Persistence of Frost and Memory (3 of 3)
An original story by booksofchange
Genre: modern fairytale
Summary: Yesterday, Jean found Michael up in a tree. The day before, she caught him floating after the helium balloon he let go to the open sky. Today, she found him covered in frost.
A short tale of a woman who finds out her extra-legally adopted son might be the personification of winter.
I think I’m in the Swiss Alps.
Jean scribbled that sentence down in her imaginary diary the moment she and Michael arrived at Lady Chalice’s sanctuary for displaced wizards via teleportation. She guessed so based on half-remembered scenes from The Sound of Music. Then she put a mental sticky note to get Michael watch the movie.
Somehow. A quick glance through the village—the sanctuary was built like a rural village of the Continental Europe variety—made her suspect the place was off-grid. Or was this her Harry Potter bias speaking?
“We do have electricity, Internet, and indoor plumbing,” Erik said as he led the way.
“Oh, god, yes!” Jean erupted. She wasn’t ready to give up modern amenities on top of everything else.
Erik chuckled. “We may be wizards, but we’re still human. We like comfort.”
They stopped in front of a sprawling, two-story building that looked like a cross between a Hobbit hole and a beehive. A couple in their mid-fifties marched into view. The husband was built like a tall boulder and the woman was short, squat and sturdy like a pony.
“Builders,” Erik said as Jean and Michael stared at the logs, bales of hay, and gravel floating behind them. He then went on to babble on about the virtues of cob. The way the builder couple made the mud, gravel and hay churned themselves to make said cob convinced Jean the couple were masters of the craft.
“Do they take requests?” asked Jean when the builder couple started marking the ground.
Erik nodded. “As long as you stay within lot limits.”
As though on cue, the marked ground dug itself out and the displaced dirt piled itself into a heap.
“And you’re telling me this isn’t magic,” Jean accused.
“It’s not,” said Erik defensively.
“If it looks like magic, acts like magic…”
“It’s really not,” Erik insisted, two spots of red on his cheeks.
Jean smirked. When bored, tease Erik, she decided.
Later, Jean drew shapes on the cob walls as they went up. “This is fun. C’mon, Michael, draw something!” she cried as she etched ugly snowflakes around a built-in pantry shelf.
They molded a giant tree in the living room. Michael smiled for the first time as he drew triangular leaves.
Jean debated marking the passing days once she and Michael settle into their new cob apartment (fully plumbed and wired; wifi included). On the one hand, the sun rose and set like always. On the other hand, Erik’s words so far proved accurate. So he could be correct about time passing oddly in the sanctuary.
Heath called that evening.
“How is it going?”
“Good. Have an apartment now. Better than my old one.”
“You bought a place.”
“Yeah, no. A wizard couple built one for us. Free. Took them only a day, it’s crazy.”
There was a long pause.
“Jean,” said Heath at last. “It’s been three weeks.”
Jean blinked. She quickly consulted Google from her laptop and confirmed Heath’s statement.
“You need to get out of there. Quick,” Heath growled.
Jean said nothing but stared at Michael. He was making an effort to look like he was playing his teddy but kept stealing anxious looks at Jean’s direction.
“I’ll think about it.”
She ended the call. “Let’s go and explore.”
Ribbons of smoke from a hundred chimneys were rising to a darkening sky when they left the apartment. Jean clutched Michael’s mittened hand and made a game out of finding the butcher, the baker, and the furniture maker. The large window displays of the shops, all glowing brilliant gold, made identifying their wares easy.
“Do you guys take dollars?” Jean asked a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts.
In lieu of answering, vendor lady showed her smartphone and credit card reader.
“Nice,” said Jean. As she paid with cash, Jean thought about how to make a living here. She had enough money to last her three years, assuming her usual expenses, so she had a buffer (this is why I wanted F*** You Money, Jean thought). She’ll have to figure out how much it cost to live here with a child and ask around for odd jobs. Jean was pretty sure opportunities for bodyguarding was slim to nothing in a peaceful village like this.
They roamed around some more. Snow started to fall like puffs of cotton. Jean felt girlish as she enjoyed the crunch beneath her boots.
They explored the biggest building, which turned out to be a library. Jean vowed to take Michael there every morning.
They found a playground near a church that had an old timey cemetery. Michael hid behind Jean when he noticed the children there were engaged in a furious snowball fight.
“Snowman?” Jean suggested.
Michael frowned; titled his head in curiosity and suspicion. Jean felt a pained smile tug at her mouth.
“Let’s make one,” she said, decisive.
They rolled balls of snow. Michael caught on to the concept quickly. A few of the younger children offered buttons and sticks for decoration. Michael stuck close to Jean, didn’t make eye contact, and refused to answer any questions. As the children didn’t speak English, Jean couldn’t have answered for him, even if she wanted to.
An hour later, they had one child-sized snowman and lots and lots of snow gnomes. Michael, red-cheeked and nose running, beamed at them.
“Make more tomorrow?” Jean asked.
Snow fell all night and all day. Record-breaking snowfall, Erik said.
The villagers took the three feet of snow to stride and used their powers or shovels to clear paths. Michael learned to love hot noodles after a cold day out making snow gnomes. He also liked the igloo Erik built for him.
Jean mastered running on powder and ice in the days that followed. She also started introducing Michael to her new neighbors as her son. If they thought it strange a woman from Ghana would claim a green-eyed, pale-skinned boy as her own, they kept such opinions to themselves.
Jean was making dinner one evening when she heard a small, scratchy voice she’d never heard before.
“Did you mean it?”
Jean did a double take. Michael was both looking at her and not looking at her, and his shoulders were hunched. Waiting for the ground to give away under his feet, she thought. Expecting blows for asking, but needing to know.
