I entered NaNoWriMo last year with a goal to write an original Young Adult fiction. I had a theme, summary, and outline. I liked the main character I crafted. This is promising, I thought excitedly. I might write something presentable and win!
Everything got thrown out of the window soon after I finished writing chapter one. What came after was 50,000 words of disjointed character arcs, none of them featuring teens. (#WriterLife) Two months later, I got a notification from Wattpad for a winter writing contest. Write something about winter personifications, it said. Lo! My NaNoWriMo idea held my brain hostage and made me write at gunpoint. This is the result:
Persistence of Frost and Memory (1 of 3)
An original short 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.
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.
Jean had no idea how she slept through the chill. But the frost had covered their duvet by the time she opened her eyes. Michael was sound asleep next to her, blue and cold and terrifyingly still.
Jean picked up Michael and raced to the bathroom. She ran the shower with lukewarm water one-handed. Michael woke up in the middle of Jean stripping him off his pajamas. His winter loch hued eyes were enormous, his tiny body was frigid, but he was breathing and alive and that was all that mattered.
They sat in the shower together. Belatedly, Jean remembered she should’ve taken a picture.
To hell with that, Jean decided, as she turned the water warmer.
Later, after they’d dried off and dressed for the day, Jean sought her expert for all things strange and magical: Erik Ransom.
If there was one person Jean could blame her current situation, it was Heath Shock, who, in turn, would blame Erik.
Heath Shock was Jean’s main client since she joined the private security firm she worked for as a bodyguard. Jean had let out an unprofessional snort when she learned her prospective client’s name. Then she actually met the guy in all his witty black shirt, aviator sunglasses, and enormous afro glory.
“Why a private bodyguard?” Heath had wanted to know.
Jean raised an eyebrow at him. “Sorry?”
“Your resume said you’re a four-time International featherweight kickboxing champion. And that you won gold in the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur games. You could’ve made it as a professional UFC fighter. So why chose to be a private bodyguard?”
Jean didn’t snark making a living as a female UFC fighter required one to A) look and sound fabulous on camera or B) able to play the powerful, ugly villainess against those who fit description A). But it was a near thing. “I wanted to help people,” she said instead.
“You can do that as a career soldier or a police officer. You can also help others in your spare time,” Heath pressed.
“Yeah, well, I don’t do well in structured environments, and I don’t see the point of fighting for fame, fortune or its own sake.” Jean shrugged. “Nothing wrong with fighting for those reasons, mind, but the way I see it, you learn to fight so you can protect. Private bodyguard seemed like a good choice for someone like me.”
If Jean was a lady with an eye for advancement, career or otherwise, she would’ve had a more thought-out response. Jean was none of the above, much to her mother’s despair.
Heath flashed his pearly white teeth. “This will work,” he declared. Then without further ado, he signed the three-week contract. Then he told Jean why his parents, who were an ominous combination of wealthy and politically powerful, hired Jean’s employers.
“I’ve been receiving death threats.”
“Do you know why?”
“I offended a well-respected someone by accident.”
“Was it online? The Internet is full of trolls. How can you tell they’re real?”
“Not online. They were physical notes, printed and delivered. Do you want to see a photocopy?”
“No, for the sake of plausible deniability,” Jean replied.
Heath smirked. “Yours and or mine?”
“Yours, of course. A word of warning: I’m going to rat you to the police, tell everyone on the Internet, and sell your story to paparazzi as soon as I figure out the foolish thing you did.”
That probably wasn’t the most professional thing Jean could’ve said. Fortunately, Heath laughed like Jean’s deadpan comment was the best joke he’d ever heard, so that was that.
Jean learned more about Heath in the twenty-four hours that followed. Heath “Whynot” Shock was an Internet celebrity and a New York Times bestselling author. When he wasn’t being Big Name Millennial Influencer, he was an advisor for Y Combinator, the famous venture capital company that seeded Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. His vast accomplishments were all the more amazing when one considered the fact Heath was blind … been blind since he was two-years-old. He also had dyslexia, so he had a hard time reading anything, including braille.
“How do you manage?” Jean asked.
“There’s nothing wrong with my thinking brain, thank you,” Heath answered, equal parts defensive and haughty.
That was when Jean learned Heath was super-competitive and liable to go to great lengths to disprove any claim he can’t do something. Indeed, Heath was famous for claiming he could do anything short of driving (a skill he argued will turn obsolete when the geeks and their driverless cars inherited the earth). Per a coworker’s recommendation, Jean looked up Whynot Shock (Heath’s Internet nom de plume), and found a viral video of him skateboarding in the busy streets of New York City and somehow not get killed.
“You have no fear?” she asked, after mentioning the video.
“Of course I have fear. I just choose not to act based on it,” Heath replied.
Heath doesn’t deserve to die, Jean decided then and there.
