Frozen Light

Frozen Light

We were never meant to exist.  

Creatures of ice and snow living with stolen breath. The light of a star pulsing in our chests, casting shadows and light along the ice caves we called home.  

An accident of circumstance created us, one over which we had no control. Yet, we paid for it every year with a life. Our sacrifice was demanded, expected, and we dared not refuse it.  

No one denied the Moon King. 

This year, I was the payment.  




~ ~ ~ 



I couldn’t sleep. Restlessness surged through me, as it had before every big event since I was a child, keeping me awake long after everyone vanished to their beds. There were ten steps which spanned the length of my sleeping alcove. Ten steps which had worn a small path, a slight groove in the frozen floor. I walked along that path tonight, my fingers were twitching at my side and my steps were shaky.

Tomorrow.

Along the icy walkways and through the snow-covered balconies, which were carved into the mountains, we would travel to our birthplace. The place where a star would be waiting, dressed in an earthly form, ready to take what was owed.

Light from my chest shifted frantically over the night stained ice, eager to be released from its prison. I laid a shaking hand on my stomach, pausing my pacing to lean on the frozen wall. Once the light started to pulse, you couldn't stop it. Frost bloomed on my cheeks as grief shuddered through me. No bargain would save someone from the sacrifice.

A child was last year’s payment. We’d never sacrificed a child before that night. The scream from her small body echoed through me, chipping at my heart and my willpower as the year progressed. Groaning ice, the wailing snow-laden winds, and the murmurings of my people all faded out behind the constant howl of the child’s pained scream. As soon as the child’s life ended, my light had begun its steady rhythm, gently brightening and dimming of its own accord.

I was marked.

Marked to die.

I couldn’t—

“Laka?”

I turned to see my sister at the opening of my alcove. Her light was strong and clear in her chest, the glittering panes of her face were creased with worry. I ran a finger down the center of my face in greeting before returning to my march, not bothering to see if she returned the gesture.

“Laka,” she said, her voice heavy. “Tomorrow… tomorrow we have to sacrifice the starlight given to us.” She sat on my bed, her jade eyes watching me as I paced. “This is the way it has always been. I’m sorry. I know—”

“He asks too much!” My voice bounced on the black ice making my sister flinch. I sighed, sitting beside her. “Kemi, I’m sorry. You didn’t cause this. I...” I faltered, frost sprouted thick and sharp down the back of my throat. “I can’t do this.”

Kemi took my hand, brushing the frost from my cheeks. “I know,” she said, her voice small. “That’s why I will take your place.”

“You can’t. No one has ever taken the place of another.”

“They have never asked for this before.” She placed her hand over my rounded stomach, and even through her hand I could see the steady light in my abdomen.

I placed my hand over hers, I wasn’t even close to the twenty-fourth month.

And its light was steady.

My child hadn’t been chosen.



~ ~ ~ 



Silence followed the footfalls of the glistening figures in front of me. Each step making me hate the Moon King more. Leading the group, Kemi walked, straight-backed and poised. Many of our people refused to come, refused to be associated with our choice. They had huffed at us as we passed, trying to blow away our bad spirits. Shimmering backs turned from us and walked into their sleeping alcoves. Mother’s small face had crumpled when we told her our plan, she had climbed into our father’s arms, her blue light mingling with his white. She had slapped at our hands when we tried to soothe her. Father had sighed, frost soft and light on his cheeks, but said he understood our choice.

I blinked, my eyes refocusing, through the arched balconies, fat white droplets of snow fell into the growing darkness. In the group hands reached out, touching and stroking; giving comfort to each other. This night was never easy for us. After the light was taken from us we shattered, returning to the ground from which we came.

We were reborn from the breath of the star: A light not stolen but given freely. It was the promise the Moon King had made. A few within the cavern were lit with a blue light, the sign of ones who had felt the light ripped from their chest. Felt their form crumble and fall apart. Ones who had to grow once more, allow their form to take shape, to grow, to become strong again. We cared for them, fed them and helped them regain their lives. Lovers became like parents and children like playmates. The blue light was a sign carried with honor, a price paid.



~ ~ ~ 



The star, who started it all, had fallen to the earth in a crashing wave. Her small form creating the crater we now walked toward. As she enjoyed the wastelands, the sparkling ice and shapes made from glass, she forgot about her human form.

Cold snaked and wove through blood and bone, slowing vital organs, until she stopped. Her body frozen and dying. Trapped within the human flesh, the star had tried to release her true form, to rejoin the heavens. The ice below her melted, pooling with momentary warmth before she crashed into the lake.

