Frostlings and the chill hag

Фаридуса ХАЗИПОВА | Проза

(Excerpts from a fairytale novel)

 Part 1. Frostlings and the Amaryllises

The year this story occurred, the whole Cis-Urals region was gripped by a chill of the likes it had never seen before. The trees, the electrical wires, the benches in the parks, everything was covered with white, fluffy blankets of hoarfrost. Life became hard for the birds, the animals and even the million or so humans living in the Urals’ largest city.

«U-u-u-uh,» howled the biting, snow-white winds. «U-u-u-uh,» the little Frostlingstried to imitate them, soaring upwards from the snow banks. The whole snow-borne gang was frolicking at large in the forest: now snaking with the wind close to the ground, now swirling around the trees in a powdery whirlwind. And, all that time, the Frostlings kept laughing in their incredibly high voices — like thousands of little bells, ringing in the thicket.

But the chiming, the crackling and the light laughter ceased at once, the moment the Gray Frost appeared. Throwing prickly glances at the mischief-makers who saw it fit to giggle and mess around, he solemnly declared:

“Dear children, your school education is about to begin. The skills you’ll be learning are simple enough: how to chill all living creatures to the bone, how to properly grip people by their noses, how not to let anyone stand still for too long. That’s all there is to it. As for the details, you’ll learn them from your tutors…”

Long ribbons of snow flew down from the ice-clad tree branches, assuming strange shapes.

“Twotsies, come to me! shouted one of the tutoresses in a ringing voice, while constantly changing her appearance. Everything came in motion. The older Frostlings immediately rushed to her side.

“Onesies, come over here!” creaked the other tutoress, and the bark of a nearby tree formed a fissure.
“Nasty Chill Hag,” whispered one of the twotsies (in human terms, ‘second-graders’). And, noticing surprise in the nearby onesie’s bulging eyes, explained:
“Last year, when it took me too long to make a man shiver, she bit me so hard I barely recovered…”

Feeling somewhat confused and even scared, the onesie (whose name was Frosty) scurried in the direction of his brethren.

The gentle blue of the dusk was already beginning to flow down from heavens, as the Frostlings, headed by the Chill Hag, flew out for their first practice lesson. Far ahead gleamed the lights of a large city, full of people, cars and buildings.

Mixed with timidity before the unknown, elation and a sense of joyful wonderment were growing inside Frosty. He felt full of kindness and a desire to embrace this cold, shining, moonlit world.

The Chill Hag kept changing her shape crumbling into tiny flakes; coiling into a creaking snowball; turning invisible and making itself felt with stinging touches. And, all the time, the elongated polygons of her glacial eyes followed her charges diligently.

And now, looking at Frosty, she felt hostile envy at the sight of his naive delight.

“Just you wait, my dear,” she thought vindictively. “I’ll knock some sense into you. You’ll soon forget all this happiness and love nonsense…”

The rest of the Frostlings were true children of the Iciness and the gripping Frost: indifferent, wicked and cruel. Reflected in their bulbous eyes, the world seemed ugly and distorted.

They flew over a tram, making it’s jangling journey along the city’s outskirts. Some of the mischievous Frostlings darted to the nearby park and started shaking tree branches, filling the air with clouds of icy dust. Others quickly smeared all the metal doorhandles in the city with chilly glue. The cold air was teeming with prickly icicles. Crackling fervently, gangs of Frostlings rushed at people, eager to take away the warmth they were carrying. The Chill Hag rubbed her hands contentedly — this year’s onesies looked lively and definitely showed promise. Only Frosty was keeping away from these heartless games. Clinging to a tree branch, he was looking with sympathy at the humans, who shuffled from foot to foot, shrinking their heads into the raised collars.

“Oh, why all this anger and cruelty?” he thought.

None of this escaped the Chill Hag’s attention. She felt more and more irritated by how different Frosty looked from the rest!

The Chill Hag’s brand of education did not involve wasting empty words. She knew better ways of setting such ne’er-do-wells on the straight and narrow…

Like a vicious Fury, she corkscrewed herself into Frosty. There was a loud crackling. Sparks showered from Frosty’s eyes. He crumbled into a hundred prickles that filled the air, and every one of them was burning and screaming in pain.

