"Fading Winter" by Rachel Freeman — Our September 2019 Silver Medal Winner

by - Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rachel Freeman is our second place winner from the contest posted in our September, 2019 issue!

What the judges had to say:

 "This tale was full of nice surprises and was so creatively done it provoked laughter. It was enjoyable to read, and intriguing right to the end...the story was an excellent way to incorporate the setting of the image in a creative scene that reminds one of old fables and childhood. I loved it."

"I really liked the concept of this story. I had so many more questions about the way this world works and who the characters are! I think a longer story would lend well to fleshing it out, which would have made me love the story even more."

"Clever premise. The author effectively progressed from a quiet opening to slowly revealing who the characters were. Clear characterization and conflict."

Meet Rachel:

Rachel Freeman lives in Kitchener, Ontario with her incredible husband, two fantastic children, and a pair of strangely friendly cats. She is an aspiring author, avid reader and occasional poet. Creativity is a part of her every day and if music is playing, Rachel is singing along.

The photo prompt:

  the unedited story:

Fading Winter

by Rachel Freeman

The door handle was cold and turned stiffly under her hand. The sound of the hinges creaking broke the resounding silence and she wondered how someone could even live like this. So much quiet, so much snow. You would think, he’d almost welcome her intrusion each year, but she knew better than to think this would be easy.
“Hey old man.” Her words weren’t loud. Still they echoed off the cabin walls.
“You’re early.”
“I certainly am not.” She scanned the shadows of the room looking for the source of the deep yet frail voice. He was sunken into the armchair beside the faintly glowing embers of what she wished was a roaring fire.
She snapped her fingers at the lamp on the table and it switched on, then waved at the windows causing the chintz curtains to draw back with a flourish.
The man blinked and sputtered as light flooded the room.
“What’d you have to go and do that for?”
He pushed himself up out of the chair and walked to the kitchen, moving with far more vigor than you’d expect from someone with his stooped frame. The others had insisted he needed to start training his replacement. She’d agreed, but watching him now, rooting around the kitchen, slamming cupboards and muttering to himself, she knew he was still too stubborn to give up without a fight.
She wiggled her fingers towards the hearth and the flicker of flames grew larger until she’d built a roaring fire. Stepping closer, she rubbed her hands together and stretched them out so the heat could melt the chill that seeped into her bones.
The old man returned, a beer in one hand, a bowl of slop in the other. He dropped the food on the antique table beside him and held his palm out toward the blaze. He made a quick downward motion and the fire faded as if it had been snuffed. She was left holding her hands over smouldering embers.
“It’s not your time yet, missy.” He said.
She sighed and sank into the chair opposite him, wrapping herself in a knit blanket. It did little to ward off the chill but would have to do for now. These first days were the worst.
“I don’t get why you fight this. Aren’t you anxious for your vacation to begin? I could handle the transition on my own and you could be free tomorrow.”
“Kids these days. No work ethic. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
She briefly considered pointing out that she’d offered to do extra work, not less, but arguing with him now would only irritate him more. Counterproductive.
“You might think you can divide the job between the three of you, but let me assure you, what I do is not unnecessary. There’s a delicate balance I uphold and if you cut me out altogether the rest of you will spiral out of control, you mark my words girl.” The fierce look in his eye reminds her he’s not as feeble as he seemed.
Abandoning his meal, he stomps to the window. Though she can’t see his hands she knows they’re making elaborate motions. Those suspicions are confirmed when she hears the building howl of wind that gusts down the chimney, spilling ash and soot into the room.
“Calm down.” She says and collects the broom. If only they could have sent Autumn to convince him. The two of them have a much better rapport.
“Come sit. We’ll talk about this calmly.”
He shows no sign of relenting. Another billow shakes the cabin. She sighs and pulls the blanket tight around her shoulders.
The plea softens him enough turn around, no more. “Are you honestly going to tell me you aren’t plotting against me?”
“Plotting? Really? No, we’re not plotting. What we are is concerned.” He tenses, his eyes dart to the stairs. The look suggests he’s planning to escape to the balcony. Easier to maintain command from there.
She dashes over to cut him off at base. “I give you my word. We’re not forcing you into retirement, but you can’t keep this up forever. We’re proposing you take Jack Frost on as your apprentice.”
He puffs out a breath that curls like smoke in the air. “That hooligan is the last thing I need here, making a ruckus and disturbing my peace.”
“Autumn said you would say that. She told me to remind you of the blizzard of ’43 and that you were young once, too.”
“humph.” He says but returns to his chair. A tiny flame even licks at the log in the hearth.
Excellent, he was considering.
“Just think, a few more years and you could retire. Move to some little hut in northern Russia, or an igloo in the arctic. Maybe even a mountain chalet.” Every option sounded dreadful to her sensibilities, but she could see his eyes frost over with a longing that told her she’d hit the mark. 
“You wouldn’t have to see another soul for the rest of your life.” 
“I do have my eye on a secluded little plot in Greenland.” He said. “I suppose Jack would be a natural choice, but I would have to set some ground rules.”
“We expected nothing less. Once we finish changing seasons here you can set up a meeting. They did send a contract for you to sign though, if you don’t mind.”
She spread the parchment on the table for him to look over. He took his time, maybe one of the last on earth to read the fine print, then scrawled his name on the line.
Signature, Crispin Winter

“Miss. Spring.” He handed her the quill with a flourish and a grin that contrasted with his mood of a few moments ago. Maybe it was all part of his game.
Witness, April Spring

“You know, I’m not going quietly.” Old man Winter said and winked. “I’ve got a few good storms in me yet.”

[Read the first and third place stories]

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