Copyright 2016 P.J. Leonard
Published by P.J. Leonard at Shakespir
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The mountain always had snow on top in the summer.
Whenever Anttoni asked about it, none of the adults in the village could tell him why.
“It’s always been like that,” they would say, trying to shoo him away.
“Hasn’t anyone ever gone up there to see why?”
“No one ever climbs mount Talvi,” they would reply.
Ah yes, of course. There was that strange superstition that the mountain was haunted or cursed, and nobody had ever climbed up there because of it.
Anttoni sat on a bench in the village square, staring up at the mountain. It was extremely hot: even in the valley the summer was sweltering and sticky, and Anttoni’s shirt stuck to his chest from the sweat. The other mountains surrounding the village, many of them even taller than Mount Talvi, were topped by grey rock or patches of grass. All except Mount Talvi, the cap of snow thick and bright white, showing no signs of melting in the summer sun.
The other villagers bustled about their business, making their way to the bakers, the butchers, the dairy and the tailors. Nobody seemed to find Mount Talvi that interesting.
Anttoni stood up. He had to know. Tonight, he would climb the mountain and find out what was going on. And tomorrow, he’d have the perfect chance.
“Be a good lad,” said Father, “And don’t go wandering. I know what you’re like.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Anttoni, feeling as though he’d said this for the hundredth time.
It was that time of the year when the sheep would need shearing, and the sheep were in the upper valley, a two day hike away. Mother and Father were in their hiking gear, carrying two big, empty bags. When they returned in five days time those bags would be full of wool.
All of the villagers in the valley had mountain climbing gear, even the children. It was just like having another set of clothes.
Mother gathered Anttoni into a hug. “If you need anything, just ask Mr. Karpinnen, okay?”
Anttoni screwed up his nose at the thought of Mr. Karpinnen. Mom slapped him gently on the head.
“Don’t look at me like that! He’s a nice man.”
“I know, I know,” said Anttoni, “But he smells like fish.”
“What do you expect?” said Father, hoisting his bag onto his shoulder, “he’s the local fishmonger.”
After more goodbyes, his parents were on their way. Anttoni watched them disappear into tiny dots as they headed up the winding path to the top of the valley. The sun sunk in the sky, and the tops of the peak glowed a bright orange. The snow atop Mount Talvi glowed brightest of all.
Deep in the middle of the night, while the village slept, Anttoni slipped out of his pyjamas and into climbing clothes, collected the sandwiches he’d made earlier that night, tied the laces on his thick boots, and headed out of the front door.
Even in the night, it was still quite bright. The moon was big and full, shining a bluish-white light on the rooftops. The mountains were dark, huge black shapes in the distance looming over the village…except for Mount Talvi. The snow on the peak sparkled like glitter. Anttoni took a deep breath. Fear and excitement rippled through him as he walked through the silent village. Nobody but him was awake. Good. No need to answer any awkward questions if I’m seen.
He came to the edge of the village and made his way up the steep field full of sleeping cows.
He climbed over the fence and then looked up. The mountain towered over him, huge jagged rocks sticking out in every direction. He pulled on his gloves and started climbing.
The cows in the field shrunk away to tiny dots below him, the village looking like a tiny toy town. The mountain went on and on, seeming to go on forever. Just when Anttoni felt like he was getting close to the top, he clambered over the rock to find – not the peak, but another wall of solid rock to climb.
Anttoni stopped to take a break, sitting on a flat stone. The sky was getting a little lighter now, the dark mountains on the other side of the valley looking like some giant had ripped the sky like a piece of paper. He opened his bag and pulled out his breakfast: a ham and cheese sandwich with a pasty and hot tea in a flask. He stared up at the top of Mount Talvi, the top looking as far away as ever.
Brushing the crumbs off of his jacket, he stood up and picked up his bag. Anttoni had gone hiking and climbing with his parents a lot of times before. He’d climbed some difficult mountains and some very difficult mountains. But this…this felt different. It felt like Mount Talvi was trying to keep him away.
On and on he climbed, higher and higher. The sun rose over the distant mountains.
“Maybe this curse is real,” Anttoni said to himself, “Maybe this is the curse…the mountain is impossible to climb, it just goes on forever…”
He reached up to grab onto the next slab of rock, but instead he grabbed onto something cold and soft. Snow! He looked up. The top of Mount Talvi was just above him, covered in thick white snow. As Anttoni stepped onto it his boot sunk deep into it, loud and crunchy. Step by step, he dragged himself through the snow, carving through it like a ship in the sea. A cold wind howled around him: the hot and sticky summer was far below him. He rounded the top of the peak and -
He nearly tripped and fell face first in the snow at what he saw. There, at the very tip top of the mountain, was a wooden lodge. The windows glowed a warm orange and smoke puffed from the chimney. Someone lives here…
A shadow walked in front of the window, and Anttoni dived into the snow. Peeking over the top of the white fluff, he looked at the window again. The shadow was gone. Anttoni was about to stand up again when he saw the front door open, and he buried himself in the freezing snow again.
