Short Story: Summer’s Gift

I wrote this short story over ten years ago, and every once in a while I take it out, dust it off, revise a bit, and stow it away. I think it’s time to share it here.


Autumn

Autumn sighed, the rustle of dead leaves in a chill breeze. He stirred, his black eyes narrowing on Winter seated to his right. Minuscule snowflakes fell from her lashes as she blinked in return. She graced him with a slight nod, accompanied by the tinkling sound of icicles falling to the frozen ground.

Autumn’s gaze skimmed over Spring with a blush, looking to Summer next. The man sitting to Autumn’s left also nodded, adding a nondescript gesture of one golden hand that stirred a sudden warm draft.

Reluctantly, Autumn turned his gaze to the woman across the table. A garland of small blossoms twined through her red-gold hair, and dew clung to her flushed skin. Her eyes were the green of new leaves, wide and merry. It stirred something in him that he attempted to ignore. Oblivious, Spring nodded as well. The fragrance of honeysuckle and roses filled the air.

It was time. As one they stood, and each moved to the left to take a new seat. It was Autumn’s turn in the large, ornate chair at the head of the table. He settled in with the dry scent of summer gone cold. A feast appeared on the crystal table.  This was Autumn’s harvest bounty and his gift to the others. They ate heartily, for Winter was next and she gave no gifts.

Winter

It seemed both an eternity and the blink of an eye, but the change in the air was unmistakable. It was Winter’s turn.

She motioned impatiently to the others, giving them a cursory glance before standing to take the chair. The frozen fabric of her gown cracked and groaned as she moved, like the surface of an ice-covered pond. She stood tall and proud, for Winter answered to no one. Her gaze was the deep, dark color of a glacier’s heart.

Those icy eyes turned jealously toward Spring, but only for a heartbeat. She was nothing if not observant, and she had seen the way Autumn stared at the lady of late.

It did not bode well. The four could never deviate from the pattern, never leave their positions. The crystal table was to remain between them until the end of time, a barrier that maintained the order and the balance. So it had been since the very beginning. And Winter should know, for she had been the first. Her icy claws had etched the decree into the table’s crystal surface. She made the law, and it would not be broken.

Spring

Spring fidgeted. She’d waited too long again, and she knew it. Winter did not give up her seat easily, and Spring was too timid to force her. They may have remained that way for eons, if impatient Summer hadn’t let out an audible sigh that smelled like sunlight and saltwater. Winter narrowed her eyes at him, but it was too late. Emboldened, Spring stood and took the chair.

She did not meet Winter’s bottomless cobalt gaze, but her skin flushed warmly when she looked across the table at Autumn. His eyes stared at her and into her. They burned like dying embers and made her heart hammer in her chest.

As she settled in to her seat, the room grew warmer and the table before them changed. The icy surface cleared, frost melting away as thin tendrils of ivy twined around the table legs. Fragrant blossoms opened, and the crisp smell of green growing things filled the air. The four breathed in the aroma of life as the Earth awoke from its cold slumber. This was the gift of Spring.

Summer

Summer yawned, bored yet again. One golden hand tapped a mindless staccato beat on the table. The scent of flowers had grown cloying, as usual. Autumn shifted in his chair. Even selfish Summer could feel it. The careful balance that had been maintained for millennia teetered on a precipice.

Change hung heavy in the air, though none said a word.

When his time came, Summer grinned and swaggered to the head chair. He looked from Autumn to Spring and back again. The signs were unmistakable. Autumn’s dark eyes were hungry, while Spring’s rosy glow was warmer than ever. And yet, always they must remain opposites, by Winter’s decree.

Summer once again read the words engraved on the tabletop as he took the seat. The precepts stated that the table would always remain in the center, each of them on one side until the end of time. That table was the crux, the axis upon which they all spun. It was the sun, and they were merely planets in orbit.

Those words–carved by the cruel hand of Winter herself–were law, the stricture that bound them in this eternal dance.

Summer’s mouth quirked, and it was the only warning any of them would receive.

He stared defiantly into the imperious eyes of Winter as he lifted both arms high and brought them down upon the surface of the crystal table with every ounce of his strength.

There was a moment of peace, a stillness completely absent of sound or movement. Then there was a sound oddly like a sigh, and Summer’s gift fell to the floor in shattered, sparkling pieces.

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