Chapter 1

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The picture above was taken by me on a family walk to the park. I just thought it fit the book perfectly. :)

The little robin: a tiny spectacle in the vast universe, a little speck of red and brown and fluff. A fragile bird that totters and skids on the icy platform, in search for the food that has long frozen over. The little footprints it leaves, a mark on the vast universe of its existence. A groove on the slippery snow. The beat of tiny wings as it takes off into the bitter air, soaring and flittering with no effort, into the cold darkening sky.

Winter has come.

* * *

It all started a few months ago. Angie and I were playing Chubby Bunny in the kitchen, bowl at the ready in case one of us failed to stuff another marshmallow in our mouths. Angie's Mum was watching us play whilst cooking the dinner, glancing back occasionally to see if the floor was going to be covered in saliva.

I was on my sixth marshmallow when Zach—Angie's older brother— came in, a confused expression clouding his face. I knew it would probably cloud his judgement too.

"Hey, Zach," I tried to say, but then there was a moment of instant regret when all the marshmallows came tumbling down into the bowl. I tried not to gag at the sloppy mess of white and pink in a pool of slobber.

"I won! I won!" Angie shrieked. Well, it really came out as 'Ah wo! Ah wo!' before the marshmallows came tumbling out a second after mine. You could say we were pretty similar because she tried not to gag too upon seeing the horrors in the bowl.

"Dinner's ready," Angie's Mum stated, placing a stack of plates on the middle of the table. "Angie, put that bowl away. We're eating."

As Angie was clearing up the disgusting marshmallows, Zach was still in the kitchen with us, looking worried. That made me think. Why should Zach be worried? Zach was never worried. He was normally the person who made Angie and I worry, not himself.

His Mum, being a very good Mum, picked up on this because she said, "Hey, Zach. What's up?"

He didn't reply straight after but eventually he said quietly, "Did you watch the news, Mum?"

She looked up from setting the table, his worried face now transferred to hers. Really? Was this worrying thing infectious?

"No, sweetie. What's wrong? Did they say anything that upset you? Did—"

"It's going to snow really heavily tonight, Mum," Zach blurted out, cutting her off.

His mother did a double take, pulling away at the last minute of placing the fork on the wooden table. I remember her head was tilted slightly to the side as she smiled. "But Zach! Isn't it always meant to snow heavily at Christmas?"

He looked at the fork she hadn't managed to place. I wanted to tell his Mum that it wasn't even Christmas yet, as it was only October. Sighing, Zach lunged forward and took the fork gingerly from her hands. "Here, Mum. Let me do it."

Zach set the rest of the table with his Mum trailing him around everywhere, wanting to get more information out of him about his anxieties relating to the weather. He just shrugged and said he didn't know why, just that he thought it a bit strange.

When we were eating dinner, Angie raised her eyebrows at me. I did the same back. Our connection was so strong that one could almost certainly tell what the other was thinking. We had been best friends (and occasionally worst enemies—everyone has a fight once in a while) for as long as I could remember. Going round to her house had become something like a routine, like making your bed or brushing your teeth.

I remember going home that night feeling happy at seeing Angie again, but also a bit worried. There wasn't much worry to begin with, only a tiny spark in my stomach but I knew that in not that much time, it would rapidly grow into a burning flame.

I went to bed feeling tired. There was not much time in bed to think about what Zach had said because I was already asleep after three minutes.

I was fast asleep when the snow began to fall.

           ***

As I think of it, winter is the coldest time of the year. The trees are bare, showing their thin, scratchy branches, deprived of all leaves and fruit, waving their highest broken staffs slowly and sorrowfully in the air whenever the wind picks up. The soft crunch of the snow beneath your cold tired feet, which are wet and sore and will probably not continue any further. The stinging bitter air that lashes at your face and eyes, beating you until you go red.

But as I also think of it, winter can be the warmest time of the year. Christmas is my favourite because you are connecting with your family round the dinner table, watching the adults drink sweet wine and watching the children drink sweet fizz. It's a time when the sweet oranges grow. When the laughter and happiness is spread to block out the cold season. To balance it out like a chemical equation, where all the O's on one side are the same as all the O's on the other side.

But this year is not like that.

This year there will be no Christmas. This year there will be no families together, laughing and smiling as they drink yet another glass. This year there will be no tinsel wrapped around the stair banisters. There will be no Christmas trees with delicate baubles hanging off them, bright and green like the fruit of spring. This year there will be no warm Christmas.

This year there will be a cold Christmas.

This year the O's will not balance themselves out.

This year is the year when the ice will come.

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