It had been nine years since Abbo had been home. Even longer since his quiet, happy life in the sun. The Ten-Year Winter had taken everything. First the fun, then the crops, then his family when his mother pushed him out the door, baby sister in hand, to seek help. He had almost died getting to the nearest village. And his baby sister… Well, Ephane wasn’t so lucky. “Stubborn fire”, her name meant, after the flower that so rarely bloomed. The pain of her loss was still clear as the days he so missed.
But now, as he walked along the once dirt path outside the hovel, it was different. Of course, there was still snow. So much damned snow. A world bathed in white had gotten tiring years ago. But for once, it wasn’t all snow. There was tufts of grass peeking out, and long weeds that had grown out of some of the dilapidated walls. He remembered his mother waging a constant war with those weeds every summer. That constant plight now served as a promise that better days were to come.
Abbo walked alongside what used to be long fields of raftheads, his father’s prized crops. Fields that were now an enormous blanket. Fields that hadn’t yielded anything since he was a child.
The iron gate to the house still gave a familiar creak, and he was surprised it still worked. That hinge had always creaked, yet it had braved even the harshest of weathers. An abrupt snort at the irony escaped his nostrils, a visible puff blowing softly into the chilly twilight.
The house was just as he had remembered it: a tiny cottage with a taller roof than most. The door was swung wide open, which couldn’t have been a good sign. After a moment, however, he shook his head. There were no good signs to be had. If his parents had–by some miracle–survived, they wouldn’t be here. Nothing could have survived here for ten long years. Nothing save for the longroot trees, that is. They were all young, he knew. His father had burned all the wood they could find within the second year of the Winter. Like the weeds near the walls, the sight of the trees were both an offensive invasion and a welcome sight.
As he got closer, Abbo realized that the door to the house was not wide open. There simply was no door anymore. Had his parents taken it down and burned it in their desperation for warmth? How desperate would one have to be to willingly destroy the last flimsy shield against the freezing air?
He decided it was probably for the best that he didn’t enter the house. If his parents had stayed till the bitter end, it would be like defiling their grave. Beyond that, he couldn’t bear to see what state they might be in.
He had seen his fill. Reassured that his old home would return to normal along with the rest of the world in the wake of this nightmare, he set off to go back the way he had come.
A spot of orange against white caught Abbo’s eye on the way out. Crouching down, he found something he hadn’t seen in years. A small flower bud, shaped very much like a candle flame, flowed gently in the breeze. It stood defiantly against the snow around it. “Here I am”, it seemed to say. “The springs will come!”
Abbo all but fell to his knees before the stubborn fire. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had seen a warm color in the natural world. Yes, things would return to normal. This could be a proper home once more. Under a clear sky, it would be the ideal place for the perfect childhood.
Some day he would return with a daughter of his own. And he would name her Ephane.