Icy shock reset her mind, stunting her reasoning and her human form drowned. Starlight spilled from her, uncontrolled and wild. The starlight had bucked and crashed against the solid wall of frozen water, leaving trails and kernels embedded in the ice. As the last wisp of light faded away, her starlight had created my people.



~ ~ ~ 



At the end of the balcony, the inky night was streaked with green and purple light. The light twisted and danced in itself, celebrating the arrival of the star, the King's messenger. Heavenly colors casting a curious shade on our skin: The icy blues of our skin deepened to teal, and the frosty whites of our grief danced with green. We became a part of the welcome, saturated in the sky’s joy.

There, in the bowl of snow and ice, stood the star. This one was different, his silver skin and inky hair the same as his siblings, yet the tilt of his gray eyes, the down-turned mouth were new. He waited silently for us to finish our approach. His keen eyes fell on me, fear crawled into my throat and I ducked behind the small crowd. Light, white and blinding, pulsed from my chest: Calling to its sibling from the night sky.

My sister stepped forward, her chin raised.

“Great star, I present myself as the sacrifice to the Moon King,” she said, dropping to her knees.

The star glanced at my sister before returning his gaze to me, his eyes boring into me, peeling away the crystalline outer shell to peer into my soul. “No. You were not chosen.” His voice devoid of emotion.

I shook, the fluttering in my chest grew quicker, more insistent. The child within me flipped, twisting under my stress. I held my stomach, taking calming breaths.

“I… I offer myself freely, a willing sacrifice. Is that not pleasing?” Kemi said.

“No. The Moon King has selected the offering. Will you deny him?”

“Can we—”

The star flung a hand from his side, and Kemi froze, her face contorted with pain. Her arms flung back as she dropped to the ground. Starlight spilled from her chest, pouring into the night sky. A beam of light, shocking and beautiful, carved a path through the inky night into the heavens. I had no idea we held so much, or was it just her?

As the last of light died, my sister’s form crumbled into fine snow. The crowd gasped at the sight, no one had gone this way before. Screaming pounded in my head; yet, it was my throat that burned. My hands shook, and my head grew dizzy from lack of oxygen.

The star walked through the sea of blank faces, they scurried away from him. I dropped to my knees, covering my stomach. Frost spiraled across my skin, I shuddered as misery tugged at me. Discomfort flared across my side as a small foot kicked, I needed to be strong.

“Are you ready now?”

“No!”

“Shall I take others?”

Wide eyes stared at me, and darted between each other as they wondered what I would say. Some white-soul figures shuffled further back, their hands shaking. Frost covered most faces.

“No.” I paused, the shards of Kemi’s life twisting in the wind. “Will she be reborn?”

“No.”

Sharp pain flayed me. We’d never lost one of our own permanently to death. Behind him, behind the pitiful beating of my own heart, creaks and groans of displeasure rose from my people. My sister had been a brightness in our gray world. Beloved by many, and worth more than the flick of a wrist which had ended her.

“Will my child survive?”

“You will be reborn.”

Wailing rose into the night, blending into the now dark sky.

“Will my child survive?”

 Light and darkness swirled in the depths of the star’s eyes as he hovered above me. His face growing sharper with every moment. Silvery fingers twitched at his side.

“The breath is yours. Are you ready?”

Frost thick and choking covered me, I trembled with the thoughts tumbling around in my mind. The keening lament of those who had come, who had seen the sacrifice of my sister, grew.

I hugged my stomach, trying to imagine embracing a child deep within me. Picturing a face I would never see.

Childhood laughter I would never hear.

Fingers I would never kiss.

A name I would never call.

I had failed my child before it was even born.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to my child as I dropped my head, frost fell from my face, splattering my stomach. “Give my breath to my child.”

The star approached, his fingers dipping into my chest, ripping, tearing and destroying. My skin vibrated, shaking apart and crumbling.

“I can not,” the star whispered to the newly formed being, who laid in the crumpled ruins of its previous body. Its blue light shone brightly.

Alone.


This story was written by the amazing Melissa Carter for the Blank Page Short Story Challenge.


Melissa Carter is an Australia fantasy writer, who currently hangs her hammock in Mexico. When she is not getting up at awful hours to teach English online, she is wrestling with the characters and worlds within her stories. Melissa also enjoys reading, drawing, and fostering orphaned opossums.

Find Melissa on her website or Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. I love, love, love, LOVE this so much! Mel is such an amazing writer! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete

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