So I did a thing. I sort of accidentally wrote a short story when I supposed to be editing Burning Thorns. *cough, cough*
One of the fun things is a short story challenge. Her challenge was to write a story using the word SNOW somewhere. When I saw that, my brain got an image of a girl standing in a snowstorm, and things exploded from there. Except…the story is supposed to be 3k words or less, and mine ended at 4.6k words. Ooooops. I CAN’T WRITE SHORT THINGS, GUYS. But I thought I'd post it anyway.
This story may or may not have changed plots about 6 and a half times while I was writing it. I literally had no plot when I started it, but that was the fun part. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve just purely pants something and let my imagination run wild. It’s anything but perfect, and kinda odd. I think there’s still some plot holes and may not even make sense, but this was more just to loosen my creative muscles and let my imagination run free (which is often scary, buuut…) before burying myself under endless editing.
But plot holes and oddness and length (sowwy) aside, I hope you guys enjoy it!
~ ~ ~
WHEN SPRING BLOOMS
By Christine Smith
She clutched the frozen rose in both hands—its petals the same faded pink as her gown. The falling snow gathered silently around her boots. Her fingers, her nose, every inch of her had numbed so, so long ago. But they were only a dull ache compared to the constraining, endless numbing of her heart.
Once, numb fingers, frostbitten skin, was her only world. Once, she had not known there was anything but the bitter, cutting cold.
Not until he had entered her frozen kingdom, did she know the soothing comfort of warmth. And how she longed for it now.
The way his sun-filled smile cracked the ice binding her heart. The way his golden eyes sent waves of joy within her very core.
But oh, if only she had known then. If only she had realized.
Winter and Summer could never be together.
One would always destroy the other.
The snowflakes twirled and danced like the fairies once did in his sunlit kingdom. The wind picked up, howled around her like the roar of a dragon.
She tightened her stiff fingers around the rose—the last remnant of him. “I'm so sorry,” she whispered. But the harsh wind swept her apology away into the white wasteland of snow and ice and broken promises.
* * *
“I am cursed.”
He rested his ever-warm fingers atop her pale arm. Her skin tingled, turned rosy as the frostbites faded. “Winter is not a curse.” Those golden eyes sparked as they met hers, and she couldn't constrain the upward tug of her lips. “Winter is beautiful.” He stood and swept an arm out—at the icicles glimmering down from the frosty trees, at the white ground glittering like diamonds, at the snowflakes swirling around them and melting into his fair hair, his eyelashes.
“It is only beautiful when you are here,” she said. “It is so dark and cold without you. Won't you stay forever?”
He turned back to her, and the spark in his eyes had faded. “I cannot.”
She jumped to her feet and grabbed his hand in both of hers. Steam hissed between their palms as cold met hot. “But why?”
He dropped his gaze down to their joint hands, his eyebrows drawn. And that's when she saw it, when she knew.
She jerked her hands away and took a step back. Her heart twisted, tightened, leaving her breaths shallow. “I hurt you. You...you can't stay because of the cold. Because of me. You're...” The word would not come, was unthinkable.
Hearing it out loud was like a knife to the chest. She shook her head, tried to deny it, to find some way out. “No,” she murmured. “But it can't... You can't be! You do not hurt me.”
His smile was so soft, so kind. He reached for her, but she pulled away, didn't want to hurt him anymore, however much she longed for his warm touch. Sighing, he dropped his hand. “This is your kingdom. You are so much stronger here than I.”
“Then...” She darted her eyes across the ground, searching, searching, searching. There had to be an answer. “Then I shall go to your kingdom!”
She sucked in a breath at the sudden harsh reply, so unlike the gentle aura always surrounding him.
He blew out a long breath and then swallowed, his next words quiet, calm. “No, please.” He stepped up to her and grabbed her hand before she could pull away. His jaw clenched, but he did not release his hold. “The warmth will be too much for you in my kingdom. You will die instead, and I can't...” His voice hitched. “You must stay here.”
She blinked at the sting of tears forming behind her eyes. “This kingdom is so dark without you. Your light makes me forget about Mother's shadow always looming over us.”
“Oh, Princess.” He tightened his grip around her fingers. “I can see a light within you. You must hold onto it. I believe this kingdom will be filled with light when you ascend the throne.”
One of the tears slipped out, but it only reached her cheek before freezing over. “But I will always be Winter, and you Summer.”
With another sigh, he reached up and brushed at her frozen tear. It thawed as it trickled down his finger. “I had so hoped to conjoin our kingdoms. To bring us snow and cool breezes. To give you sunlight, flowers.”
A lump formed in her throat, strangling her words. “I'd like to see a flower one day.”
