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Here is part two of my short story, “The Winter Wish.” Those who have read my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, will recognize this as an indirect sequel to my lyrical fantasy, “Dandelion.” Think of it as my holiday gift to you. Enjoy!


THE WINTER WISH, Part 2
by Lucy D. Ford

“How I wish I could see the winter’s snow,” sighed the grimchild.

He gazed up, between the dismal towers. Stinging ashpall made eyes dull and hopeless. Only when he looked down… What was that?

On the ledge beneath the window, just at the corner, a stubborn plant clung to a miserly crack. Soot grimed its saw-tooth leaves, yet still it held a single stem aloft. A soft ball balanced atop this stem, pale as true dawn under a layer of smudge. The grimchild held back a cry of joy, for he feared what Nanny would do to such a delicate thing.

Drawn by instinct, he pushed the window open and cautiously leaned out. Fingertips stretched toward the ledge. Almost he could touch it. Almost… Then his feet lifted from the floor and his weight tipped forward. Common sense made him jerk back, though not without a low cry of sorrow.

With the merest brush of his breath, the dandelion loosed its seed. Each tiny pilgrim hung by its own gossamer sail. The harsh wind snatched them and they spun high and low. Each was a dream escaping the gloomy prison of the Withertines.

The grimchild watched until he saw no more. His feet were back under him, sensible and safe, but the cold, hard floor held a dragging weight. He wondered if he would ever escape the Withertines.

As for the dandelion seeds, the dirty breeze sailed them over the Shearwire Fence and out across the Chokedust Plain. Spirits flagged above the Crackstone Wash, and they might have fallen there, except a little Windkin flitted by. It played a while, swirling and dancing and spreading them wide.

At last a gossamer seed was left, just one. Within that one trembled the whisper of a wish. The windkin heard that cry. It spun about and sent the tiny messenger floating toward pine-clad mountains. The silken puff drifted higher and ever higher. It whisked above the pines and up the cliffs until it came to rest on the very tip of the Cloudtorn Peak.

There it found another crack, no larger than its cranny on the window ledge. The seed nestled into the dark with its precious dream.

Soon tiny roots began to spread. They reached into the crevice, digging steadily, and those roots made the crack grow. Bits of rock flaked loose, clearing patches of raw, bright stone. An arc formed, and with a trembling snap a great eye flicked open. More cracks spread, faster and faster. A second eye took shape. A pair of sharp ears twitched free of the rock. Nostrils flared. A longer slit took on the shape of a jagged mouth.

Change was racing now, sketching shapes that had always been hidden in the stony spire. The Cloudtorn Peak shook and crumbled. A great horny head slowly lifted toward the sky. Mighty shoulders heaved free, unfurling crystal wings. Then a scaly back, hips, long tail edged with icicle daggers.

The snow dragon gazed out, seeking the root of its wish. A far, dull glow caught its eye. Below the lofty peak, beyond the Chokedust plain, the Withertines glowered its light through the noisome ashpall. The dragon snorted jets of frost. The great maw opened and a roar turned the air to icy fog. Beneath its wings, bits of freezing fluff drifted down upon the stately pines.

Stretching, the snow dragon shook loose the last shard of stone that imprisoned its talons. Vast wings beat and chill air whistled through frozen feathers as it soared aloft. Downy puffs fell thick behind. High over the barren gravel of the Chokedust Plain it glided, across the Shearwire Fence, until it circled the metal spires and smoke stacks of the Withertines.

All night the snow dragon circled. Snow mingled with the ashpall, gathering soot as it fell between concrete towers. Snow settled on the filthy rooftops and the bitter asphalt. It washed at least the outermost layer of grime from smeary windows.

Inside their factories, grimkin shivered and dared not look up. They feared this was the end of all Industry, and they were determined to wring every last bit of wealth from it.

The grimchild knew nothing of this, for Nanny had drawn the drapes again and their rooms were always chilly. Only, in the morning, her shriek tore the grimchild from sleep.

