Some people boil apricots in honey wine or pickle pumpkin for the winter, but I make preserves of a different sort. I have it all: the timid spring sunlight, gentle and cool; the hot summer sunshine, smelling of wildflowers and joy; and the last rays of the autumn sun, bittersweet and mellow. I run my fingers over the dozens and dozens of jars in the cellar.
It’s that time again.
The sun won’t rise for a month.
That’s when my demons come out, screaming and scratching for attention.
I hope I can last until the summer sun scorches them away.
Author’s Note: The winters in Finland are long and bleak. Can you imagine not seeing the sun for a couple of months?
We built the snow dragon in a forest clearing, our secret place. She was twenty feet long, from spiny snout to curving tail. For eyes we gave her bits of flint, for teeth dozens of the sharpest icicles. We fed her with our hopes and dreams.
“Will she fly?” I asked Ella.
She petted the dragon’s long, slender neck. Blue fuzz stuck to it from her mittens.
“Sure, if we believe.”
One day the bullies followed us.
We climbed on our dragon’s back.
“Wish real hard,” Ella whispered.
Wings of ice and snow flexed. Fangs of ice gleamed.
Author’s Note: Dragons are cool. Sometimes literally.
Humans were cruel, this Snowdrop knew even before the child tore off her wings, but their winters were crueler. The first snow fell, and she shivered in her burrow, lined with dry leaves. The frozen rowanberries she had to eat gave her a stomachache.
One day she lay in the snow to die.
But she didn’t. That night fragile wings of ice grew from the dead stumps on her back.
Snowdrop flew, rushing through the freezing air. She enjoyed it so much she forgot to fly to Faerie.
Then came the thaw.
It was a long wait until next winter.
Author’s Note: Could you fly on wings of ice?
The melted tin hisses and sputters as I drop it into the cold water. I roll up my sleeve and lift it out. Lara got little nubbly sprinkles that mean money, and Jonna’s resembled a crown, which means marriage or power.
Mine looks exactly like a werewolf. I drop it.
“Wow, that’s creepy,” Lara says. “You want a do-over?”
I nod, drop the offending thing into the ladle, and start melting it again.
I fish it out.
The werewolf, again.
I scratch at the bite marks on my arm and wonder if I casting silver bullets is hard.
Author’s Note: Casting tin on New Year’s Eve to tell the future is a Finnish tradition, but what if you see something you don’t want to?
“You have no vocational training whatsoever, so there’s very little I can do. Maybe a part-time job in the sanitation industry?” Ms. White said.
“I have special skills,” the dwarf said.
“What kind of special skills?”
“Got any straw?”
“This is an office, sir.”
The dwarf took out a knitting hook and grabbed a handful of shredded paper from the trash. In a moment he handed her a gold bracelet.
“We might be able to come to some sort of arrangement,” Ms. White said as she admired his handiwork.
“Yes, we might,” the dwarf said, eyeing Ms. White’s pregnant belly.
Author’s Note: You get all kinds at the unemployment office.
Sweat ran down Maestro Zithra’s brow. They had played parts of the Forbidden Symphony before, but this was the first time they would perform the piece in its entirety.
The first movement passed without incident.
Five people fainted during the second.
The third movement sent a dozen members of the audience into convulsions.
At the first notes of the fourth movement, a noxious gloom descended, solidifying into a monstrous being. It raised its claws and growled.
Then Perkins, the triangle player, struck a false note.
The thing disappeared.
Only half the audience went mad.
Maestro Zithra considered it a success.
Author’s Note: One day, at the Symphony…
Faye was in her second decade when she broke Lady Toadstool’s prized necklace. Pearls rolled all over Faerie and beyond, and the lady, furious, cursed her to walk the land until she recovered the baubles.
Faye searched for centuries: in Faerie, the demon realms, and the world of men.
She had found all but one. The last pearl lay in the museum case before her; she needed only break the glass to be free.
But then she’d have to return home, and she so adored green smoothies and California rolls.
She turned her back to the case.
Perhaps next year.
Author’s Note: They probably don’t have California rolls in Faerie.
The vampire sharpened his teeth with a nail file as he waited.
A knock on the door.
“Your Bloody Mary, sir,” the bellboy said.
The vampire dragged him inside and pounced, but his teeth chipped on silver.
The boy grinned. “Sorry, sir. You old-timers are so predictable.” He sighed. “Did you have to break the glass? Tomato juice is hard to get out of the carpet.”’
The vampire blushed a pale pink.
“Perhaps a carafe of pig’s blood? You need only ask, sir.”
The vampire mumbled something and shoved a fifty in the boy’s hand.
Room service was so expensive.
Author’s Note: You lose enough bellboys, you start to wonder.
I met her in the spring, when she wore the palest green birch leaves.
Oh, how we danced.
In the summer, dewy flowers blossomed on her brow, and her kisses tasted of sunlight and the morning rain.
When fall arrived, she came to me crowned with fiery leaves and rowan berries, the scent of moldering apples on her breath.
In the winter, she lay under a downy blanket of snow, still and cold.
At the first touch of the thaw,
a tiny sapling cradled in her hands.
I planted it in my back yard, next to the roses.
Author’s Note: I saw a wonderful modern-dance piece where the performers danced with real birch trees.
They were the best candy apples I had ever made, glossy and black, dipped in chopped pistachios and edible glitter. Mikey peeled one off the cookie sheet and bit into it. It took him a few tries to crack the caramel. He gave me a gruesome, black-and-green grin.
Mom turned one over in her hand, frowning. “These look different. Which recipe did you use?”
I handed her the parchment paper covered in Grandma’s spidery handwriting.
Mom dropped the note and looked at my brother. “Oh no. No, no, no.”
With a loud pop, Mikey turned into a toad.
Author’s Note: Candy apples always look magical to me.