the inner eye for her. Sleeping, forming, and settling into something new in which to emerge from. No-one knew she had left, she made it that way. It wasn’t sneaking out the backdoor or running away, merely moving to the place she knew she would blossom. Unfold in the weighted gravity and expand like the sea coral in her mind.

Getting there was the easy part. She would not miss her home moon; she was not one for looking back. Too many shards of ice poking her into a position she knew she’d outgrown. She had breathed her last and stepped into her waiting transport, bidding a silent farewell to her gods, before becoming one herself. She had shaken her teeth out, burying them deep into the subterranean ice, like planting a seed without the expectation of growth. A silly ritual, one from her childhood. Sealing over the past and welcoming a new dawn. She’d marked the spot with taldium stones. Smooth onyx rocks that looked like fillings from a gigantic beast. This was all she left behind. New teeth grew inside her as she’d slept in the transport, hurtling across the cosmos as the milk teeth grew and fused together in the depths of space.

She slept a mindful sleep, dreaming of change and the freedom of the future. As her body was enduring such forces, she allowed her mind to run free, imagining the possibilities and allowing her history to melt away. Her change was coming at a price, it always did, but it was one she had to pay she felt. As she passed planets and moons, her little comet of curiosity sped and slowed depending on other forces. Varying gravitational pulls and the will of her own heart forced the object onwards, streaking across some many people’s skies.

Her heart had guided it. The comet that buckled and flayed in the pressures of the vast unknown. Steaming up in the re-entry to a land she’d never entered before. It had lit up the sky across a remote part of China, heralding change and ill omens to the many onlookers who captured it in their eyes as they gathered around their small communal fires. Her heart beat, her skin stretched. Her mind collapsed a million times only to be reborn and steer the transport to that spot. A spot chosen, not for its ease or any strategic opportunity.

It was chosen for its sole reason alone, the reason she had left Europa in the first place. It was where the one was, the one who could change her and perhaps, even save her. For a need had begun to spring inside of her, like a plant out-growing it’s pot, that she needed to change what had settled upon her. She needed to strip away all the attachments that kept her selfishly operating, and instead be a source of giving. This was her personal destiny; written in the stars she now flew past.


DETACH AND CONNECT

Steam began to gather around them now, the snow and air evaporated temporarily while the remains of the comet and the contents hissed and spewed in the hole in the ground. The lady of the jars didn’t hesitate, she hopped into the hole and began pulling away at the stray tendrils that had not joined the body. She pulled and heaved, working it free and pulling it away like a tooth from a root. Her hands were raw from the cold, but the blue liquid quickly covered them, and the pain subsided. She was resourceful, years of chopping wood for her fire and toiling her own yard had given her strength and determination. She lifted the body like a doll off the floor, heaving it over her shoulder; the doll now a sack of flour to be carried into her cottage.

Snow began to cover the hole, the marked earth smeared black and blue began to be covered once more in the blanket of white the lady of the jars had always cherished. Soon there would be little evidence of any visitor. It was a secret she was eager to keep to herself, and with that thought she hurried quickly inside.

Closing the door, she took the body over to the fire in her living room. Her house was sturdy, and she could only just hear the howling blizzard outside, the fire crackling over the sound of the perpetual winter. She placed the body carefully, then stoked the fire before taking off her cardigan which was now wet with melted snow and ice. The blue liquid began to slacken, but it did not pool off onto the floor; instead it collected into droplets which lifted up into the air, disappearing like tiny ghosts.  She stood back and watched the transformation, the cocooned being separating into the body of a girl. The hair and skin humming to life with a florescent radiance which faded to a healthy glow.

The girl’s eyes suddenly blinked open and she sat up. Her eyes, those azure wells that pierced the room flashed and opened up a doorway to another space. A land beyond the stars. The lady of the jars handed her a throw which she kept draped across her good chair, and wordlessly the girl surrounded herself in it; embracing the warmth and kindness from the protection it offered. They sat there in the quiet for some time, having a conversation with no words, but levelling out their worlds.

