Winter's Child - Micro Fiction Contest Winners
Our final Micro-Fiction contest this year, Winter’s Child, exceeded all our expectations for 2017! Not only did we receive some of the most imaginative, well-crafted stories to date, but there were more of them, and from as far afield as Canada and India! Our moose character was variously interpreted as yes, a moose, but also a reindeer, a mule, and a shape-shifter. And most gratifying was receiving so many children’s entries, the youngest being eight years old. They see the magic so clearly!
Below you’ll find four amazing stories. Two were tied for first place: thirteen-year-old Lara Mylde from Alberta, Canada is an adept author—we certainly hope to see more from her! Our other first place winner, Susan Ferrari, once again penned just the words that Lori seemed to have breathed into her painting as it was created.
Our two honorable mentions include one of our favorite contributors, Marion Canning, and singer-songwriter Jackie Marston. Marion’s story is the perfect Christmas tale of redemption, while Jackie’s turns the tables on our expectations—always a welcome gift.
Finally, we are deeply grateful to every one of you who opened your courageous, creative hearts and shared your stories with us this year. We look forward to continuing our Dandelion Micro-Fiction contest in 2018. Watch for the announcement in mid-January!
The Winning Story (Tie)
by Susan Ferrari - Gilford, New Hampshire
The sky was aglow with pink, lavender, yellow, and turquoise in celebration of the setting sun. It was the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year, which is why Maddy chose this night. She knew she didn’t have long. She’d have to hurry. Dusk, always impatient, never lingered long.
Grabbing her warm red coat, Maddy didn’t bother looking for her hat or mittens. Promises were more important and she meant to keep this one. Snow crunched under her feet as she ran down the back steps, across the yard and into the barn. Her breath led the way in little clouds as she went. Loaded with apples, the red box sat on the sled, just where she’d left it. Tossing her long braid over her shoulder she leaned down and picked up the sled’s rope. Then, with a grunt, gave the rope a great tug to get the sled moving.
It wasn’t easy pulling the heavy sled across the snow. Leaning into the freezing wind, Maddy trudged across the barnyard, moving steadily toward the woods. As she got close she heard a twig snap. Standing perfectly still, she listened. Although she heard nothing more, she had a strong feeling of being watched. Looking around, she saw only trees white with snow, the darkening sky with just a bit of lavender left, and the snow-covered ground, partly blue with moon shadows. She tried to keep still but every few seconds her body would twitch and shiver and her heart was beating so hard she thought that whatever was in the woods might hear its rapid thumping.
Then she heard another twig snap, and another, and another. It was moving closer, faster, crashing through brush and branches now. Sucking in her breath, Maddy remained where she was, holding the rope. Waiting. For what? There was more movement in the trees, a snort then a pawing sound. Still she stood beside her box of apples. The trees near her began to move and there was another snort, louder this time. Closer. So many branches breaking, this had to be something big. For a second, Maddy wondered if she’d made a mistake. Perhaps she should run, go back to the house where it was warm and safe. “I can’t, I promised them,” she told herself.
And then, with power and majesty, a moose broke through the nearest branches and stepped out of the woods. Stunned, Maddy dropped the sled’s rope and looked up, up, up to see the great animal’s head. A moose! How many times had she’d seen the Moose Crossing signs but never a moose. The moose snorted and released a large cloud of warm air, then lifted her head and took in the scent of apples and of a ten year-old girl.
Keeping her eyes on the moose, Maddy slowly picked up an apple in her cold red hand. She carefully climbed onto the pile of apples in the sled so she would be high enough to see the moose’s eyes. The apples rolled under her feet and she was about to fall off when the moose lowered her head and gave Maddy a slight push, just enough so she could stand upright. Maddy stretched her hand out, offering the apple to the moose. As she did so, she looked into the moose’s large dark eyes.
They were gentle eyes and Maddy lost all fear. As though pulled into the depth of those mesmerizing eyes, Maddy began to feel herself dissolve, melt and become one with the moose. Then everything began to dissolve. The moose, the woods, the apples, the sky, the ground all became light and tiny twinkling stars of energy. There was no separation of one being from another. They were One. Then the light began to fade and all became dark. Maddy felt as if she and the moose and all that was, is, and ever will be were floating. Drifting down. Into stillness. Into warmth. Into perfect Peace. Into Love. Into the heart of the Universe.