“No need to hide, young man,” came a voice from the lodge. The voice was deep and rich. “Come inside and get warm by the fire.”
Anttoni chanced another quick look. The door was wide open but nobody stood there. Maybe I’m seeing and hearing things? Mount Tival might be cursed and haunted? He shivered. What have I gotten myself into? This is a bad idea. I should go back…
He stood up, brushing the snow from his trousers. No, he wouldn’t turn back. He wouldn’t be scared like the other villagers and anyway, that had been a long and tough climb. He didn’t want it all to be for nothing.
He walked up to the house and, pausing for just a while on the porch, walked through the front door. The inside was warm, the light flickering from candles that had nearly burned all the way down to the end. The main room was full of big sofas, thick rugs and paintings of nature hanging from the walls. A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace. One word immediately jumped to Anttoni’s mind: cosy. His feet ached, and those sofas looked really comfortable…
“Make yourself at home,” said the deep voice from behind.
Anttoni nearly leapt out of hiking boots. He wheeled around, and a man stood in the hallway, smiling at him. He was slim, with a long beard that looked black but with some bits of white, as through some snow was caught in it. It covered most of his blue lumberjack shirt.
“I…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Anttoni spluttered.
The man raised a big, bushy eyebrow. “Sorry? Whatever for, my boy? You mean for coming in?”
Anttoni nodded. The man boomed with laughter.
“Nonsense!” The man said, his eyes sparkling like frost, “I invited you in! Come, take those boots off and have a seat. Are you hungry? I was just about to eat.”
“Umm…yes?” said Anttoni, but the man was already walking away. In seconds Anttoni heard the sound of a sizzling frying pan from the kitchen.
Anttoni hadn’t moved. For a moment he considered making a run for it, but then his stomach grumbled in protest. He shrugged, then pulled off his boots and lowered himself into a sofa. He sunk deep into the sofa, as if it was trying to eat him. Anttoni groaned as he stretched out his feet, the knuckles in his toes cracking as he flexed them. He looked around the lodge. Just what was this man doing up here all alone? Come to think about it, just how did he get all of these sofas, chairs, logs and cabinets all the way up the mountain. And – Anttoni scratched his head – where was this man getting the food from?
Anttoni felt a cold dread creep over him. Was HE the food? He’d read fairy tales like this, and they always ended up with the child being boiled in a big pot. Maybe he really should make a run for it…
But just as he was wondering how fast he could grab his boots and jump through the window, the man returned, a tray of steaming food in each of his big arms. He laid them out on the dining table.
“Dig in!” Said the man, picking up a spoon.
Anttoni had to nearly fight his way out of the squashy sofa. He crept up to his tray of food as though approaching a poisonous snake. But on the plate was not fried children’s ears or roasted children’s toes but a big bowl of potato soup and half a loaf of hot bread.
His stomach rumbled so loud that not even Anttoni could resist: he sat down, ripped off a big chunk of bread, dipped it into the soup and scoffed it down. The warm soup ran down his throat and warmed him to the tips of his toes and fingers. Before he knew it, the bowl was empty, and he was mopping up the last drops of soup with the last chunk of bread.
“How was it?” Said the man, peering at Anttoni. He looked worried for some reason.
“Delicious!” Said Anttoni through a mouthful of bread, “Thank you. Mister…er…”
The man didn’t say his name. Instead he smiled again, clapping his hands together.
“Oh, good,” he said, “I don’t ever get to cook for guests, and I have a strange taste for food. I’m glad to hear you liked it though, young man. What’s your name?”
“Anttoni,” he said, “And…you are…?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners,” said the man, his beard twitching. He reached over the table with an open hand.
“The name’s Winter,” he said.
Anttoni raised an eyebrow. “That’s a funny name. Never heard of someone called Winter before.”
Winter’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, but you have! My dear boy, I am the winter. I am the snow that falls, I am the chill wind that howls, I am the ice on the lake and the steaming breath. I visit you every year for a few months after my friend Autumn leaves, then when I leave my friend Spring will visit you. I am Winter.”
Anttoni froze in his chair. Questions filled his head, all fighting to be said first. Winter still held out his hand. Anttoni reached out with his, and then shook it.
Anttoni gasped. Winter’s hand was ice cold, as though he’d just plunged it into a bucket of ice. The shock brought Anttoni to his senses, and he finally spoke:
“How…I mean, what are you doing here?”
Winter waved an arm around the log cabin. “This is my holiday home,” he said, “when my job is done, I like to come here to relax and get away from it all.”
“It doesn’t seem very wintery here,” said Anttoni, looking at the fire in the fireplace.
“Ah, well that’s why it’s a holiday!” Winter chuckled, “Come, take a seat over by the fire. I will make some cocoa.”