The gig was rather nice. Heath trained himself to assign a task for each and every hour of his day, which made planning for his security easy. Heath also respected Jean’s stipulation that he stay within ten feet of her at all times. Heath did not get hurt, maimed or killed, despite the fact Jean did nothing whatsoever to stop him from crashing into solid objects as he set to prove blind people can function well without a cane, thank you very much. Jean got to fly all over the country and meet lots of interesting people, one whom which was Erik Ransom.
Erik, when Jean first encountered him at the annual TED Talk conference, was introduced as the chief virtual assistant to an (in)famous cybersecurity expert. The expert, who went by the preposterous pseudonym Sebastos Helix, was a recluse who did terrifying things for the Department of Defense, or so the rumor went. So strong was his desire to be a famous hermit, he had a habit of accepting speaking engagements and sending his uber-talented virtual assistants to do the actual talking.
“It’s a good arrangement. He keeps his cloak of anonymity and his assistants get the spotlight they deserve,” Heath explained when they returned to their shared hotel room.
“That’s nice of him,” said Jean.
“But here’s the rub,” Heath continued. “There’s no evidence this Sebastos Helix actually exists. I’ve spoken with the top twelve cybersecurity experts in the world, and most of them don’t think he’s real.”
“Who is he really, then?”
“My theory? He’s Erik Ransom.”
Jean recalled Erik as she knew him back then. Erik was short and compact where Heath was tall and lanky; soft-spoken and shy where Heath was exuberant and outgoing. Also unlike Heath, who Jean correctly nailed as a Steve Jobs type personality at first glance, she mistook Erik for a quiet Asian girl until he delivered Helix’s keynote speech. In Jean’s defense, Erik had his long dark hair in a neat french braid and possessed a face so pale and beautiful it made heathens like Jean think of geishas… fairy geishas who could secretly be cybersecurity experts.
“Could be. He has multiple doctorates and is a certified ethical hacker,” Jean mused.
“And Helix’s other virtual assistants treat him like he‘s the boss,” said Heath, as he wriggled in his seat next to Jean. “Chief VA my hairy, black ass.”
Jean chuckled. “I’m sure you’re right, you genius person you. Now leave him alone, he probably doesn’t appreciate you poking around and being nosy. You know he’s a private person.”
They spent the rest of that evening eating dinner and watching the movie 300. Or, more accurately, Jean pushed her grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli around her plate while Heath laughed at her bawdy commentary about half-naked too skinny men using dumb moves to kill each other. Jean forgot about the whole episode until Heath asked her to keep an eye on Erik Ransom the next morning at the conference. When Jean told him Erik was heading out, Heath pushed her toward the closest exit, shouting:
“Follow his car!”
“Seriously?” Jean groused.
“This might be our chance to find out who Ransom really is! C’mon!” Heath urged.
Jean tailed Erik’s ten-year-old Toyota Corolla as ordered, but turned on a playlist that consisted of nothing but songs Heath despised in retaliation.
“You’re being petty,” Heath complained.
“What’s that?!” shouted Jean, increasing the volume.
Erik parked his car in front of a block of rundown apartments, all which had a uniform look of old, worn and unwashed. Further ahead, Jean could see police cars and an ambulance, flashing red and blue lights. A small group of uniformed police officers and paramedics stood in front of one of the shorter apartment buildings. Erik spoke with the officers, and then followed one into the apartment.
He returned about twenty minutes later with his hair loose. He marched past the officers, made a beeline to Heath’s rental car, and tapped the front passenger window.
“So good of you to follow me,” he said dryly when Jean rolled the window down. “I need to borrow your lady friend, Shock.”
“Excuse you, I’m his bodyguard,” said Jean, offended to the depths of her soul.
Erik put on the most contrite face. “Oh, I’m so sorry, please forgive me. But I really do need your assistance. Please?”
“Why?” Jean asked.
Erik hesitated for a beat.
“There is a … boy. Some … people kept him captive in one of the flats over there.” He waved a hand at the apartment building he’d just left. “The police arrested his captors, but he refuses to leave the closet they’d locked him in.”
“I think he’s afraid of men in general and the police in particular. In case you’re wondering, yes, I tried, but my voice gave me away.”
Jean groaned. “Fine. As long as this guy stays within ten feet of me.”
The three of them headed to the apartment. Jean felt a thick pillow of chill smother her face as soon as she stepped inside the lobby. It was the sort of chill that seemed to suck the life right out of you. But when she took another step, the pillow was gone.
Jean looked around. The hallway full of mailboxes had icicles on the ceiling. Patches of ice shaped like feet or claw-marks pockmarked the floors. Then Heath touched a brick wall. A halo of white frost crystallized around his hand, glowing eerie pale blue around the edges, and then vanished as quickly as it formed.
“What. The. Hell,” Jean demanded to Erik.
“What? What’s going on?” Heath wanted to know.
Erik wet his lips. “I’ll explain everything after we have the child settled.”
Erik lead them to apartment #4. The black door looked no different from its neighbors, and there were no strange icicles.
