The Snow Maiden

I was always a straight B student. Because a C made me look dumb and an A wasn't worth the effort. Scoring an A is for suckers. This pissed off the wrong people (my parents), so I was punished by being sent out here: a village in the snow country. But instead of building character, I met this village's darkest secret: the girl in the snow. She was dead and she changed my life. - UPDATES EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY!

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My latest story! I think it's the best yet :)
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24. Chapter 24

"Yuki?! Yuki!" 


Nothing. The sun ducked behind the mountains and darkness descended upon the valley. The forest suddenly became incredibly cold, my heart beat slowly, my breath clearly visible. I hugged myself.


Leave this village and live your life. 


Perhaps when you die we will meet again. 


Was that really it? The end? Good bye? 
 


I couldn't accept that. No way. 


"Yuki?!" 


Still nothing. 


"I'll be back tomorrow." 


My whole body shivered, my legs begged me for rest. How long have I been standing out here? I looked at my phone. Midnight…midnight?! I've been outside for almost eight hours. My stomach churned. How was this possible? It felt like I talked to Yuki for only half an hour, or maybe an hour at most. I think so. Yeah...wait...no...


Ugh, I rubbed my eyes. I couldn't remember how long I was here for. Everything felt like a blur. Was I really sitting in the forest with Yuki for eight hours? It didn't feel like it, but my phone clock said otherwise. 


I shivered profoundly. My body felt weak. Sitting outside at night without moving is death in the winter. No amount of clothing could save you. The human body wasn't built for long immobile periods in the cold. It would be the slowest death imaginable. 


One step at a time. A short while later I made it to the clearing. A faint golden glow at the end of the forest trail. The lights of the village. 


There were two people waiting for me. I blinked a few times. I wasn't dreaming.


Aunt Reiko and Miyazono. 


I swallowed. Suddenly the idea of death became very real. 


Miyazono ran up and put her arms around me. 


"Where we were you?" she cried. "We thought you were dead."


Aunt Reiko came up slowly. Each stop slow and deliberate. She slapped. Once and hard. The sound like a wave in the stillness of the night. I looked at her with surprise. This was the first time she slapped me. I blinked. I figured she'd be furious, but instead her expression was filled with worry. 


She said, "Satoshi, never do that again."  


 I nodded meekly. Somehow, all of the sudden, I felt like a child. Something rose in my throat, an unstoppable avalanche of emotions, and for the first time in a long time I cried. 


Aunt Reiko put my head against her shoulder and pressed a hot drink into my hands. She said, "Let's go home." 

 

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For the next week, I felt like I was going to die. I think the cold might have broken something in me. I ran a high fever and spent the whole week in feverish dreams. Sometimes I'd see Yuki walking away. Sometimes I'd see Miyazono. Sometimes I'd see my mother and father. 


Aunt Reiko called a doctor and he ran some tests, but in the end he only shook his head and said that it's up to my body. If I lived, good. If I died, not so good. 


Aunt Reiko and Miyazono took shifts taking care of me. In the moments when I was lucid, I sometimes heard Aunt Reiko telling me stories. She talked about her university days; how she traveled, partied, a time when she was less disciplined and more of a regular girl. She told me about how she quit university and went traveling and finally met the older man who owned Hana no Sato. Why did she quit studying? My memory has some holes here and there. 


Initially every member of her family was against it. Go back to Tokyo and finish your degree, then find a job and marry a nice man. Why would you want to move to a village at the end of the world and marry a man twice your age? 


But she did it anyway. Because her mind was made up. Because she was stubborn. Because she loved him. 


Miyazono would often come in with meals. Porridge, soup, tea. Nothing solid because my body couldn't take it. She'd talk to herself and ask me why I kept going to the forest, why did I do something so stupid, why I stayed there for so long. 


She talked to me about how winter vacation would end soon and then she'd go back to her hometown. She talked about her friends, her family. How pleased she was to see her own savings go up in her bank account and how she planned to invest the money. She would think out loud about what laptop to buy because she wanted to trade futures and cryptocurrencies. I honestly didn't have the faintest clue about what she was saying. 


After a week, my body broke the fever. I gained the strength to chew some fish. I could sit up without help. My mind cleared. 

 

And a week after that, it was time to leave Hana no Sato.

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