by Robin Jeffrey
When the snow first came, the inhabitants of the little village were joyous. It had been a dry spring and a hard, long summer, and the crops had failed and the animals had died standing in the dusty fields and the villagers had been forced to trade away their valuables to the towns on the other side of the mountains for any water at all.
Many had been praying that the winter would bring snow; good, wet ice that would seep into the ground and keep their fields green through the growing and harvesting times. They had received, seemingly in abundance, that for which they prayed. The wind brushed the white tufts into arcing banks against the cottages and shops and many a celebratory pint of ale was had in the tavern the night of the first snow.
There was some debate amongst the older men of the village if there truly was a first snow and a second snow. Some swore that the first storm must have stopped in the night, sometime on the third or fourth day. Other’s contended that, though it made no sense, the snow had never stopped after that first night, despite the fact that the frozen water was still falling steadily nearly a fortnight later.
At first, villagers had tried to shovel paths from their doors to the roads to their barns and to their neighbors. Each morning a figure could be seen outside each house, pushing a spade heaped high with snow, tossing their pile atop the previous-days’ work. But soon, the banks of snow were too high and the falling snow too think and steady for anyone to deal with, and the villagers retreated into their homes, muttering with waning cheerfulness about how much the snowfall was needed and how it wouldn’t last much longer because nothing could last forever.
The snow engulfed the barns and the houses and the shops and the pub. It buried the fields under feet and feet of white ice, choking the youngest saplings that stood around the village until the tops of their bare branches barely broke through the surface of the new, white ground. Suffocating, not a sound could be heard in the village, not the tinkling of icicles or the heavy breathing of sleeping cattle or the soft moans of the villagers praying that the snow would stop as fervently as they had prayed it would come.
When spring finally came, it was with all the warmth and beauty of a young girl entering her first dance. Sun broke through the grey clouds of winter with a flash and all the cold barrenness of the season prior was hard to imagine.
The towns on the other side of the mountains began to worry about the little village after the third week of the thaw. The passes had been cleared for some time and it seemed strange that none of their neighbors had come to trade or barter, to partake in the first of the spring ale or size up the big sow’s new parcel of offspring.
A party of men were sent over the mountain to check on the small village. Disease, rampant illnesses that tore through men and animals alike, were not unheard of in that time and it was worried that such a fate had befallen the little village in the freezing winter months, when no aid could be called for or sent.
A week or so later the men returned. To this day none of them talk about what they saw in the place where the little village once was. The mention of winter makes them shiver even on the hottest days of summer, and the season itself is met with fear quite unusual for such men of the earth to display. A few pints of ale will loosen some of their tongues, loosen them enough to make them whisper, in hoarse tones, of the sodden marshland that stood where the little village had been. Of the structures, vanished, and the sounds of ice dripping, dripping even though none could be seen. The winter had claimed the little village and every living thing in it. None ventured there again, but it was said that in the cruel, cold winds that came over the mountains, the wails of the men and women and children of the village still echoed, immortal and dead as the winter itself.