Saturday, December 11, 2021

Snow Day, Reprise

The storm is at last over The skies this morning are clear, and the snowblower serenade has begun. In a few minutes I need to get out there and join in, so while I’m working on digging out from the storm, here are some seasonally appropriate stories from the archives for you. Enjoy!

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SEARCHING FOR HOME • by Lance J. Mushung

I watched the view screen, horrified. Navigator and Pilot to my side looked as frightened as I felt. Our emergency capsule was bathed in orange flames and plummeting to the surface of the planet like a meteor.

When our ship first approached the planet, it was a beautiful white and blue globe hanging in the darkness. Later, from the orbit of its single mottled light and dark grey satellite, we saw it was in reality a bleak frigid world covered in large part by glaciers. With the ground approaching I could see green vegetation in places along with the ice and snow. To my regret the green didn’t make it appear any less forbidding.

Our capsule hit hard and tumbled, and we were whipped around in our seats and heard shrill crunching sounds. When we came to rest, Navigator’s head was wet with blood. I opened the hatch and with Pilot’s help pulled Navigator out. We were on a long sheet of ice and snow that was gouged by our landing. Woods lined its sides and the ice twisted out of sight in both directions. It was a frozen river.

“Commander,” Pilot called out, pointing to the horizon over the trees. “Look at that. Is it the ship?”

My eyes followed his arm and saw a column of black smoke boiling into the sky. “Very likely,” I said.

Pilot went back into the capsule and I did what I could for Navigator. She was conscious, but acted confused. I joined Pilot when he yelled out that the computer still worked. It confirmed that the smoke was the aft part of our ship, which had crashed about two days’ march away. A few of the ship’s systems remained functional, so it was clear where we should go. We gathered the survival supplies of rations, weapons, and various gear. I was thankful we had good cold-weather garments. It was freezing.

“We have plenty of nutrition wafers,” Pilot said. “They taste awful, but we will not starve.” He sounded quite cheerful, considering the circumstances...

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[P.S. If you enjoy this one, you might also want to read “No Accounting for Taste,” “Shapes of Power,” or going way back into the archives, “Space Program,” which is the kind of story I really like but rarely see: science fiction so hard it clanks.]
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ABOVE THE ICE • by Matthew A. J. Timmins

[Nota bene: Like “Cold Beyond White,” this story was published on SHOWCASE in the transitional period between the original weekly webzine format and the later WordPress site, and thus has been nearly impossible to find until now. Enjoy!]
ChaaSooNiik had never been this far above her home vents before. Her mother-sister had told her what to expect but the reality of it was still shocking. She pressed a splay of fingers against the lifter’s speaker-window and wriggled uncomfortably inside her heat-skin as the vehicle’s echo showed her the water outside: no spheres, no movers, no people, not even any fish; just a lumpy composite mass drifting slowly downward, probably a dying reef-colony come loose from the ice.

The lifter too was empty, save for herself and the operator. The lifter had emptied quickly at first and then more slowly as it ascended, the other passengers disembarking at anchor-cities, hunting platforms, or isolation spheres. At each stop, as the chattering females peeled away from the lifter’s passenger column, collected their luggage, and swam out of the dome, the vehicle grew quieter and quieter until ChaaSooNiik could imagine herself one of the sacrificial mourners of legend who had escorted the floating dead up to the impenetrable ceiling of ice.

Which was where she was going, in fact....

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[P.S. If you enjoy this one, you might also want to read Matthew’s story, “Playing God.”]
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[Nota bene: I bubbled this one to the top because, a.) it has figure-skating in it, b.) it’s a good excuse to put in a plug for Jamie’s excellent short story collection, A Metal Box Floating Between Stars, published by Air and Nothingness Press.]
Kirima’s ice skates hissed as she glided across her frozen pond. Four smooth strokes, then three crossovers, her left foot over her right, then four more strokes. Her skates left gouges and a trail of ice shavings. Her hair clung to her temples, and her breath misted in the cold air.

She hated the cold and the short hours of thin gray sunlight. As a child, she’d dreamed of hot winds and brown mountains and regularly spaced days and nights.

But she had always loved the dancing lights, and she came home when her grandmother wrote to beg her to save them...

» Read the rest of the story

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ON THE POND • by Jake Doyle

Look at our breath rise in the crisp, cold air. Look at the moon reflecting off the black ice. Look at the snowflakes melt into the ice. Look at that ice, there’s something about it. It’s bumpy, with an occasional crack. It’s not anything like man-made ice—it lets you know where you are, let’s you feel the bumps and cracks transfer from your blades to your shoes to your feet. Listen to the sounds—the sweet, sweet, mellifluous sounds of our skates gliding, slicing and cutting as they draw abstract art in that rough, frozen pond. Listen to the sounds of our wooden sticks—with snow on the blades and tape dangling from the shaft from hours and hours of use—echo off the woods to the north as they slap against the ice, the puck, or other sticks. Watch the way we all have our signature way of shooting and passing and skating. Watch the way a game can go from serious and intense to laughs and jokes in a matter of seconds. Or watch Andy Potter skate that Saturday morning in early January, when his blades did more dragging than slicing, almost like the wind was the only thing pushing him along, and you would know, from that day on, that playing pond hockey would never be the same.

That first day of pond hockey. Joy is a feeling that comes to mind. Not Christmas joy, not Easter joy, not Thanksgiving joy, rather, the first-day-I-met-my-brother joy. We wait and wait and wait, staring at the little thermometer hanging from the homemade bird feeder west of the pond. Is it under thirty-two? we’ll ask. It’s a bucket full of memories that we reminisce about on those beaches or around those bonfires during the summer months. You must think we’re crazy! How could anyone enjoy such a horrid time of the year over such a sun-filled, beach-living season? How could anyone think about memories from winter while sitting around a bonfire wearing shorts and flip-flops and tank tops?

Well, maybe we are crazy, for waking up at the crack of dawn to shovel the snow off a freshly frozen pond in the middle of December. Maybe we are crazy for playing till two, three in the morning just when our toes are on the edge of frostbitten and we have no choice but to stop. Maybe we are crazy because we don’t wear shin guards or elbow pads or helmets. Logan Campbell will agree. He crushed his left elbow and tore his ACL in the same day on the pond. Nicholas Pano will tell you we’re crazy and he’ll smile as he says it. He’ll tell you we’re crazy because four years ago all ten of us rushed him to the hospital in Andy Potter’s dark green Jeep as blood painted his brown hair after his skull crashed into the January ice.

But maybe it’s the only time of the year we get to do that one thing that we think about every time someone brings up the dreaded, frigid Michigan winter. Pond hockey...

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