Let It Snow…

The snow we saw in Yorkshire a few weeks ago reminded me of why winter features so heavily in fantasy. From Narnia to Westeros to the myth-shrouded Britain of The Dark is Rising, the cold and ice are signs of dark times. The snow transforms the world visually, creating a bright yet unfamiliar version of what we expect. It makes life more difficult. It disrupts our comfortable routines.

Of course, it was even more transformative in the past. In previous centuries, before central heating and road gritters, snow could cut you off for weeks in the freezing cold. Untimely snow killed crops in communities with no fallback plan. If the cold itself didn’t kill you then the consequences could. Of course there would be stories of monsters and saviours wrapped in ice. Winter was a killing time, and people needed ways to get through it.

For most modern Britons, snow is an annoyance, not a threat. It can even be fun. But the struggles of the elderly and the deaths of homeless people remind us that it wasn’t always this way.

Winter is here. It’s a magical, transformative time. But that isn’t always a good thing.

The Buried Past – a flash science fiction story

The snow was everywhere. It covered the valley like a shroud, hiding the wreckage of a hundred spaceships, their outlines as blurred as my memories of battle. If not for GPS, I wouldn’t have known that I stood by the resting place of the Falling Dream. But somewhere under the snow was the ship on which I had almost died.

“Is this her?” Calder asked.

I looked at the towering heap of snow that hid a conning tower, the white curve that concealed a bow, the indentations that might be shuttle bays.

“I think so,” I said, my breath freezing in front of my face. “But I need to be sure.”

With thickly gloved fingers, I pulled out a tablet and fumbled with the screen. My mechanical hand was more dexterous, but I still favoured the real one. The therapist said I always would.

An image of the Falling Dream appeared, showing her at the height of her glory. I compared the outline with the one in front of me. It could have been a match for my former home, or for any of a dozen other ships abandoned here.

I thrust the tablet back into my bag and stomped uphill, along the sloped deck. In places, I sank up to my waist in the snow, but I kept going. I needed some souvenir to remind me of what I had survived, some compensation for my lost hand. I had to be sure it came from my ship, and for that I needed a better view.

Calder cursed, but she followed. That was why I’d trusted her to come with me. She always had my back, even when the darkness descended and I couldn’t care about anyone but myself.

The higher I got, the harder the wind blew. There was nothing left to shelter me. Snow plastered my goggles, forcing me to stop every few steps and wipe them clear. It stuck to the front of my body, forming a thick crust that fell away in chunks, only to be replaced on the next gust.

I was almost at the top when a fresh blast of wind crossed the edge of the wreck. It flung me from my feet. I hurtled back, crashing awkwardly into the snow. The breath was knocked out of my body and black spots danced across my vision as I went tumbling downhill, spreading my arms and legs in a desperate attempt to stop my descent. At last I skidded to a halt, bruised and winded, half-buried in a white drift.

Calder slid down the slope to me, using her backpack as a sledge. Even with her face wrapped in goggles and scarf, I could sense her concern, that stiffness of body that always gave her away.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“I’ll live.”

I got to my feet and looked upslope. Now I knew what I was looking for, I could see fierce winds buffeting every raised point in the valley. There was no way I could secure myself up there long enough to view the shape of the wreck, if that was even possible.

I punched the snow. It was too soft, too yielding to provide any satisfaction.

Calder probably didn’t realise she’d taken a step back, but the movement made me stop and take a deep breath.

There had to be a way to do this.

There had to be.

I looked down. I was in the indentation of one of the shuttle bays. There would be markings around its mouth. I could use them to confirm that this was the Falling Dream.

Starting where I had fallen, I dug deeper into the snow. My mechanical hand was faster and stronger, but I used the one of flesh and blood too, frantically scooping up heaps of snow and flinging it aside. Soon I was a foot down, then two, three, digging myself deeper into the featureless, freezing landscape.

“Hela,” Calder said, “what are you doing?”

“Digging,” I snapped. “Looking for markings.”

“Be careful,” Calder said. “You don’t want to get buried down there.”

I ignored her. She didn’t understand. She hadn’t been there. Hadn’t seen her own hand vanish into a fine red mist. Hadn’t heard the screams of the dying. She hadn’t lost her ship and everything it represented.

Now the hole was taller than I was. Even through gloves, my flesh was getting numb, while my mechanical fingers slowed and stiffened in the cold. Snow tumbled onto my head, but I kept going. Deeper. Further. Faster. Down here was my ship. Down here I could find-

The collapse came suddenly. Snow fell in from all sides, knocking me to the ground, burying me beneath its weight. The world went dark, just like it had in the battle, and I screamed for all I was worth.

I tried to stand, but I was too deeply buried. Just drawing my arm in to me was a struggle. My breath came in shallow gasps. My lips went from numb to tingling and then I didn’t feel them any more.

