Winter Always Wins

Leaves at the mercy of the wind clattered down the road.  They were headed north, as the summer winds tried to have one last say before being driven out of this part of the world for the year.  The warmth wouldn’t last long, even the wind knew it; despite its direction, the unmistakable scent of winter was obvious. It was clean and crisp, the smell of quiet and stillness. All the noise of the leaves could not drown it out.

The struggle between summer and winter would last a bit longer, giving rise to a beautiful autumn, but the outcome itself was never in doubt. Winter would arrive once more and bring the world some much needed rest. Until then, the leaves, once vibrant and alive, would play out the struggle, caught by forces they knew but could no longer influence. They would be blown back and forth awhile longer. Eventually, buried by snow, they would return to the earth and help feed the next generation. In the end, winter always wins.

Indeed, already the wind has shifted, and the leaves headed back the way they came. A chill had snuck into the air, and the sun is already long into its descent toward the horizon. It won’t be long now.

Uninvited Guest

Without wind, the snow fell softly straight downward.  The sun was quickly setting, ushering in the longest night of the year.  The world was quiet and still, except for one moving figure.  A small person – perhaps a child? – trudged through the snow.  Up to a front door it walked and pressed the bell.

Light and warmth came spilling out of the open door in equal measure.  A man stood in the entrance and peered out at the visitor.

“Can I help you?”

The small face peered up at him but said nothing.

“Well, what do you want?”

Still, it did not respond.

“Do your parents know you are out here?  Go on home.”  The man shut the door.

Within an hour, the first guest arrived.  The child – for what else could it be? – was sitting on the porch.  When the guest inquired, the man stepped outside.

“I told you to get out of here!  You cannot just sit outside my front door.  This is private property.  Leave, or I will call the police.”

But it did not leave.  More guests arrived, and each one asked about the person sitting on the porch.  Every time the man came out and tried to make it go away.  Despite his threat, he did not call the police.  His guests and neighbors might wonder what had happened to bring the police to his house on this night.  While his guests showed momentary curiosity, the festivities of the night quickly replaced it.

At the end of the night, after the last guest had left and well after midnight, the man went back out onto the porch.  He was determined to get this intruder off of his property.  The night had not been ruined, but this had gone on long enough.

On the porch were the clothes the person had been wearing.  They were crumpled as if they had just fallen in that place.  There was no sign of the person besides the clothes.  No tracks in the fresh snow led away from his door, as all the guests had used the walk.  The man picked up the clothes and threw them in the bin on the side of the house. Then he went back inside.

World Without Sleep

The snow came late.  Hours after it had been predicted, it finally arrived.  At the beginning, it was barely noticeable, easily mistaken for drops of water taking their time falling to earth.  Another degree colder and giant white flakes became more obvious as they began to collect on the barely dormant grass.

The forecast had been for six inches, but the paucity of flakes made it obvious that was exaggerated.  No more than an inch could be expected from such a meager event, and it had not even begun to stick to the sidewalk.  Winter had arrived, but not with any conviction.

Winter is a time of withdrawal, preparation for the renewal of spring.  Winter brings peace and introspection.  Without the sleep of winter, the world cannot restore itself.  Lack of sleep makes the next day a difficult endeavor at best.  This was the third year in a row that winter began with whimper.  The world was running on fumes.  If sleep did not come soon, it would be too late.

And yet, no one seemed to notice or to care.  The rhythm of the seasons, of the world, was off.  The lack of rejuvenation tugged at us.  But we did not notice.  The warnings of the few were easily dismissed and ignored.  We all know what happens when you go too long without sleep.  But what does it matter if winter does not come?

Movement, Reversed

Impatience was not a virtue, he knew, but it was part of his character.  The rune before him seemed aware of that, seemed to mock him.  Movement reversed.  Motion that is blocked.  It was counseling him to wait, that now was not the time to act.

How could he sit still?  A great wrong had been committed, and it must be set right.  To wait meant to invite even more wrong.  No, the rune’s counsel had to be set aside.  Even as he formed the thought, misgivings arose.  The runes were never wrong.  Open to interpretation, yes.  But not wrong.  And this casting was clearer than most.  What’s more, he had anticipated this reaction.  His anger, however, required something else.

The runes, he told himself, did not understand, could not fathom his need.  He knew it was not about setting things right; it was about revenge.  Blood demanded blood.  And at this moment, right and wrong held little meaning.  The runes could not account for his anger, so they could provide no useful advice.

Winter howled around him but could not reach inside.  He began to move.

Dreams of Winter

The room was dark: the only light came from a string of Christmas lights hung around the window.  Christmas had been more than a month ago, but he didn’t celebrate the holiday anyway.  He merely enjoyed the little points of color the lights provided.  They were… right, somehow, in the dark as the wind whistled past.

The top layer of snow swirled around across the yard.  It covered everything, but little was falling now.  The wind seemed determined to push the powder as far south as it could.  The whole scene – framed by the colored lights – was in constant motion as he looked on from his chair.

He had wrapped himself in a blanket and prepared a cup of hot tea.  The tea had cooled to room temperature, entirely forgotten on the end table.  The blanket was serviceably warm, though the sound of the wind made him shiver anyway.