He smiled, even as tears filled his own eyes. “I originally opened the door between our kingdoms because I wanted to see the snow. But instead I found such a greater treasure.” He lowered his head toward hers, so close the warmth from his body thawed every inch of her. “Promise me you'll never enter my kingdom.”
The lump in her throat grew, constricting. Unbearable. How could she promise that? Because with that promise came the one thing she could never endure.
She endured the cold. She endured Mother's tyranny. She endured the dreary world she lived in.
But how could she bear never seeing him again?
His hand trembled against hers. She looked down to find frost crawling along his fingers. His face had gone pale. White streaks appeared in his fair hair. And his eyes—his luminescent eyes that held the sunlight themselves—were beginning to fade.
She was killing him.
She threw her arms around him. Just for one second, just to feel his warmth one last time. Then she jerked away and, with a shuddering breath, she spoke the impossible words. “I promise.”
* * *
Ice grew thicker upon the rose's beautiful pink petals. She pressed it closer against her chest, but that only froze it more.
Because she was Winter. She froze everything.
Why had she believed Mother? Why had she broken her promise?
She should never have opened the doorway.
* * *
“You love him, don't you?”
Mother's silky voice sent goosebumps down her already chilled skin. She kept her eyes on the great silver door, sitting lone and precarious at the edge of the snowy cliff—the door between kingdoms.
The gateway separating her and the Prince of Summer.
She could open it, whenever she wished. Only her Mother could not pass to the Summer Kingdom, and the Summer King could not enter the Winter Kingdom. Their elements were too strong, too opposing. They could never touch. But she was only a Princess, did not hold her Mother's full power. The door would allow her entrance.
But she had promised him.
She stroked its intricate carvings, willing the stinging frozen tears to not come. “Yes. But I can never see him again.”
“Who's to say?”
This brought her around to face Mother, who stood with her delicate eyebrows raised and the faintest upward turn of her white lips.
“Because I...I can't,” said the Princess, now unsure of herself. Mother always had that effect. “Our kingdom will kill him, and his me.”
Mother sashayed toward her, and the Princess swallowed, taking a step back. “Not if you were stronger,” Mother said.
Her thrumming heartbeat took a momentary lapse. “St—stronger?”
“Princess.” Mother reached out a hand and slid her slender fingers across the Princess's cheek.
The Princess had to hold in the shudder the frozen touch sent down her body. Mother was always so cold, and yet she never seemed to mind. In fact, she relished it.
“My sweet girl.” The cool words sent chills deeper than the touch. “You will never hold the entire power of Winter until you are queen. But, I can grant you some of my power now. Enough for you to endure the Summer Kingdom.”
The Princess's breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she couldn't move, couldn't speak. Could hardly think. Mother's words repeated in her mind over and over again. Enough to endure the Summer Kingdom. The Summer Kingdom... Where he lived.
She blinked away the haze in her mind, tried to focus back on Mother. On the woman who held the kingdom with such a tight fist. Whose presence sent waves of dread through her subjects, her daughter most of all.
The Princess swallowed, fearing to even speak the words lest her ears had played tricks on her. “You'd help me?”
Mother's solid blue eyes flicked to the left, and for one fragment of a second, the Princess saw something in them she had never seen before. The icy exterior cracked, and for that tiny, sliver of a moment, Mother looked almost...sad. “You forget, dear, I was in love once as well.”
The Princess followed Mother's line of sight. Only snow lay across the empty field, but she had heard the stories of a third kingdom. Autumn, Mother once called it, but any questions about it sent her into one of her tantrums. The Princess had learned long ago to keep all inquiries to herself.
“I do not wish for you to hold the pain I do.”
She turned her gaze back to Mother, and a flicker of warmth stirred inside her, like when the Prince was nearby. Her Mother actually wanted to help her. Maybe she did care. “I do love him, Mother. I want to see him again.”
A hint of a smile touched Mother's lips. “Then you shall.” She brought her other hand up and pressed both palms against the Princess's temple. Then, with a deep breath, she closed her eyes.
The cold, sharp pain came instantly, like the winter storms that rushed across the kingdom during one of Mother's tantrums. The Princess sucked in a sharp breath. Mother's hands were like two icicles digging into her temples. Her entire body jolted, but Mother held fast, pressing harder, harder.
The Princess only thought she had experienced cold before.
This penetrated down to her bones, froze each muscle. Every inch of her skin burned underneath the frostbites. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe. White spots danced in her vision. Her thoughts fogged.
Then Mother removed her hands.
The Princess gasped in a biting breath. Her muscles still clenched together as stiff as frozen branches, and she couldn't stop shivering, but the unbearable pain ebbed.
