Celia Lurman’s drawn the shortest straw. But maybe the freezing cold is all just smoke and mirrors in this short story about an unusual revenge.
A Short Story About An Unusual Revenge
by Shelley Williams
For the LANTERN’S FLAME Fantasy Writing Award
This 1956 winter has been the longest in Grimeshone Shire’s memory, and the town’s reserves are dwindling. I have been elected (on account of drawing the shortest straw) to venture out into the cold and dark and see how the neighbouring town fares. All I have is a bedroll, a warm fur, dried meat, and my trusty lantern.
I, Cecelia Lurman, rigged the straws. Simply because I know where to find more coats. I trek to my house, load up, drop them at the town hall, knock, and run – taking one for myself.
The hoard is a family secret. My brother Porl has cryophobia (a fear of freezing to death) and he’s been stealing coats for years. To protect him, we keep him shut inside and pretend we have coats stolen too.
Because, well, he’s my brother.
Six years ago, he ran away. When he came back he was inexplicably wealthy and handed his coats out like candy. It was just in time too – this storm hasn’t let up since. It was almost like he knew the storm was coming, like all his life he’d prepared for it. He handed one stinky coat to everyone, shouting gibberish: “Summer remedy! Summer remedy!”
After it had stormed for a month, we bunkered down in the town hall to conserve resources; all but Porl, who’d disappeared again.
I pull on my extra coat and feel the cold sink into my bones. Is it just me, or is it getting colder? I see Porl in a tree – in his underwear. He doesn’t seem cold; his nipples aren’t even hard. Spotting me, he screams “Too many coats!” jumps down, snatches my outer layer from me, and runs away.
Luckily the snow doesn’t seem as bad now. At the town’s edge, I see people wearing dresses, shorts, and sunhats – summer clothes. Stranger still, they seem just as alarmed looking at me.
I call out, “This w-way! C-c-coats!!” and point back to town. They must be freezing.
Voices respond: “Why do you have a lantern?” “Why are you wearing that?”
I stare at the snow on them like icing. Are they insane?
Someone touches my forehead. “She’s burning up!”
Immediately hands tear off my clothes.
I scream and kick but with every garment they take, a warm feeling grows inside me. I struggle out of their grasp. But I’m too late. Apart from my underwear, I’m stark naked.
Still, I feel strangely warmer.
A woman examines my coat, takes a whiff and instantly recoils, “Summer Remedy!”
Then I see something I haven’t seen in months. Green.
The woman scolds me, “Your coat reeks of it.”
I tear my eyes from the green to meet hers, “What?”
“Summer Remedy’s a drug a Mr. Lurman invented six years ago. It’s designed to make hot nights more bearable if you spray a little on your bed sheets. But this much causes arctic hallucinations and can actually freeze you to death. It was taken off the market two months ago. What were you thinking?”
My mind reels. Two months ago. That’s when Porl handed out the coats.
We’ve been drugged.
By now, the winter illusion has dissolved and I see reality. Grass, flowers, birds – the works. How stupid I must have looked with a lantern.
The woman throws my coat like a grenade, “Lucky you weren’t wearing more.”
It’s then I realise the horror of what I’ve done. Gasping, I race back to the hall, but the townsfolk have already taken the coats. I curse myself for delivering their death. Inside will be their corpses – frozen stiff in springtime.
Porl is in his tree, his black eyes smiling. He came back here to seek revenge – to keep everyone shut inside fearing they’ll freeze to death. Just like we’d done to him.
My horror intensifies his smile. “Too many coats,” he grips the one he took from me. “Told you.”