The Ice Palace

by Anne Gresham


The child wakes, frightened and alone, for the first time in centuries.

Panicked, it tries to make sense of its surroundings. Instead of the safety of the frozen lake and its dreaming mother, it finds itself trapped in blocks of ice carved from the lake and piled high in an alien landscape.

Fortunately, a creature soon strays close enough for the child to reach for it. The child’s psychic grip is powerful, and the organ of the creature’s mind bursts in its grasp in a warm, slurpy pop.

But not before the child absorbs its contents. Carnival. Arthritis. Pony ride. Grocery list. Stars. The child particularly likes the man’s winter memories of his mother, who called him her snow angel when she called him in from the cold so many years ago. The child is a boy too, it—he—decides.

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Other minds clamor around the fallen man. The child needs to know more. So he takes them all.

Through them, he learns that he smells popcorn, ponies, hot cocoa. He understands his prison is called the Ice Palace, and that the crystalline music he hears is screaming. Many rush toward the growing pile of spent husks slumped in front of the spires of ice, but many more run away as those closest to him burst in wet thuds of pink pulp.

There are other lost mothers in his memory stores now. Sandra Bailey’s mother disappeared in a blizzard. Dan Albright’s mother was hit by a car. Mike Wallace remembers vividly the shock of losing his mother in a shoe store and tapping her on the shoulder, only to recoil in revulsion when a stranger turned around instead. Rachel Moore watched her mother die of lung cancer and experienced a profound horror upon becoming an orphan at fifty-six.

The scared child has to find his way home. He has to find his mother.

He’s rapidly moving into the next phase of his life cycle now. The heat from the blood splashed across the ice imprisoning him is just enough ambient energy to kickstart the unfurling of his corporeal body.

The ice releases him and the palace shatters.

Loose in the world, the child runs. His black flippers churn the snow into sludge, and tree trunks snap beneath him. He barely registers the sting of the bark scraping against his slick oily hide. All he can think about is his mother. When he he catches up with the fleeing carnival goers, he desperately tears through their lives and selves until he finally finds the sliver of memory he’s looking for.

Jessie Erickson has a memory of a lake, his lake. A spring memory, though a scrim of ice still clings to the lake’s shore. Jessie saw his mother that day. There are no more memories afterward in Jessie’s mind, just a twitching parade of stimulus/response.

He’s never known such relief. Now he knows where to go to get home.

Just then, a sonorous, overpowering sound rings out from the direction of the lake.

“Mommy! I’m here!” he trumpets in a distinctively Midwestern accent.

His mother thunders toward him, as terrified and frantic as he is. She gathers him up in her tentacles.

John Sherman cried when he met his birth father. Suze Larson had to blink away tears at her daughter’s graduation. Leah Sparks sobbed in delirious joy when doctors placed her baby girl in her arms. And so this child’s mother, holder of their memories, cries human tears now. He’s grown up so much since she saw him last. It’s bittersweet—she knows he can’t go back into the lake ever again.

But the stars are iron against the velvet sky, and blood steams in the frigid air. It’s such a beautiful night.

Anne Gresham is a writer and librarian in Northwest Arkansas. While generally a harmless garden pest, she is best handled with care as the spurs protruding from her ankles emit a mild neurotoxin.
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