It was a dark and screaming night.
Autumn drove into town under a sky that could’ve put Noah’s ark to shame.
She arrived empty-handed but fully capable, thank-you-very-much. She arrived with her hair like fallen leaves and eyes like burning, and she brought with her the shades of sunset. When she arrived, so did the colors.
And so did the howling. It came at night to rattle the windows and chill bones. It broke tree branches and slammed doors, and it battered the ancient tree in the town square until its creaking could be heard all through town.
She was beautiful, all fierce reds and vibrant yellows, but she spoke with a voice like decay.
The people with their houses of wood and brick took shelter. Autumn took her chance.
When they were all safely inside, she smiled on the world.
The leaves looked golder under the rays, the air less harsh.
The townspeople rejoiced in this rarer air, and when they turned their faces up to the sky, it beamed back.
Autumn lured them into complacency, and they swallowed her multitude of colors greedily, with reckless abandon.
They drank their cider and ate their apple pie. They enjoyed their bonfires and hay rides and haunted houses. They hosted their harvest festival.
Mrs. McKinney made her world famous (or at least family famous) pumpkin bread to bring to potlucks, and her son Johnny became a hometown hero under Friday night lights.
Sally Turner left for college, the youngest of five, and her daddy was never quite the same.
Mayor Duncan accepted his reelection with pleasure, and the whole town waved goodbye to Autumn from the town hall. They watched as she packed more than what she had brought with her into her cherry red corvette, eyes shining.
She went out with a bang and a blur of colors.
Winter hitchhiked to get there. She arrived with eyes like marble and hair like ash, with jagged teeth and a hoarse voice. She was harsh from the beginning, unapologetic as she stole the breath of anyone who stared her down for too long. She did not pretend.
The night that she arrived, she made sure to cover all of Autumn’s colors in a blanket of white.
The sky spiraled downwards, swirling in the air as it howled. Autumn could whine, but Winter could scream, and when she did, she brought the sky down with her instead of just leaves.
No one drove anywhere the next day.
When Winter breathed, the air she exhaled had teeth of its own. Her breath was cruel and biting, and when she cried, the town cried with her.
Winter brought with her a suitcase full of every bad thing she’d ever done, cradling each one in her gnarled hands as she unpacked.
Johnny’s sister fell through the ice that year. Mrs. McKinney did not make it to the Christmas party with her world famous bread pudding, barely made it to the kitchen to find a glass bottle full of whatever burned most on the way down.
The town met then, too, but this time in remembrance rather than celebration, and when Mayor Duncan gave a speech, he coughed himself hoarse. Winter came with Pestilence in her pocket.
But her wallet she saved for softer things. There were snow angels next to her credit card and a toboggan sled in the space next to them.
In her coin pouch, the word hope had crystallized.
When Spring came, the bounce in her step put Winter’s creaking joints to shame.
Her eyes were the brightest green that the town had ever seen, and the birds sang with her. As she checked into her motel, the gently falling sky which had pooled in the gutters reflected a kaleidoscope of colors as the horizon smiled down.
Red, orange, yellow, green, the kids learned in school, blue, indigo, violet.
The town got together again, and it was tentative, but Spring stayed in the corner the whole time to give them gentle air, their own piece of the sky, and they began to smile with her.
When the children received a week off in the month of March, she showed them how to love Winter as it melted and how to look for the first flowers to take its place. They learned from her how to look for robins and colorful eggs and nostalgia that was bittersweet.
Johnny McKinney decided that he liked track as much as football, and his mother never missed a meet.
Mayor Duncan’s daughter took her engagement photos in a meadow full of flowers, and when she thanked Spring for making them great, for making them beautiful, Spring laughed it back at her in a voice that sounded like returning home. I don’t make beautiful things. You choose to see them.
Yes, the townspeople quite liked Spring.
Summer came slowly, and she rode her bike the whole way.
When she finally arrived, her cheeks were flushed and freckled. Her arms were tattooed with bright drawings that the townspeople never quite figured out, but it didn’t matter, because she came with the kind of innocent recklessness that made them forget to question it.
She came with nothing but a beach bag in the basket of her bike.
Summer was smiles so bright they burned. She was fast heartbeats and heat and hope.
When she was angry, though, the next three towns over all knew it.
She could scream right alongside winter, but when she did, it was light from her eyes that started fires, sobs that shook the foundations of houses, and tears enough to overflow the lakes.
All that righteous fury would leave as quickly as it had come.
When someone was finally able to calm her down, when she saw that the kids off of school were huddled in their houses scared by her screaming, her smile came back in an instant, as bright as if it had never left.
They watched fireworks light up her sky.
Sally Turner returned to be with her father while Summer was in town. Like Summer, she was all soft smiles and softer hugs. Summer treated her well.
When it came time for both of them to leave again, it was less bitter, more sweet. Summer knew not to overstay her welcome, and Sally knew not to say goodbye like it was final.
So they both went together, and when Sally held her father in her arms, it was not an ending.
Summer took the sweat and sunscreen with her, but not the smiles, and as they both left, her voice rang out sweetly not with a farewell, but a promise.
I’ll see you again.