“Tea, that always helps a situation.” The lady said, standing up slowly as not to frighten the girl. The ageless entity that sat on her rug in front of the warming heat. “You stay by the fire, I’ll bring it in.” She said, bustling out into the kitchen. She boiled the kettle and took down the jar of green chai, tipping the leaves merrily into the giant teapot she always had on the side. Though she lived alone, she always devoured copious amounts of tea, and the giant teapot was a testament to it.

She filled it up with the bubbling water, and added some crushed almonds, swirling them around inside. She grabbed some small glasses and returned to the living room with the refreshments, popping them down on the side. Though it had been snowing hard and the day was dark, it was now growing darker she noticed, finding the lamp light from her path gaining more strength in the encroaching shadows.

“You must have travelled far, here drink this; it’ll help.” She said, handing the girl a small glass of the tea.

The girl reached out with her swan like hand and the lady noticed it then, the etching on her arm. It was a pattern, words even, in some sort of language that looked beautiful and strange. She was sure her book could tell her; it always had the answers. These weren’t just dead prints like tattooed skin. The pattern and words swam with life, like a moving aquarium dance of blue hue and light, rippling across her skin; growing strong then faint like a conflicting idea.

“Thank you.” The girl said, reaching for the glass. Her teeth split apart for her to speak, having fused together on her journey. The words were understandable to her ears, but anyone else would have understood also, the language fitting the ear of the listener, wrapping around the mind and settling in the soul. A sweet whisper of a voice, like a feather landing on a petal. Delicate, but hiding a secret strength of flight.

“Are you…” The lady began but was interrupted by an abrupt and determined knock at her blue door. It wasn’t the pheasants this time, that she was sure of.


THE GENTLEMEN OF THE BOXES

Though the perpetual snow covered everyone and everything in a magical flurry, some homes escaped the gingerbread icing of the winter dusting. Though treacherous at times, the snow that fell in the area of Ravensbrook was mostly welcomed. The small village itself was well known for its snow festivals which would be held often during the year. While the borders of the county were at the whim of the regular weather patterns, Ravensbrook enjoyed the snowfall of the mountain passes more than anywhere nearby. But not everyone was happy with the snow, and one in particular made sure to be out of it as much as they could.

He had once had a large cabin on the other side of the woods which backed on to the small cottage by the stream. His was a stern roughly built cabin, reeking of ash fires and masculinity. It’s coarsely built structure was a testament of his own strength, having built the place himself. But it did not appeal to the eye and was poorly landscaped. Fresh animal kills were strewn around, the bones of which would be stacked sometimes by an outhouse.  He lived there alone, stuffing small woodland animals with sawdust and brooding over a life that was slipping away from him. That is to say, lived there, for now the gentlemen of the boxes lived underground.

One day, on a particularly snowy afternoon whilst trudging back to his cabin, he’d stopped with his fresh kill slung over his shoulders. The snow had covered his face and was blotting out the view of the track he was following home. He’d stood there, a human snowman for much longer than an idle man should in the cold snow, thinking and pondering and wondering over the incessant weather. Raising his fist in the air, he cursed the sky and the lady who lived in that small little cottage, telling tales and playing god.

He stormed home and packed the few possession he could into a duffle bag and set off into the depths of the woods. Thick in thorns and thistles, the snow drifts piled high in the dark and gloomy woodland. But soon enough, he’d found what he was looking for. A small opening in the ground marked by two huge boulders which led down underneath the earth. He’d found this long ago, chasing a fox that had sought shelter from his murderous hands. The opening expanded deeper underground; a vast cave backed up with many little recesses built into the earth. Here he intended to live and be away from that infernal snow and cold which stung his bones.

Over time, his little cave house filled with things and skeletons. The shells of the creatures that he didn’t keep in his boxes. He would stuff them with sawdust and set them into little boxes and crates, depending on the size. He would mark them all and catalogue what he had. In his noahistic mind, he would covert two of each creature, stripping one of the fleshy casings where he could peak at the ivory bones underneath, and stuff and box the other. His collection grew in time, and much of his cave was taken over by the boxes that he would stack high to the roof.

