To Keep the World Turning
by Salena Casha
Garlands hung heavily around my neck, each petal caressed into place. The wreath that christened my hair dug into my scalp, the holly leaves like thorns. I stepped back, my skirts rustling. Cold. Everything felt numb. I clenched my fists, watching as my eyes flashed in the ice’s reflection.
“Solstice.” I remembered the way my name had been whispered throughout the congregation. The way my gut had tightened when they pronounced each syllable.
Chosen, I reminded myself.
“It is an honor.”
I stiffened at my mother’s voice, my spine snapping into a line. They said I was to be alone, to reflect in this glass cave until it was time. I swallowed, ignoring the nausea roiling in my stomach.
“I know,” I replied, mirroring her smile with my own. I’m special, I’m unique, I’m everything you want me to be. I smoothed out my skirt, turning to meet her gaze.
“Are you sure you understand that?”
I bit my lip. Of course not. I didn’t understand any of it. It wasn’t fair.
“I do,” I said, my voice wavering. The icy wind sang across my arms. I could feel them turning already that cold, blue color.
Her steps were hesitant as she walked toward me, her heels clicking against the glassy surface. At this time, I was usually with the other girls my age, laughing, running around, and applying more crystals to our creations. Each one was unique, carved and decorated to perfection. These objects were the cold we were never meant to truly feel. We would give them to the chosen one, the one who bore our gifts to Earth.
“What are you doing here?” My voice echoed in the icy cavern, mist rolling off the ground. It was a harsh sound, slicing through the air. I regretted the edge it held, the way it seemed to cut through her delicate skin.
She paused, her blue eyes widening. “I just, I wanted to say…” her voice trailed off, her skin paling.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, my legs crumpling beneath me, my body sliding slowly down to the floor. The numbness had spread through my veins now, the sound of my heartbeat slowing in my ears. “I need to be alone.”
She nodded, sadness bowing her lips down into a frown. What did she have to be sad for? She was allowed to live here for the rest of eternity. She had a family, other than me, a daughter who was about to be made a legend.
“I came to give you this,” she said, her fingers slipping into her skirts and reappearing with a small package. Placing the object on the floor, she rose again, her mouth half-open. “And to say goodbye. We are all so proud of you.” I could see it now, the dewdrop forming in the corner of her eye. I moved forward to wipe it away, my finger catching the liquid as it fell. The bead touched my skin, freezing into a miniature crystal.
My eyes widened, the crystal falling and shattering on the icy floor. I could feel her stepping away from me, horrified. I pressed myself against the wall, my shoulders quivering, listening as her footsteps receded. A monster. Honored to be abhorred. I was King Midas of the world, except what I touched turned to ice, became lifeless. I could cause pain, could hurt people.
“I’m afraid,” I whispered. I wanted to grow old, to stay here in this clouded kingdom with my own kind. Why did I have to be the messenger? Why was it my responsibility to make the world turn again?
A flicker of light flashed off the silver bundle my mother had left. Shivering, I moved forward, reaching for the package. My hands shook as I undid the wrapping, trying to ignore the bluish tint that colored my fingertips. A marble rolled into my palm, the surface clear. It frosted slightly at my touch.
A figure appeared in the glass and I squinted, watching as the scene unfolded. A human child, bundled up in hats and mittens, stood outside, a smile illuminating her face. She stuck out her tongue, a giggle escaping her lips. White flecks entered the image, flurrying slowly toward the girl. The snow fell down on her and she smiled at the spectacle, closing her eyes.
I turned the marble over in my hand, my movement cracking the thin sheet of ice that had formed across my skin. Happiness. Maybe it wasn’t all death and cold and fear.
“Solstice. It is time,” my name again rang through the cavern, my heart quickening slightly, trying to keep my blood pumping. I rose, slipping the ball into my skirts, the object bouncing against my leg as I stepped forward.
The Elder stood before me, his white beard dripping onto his blue clothing. Beside him sat a small box, sparkling snowflakes glinting through the transparent siding. I placed my hand on the top, a rush of words slipping into my mind.
*Make sure this finds a home. *
*I hope this decorates the stars. *
*May joy find those who need it.*
*Please give my gift with love. *
Their earnest prayers, of girls just like me, resounded in my mind and I pressed the box against my chest. This was who we were. I could feel the ice spreading toward my heart, my lips turning purple with the inner chill. By bearing the cold, I protected my people. My family. By giving it to others, I continued our legacy.
The man motioned toward the portal and I slowly stepped toward it, my finger inches from the handle. You can’t come back, a voice whispered in the back of my mind. But this wasn’t about me. It was about what I had to do for them and for us.
I passed through the door, fear flashing through my body like heat. Into the unknown. Into oblivion.
On Earth, winter had arrived.
Salena Casha is a freshman at Middlebury College.
Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Niteblade Magazine, Six Sentences, Sonar 4 Ezine, Writer's Bloc (Rutgers), and Muscadine Lines.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'If Duncan Had Daughters'
'When Elements Collide'
'These Are Different Fates'
'The Yearning of the Lighthouse Fairies'