Creeeaaakkk… Erik pushed the door open. Half-way, it hit a small mountain of black garbage bags, all stuffed to burst. Flies buzzed in front of their faces. The smell of rotting meat and ammonia pervaded the humid atmosphere. The living room immediately to the front was covered knee-deep in rubbish. The kitchen to the right had several tottering towers of pizza boxes, a neat row of plastic takeaway bags, and a sink full of dirty dishes and sludge. Like the lobby, there were patches of strange white frost here and there.
Erik hopped around the garbage bags, stood before a closet door with slats, and said, “He’s in here.”
Jean joined Erik, palms sweaty and twitchy. She abruptly remembered the fact her sister Liz refused to let Jean babysit her kids, because the last time she did, Jean let them play in the dirt, drink chocolate milk, and eat pepperoni pizza for dinner (the gluten-free paleo meal Liz prepared deliberately forgotten).
“I apologize in advance in case I traumatize the kid more,” muttered Jean. Then she squared her shoulders and opened the closet door.
She looked into the narrow gloom. Under a pile of smelly clothes and blankets, she could see a white face and a pair of frightened eyes.
“Hey, mind if I come in?” said Jean, doing her best to sound gentle and harmless.
A blink. No answer. Jean waited for a few heartbeats and then crouched to a sit, facing the pile and the minty-green eyes.
“Hi, I’m Jean. I’m a bodyguard sent to protect you,” Jean tried again.
There was a blink and another. Then the eyes narrowed.
“Hey, just because I’m a girl doesn’t I can’t beat people up,” Jean grinned. “I’m very good at it. So good, in fact, some Big Name judges gave me a gold medal for being badass. Here, you can check my arm.”
She flexed her biceps. After several soundless beats, a tiny hand emerged from the mound of dirty clothes and touched the hard muscles under Jean’s suit.
“See? I’m strong,” said Jean. “Can I take you out now?”
The small hand slithered back into the pile. The pale eyes continued to stare at Jean. Then the clothes around the eyes shifted. Jean assumed the child nodded.
Jean dug out a little boy with dark hair and grey-green eyes from the heap. He was filthy and dressed in only a large white T-shirt smeared with brown spots and underwear. Jean clutched him to her chest and felt all his bones.
Erik teared up when Jean left the closet. “Oh God, thank you.”
Erik Ransom took photos of the boy’s state and scribbled several bullet points into a yellow notepad. The boy clung to Jean throughout. When the four of them finally left the apartment, a paramedic approached. “All right?” he asked.
Erik smiled wanly. “Yes.”
“Do you need us around, or are you going to transport him yourself?”
“I’ll take him. Less scary and I have a car seat in the back.”
The paramedic nodded and left. A police officer took his spot, and asked, “Mr. Ransom? We need some forms signed…”
“We’ll buckle him in, and keep him company,” Heath offered.
“Thank you,” said Erik. He handed over his car keys and walked over to the police cars with the officer.
Jean ended up sitting in the backseat with the child on her lap because he wouldn’t let go. He didn’t answer any of her or Heath’s questions and appeared not to know his own name. Knowing full well she was probably violating hundreds of procedures and good practices, Jean said, “You look like a Michael. Can I call you Michael?”
The boy nodded into Jean’s sternum. Erik returned shortly after and smiled.
“I might’ve named him Michael, sorry,” said Jean.
“It’s fine. Better than John Doe, the Younger, yeah? Now let’s get him in the car seat.”
Michael let Jean buckle him in, but clutched her wrist after. There was a terrified look in his eyes, and he was trembling from head to toe. Jean looked at Erik helplessly.
“On the second thought, Shock, would you mind if…?” Erik asked.
Heath shook his head.
Erik drove them back to their hotel, after making arrangements with the police to bring Heath’s rental car there. Michael fell asleep with his hand in Jean’s.
“So you’re a social worker when you’re not a virtual assistant,” Heath remarked.
“Cybersecurity not interesting and meaningful enough for you?”
Erik glared at him. “I only got into IT because of Family Business. Now that I can afford to step away, I’m trying things out.” He refused to disclose what his family business was, despite Heath’s pestering.
Jean wrapped Michael in blankets and took him and Heath to their suite. Erik went out to get clothes for little boys. Everything seemed to settle down once Michael was clean, properly clothed and fed. At least, he felt safe enough to sob into Jean’s chest as she hummed him to sleep.
Then the next day Michael floated after the helium balloon Jean got him. The day after, Jean found him high up in a tree like a spooked raven.
Today, she found him covered in frost.
Erik jerked awake when Jean kicked the sofa-bed he was sleeping on.
“Good morning, Jean. What happened this time?” he mumbled.
“Frost. Everywhere,” Jean replied.
Erik blinked. He raised his torso and squinted at Jean’s bed. It still had frost melting into the duvet.
“Oh dear,” he sighed.