Winter cleared up the table and bustled into the kitchen. Anttoni sat in the armchair nearest the fire, his mind whirring. Winter returned with two big steaming mugs.
“So…you don’t mind eating or drinking hot things, Winter?”
Winter took a deep gulp of whatever it was he was drinking.
“I am the master of the cold,” said Winter, “but that is my job. Doesn’t everyone like to escape their work when on holiday?”
Anttoni nodded. Yes, that makes sense I suppose.
“But alas, I cannot always escape who I am,” said Winter, stroking his long beard, “Wherever I go, the snow and ice will follow.”
“So…that’s why there’s all the snow on top of this mountain!” said Anttoni, nearly spilling his cocoa in excitement, “Because you’re here!”
Winter nodded, and for a moment his eyes looked sad, their usual sparkle gone.
“That’s the problem I have, young Anttoni,” said Winter, gazing out of the window at the field of snow, “Where I go, it snows. That’s why I have to hide up here at the top of a mountain. I don’t want to bother other people with sudden snow or ice when it is supposed to be a warm Summer’s day. I’ve never stepped on warm grass or felt the hot sun on my face. And I’m fine with that, honestly. It doesn’t bother me that much. I am Winter. But…it would be nice to feel it just once…”
Anttoni sipped his cocoa, deep in thought.
“Can anything be done? Can you…I don’t know, leave Winter here?”
Winter gave a sad smile. “Ah, if only it were that simple. I am the Winter, and everything that goes with it.”
They both sat in silence for a while. Anttoni felt a little sorry for Winter. He thought hard, trying to think of ideas.
“Could…could someone take your place? Just temporarily, you know.”
Winter stroked his beard all the way to the tip. “You might be onto something there, my boy,” he said, laying down his mug and standing up, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Anttoni heard Winter’s footsteps stomp up the steps and on the ceiling. Walking from one place to another. Maybe he’s searching for something?
Winter stomped back downstairs carrying a heavy book. He turned through the pages, reading fast in a low voice.
“Rules and regulations,” he muttered, “Policy on season switches…Indian Summer…the Equinox…ah, here we are! Changing the role of the season. Let’s see what it says.”
Winter cleared his throat. “In general, switching the season from one person to another is prohibited, and such procedures will need to be passed by Mother Nature.”
“Wait, Mother Nature is real?” Anttoni nearly spilled his cocoa again..
“Of course!” Said Winter, “She’s my boss. Sometime’s she really nice and friendly, other times she’s extremely scary. This isn’t the kind of thing I want to try and ask her, though. But it says right here in the rulebook: ‘If, however, the season is not working and needs to take time off due to illness, he may ask another season to fill his or her role temporarily or ask a trusted friend to become the season for a short amount of time.’”
Winter closed the book. “That makes sense. My good friend Autumn always gets tired easily. In October he often asks Summer to step in for a few weeks to help him. Kind of unfair really: Summer has just finished work and she’s about to go on holiday herself. She tries her best but the weather always gets a bit warm she is around. I believe your people call it an Indian Summer.”
Anttoni nodded. He’d never even thought that the seasons were people: it was strange to hear Winter talking about them like friends.
Winter jabbed a thick finger at the book. “But ah! That’s not the important part! It says right here that I can switch with someone. They become Winter for a while.”
“Which means…” Anttoni grinned.
Winter nodded, “Precisely, my boy. I am not Winter. For a while, anyway. I can leave the cold and feel Summer’s warmth.”
Winter’s beard twitched with a wide smile, but it quickly disappeared. “But who would switch with me? Who wants to become Winter in the middle of Summer?”
Winter looked out the window, the snow outside reflecting in his eyes like a mirror. Anttoni sipped his cocoa. Poor Winter…he’d never felt the warm sun on his face, nor laid down in a field of grass that wasn’t covered in frost or snow…
Anttoni finished off his cocoa and laid his mug on the table. “I’ll do it,” he said.
Winter looked up. “What did you say?”
“I’ll become Winter for you,” said Anttoni, standing up, “I’m tired of Summer, anyway. This Summer has been very long, and extremely hot. It’ll be nice to escape it for a while.”
Winter’s eyes sparkled. “Aye, Summer can be a little bit…enthusiastic, can’t she?” He chuckled, then looked suddenly serious. “But are you sure about this, Anttoni? It’s not just about cold and snow. It’s hard work, even in the Summer.”
Anttoni shrugged. “It’s only going to be for a few days. You should go and enjoy the Summer.”
Winter gave his widest smile. “Ah, my boy. You are too kind. And yes, I promise to return in three days. That should be enough for me to enjoy the ways of Summer, I think.”
“So, what do we need to do? How do I become Winter?”
Winter laid the book on the table. “Here. Take my hand.”
Anttoni went to shake his hand again. If he’d thought that Winter’s hand had been cold before, it was nothing compared to now. Ice crept up Anttoni’s arm and washed over his body. He gasped for breath, and a cold plume of steam shot from his mouth.
