The morning Winter found herself imprisoned on the Island beneath the falling snow and the now eternally gray sky, she wailed, a wail that today is still heard all over the Island, carried by the screaming gales, flying across the white fields, frozen ponds and icy roads, into the houses where the Islander sit in their furs, huddled together.
Now the Island is called Winter Island. It used to be known as Turtle Island in the days when visitors would come to see the turtles. Those were the days when the now bare and few trees, so many having been cut down for firewood, had leaves that turned from green to yellow to gold to brown; when the bushes had born roses, red, white and black; the fields had been a lush green adorned with white daisies and yellow buttercups before being eternally blanketed in snow; the days when the orchards had grown pears, apples and blueberries; the days when badgers, foxes, and moles had lived in the forests and the fields. Those were the days when Winter island had had a population of 20000 and not the 2000 it has now; the days when they still had electricity, central heating and running water; the days when the mortality rate was 82 and not 51; the days when turtles still swam in the water and waddled on the shore, for now all the turtles are dead and no tourists come, and no residents leave, at least physically; only death lets them leave Winter Island. And there is one inhabitant whom not even death will release: Winter herself.
It was the first day of Spring 2011 when the Island became forever frozen in Winter. The celebratory fete to welcome Spring was ready to get underway but the guest of honour had not arrived though it was an event she always attended punctually. There were few attendees in fact. A thick layer of frost on the road meant that not all the islanders were able to make the journey to the town square. Instead they were stuck at home watching the TV weather forecast that reported the 'freak weather', an example of the greenhouse effect, they said. But this weather had nothing to do with nature: witchery was to blame.
As they stood under the wet canopy, Mr Climber, the Mayor, remarked to Mrs De Lagasion, the fete chairwoman, the icy temperatures and the gray skies were like the very depths of winter and not the death of that season which they had come to celebrate. Another strange thing also noted by Miss Twitcher, was the Island gossip that Miss Winter had not left that morning as she did every first day of spring. Miss Twitcher had heard from the sea guard's wife, present at the fete, that Miss Winter had tried to leave but the sea was still frozen so she was unable to go and had instead stormed home, her face like thunder.
Three months before finding herself trapped on the Island, Miss Winter blew in as she always did, surprisingly elegantly for such a large woman, arriving on the back of a few gentle gusts still strong enough to carry her weight. She stepped onto the Island, waved to the guardsmen, and waddled up the path, stopping to chat politely yet frostily to passersby, allowing the men to take her pudgy white hands in theirs and the women to observe her flawless pale skin. The woman must never go out in the sun they assumed, and they were correct. All she knew was the cold, the white and gray of winter. After politely saying goodbye, along she swept to her gated mansion, the home Autumn had just departed from and into which Spring was due to inhabit next, as they had done every year since time began.
During her stays on Turtle Island, Miss Winter spent most of her time alone; crafting ice sculptures, reading and eating chocolate cake being her favorite. Few visitors came to see her for she was rather cold to say the least. However, she liked that they kept away. The only people she sought were the maid and the handyman when it was time to give them orders. And when Mr Toadbelly, the short, red-faced , pot0bellied handyman, was summoned, he leapt to it, hopping along to her living room, his belly wobbling, his moist green eyes bulging like those of a toad on seeing a big, juicy fly. For Mr Toadbelly, who liked large women, the curvy Miss Winter was a sight to behold. He swooned whenever he saw her and spent most of his time thinking desirous thoughts that we should be glad we are not privy to. His desire burned strong enough not to be put out by her icy stare. Those glassy blue eyes that froze most who looked into them sent his heart bursting into flames. When her voice said his name and delegated him his tasks, each syllable as hard and frozen as icicles lining a cave ceiling, his heart swelled and he closed his eyes and listened, cherishing every note, as if he were listening to a passion-fuelled aria.
But that year words flew from her that crushed his heart rather than swelled it. Every year he found the thought of her impending departure too heart-breaking to bear. That year, on the verge of a breakdown, he asked her to stay on the island, as his wife. He knew he would be refused but he was compelled to ask, the foolish act of a desperate man. He expected her to just look right through him and coldly tell him to get the car ready or fix a leak. Instead, she informed him, as coolly as if she were telling him that he should clean the windows, she had better things to do than sit around the island and be a house wife.
