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Three Kisses: The Mirror of Reason

Henry Szabranski lives in Buckinghamshire, UK, with his wife and two young sons. They all enjoy a good fairy tale.

She was all shining, all glittering ice as she rose on a whirling column of white. The impossible tower grew taller and thinner, leaning over until it finally disintegrated into a shower of crystals. When the plume cleared, the Queen was gone.
The little girl waited, but there was no sign of the Queen returning. She forced her fear-paralyzed limbs into motion, emerging from behind one of the rime-encrusted pillars. Her eyes were on the boy who slouched beside the empty throne. He appeared listless and sullen, his pale skin mottled with frostbite. She shivered at the sight, feeling a marrow-deep chill that had nothing to do with the bitter winds scouring the Snow Queen's palace.
The frozen boy did not look at her, concentrating instead on the ice shards arranged like a broken puzzle at his feet.
The cold numbed the girl's feet as she ran across the frozen lake upon which the palace stood. "Kay! Don't you recognize me?"
"Of course I recognize you." His voice, hoarse and weak, still contained the spiteful edge that had first shattered her world. "Stupid Gerda, why have you come all this way?"
Gerda fought back tears. "The troll mirror is blinding you."
Kay's face darkened into a frown. "The only mirror here is the Mirror of Reason, and no troll made that." He pointed at the polished surface of the frozen lake. It seemed to heave, the dark waters in turmoil beneath the glistening skin of ice. Gerda dared not look at it.
"No, I mean the troll mirror that broke into a thousand pieces. A fragment has lodged in your heart and your eye, and now you cannot see the world as it truly is."
Kay laughed; a cracked, humorless cackle. "If what you say is true, then my ears are fine. But all I hear from your mouth are words of nonsense."
"It's true." Gerda stopped at the foot of the icy throne. "The wise Finn woman told me so."
Another snort of derision. "You must be as stupid as you are ugly. I'm here because the Snow Queen loves me. And I love her."
Tears misted Gerda's eyes, threatening to freeze before they could escape. What had happened to the carefree boy who had once been her best friend? The boy who winked through the peephole made by a heated coin in the winter-frosted window of the bedroom opposite hers; the boy who used to play all summer long down in the street that divided them, who stepped with such foolhardy grace over the rose-entwined guttering that linked their two apartments? Such a sweet and kind boy, until the troll-mirror fragments and the Snow Queen conspired to sweep him away.
Kay's grin faltered. Frostbitten fingers stroked his lips. "She kissed me, you know. Twice. I would have been happy for her to kiss me again, but she warned me I would die." His voice became wistful. "She's so beautiful, Gerda. So unlike anyone I've met before."
"Stupid, Kay! She's put a spell upon you and you cannot see." Her tears welled. Had she traveled all these hundreds of miles in vain?
"I am happy here." Kay's voice was a frozen whisper.
Gerda grabbed him in a hug. He did not resist, more like an icicle than a warm, living being. "How I missed you," she whispered into his blackened ear. The tears flowed, hot and unstoppable.
And Kay responded, thawing like a side of frozen meat placed in the sun. Tears of his own flowed freely, although if you had asked him he would not have known why. Gerda did not notice the mirror shards dislodge from his eye and heart, caught up in her joy at just being able to touch him again.
"What am I doing here?" His voice was full of wonderment, and not a little fear.
"Shhh, it's all right." Together they rocked, sharing warmth.
At last Kay pulled at Gerda's hand. "I want to go home, I want to see Grandmother. I want to see summer again."
"Yes, we should go." She grasped Kay's hand as he stepped down from the dais.
The exit through the great, hoar-frosted gates lay just across the Mirror of Reason. The frozen lake's surface shimmered as they stumbled over it, glazed by a web of ghostly fractures. Gerda had been too distracted to notice before, but now she saw how beautiful they were. At first the patterns formed by the cracks seemed random, but then she began to spot familiar shapes--first flowers and vines and roses, and then faces: the little robber girl, the wise Finn woman, others who had helped or hindered her long journey north.
"Hurry," urged Kay. He let go of her hand and sped ahead.
There was Grandmother, Kay, and herself, familiar faces from home. A progression, each image of profound consequence, part of an unfolding geometry of meaning. The more Gerda stared, the more she discovered, the more she became convinced she was close to some important insight: a piercing of the veil, a glimpse of the mechanism and destiny of the world--
She shivered, but did not feel the temperature drop or notice the fall of ice crystals as they brushed the nape of her neck.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes." Her breath clouded.
"One could spend one's entire life looking at it and still find more to see."
Gerda started as the unfamiliar voice finally registered. She turned in surprise. Kay was gone.
Bitter cold descended and froze her to the spot. The Queen leaned down and kissed her... and Gerda no longer felt the cold.
Some part of her still fought, still hoped Kay had escaped, but the Queen kissed her again and Gerda thought of Kay no more: she wondered only at the perfect and unique symmetry of each and every snowflake falling around her.
Then the Queen's cold lips brushed hers for a final time, and Gerda no longer felt anything at all.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author Comments

This story originated from a prompt which required the use of two words chosen from a random but limited selection. The words had to feature in the closing sentence of the story, and the object of the prompt was to create the final sentence first and then write the story leading up to it. In fact, all three sections of "Three Kisses" end with a sentence containing the pair of chosen words... "cold" and "lips." To find the full list of possible word choices in the prompt, and more, please visit henryszabranski.com.

- Henry Szabranski
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