Racing to the window, he gasped at the vista of gentle white flakes settling endlessly upon the town. Screeches echoed up from below as motorcars skidded. There was crashing and cursing, too.

“What is this?” cried Nanny.

The grimchild knew the answer, but he did not say it for fear she would shut the drapes again. Shivering with delight, he watched as winter visited the Withertines for the first time beyond memory. Just once he caught a glimpse of the gleaming white dragon who soared above the ashpall.

“Of all the things,” Nanny complained, trembling. “And shut that window! You’re letting the heat out.”

Obediently, the grimchild slid the glass down. He looked around their barren chamber, the plain slat furniture and the hard bed where he slept.

“Of all the things,” he murmured.

Nanny said the Withertines was all the world and there was nowhere else to live. Now he knew she was wrong. There was a world outside the Withertines, where lovely things could still be found. One day, he wanted to see them all.

So while Nanny tutted and fussed at the falling show, the little grimchild picked up his book and began to make a plan.

The End…?


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As a reminder, I made a blog visit to Entertaining Stories last Thursday. Lisa Burton Radio interviewed my character, Dan Forster, from The Gellboar. It’s a great interview and getting lots of comment. Go ahead a check it out if you missed it the first time.

And now, I have a short story to share. Those who have read my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, will recognize this as an indirect sequel to my lyrical fantasy, “Dandelion.” Think of it as my holiday gift to you. Enjoy!


THE WINTER WISH
by Lucy D. Ford

The Withertines, home to the grimkin folk, knew neither night nor day. Ashpall clotted the gaps between its metal towers, so thick that it blocked true daylight, while arclights glared from its factories and shops to banish real darkness. Like a nest of ants, the grimkin passed their lives in a churning seethe of Industry. Only commerce mattered: the squeezing and stocking of wealth. None felt joy in his labors, nor had they for many an age.

Yet even in such a place, there sometimes were children. A grimchild might sometimes be loved, in a passing manner. Most were merely looked after until they were old enough to heed the inescapable call of Industry. And most of them grew up just so. Not content, precisely, for the grimkin could never know happiness, but secure in their driven purpose.

Yet there once was a grimchild born cursed with curiosity and a joyous heart. He dwelt in the frugal company of a stranger who regarded him as naught but her job. She shushed him sternly when he laughed, and never smiled herself. Not even when a bowl tipped and the peas rolled over to drop on the floor, one by one, and it was really quite funny.

“Don’t waste food!” Nanny scolded. “Do you know what that cost?”

And when he tripped and landed on his knee and it hurt so badly, she paid no need to his crying.

“Stop running around, and that won’t happen,” Nanny lectured. “You should be sitting down, learning to read and reckon your sums. Those are what every grimkin needs.”

Alas for the grimchild, he was forever thinking of new questions. Gazing out the narrow window, where the ashpall drifted among towers of glass and steel, he asked, “What is in the clouds?”

“Breathe deeply,” said Nanny. “The smoke will make you strong.”

The Grimchild opened the window, breathed deeply, and coughed. He did not feel any stronger.

On another day, he turned his desk lamp on and off, off and on. “What is electricity made of?” he asked.

“Who cares, as long as the lights come on,” Nanny snapped.

Still another day found him at the window again. All was hustle and hurry beneath the endless grimy haze. A flight of ragged pigeons circled above the smoke stacks.

“Are the birds made here, in the Withertines,” he wondered, “or do they come from somewhere else?”

“Fool child, there is nowhere else!” cried the exasperated Nanny. She gave the grimchild a little swat before banging him down in a chair.

“No more windows,” she declared, hauling on the drapery cord. “Let me hear your multiplication tables, or you’ll have no supper, neither.”

Dreary weeks went by. Then the grimchild happened upon a book he hadn’t seen before. The book was about science, so perhaps Nanny wouldn’t mind him taking a look. He opened the cover, and blinked, and rubbed his eyes.