And then, he seemingly turned to stone. Feeling total indifference towards everything around him, he drew his prickles back in, assuming the form of an uneven circle. Staring out of the center of this circle were his cold, passionless eyes.

Frosty’s only remaining desire was to make the world feel the pain that he’d just experienced. Looking around, he saw a woman taking off her mittens to adjust her headscarf. Arrow-fast, Frosty darted towards her and… stopped.

The reason for this were somebody’s eyes, shining out of the woman’s coat’s fluffy collar. Yes — that was the first thing he saw as he flew nearer! The eyes looked at him with compassion. They were slightly concave, taking in and reflecting the surrounding world with love and care, without distorting the features. The people, the ice-clad trees — everything looked so small and defenseless in those eyes. And suddenly Frosty, too, felt himself weak.

Frostlet rose upwards from the collar, and burst out in all directions, turning into a flurry of large snowflakes.

There was something unusual about her! This mystery kept tormenting Frosty — some vague recollection of things he once knew, but had long forgotten. And then he realized: she exuded an unusual and dangerous warmth. The kind of warmth that was so deadly to the Frostlings.

“Why are you crying?”
“I don’t want all this cruelty. I feel bad about freezing animals, people — even trees — because they all suffer from this. Only the warmth makes everyone feel happy. Isn’t that right?”

He felt hot moisture gather against his will in the corners of his eyes. At the same time, pain was rapidly melting in his heart. Frosty was crying. He was crying because he no longer wanted revenge. Because, right now, he loved everyone and would gladly have given his life for his stupid, cruel-hearted classmates.

As if from a distance, they heard the noise of the city, the crackling of the ardent Frostlings. And then — they saw the Chill Hag, slicing through the air at great speed. The sharp crystals of her icy eyes glinted with mistrust. She’d sensed something suspicious and was charging towards them wrathfully!

“Why are you so sluggish?” she screeched, and spurted ice spikes right into the eyes of the Frostlings. “Having troubles with something? Let me explain once again…”

The tutoress flew up to one of the humans and bit him hard on the nose.

“Oww, it’s so chilly,” mumbled he with cold-numbed lips, and rubbed his nose with stiffened fingers.
“We must be cruel,” said the Chill Hag, putting sharp accent on every word and assuming the shape of a pillar. “Otherwise, all our kind will perish. It’s either us, or…”

She broke off suddenly, then crackled with harsh indignation:

“Them… No, how dare they! I’ll turn them to icicles for that!”

As though by silent agreement, Frosty and Frostlet sped away and darted into a big crowd of people — zigzagging among the coats, bags and boots; clinging to the clothes with their icy prickles.

Before they could fully discern the strange delicate aroma, wafting from a makeshift paper bag, held by one of the humans, they raced right through the newspaper wrapping and grabbed a firm hold of the fragrant object inside.

The bag jerked and glided onwards. It floated past sliding metallic doors, as the human climbed aboard a crowded bus. Inside the bus, a few stray Frostlings drifted around dazedly — clinging to the windows, hungrily soaking in the coldness of the glass. They were falling asleep like autumn flies, then twitching and waking up again in convulsions.

Leaning against the bundle’s inner surface, Frosty looked around. In the gloom, he could make out the pale silhouette of Frostlet. Gray, letter-shaped shadows wandered across her snow-white prickles. As for that large, warm, fragrant object — it turned out to be a bouquet of bright-red amaryllises. The Frostlings’ tiny icy claws were firmly sunk into the soft tenderness of the petals. Once again, Frosty suddenly felt at ease, being so close to all this warmth.

He made himself even more comfortable. The fear of the Chill Hag was quickly evaporating from his heart. Frostlet, too, was enthralled by the unusual sensations and surroundings. The Frostlings laughed in high-pitched voices and began hopping from one taut petal to another. The pair didn’t notice how the flowers immediately stiffened and held their breath, seized by excruciating pain. As for the Frostlings, they felt absolutely happy and carefree.

