by Lillian Fu
Art by Julia Wang
Issue: Phosphene (Summer 2019)
He drags his icicle legs through the snow sea, the spirits within the blizzard howling in his ears, cackling at him. He’s squinting so hard his eyes are basically closed, but that doesn’t make a difference. The storm has already claimed all his senses a long while ago; he’s not even sure if he’s moving forwards anymore. Even his thoughts are robbed of him. Even that fire that is born only by the coldest of ice has left his body, and he’s just a humanoid figure of frostbite getting eaten alive by the snow.
It has always been cold here. He was born in the snow, raised by the snow, and now the vengeful mistress comes to take back what she is owed. He can’t even be mad about it. The blizzard doesn’t leave him enough heart for him to recognize any emotion at all. And when he falls, it takes him a while to realize that the cold tearing into him is not the storm, but the tundra.
It has always been cold here. But as black folds over him, he remembers the warmth of a fireplace, and a small cabin with glowing walls. He remembers a pair of hands like the worn pages of an old, dog-eared book picking him up and settling him into a lap. He remembers how he used to beg his grandma for a story every night, and how she used to smile, and how her voice sounded like coming in from the snow and drinking fresh stew. He remembered the story she told him, the same one every time.
“A long, long time ago, there was a kingdom,” she would say. “And this kingdom was ruled by a cruel queen, with a heart so cold your toes would freeze off just from being near her. And so, like their ruler, the kingdom was cold too.”
“Like us!” he would jump in.
“Yes, like us,” she’d say, smiling. “But one day in this cold, cold kingdom, a boy was born. And this was a very, very special boy,” she’d bop his nose at this, and he’d giggle. “This boy was made of warmth. Everywhere he walked, flowers bloomed through the frozen earth, and the snow melted into fresh water, and the dying birds would start singing again. Everyone loved this boy of warmth.”
He’d nod along, mouthing the words as they came out of her lips.
“One day, he was summoned to the castle. This castle was made entirely of ice, even the guards being ice-dolls given life by the queen’s sorcery. But with his first step inside, that ice started slowly melting. They say the cold heart of the queen began melting from that moment, too, and surely she must’ve loved him like everyone else, because, she took off her crown of thorns and placed it on his head, and those thorns became blossoms. At once, a warm breeze swept through the entire kingdom, and took all the cold away!” she’d say, while picking him up and swinging him through the air before setting him back down, laughing all the while.
Laying there, the blizzard tearing through his body, his numb lips twitched up once before the last stutter of breath left him.
“Hey, you alright?”
He blinks open to a blue sky, an outstretched hand, and the smiling face of a boy with a flower crown on his head.