I’d always liked the forest in winter. It’s quiet, because the snow weighs down the branches, and the snow muffles your footsteps. The sunlight, glinting off the snow, creates patches; a feeling of being underwater. The day I met the snow queen was one of those days. All was quiet in the forest, and I felt like I was swimming. Once in awhile, the wind would blow through the trees, and the branches above me would deposit a lump of snow on my head. It was after a particularly large snow deposit that I saw her. Or rather heard her...
Through my mask of snow, I can hear laughing. It sounds like a young girl’s laughing, almost. I shook my head, and the snow fell off, like droplets of water coming from a wet dog, that has decided it no longer wants to be wet. I blink my eyes a couple of times, to get the remaining water droplets out, then stop. A girl, that looks to be about my age is sitting in the clearing. I blink a couple more times, and each time I do, the girl looks different. First she’s a normal girl, about my age, in a hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers, then, she’s wearing a blue, sleeveless dress, and her golden hair is down, instead of pulled back in a messy ponytail. The cycle repeats, and finally, I settle on modern, creepy-appearing girl, instead of medieval, creepy-appearing girl. It’s still strange, but it’s less strange. Then, getting over my initial shock, I resort to the fight or flight reaction. Of course, because I’m stubborn, and probably stupid, I choose fight. I pick up a snowball, and throw it at her laughing face. She stops laughing and looks at me, with a, you’re going to get it now kind of look. I just stand there, grinning stupidly. Then she glances upwards and starts laughing again. I don’t look up, because I know what’s coming. Again, the branches deposit a load of snow on my head. Again, I do my wet dog impersonation, and the snow comes off.
“What do you think is so funny?” I call at her, more perplexed than mad.
“The fact that you never learn,” she answers. More snow falls onto my head.
“Aw, c’mon. Are you telling me you’ve never gotten a face full of snow from the trees?” I ask.
“Never. Here, I’ll show you what to do. You walk on this thing called a path. And you have to listen for the wind,” she says, serious now, as if she was teaching me some great wisdom.
“All the paths lead nowhere good,” I say, truthfully. “I like exploring, and getting somewhere.”
“Smart boy,” she says. Normally, I’d take that like a compliment, but when she says it, it sounds more like an insult. “But you still haven’t learned, I see.” I brace myself for snow, which topples onto me, almost immediately. I shake it off, quickly, and bend down to pick up another snowball, but when I stand up, she’s gone. There’s footprints, but for some reason, I don’t follow them. Instead, I find the nearest path, and start walking.
That was my first encounter with the Snow Queen, although, I didn’t know it then. I met with her many more times, and gradually, we became friends...
It was getting late. The sun was going down, and the light was fading fast. I told the girl that I had to go home, and started walking away. Then, I turned back. “Hey! What’s your name? We’ve played together so many times, but I don’t know!”
Her voice answers, receding with the wind, “Winter, what else?”
I went to the forest many times after that, but nothing was so memorable as her voice, running with the wind, calling out her name, “Winter, what else?”
“Hey, Winter. I’m starting Middle School this year, you know,” I say. We’re sitting on the edge of the clearing, where we first met, watching the sunset, and the colors that set with it. It was summer, but at that point, I didn’t know who she really was, so I found nothing odd about this.
“So?” she asks me, turning her head towards me, eyes narrowing.
“Uh, a lot of my friends want me to sign up for sports, like basketball. I won’t have much time outside of school, really, if I do sports. And I probably will, because they’re my friends, and uh, I, uh, well.”
“I see.” Winter looks at me, oddly, as if I’m someone completely new, that she doesn’t know at all. I don’t want her to look at me like that.
“I’ll still try to come, but..,” the words leave with my breath, and even though I keep breathing, I don’t keep talking.
“But you’ve got more important things to do, don’t you. More important, huh,” she stands, and looks down at me. “I need to go. Bye,” she turns and walks out of the clearing without another word. I want her to turn around and say bye like she normally does, like it’s the most exciting thing she could ever say. I want her to pronounce my name at the end of that “Good-bye” like she normally does, pronouncing the J like a Zh, so it sounds like this: “Bye, Zhack.” But she doesn’t. She just leaves the clearing without another word.
I went to the clearing many times after that, sometimes when I was supposed to be doing homework, or playing basketball. Stuff like that had taken on less meaning, now that Winter was gone. That’s how I thought of her. Gone. As if she didn’t exist anymore. And when I went to the forest, it was like she was gone...
“Winter! Winter, it’s me, Jack! I know you’re mad! I’m sorry!” The forest echoes back my words, as if it were mocking me.
