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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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