#Shortstory: The Old Man of Snow and The Snow Snake
IMAGE BY STEFAN KELLER
I’ve written a short story in response to Diana’s wonderful prompt on Myths of The Mirror.
Here is the link if you’d like to join in too:
The Old Man of Snow and The Snow Snake
Today, the moon is full and high in the sky and a group of nineteen men travel with brave hearts to the mouth of the Snow Snake Cave.
The wind is biting cold. Each man carries a pack of provisions on his back and thoughts of his loved ones in his heart. They know that this journey might be one to their deaths and yet they trudge on.
At last after many exhausted steps they arrive at the forbidding entrance of the cave. It is no ordinary grotto. This cave is fashioned out of layer upon layer of snow. The mouth of which is an ice sculpture of a snake’s jaw gaping, its eyes furious and wide. The old man above is exquisite, his hair and snow beard fall in intricate icicles. He is leaning to one side, his hand of snow pushing down on the snake as if it coax it to move.
The Old Man of Snow startles the men, he stirs, his snow encrusted eyes open wide as he bellows,
‘Dare you approach us? I think not little men. I will crush you like ants and feed you to my friend the Snow Snake.’
The men stop so suddenly that they almost fall over with exhaustion. Several of them stagger backwards frightened by the sheer size and forbidding nature of the Old Man of Snow. But, one amongst them stays still, resolute and strong.
He squares his shoulders, takes a deep breath and replies. ’I have come to meet with the Old Man of Snow and the legendary Snow Snake. I wish to discuss what you’ve done with the countless others who have ventured here. That is all that I and this brave group of men want – my old friends back. We are not greedy men. We don’t desire wealth, or gold, we only want happiness.’
‘Happiness?’ the Old Man lifts his hand and pulls at his beard. The Snow Snake begins to wind his tail back and forth causing a volley of tiny snowballs to fall.
‘They are lying Old Man,’ said the Snow Snake, hissing. ‘They mean to trick us. Don’t allow them passage. If you do, I will swish my furious tail even more and they will be crushed under an avalanche of snow.’
‘Silence, Snow Snake! I am sick of your reptilian attitude. Let them speak. I have never heard a human ask for so little before and I am curious if indeed they speak the truth.’
The humble man bowed before the Old Man of Snow and then kneeled on the cold earth. ‘I swear by the almighty that I tell the truth. I, and my men are simple farmers, we tend the earth, eat our crops, and milk our herd. We don’t need riches and fame.’
‘You are a wise man. Unfortunately, your friends who came before you were foolish and greedy. They tried to steal from the Snow Snake and he and I were very angry.’
‘They were wrong to do so and I apologise on their behalf. Please forgive me for asking but what happened to their foolish souls?’
‘Within the cave there are a multitude of tiny snow snakes who wriggle free when they smell greed. These tiny snakes are lethal, one bite of their venom stilled these greedy mens’ hearts and froze them for all eternity. Here, come. I grant you entry to see the power we possess so you will not dare to steal from us. The ice sculptures of your friends are very beautiful.’
The men muttered. Some made as if to turn back but the leader spoke again.
‘Men come with me, we must pay our respects to our old friends.’
One replied, ‘Are you mad? They may do the same to us. How can you trust the Old Man of Snow, the Snow Snake and his allies the tiny venomous snakes?’
‘I only know what is right and good,’ replied the humble man.
‘So will it be,’ said several of his followers, but many turned away, retracing their steps back from where they had come.
The few that remained were granted a passage into the mouth of the Snow Snake’s cave. But the snake hissed and rattled his snow tail in a show of extreme displeasure.
The Old Man of snow stamped his snowy boots, and the snake stopped.
Once inside the cave, the humble man and his band of followers saw nothing but ice and snow. They heard no sign of life, no trickle of water, but still they walked on.
As they turned a corner, the cave widened, and they entered a room which was ablaze with a colourful array of magical stones. For a moment even the humble man was tempted to pop one of these magnificent stones in his pocket but then he remembered the Old Man’s warning.
The men began to question their desires. ‘Surely one small stone for each of us wouldn’t be a wicked thing to do?’ they clamoured.
The humble man turned to them in turn and spoke. ‘We are here to save our friends, not to steal. We must save them, or bid them farewell. Follow me.’
With much grumbling and moaning the men finally did as they were told and were rewarded with the sight of the ice sculptures.
How beautiful they were. Each of the trapped men had been saved for all eternity in a moment of rugged, albeit, frozen handsomeness. None of these men would ever age, hunger, or cry, ever again.
The humble man touched each sculpture and openly wept, greeting each by name. His tears fell on the sculptures and caused them to melt, little by little. His followers did the same. Soon the tears flowed so freely that each and every sculpture broke apart to reveal their living friends within.
All were reunited in the most beautiful moment. Hugs and words of regret were shared. They were no longer as rugged, or as handsome as they had been whilst enclosed in ice, but they wept true tears of joy that they lived. They could now go home to their beloved family and friends.
The Old Man bellowed so loudly that he could be heard. ‘Humble man, you are blessed by a natural inclination to fortune and good sense. Your heart is kind. Take one stone – a magical Sphene – back to your village. You are worthy. It will make your harvest plentiful forever more.’
The humble man wept, glad that he had not succumbed to greed’s desire but had been rewarded for his earnestness. He paused for a moment unsure how to proceed. Which stone was a Sphene? His fingers trailed the masses of crystals and alighted on a single one. It was plain in comparison to the rest, a clump of layered plates and flattened wedge-shaped crystals. But when he placed it in his hands it glowed in a dazzling array of colours.
He cried, his friends cried too, and they hugged each other. They started to move back towards the mouth of the cave.
The snow snake hissed. ‘How dare you, Old Man? I thought you were joking! That Sphene is our treasure. My treasure! Stop this immediately, or I will kill them all.’
Inside the cave, there was a rustling noise as a billion tiny snow snakes appeared, hissing in fury they slithered menacingly towards the men. The men clutched their hearts in fear, their eyes wide with panic.
The Old Man didn’t reply. Not one word slipped from his lips. Instead, he blew from his mouth, and continued to blow. The tiny snakes were blown back, tumbling and rolling into snowballs whence they had come. The wind picked up as a flurry of snow began to trickle from the Snow Snake’s body. The men ran as the Snow Snake’s body started to break apart, as small pieces of the entrance of the cave were thrown to the wind.
‘Hurry!’ shouted the Old Man. ‘If you don’t run, you will be crushed under the Snow Snake’s broken cave body.’
The men ran as fast as they could. Just as they exited the mouth of the cave the roof of the snow snake cave began to crumble.
The Snow Snake’s mouth blew apart in a final raging hiss before it crushed back together, closing the entrance to the cave forever more.
The men collapsed to the ground, safe but breathing heavily.
Once the humble man had recovered his breath he spoke. ‘Why did you protect and save us, mere strangers to you, above your companion the snow snake?’
The Old Man of Snow lifted his hand and cupped the area around where his heart would have rested. ‘There is no room for a greedy heart. It is lonely to live alone but it better to live alone than to blight the gift of true magic with greed.’
©M J Mallon
Oh I really enjoyed writing that!
Hope you enjoyed.
Bye for now,
Buy Book: myBook.to/TheCurseofTime
I’m a contributing author in the Plaisted Publishing House Ghostly Writes Anthology 2018 with my story Ghostly Goodbye.
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Categories: Short Story