The Snow King
by Kate Grove
Gwen had always thought snowfall was magical and revered those moments when she was able to experience it. The first miracle arrived yesterday with the unexpected snowfall in the small town of North Wales which hadn’t seen snow for the last decade. Gwen was desperately hoping her other wish would become reality, as well.
As she sighed, her breath came out in a little puff. A sudden wind blew her hat off and swept her long black hair into her face. She chased after the hat and waited until the harsh wind subsided before arranging her hair back in place. Irritation reflected in her pine green eyes as she put her hat on and picked up the pace. She was already at the park near the town border. With pure white snow stretched as far as the eye could see, the place looked as if it was part of a fairy tale. The lone weeping willow’s majestic form greeted her on the left as she stepped into the park. The snow had settled on every branch nook and cranny. Gwen noticed some boot prints along the well-used footpath.
She heard children squealing with joy and looked up; there was a small hill on the far corner of the park, and the kids had claimed it. A smile appeared on Gwen’s face, wishing she was one of the children, sliding down the hillside, without worrying about how to pay rent due end of the month. Her gaze stayed on the playing children for a moment more before she sighed in melancholy and turned away.
Her walk slowly took her to the other side of the hill, and she glanced at the kids once more. She could only see their backs as they waited for their turn. She felt something was out of place, and it took her a couple of minutes to realise why. The massive ivy that usually covered this side of the hill appeared to be only on the upper side. Puzzled, Gwen went closer. Her boots crunched in the pure snow, but she paid it no heed.
When she arrived at the foot of the hill, she realised the ivy hadn’t disappeared, but it had turned white. It had perfectly blended in with its surroundings, and Gwen tentatively reached out a hand to touch it. The texture was as usual, only the colour seemed to be affected. As she absentmindedly stroked a leaf, wondering what would cause the evergreen to turn white, she heard a rustle, and the massive ivy wall unexpectedly moved.
Gwen jumped back, suppressing a squeak. She carefully peeked in through an opening which had appeared. There was a path leading into darkness. Gwen looked around to see if anyone else was looking, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to what was happening. “Well, you did ask for a miracle” she told herself, gathering her courage. “No risk, no gain!” With this thought in mind, she bravely stepped into the secret cave.
The first sign of danger was when the ivy curtain closed behind her. Gwen twirled on her heels and tried to move the plants, but the massive wall didn’t budge. When she tore off a leaf, another grew in its place immediately. A chill ran down her spine and she backed away, stumbling in the dark. Cursing, she patted down her pockets until she found her mobile. The screen lit up by her touch, but her happiness about having a light source had quickly evaporated as she noticed the lack of reception bars. “Oh, for the love of...!” Gwen trailed off, looking up and down at the narrow dirt tunnel. The only way ahead was to follow deeper into the unfamiliar path. Her pulse quickened as her imagination came up with possible scenarios, each one direr than the last. The best-case scenario she could come up with: she was alone and would die of hunger and thirst and become a mummy, and archaeologists would find her a thousand years later. She shooed away her scary thoughts. Being an artist had its setbacks, for example, having an overactive imagination.
Gwen turned to face the blackness of the inner part of the tunnel. It led further inside. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and set out with her phone held out. Its weak light didn’t help her nerves. Hope formed in her heart as she noticed the darkness slowly giving way to scant light. There was a curve in her path and as soon as she took a turn, the light grew so strong, it blinded her for a moment. She put up a hand to protect her eyes, then carefully opened them a fraction. The brightness had faded, leaving a comfortable illumination.
She was standing at the entrance of a dome-shaped chamber. The walls were rough rock, just as the tunnel had been. There was only one piece of furniture, which was in the middle of the chamber. Gwen thought it looked like an altar; it was made of white marble, its surface smooth. It reminded her of the freshly fallen snow outside. Her breath hitched as she saw a figure lying on top of it, unmoving.
Gwen bit her lip and looked around. The place looked empty, except for her and that figure. She could only hear her own breathing in the closed space. Did she stumble upon an ancient crypt? Horrified of what she would find, but too curious for her own good, she inched her way towards the altar. She needed to know what she was dealing with, especially if she was stuck there for who knew how long. She gasped in surprise as she saw the features of the figure.
It was a man, seemingly carved from the same marble as the altar. He looked as if he was in a deep, peaceful sleep. His skin and clothes were as white as the altar he lay upon, but his long, plaited hair had a blondish colour. Mesmerised, Gwen felt the need to touch his hair. Her hand rose unconscious, but as soon as she realised what she was doing, she stopped. She stood there, leaning above him, with a hand in the air, looking at the unmoving figure.
“What if it was a vampire? What if it wakes and wants my blood?” Her hand went back to her side at the thought. Nothing happened for a long moment and she released a breath. Gwen shook her head. She needed to cut down the time she spent watching movies. Blinking away the last remnants of her wild imagination, she clearly saw she was looking at a statue and there was nothing to be afraid. She continued her observation of the handsome creation.
There was a simple crown on his head, made of three kinds of gold interlaced. He was handsome and sporting a goatee. His arms were crossed in front of his chest, like a mummy’s and there was a mistletoe in one of his fists. The vivid red and green colour broke the neutralness of his appearance. Gwen noticed he wore wide, gold bracelets. Leaning over, she could make out some mystical runes. Red and green reflected in them and as she glanced up, she realised there were dozens of mistletoes hanging from the surrounding ceiling.
She straightened up, looking down at the figure. For some reason, she felt reverence in his presence. The mistletoe in his hand drew her gaze to it. It was still a couple of weeks until Christmas.
The urge to touch him returned. He looked almost alive. Gwen tentatively reached out her hand to touch his hair. It felt silky to the touch, and she gasped, stepping back in surprise. He wasn’t a statue! Gwen looked around once more, looking for an explanation, but there was none. Not a mural, nor an ancient script somewhere in the cave. Maybe if she could read the runes on his bracelets, she might have figured something out, but that was not the case. How long had he been there? Was he dead? Was he sleeping? Why was he there? What was he? A torrent of questions continued to assault her thoughts.
Gwen glanced back at him, and this time, she couldn’t resist the pull. Soon, she was standing next to him, staring down at his sleeping form. She didn’t feel fully aware of her actions, it was as if she was in a trance. The mistletoe seemed to challenge her. When Gwen carefully removed it from his hand, she had accidentally touched his fingers. His skin was smooth and at room temperature and his fingernails had a pinkish hue to them. She looked at his face in surprise. What if he was still alive? What if he was like Snow White? Gwen eyed the mistletoe suspiciously. There was a small piece of paper attached to it, which she hadn’t noticed earlier. When she unrolled it, she saw a simple message: KISS ME.
“Well,” she talked to herself, as usual when she was alone and nervous, “I guess I don’t have anything to lose.” For a moment, she felt as if she had landed in an odd crossover of Alice in Wonderland and Snow White. Gwen battled with herself for a brief moment. He was unconscious stranger and the message itself was suspicious. But her heart whispered that this may help her out of this situation.
She leant forward and lightly kissed him on the cheek.
As soon as her lips made contact, the whole cave rumbled, and she scurried back, frightened. “There you go, Gwen. Great work. Now you’ll be buried alive, because you couldn’t stop yourself from kissing a stranger under a sleeping spell.” She felt a hysterical laugh bubbling up.