But oh, she was cold. Colder than she had ever known. Once she was queen, would she be even colder? How did Mother bear it?
This brought her eyes to Mother, who stepped back, that rare smile still at the edge of her lips. “How do you feel?”
An odd sound bubbled up from Mother's throat, stiff but not unpleasant—a laugh. “You'll get used to it.”
She never had before, but had no intention of telling that to Mother. Besides, soon she would be wrapped in the Prince's warm arms. The thought sent a hint of warmth around her quickening heart. “I will be safe in the Summer Kingdom now?”
A spark of something flicked in Mother's blue, blue eyes. Surely it wasn't...joy? “Summer will be no match for you now.”
* * *
She should have known then, should have seen the signs. Her emotions had blinded her.
Thrill had tingled her spine as she opened the door, entered into his sun-painted domain. How quickly that ecstasy turned to despair.
Why had she ever listened to Mother?
Why had she broken her promise?
* * *
Sunlight filled her whole vision, blinding her. She squeezed her eyes shut, but kept moving toward the light, refusing to look back. Just as the door clicked shut behind her, she dared open her eyes.
Her breath was snatched from her.
The Prince had told her of his kingdom, but words were only shadows compared to witnessing the real thing.
Instead of a land of white, she stood within a world of vibrant color. Miles upon miles of rolling hills filled with grass greener than any evergreen tree in Winter's forests. Trees with leaves so wide and flourishing they sat like hats atop the solid, dark trunks. Fairies, birds, deer, rabbits, and countless other creatures she couldn't even name skittered across the hills and between the trees. And a dizzying array of colors dotted across the land.
With a laugh, the Princess raised her face to the sunlight. Ached for its warmth. But it never came.
Frowning, she touched her skin. Still frozen. Mother really had given her much power. It seemed Summer could not touch her. But that's what she wanted, wasn't it? Now she could be in the Summer Kingdom without dying.
Still, how she longed for just a little warmth.
The sun glinted off something to the distance. Squinting, she spotted silvery towers glowing in the sunlight. The castle.
Her heartbeat hiccuped. Her prince. Forget the cold. She could endure anything as long as she was with him. And perhaps he could warm her, as he had before.
She sprinted forward.
Her feet pounded so easy into the solid earth, so different from the thick, slippery ground of home. But an odd crackling sound halted her. She glanced behind her. A sliver of dread clawed down her stomach.
At each spot her foot had touched, a pile of frost grew across the green grass. The crackling grew louder. Looking down, she found more frost climbing up around the grass under her boots.
She spun around, and her heart stuttered as he approached, but instead of the elation she had imagined would brighten his eyes at their reunion, she found fear.
A dark shadow passed over them. Above, an enormous gray cloud blocked the blazing sun. The Summer Kingdom creatures darted under the trees just as the snow began to fall.
As she looked back at her Prince, the dread in her stomach tightened. His face had gone pale, but from fear or cold, she did not know.
He swallowed, and the sadness that fell over his fair features knifed into her very core. Yet all he said was, “You came to me.”
“I...” She reached a hand out, but ice crackled across her fingertips. She dropped it, not daring to touch him, hurt him. “Mother gave me some of her power. She said Summer wouldn't hurt me. I just couldn't bear the thought of never seeing you again. But—” The snowfall heightened, heaving into a blizzard.
Heart pounding, the Princess stumbled backward. “She tricked me,” she breathed. Mother gave her too much power. Winter was taking over Summer. She was taking over Summer. How had she been so foolish to trust Mother? This was her fault for breaking her promise. “I have to go!”
She lurched around and shot back for the door to Winter. Wind picked up around her, biting and violent. The sting of frozen tears pricked her eyes.
No, no, no, no.
Footsteps pounded behind her, but she didn't stop, not until she reached the door. She had to leave before Winter consumed Summer. She snagged the handle and lurched it open. A blast of ice shot from the other side. Then Mother appeared.
A gust of wind snatched up the Princess’s gasp. “Mother! You can't...you can't be here!”
Mother's laugh roiled her stomach. “Oh, my dear, but I can. Now that you've opened the door and brought winter. The Summer Kingdom is becoming our domain.”
“It can't!” She spun around. The ground that had been so green only moments ago, now lay under a solid layer of snow. Gray clouds swirled above as wind eddied across the land, tearing the large leaves off the trees and tossing the birds and fairies to and fro. Ground creatures scurried into holes and within tree trunks.
Only one kept his ground.
The Prince stood two feet away, his golden eyes large with the hurt of betrayal. Facing him was unbearable.
