Midwinter's Fire

Grace Moreton January 17, 2019
Magic, Supernatural
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    “Snow fell as the faraway town of Tenniel drifted off to sleep. There was a gentle hush that filled the air with each flake that fell and a cold blanket shrouded the mountains to the north. That year, midwinter had hit hard and had even hit the sea as ice floated just off the coasts and clawed its way up the rivers and streams. The cruelty of the weather, however, was going unnoticed because the Froste festival was in full swing across the land as it was every five years and the revelry could be heard for miles around. Presents littered doorways ready to be opened in the morning, music danced from street to street and the golden feast fires were lit in the square.

    It was perfect and it eased the worry in your old grandfather’s heart. You see children, your grandfather Eric was a seer the best one that Tenniel ever had and he had seen in his sleep a terrible sight that plagued him even when he awake. It made him shudder and cling to his old cloak tightly, just like you are now. He had warned the others, of course, told them only to light feast fires this Froste, to leave all the other lights alone until morning when the sun came because the sunlight would mean it was over and everything was right in the world; he told them to do this every night until the Froste was over and everyone would be safe and they heeded him. Well, almost all of them heeded him, there was one who had never listened to him ever since his last vision had been just a nightmare and Calum had lost a great deal of money betting against it. Calum was a bitter, spiteful man and his face seemed to have contorted itself into the middle in an effort to prove just that, and as usual, he voiced his contempt as loudly as he could no matter who tried to reason with him. Most just ignored him, left him to his ramblings and paid attention to your grandfather each of them grateful to him in their own way and so when a plume of smoke came spilling lazily out of Calum’s chimney they all left him to his fate.

    Calum sat huddled around his hearth with a smug smile plastered on his face knowing that he was probably the only warm soul in town that night. He laughed inwardly at the thought of those idiots outside that were shivering in their beds, whole families sleeping in one room to keep the heat in some even inviting those permanently barking dogs of theirs in for the night and finally giving him some peace. Generally speaking, he didn’t spare them much thought but the withering glares and icy refusals to help collect wood he’d had all week sparked a deep-rooted hatred in Calum for them and all their magic superstitions. His defiant fire blazed in front of him.

    Your grandfather once told me that t often happens with people who are new to a place to think so little of the locals, you laugh but its true they just don’t realize that we have to live with the lands foibles and quirks. We also, have to live with are dead where newcomers do not. Drawn by Calum’s fire a woman walked out of the water, her pale grey eyes lidless, her teeth bared and her sickly green hair trickled down her back. She left no footprints in her wake nor did her breath leave puffs of hot air as she staggered up the icy stairs instead, her limbs creaked like the mast of a ship lost to a storm and her nails raked at the walls of the houses she passed. All along the blacksmith’s streets doors were slammed shut as she approached, music dulled and merriment died on the lips of any who saw her and hastily made a sign against evil to ward her away from their loved ones. Eric saw her rap her knuckles on the frosted wood of Calum’s door and then vanish as he opened it, Eric went to cry out to warn Calum but all he received was a shove through his front door and cursed words flung at him for his troubles. Do you remember the scar on the side of his head? That was from landing painfully at the foot of the stairs from Calum’s shove and being knocked out, it also meant that no one could help Calum now.

    Shaking his head in disgust Calum made his way back to his warm house and roaring fire. He opened his door and then quickly slammed it shut behind him when he realized that there was a beautiful woman lying on his bed. He gaped at her, her hair the color of a midnight sky, her lilac eyes fluttering at him shyly and her long, long legs shone through the dress she wore like pearls in a rockpool. She sat up her hair cascading over her shoulder and Calum rubbed his neck in wonder as he saw her approach him.
    “Hello,” was all he managed shakily when she stood toe to toe with him in front of the fire biting her lip. She placed her head on his shoulder and shivered as if she was cold.
    “Please,” she murmured silkily, “Please can I lie by your fire tonight? I’m so cold and you seem a kind man.”
    “Of course, though you should know it won’t be for free.” He murmured as cruel as the cold outside and went to push her down to the floor before him. The fool never got very far when she reverted back to the horror that had crawled out of the water less than an hour before and she cackled mercilessly when he tried and failed to escape her frigid clamp on his arm.
    “NO!” He roared when she went embrace him, her breath filling his senses with the stench of dead rotting flesh and acrid seaweed making his eyes water and throat burn. She licked his tears away with a forked slimy tongue and giggled as he whimpered like a kicked dog before her mouth opened like black chasm before him. Her bones broke and jutted out of her once awe-inspiring face, her eyes rolled back and her nose crumpled into nothing as her gaping maw of a mouth became her entire head, her hair slipping to the floor along with her scalp. Those lost at sea unfound and unavenged began to scream from inside her, their pain oozing from in between her razor-like teeth and a putrid foam dripped from it splashing on Calum’s face. All the while the snow fell outside and cleaned the earth as though nothing had disturbed it all along.

    The next morning, Eric rounded up the others and went to investigate the house that had gone moldy overnight. The smell alone could have felled Calum, the town crier said in hushed tones over several pints of beer in the pub later as he spelled out the ruin of Calum for all to hear. The sun didn’t rise for three days until at last the cold midwinter’s sun blazed over Tenniel and the ruin was gone. In its stead lay Calum in a field of flowers looking like an altogether different man. His face had relaxed into something resembling peace and looked nothing like the sneer he usually wore. He sat up giving all present a fright as they had thought he must have died given the state of his house and he merely laughed it off, apologized to them all for everything he could think of and went to Eric. His hair once red like the fire he had coveted now white as snow looking at odds with his young face hung low in front of him as he knelt before your grandfather holding a tiny flame in the palm of his hands.
    “She said it was from Emily,” and that was the last thing he said until the day he died.”

    The young children huddled in their beds before Eoin looked frightened and excited all at once and started bombarded him questions which he mostly laughed off and they joined in their fear falling away. Then Max saw it start to snow outside and all bar Fey ran to the window. He turned his head to her and she hugged him before asking,
    “What if the sea lady comes again Uncle Ooeeyy?” He smiled affectionately before kneeling before his youngest niece and ruffled her hair. She had never been able to get his name right.
    “Then you stay close by me until the sun comes up like it always does and everything will be okay.”
    “But what if it doesn’t?” She asked softly before hugging him, he lifted her up into his arms and walked over to the window.
    “Then I’ll go behind those big mountains over there and kick its butt untill it does just like Faedra did. Which I will tell you all about after some chocolate. Sound fair?”

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