It could have lasted an eternity, or a nanosecond. It didn’t matter. Gradually Maddy became aware of herself, of her body standing on the pile of apples, of the warmth of the moose’s breath and the nearness of the large gentle eyes. She noticed that her hands and feet were no longer cold and that she held an apple in her hand. Lifting it higher she offered it again to the moose who took it from her ever so gently. The moose stepped to the side and began munching the apple. Maddy watched and listened. It all seemed so normal. And yet, not. Not so normal at all. She picked up another apple and offered it the moose. Once again, the moose accepted the gift.
The apples under her feet shifted and Maddy plopped onto the snow. She scrambled to her feet. Placing her hands together at her chest as though in prayer, Maddy bowed to the moose. There was so much to say but no words could express what was in her heart.
Leaving her sled and the box of apples behind she made her way through the snow towards the barn. Halfway back, she looked over her shoulder and was delighted to see moonlight reflecting in the eyes of at least a half dozen deer. They had joined the moose and were eating the apples Maddy had promised them.
Happily, Maddy spread her arms out wide and fell backwards into the snow. Looking up at the starlit sky she began moving her arms and legs to make a snow angel. She was filled with a peace beyond understanding. “Thank You,” she whispered to the Universe, “for the gift of this night.” Maddy knew that she must share this gift. Someday.
Down by the woods, the deer and the moose suddenly lifted their heads. They heard something, not alarming, but sweet. A snow angel was giggling.
The Winning Story (Tie)
by Lara Mylde, Age 13 - Calgary AB, Canada
“Her name was Estelle,” I begin softly, arranging my satin skirts around me, “and she saved my life.” The children’s chatter ceases. Firelight dances across their rapt features, illuminating twelve pairs of bismuth eyes. They are always enamoured by the tales I spin of the wishes that I grant beyond Hindrance, the magical barrier between Caevirga and the human realm.
Tonight is my fifth night back on the estate of Lady D’Artagnan. It is an ancient place, and a perfect scene for my stories.
“The day I met her, I was by Hindrance’s gate, on the verge of collapse. I had been away from Caevirga for months, and was unable to eat during that entire time.” This part is an exaggeration; it had only been one month, not multiple. But what would storytelling be without a few hyperboles? I am paid for the entertainment value of my stories, not for their candour.
“Why didn’t you come back to Caevirga, Miss Tsarina?” one of the children asks.
“I was not allowed,” I tell him gently. “I had promised Queen Allegra that I would grant five wishes before I returned, and I still had one left. I could not break my promise.” The child nods, satisfied, and I turn back to weaving the story of Estelle Arkwright’s wish.
In truth, when Estelle came skipping through the forest, I was standing at Hindrance’s gate, barely able to move and wanting desperately to go home. I only needed to grant one more wish. When I saw her, with her rosy cheeks and crimson coat standing out like a beacon of hope in the constant grey of winter, I perked up almost instantly. She was dragging a sledge behind her, painted the same scarlet as her coat and brimming with fresh, flawless apples. At first I thought it strange, as it was the darkest part of winter at the time. How could she have such beautiful fruits in the deepest of Decembers? But then my stomach howled, demanding food, and I stepped cautiously towards her. Maybe she would provide me an opportunity to grant the last of my wishes and cross back into Caevirga at last.
“Hello, pretty reindeer,” Estelle whispered, awestruck, coming abreast of me and reaching out cautiously. Contrary to my expectations, she was not afraid. “My name’s Estelle. What’s yours?”
Her face fell when I only brayed in reply, for in my reindeer form I could not speak the human tongue. But then she smiled again, her cornflower blue eyes shining, and took up a metal pail from a hook on her small sleigh. Estelle carefully loaded it with apples. Then she held it out to me. “Would you like some of papa’s hothouse apples?” she asked sweetly.
Hope swelled within me, for surely such a kind deed could merit a wish. But I made no move towards the bucket, and so she instead took an apple directly from the pail and held it out to me. It brushed lightly against my warm red nose, and I caught a startling whiff of autumn from it.