Winter let go of his hand. As quickly as the cold had covered him, it was gone. Everything felt normal again.
“Is…is that it?” Said Anttoni, “I don’t feel that different.”
“Let’s see,” said Winter, and he raised his hand again. Anttoni reluctantly took his hand again, but instead of feeling an ice cold, Winter’s hand was roasting hot, as though he’d just held his hand over an open fire. Winter gasped and let go of Anttoni.
“You are the one that feels cold now,” said Winter, staring at his hand, “So that’s what the cold feels like…”
Now that Winter had mentioned it, Anttoni did feel a bit warmer inside of this lodge than before. He took a step towards the fire and felt a bead of sweat drop down his face. So, this was what being Winter felt like? He’d thought that it would feel cold, but now he thought about it, it made sense that he wouldn’t feel the cold: Winter would be used to it. No, everything felt quite toasty by comparison.
Winter rubbed his bare arms, chuckling. “It’s…chilly in here,” he said, “looks like I need to go outside and get warm. Now that feels strange to say!”
Winter headed for the front door, stepping, into his boots. Anttoni followed, leaving his jacket draped over the chair. Winter laid a big hand on the handle.
“Ready?” he said. Anttoni nodded.
The second the door opened, air rushed in to blast their faces. They both groaned.
“It’s warm out there!” Said Anttoni, feeling the first beads of sweat begin to bloom on his forehead.
“And that feels too cold to me!” Said Winter, running his hands up and down his arms.
“Do you have a jacket or coat?” Said Anttoni. He would have offered his own jacket to Winter but it was much too small for the big man to wear.
Winter shook his head. “I’ve never needed one. I’ve never felt cold before.”
“We need to get to the edge of the snow,” said Anttoni, “Otherwise we will never know. Do you think you can manage to get that far?”
Winter rolled down his sleeves and nodded. Together they headed out in the snow. To Anttoni, the snow felt like bubbles: soft, easily broken by his stride and not cold at all. Winter groaned with every step. Eventually he gave up and stood behind Anttoni as he carved a path through the snow.
At last, they reached the edge of the snow. The rocks sloped steeply down, the field of cows and the little village far below.
Winter shivered. His beard fluttered like a flag in the wind. He looked down at the rocks. “Everywhere I go, ice and snow follow…”
“Not this time,” said Anttoni, “Go ahead. Give it a try.”
Winter raised a boot, shook away the snow and stepped forward. And nothing happened. He raised his other boot and stood completely on the rock. Still nothing happened.
“This…” Winter gasped, “This is incredible!” He laughed and danced around on the rock, coming very close to the edge of a cliff. “Now you try!”
Anttoni stepped out of the snow and pressed a foot onto the rock. Ice spread from underneath his boot like rippling water, spreading across the rock and turning it an icy blue.
“It worked…” said Anttoni, looking at his hands. Without being told, he knew what to do. He clapped his hands and sprayed snow from the tips of his fingers.
“It really worked!” said Winter, looking up and closing his eyes as the sun shone on his face, “Ah, that feels wonderful. Hello, Summer!”
Anttoni grinned. “You should go and enjoy your holiday,” he said.
“Right,” said Winter, looking down the mountainside to the village below. Then he looked back at Anttoni. “I’ll be back in three days. Use anything you want in that lodge. Should I say something about this to your parents?”
Anttoni shrugged. “They’ve gone away to sheer the sheep in the highlands. They’ll be gone for longer than that.”
Winter’s expression cleared. “I see! Well, that leaves me with nothing to say but thank you. Winter is in your debt, young man. Good luck, and see you in three days.”
Humming a merry tune, Anttoni watched Winter climbed down the mountain, shrinking away to a speck of blue and white.
Anttoni looked up, puffing out his cheeks. Despite being on top of a mountain surrounded by snow and freezing winds, he was sweating. He picked up some snow and rubbed it on his face. It felt cool on his skin for a few seconds, but the sun still beat down and the effect quickly wore off. Instinctively, he waved a hand in the air, as though trying to wipe out the sun. Clouds formed in the blue sky, covering the sun. That’s better. As he walked back to the lodge, he played with his fingers, clicking them, cracking his knuckles and drawing shapes in the air. Cold jets of air, flakes of snow and ice flew from his fingers. A rush of excitement made Anttoni shudder. Waving his hands as through conducting an orchestra, he whipped up snow out of thin air and made a giant snowman, twice as tall as him. He looked it up and down, rubbing his chin. Not quite. He pointed a finger at the snowman’s head, and as though he were holding an invisible stick carved two eyes and a smile into the face. Anttoni grinned, and turned to head inside.
