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Dispatches from a Frozen City

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Dispatches from a Frozen City

Postby Erehwon » Sat Aug 12, 2006 3:03 pm


I wrote this thing this morning, just going 2 hours straight. Strongly influenced by M John Harrison, I'm curious as to what you guys think.

Dispatches from a Frozen City

The Young Queen bade him discover marvels, wonders the likes of which the civilized world had never known. The explorer knew where he must go to find such things: The Great Frozen North. Held in Winter's icy thrall through all the year, the frozen North kept its mysteries clutched close to its breast; but the mysteries could be uncovered by a man brave enough to journey into the trackless lands and wrest it from its jealous grip. The explorer was just the sort of man.

He and his band of companions left the city to great fanfare. And as they left it, waving at the adoring throngs lining the streets, they could never have dreamt at the outcome of the ill-fated expedition. Winter was hard in the Southlands, and cruel to the unwary. But Winter in the North was an unstoppable force, making its presence felt in every moment of every second of every minute of every hour. Even Time bowed before the cold in the North – hours passed like days, and nights like eternity.

That foolish band marched into the North, and the weak among them died there, died the thousand little deaths of cowardice, fear, anger, and then the one great death when the cold had frozen their hearts and eyes, leaving their rime-bound corpses to stare at the white sky. In the North, Winter was one's lover and constant companion. The surviving members did not bother to bury their fallen comrades, for the cold did it for them. It lovingly erected cairns of snow and ice in their memory, blanketing them, hiding their horrified faces. And they trudged on, trudged towards a horizon that could not be seen. But the explorer felt it.

Their were conspiracies against his life, mutinies plotted in the huddled conferences of the long night as the men lay together for warmth. The explorer listened dispassionately as his stalwarts schemed his demise not six inches from his shivering body. It did not matter. All were thwarted by the cold, the men too numb and tired to strike him down, his body's warmth too important to lose. All had died by the time he reached the frozen city. The explorer stood alone before its icy majesty – frost-tipped minarets gutted the low-lying clouds, spilling great gusts of snow to fall on the bodies that lay in the street below. For the frozen city was a mausoleum, crypt to an entire people, their epitaph only the howling wind. They littered the street, numerous as snowflakes, their agony displayed in a thousand different manners. Some had succumbed alone, prostrate, hands splayed out, begging for clemency. Others died in groups and pairs, mothers with arms around babes, brothers with arms around sisters. Some fell, some stood; all died.

The explorer shuffled through the city with dull eyes, observing with silent horror. The corpses were perfectly preserved, embalmed in a thin coating of ice, icicles dangling from outstretched arms. All around the corpses were more ice of peculiar varieties. One man, chest bared in defiance to the inevitable, mouth wide to roar, stood surrounded by a pile of red ice resembling rubies. Another piteous soul, on hands and knees stared at a flat slick of ice, tar-black and reflecting his tortured visage. The city was silenced forever, but for a single call. As the explorer passed a low-slung, non-descript building, it called to him. He paused and turned to regard it – he had not won fame and fortune by denying Fate's call, and even in the frozen city his habits could not be broken.

He wearily shouldered through the front door. The room was stripped bare of any furnishing, lightly carpeted by snow blown in through the shattered windows. At the center of the room was another corpse, an old man curled in a ball on the floor, skinny arms wrapped around skinny legs in a futile attempt to trap in his heat. Nearby his hands lay a sheaf of frozen pages and a pen, its ink a black lake around it. Beside him stood a statue. The Young Queen had many such all about the city, but this one was special. It was the man's likeness, worked in ice.

He stood erect, shoulders thrown back in a proud bearing, hands palm up and arms wide in an attitude of welcome. His mouth was carved in a beatific smile. The explorer gazed in wonderment at its inner workings. Spreading throughout the extremities were tendrils of flame. At the heart of the statue a great ball of flame, crystallized in ice, pulsed faintly. Mouth agape in wonderment, the explorer looked at the sculptor, dead on the floor, and felt an immediate kinship bloom in his chest. A man committing folly in the face of death. The explorer would stay there beside the old man awhile. The sheaf of paper looked as if it might burn, and his thoughts turned to flame. The explorer ransacked houses, smashing chairs to kindling and returning to his frozen friend, dumping them on the floor before the statue. A sizeable pile amassed, the explorer withdrew flint and tinder and scraped sparks, incongruous in that environment, over the pages. They caught, crackling with flame, and he coaxed their flame to the wood, watching with wild satisfaction as the flames stabbed through the icy armor of the wood. The snap of the kindling and the warm glow of firelight filled the small room. The explorer sat and watched the firelight play over the statue's face. At moments, it almost looked alive.With the blessed fire's heat on his face like a lover's caress, the explorer drifted to sleep.

A voice woke him.

“It was a cold winter,” it said. The explorer jolted to wakefulness, searching the room for the voice's owner. He was alone, but for the sculptor and his frozen masterpiece.

“We knew not its extent until the words started to freeze,” the voice continued. The explorer realized with a start that the voice was issuing not two feet away. The voice came from the statue. It dripped as the heat of the flames melted it, the beads of water falling to the floor like rain.