I was still hesitant to accept something so out of place in this cold, unforgiving season, but my desire for food was fierce, and besides, Estelle was not leaving. So I took the luscious fruit between my teeth, savouring its sweet, crisp, crunch. It is unfortunate, I thought, that wishifters cannot be sated by human food. The only way to cure my hunger was to return to Caevirga. But Estelle, unaware of my plight, just beamed. She set the pail of apples down in the snow, and when I looked up again she was only a crimson speck amidst some distant aspens.
I had to wait there, to see if she came back. It was part of the wishifters’ rules; I needed three encounters with Estelle to justify granting a wish.
The next day, Estelle came down the lane again, braid swinging. She saw me, breathed a greeting, and set down another pail of her perfect apples. As I leaned down to eat them, I noticed a bright blue bruise on her cheek. But when she noticed my stare she lifted her chin. “Papa was angry that the apples were missing,” she murmured sadly, but not regretfully.
Once again, she was gone before I looked up. And so I sat in the snow and waited.
On the third and fourth days, Estelle did not come past me in the forest. But on my fifth day of waiting for her, she returned. Her sledge was empty, her coat was dirty, and her face was bruised, but still her spirit shone bright. “I came to say goodbye, reindeer,” she said. “I am going to live with my aunt.”
If she liked this arrangement, she didn’t say. We stood there a moment, and then she reached into her coat pocket and pulled out an apple. I looked at it for a moment, and then nudged it towards her. It did not feel right to take any more apples from her, as she had suffered for it and it did not truly benefit me. But it was the third encounter, and so I could grant her a wish. The final wish. Then I could go home.
When I shape-shifted, she was taken aback. But her chronic smile shone through her confusion, and she took a step towards me. “What is your wish, Estelle?” I asked gently.
She beckoned, and I leaned down, and she whispered her wish. I frowned. “Are you sure?” Estelle nodded, gave me a hug, and went on her way down the path as Hindrance’s gates opened.
When I’m finished telling the children this story, one girl raises her hand. I nod at her. “Miss Tsarina, what was Estelle’s wish?” she asks.
A pause. “She wished that her papa was content and successful, even though she had been ill-treated by him.” I smile a little, recalling her kindness, the likes of which I’ve never seen since.
by Marion Canning - Springfield, Massachusetts
"Thanksgiving means traditions and going home means being with family and reconnecting with relationships." Diana had been annoyed when she answered the woman, with her unwelcome questions, sitting next to her on the commuter flight. She had turned away then and leaned her forehead against the cold window and gazed down at the passing landscape of trees, their stark, black, knife thin, shadows silhouetted against the brilliant snow. The woman's questions had made her uncomfortable after staying away for so many holidays. She wondered what she would encounter this Thanksgiving with only her father, her Aunt, and the farm.
Now, in the timeworn kitchen, Diana helped her Aunt Alice, and her father, clean up after a modest dinner. The heavy aroma of roast turkey hung in the close air as the three of them, washed, dried and put away pots and pans, each settled in unspoken thoughts of their own. The sun was fading and a light snow drifted over apple trees on the hill. Diana said, "I'll get some more wood for the fire."
She went into the hall and chose a coat hanging on an overcrowded peg. The narrow hallway had not changed in twenty years. Boots were still all a jumble, in the same wooden box, as they were when she was eleven. Finding a pair that would do, she went outside and walked to the old, lopsided, woodshed beside the barn. As she opened the door, the pungent perfume of apple wood, hard packed earth and overripe apples caught her off guard. She inhaled deeply. Distractedly, she began to pick out pieces of wood for the stove and as she turned, in the dusky light, she looked up at an old red sled in the rafters. It was faded and weathered but the memory it invoked suddenly overwhelmed her. The present faded back to a forgotten Thanksgiving. Her melancholy thoughts were magically untangled and she was eleven again collecting windfalls in Aunt Alice's orchard.
The shiny, red sled was full and it was time to return to the rambling farmhouse bursting with relatives. But even as chubby clouds covered the sun, and she felt the afternoon lose its warmth, she had no thoughts of returning. She felt drawn towards the woods that bordered the orchard. At the top of a slight rise, instead of turning off to the house, she hurried, with her sled, down a frozen, bumpy track to the snowy undergrowth.