A wave of heat hit him. It was as though he’d just opened an oven. It hadn’t been this hot when I’d left, had it? He ran into the living room, suddenly terrified that the lodge had caught fire. But no, the fire crackled merrily in the grate. Anttoni felt beads of sweat trickle into his eyes, and he blinked them away. He held out a hand and fired snow at the fire. With a hiss and a cloud of steam, the fire went out, buried under a mound of wet snow. Anttoni felt a little cooler now, but not by much. How did Winter cope with this heat? Maybe it was cooler outside, and he’d just gotten used to it. Swilling his face in cold water from the sink in the kitchen, he stepped back outside, and a breeze whipped around him. The sweat and water on his face chilled. Ah, much better. I’ll stay out here for a while.
Walking around the back of the lodge to get into the shade, he looked down the shadowy back of the mountain. It was a little less steep here, tall fir trees lining the slope down into the valley below. The snow here stretched further down the mountainside too, protected by the shade of Mount Talvi. Struck by a sudden idea, he puckered up and blew as if he were blowing out the candles from a birthday cake. The air in front of him froze into a plank of ice, curled at the end so it looked like a sled. Placing it on the snow, Anttoni lowered himself onto it. As he expected, even though it were made of ice the sled didn’t feel cold at all. Holding onto the lip of the sled, he kicked at the snow and down the slope he went. Finger pointing in front of him, he made a smooth track of snow through the trees, weaving in and out of the trunks.
“Yeah!” Anttoni whooped, wind whipping through his hair as he carved his way through the snow, going faster and faster. But the end of the snow was coming up fast, followed by rocky cliffs. Uh oh. He held out a foot but winced in pain as his boot struck the snow harder than stone. He zipped past the last tree and out into the open. He was going too fast, the cliff was getting too close…
Out of sheer desperation he stretched out his hand. A path of glittering ice formed in the air, straight and clear. The sled went straight over the cliff and landed smoothly on the path., sliding onwards. Anttoni’s heart pounded: he looked down and instantly regretted it. It was a long, long way down…
The sled slowed to a stop, right on the edge of the path. Anttoni looked back. It was like he was on a huge diving board made out of ice. Carefully, he stood up. The ice underneath him creaked. Wincing, he kicked off the ice sled to lessen the weight. He kept his chin up, trying and failing to ignore the long seconds before he finally heard the sled crash into the valley below. He tiptoed back, pausing every time the ice made the slightest sound. Nothing moved. Even the wind stopped, as if it too was holding its breath.
He stepped forward again. The ice gave a sickening crack. Anttoni opened his hands downwards and blasted two streams of snow just as the ice under his feet disappeared. Powered by the snow, he flew high through the air in a wide arc, back up Mount Talvi and crashed into the snow next to the lodge.
Laughing and shaking, Anttoni stood up, wiping the sweat from his forehead. That had been close. I’ll think I’ll just stick to making snowmen for now. It’s less dangerous.
Looking up, he saw the snow he’d created fluttering through the sky like a big flock of tiny white birds, cascading down around him and blocking out the sun. He wiped his forehead again and look off his sweater. Why was he still so hot? He had been doing a lot of running around and even flying, but still…he reached up to wipe his forehead again when he gasped and winced, coughing as snow shot into his throat. Eyes watering, he looked at his hands. Snow was still spraying from his fingers, even though he wasn’t trying. He clicked his fingers. Still it snowed. He tried holding his hands together. But the snow swelled in his palms, making a big snowball. He tossed it away, and it rolled down the mountainside. He stuffed his hands into the snow on the ground, but he could still feel the snow firing out of his fingers, and two mounds built up around his hands until they burst out. The snow fired out of his hands faster and thicker now.
Sweat poured from his face almost as fast as the snow came from his hands. How do I stop this? Is there a special thing I must do? Winter didn’t mention this to me. If I don’t stop this soon I’m going to be in big trouble…
Winter stretched out his legs and yawned, closing his eyes as he faced the sun. It burned punk through his eyelids. He gave his beard a long, luxurious stroke: ah, so this is what Summer is like…I can get used to this…
He sat on a bench in the village square, watching the villagers bustle to and fro from one place to the next, trying to stay in the shade for as long as possible. Why would you want to avoid this warmth? It’s wonderful! Winter slipped off his boots and socks and laid his bare feet on the cobblestones. They gently roasted the tips of his toes. Winter gave a little laugh. If he’d tried that before, the stones would have frozen over. In fact, looking around, it was the first time he’d ever seen people up close who were out and about during the summertime. He’d never seen so much…skin. Whenever he was around, people were bundled up in so many layers that he was lucky to catch a glimpse of their face. Not now, though. But the way people were acting wasn’t that different. In Winter, people would stay indoors as much as possible to stay warm. But in this village, everyone didn’t seem that happy with the blazing sun, either. They kept their heads bowed away from the sun, groaning every time they stepped out into it. Interesting. I’d always thought that Summer was popular. Well, I like it!
Pulling his socks and boots back on, he stood up. Time for a bite to eat. I wonder what the summer specialities are? Halfway across the square, though, Winter paused. The blazing sun had disappeared. Clouds swirled in the sky, stretching over the village. A cool wind swept through the square.
