Published on 2013/08/04

The Snow Fairy

Brenna L. Aldrich

Once upon a time, a witch lived in the woods.

She was particularly ugly as witches go, with three yellow teeth that were flecked with darker caramel hues at her gum-line. He age speckled scalp was visible through vaporous strands of knee length hair that was muddy at the ends from dragging the ground as she walked. Her clothes smelled faintly of mildew, and her fingernails better resembled broom ends. She often picked her fat nose, raking the nostril bare with a ferocious scrape of a pinky, and flicked its contents at passersby. Her personality matched her looks, and while many folk had a healthy fear of her pagan reputation, they mostly avoided her because of the smell.

The old witch didn’t much mind the solitude. She’d always felt people were overrated, owing to a healthy dislike for the species that she’d cultivated since her youth. In those fairer days when she was tall and beautiful and headstrong, the witch had suffered a broken heart. And though the breaking was as much her own fault as anyone’s, for she had spurned her lover’s proposal, she had declared before the whole village that “All men are toe-jam!” and had turned her back on the sons of men.

One day as the witch was preparing her favorite winter soup – a hearty concoction of rabbit liver and swallow gizzards – she realized she’d run out of the fish entrails that doubled for noodles.

“Well blast, rotter, snot trails and unicorn pooh,” she muttered as she gazed at the damp inside of her fish gut jar. Slamming the container on her rickety table, she glared out the window. She knew that the enchanted stream that housed the trout was a good hour’s journey from her shack. Typically, the inconvenience of the distance would have been enough to keep her wizened butt-cheeks firmly planted on her hearth. But the sour aroma of the gizzards was mingling horribly with the rabbit liver and setting her stomach to rumbling. She so rarely bothered to cook anything anymore. Not even her rash-inflaming powder for preventing trespassers.

The thought of an imperfect, favorite soup was more irksome than the walk. With a muffled snarl, she shuffled to her hearth to fetch her ash bucket. Tipping it up, she smothered the little flame beneath her pot, stomping a bit at the logs for good measure.

“It’d be just my luck the whole shack would burn down while I’m out getting frost-bit so’s to finish the soup.” She kicked again at the embers. “Don’t know why I bother. Stuff tastes like sow’s butt anyway.”

The witch gathered her patchwork cloak and her gnarled walking stick, picked an epic booger, then set off to finish her dinner.

As she crunched and ploughed her way through the cold-blanketed underbrush, the old witch continued to grumble and curse. This was ever her way, for life had wronged her, and by gum and puss-filled hop toads, she would never forget it. So deep was her ire, that the squirrels and birds and the winter animals dashed for cover when she passed, and the soft gray sky blackened and grew menacing. Wide, gentle snowflakes hardened and shrank to pellets of ice that clung to the witch’s cloak and hair. The calm air grew restless and gathered into frigid gusts hoping to hurry her along to her destination. The witch, for her part, took no notice except to add the weather to her mental list of items to cuss.

At long last, the witch came in sight of the brook. Having yet to freeze, its waters churned sluggishly over the rocks and tree roots that filled it. Intermittently, gleams of silver flashed along the scales of the trout lurking beneath the water’s surface.

“Final-frikin-ly,” she growled. She laid down her walking stick, crouched, and shook like a dog, scattering ice shards in every direction. A family of squirrels fled to their knothole for fear of being skewered.

Reaching beneath her cloak, she fetched a small tub of lard from its reeking depths then smeared its contents over her wrinkled hands. A nearby rabbit gagged, then buried its nose in a snowdrift.

Once coated in the malodorous goo meant to protect her skin from the icy water, the witch plunged her hands toward the stream. Her fist knocked against the water’s surface as if she’d punched a rock.

“Ouch!” said the witch as she clutched her throbbing hand. She looked back to the water, which flowed freely between its snowy banks. Again, she reached toward the water and came up against a solid barrier. She poked at the water with her stick. Nothing. She grumbled various incantations. Nothing. She cussed at the brook, and the fish, and at any fairies in-a-damn-playful-mood-who-wanted-their-wings-plucked-for-salad-garnish. Still nothing.

Then she stopped and listened. Distant echoes of a highwaymen’s skirmish floated back to her over the snow.

This was an enchanted brook and home to enchanted creatures. They would protect themselves from the meddlesome humans killing each other for gold over the next hill. The greedy idgijts had vicariously spoiled her dinner.

“Raisin brained, thumb-sucking, toe-hair lickers!”

