Friday, 22 January 2010

#FridayFlash - The Snow Queen.

Fridayflash is making me remember half thought of pieces. This is from some time ago, and may be a little melodramatic now. Recent weather seems to have permeated somewhat...

As ever, I would welcome helpful critique. I always write in a hurry, so know this may not be perfectly paced or punctuated!

I can hear you calling me through the house. There is a longing in your voice I'd love to answer. I wish I could give you what you want. But here in the dark, I  have lost the way.

We had a summer once, but that was long  ago. It plays in my mind like an old home movie - flickering images of a picnic blanket, me in a red and yellow dress, you in  green shorts and white T shirt. A river bank. Blue skies. Champagne. In the film in my head, you kiss me over and over again, and I look like I'm enjoying it. Perhaps I did, but now, I cannot remember what it felt like. That was the time before the Snow Queen came, bringing her perpetual winter. She's gone now, but I'm left with a heart full of ice. I don't think it will ever thaw.

She stole up on us one January, in the middle of the worst snowfall in forty years. The salt had long run out, grinding the iced-up roads to a halt. Drifts of snow blocked doorways, even in our small town. Food supplies were running low, and there were riots at the supermarkets. The government's assurances grew weaker and weaker, with each forecast of the blizzards to come. It was time, she said, in her first broadcast, for something to be done. This was a situation that only the army could deal with. It was a temporary measure - to ensure society didn't fall in chaos. Once the snow had receded, she would call an election. We were cold, and hungry, with no end in sight. We watched the army trucks clearing the roads, the tanks patrolling the supermarkets as food was rationed out. We were grateful that someone, anyone, was doing something.

The cold spell ended in late spring. The snow melted slowly, exposing flashes of green, a welcome change from the perpetual white. As the sun warmed us, the patches of grass and pavement increased, leaving piles of cleared snow, snow men and igloos. Till at last, they too were gone. But the tanks and the soldiers never left. The election never came.

Some people liked it. At last, they said, a leader to deal with the unruly young. Curfews, and boot camps rather than asbos and electronic tags. A rigorous approach to immigration. And a firm hand with dissent. It soon became dangerous to express a different opinion, so we went underground. We moved from place to place, trusting only each other, working with those we could find.  We did the little we could. Leafletting houses in the dark. Graffiti in shopping mall. Printing pamphlets and distributing them among a chain of sympathisers. Low level stuff, hardly likely to bring down her regime, but dangerous nonetheless.

It didn't pay to be careless. I should have checked the street properly. But I was tired, and hungry. I wanted to get home to the warmth of our bed. I missed the footpatrol in the shadows and was caught. Worse still, I  hadn't ditched the remaining leaflets. I couldn't claim innocence. That I'd lost my way in the dark.

They grilled me for hours. I said nothing. They left me in a cell. They pulled me out a few hours later. I'd barely slept. I said nothing. They threw me back. The pattern of my days. They began to try other methods, less pleasant. I hoped you'd moved on. Our friends too. But I was cold. I was hungry. It became hard to see your face. To remember why silence was important. One night they left me outside, as the snow was falling. My hands lost all their sensation. My feet throbbed. My body froze. When they pulled me back in. I could think of nothing but the  food and warmth they promised. My reward for speaking. I spoke. I named everyone. Of course I did. I was cold, I was hungry, so I named you.  I told myself  it didn't matter - you were long gone - but the truth was, I no longer cared.  They brought me near the kitchen. I could hear the soup bubbling, smell the freshly baked bread. I was desperate to eat, so I told them everything. They kept their promise, but when the food came, the bread was dry, and the soup tasted of salt and vinegar. I remained hungry. And though they brought me clean clothes, and turned the heating on - my veins were filled of ice.

I never saw them again. I presumed they'd arrested you and the others. And that I'd be in jail for good. I lost count of the days I stayed in the dark cell.  One night, the prison officers woke me up, without a word, blindfolded me and drove me to a street. They left me in a doorway. I tried to get up but my legs were so weak I sank back. I took off the blindfold to the surprise of sunrise. I'd been so long in the shadows, that, at first, I couldn't think why the clouds were turning pink and red.  I enjoyed the sight, but though the day became warm, my body was still stiff with cold. Perhaps I'd have died there, if a stranger hadn't spotted me and called an ambulance.