What’s going on?” Said one of the villagers, rubbing her hands together, “Why is it so cold all of a sudden?”
Winter shivered. In the space of just a few seconds, the warm summer had disappeared.
“The mountain!” Another villager shouted, pointing over Winter’s shoulder, “look at the mountain!”
Winter spun around, and saw immediately what was wrong. The peak of Mount Talvi shone with its usual cap of snow. Except, after looking at it for a few seconds, Winter saw the snow was growing, closely spilling down the sides of the slope like too much cream being poured over a cake. A jet of snow fired out from the top of the mountain like a firework, exploding amongst the clouds which stretched outwards, covering the sun.
“Oh no…” Said Winter.
Someone tapped on his shoulder. Winter spun around again, and nearly fell over at the sight of who it was.
“Summer!” Winter gasped.
Her slim figure seemed to glow with heat: Winter could feel it pouring off of her in waves. Winter sensed anger as well: her usually cheerful and friendly face wore a scowl. She beckoned him into a side street. Even in the dark space between the houses, she lit it up like a light bulb. Winter was almost tempted to hold out his hands towards her like a radiator to keep them warm, but then she spun to face him, jabbing a finger at his chest.
“What do you think you’re doing, Winter?” She snapped, “I was minding my own business, when all of a sudden this valley is covered in cloud and feels cold enough to freeze in. Why? Is this one of your unplanned cold snaps again?”
“I…I err…” Winter smoothed out his moustache nervously. Summer raised an eyebrow.
“Now I think about it, why are you down here?” She said, looking around, “And you aren’t surrounded by your usual ice and snow. Did you…”
Summer snatched up Winter’s hand and clutched it tight.
“You don’t feel cold,” she said, her eyes rounding, “Oh Winter, you switched with someone, didn’t you?”
“It was just for a couple of days!” he said, holding up his hands, “I just…I needed a holiday.”
“Oh really?” Said Summer, crossing her arms, “And how long has it been so far?”
Winter shuffled on the spot. “Well…about three hours.”
Summer rubbed her eyes, “And who was this person you gave the power of Winter to?”
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” said Summer, leaning in and cupping her ear.
“A boy called Anttoni,” muttered Winter.
“A BOY?” Summer yelled, “You gave the power of the season to a child?”
“It’s not that bad,” said Winter, clutching his hands together, “We’ve done it before. Remember Jack Frost?”
“Jack was given weeks of training,” said Summer, “How much training did you give this Anttoni boy?”
Winter opened his mouth to answer, but Summer held out a hand. "I don't want to hear it," she said, looking up at the billowing clouds, "The answer is obvious. People who aren't used to the power cannot control it! How irresponsible, how -"
She tailed off, lost for words at how angry she was at Winter. She seemed to grow a little brighter, then she took a deep breath, and the glow faded.
“We’ve got to fix this,” she said, leading the way out of the side street. The square was clear of people now, filling up with snow instead. Mount Talvi was barely visible through the swirling white flakes. But as Summer stepped forward, the snow around her disappeared, her bare feet landing on dry cobblestones. Winter followed behind her, enjoying the heat she left behind as they ran through the village.
“I’m sorry for shouting,” she said over her shoulder, “It’s just been so busy lately. Everyone wants a little bit of Summer, these days.”
Winter waved a big hand. “I deserve it,” he said, “I got carried away. I guess I just wanted to feel a Summer’s day so much…”
Summer laughed. “You’re not missing out on that much. It’s always hot and sticky, and you have to be up with the sun really early until it sets late at night. To be honest with you, I’ve always wanted to experience a Winter’s day too.”
They grinned at each other as they arrived at the edge of the cow field. Except the cows had disappeared, lost in the swirl of snow. The sky, the mountain, the field…everything was a blinding bright white except for Summer, glowing a buttery yellow like a small sun. Winter stayed close for warmth. Summer raised her hands to the sky and clapped. The clouds parted, and for a brief moment the sunshine shone through the hole in the blue sky above. Summer waved a hand as if trying to brush the clouds aside, but more clouds formed in their place and the hole closed up again.
“It’s no good,” said Summer, “Anttoni’s out of control. I’ve got to try and get to him. Wait here.”
She ran, and the cold and snow closed around Winter. He watched her charge through the field, jumping up the side of the mountain like a mountain goat, shrinking away to the size of a firefly.
Winter looked up at the sky, filled with snowflakes tumbling down faster than rain.
“What have I done?”
Anttoni burst into the house, hands erupting with snow. He ran into the kitchen, and using his wrists managed to turn on the hot tap. He ran his hands in the hot water, and for a moment it seemed to work. His hands hissed with steam, and soon the whole kitchen billowed like a hot sauna.
But the snow was getting stronger and stronger. Soon it overpowered the water, and the tap froze into an icicle.
“HELP!” He yelled. His hands flailed around, completely out of his control. Snow smashed against the walls and blew holes in them, splinters flying through the steam and snow.