The Princess reeled back around to Mother. “Why are you doing this? I thought you wanted to help me.”
Mother tilted her head. “But I am.” Her eyebrows lowered, face hardened. “I will not have you suffer the same hurts I have.”
“I don't understand.”
Mother's eyes cut over to the Prince. “Love is a poison,” she hissed between her teeth. “You will only be betrayed. As I was.” Her gaze slid back over to the Princess, but the sharpness in her eyes only intensified. “Winter was once such a large kingdom, but your father took some of my power to create his own kingdom, cutting Winter in half. Before he could take all of my power, I locked his side of the kingdom away.”
“Autumn,” the Princess murmured.
“Yes. A place near to Winter but never strong enough to thrive like our kingdom.”
The Princess's mind swirled as violent and dizzying as the wind. She had never known her father, never understood why Mother did not speak of him or Autumn. But that didn't matter, not right now. She straightened, clasping both hands into fists at her side. “What does any of this have to do with the Summer Kingdom?”
Mother's eyes locked onto hers, and her voice lowered. “Because your father came from the Summer Kingdom.”
The Princess's stomach lurched. “What?”
Mother jerked a finger at the Prince. “Summer always seeks to destroy Winter! Is that not why he came?”
“No!” The Prince stepped forward, shaking his head violently. “I just wanted us to coincide! I had hoped there was a way.”
“Lies!” Mother raised her hands, and the wind picked up as more dark clouds formed.
The voice thundered above the roaring wind.
The Princess squinted in the dark blur of the snowstorm at a glint of light. A man with hair even more golden than the Prince appeared amidst the sea of white. The snow around him melted in his luminescence, and his incandescent eyes locked straight on Mother.
“How dare you enter my kingdom!”
Mother merely laughed. “You are not strong enough to stop me now, Summer. Winter will reign.” She shot her hands out toward him. Ice and snow and wind blasted from her palms. The Summer King brought up his own hands and countered with a burst of light, but Mother was right. He was not strong enough. Her attack dispersed his light, and he collapsed. The glow of his body began to fade, his skin turning blue.
“Father!” The Prince darted for him and dropped to his knees. He cradled his father's head in his lap. Frost began crawling along his own skin.
Fear strangled the Princess's heart, but something else as well. As she stared at her Prince, a new warmth boiled within her.
She swerved to face Mother. “You must stop!”
“Oh, child. You will see. Soon our kingdom will be so large, so powerful, and you will never have to suffer any heartbreaks. I'm doing this for you.”
“No!” The warmth inside her intensified, tingled all the way down to her fingertips. “You are wrong about love! It is the very thing that keeps us warm and whole and good. It is your lack of love that has frozen your heart!” With the new sense of warmth stirring inside her, she raised her hands and let it loose. An explosion of solid ice and vehement wind erupted from her palms. It shot forward and blasted into Mother, shoving her back through the doorway. Before she could stand, the Princess let loose another eruption. Icicles burst from within her and crashed into the door. The impact sent an ear-thrumming crack through the air. The door trembled as webs of cracks scattered across its surface.
Mother lay on the other side. She looked at the shuddering doorway, and, for the first time the Princess had ever known, fear crossed her features.
The Princess's own heart jumped to her throat.
She darted forward. The door continued to shudder and split open. The Princess made it inches away, saw the wintry land of home and Mother's horror-filled eyes beyond it, and then everything vanished. The door collapsed, fell into a thousand pieces at her feet and dissolved into snowflakes.
The doorway between kingdoms was gone.
And yet the wind still howled around them, the snow still fell.
She swerved around. Her legs nearly collapsed beneath her at the sight. The Prince still knelt on the ground, now holding the frozen body of his dead father.
Her hands flew to her mouth, and icy tears tried to squeeze past her eyes. “Oh, please no.”
Mother had killed the King of Summer, and had given her too much power. And now she couldn't leave. Which meant she couldn't stop Winter.
She was Winter.
Her gaze locked onto the Prince's. The light in his eyes had faded, and his own skin and hair had whitened.
His father was dead, and he was too weak.
She shook her head, trying to shove the words past the strangling lump in her throat. “I didn't mean for any of this to happen.”
The Prince just smiled sadly, nodding. “I know. I do not blame you.”
She pulled in a shuddering breath, longing to say so many apologies, but they all clogged in her throat. Why did he not blame her? It was her fault. She broke their promise. She destroyed everything. But he only held that smile.
He pressed a hand against the ground and closed his eyes. His brow scrunched, as if something pained him, then a flicker of light appeared under his palm. Beneath has hand, something rose up from the snow. He plucked it up, and slowly pushed himself to his feet. “For my Princess.”
