The snowflakes floated down slowly, sparkling as they twisted in the light. Crito watched one pass, silent as a feather. It was as large across as her palm, crafted from multi-faceted strands to create an intricate pattern.
She reached out and plucked another of the flakes out of the air. The tiny girl winced at the intense cold of the ice-star, but she did not drop it. Squinting her large amber eyes, she held the snowflake in the flat of her palm, watching it melt into nothingness against her skin.
Crito reached out to grab another and Nathaniel tapped on the glass of the window. His diminutive charge turned toward the sound. When she waved at him with a grin, he could see a blister on the child’s palm where she had left the extreme cold of the snowflake burn her skin.
Frowning, Nathaniel motioned for Crito to come indoors. The snowflakes were getting larger, melting more slowly. Soon there would be a real storm; it was getting dangerous. She turned away from him as though she had not seen, reaching out again for another of the glittering ornaments as it drifted toward the earth.
Nathaniel tugged on his coat and was out of the house in an instant, snatching the girl’s hand before she could catch the snowflake. The blister on her hand from the intense cold of her previous catch was angry red, burned deep into her skin.
Crito pulled away from him with the violent indignation of slighted children, but when Nathaniel walked back to the house, his footsteps shattering fallen snowflakes with a noise like breaking glass, she followed.
The storm was coming in quickly. Nathaniel watched it from the kitchen window as he prepared a compress for Crito’s palm. Enormous black clouds plumed across the sky, blocking out the light of the sun. Snowflakes fell steadily, hanging in the air to twist and catch the color of the porch light. Their mosaic surfaces turned a single beam of light into a kaleidoscope of cold color.
Nathaniel closed his eyes for a moment and prayed that the snowflakes would not become heavy enough to cave the roof in. Thus far, the heated roof of the house had kept its inhabitants safe, but the snowflakes were becoming more resilient. Crito had held a single flake in her hand; it had been cold enough to burn her before it even began to melt. And they were larger than any Nathaniel had ever seen – the red tattoo crisscrossed the girl’s entire hand where before a flake could have been balanced on the tip of a single finger.
Crito did not react when Nathaniel put the compress on her wound. She never did react.
Nathaniel frowned as he tended to the fragile child. She was delicate and perhaps the most difficult of his charges; Byrd and Molly were still asleep, but Crito seemed to always be awake. And she had to be under constant supervision.
The little girl had been the first of the three children placed under Nathaniel’s care. She never spoke, though whether by preference or disability no one knew. So she could or would not speak to express her needs, nor scream to call for Nathaniel’s help. Though without being able to ask, there was no way to know the extent of her condition, tests had shown that Crito possessed no tactile sensation. Even when injured, as with the snowflakes, she would continue in an activity, oblivious or, at least, unconcerned with her own injuries.
Crito smiled at Nathaniel. He returned the action, forcing himself to appear happy. He should not have let the child see his worry.
“You’ll be all right,” Nathaniel told her. “It’s just a little burn. You shouldn’t catch the snowflakes anymore – they’re getting dangerous. You could really hurt yourself.”
Crito looked out the window as if she had not heard. Her enormous eyes reflected the twinkling lights of the snowstorm.
Nathaniel pressed his lips together. She had not acknowledged his instruction, but he could not remember a single time when she had done so. Crito was always silent and he had learned that it was usually better to take her silence for assent.
“I’m going to go check on the twins,” he told her softly. “Hold this on your palm for me until I get back, all right?”
Crito stared out at the jeweled flakes pouring from the sky. Nathaniel held in a sigh, stroking her hair for a second before he turned away.
He climbed the stairs slowly, listening for any noises to indicate if the twins were awake. It was late for Molly to still be asleep, but the sky had been overcast for days. It was silent in the hallway of the second floor, where the children’s bedrooms were. He was not surprised to hear nothing when he stood in front of the twin’s door.
The five-year-old boy and his twin sister had come to him only eight months before. Upon first glance it was impossible to see why anyone would not want the twins - they had strawberry blond curls, huge, blushing cheeks, and a habit of twining their index fingers together – yet they had gone through several homes before being placed with Nathaniel. Many of their families had been willing to keep Molly, but no one wanted Byrd.
The boy was smaller than his sister and only spoke in short, illogical sentences which seemed to only make sense to Molly. But the reason so many had give him up was his strange sleeping habits. Byrd was predominately nocturnal. It was rare that he would wake up at all during the day and when he was forced to do so, he clung to his sister and stared accusingly at the people he encountered. Nathaniel had been told that Byrd’s stare was particularly disconcerting because the child had what were called night eyes – they were larger than the average human’s and reflected light like the eyes of other nocturnal animals.
Hearing a suspicious amount of nothing, Nathaniel opened the bedroom door just a crack. The shades were down and the shapes of the furniture loomed in the dark. The room was silent.
“Molly?” Nathaniel’s neck prickled. The beds looked empty. He switched on the light, throwing the empty beds into sharp relief.
“Thaniel,” the voice was Molly’s; distant as though from the upper floor.
Nathaniel raced up the stairs. “Molly? Where are you?”
Coming into the attic space, he saw the tiny figure on the floor next to a window that opened out onto the roof.
Wide-eyed, the child turned toward him. “Thaniel, Byrd’s out-of-doors. And it’s snowing.”
“What? How did he get out there?”
Molly pointed. “He went out to watch the stars.”
Nathaniel blanched. He could just make out a strawberry blond figure on the roof, huddled in a fetal position. He flew to the window.
“Byrd,” he called, unlatching the window to raise it.
The glass pane would not budge. The realization flooded over Nathaniel. In a storm the windows locked themselves, just as the roof heated itself, and for the children’s protection the panes were thick, bulletproof.
The tiny boy raised his head as Nathaniel knelt by the window. Byrd’s unnaturally large eyes stared into Nathaniel’s; his skin was crisscrossed with a thousand snowflake-patterned burns.
“The trees crying,” Byrd’s voice was just discernable through the heavy glass. “They hurting, Thaniel.”
Notes: I know I've been slacking, but here's my flash fiction piece. I've been really off my game, but I fully intend to get back on it. By the by, if you're saying "what the heck, that's an awful way to end it!" I agree completely, but it seemed fitting somehow. I'm a horrible person. If it makes you feel better, you can pretend someone is out in the snow and can save Byrd. Hoping to get the weather forecast up tonight, wish me luck.