There was a wonderful picture, and everything in it was white. Spiky trees crowded a hillside. Behind them, magnificent cliffs stretched up and up to an impossible stony spire. All bore a heavy coat of some unfamiliar substance. It was purely white, yet sparkling.

The grimchild had never seen such a color. The arclights of the Withertines were tinted sallow gold. The paper he wrote his numbers on was nearly gray. What could this be?

Squinting, he picked out tiny letters: The Cloudtorn Peak in winter’s snow.

“Winter.” The grimchild dared to speak, tasting the strangeness of the words. “Snow.”

“What?” called Nanny from the next room. The grimchild quickly shut the book.

“Ten times nine is ninety,” he recited. “Ten times eight is eighty.”

“Quite right.” Nanny nodded, pleased that the boy was taking his studies more seriously.

“Ten times seven is seventy,” droned the grimchild, all the way down to “Ten times zero is zero.”

All the time, his eyes were full of that dazzling vision, The Cloudtorn Peak in winter’s snow. He soon slipped away to the window.

Beyond the smeary glass, the ashpall reigned. Dark, roiling vapors obscured the neon glare. Concrete chasms divided rank on rank of slate roofs. Not one single thing was white.

“How I wish I could see the winter’s snow,” sighed the grimchild.

Check back on Wednesday to read the conclusion!


Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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Years ago, when George R. R. Martin was a respected writer but not yet world famous, he penned a short story called “The Ice Dragon” for an anthology edited by Orson Scott Card. Dragons of Light was published in 1980 by Ace Science Fiction. Later, as Martin’s reputation grew, the short story was published as a YA fantasy. It’s now been re-released in a new edition from Tor Teen, with lavish illustration by Luis Royo.

The tale involves a young girl named Adara who is a “winter child” with immunity to cold and sensitivity to heat. She shares a close bond with the title creature, an ice dragon, who she loves as much as her neighbors fear it. There are family complications with her uncle, who is a dragon rider fighting in a war. Adara is still a young girl when the battle lines reach her home.

The story is a bit slight — it was a short story first, after all — but the writing is masterful and the illustrations are lovely. The whole certainly has the grand ring of classic fantasy. Allegedly this story takes place in Westeros, the setting of Martin’s magnum opus, A Song of Ice and Fire, although there’s little to directly connect it. The tone is gentler here, as well. Personally, I enjoyed that, though fans of said opus may be a bit disappointed.

In my judgment, because of the lighter touch, this work actually is more suited to middle graders than teens. But if parents were wanting to introduce kids to Martin’s body of work, this is the perfect entry point.

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We all have an image of the classic dragon: big and red, armored, fire breathing, malevolent. But way back at the dawn of role-playing games, the creators of D&D must have felt that dragons posed a difficult challenge. How could gamemasters keep players interested in fighting yet another dragon?

Their solution was to create a veritable spectrum of dragons. Evil dragons were not just red, but also blue, green, black and white. In homage to the more benevolent Asian style of dragon, metallic dragons could be gold, bronze, brass, silver or copper. These were potentially wise guides for players. As years passed, there were jewel dragons and fairy dragons and creatures part dragon and part something else. Because the challenge remained the same — to keep these creatures interesting.

Of all the D&D dragons, the white dragons were most obviously the opposite of a stereotypical dragon. White dragons loved high, cold, icy mountains. They lived in caverns near glaciers and breathed deadly frost instead of fire. It was said they were not as intelligent as some other dragon breeds and relied on savagery instead of spellcasting.

Despite these slurs, ice dragons have become some of the most popular subjects for artists. Any Internet search will turn up dozens of likenesses of ice dragons. There’s just something about them. The ice is hard, yet beautiful. It shines against sunlight or moonlight. Ice dragons posess a mystery and grace that the traditional sort simply don’t have.

Here’s a link to a funny cartoon about white dragons in D&D.

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