It was Frostlet who first became weak. Her eyes filled with tears, and she no longer had the strength to tear her snowflake-claws away from the soft, crimson petals. Alarmed, Frosty tried to revive her with his icy breath. The thought of impending death crept into his mind. He felt horrified.

The bag started to move again. From somewhere behind, they heard the hissing sound of bus doors closing. Searingly cold air brushed against the duo’s melting prickles. The Frostlings’ spirits revived at once.

Bright smudges of streetlights glided against the bag’s thin paper walls, intermingled with gloomy wintry shadows. Outside, beyond this cozy little world, the Frost and the Chill Hag kept raging on, aided by the crackling Frostlings. All things living and warm were hurrying to take cover behind closed doors. Judging by the bag’s movements, it’s owner was running, as well.

…Electric light splashed into the little travellers’ eyes. The room swayed from side to side, then finally regained stability. Someone had unwrapped the flowers — their petals already embroidered with hoarfrost — and put them into a vase.

Droplet after droplet, they slowly rolled down from the petals and were already streaming along the stout stems.

The Frostlings were dying, and they were aware of it.

“We are dying, so as not to become cruel,” said Frosty to his friend. “This world is so hard to live in, when you’re warm and weak…”

A few seconds later, Frostlet melted completely and slid down, turning into a large drop of water. As for Frosty, the only things that remained of him were a few prickles and his eyes, dripping with moisture. But, soon, he too slid down the stem, to join his companion.

They met again inside the vase, which was filled with their true brothers and sisters. The two ex-Frostlings grew so excited about their newfound existence that they joined all the other drops of water in a merry dance around the stout stems of the amaryllises…

Part 10. The Gray Frost and The Big Waterdrop

It was somewhere over the Ural Mountains that the Gray Frost and his Iciness detached themselves from a flotilla of fast-moving snow clouds and began their descent. Followed by a small retinue of spiky icicles, they landed not far from the residence of the Big Waterdrop.

They approached a grotto, from the mouth of which a cheerful waterfall was falling. The Gray Frost moved his hands sideways and the waterdrops froze in mid-fall. The Iciness sent forth her breath and turned everything that was moist into frozen ice crystals. Swirling frosty haze filled the air. Around the entrance to the grotto, a glistening curtain appeared, fringed with icicles of various length and curliness.

Even the Frost himself couldn’t help admiring this newly-created fairytale palace, from the depths of which, it almost seemed, the world’s most beautiful organ melodies were about to flow.

But no music came. He entered the grotto and stopped tactfully at the entrance, so as not to freeze the inhabitants.

In the middle of the grotto lay a bright-blue lake, within which lights silently shimmered. Suddenly, the lake rose upwards and became the Big Waterdrop. She kept growing in size, having already risen high enough to brush the ceiling.

The Gray Frost shook his head and an army of obedient snowflakes lifted him up to the ceiling as well.

They now equalled each other in height — both of them true giants. His beauty dazzled onlookers with snow-white blaze of diamond-like ice-shards. She was clad in the shimmering radiance of her clear-blue, fluid essence, also dotted with blazing sparks.

“Well done, old man, — the Big Waterdrop thought approvingly.
“I greet you, oh Big Waterdrop, — said the Gray Frost with dignity and reduced his stature a little. The mistress of the grotto did likewise, lowering herself to his level.
“Creakiest of snow to you, — said the Big Waterdrop with a smile, using a greeting she had once heard uttered by the Wind. — What brings you to me?
“I’ve come to talk about something very important. Planet Earth and it’s inhabitants are suffering from the lack of fresh drinkable water. Things will become even worse, once there are no really large snowcaps left.
“Well, why don’t you pour down more snow? Why don’t you breathe more chill into winters?

Even though the Gray Frost was trying not to move, his continuing presence inside the grotto caused the temperature there to decrease. This proved enough for the Big Waterdrop and the surrounding droplets to start cooling down. They became covered with pearly-silver lace of icicles, which kept moving closer together, forming a soft shroud of ice.

