Merry Christmas, everybody! May your day be truly merry and bright.
I’ve known all this year that the last blog post of 2021 would fall on Christmas, and I’ve waffled about whether or not to post anything, but then this story turned up, and I thought it would be a neat thing indeed to share a little short story to enjoy at your leisure.
The original draft of this tale I submitted earlier this year to Havok (sadly, it was rejected – but appropriately so). I’ve since gone back and made several revisions that make the story stronger, LONGER?, and maybe a little bit more . . . chilling . . . than it was before.
I hope you enjoy this origin story, and if you can guess it, let me know in the comments!? And with that, I present to you . . .
The Valley of Lights
I lay on my back, staring at the black sky and watching the stars fall. No, wait—
Snow. It’s snowing. The flakes drift down and tickle my cheeks like Mum’s butterfly kisses. They don’t make a sound. Nothing does.
“Hello. Are you lost?”
I jump at the voice, so sudden in the utter silence. A face blocks my view of the sky. A blue face, pale as the moon and sharp as the icicles on the eaves of my house. Eyes like Grandpa’s mountain lake in summer . . .
“C’mon, chap. Wake up! This is no place for napping.”
An icy tapping on my cheek startles me awake. I didn’t even know I was nodding off, but boy am I sleepy. Frigid hands grab my coat and drag me out of the snowbank to my feet, and now I can see the rest of the person that goes with that strange face. He seems to glow, reflecting the moonlight just like the snow, and he’s spindly and jagged along the knees, elbows and shoulders. He’s hardly taller than me, too, and I’m short for being eight. His hair looks just like the windblown glacier ice I saw last winter when Grandpa took us ice fishing out on the coast.
I shiver in the crisp air and hug myself against the cold. “Who are you?”
The icicle boy draws himself up, sticking out his narrow chest. “My name’s Todh. I’m a vrosti.”
“A frost elf?”
“Yup! I was out having a frolic when I spotted you down here. You look a bit lost, if you don’t mind me saying. Need some help?”
I open my mouth to answer, but then my head gets dizzy for a moment. I look back down the slope at the snow covered mound–
Papa had turned off the radio, since the signal was so bad up here in the mountains. Only the quiet humming of the car’s engine breaks the silence. Outside the window, I watch the pines pass by below the ridge, draped in silvered snow like the icing on Grandma’s gingerbread cookies. The road barely has enough room for two lanes, the view over the guardrail a steep drop. Headlights flash around the bend. Papa swerves. There’s a heavy jolt–
A gaping pit forms in my stomach, and my chest feels tight. My nose stings, bringing tears to my eyes, but I don’t want to cry in front of Todh. Instead I just nod.
The frost elf grins, flashing crystalline teeth. “Come along, then, chap. Let’s go.”
“But . . .” I turn back again. “What about Mama and Papa?”
“Don’t worry. The Flurries will take care of them.”
Todh grabs my arm, his chilly touch seeping through the sleeve of my coat until my bones ache.
I follow him up the slope, snow crunching under my boots as Iwade through deep drifts. It sounds unnaturally loud in the silence hovering under the evergreens. Every breath I take puffs in a white cloud before disappearing. My fingers and toes are numb from the cold, even though the climb is hard. I clench my teeth to keep them from chattering.
“Where are we going?” I ask after a while.
The frost elf stretches a twiggish arm into the hazy, blue-gray shadows ahead. “Ljosdalr. Mother Runna is there. She’ll know how to help you out, chap. She always does.”
“Oh.” I think I’ve heard of those names, but they sound far away and I’m tired. It feels like we’ve been walking for hours, but the moon doesn’t seem to move above the tall pines and the snow hasn’t stopped drifting through the bristly boughs. I’ve never been up this late except on Christmas, but this isn’t as fun. My legs are sore from trudging uphill and my lungs hurt from breathing the brittle air.
“Can we rest for a few minutes? I’m tired.” I sit down in the nearest snowbank, sinking in like I do in the bean bag chair at home. It’s so comfy. Yawning, my eyes grow heavy.
Fire crackles in the hearth, the mug of cocoa warm in my hands and piled with marshmallows, just the way I like it. Mama stands by the window, watching the blizzard howl outside.
“Looks like Ljosdalr will have plenty of visitors tonight,” she says.