One day, when he was in town selling some animal meet, he happened to notice the traveling cart man who’d stopped in the small village square. The man would peddle, in all weathers, around the villages with a huge caravan of objects pushed and slotted onto the back of his trailer. This travelling circus of curiosities was much welcomed where it went, for he was always known to bring treasures and wonders to that little part of the world.

The gentlemen of the boxes never usually bothered himself with that sort of thing, but something that day seemed to call to him, picking at his mind and heart. He’d trundled over to the cart, impossibly piled high that day with brass lamps, copper kettles, crystal glasses and books. One book in particular stood out to him; a purple bound one the size of a bible. He slid it out from between a jewellery box and iron fire grate and looked at the cover.

The image on the front was nothing new to him, he’d seen the real thing a hundred times, but the way it was drawn unsettled something inside him. Dislodging some idleness and bringing forth some action. The skull of a creature, that of a deer, stared back at him. The eye sockets glowing with a purple like flame tickled the hairs on the back of his neck. He’d just begun to open the book when the seller called over to him.

“Ah, I see you’re interested in the Lunamaji.” He came around the side of the cart and up to the man.

“Maybe. How much for the book?” He replied, gruffly.

“Ten Quartz to you good sir, anyone interested in such deep allurement deserves to get a good price.” The man held out his hand in a kindly way. The gentlemen of the boxes huffed, thinking it was still too much for a book.

He furrowed his brow and grumbled some more before tumbling some coins into the man’s outstretched hand. It was a steep price he thought, but he had the money. There was something interesting about the book, something he couldn’t explain, a gravity only he could feel and had never felt before. He had to have it, so he paid the price, which was reasonable considering what it offered. As he turned to walk away, the old man grabbed at his arm suddenly.

“Be warned though, this is not for the faint of heart or weak of conscience. There are many things in there that need to remain within those pages, and just to reside in the mind.” He’d said, hastening a smile to take the edge off his warning.

“Nothing about me has ever been weak.” The man replied and stormed off with the book under his arm.


Recede to reason

He’d consumed the book. Reading it hurriedly in the candlelight of his cave. He’d red it once through and went straight back to the beginning to read it again. Days passed and he’d not emerged from his cave, breaking his concentration only to hydrate and use the bathroom. The words and the knowledge mesmerised him. He’d never been one for books before. He thought stories and fables were just things to tell children before they went to bed. He’d seen the kids from the village, hurrying to that little house by the stream to sit and listen to tales and wonders. Foolish kids. They should be out working, doing, playing, being. Not stuck inside listening to yarns that only take place in the mind. What good could come of that?

But this book was different. This book showed him a way to be that was not fiction. These things he was reading told him how he could change his life for the better. How he could master the weather himself, make the wind blow the direction he wanted it to. To even stop death and bring the things he wanted back to life.

But there was a cost to be paid, like there always was.

He was smart enough to know a warning when he saw it, and the book was riddled with them. And he wasn’t foolish enough not to heed these warnings either. He practised in secret, squirreled away underground. Little things at first, then moving on to larger and more complicated ones. He left his body many times, if not his cave, and before long he was very knowledgeable about the ways of Lunamaji and where it all could take him.

The magic was old, and he’d found it hard to master it with his cumbersome closed off mind. His heart was not corrupt but shut down to a lot of ideas and things that at first made little sense to him. The nature of the magic was to do the impossible, and the gentlemen of the boxes was compounded by reason. He knew what was here though, a great store of energy that would help him change his circumstance. For though he had eked out a life underground, it was not really by his own choosing. If he could control and master the energy; then he knew his own destiny would be back in his own hands.

But the power that he craved at first, shifted and changed. In the beginning, he’d wanted to see if the magic worked, to see if reading something could arouse a change in the very makeup of the earth. To have a little power himself. But he soon learned, much to the cart seller’s warning, that it could consume and cause havoc. He could see how a life could slip away from him, if too caught up in the magic. He didn’t want that. He wasn’t an evil soul, merely bitter by the hand life had dealt him. If he could go back though.

So he had changed his mind, as so many do, and instead sought out the one thing he knew the book could help him with. Aside from stopping the damn snow.

And that one thing had fallen from the sky that very morning.