“I beg your pardon for this unintentional frostiness.”
“No need to make excuses, — smiled the Big Waterdrop.” Such a freeze will not hurt us. On the contrary, it allows us to take a break from endless motion. And when you and the Iciness leave, we will return to our usual state, completely undamaged. So, why do you think that me and my subjects are the cause of the problem? We’ve long ceased to be enemies with the snow. These days, you and I are allies. Everyone here understands perfectly that both the frost and the heat are useful, each in its own time.”
“We’re having difficulties doing our work, because our snowflakes no longer have the time to reach the ground. Warm Winds turn them into rain and slush.”
“Is this true?!” the Warm Winds cried indignantly, peering out of their hiding places in the cracks around the grotto’s entrance. “So, it’s all our fault, eh?! Say that again and we’ll fly inside and defrost everyone…”
“Easy, easy,” uttered the Big Waterdrop soothingly. And, turning back to the Frost, said:
“I appreciate your tactfullness, oh Gray Frost. Since you’ve left your Iciness outside our abode, my Warm Winds won’t get in, either. But, they are totally innocent of causing climate change. There is something more serious going on, something that causes harm not only to your domain, but to mine, as well (not to mention, to the planet as a whole) — the greenhouse effect…”

The blue ice shards surrounding the Big Waterdrop began nodding in agreement, and it suddenly seemed as if quiet music filled the grotto, immediately picked up by the motionless crystals that studded the walls.

“Looks like I’m out of step with progress,”  admitted the Gray Frost, embarrassed. “Of course, I’ve heard about this phenomenon, but did not attach importance to it.”
“How do you like me to explain it to you: popularly or scientifically?” asked the Big Waterdrop, unable to resist a barb.

The Warm Winds and the frozen droplets giggled.

You and your acid tongue, the Gray Frost thought, but answered keeping his calm:

“Explain properly.”

Having inwardly chided herself for showing disrespect to her guest, the Big Waterdrop began:

“The fact that you don’t have an in-depth knowledge of this problem is quite easy to explain. In winter, the greenhouse effect is not so noticeable. It’s in the last few decades that the phenomenon has intensified and began to cause widespread concern. As you know, our planet is surrounded by atmosphere, which consists of various gases. These gases include a mixture of water vapors, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone, that can be found in the atmospheric layer known as the troposphere. Light energy from the Sun passes freely through the atmosphere, gets absorbed by the Earth’s surface, turns into heat energy and rises upwards again. However, it can’t escape into space, becoming trapped by those tropospheric gases. The layer of gases heats up and sends the energy back to the Earth’s surface. Thus, between the surface and the troposphere, the greenhouse effect occurs.”
“But, this phenomenon is nothing new, — the Gray Frost protested. — One can say, that it’s as old as the planet itself. “That’s right. The point is that it’s only became a serious problem in the 20th century. One of the reasons was the increase of carbon dioxide in the troposphere — partly due to the destruction by the humans of many of the Earth’s forests, which used to absorb this gas. Also, as the result of the humans developing their industries, new types of gases appeared in the atmosphere. These days, the tropospheric layer absorbs infrared radiation 50-100 times more efficiently than before! Just imagine, by what huge leaps the greenhouse effect has intensified! And — there are no «vents» that open out into space, anywhere! My winds can no longer reach the colder atmospheric layers and end up getting hotter and hotter inside this greenhouse — just like your snowflakes…”

The Big Waterdrop became so agitated, that part of her icy covering melted away.

At that precise moment, bright sun peered into the grotto and blinding reflections immediately appeared on its mirror-like walls. Now it looked like the Luminary itself was framed by a lace of wonderfully-intricate and lushly-patterned icicles. The air inside the grotto grew slightly warmer.

Having thanked the Big Waterdrop, the Gray Frost hurried outside.

On the way back to the Siberian city, he told the Iciness of what he’d just learned.

The way the Gray Frost perceived it, the news about the greenhouse effect meant the collapse of everything for which he had lived and worked. His belief in the merits of winter used to be unshakable, like the never-melting icebergs in the lands of eternal cold. Now, this belief was crumbling, like a glacier in spring, sagging awkwardly to the ground in a cloud of billowing dust and ice shards. The image of this wreckage persisted in his mind, signifying the futility of any efforts to preserve the winters and the snow.

