Christmas Eve

The woods were dense, and moved with an eerie, sentient rhythm. Trudging along the trail, half covered in rotted needles and slushy snow, the boy tightened his coat against the quickening wind that threw snow into a whipping frenzy around his frail form. The world was monochrome- black skies that lacked a moon, thin, distant stars casting the barest glimmer of silver light down upon the wintry scene. His little woolly coat was the last splash of colour in the dead forests, bright, patchy red. When he had been little, the child had been terrified of the coat- its harsh colour, its scratchy fabric, something about it set off an irrational spark of primal emotion deep within the reptilian core of his being.

He stumbled and fell. His face came to lie upon the hard, frozen ground, and the child shivered, too weak to stand. The village was still miles distant, yet it was his only hope for salvation. The train he had been travelling with, the sled pulled by caribou, animals with soft white fur and hard, bony horns that split off into minuscule, sharp fractals, had been caught in a snow drift back along the way. They had subsisted for a couple of days, but soon the cold and the hunger had started to take them away- his father, brother, sister, even Old Tom, the stout man-at-arms. He had wept for a while, but soon his tears froze to glittering gemstones on his pale cheeks. Soon, too, hunger did what sorrow could never do.

The trees seemed to be moving more, he thought. There were stories about this land. It was said that the trees had lain dead for century upon century, until the Saviour’s mother, heavy with child, had walked along the same path he now trod wearily. It was said that the trees responded to her presence. He shuddered to think that they might be triggered by his own presence in a similar way.

The pines were ancient and twisted. Frozen moss seemed to be draped over their branches, icicles dripping solidly away from the plants, trapped in time. Small, rounded pinecones hung from the trees, shining dully in the near-absent starlight. The boy tried to stand up, and faltered again, lying still. The fight was gone from him.

Then he prayed. The trees started glowing.

At first, he simply looked at them in gaping, confused horror. Sparkling lights, no bigger than the nail on his grazed little finger, bathed his face in a pale, colourful glow that ebbed and flowed with the wind and the trees’ own subtle rhythms. He felt the cold begin to dissipate and the hole in his stomach fill with unknowable food. He stood up, his legs now as solid and sturdy as the roots of the pine, and slowly approached the nearest thick-branched tree. He reached out and touched the needles, feeling their strange softness and fleshiness in his splayed palm. The lights began to brighten.

Suddenly, he was filled with the blinding light of ten thousand suns. Each individual dot brightened until the ground was lit in horrible detail. Suddenly, the forest was gone.

The boy spent what seemed both to be an infinite and momentary time in that terrible, unknowable brightness. Spectral colours danced slowly but purposefully around his disembodied viewpoint. They seemed to have that same strange sentience he had seen traced in the sky by the trees of the forest. Still, he felt no fear.

Then he was dumped back on solid ground. The sky above was dully pink, white clouds painted against the bowl-shaped sky. He was standing on a small island, grey-blue grass covering the chalk in a layer that barely held onto the rock. Below him, the white cliffs tumbled and broke into raging, dark seas, viscous and cold, waves slowly rippling over its opaque surface.

Three ships came sailing by as he stared out onto the distant horizon. The first was bright white, serpentine coils of stone gripping around a solid marble mast. The second was dark, serpentine rock. Its prow was carved into a striking snake form. The third was bronze, patterns and glyphs carved into the side, green corrosion detailing the forms of the boat. She saw someone come forth from beneath the deck of the first ship- a captain of some sort. His eyes burned bright over the distance, that same bright light that had detailed the trees. Across the inestimable distance, their eyes met.

When the boy recovered, he was immobile. He felt his arms to be longer, with more fingers. They came out of his torso in dozens of places, melting into his skin in rough warping features in some places. A traveller walked along the path in front of him, and he saw the tips of his fingers begin to glow.

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