Jean put her paring knife down. Came over and lifted Michael’s chin so they’d see eye to eye.
“You are Michael Kotei. My son. I will not leave you nor forsake you,” Jean declared.
Michael laughed until he cried.
Heath showed up the next morning, the first clear day in about two weeks. He looked like he’d trekked hundreds of icy miles.
“ARE YOU INSANE?!” Jean roared.
Heath shrugged. “You weren’t picking up your phone.”
Jean swore and dragged Heath to her apartment. Michael took one look at Heath’s deplorable state and hid in the bathroom. Heath relished the warmth while Jean stripped off his wet gear. “It’s a Snowpocalypse out there,” he remarked.
“Duh,” snapped Jean as she threw his wet socks into the hamper.
“No, I mean, out in the normal world,” Heath elaborated. “Snow all the way down to Florida and Mexico. Could be a fluke, but then I remembered Ransom saying the universe is the limit for wizards…”
“I wanted to test the hypothesis.”
Jean wanted to slap him. Would have, if Erik didn’t enter her apartment right after that comment.
“How did you get here, Shock?”
“How did you know where to go?”
“I got the contact info of all the wizards you sent our way.”
Erik didn’t quite clutch his head. “All for what, exactly?”
“I wanted to know if we’re going through a magical Snowpocalypse.”
Jean punched him this time.
“Even if we aren’t,” Heath went on as he rubbed his jaw, “don’t you think it’s unconscionable to make a child carry the memories of a dead wizard or legion of them?”
Erik sighed. “Do we really have to talk about naive interventionism?”
“Is procrastination working?”
“Too soon to tell. And waiting for a person to heal at his own pace is not procrastination. Need I remind you the circumstances in which we found Michael?” Erik crossed his arms. “Let’s wait another month.”
Heath didn’t suggest “fixing” Michael again after that. Instead, he pelted question after question about chokmah at Erik. Jean listened in because she was curious, too.
“For the last time, Shock, chokmah is not magic.”
“Ransom,” said Heath, wagging a finger. “Assume that I’m stupid. Then try to explain.”
Erik sighed. “Magic is mind over matter. The person possesses the power to manipulate. Chokmah is … like using a computer hooked to an intranet. You built neither the computer nor the intranet’s contents, and someone else granted you access. So just because you have the privilege to make it snow when you ask, doesn’t mean you have the power to make it snow. The power lies in the computer, which in this analogy stands for chokmah. Understand?”
Erik mashed his fists into his eyes and groaned. Jean narrowed her eyes and waited for Heath to show he understood more than he let on. Lo and behold, Heath asked Michael casually over dinner:
“Do you like it here, Michael?”
Michael eyed Heath warily and didn’t answer.
“Do you like Jean?” Heath tried again.
Michael nodded this time. Heath beamed.
“Good. I’m very happy for you. Now that I know you’re in good hands, can you ask the world to stop snowing? So I’ll let myself out.”
The snow returned with a vengeance.
It came down so fast and furious one couldn’t see an inch ahead. Gusts of wind screamed and rattled the windows. Pipes froze and burst. Jean checked the Internet and learned the blizzard was spreading towards the equator. Are we going through another ice age? News agencies wondered as they made doomsday announcements.
“I should’ve duct taped his smart mouth,” Jean grumbled as she held a trembling Michael through the night. He kept crying and mouthing: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…
“Don’t apologize,” Jean kissed his hair. “It’s not your fault, babe.”
But, but, but…
“It’s really not,” Jean said firmly. “Now go to sleep.”
They slept. An uncountable number of hours passed.
Then Jean woke up to a frozen world.
No sound. That was the first thing she noticed. Blindingly white, the second thing.
Third: Michael, limp and gray next to her. She picked him up and ran out to get help.
She stopped. There was nothing but snow, as far as the eye can see. She looked back, and the pure white landscape stretched on and on.
Jean sucked in a breath. Let it out. Some place inarticulate, she knew this was the result of a child’s plea for everything to please stop.
So Jean offered a plea of her own, a strange sort of prayer.
“I don’t ask you to take it away from him,” she whispered. “I only ask that you let me guard it until he’s ready.”
There was silence for a span.
Wind. Screaming, moaning, and suffocating. Jean grit her teeth and tried to shield Michael from the onslaught as it whipped through like so many cold knives.
She was still holding him when she finally keeled over.
Jean woke up a second time inside a cocoon of snow. She felt Michael’s heartbeat. She also heard voices.
Frantic shoveling and digging. Moments later, Jean squinted against the sunlight.
“Jean. Michael. Thank goodness,” said Erik’s voice, choked with sobs.
Hands, pulling them out. Jean clutched Michael tighter, but then frowned when they stopped.
“What?” she demanded.
No one replied. Just kept staring.
Jean got to look at herself in a mirror later, once the village doctor deemed her and Michael no longer at risk for hypothermia and frostbite.
“Well, will you look at that. I have your eyes, Michael,” she said mildly.
“White,” said Michael, pointing at Jean’s hair.
Jean nodded. “Yeah, and I went white. Cool. I’m thinking of getting a mohawk later. What do you think?”
Chalice declared Jean a wizard by virtue of her being able to summon a localized snowstorm in a ten-meter square area and nowhere else. Heath thanked her for stopping the global snowmageddon and got noogied for his troubles. Erik had a different opinion:
“You’re the new Winter, now, Jean. You should perhaps look into changing your name to Jean Frost. Anyway, what will you do?”
“First, no more blizzards for at least two months. Second, a White Christmas every year I feel like having one. Besides that…” she shrugged. “…We’ll see.”
That’s all folks! I hoped you enjoyed it.