The door burst open, and Anttoni was blinded by a flash of yellow light. He had a brief glimpse of a figure running towards him, and then hands as hot sun-baked rocks grasped his wrists and held them tight.
“It’s OK,” said a warm voice, “I’ve got you.”
Anttoni looked up into the glowing face of a smiling lady. “My name is Summer. I’ve come here to help.”
The snow had stopped. Water dropped from his palms, the last flakes floating calmly through the shattered lodge.
Sweat poured down Anttoni’s face like never before, but he didn’t care. The snow had stopped.
“Come,” said Summer, leading him back to the door, “I’ll take you to Winter and get the power of the season out of you.”
They stepped out of the lodge. Around them was nothing but white. Huge piles of snow stood around him where he’d tried to bury his hands. Summer wiped her hands across the air and brushed the clouds out of the sky. The sun hung low in the pale pink sky, and the piles of snow flushed orange.
“Ah, there he is!” Said Summer, peering down the mountain and waving, “he should be here soon.”
Anttoni followed her gaze. Sure enough, a tiny speck with a long beard was clambering its way up the side of Mount Talvi. The snow covered the whole valley, the village barely visible under the thick blanket.
Looking down made him feel dizzy, and he took a step back. He fell backwards, and he let go of Summer’s grip. His hands felt slick with sweat, overheating again. Wait, no, that wasn’t sweat: it was too cold for that. And it was getting colder and colder. Oh no…
“Anttoni,” take my hand again, quick!” Said Summer, kneeling at his side. Anttoni seized Summer’s hand, but it was no good: the incredible heat from Summer only made him feel worse.
“Hang in there,” Summer whispered, her eyes a bright and bolting green, “Just a little longer,”
I can’t…” Anttoni growled through gritted teeth, feeling the ice rising inside of him again as though he were about to vomit, “Get away from me, find somewhere safe…”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Summer seized Anttoni’s hand so tight that he thought his fingers might break. Summer shifted slightly, and the sunset flashed in Anttoni’s eyes.
He screamed, and felt his hands and legs explode, snow and ice erupting from every pore on his skin. He felt his insides squirm as though something pulled and stretched at him, trying to pull him apart.
Winter clung to the face of the mountain as the explosion high above rained stones over his head. Out of the corner of his eye, a blinding light flashed through the sky like a shooting star. Summer…
A deep crack rumbled through the valley, and a dread swelled in his chest. He knew that sound…
The side of Mount Talvi seemed to collapse, and the wall of snow cracked and crumbled. It started slow and small at first, the snow at the peak rolling silently down the slope. But then it grew bigger, and louder, and then bigger and louder again, until the rocks under Winter’s frigid fingertips rattled and his ears shook with a rumble like an earthquake. Avalanche.
The snow roared down the side of the mountain like a wave, racing towards him and the village.
Something very heavy and hard collided with the side of Winter’s head, and he fell from the side of the mountain. He slammed into the snow below, the powder shuddering as the avalanche charged ever closer. Flailing his arms, Winter burst out of the snow, gasping for breath. A wall of snow as high as the sky loomed over him, ready to swallow him, an appetizer before burying the village.
And there. Right in front of his very eyes, Summer’s hand stuck out from the snow, glowing like a delicate flower in the cold. Winter lunged forward and seized it. The power flowed from her and into him, filling him with a feeling that felt familiar, yet somehow completely different. This wasn’t the frosty chill of Winter’s power that he knew, but the blazing, burning Summer. His boots sank through the snow, burning it away until he stood on the ground below. He looked at his hands, glowing just like Summer’s had done, feeling the warmth swirling between his fingers.
The avalanche stampeded towards him. Winter held out his hands and from the tips of his fingers unleashed the power of Summer.
The avalanche suddenly stopped mid-charge, leaning over him as if an invisible bubble protected him. He threw out a fist as though punching the air, and the wall of snow fell back. It didn’t melt or explode, it just…disappeared. Winter waved his big hands all around him, wiping and sweeping the snow away until the avalanche was just a mere wisp of frost floating through the air. He pursed his lips and blew at the sky, and the clouds sped away as though frightened. The sky sparkled with the light of the first few stars of the evening.
But Winter was not done. Summer lay on the ground in front of him, passed out. Without her usual glow, she looked strange and pale. Winter picked her up in his arms and began climbing the mountain. With the power of a season running through his body, he made his way up Mount Talvi as easily as walking across the village square. As he went, the snow around him fizzled away to nothing, flowers and grass jumping back up. By the time he reached the top, Summer had returned to the valley. Even the peak of Mount Talvi had lost its snow, and the light breeze was warm and balmy.
Summer stirred in his arms, and she blinked up at him.
“Welcome back,” he said, smiling.
“Wha…what happened?” She said blearily. She looked over her own non-glowing hands to Winter’s glowing face. “I see…”
Winter looked over the peak. His lodge was a wreck, looking like a pile of wood that had been thrown together to make a fire.
