A Girl Named Winter

*Runner up of the Be Inspired By The Christmas Picture Contest*

When Max meets a mysterious girl in the woods, he finds that not only does she change his world, but the world around them as well. The permanent ice age they stand in soon melts away, revealing how Winter met Spring.

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6. Flame

 Max woke up to the smell of disinfectant and death. 

    A sudden beeping sound made the ache in his head more noticeable and annoying. By then, he'd already realized he was in a god-awful hospital. Never in his life had he broken a bone, or did anything stupid enough to land him in the hospital purely because he was so terrified of the place. It just reminded him of death. Come to think of it, he was just scared of dying probably. Well, at least he wasn't dead.    

    On that fairly happy note, Max groaned trying to rub his eyelids in an effort to un-glue them from each other. He felt a tube rubbing against his skin and a sliver of light finally shone on his eyes. At first, he felt a head ache coming on from all of the sudden light exposure but his eyes adjusted quickly and he could see his mother sleeping on a chair beside him. 

    Max licked his dry, cracking lips, the sudden taste of blood filling his mouth as he realized he probably split his lip.

    His mother slept in a fetal position, clutching a pillow and snoring softly. Her blonde hair, sticking out from a messy bun that sat on the top of her head. He smiled faintly at how vulnerable she looked, all of her wrinkles smooth and relaxed. Not like when she returned from a night shift and crankily barked orders in the mornings. But he understood the stress she had to manage everyday. His father wasn't around for a long time and merely became a ghost to him. Apparently he up and left Max and his sister when Max was only six. He barely even remembered the mans face. 

    Stirring in her sleep, Max saw his mother's eyes open and she smiled. 

    "Hey, baby. You, okay?" she whispered hoarsely. Truth be told, Max was most definitely not okay. He could still feel the power coursing through his veins. He was surprised she didn't ask him about the black lines peeking out from from his hospital gown. 

    "You don't see it?" he asked suspiciously.  She looked at him, puzzled and uncertain as to what he was talking about. She raked her eyes over him, and found nothing out of the ordinary. Then she started to looked around the room and Max stopped her. "No, mom. Me, you don't see anything weird about me," he tried to clarified. 

    She examined him once again, and shrugged her shoulders. "Did you hit your head? Do you want me to call the do-"

    "No, no. I'm fine. Never mind," he said quickly. So his "tattoos" had been invisible to her. Huh.

    "You sure?" she said, her eyes suddenly full of worry. 

    Max nodded his head, and smiled to give her a little more reassurance. She snuggled back into the chair and sighed, returning his smile. 

    "I'm going to go get some food. The doctor said you were dehydrated and passed out. Do you remember what happened?" she asked. Max shrugged his shoulders even though he remembered everything. Right down to the grueling sound of his bone snapping in half. But still, thought he was missing something. A thought that passed through his head before he passed out.

    His mother left him alone in the room soon after. Max was happy he had some time to think to himself. The expected round of nurses came to check on him periodically, checking his charts and asking if he was feeling okay. But none of them gave even a second glance at the glowing and moving black strokes that had now spread to his collarbone. He gave up trying to make sense of it as the day went on.  

   His sister came to visit him soon after his mother came back with a steaming plate of noodles that made his stomach grumble. Unfortunately, he was only allowed broth and lime Jello. Blech.

    Night rolled around and Max insisted his mother and sister go back home and sleep. He already felt guilty enough that they had to sleep in the uncomfortable hospital couch/chairs the night before and threatened to get up out of bed and physically push them out the door. They both finally gave in, leaving Max finally fully alone with his thoughts. 

    The first hour had been filled with thoughts about Winter and his dream. Some parts of the dream had already faded like any other dream. He tried to recollect how her touch felt, and what color her hair was. He suddenly realized he no longer remembered why he was in the forest in the first place. But one thing that didn't leave him was her voice. The airy whisper that made him jolt out of his dream still echoed in his head. 

    Frustrated at his lack of memory, Max tried to focus on something else. Movement on his arm caught his attention and he started to trace the branches of ink that seemed to have become thicker and more dense. His entire arm seemed to light up as his touch increased the movement of the black strokes. They swirled and snaked around his arm and he could feel them wrapping around his shoulder blade. They were at least twenty of them that interacted with each other and one even followed him as his fingertip skimmed along his skin. 

    "Cool," he whispered to himself in awe. 

    He looked up towards his window as a streak of light lit up his room. It was dawn, and Max didn't feel a speck of fatigue. 

    Max resumed examining his hand and noticed something that was floating from the center of his palm. A ribbon of what looked like smoke, swirled in front of his face. His eyebrows furrowed in thought. What was this? Max suddenly had a thought. He snapped his fingers together, and somehow it ignited the smoke. A single flame hovered in his palm and Max's jaw went slack. 

    Just then, the doctor walked into his room with surprising quiet. Max clamped his hand shut, extinguishing the flame.

    "So, Max. How you feelin'?" the doctor asked, standing at the foot of his bed, a smile playing on his lips. Max examined him with suspicion. He wore the generic white coat that every doctor in every TV show wore, and a blue stethoscope hung around his neck. The sight of his unnervingly dark eyes created an uncomfortable pit in Max's stomach. 

    All in all, he looked barely twenty five. He stood at at least six foot one, his defined cheekbones and soft jawline making him seem even younger. A strip of white peaked from the dense black hair that sat messily on his head, a flash of memory in his dream of Winter's white hair suddenly awakening. Max glanced down at his name tag. 

    "I'm fine, Doctor Henderson," he murmured nervously. Doctor Henderson scoffed. 

"Please, call me Rowan," he insisted, waving his hand in the air. Max gulped. Did he see the fire?

    He walked over to Max's IV and plucked it out from the back of his hand. Max cupped his hand, ignoring the dot of blood seeping out from the wound. Rowan handed him a band-aid as he curiously tipped his head to look at Max's hand. Max quickly unwrapped the band-aid and covered the hole in his hand knowing that it was going to disappear any moment anyways. 

    Rowan chuckled lightly before saying "I like your tattoos, Max," and slipping out of his room.

    Max's breath caught in his throat. 

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