[This is a short extract from the story of a young boy, Tom, born at the cost of his mother’s death to a woodcutter in ‘A Middling Time, of Fire and Frost,’ The second of ‘Three Winter Tales’]
“Tom’s green eyes are wide, staring from his doorway perch out into the forest.
It is the shortest day. His birthday, though none will celebrate that birth.
As inky twilight seeps through the sky he snuggles up to the doorpost.
Tom is entranced by the stars. Perhaps he knows his mother is with them, keeping a mother’s watch.
Or perhaps he senses the magic abroad in tonight’s chill air.
The cousins return. The fire is lit. In the busy-ness of the cottage, no-one notices as Tom leaves his vantage point and walks to the edge of the forest.
It is raw cold. Icy cold.
He imagines frost as a winged creature, leaping from air to ground. From tree to grass, from grass to berry. Wizening fruits that cling to branches already gnarled and blackened.
All wondering, he wanders into the forest. Sits at the foot of a lofty tree. And dreams.
But to dream in the forest’s cold embrace on the night the sun stops is not for mortals to dare.
And as Tom sleeps, stealthy forces creep round him, seeking warm breath to steal.
But deep in the ancient heart of the woods a band of small forest folk feels that stealthy presence.
Like fireflies they wend their way to the place where young Tom sleeps. With baskets of jewel-bright lights they banish the sprites who would steal Tom’s breath.”
This is a short extract from the story of a young boy, Tom, born at the cost of his mother’s death to a woodcutter in ‘A Middling Time, of Fire and Frost,’ The second of ‘Three Winter Tales’
This is the first piece of prose I’ve ever used in the Advent Calendar. Everyone should have a wintry story collection, and Mary Earnshaw’s “Three Winter Tales” is gorgeous.
Mary Earnshaw is a northerner with mixed loyalties, born Lancastrian but raised from the age of seven in Yorkshire. She is co-author, with Alan Parry, David Walshe and Paul Robert Mullen, of a chapbook of poems published by Dreich about Southport, under the title Belisama, Ptolemy’s name for that area south of the River Ribble, between sea and moss, where Mary lives. Her poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in various anthologies and journals and in 2021 she was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize and the Julian Lennon Poetry Prize. In 2012 Mary published a crime fiction novel (A Wake of Vultures) set in Zambia where, since 1993, she has spent much time with her husband, Larry Barham, Professor of African Archaeology at the University of Liverpool, whom she met (far too long ago to admit) on a dig in Swaziland (now Eswatini). As a result, her non-verbal skills include cooking concoctions in witchy iron cauldrons, in the dark, over an open fire, for groups of dirty, hungry people