On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The Window to Winter
I was already late in my life when I found it. When I discovered my way through.
It was in the place I’d always imagined it would be, tucked down in my mind, and on that particular late-autumn day as I walked home from the train station, I think I already knew that something was going to change.
We all do, at that time of year, of course. We’re attuned to the seasons, but the specific transitions between one and the next can be uncertain. Nature has no sharp delineations, after all, but you can still find them if you look, and that’s never more true than for winter.
No matter how severe or mild, there always comes a particular day when the final season announces itself. Before it takes hold, and with autumn still in progress, winter’s edge makes itself known. The taste of frost in the air, early in the morning. The wind’s teeth suddenly bared. A blanched sky, slowly smothering the setting sun in spiders’ silk. It always comes, every year, and then things slow down.
Winter is a time of slowing, with the world becoming like a man trudging through snow he’s not dressed for, feeling his blood cool and his movements becoming sluggish and disorganised. The false, numbing warmth of frostbite and impaired cognition, as exposure slithers up from the frozen ground, entangling his limbs and throwing them off course. That’s what winter does, whether it’s to a person caught outdoors, or to the world as a whole. It slows everything down… until it’s just slow enough.
When a bus, or a tram, or a train are going slowly, you could leap on. It’s a risk, but it can be done — and on that day, when I could taste and feel winter’s edge, I sensed that things were slow enough that I could concentrate my mind and perhaps jump through.
I even remembered the day I wanted to see again, from long ago. It was winter then too, of course, because that’s part of how it all works. The snow was too deep for cars to make progress, piled up at the sides of the road, all the way up the hill to the old church and its bell-tower. The house from my childhood was there, as always, just across the road. The building was as white as winter itself, trimmed in black, and sometimes colder inside than out.
I stopped walking, on that late-autumn day of the present, feeling the first cut of a razor breeze with my breath pluming in front of me under a golden-static sky. I could feel how close the past had drawn itself up alongside me, and for the first time, I could see my way through. Not a movement in space, but in time. No shift in position, but rather in perspective. And so I went.
Then I was there. The same day, from so many years before. Colder than I remembered, frost on every leaf and railing, roads coated with ice to impede the cars whose designs were more angular, hardier somehow, and in simpler colours than I’d grown accustomed to. I looked down at myself, and I was once again the child I’d been before, not the man I had become by that future day which now wouldn’t arrive for decades. I had really gone back to a different time, and even a different place than the one I’d left.
I’ve been there many times since.
I always arrive at the same moment, on the same day, in the same month and year. It’s always that first day of the final season, with the wind’s teeth grazing my cheek. I can go there whenever I want — as long as the world is slow enough. And that only happens when the first true frost falls here too.
Then I can find the place in my mind; or rather, I can connect to that part of the past that acts as an anchor for me. A shift of perspective, and I slip through, reclaiming my childhood again. Finding myself in the familiar cold of another time, looking up at the house that stands unchanged because it serves as a reference point for everything afterwards.
Sometimes I stay only for minutes, or hours. But sometimes I stay for days, and on rare occasions I’ve stayed for much longer. When I do, I rewrite what happens inbetween, and later I find a subtly or radically altered place when I move forward again, opening my eyes once more in this present age. I don’t tend to remain here for long, though.
Just as that anchor in the past is frozen, both in time and more literally, so too do I find myself locked in place by it. I’m not sure what it was about that particular day that captured me; perhaps just the quiet, and the stillness, and the sense of the winding-down of the world towards renewal, all upon the background of having my entire life ahead.
It was perfect in the way that only the past can be; never the present, and certainly not the future. But I’ve revisited it, physically, so many times since then and it has never decayed from how I always remembered it.
In a way, I suppose it’s really my future that has frozen, never again progressing beyond that day when I first found my way back. I stopped living, choosing instead to relive, over and over, those years that I can bridge in an instant.
From frost to frost, back down the silent decades, as I once again pass through the window to winter.
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