With trembling fingers, she took the delicate flower from him, its petals the same blushing pink of her dress. “Wh—what's it called?”
His lips curled into a smile, and she knew she'd hold that image of him forever. “A rose.”
Frost crawled onto the delicate petals, reminding her of who she was, what she was doing. She gasped out a sob. “I can't lose you!”
Cracks of ice appeared across his cheeks, but he only stepped closer and pressed a kiss against her forehead. Then he looked down at her and smiled. “I love you.”
She opened her trembling lips, but the wind picked up, and behind him the Summer King's body turned white and began to disperse into thousands, millions of snowflakes. When she looked back to the Prince, his own body rapidly turned white.
“No! Please, no!” She backed away from him, hoping to stop herself from killing him, hoping to make Winter cease. But he closed the gap between them again and grabbed her hand in both of his—now frozen, all the warmth seeped out of him.
“I am glad I got to know you, Princess.”
She shook her head, her frozen tears forcing their way out. “Please don't go.”
He merely smiled, and then his hold on her loosened as his fingers dissolved into snow. It spread up his arms, all the way across his body, until his smile disappeared and the wind carried him away.
* * *
Now she stood within the winter wasteland alone, nothing left of him but a single pink rose. But it, too, began to die.
She took in a deep breath, the frozen air stinging her lungs.
Why did the cold hurt? She was Winter, like Mother. But she longed for warmth. For color and sunlight and flowers.
For new life.
She knelt and brushed a patch of snow away and then dug, not caring as the frozen ground sliced into her fingers. She continued to dig until she had made a small hole. Then, she brought the rose up to her lips and whispered the words she never got the chance to tell him.
“I love you, too.”
She placed the stem into the hole and pushed dirt back into it until it stood on its own.
The numbing cold around her heart tightened as she stood. She turned to leave, but a glimpse of light halted her steps.
The rose glowed.
She pulled in a breath and held it, not daring to hope.
Light emanated from the rose—brighter, brighter. Frost fell away from its petals, and it began to grow. The light only became brighter as the petals expanded, as the stem reached up. And she felt it. Warmth.
Heat flooded from the flower that now stood as tall as her, and only grew higher. The petals reached, reached, reached. Then they burst.
She gasped, releasing her held breath.
Before her, in place of the rose, stood a solid silver door. It swung open as if on its own, and light poured out, encompassing her in its warmth. She blinked in the sudden brightness. When her eyes adjusted, she saw him.
The frozen tears stuck behind her eyes gushed out, warm and wet.
The Prince stood in the doorway, his smile brighter than ever.
She threw her arms around him, crying and laughing and so, so hoping this wasn't a dream. “You're here! You're really here!” She pulled away, just enough to look up at his golden eyes, to see that it really was him, he truly wasn't a dream. “How? I don't understand.”
He pulled her to his side and turned her around to face the land within the new doorway. “Because of this.”
A world of light greens and sunlight and countless woodland creatures met her eyes. And flowers. Budding, colorful flowers as far as the eye could see. A gentle breeze breathed across her face—cool, but not cold, just comfortable enough to combat the warm sunlight.
The new word slipped from her tongue on its own accord, but it felt right. As if it had been there all along.
“Spring,” the Prince repeated. He encompassed both his warm hands in hers and faced her. “This is our kingdom.”
She took a moment to let his words sink in, take root. She looked back out into the land of fresh grass, newly growing trees, budding flowers.
This was hers. This was theirs.
“We are Spring,” she breathed.
He tightened his hold on her hands. “Yes.”
“And with Spring, comes Summer.”
She started at the new voice and turned back to the doorway. Her heart flipped.
With sunlight pouring from his very being, the King of Summer stood on the other side. The dark clouds had parted, and new light beamed from the sky, melting away the snow. The Summer creatures tentatively appeared out from their hiding places, blinking in the light.
“Spring transitions into Summer,” the Summer King said, a twinkle in his bright, bright eyes. “Our kingdoms are connected now. As long as the doorway to Spring is opened, there will always be Summer.”
She looked from the King, to her new kingdom, and back to the man she held hands with. And understanding began to dawn.
The cold had always hurt her because she was never meant to be Winter, and the Prince had searched the Winter Kingdom because he knew he did not belong in Summer.
She smiled up at him, the love in her heart warming her from the inside out, and he smiled back.
It all made sense now.
When Winter and Summer meet, Spring blooms.
~ ~ ~
Despite appearances, winter is actually my favorite season, and summer my least favorite… My stories just do what they want, guys! I have no control over them. >.>
Thanks so much for reading! (Seriously, if you made it to the end, I’m so honored!) Hope you enjoyed it!