Something brushed my shoulder. That single movement was the finest thing I had ever felt.

I forced my arm around and took Calder’s hand where she had plunged it through the snow. She heaved and I pushed. The snow became lighter as she dragged me up, and I scrambled frantically to get clear, to escape my icy tomb.

At last, I lay panting in the snow beside her.

I looked at my mechanical hand. The glove had come off and the joints had frozen up. At least that hadn’t been my real fingers.

“What now?” Calder asked wearily.

“Now we go home,” I said, and it was as if I had left some great weight behind me in the hole.

“But your ship…”

“Let the snow bury the past. What I have now is better anyway.”

* * *


My new e-book, Old Odd Ends, is out today! It’s a collection of over fifty flash stories I wrote last year, featuring a magic-wielding gambler, a steampunk noir detective, and much more. It’s only $2.99, so if you’d like to read more of my stories and help me keep providing them every week, then you can go buy a copy now.

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Holes Through the World – a #FlashFriday story

Shivering despite layers of jumpers and a thermal jacket, Tod trudged on through the snow drift. Each step was a struggle, as if he was having to push holes through the world just so he could keep moving. But it would be worth it. The snow was deep enough, the conditions bleak enough to draw out his prey.

This was the day he would finally photograph sasquatch, and prove Angleby’s magic monkey shaman theory was crap.

Despite the cold he became giddy with excitement as he saw another set of ape-like paw prints. Just like before, three long strides and then nothing. How did it do that, hiding most of its trail so perfectly? Why then did it leave these tracks at all?

Just one more mystery whose unravelling would make him famous. Let Angleby laugh at him then.

Excitement turned to alarm as the snow gave way beneath him and he went tumbling into a ditch and landed with a crack.

Rolling over, he realised with alarm that he’d broken his camera. The lens was smashed and the casing split open, letting in the same icy water that now seeping into his cloths. Cursing and sneezing, he staggered to his feet and pulled out his phone.

“No signal,” the screen announced. Who cared about signal? What mattered was…

Yes, the phone camera was working. He might still manage this.

Stuffing the phone back in his pocket, Tod tried to climb out of the ditch. But the sides were slippery and steep. Every time he tried to grip them he just brought more snow down upon himself.

The snow covering him was melting, little by little soaking through his clothes. He shivered. His arms and legs were going numb. The sky was turning an ominous grey.

This was bad. His teeth chattered, toes tingled with pain. He looked up, hoping to see something he could grab hold of.

Then he saw it. A magnificent beast, seven feet high and with long fur hanging around its wise, gentle face.

Sasquatch was looking down at him.

Tod’s heart raced. He didn’t want to look away, didn’t want to miss a moment of this. With cold-deadened fingers he fumbled the phone from his pocket. But as he held it up a wave of dizziness overcame him.

He fell back in the ditch.

The edges of his vision grew dark and the cold crept further in, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He was just too sleepy.

The snow crunched beside him, and he was lifted by a coarsely furred arm. The warmth and the earthy smell of the sasquatch’s body revived him just enough to look up as it reached out with its other arm. Tod knew he must be hallucinating, because the creature seemed to fold the snow-scattered landscape around itself, revealing something else beyond. Then it took three long strides and suddenly they were surrounded by warmth and sunlight.

The sasquatch lowered Tod onto a beach of soft sand, peeled open his wet jacket and let the warmth in. Slowly, Tod felt warmth and life return to his body.

With it came an awareness of how terribly close to death he had come.

“Thank you.” He looked up at the sasquatch, which grunted and nodded its head.

Something cold and hard still sat in Tod’s hand. He lifted the phone and pointed the camera at the sasquatch. It covered its head with its arms, wailing in distress, but made no move to leave him.

Tod lowered the phone. Who cared about reputation compared with what this magnificent creature had done for him? It wasn’t like he could prove Angleby’s magic ape theory wrong. Not honestly, after what he’d seen.

He rose and put an arm around the sasquatch.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to upset you. Could we maybe have a selfie, here on the beach, just for me?”

The sasquatch nodded, smiled and pointed a finger at itself.

“You want a copy too?” Tod shrugged. “OK then.”

It wasn’t like he could share the picture with anyone else. Sasquatch on a beach – who’d ever believe that?

Wait, that's it? But I wanted to build a snowman!
Wait, that’s it? But I wanted to build a snowman!


Today’s story was inspired by a random tangent during an editorial conversation, in which we managed to get from the future of prison transport to “a holographic sasquatch that folds space with his squatch fingers,” and hearing about the several feet of snow that hit parts of the US this week. And to think I was excited at the thin layer of cold white stuff you can see making my garden pretty in the picture.

Got an idea for a Flash Friday story? Tell me and I’ll add it to my list. Or you could go read more of these stories, though not all of them feature sasquatch.

And if you enjoyed this story then please share it – words are meant to read, they get antsy if we don’t share them around.