The house was being pelted ferociously with wind and sleet. The whoosh of the wind was all I could hear as I lay wide awake in my bed, wrapped up securely in my blanket.
She would come again tonight. I was certain of it, and this time, She would take me with her. Knowing this, I was afraid. I always knew She would come for me, and I knew it was something I had to do, but I couldn't help wanting to hide.
I jumped and turned wildly as my door creaked. As I cowered in the safe haven of my bed, the door slowly came open. The silhouette of someone I recognized stood in the doorway. The light came on with a click, blinding me.
"What are you doing still up?" my older sister asked in a groggy tone.
I frowned. "Well… Why are you still up?"
"I couldn't sleep because of the storm."
"Neither could I." Well, the storm was part of it, anyway. It wasn't a total lie.
I looked up when a loud bang sounded on the roof.
"My god," my sister said, walking over by the window. "This storm is gonna bring down the house."
Feeling anxious, I jumped out of bed, my feet making a thump when I hit the floor and hurried over to her.
"You shouldn't stand there!" I exclaimed, grabbing her arm and pulling her away.
I just rattled off the first thing that came to mind. "What if the wind blew and shattered the window? Or… or if a tree fell and came through?"
"The storm isn't strong enough to break any windows. And there aren't any trees near are house. The whole, 'this is gonna bring the house down' was only an expression." She was looking at me like I'd lost my mind. Of course she was! I was acting hysterical, but if She truly was coming tonight, I couldn't have my sister getting hurt.
"You're just paranoid. You need to relax. Why don't you go lie down? I can even stay in here with you if you want."
Actually, the fearful side of me liked that plan. I didn't want to stay here alone. But She could be unpredictable, so it was probably safer if my sister wasn't in the room when She came.
I glared at her, trying to make myself look as insulted as possible. "I'm thirteen. I'm thinking I don't need you to stay here and hold my hand like a three year-old."
My sister shrugged. "Whatever. I was only offering. Well, I'm going downstairs. I need a drink. You want anything?"
It was then that the room went dark. The power was gone.
"Oh, great," my sister muttered. "No power." I could hear her trying to turn on the light.
I looked outside and noticed that the sleet wasn't falling as hard anymore. I took a step closer, and when I squinted, I could just barely make out Winter's shadow, hovering at least twenty feet from my bedroom window.
"What are you looking at?" my sister exclaimed. "Hey! Come on, we need to go get Mom and Dad."
"Shhh," I breathed simply, still staring out the window.
"What is the matter with you?" I felt her hand grasp my arm. At that very moment, the shadow vanished.
I swallowed nervously as I heard the soft crackle and crunch of the ice as it crept up the window pane.
My sister's hand tightened on my arm. "What's happening?" she whispered.
My voice shaking, I replied, "She's here."
Before my sister had the chance to ask anything else, the window snapped open, causing me to flinch. I stepped back, pulling my sister with me as all the wind and sleet blew into the room.
Out of the cold and bluster that had blown into the room, Winter appeared. I gasped, as she truly was as stunning as ever. Her ebony hair blew around her face, and her fragile features made her look so young and delicate.
I knew better.
Her ice blue eyes stared daggers at my sister, and her white gown swished lightly as she stepped towards us.
I put myself protectively in between her and my sister. "Don't touch her," I warned. "I'm the one you're here for."
She turned her head and looked at me darkly, as if she'd only now noticed my presence. "She hasn't the authority to lay a hand on you." Her voice was crisp and clear. I could feel the ice on her breath as she spoke. It was cold enough to send chills down my spine.
"She's my sister. She can do whatever she wants."
Winter glanced back at my sister once, but she didn't try to argue. Then she caught my gaze steadily in hers. She leaned in towards me. "You are afraid." It wasn't a question.
Winter was far too observant. That was the last thing I wanted her to know. Before I could respond, she said, "You knew this was to be. I chose you for this."
My sister tensed behind me. That was probably the first time she'd moved since Winter came through the window. I squeezed her hand to reassure her. I don't know how much it helped, though. Then, letting out a sigh, I said, "I know."
It was true. I'd known this truth since I was little. Winter had come to me once a year on a night like this ever since I could walk. Somehow, I'd just known that this would be it. It was time to quit trying to hide. I had to stand up and face this head-on. Be brave.
"My time is up," Winter said quietly. "You time, however, has only just begun." She held out her hand for me. "You are the one."
Shaking in fear, but knowing that this was something I had to do, I took her hand. Then I stopped, feeling my sister gripping my other hand and holding me back. I turned and forced a smile at her. "It's okay. Really, it is. I promise."
My sister looked at me with sad and fearful eyes, but I could tell that she would give in. Because she trusted me. And that's what sisters do. Reluctantly, my sister let go of my hand.
I turned back to Winter. "Are you ready?" she asked.
I nodded. "I am."
Linking her ice cold hand to mine, Winter guided me over to the window where wind and sleet were still blowing in.
She smiled, and brought two fingers to her lips. She blew on them lightly, as if she was blowing a kiss. Then she took her fingers and pressed them to my own lips.
I suppressed a scream, as the pain was almost instantly unbearable. It started at my toes, and slowly crept up my ankles and legs, my waist and arms, my chest and throat. My skull. It felt as though my body was being frozen from the inside out. All I could remember thinking in that moment was how much I just wished it would end right then and there. I couldn't breathe, couldn't move.
Then, it was over. I focused my gaze on Winter, and she was smiling, only this time, it was a genuine smile. A smile that proved that for once, she was truly happy. "Thank you," she whispered, and I watched as the color of her hair faded to grey. I watched as her skin dulled and aged, until she simply closed her eyes and disappeared into the wind.
I looked around feeling so different. My vision was so crisp and clear, and I could no longer feel the cold that was blowing in from outside. I touched my face, and it smooth, so much more than it had only moments ago.
Suddenly remembering my sister, I turned. I searched her eyes for traces of fear, but now I only saw awe and amazement. "How…?"
I drifted towards her, noticing my strange feeling of weightlessness. "It's okay. I'm all right. Everything will be okay now."
Even as I was with her then, I knew I couldn't stay. I would have to leave. I could come back again, but only when winter came. I would never be able to survive here during the warm months. I couldn't ever feel the warmth of summer again.
I smiled. That was okay, though. Sometimes, to do your job, you had to make a few sacrifices.
Making sure not to release any ice from my frozen lips, I stretched up and kissed my sister's cheek. "I'll be back," I promised.
Tears in her eyes, my sister whispered, "I know you will… Winter."