The hospital welcomed me. They warmed me up, did tests, gave me medicine. Cleaned my wounds without comment. Declared me an elective mute, and let me stay till someone collected me. I couldn't imagine that happening, but suddenly, there you were. You took me in your arms.  You said all the right things. But I didn't respond.  I didn't know how.

You took me home anyway.  Back to your home and bed, to take care of me. You do it well. Every day you cook for me -  nutritious soups, home-made bread.  I know that you have worked hard, that the food will do me good. But it is dry in my mouth, and I struggle not to choke on it. You tell me stories, show me photos of the time before. I hear the words, see the pictures, but they make no sense - your stories belong to someone else.

I hear you calling through the house. I want to come. I want to find my way back. But the Snow Queen's icy touch has never left me. I cannot. I do not know how.

It is warm in this cupboard.  The dark comforts me.  You call and call for me, knowing  this is where I am, that you'll have to come for me again. I hear it in your voice, the longing, that this time, I'll make it out on my own.

I think I'll stay for a little while longer.


petherin said...

Great! I am not sure who or what the narrator is, but it's got me thinking, and that's good! Is it a doll that's alive? An inanimate object? A neglected pet? Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

Still, a great story.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks for dropping by. Oh my, in my bid to be simple, I must have been too obscure! The narrator is the girlfriend/wife of the other person. Events in the story mean by the end she is physically and emotionally hiding from him. Obviously needs a bit more work to make that clear. Thanks for picking that up!


Lou said...

Whoa, way to go for an extended metaphor! There is such poetry here. I will be back to re-read again, but I wanted you to know I enjoyed this.

mazzz in Leeds said...

"Curfews, and boot camps rather than asbos and electronic tags" - ah, a Daily Mail reader's utopia!

I was gripped by this piece. The bit with the tanks never leaving made me shudder

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks Lou, thanks Mazz, appreciate your comments. Think there's still more to do on this one, but it's a good discipline to get something done!

Laura Eno said...

How heartwrenching. The effects of torture, be it physical or psychological, last a lifetime. Guilt is the greatest torture of all. You captured it well.

Laura Eno said...

You don't have a google follower thingie to click... :)

G.P. Ching said...

You have a great voice for fiction! First, I interpreted this piece as a metaphor for mental illness. If her captivity was literal, I missed the boat so ignore my next comment. If I interpreted it correctly, I think in revision I might try to cut a little in the middle. The hook was phenomenal and the ending quite satisfying but the details in the middle seemed a bit long to me. However, all of it was well written and I think you could get this one published with revisions.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks Laura - & I'll try and sort out the follower thing - bit of a technophobe so may take a while...

And GP Ching - her captivity is real, the effects have left her as she is - but I've obviously not made that clear. You're right about the middle, need to work on the pacing, so thanks for the encouragement.

Anonymous said...

A really good story - well done :)

Janine said...

Hi V, I loved this and unlike some of your other readers I followed the whole thing. It's a great piece, well done. Jx

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks Michelle and Janine.

Maybe you're used to my writing Janine! When are you going start a blog to join in?

Deb said...

You have drafted a wonderful narration here. I like your poetic opening, but you really drew me in when the MC began her (? - I am assuming the MC is female) story telling.

I want to know more about her care-giver, and the circumstances behind her capture -- but you could flesh this into a full short story and tell it in real time, or as a series of flashbacks.

What initially drew me in was your headline -- The Snow Queen is the title of a book by Joan Vinge. It is one in a series (Snow Queen, Summer Queen, etc) and they are some of my favorite Scifi stories ever.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Thanks Deb,

Glad the title and the writing drew you in. I was thinking of the fairy tale, "The Snow Queen" when I wrote it. Kay's heart is frozen by a shaft of ice and only Gerda's tears can melt it. Perhaps this may happen for my narrator one day. (Yes, she is a woman!)