Winterdim

Chris Howard

44

Reborn



My mother wouldn’t get near the water—saltwater. She stayed up on the concrete breakwall at the edge of the beach, and stared out at the angry gray Atlantic Ocean, gulls wheeling with thin mournful cries. I walked among the beached seaweed, long cables of brown and green with air bladders and ripple-surfaced blades.

Bending to my knees, I let the slick skins of the weeds run through my hands, heavy sand-gritty rolls of plants. “So beautiful.”

And when I looked up, she was there, the woman from the sea. She was with my dad, walking down the sand from the north end—this time she was dressed in what looked like bodyfitting armor of crab carapaces, points and rings of bloodred and pale white bone.

Posey stopped, kept her feet in the sloshing Atlantic, and let go of my father’s hand.

A glance up at my mom, crinkle of happiness around his eyes, and he rushed up the beach, grinning with open arms toward me. I swung mine under his, coiled out a couple vines into the mix, and spun in the sand, a tight hug bringing us all the way around.

“So worried about you.” His hands in my hair, cradling my head, tilting my face down to kiss me on the forehead, lifting it to hold my eyes for a moment. “I want to hear all about it tonight, Theodora Light of the Dawn and Spring of the World.”

I kept the hug going another couple seconds. “You got it, Dad. Bring up the chairs from the basement. I have guests.”

He stopped, gave me a curious smile, nodded, and walked up the beach to my mom, a look back with some advice and another happy crinkle around his eyes, “Let’s don’t let your mother cook.” He winked at me.

I was still laughing when I turned back to the sea. Posey raised a hand, gray green waves lapping around her waist. “So, you’re Leaf Mother, ruler of the worldforest—and apparently much more.” She bowed to me, a graceful open gesture with one hand, and I felt the power in the motion. “Well done, Thea.”

The words spilled nervously from my mouth, and Posey was nodding before I even asked, “Can I talk to you, Posey? I mean when you have some free time, ask you how...you...I don’t know.” A slide of cold in-over-my-head shame up my arms—and the weight of the world forest inside me. I felt like a child asking this know-everything to help me. I pushed the words out. “How to just live...like this?”

“Sure.” She said it simply, lightly, so solid and confident. “Any time you wish. Just come to the shore—any shore, get your feet wet, and I’ll find you.”

I nodded, folded my arms against the chill, stared down at my feet, then back up at her.

I called out just before she went under. “Posey? What do you rule?”

She glanced back with a smile, shrugged. “Nothing solid. Just all the oceans in this world.”

* * *

Brazley made a trophy for me in the shape of an oak leaf. She carved it from the chunk of the Leaf Father’s finger she had cut and then carried around in her pack for months.

I gave Brazley a crow.

She can do the graveyard thing on her own—whatever that actually meant. The pet—a “dog or bird”—was the other item on Andreus’ to-do list for her. Got a bird. Check.

And I loved crows. I thought it was going to be trouble having one in the house, but they have that wonderful way of laughing and I fell in love with its cheer.

A month later I brought the next Andreus into the world. It wasn’t how I expected, didn’t follow any reproductive course I’d ever heard of. No thrusting involved. Damn. No vaginal stretching. Always good. Hardly any work at all, except one exceptionally sweaty night, a burning fever that ravaged my body for hours. I temporarily lost my sight, finally passed out, and woke up with a baby in my bed.

That’s all there was to it.

And all the materials I’d taken from the prior Andreus? Half gone according to Shirley.

My dad got all paternal, drove halfway to Florida and back, stopping at a dozen towns and near-abandoned cities—anything with a store or yard sale—and bought a stroller, bassinet, crib, pastel orange paint and sprayer for “the baby’s room,” and filled the pantry with nutrient fluids, toast sticks, and a bunch of other baby junk I had to label-read to figure out. Reed didn’t know any more about it than I did.

It was December, and the baby was a couple months old when I really knew it was Andreus.

Not that I had much doubt.

I was sitting up late, rocking and singing softly. Brazley was on the couch reading something about marine mammals and playing chess with my dad at the same time.

The baby looked up at me, a fierce stare and an open hungry mouth, bubbles of saliva and sharp pink gums.

And something glistening and oozing at my feet. Thought it was something else at first—babies, they’re always ejecting fluids of some kind.

Nope, the little guy was a beacon, and oozing bones came calling—and you know New England, there’s a damn graveyard on every corner.

I thought of Helodes and laughed, glanced over my shoulder at Brazley and my dad, then back down at the baby.

“Welcome to the Dawnworld, Andreus.”

* * *

Around ten degrees outside, with air so dry it made my bones ache. I let everyone else—Reed, Fritz, Carlos, Brazley and the baby—sleep, and felt a smile come to life on my face at the sound of my dad up early and pacing around downstairs like some rudderless ship in a winter-closed harbor.

I got up, made him coffee—myself a pot of tea, and we sat in the big chairs facing the field behind the house, sipping warmly, and watching the storm, sheets of cold and nothing alive out in the open, but the whole world in motion, drifts of snow breaking against the strong gray trunks at the forest edge.

My dad looked over at me, raised his mug in a feeling of cheer that clearly took some effort, pulled the blanket around his feet with the other hand, “Your mother will have completed her work by now.”

I nodded, sighed, picking up the loneliness in his voice.

Happy winter, mom.

Reed was the next one downstairs, rubbing his eyes, and rummaging around the cupboards for a coffee mug. Carlos followed him down ten minutes later. They leaned against the counters in the kitchen, talking quietly.

I sat up, almost spilled my tea when I caught a faint shift of motion against the white storm. Someone was walking through deep snow, strong marching steps that brought out the figure clearly against the cold trees and bands of solid white. It was a woman—I felt her breathing and the beat of her heart through the storm, through the double-paned windows, her long dark hair like restless shadows of winter branches above her head, ends snapping like whips, a playful anger.

She walked directly at us, lifting her arms, her fingers opening gracefully, face raised to the sky.

My dad was sitting up now, coffee cup halfway to his lips, his mouth open but his breath caught behind his teeth, little wrinkles around his eyes tightening when he focused on her.

She came around the north side of the house, dancing now, the snow swirling in winter flowers around her kicking feet.

Kraneia, my mother, opened the front door, let in gusts of ice and snow, throwing it out of her hair, and she was smiling at me, peeling off her thin coat of autumn.

“My heart has told me not to sleep away this winter, my loves.” Her gaze dropped to the mugs in our hands. “I hope someone’s left enough tea for me.”



endstory

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