“Sorry! Sorry. Sorry?” The echo ends on a questioning tone, as if the forest was asking me, “But are you really sorry?”
“Yes! I am!” I yell back. I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt Winter. I just wanted to let her know I’d be coming less often.
I look down, and kick a pile of leaves on the ground. I just stand there for a while, looking down at the leaves, and feeling sorry for myself, until something cold hits the back of my neck. Great. Rain. It’s November after all. Snow in November isn’t unheard of, where I live, but it’s rare.
I look up, and snowflakes are drifting down. I sigh. I used to ask for the season of Winter in November. Now, I ask for the person, and get the season. I turn around to go home, when something bigger than a snowflake, a snowball maybe, hits my neck. I whip around, daring to hope. No one stands in the clearing, but for just a second, just a second, I think I hear a high-pitched laugh, that sounds just like the tinkling of bells. Winter.
It wasn’t until the summer before college that I actually saw Winter again. All through high school, I’d kept going back to the forest, hoping she’d be there, just so I could say how sorry I was. Finally, on the last day I had before I had to leave, she came.
“Winter! Come out, please! I’m going to college. I just want to say good-bye!” I call. I’m shuffling through the forest, kicking up leaves, as if Winter was hiding under them.
“You can say good-bye from there, Zhack,” her voice flows down from the trees. It’s not angry, and it’s more mature than I remember it. I look up, and I can’t believe my eyes. Winter has grown. She’s a beautiful woman, now, instead of a pretty girl. I can’t find the right words to express my joy at seeing her again, so I just sort of stand there stuttering.
“I-I, errr, Hi? Ummmm, you grew?” I ask, lamely.
“I did. So did you. It’s called life.” She jumps down from the tree and looks at me. She seems so unreal, but there’s a look in her eyes that tells me that she is real, and I’d better believe it before she knocks me dead to the floor.
“I missed you, why’d you stay away?” I ask. It’s the question that burns in my mind the most, so I just blurt it out.
“I thought you had more important things to do, like basketball,” she snaps back, and I know the question was a stupid one. Winter is furious now, I can see it in her eyes.
“I came back, Winter. What I said so long ago, when I was ten, wasn’t tactful. I just wanted you to know I might not be there as much, Winter,” I’m spilling out every emotion in myself right now, talking fast, like there’s no tomorrow.
“I see. Well. Come with me, there’s something I’d like to show you,” she says, and then begins walking towards the clearing, quickly. I follow behind her, and we don’t talk until we reach the clearing. Then she stops. Something changes in her, all the iciness melts away, replaced with softer snow. She thrusts out her hand, and all goes cold. I can feel that it’s cold, but I am not cold. It’s a paradox, honestly. But, then, that word would describe Winter perfectly. Snowflakes begin to fall, in August. I turn to her, amazed.
“Winter, you’re, you’re, you’re...” I’m speaking, but words aren’t coming out.
“A freak. I know,” she says, as she sinks down to the ground, sadly, to watch the snow build up.
“No. Winter, you aren’t a freak. You’re... you’re a Snow Queen,” I say. It comes out lamely, sort of sounding like rain, after it’s been snowing for a while.
Winter laughs, and I treasure that laugh so much. “Ha. Nothing that grand, really. But I like it. And you. Will you be my snow king?” she asks this lightly, looking up at me, as if she was teasing me. I grin at her, and smile.
“Of course, my Queen,” I say, as I sink down to the ground and put my arm around her. She’s cold as ice, but it’s a refreshing sort of cold, as if it was 100°, and you have an iced soda.
We sit there for a while, and then she asks me what I am going to be studying at college.
“Well. I’d like to learn to code, maybe. Something to do with computers. I’m going to MIT,” I say, then I tense, waiting for a harsh reply.
“Ah. Will you work in a city, then?” She asks me this normally, as if we were just chatting at a restaurant, instead of watching snow, in July.
“Maybe. Ever seen a city, my Queen?” I try to keep it light, but I can see where this conversation is going. Winter won’t be able to leave, most likely. “I could take you there, if you want... if you...” I trail off, hoping I haven’t hit a sore spot.
“Really? You’d take me there, huh?” she asks. I hear no tension in her voice, just a dreamy quality, as if she was far off in her mind. “I’ve always wanted to see a city...”
I grip her hand. “Good,” I say. A snowflake falls in front of my face. I stick my tongue out and catch it. “Bet I can catch more than you can, Winter.”
She opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue. Two snowflakes fall onto it.
“You’re on,” is all she says. And so we just sit there, for a while, just catching snowflakes, like drops of fate, and letting them stick in our mouths.