About Winter’s Gift
Author: Sean Michael
Word Count: 20900
Page Count (pdf): 81
Date Published: February 20, 2017
Publisher: Sean Michael
Series name and number: n/a
Badly disfigured, Geoff lives alone in the woods with only his wolf as companion. It’s a solitary life, but one he is comfortable with. When he discovers a fairy with an injured wing at the beginning of winter, his whole ordered world is turned upside down. But will Mauve be horrified by his rescuer’s visage? Or can the fairy look beyond the scars and see into Geoff’s heart?
Originally published in the Bus Stories anthology and as a stand alone with another publisher.
Winter was coming. There was no doubt about it, not with the smell of snow and the taste of frost weighing heavy on the air. Just yesterday the woods were still full of the dust and color and crackle of falling leaves. Tomorrow night, the day after at the latest, and the touch of Father Winter would come, silencing the song of Spring and forcing all to sleep.
Geoff sighed and settled the pheasants on his shoulders. There was enough food to last him through the hard freeze — he’d taken a bear only a week ago and two bucks the week before that. If luck was with him, he’d find a wild pig before hunting became problematic and then he and Wolf could be well settled, even for a long winter.
The pheasants had led Geoff on a merry chase, pulling him farther from his territory than he liked, but, as always, the trees and the sun guided him home.
They were close, he could hear the creek, smell the vague whispers of smoked meat and stored grain and fermenting apples overlaid with sap and pine and ancient soil.
Wolf was searching, sniffing the ground and the air, silver brow furrowing. Geoff stopped, sniffing himself, eyes sharp as his eyes hunted for something off, something not right, something invading their space.
Wolf found it first, barking sharply beside the bank of the creek, a low, confused growl calling him to come and look, come see. Something rested, crumpled and still along the steep bank, fallen and somehow caught in the newly exposed roots.
They watched it for a moment — it was purple, lots of purples, as if formed from cloth dyed by a newly and baldy trained apprentice weaver. Geoff thought maybe it was a tree sprite, perhaps one of the Summer children lost from the deep forests where men with sense knew not to go.
He really hoped it was dead, otherwise he’d have to go rescue it and he’d heard they bit.
Of course, if they really were poisonous, he couldn’t just leave it near the creek. What if it turned the water foul?
Geoff looked at Wolf, who looked back with a vaguely disgusted sneer. One of them was going to have to walk down, he supposed, and look. He set the pheasants on the ground, glaring at Wolf. “Don’t touch them. I’ll be right back.”
Then he slid down the sandy bank to investigate, axe in hand.
It made no movement as he approached. Closer up he could see that it was shaped like a man, lying on its side, the purples were its skin; there wasn’t a stitch of clothing on it.
Diaphanous, gauzy wings grew from its back; they looked like they would break with a good wind; they did not look like they could hold a man-sized being aloft. And clearly, one of them was badly mangled, gauzy feathers broken, oozing gray liquid.
Geoff frowned, shaking his head when the thin chest moved, taking a shaky breath. Alive, then, and hurt.
“Can you hear me? If you can, I’m going to take you in. It’ll hurt some, so bear up.” He slid his arms beneath the slender frame and lifted gently, jostling the broken wing as little as possible.
It was slow going to reach home, with Wolf curiously sniffing and Geoff trying to carry a really rather slippery-skinned, wounded woodland spirit, four dead birds, his bow and his axe. By the time he backed into the huge, hollow series of tree trunks that made up home and hearth, darkness was falling.