“So, no matter how hard we try, — he told the Iciness, — No matter how honest we are about doing our work — the greenhouse effect will still negate all our efforts? And nothing is able to reverse the situation? And climate warming really is inevitable? If that’s the case, then, what’s the use in any of us — you, me, the snow, the Frostlings?”

Usually calm and reasonable, the Iciniess felt unable to comfort the Gray Frost. She knew how important his work was to him, and realized that empty words would be of no help at all.

They both inwardly searched for answers, but couldn’t find any…

Part 13. In the Far North

The Arctic!… The Frostlings couldn’t stop gasping with delight. Here, everything was shining, from the spotless whiteness of the snows, to the blue depths of the sky. Even the air was the color of true gold. The glaciers struck them with their enormity and bulk, while the icebergs pleased the eye with fanciful architecture. In a fit of mischief-making, they landed on the back of a polar bear, who waited for its prey at an opening in the ice.

…A few weeks later, atop one of the North Pole’s highest peaks, all the Frosts and the Icinesses of the planet Earth gathered for their annual meeting, to sum up the work done during the winter period. For the last thirty years or so, the Frosts kept prophesizing the inevitability of the oncoming apocalypse. «The heat is coming in a wide front, capturing more and more territories», they were saying almost in unison. «The winters are retreating further and further north, with snowfalls turning into snowy rains; in some habitats, water basins are drying up.»

And, this time, the Chief Frost — the Arctic one — began his speech by talking about the things that caused concern to everyone present.

“As much as it saddens me, we must once again face the facts: the heat is already reaching the traditionally wintry areas.”

He threw a stern look at the Moscow Frost and the Urals Frost, who were chatting animatedly and laughing. Both grew subdued at once.

“The situation in the Northern parts of Canada is close to catastrophic,” the Chief Frost continued. “Over the whole of the last century, the glacier there has retreated by 13 kilometers. And, in the last ten years alone it has fallen back another 14 kilometers. Out of 1400 glaciers, more than 300 have disappeared completely, and the rest have diminished by half. In Alaska, Iceland, Greenland and the Arctic, glaciers fade away before one’s very eyes, only in the last three years, their height has decreased twofold, and they’ve retreated from the coast by tens of kilometers.The ice cover is becoming ever thinner — in the last 50 years, it has decreased almost by half. Huge glaciers, which once seemed so indestructible, are crumbling into icebergs, to be spat out piece by piece into the ocean. The global sea level is rising, threatening to set the climate on the path towards global warming.”

The Canadian and Icelandic Frosts nodded their heads in agreement.

“Enough of this doom and gloom!” said the Moscow Frost, lounging casually on a glacier ledge. “Our planet is going through natural cyclical processes: getting warmer and colder in turns. This is normal.”
“Exactly!” the Urals Frost put in enthusiastically. “The word is that we’re actually in for a global cool-down, not global warming. Look, it even snows in Africa these days!”
“By the way, why are winters in your area so obnoxiously warm?” the East Siberian Frost inquired, addressing the Moscow Frost. “It’s not me, it’s the winds who characterize your work in such words. How on earth did you manage to get things into such a lousy state?”
“What do they know?! — the Moscow Frost parried. — You might say that I’m working under heroic conditions over there. Do you realize what life in a megapolis is like? The heat is everywhere — below the street level, coming from the subway and various tunnel networks; up in the air, due to heavy evaporation.. A big city creates its own greenhouse effect, strengthened manifold.”

He leaned back against the ledge, satisfied with his speech.