Deeply hurt and fuelled with spite, he had gone to see the Island witch. Descending from a long line of witches, their ancestral home was noted in the tourist guide and featured on the map, the witch professed on his business card to cure invalids, end financial woes and make dreams come true. The witch, short, pudgy and with a fake stoop , welcomed hopeful locals and curious tourists in a cluttered room filled with bottles of different coloured potions and animal bodily parts such as the traditional frogs legs, and his own additions such as ducks beaks and badger's nose leather, ingredients he claimed made his spells unique and impossible to find elsewhere. While some were sceptical, some Islanders gave testament to his powers: Mr Mobile swore that the witch repaired his dying car and Mrs Lockankey swore blind he got her son Jonny put of prison, both innocent events that were the typical requests from customers, events whose outcomes relied on chance more than the intervention of magic, an intervention that Mr Toadbelly had no choice but to call on, his proposal having been refused.
Mr Toadbelly's wish that Miss Winter should be imprisoned on the island forever was by far the darkest request the witch had ever heard. So dark, at first he refused but the handyman went down on his knees and begged him, offering to pay triple the asking price, and business being slow, the witch succumbed. Somewhat reluctantly, the witch went through the motions. He concocted the potion of badger's nose leather, squirrels tails and spiders bellies and watched as the handyman closed his eyes and drunk it, wincing and trying not to vomit. Disgusted with the handyman and with himself, the witch took his fee, shaking his head in pity for Mr Toadbelly and also for Miss. Winter for being so afflicted by this man's 'affection'.
When Miss Winter awoke the next day expecting to see a blue sky and to hear the sounds of birds singing only to see the gray sky and falling snowflakes, she broke out in a sweat. This had never happened before and she knew instinctively that disaster lay ahead. On being told she could not leave the island she ran back to the house and locked herself in, her pale skin reddening. She drew the curtains and did not answer the door or the phone. Over the next few days, she only emerged to check if she could leave. Big bags hung under her eyes, weight dropped off her. She shivered incessantly, frozen in a state of panic.
Panic soon set in for the other Islanders as farm and wild animals died, beloved pets froze to death, all plant life, even winter vegetables, decayed. Provisions could not be sent in because boats could not travel across the frozen sea and planes could not land due to the severe snow storms. When the water pipes froze and burst, panic soon turned into fear, and when the first fatality occurred, fear gave way to outright hysteria.
The first casualty was Mrs Keelova ,an elderly woman. A few days later a new-born baby died. Every day more and more people lost their lives. Death was the only way to escape the misery for leaving the island was impossible due to the belligerent blizzards. Suicides became common as an insufferable fate was foreseen. The sea guard was the first to go, jumping into the ice cold sea, and more followed, mystified and mortified by this fatal phenomenon.
Only Mr Toadbelly and the witch were able to explain it, and their respective roles in the causality tormented them. On realising that his spiteful spell was only going to imprison Mrs Winter and not make her fall in love with him, the handyman went to the witch and pleaded with him to undo the spell. And the witch, struck dumb by the fact that his spell had actually worked, that he might be a real witch, and fearful the Islanders would find out and have him burned at the stake as they had done to his ancestors back in the dark ages, spent night after night trying his best to undo his deed until he himself dropped dead from frostbite.
Over time the islanders adapted. They wore fur, insulated their homes and learned to become expert fishermen. But an air of depression afflicted them as heavy as the black clouds that hung over the island from daybreak until nightfall for their spirits lamented no longer living in all four seasons and the happiness, the light, the energy they bought with them. Now they did not live, the endured.
Perhaps no one endured more than Mr Toadbelly. Even though Miss Winter remained on the Island, she was more distant from him than she had ever been. Mr Toadbelly knocked on Miss Winter's door every day but was always turned away. He thought sooner or later she would be forced to relent. Cold she might be but there was a heart in there somewhere. A heart Miss Winter tried to stop, using a variety of methods: pills, starvation, slashing her wrists. But Winter cannot die; Winter kills. And inevitably, it killed the handyman of pneumonia, a miserable fate but still far preferable to that of his prisoner who was to wander eternally the stone cold mansion, forever frozen in Winter, wailing for a Spring that would never come.