“Anttoni!” Winter spotted the boy straightaway, lying on the ragged rocks. Winter carefully laid down Summer and ran to the side of the boy.
His clothes were ripped and soaked. His hands no longer shot snow, but a thin layer of ice surrounded him, occasionally shooting out from his fingertips like a sneeze.
“Oh, my poor boy,” said Winter, picking him up and holding him tight, “This is all my fault. I am so sorry.”
A hand laid on Winter’s shoulder, and she turned around. It was Summer, and she was smiling. That glow that had always surrounded her was no longer there, her smile was as warm as ever.
“Give him to me,” she said.
Winter carefully passed Anttoni’s freezing cold body over to her, and she laid him carefully on the ground. He picked up one of Anttoni’s hands in both of her’s and gripped it tightly.
The wind whipped at her hair, except Winter felt no wind. Swirls of ice surrounded her like ribbons, streaming from Anttoni to her. In a flash of brilliant white and a flurry of big snowflakes, she stood up, looking completely different. She was as pale as paper now, glowing in a different way. She opened her eyes, and instead of their usual green, they were now an icy blue. She smiled at him, and he grinned back.
“Well, I guess I should start calling you Winter now,” he said.
“And I should call you Summer,” she said with a laugh.
Without ever meaning to, Summer and Winter had switched.
Anttoni stirred, groaning and clutching his head. Then he gasped, launched to his feet, and fell over again.
“It’s okay,” said Summer, approaching slowly and holding out his golden hands, “We’ve taken the power from you. You’re safe now.”
Anttoni marvelled at his dry hands as if he’d never seen them before. Then he looked up and stared at him.
“You…look different,” said Anttoni, looking Summer up and down, “Very different. What happened, Winter?”
“Call me Summer,” he said, waving a hand at Winter, “She is Winter now.”
Anttoni looked from one to the other and clutched his head again.
“I am so confused,” he groaned.
Summer and Winter laughed.
“We’ve switched,” said Summer, clicking her fingers and sending a small stream of frost twirling from her slender fingers, “And do you know what? I think I might like being Winter. It feels…fresh. Cool.”
“Same here,” said Summer, picking up soil with his hands and making tiny daisies pop out from it, “It’s not that different, really. Just…the opposite.”
“Ah, the village!” said Antonio, scrambling across the rocks and peering down into the valley, “Is it safe?”
“Perfectly,” said Winter, “You’re just going to have a lot of confused people wondering what happened to the weather today.”
Antonio slumped onto a big rock and let out a long, shaking sigh. “This is all my fault,” he said, “I couldn’t control it.”
Summer shook his head, and sat down next to him. “Nonsense. No, the blame lies with me. I just wanted to experience a Summer’s day so much that it made me selfish. I wasn’t thinking about you.”
“And now you have your wish,” said Winter, stepping forward and leaving glittering ice behind her, “You can now be Summer forever. And that is fine with me, really. I was getting tired of being Summer, as well.”
But Summer shook his head, his big beard waving back and forth. “Forever? No. We should speak to Mother Nature about this, we can’t keep being one thing all the time. Having a change now and then keeps things interesting.”
Winter smiled, then nodded. “We will meet with her soon. I am sure that Autumn and Spring will agree.”
Summer looked down. “There is one problem, though.”
“What is it?” Said Anttoni.
“I might have to cut this beard,” said Summer, “It just doesn’t seem very…summery.”
Summer, Winter and Anttoni all laughed.
“Are you sure you don’t want help?” Said Summer as Anttoni zipped up his jacket and lifted his bag onto his back, “I could carry you down the mountain in a few seconds…”
“Or I could make a long slide of ice down the valley,” Winter offered.
“No thanks,” said Anttoni, heading out of the door. The sun rose from behind the mountains once more, the early morning wind brisk and cool. “I’d like to head back on my own two feet.”
He shook the hands of Winter and Summer, flushing with cold and heat when he did, bid them farewell, and headed down the mountain.
When he arrived home, he had a few hours to pack away his bag, wash his clothes, take a bath and return everything to how it was so his parents wouldn’t suspect a thing. He sat in the living room near the window, looking up at Mount Talvi, the snow cap slowly returning to how it once was.
The front door creaked open, and Anttoni dashed to the front door. His parents stood in the entrance, their bags full of wool and their faces bright red.
“You would not believe the weather we had on the way here, Anttoni!” said Dad.
From P.J. Leonard, author of 'Tick', 'Kami' and 'Sarah Sues Santa', comes a FREE short story that will put a chill in your bones... The mountain always had snow on top in the summer. Whenever Anttoni asked about it, none of the adults in the village could tell him why. "It's always been like that," they would say, trying to shoo him away. "Hasn't anyone ever gone up there to see why?" "No one ever climbs mount Talvi," they would reply. Join Anttoni on his journey to discover the truth of the mountain.