“Lost dollar?” I ask. “Who lost a dollar?”
Mama laughs. “No, love.” She comes to the hearth and sits on the rug beside me. “Ljosdalr, the Valley of Lights. It’s a wondrous place where lost people go. Mother Runna lives there, and she is glad to help all those who seek her. But if you do, you must be very careful.”
“Because she is a powerful spirit, both wise and crafty. If you give her your name in exchange for her help, she might just turn you into a spirit instead. . .”
My dream is interrupted by a whispering as soft as falling snow, dragging me out of the warmth and back into the cold.
“Don’t fall asleep yet, chap!” The frost elf grabs my hand. His fingers are shocking, burning cold against my skin. I can’t help but yelp when he pulls me up.
He smiles at me with big, angular eyes. “We’re almost there. It’s just over the next rise!”
“Okay.” I wish Mama and Papa were here. Mama would tell me about all the warm, tasty things Grandma was probably baking for when we finally got to their house, and Papa would walk in front to clear a path so it would be easier for me and Mama to follow.
But they’re not here. It’s just me and Todh, and he doesn’t even need to push through the snow. He just skips on top of it like the frozen bubbles I used to blow from my bedroom window when it got really freezing out.
As we trudge on I can start to see a pale blue light hovering over a pile of snow capped boulders. The frost elf leaps up and over them without any trouble, but I have to crawl on my hands and knees. I don’t feel so cold anymore, though the rocks must be dirty because my fingertips are all black.
Just when I think I can’t pull myself up one more rock, I reach the top, gasping. On the other side, the land dips into a valley surrounded by steep rocks and towering pines and firs. Ribbons of soft light dance through the air in lazy arcs and swirls—like the auroras, except different shades of blue instead of green and purple. In the middle of the valley is the tallest, widest evergreen I’ve ever seen, and its branches pulse with the dancing lights. Its needles look like the kind of glass prisms my teacher showed us in school.
It’s so beautiful.
Next to me, Todh taps my shoulder. “Let’s go, chap! Mother Runna will know how to help you out. She saved me when I was in a real bind, so I know she’ll be able to solve your problem.”
I sure hope he’s right.
The frost elf skips down into the valley, leaving me to scramble and slip down the icy rocks on my own. When I get to the bottom, he’s laughing and dancing with the swirling lights, but he’s not leaving any footprints on the smooth blanket of snow covering the valley.
I don’t think I have enough energy to plow through more deep snow. The tree looks very far away.
I heave a sigh, then jump off the last rock. But instead of sinking into the snow, I land on top as if I was as light as a frozen bubble myself. “Wow,” I whisper. I take another step, and another, but my feet still don’t sink. I can feel a smile creeping over my face, and then I take off after Todh into the lights.
We chase each other through the glowing blue ribbons, and when at last we reach the sparkling evergreen I’m breathless and so warm I might take off my coat. I crane my head back, but I can’t see the top of the tree.
“Well, if it isn’t Todh the vrosti.”
A new voice turns my attention to the bottom of the tree. It’s an old voice, thick and warm as Grandma’s oatmeal. A woman steps out from the boughs spreading from the massive trunk. Her coat is dusty blue and trimmed in white fur. Her eyes sparkle like sapphires in the folds of her crinkled face. “What have we here?”
The frost elf runs up to her. “Mother Runna! I found a lost boy! I brought him here before the Flurries came. He needs your help.”
The old woman nods, then turns to me. “My, you’re a bit frosty, little one. What’s the matter?”
Her eyes are so kind and her smile so warm that they remind me of Grandma and Grandpa and Mama and Papa. My chest starts hurting again and this time I can’t stop the tears from blurring my eyes. “I miss my Mama and Papa. I waited in the snowbank, but they didn’t come for me. No one did. And now I’m lost and I want to go home!”
The words gush out of me, broken by sobs I can’t control. No matter how much I wipe my eyes, the tears won’t stop. “I just want to go home.”
“Oh, poor child!” Mother Runna kneels in the snow in front of me. She brushes a thumb across my wet cheek, takes my hand. “I know just how to help. What’s your name?”
I bite my lip, remembering what Mama said. But what else can I do? I sniffle, wiping my eyes. “Jack.”