“Don’t listen to him,” sniggered the Urals Frost bitingly. “It’s been ages since he’s even visited his realm. Both he and his Iciness live in the Antarctic all year long.”
“Oh, yeah?!” the Moscow Frost’s eyes flashed angrily. “What about yourself, then? Even though there’s still lots of snow in the Urals and Cis-Urals regions, the truly cold and long-lasting winters have departed it long ago.
“Well, why don’t the West Siberian Frost take charge of the Urals region, as well!” the Urals Frost uttered scathingly, turning to look at the Gray Frost. “Already, he’s recently paid a visit to my realm without asking my permission, or even bothering to say hello!”
“The climate inside your realm is so warm, that I and my Lady Iciness would’ve melted, had we stayed there for long, —the Gray Frost replied calmly. — And, anyway, I only made a landing in the Urals to have a few words with the Big Waterdrop.”

Amazed, all the other Frosts turned to face him in unison. The distinguished assembly became enveloped in a dense cloud of snowflakes, dislodged by the sudden movement. Soon, the cloud settled down, as the snow clung to the Frosts once again.

“Well, how did it go?” asked the Frosts incredulously. “Have you really been to her grotto? You’re a real hero, you know!”
“I’m alive and well, as you can see. However, our conversation wasn’t a cheerful one. It reminded of the atmosphere we have here today: there are difficult times waiting up ahead.”
“Yes,” the Chief Frost nodded. “Winters everywhere are in grave danger. One day, all of us will be swept into the ocean, there to swim around with the fish. And I don’t need to tell you where we might end up after that.”
“What are we fretting about?” the Moscow Frost chuckled. “Let’s all fly away to the South Pole, where winters are stable. We can live at our heart’s content there.”
“Listen, you sybarite, don’t you understand how serious this is?” the Alaskan Frost reared up angrily. And, now addressing everyone present, exclaimed:
“What are we going to do?!”

No matter how hard the Frosts tried, none of them could come up with an acceptable course of action. The discussion lasted late into the night, with agitated voices echoing over the endless icy expanse. And, all that time, turbulent waters kept gradually undermining the glacier from below.

On the way back to the residence, the Gray Frost said resignedly to the Iciness:
“I don’t see any way out and don’t see any forces, capable of solving these problems…”

Once again, he clearly heard the roar of huge ice shards, sliding into the ocean.

A few months later, the glacier, on which the Frosts had held their meeting, became covered with deep, snake-like cracks. At the bottom of those blue and white abysses, the corrugated icy surfaces came alive with bubbling, azure-colored streams. Alarmed, the Arctic Frost and his Iciness darted to and fro above the glacier, filling the cracks with snow and sealing them with chilly blasts. For a time, the bottoms of the fissures were starting to get overgrown with wavy, transparently-blue ice. But, soon, it too disappeared under the cheerfully-lapping waves, and the cracks continued to widen. Exhausted, the Frost, the Iciness and the Wind sat down at the edge of a thirty-meter precipice and watched with pain, as tempestuous waters obliterated the results of their labors. Their supplies of snow were all but depleted. Occasionally, they rose up above the clouds, into space, to recharge their freezing powers and procure a fresh portion of snowflakes. Then, they descended back to the cracks again, trying to fill them with snow and glue them up with ice.

But, eventually, there comes a moment when a rumble resounds suddenly over the ice and the snow. It appears out of nowhere and begins to grow, as if during an earthquake. With a crunching sound, one of the fissures starts to expand rapidly and then a large shard breaks off from the glacier. Like gray grit, large-grained snow crumbles from its surface. Resembling a carcass of a multi-ton animal, the breakaway iceberg slowly moves away from the glacier. It tilts ungainly and turns over, exposing to sunlight its blue, ocean waters-polished belly. The playful waves then effortlessly split the glacier into dozens of icebergs that spill forth, to freely wander the ocean…

About the author:

Firdausa Khazipova, was born in the city of Ufa.

Graduate of the Bashkortostan State Pedagogical University, she is currently working as the chief editor of a newspaper.

Firdausa is the winner of numerous journalism contests. She is a member of the Journalists’ Union of Russia and Belarus and a candidate member of the International Union of Writers.

Has the title of «Honored worker of press and mass media of the Republic of Bashkortostan».

Having authored  several non-fiction books, Firdausa became a finalist in the «Author of the year 2015» literary contest. She has also taken part in the «New names» program (2016). Winner of the 2017 O. Henry Literary Contest.

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