Thwarted, and freezing, the witch gathered her things and began the long trek back to her shack. Night’s bluey grip was rising up to swallow the light, and the cold was beginning to creep inside her surroundings. The witch began to wish she hadn’t put her fire out.

The witch’s journey home couldn’t have been more miserable. She stumbled on logs and bruised her shins. A fresh coating of ice weighed down her cloak and hair so that her pace slowed to a hobbling crawl. Her walking stick grew so cold and stiff that it snapped in half, and even the boogers in her nose froze so solidly that it was too painful to pick them. By the time it was fully dark, the witch was about as grumpy as she had ever been.

She was just closing on her home’s familiar clearing when a strange sound caught her ear. It was a low noise, and unfamiliar. Very like the moaning of a wounded animal, but more distinct. The witch cocked her head. She dismissed it as the wind in the trees, but the noise came again. The second time, it sounded very like a voice.

Biting her lip, the witch fretted. Her little shack sat windless and inviting just beyond the edge of the clearing. She didn’t want to stop and fiddle with some idiot traveler who’d lost his way. It wasn’t as if the bugger would be grateful. He’d complain about the soup, say her house stank, and call her an ugly hag. Besides, the witch had had a truly crap day. She hated dealing with people on good days. She was in no mood for them now.

Then a word became faintly audible within the noise: help.

Her shriveled buttocks clenched. It was probably a hurt traveler, someone left by the bandits to die in the road.

Or it could be a bandit, in which case he could just “Help!” his way into Hades for all she cared. She re-flapped her coat around her neck, and crunched on towards her house.

The voice cried out again. Weakly.

“Frosted elf’s butt and reindeer dung I’m coming!”

The witch cleared the tree line to find a man lying in the road.

He was beautiful. Somewhere along his way, he must have lost his cap so his face was visibly framed in soft dark curls that were lightly dusted with snow. The cold had leeched the color from his skin so that his face was almost as white as the wintery ground. His dark lashes, though laced with frost, lay softly against his cheeks, and his breath issued in thin, white clouds from between his full, dark lips. The falling snow had already begun to blanket him, but as he was a tall man with wide shoulders, it would be a while before he was completely enveloped in the blustery night. A dark stain seeped its way from the young man’s side as he lay in the road.

A thick, uncomfortable lump swelled in the witch’s throat at the sight of the wounded man. She sniffed loudly and rubbed at her nose as the memory of a handsome youth with darkly curling hair kneeling at her feet to propose rose in her mind like the icy clouds of her breath on the winter wind.

It took a great deal of puffing, cursing, and hauling for the witch to get the visitor into her shack. It took a good deal more for her to rekindle her fire, melt the iced lump of gizzard and liver soup, and tend the young man’s wound, but by morning, the little shack was warm, the witch had her feet propped on a dried out badger she used as a foot stool, and the young man was soundly sleeping in her reeking bed.

As a weak shaft of sunlight squeezed its way past the rickety roof, the young traveler awoke. He blinked, and glanced across the shack to where the witch was sprawled in her kitchen chair with one foot on the badger and her mouth hanging open. A string of spittle dangled from her lone, front tooth, wriggling and dancing as she snored. Muddy water dripped from the ends of her filthy hair and the odor from her clothes was so strong the air in the room seemed to curdle, but the lines of care and misery that had etched their way across her face had softened. The witch’s ungraceful sprawl had an air of contentment that had been absent from her carriage for many years, and her snoring lacked its ferocious vigor. The young man smiled, climbed out of the bed, and gathered the smelly blanket to his chest. Draping it across the witch, he whispered,

“Your heart was broken, but not lost. The kindness you have shown has proven there is still love in your spirit. Sleep now, dear one, and rejoin the love that you once lost.” Then the man reached out and touched the witch upon her breast. Her breath shuddered and ceased, but not before an expression of peace wreathed her weary face.

The young man kissed the dead witch’s brow, then stood. With a last glance around the shack, he closed his eyes and spread his hands. A ring of light engulfed him and the shadow of wings was cast on the wall.

Brenna L. Aldrich is a writer, English tutor, and Alumnus of the Masters in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. Her short fiction has been published at the online magazines Black Lantern Publishing and LACUNA: A Journal of Historical Fiction. Though she has written in numerous genres, the heart-line shared by each work is a fascination with stories that confuse, teach, and change her.

This story was first published in th online magazine Armadillidium.