Fiction Friday: C20 Anthology of Dreams

A selection from “Summer Girl” by Wren Handman in the Anthology of Dreams for Changeling: The Dreaming.

After we had talked, and walked through the woods awhile, and dipped our feet in the pond just beyond the back lot, we began the slow meander back towards the old barn.

“Tell me a story,” she said.

I threaded my way through the trees and she followed, half a step behind. The sunlight lazy there, the heat not so strong in the half-light. I could feel the air against my face, the warmth of it, but I closed my eyes and remembered winter.

“First you have to remember,” I said, and I knew that she had her eyes closed too, feeling her way through the woods by the feel of her feet, following the sound of my voice. “Remember what it feels like to have the air cool against your face. Remember when the sky is so bright blue it hurts to look at, and the ground is white and smooth like an unbroken lake. Remember how it feels when you breathe in and the air is crisp, like the rough edge of a new leaf. Winter.”

“I remember,” she whispered.

“One winter, when the snow was piled so high a grown man could barely reach the top of the drifts, a young girl fell into a deep, dark sleep. And her sister, alone with her in the cottage while their father was out hunting, had to set off into the wild white country, in search of a rare cure.”

“Did the cure grow in the winter?”

“This cure only grew in the winter. It was a rare plant, a flower with beautiful, bright, purple petals, and tiny emerald leaves, called forget-me-never. This plant only survived under snow drifts, at the base of the mountains. Instead of water it would drink ice melt, and instead of sunlight it absorbed the howls of wolves.”

“Did she have to fight wolves?”

“Of course. But she wasn’t scared — she brought a long, sharp knife, and a piece of steak. She threw the steak far away and slashed at their alpha with her long, sharp knife, and he decided he would rather eat well than eat something he would have to fight and kill, so he ran after the meat. But the other wolves recognized the fire in her spirit and believed her one of them. When the other alpha ran from her she became the new alpha, and took over the pack. And she ran with them, through the snowdrifts and up the mountainside, and she howled to the moon that seemed to reflect the snow beneath it, and she had never been so wild and free and happy in her entire life. But…”

“But her sister.”

I nodded. “She remembered her sister. So when she went home that night, back to the den where the pack slept, she dug deep into the snow and found the forget-me-never, and she picked it and began the long trek home, through snowdrifts as high as her head. But the snow was even more dangerous than the wolves. Snow makes you cold, and it makes you sleepy, and it makes you want to lie down and forget everything.”

“But how could you sleep when you were cold?” she asked with a skeptical tilt of one lazy eyebrow. She picked a leaf from a nearby branch and shredded it, deliberate and slow. “I can’t even sleep when it’s too chilly.”

“Snow is different,” I chided. I tripped on something, catching myself against a tree trunk, and I pictured the girl, stumbling through the snow drifts, lost in a blizzard. “Snow is so cold it eats you up until you don’t feel anything at all. It makes you so cold you get warm again, and you think ‘I’ll just rest… just for a minute….’ And the blizzard around her was so fierce she could barely see the ground, and the path behind her was devoured as soon as she made it.”

“Did she eat the flower? The forget-me-never?”

“Just enough — just enough to remember, to not forget. She had to be careful, or there wouldn’t be enough for her sister. So she ate the smallest bite, a tiny flash of purple on her tongue, just enough to remember the way forward; and finally she reached the little cottage, and she felt the warmth of the fire and knew…”

“She was safe.”

“She was safe,” I agreed, and I spun towards her. She was only a step behind, shivering in imagined sympathy, and I grabbed her and wrapped my warmth across her body, feeling her heart pounding against my neck as I snuggled in close. For a minute I forgot how warm it was in our summer forest, as the remnants of winter tugged on my memory.

“Snow is so cold it eats you up, until you don’t feel anything at all,” she said, repeating her favorite line. She kissed my neck, her lips brushing a path of summer through the fog of our pretend. She seemed more solid, somehow, more present than she had when I first arrived. Pleasure quickened her smile. “I almost forgot — there’s a new bramble bush by the pond and I think if we’re clever we can turn it into a trap for unsuspecting goblins.” She took my hand and I let her lead, content to embrace this latest game. We were never still and quiet for long, my Summer Girl and I.


One night, several weeks into summer, I had to leave her early, to attend my uncle’s birthday party. I invited her, of course, knowing she would only smile and say no, but that night I wished more than ever that she was beside me. Mother forced me to sit with the adults, and Aunt Beverly asked me endless merciless questions about school and boys and my future, and when I pinched my oldest brother under the table he only looked at me, tired and bored, and said, “When are you going to grow up?”

The next morning, I woke feeling wrung out. I could not clear my mind of conversations about crop rotations, or the look of exhausted despair on my mother’s face when I got into a wrestling match with my younger cousin. Most days I had no desire to live up to their suffocating expectations, but sometimes… I wanted to desire it. Wished being who they meant me to be could make me happy, as it seemed to do for my brothers and my friends.

I slept in late and walked down to the barn with slow steps, my hands still at my sides. For a moment I didn’t see her there, and a rush of fear gripped me. She was always waiting; she was always here. I went into the barn, panic gripping my pulse in a steady hand. There was no sign of her in the half-formed shadows. What if she had left, and I had no idea where to find her? What if her parents had moved away, and — oh god, what if she had been kidnapped, stolen by an evil cult and there would be no one to rescue her—

“Where were you?” she whispered.

I spun, panicked soothed away by the sound of her voice; but it returned as soon as my eyes lit on her face. She was standing only a step away; I could not see how she got so close without my hearing her. There was something strange about her, something shimmery and not-quite-there, and the look on her face… was so strangely like that of my mother… I shivered and reached out to touch her.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m dying,” she whispered.

“Don’t.” I let go of her arm, taking a step back as if to banish both her and the words.

“That isn’t a game.”

“I’ve been poisoned,” she whispered. “There’s only one cure — deep in the heart of Fairy.”

“There’s no such thing as fairy,” I said. I heard my brother’s voice, saw the look on my mother’s face. My Summer Girl sighed, a breath like a goodbye.

“Then I suppose I’ll die,” she whispered, and she turned away. In the barn’s strange half-light, she seemed almost transparent. I imagined I could see motes of dust through the paper-white skin of her chest. I felt my heart constrict, felt her voice like breath leaving me.

“Wait!” I cried. She paused, looked back over her shoulder at me. There was no hope on her face, only quiet resolution. She was so pale, and I could not imagine this barn without her, could not imagine summer. It was only a game, after all, what could it hurt?

And what if — just maybe, just possibly, what if — it wasn’t a game?

“Of course I’ll come,” I said. “How could you think I wouldn’t?”

Find out what happens to the Summer Girl in the Anthology of Dreams for Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Edition, also available on Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook.

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