How many winters had it been?  The obvious answer referred to his age, but that did not reflect reality.  Too many had gone by without snow or even cold spells.  Those had become more commonplace in recent years.  But this was a proper winter.  This took him back to the winters of his childhood.  Still, he preferred to observe rather than play in it.  How many more did he have?  Would this be the last?  If so, at least it was wild and chaotic.

He felt rather than heard some rumbling.  Perhaps it was a truck passing by.  Or maybe the bombs had begun to fall.  Either way was the same.  He stayed in his chair and watched out the window.  The lights were soothing, and the snow made the world perfect.  So he sat and watched until sleep finally took him.

Endless Walk

The snow fell, quietly, relentlessly.  Each footstep crunched as flakes were packed tightly together on the ground.  Soon enough, more flakes filled the impressions, erasing them.  There was little wind and no other sound.  In the dark of the night, the snow provided its own luminescence.

Nothing else moved.  He walked, and the rest of the world might have been empty.  Where he went did not matter.  No one waited for him.  No one was looking for him.  Perhaps no one even knew he existed.  And it did not matter.

The cold provided its own version of comfort.  It demanded nothing, asked nothing.  It shared of itself freely, embracing everything in its purview.  The snow was its messenger, the blanket it provided the world.  It accepted his movement, ignoring the disturbance.

He walked all night, and the snow kept pace.  One foot in front of the other; one flake on top of another.  Only with the first hint of sunrise did he stop.  He laid down where he was and fell asleep.  But the meager light did not drive away the cold, nor deter the snow.  It continued to fall.

Winter’s Eve

Winter’s Eve

I left a candle burning in the window. It shed very little light into the darkness outside, but it would serve as a beacon home. As I stepped outside and closed the door behind me, a sense of excitement shot through me, carried to my skin in the chill of the December air.

The world I knew had been obliterated and replaced by snowy dunes. The ground reflected the whiteness held aloft in the branches of trees. Color had been erased on this night, except for the flicker of yellow light in the window behind me. A few feet away from the house, and even that meager splotch of color ceased to break up the stark black and white world I found myself in.

Points of light shone overhead, and though their illumination was cold, there was comfort in their familiarity. It is impossible for a snowy night to be completely black. Even starlight is magnified by the white flakes. Instead, darkness and light are mixed in a strange dance, mingled in a way that speaks magic and mystery to any witnesses.

Any mundane sounds that might have intruded on the night were carried away by the wind blowing over the land. Occasionally, it would disturb a branch just enough to knock loose its burden and create a new pile of snow at the base of the tree. While these minor avalanches were nearly soundless, the wind itself spoke to me with unearthly and electrifying noises.

Tales long since forgotten, spells that had not been uttered for ages, and mysteries hidden for generations were all there to be heard by one who knew how to listen. Hints of power, echoes of sadness, and songs of the dead could be found in the wind of such a night as this.

Winter was upon me that night, and it was clear why so many religions had sacred days around this time, though it may not have been clear to them. There was power in the air, all around. Magic threatened to rise up out of the night in some general expression of brilliance. It was waiting only for an occasion.

Locating the star at the top of the world, I sat facing it. The huntsman was behind me in the night sky. Watching over me. I folded my legs over one another and faced the soles of my feet towards the heavens. Closing my eyes and slowing my breathing, I summoned the fire and waited.

The fire burned white to match the snow. Despite its heat, it flowed through and around me without burning. I simply sat in the middle of the conflagration and focused on my breathing. The quiet crackle of the flames seemed to be talking with the bluster of the wind. After a time, a voice emanated from those sounds and whispered to me.

It spoke of things I knew yet had forgotten. Of things I needed to learn. Of things I had noticed around me. It was the voice of my mentor, of me, and of my pupil. And on a night like this, our conversation was lengthy and intense.

I joined the stars above. We exchanged stories. It was difficult to follow their tales, which stretched eons, and they seemed confused at the brevity of mine. But each of us enjoyed the company of the others. And we never stopped learning.

Off in the distance, far below us, I noticed a small yellow light. I drew closer to investigate and recognized the candle I had lit. It seemed like a wasted effort now, since I could not imagine ever wanting to return. The mystery solved, I went on to speak with the ocean.

The language of water was harder for me, especially with flames flowing through me. Still, we both understood quickness, violence, and beauty. While she brushed the back of my neck with her waves, the ocean and I did our best to talk.

Well into our conversation, the water’s texture changed. It began to feel rough, almost as though sand permeated the waves. After I few moments, I felt as though my skin were being ripped away.

Skin? I have skin? A meow in my ear finished the job he had started. I was myself again. Physical. Mortal. Limited. Poe had done the work the candle in the window could not.

At first I was furious with the cat. For a moment, I even considered hurling him down the snowy lane. But he was only doing what I had told him to do a thousand times. If I had not wanted him to disturb me, I should have made sure he was inside.

Another meow told me Poe was cold. He enjoyed my company, but it was time to be heading inside now. Fully back in the mundane world, I found I agreed with him.

I scooped up Poe, and he found his place on my shoulder. Turning, I saluted the Hunter, thanking him for keep watch. I glanced around the black and white world once more, now considerably more white. I had a few more weeks, but no night would approach this one for sheer power and beauty.

Plodding up the walk and inside away from the cold, I blew out the candle. Poe jumped off my shoulder and crept away to stalk mice. I sat by the window, keeping a vigil over the evening, until the sun rose to steal it all away.