Not How I'd Imagined It

Submitted into Contest #23 in response to: Write a short story about someone experiencing their first winter.... view prompt

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Everything shook.

Lysa’s eyes were failing her. The gash in her back bled profusely, and the pain was getting to her head. She forced her eyes open. She remembered being hauled onto Pa’s cart, a deep red trail following her. Now she lay on the floorboard, rocking this way and that. Winds howled past, piercing her with their chill. Lysa shivered like a newborn in winter. Plumes of smoke rose in the distance, further darkening the gray sky. As the cart rumbled onward, they shrank into the horizon.

Her tired eyes shut again. She saw only darkness. A darkness colder than winter—

No. This wasn’t what winter should be like. It couldn’t be.

Though the gash burned like hell, the rest of her body was in a strange sleep. She couldn’t feel her chest, her legs—nothing except her face and neck, and her hands. The side of her face which rested against the floorboard was wet and sticky and red.

A distant dup-a-dup, dup-a-dup rose over the creaking and rumbling of the cart. Rushing horses. They’d left the village, hadn’t they? Lysa tried to think, tried to ignore the flare of her wound.

Where is he taking us?

The village had been the only home they’d known. The scent of damp soil, the lush green bursts of herbs and bushes and trees everywhere you looked, the smiles in bright morning—all of it gone. Burned away.

“Lysa?” Pa’s voice echoed.

Lysa opened her mouth, but words failed her. Her only answer was a low groan.

“Just a little farther, my sweet. Out of their sight.”

And then where? She didn’t want to imagine, but the thoughts hit her anyway: they’d shudder for hours, the cold would claw its way into them and freeze them whole. They’d die in their sleep.

Still, she kept one arm stretched out on the floorboard before her, palm facing the sky, open and empty. Lysa hoped she was wrong. What Pa had told her of winter was different. In his words, “The sun is shy, its gaze gentle. Everyone wears the softest furs. Leaves carpet the soil. Trees stand naked, the cold be damned!” But to Lysa one detail had shone in all of Pa’s accounts: the snow. She used to think they were white petals, soft and gentle, but with how Pa had always described them, they seemed more… ethereal.

She kept her palm open. It’ll snow, she told herself. Pa promised it would. Winter was gentle, winter was soft. If only it snowed, she’d know for certain.

The reins cracked like a whip. The horses’ pace doubled. A gust of wind, icy cold, cut through Lysa’s back. She held back first, squeezing her eyes shut, but the wind persisted. Eventually, she screamed.

Pa cursed. The cart began to slow, rumbling to a halt. Silence fell like a blanket, broken only by Lysa’s ragged breaths. It felt as if red-hot iron burned into her back. Lysa blinked back tears, a tang of copper in her mouth. When her ears caught the sound of Pa’s hurried footsteps, she sealed her mouth tight. Pa didn’t need to see the blood trickling down her lips. It would only make him feel worse.

A warm hand tilted her head up. He was only a blurry silhouette. Lysa peered at his face. Was he crying? He mustn’t panic. He was wrinkly, fragile as snow—though he never admitted that. His heart had already threatened to fail him twice. But his face was a blurry mess; she couldn’t tell whether tears rolled down his cheeks. In summer, they would have glistened in the sun’s glare.

But of course, it wasn’t summer.

Pa stared at her, and though she couldn’t make out the details of his face, she felt the heat of his rage. He sat still, a promise in his silence. A promise involving the bandits who had crashed into their village. Monsters in fur, armed with bare steel. They’d never hesitated when burying it into the skulls of those Lysa had known. They’d slit throats, burnt corpses, looted homes, and left the children in the hands of winter. Lysa wasn’t sure winter would treat them well. Her palm grew numb. If it snowed, she’d know.

But one question nagged her mind: what had emboldened the bandits? What had drawn them out of their caves and camps and prompted them to loot her entire village?

Lysa felt she knew the answer. She focused on her palm instead, shuddering.

Pa noticed and pressed his hand against her open palm. Lysa panicked for a moment—she’d miss the snow! —and tried to wring her hand out of his grasp. But her strength had seeped. She felt as if she was floating. Shivers rippled through her, the gash in her back flared—Pa’s hand was warm and welcoming. Lysa’s fingers clasped it slowly. She smiled at him. She should say something to him, but her mouth—

A violent cough threw her head forward. Blood sputtered on Pa’s knee.

Everything froze for a moment. Pa began to sob.

Lysa clutched harder. “Don’t, don’t, Pa, don’t…”

No good. Pa brought his hands to his face, shaking as he sobbed. His fingers were like the bars of a cage, their shadows hiding what little Lysa could see of his face.

“Pa, don’t, please.”

Her fingers began to slip from his hand. A deep chill pierced her skin, clawing its way into her. The edges of her vision fogged. It was hard to tell where the beat of her heart was. Nothing soft and gentle settled on her skin. Or maybe she was too numb to feel it.

Pa wouldn’t look—his hands still covered his face. She couldn’t feel his hand anymore. The burn of her wound had dulled, too. Lysa let her eyes shut, imagining a winter of her own. The cold burned away, the sting in her back faded, all thoughts of bandits and fires and blood shrank into nothingness, until she lay naked on a carpet of leaves. They cracked softly when she turned to sit up. The sun’s rays warmed her. A cool breeze coiled around her, making her skin prickle. And then—she gasped. Tiny white flakes danced down from the heavens, melting as they touched her. They were like soft kisses all over her naked skin, tickling her until she was breathless from laughter.


His hand slipped away from her.

Lysa lay still, her palm open and empty. An eerie silence surrounded her, which even the winds didn’t dare to break. Her face was paler than snow, her entire body frozen in a sleep. Blood trickled down the ugly gash across her back, pooling on the floorboard. The pool spread into thin trails, so it looked like a wing.

She was always beautiful in her sleep. Eyes shut, one hand under her head and the other reaching out, her legs against her chest. Her face was smooth as the surface of a calm lake, no sign of any strain.

With a pang in his chest, he recalled the stories he’d told her. She would always fall asleep halfway with a snore and a smile. Even now, she smiled. He sat there, wishing she’d snore too.

January 08, 2020 09:38

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1 comment

Roha Khan
12:35 Jan 16, 2020

Such vivid detail... I was waiting to touch the snow myself


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