“At first it was merely the innocuous words, the lifeless words, the words which have no power to stir man's heart. This struck many as a novelty. Watching a word freeze in the air is a spectacle I never thought to witness – the speaker opens her mouth, and one may watch as her lips form syllables. But where sound should arrive there is only silence. And then the ice forms in the air, and the word falls to the ground, imprisoned in ice. The children of the city loved this, making a game of finding the frozen words. They would shout them at the top of their lungs, so the word would freeze and a great block of ice would come crashing to the ground. That was early in the winter though, when children still made angels in the snow and pelted each other with snowballs. That stopped shortly, by the time a month had gone by, it seemed in poor taste to play in such a manner – the cold was already doing enough damage without their powder fights. And the children, as all children have always done, grew weary of the snow. Their wonderment turned to terror as those around them succumbed to chills and fevers. The elders died in droves, that second month, and their grandchildren watched, wordless.

We quickly learned the words' freezing points. Those words that occupied our thoughts constantly, words like 'cold','ice', and 'death'. Death above all, I should think. Laughter froze shortly thereafter. It passed unnoticed by nearly all, us having little to laugh about. When I discovered it, I wept. This was before the tears would freeze on your face. And so sobbed and mourned laughter's quiet death – the sound of heartbreak did not freeze until nearly the end.

We were a dying people. We died not of the ravages inflicted on our phsyical infirmity – no, we died of the icy malaise that had settled around our hearts. We were too tired to dance, our throats too cold to sing. Tears froze on our face the moment they were shed, and we could not muster the strength to care. Without our words we have been reduced to mute golems, lower than animals. Emotions which cannot be expressed cease to occur, and lie dormant in our breasts.

We were obsessed with death, seeing it all around us, in the abandoned bodies lining the gutters and in each other's eyes. We wandered the streets in deep melancholy, all duties forgotten but for the most primal. Many forgot even this simple directive, the one which commands us to live. And so many died not of the cold, but apathy. We envied their loose grip on this world. Those of us with more tenacious spirits huddled together and waited.

I remember when “love” froze. It was a mother and her young son, walking down the street, stepping over bodies. She was ailing, it was plain to see. Finally she collapsed. The boy cried out, the only sound in a street full of wraiths like myself. They watched as the little boy tried to lift his mother up, their empathy iced over long ago. I moved to help the boy, and watched as the woman laid gentle hands on his frail shoulders. Three words she spoke. The second was beautiful as it froze, flame trapped inside ice, falling to the snow. By the time I reached the two, she was gone. The boy stood over her, eyes wide. I stooped down and picked up the glowing crystal, and pressed it into his mittened hand.

The cruelty of it all was unimaginable. When my wife died, I at least could hear her final words. All that boy received was ice, a thick shell of it around that which he seeked. And now all I seek to do is tell you, whoever you might be, who we were. This city used to hold life, and it should not go unremarked.”

The explorer sat and listened to the voice, watched as it melted. The voice told him his life story and the stories of all he knew, of his wife and his old lovers, of his children and their children. He told the explorer the story of an entire city, of a people, all their dreams and desires. The explorer watched with silent admiration the corpse of the frozen man. He had lived. And now he lived again as his voice carried on in the silent city. The statue cracked as it melted, and a finger fell off, then an arm. Soon the lower body was in a puddle and the torso lay on the floor, with its saint's smile pointed at the ceiling. It spoke until there was nothing left but the suggestion of a face, a rude impression of eyes, the features all melting and sliding down its sagging cheeks like tears.

“'Death', when it froze, was a blessing. It was the last word to go, so far as I know. I did not miss it – I have heard it enough to last many years, years which I do not have.” The man's voice halted, and the explorer listened as it coughed weakly. “There is little left to say. I sit alone in this room, facing a statue devised of words, and it is wondrous. When the thaw comes, this city will laugh and sing and be filled with all the human clamor I so deeply miss. It shall be beautiful.” The voice paused a long moment.

“And now, I sleep. I shall dream of spring.”

The tip of the statue's nose dissolved, and only a puddle remained where once the proud statue stood.
Last edited by Erehwon on Sat Aug 12, 2006 11:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Knuckles » Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:57 pm

I just got got done reading this. It was good. The words flowed nicely from one thought to the next. You have a great use of the english language. The only thing that got me was that it was slow. You have so much detail in setting up the story that the pace suffered. This reminds me of Anne Rice, who is a very good writer, but gets trapped in detailing the surrounds too much. Overall I like it and for some reason I feel this is the end. Hope this helps.
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Re: Dispatches from a Frozen City

Postby clknaps » Sun Jan 21, 2007 3:00 am

Very, very well done. I enjoyed reading it; it caught my attention immediately and kept it.

Dispatches from a Frozen City

The Young Queen bade him discover marvels, wonders the likes of which the civilized world had never known.

While not incorrect as it is written, I'd suggest it would flow better as: The Young Queen had bade him to discover marvels,...

Also, as you capitalized Young in Young Queen, it must be a part of her title? If it is only a description of her, it should be lowercase.

The Young Queen had many such all about the city, but this one was special.

This confused me. Is this the same Young Queen spoken about in the first part of the story? Was it her city that she bade him return to, or is this a different queen?

Overall I can simply say "wow." Very well written, thank you for sharing with us! CLK
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