Down in the hollow, the wood was still and hushed. In the wan afternoon light she felt a silent presence among the trees drawing her close. She stood still taking in her surroundings. Diana had never been this far from the orchard, but she had no misgivings. She felt connected to the energy coming from the thick shrubbery. She was an explorer! Big, fresh, footprints made a path, in a gap, in the underbrush. She hopped onto the sled and peered further into the opening hoping to see where they led. Her eyes caught a slight movement quite close by. To her delight, she saw, sheltering in the shadows, a young moose. Its ears were pricked forward and it was curiously taking in her scent with its long nose. Trying hard to contain her excitement, she bent down carefully and picked up an apple. Offering it. A gift. A tiny voice in her head began whispering over and over like a charm, “You can trust me.” “You can trust me.” After what seemed a lifetime, the moose turned its great head and looked at her with beautiful, brown eyes. Its expression was soft and inquisitive. “Come here,” “Come here,” coaxed the little voice over and over. Their gaze met. She stood still and breathless in the silent mystery. At last, with even, measured steps, the moose walked out of the woods and calmly approached Diana and the sled. It put its nose out to snuffle the apple and her hand. “We're friends!” "We're friends!" sang the voice.
They stood there together entranced until a breeze slipped out of the wood and tugged playfully at Diana's braid rekindling a wistful echo of her mother. Diana reached out and stroked the moose on its soft nose before the moment faded away. Filled with wonder, she wended her way back to the house, her secret snug inside her breast.
A whisper of air made Diana turn. Slightly dazed she saw her father standing in the doorway. A warm radiant light spread around the interior of the shed drawing them together and she envisioned him just as he was that childhood Thanksgiving. He said, "I want to help you carry the wood." Then he exclaimed, "Diana! You look mystified, no; you look like my little red haired girl again!" A dreamy garment of the past enfolded them filling in the space of lost years. Old, gnarled knots untangled and for a moment time took in a breath. Then, smiling , arms loaded with apple wood, they secured the woodshed door taking their secret with them back to Aunt Alice and the house. Once inside, Diana said, "I want to be reminded of this day forever Aunt Alice, let's pick windfalls before I leave tomorrow."
The next day, with her bag of red treasures, Diana took possession of a window seat on the little commuter plane and sat down to think, by herself, about her extraordinary weekend. Then, "Hello, Hello! I see we're seated together again!" interrupted the woman from the previous flight . Diana nodded and smiled pleasantly. The plane took off into a clear, sun lit sky. Mare's tails flew by the window as the little plane climbed over surrounding orchards. The woman, settled in her seat like a mother hen, then said, "So how was your Thanksgiving dear? Did you have a good time?" "I did!" said Diana. "I danced a minuet with a moose and a waltz with my father and I felt just like a child again."
by Jackie Marston - Tyron, North Carolina
My mother has always told me I was winter’s child. Sure, I was born in December, but that’s not the end of the story she tells. Mother always said that although every birthday is special, my 10th year would hold a wondrous surprise. I guess I never really gave it much though, until today. My 10th birthday has arrived.
I love the winter and today the dawn is cold and shadowy gray, but I don’t mind. I love how the trees, now bare of their leaves, display long-fingered branches, revealing the nests that warmed new generations of woodland birds and squirrels. The crow’s nests, usually hidden, are now big and brilliantly nestled in the tallest trees, high above the ground.
But what makes this birthday so different from birthdays past? My clue was simple. Mom said, “In the clearing you will know.”
But which clearing? “What would I discover?”
I set off in familiar territory where my Mom and I have wandered often, beautiful in every season, but the winter and its cold, quiet, silvery stillness is my favorite. It seemed I had searched for a very long time, and although I am alone, I feel safe and peaceful.
My Mom always says, “The woods are my church,” and today I know why.
Suddenly I see it, up ahead in the clearing. I move forward slowly and hear the crunch of snow under the sled. It’s just as my mother said it would be, magical really, for there coming toward me is a girl in a bright crimson coat.
I think we are about the same age. Her sleigh is filled with delicious red apples, and she offers me one, a wonderful gift. For she too is a winter’s child like me, a ten-year old Moose. I am a winter’s child of the forest.