Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

Categories Navigation Menu

– 4 –

– 4 –

The survey is about polar bears. Traditionally, polar bears receive their surveys by post, but this time, Sally’s boss sent her north.

“Polar bear literacy rates are reported at 98%,” said Sally’s boss. This is the kind of thing the Formerly Lethal Corporation does in the après-apocalypse environment. “I don’t believe those numbers. I think that many polar bears are ashamed to admit that they can’t read. Others, unable to read, eat our survey. It’s a tasty paper treat! We can fix the first problem with marketing — making it glamorous to admit one’s flaws. But to fix the second problem we need someone on the site. We need someone to go there and put the question to the polar bears directly!”

“Me,” said Sally. Her voice was quiet and her affect blank. “Send me.”

“That’s wonderful!” exclaimed her boss, and hugged her. That’s one reason why Sally is traveling north.

The other is that she’s had a hard life and she’s tired.

Sally reaches the north pole and begins lining up polar bears. She administers the survey to each. It becomes rapidly obvious that very few polar bears can read. Some even try to eat her. Sally does not want to live. But she clings to life. When they snarl and bite at her, she flees across the snow. Behind her, a more civilized bear runs interference, crying, “Without table manners, we are nothing more than animals! White furry animals! With teeth! Please, you must show restraint!”

Sally does not hear. She runs, and runs, until the ice cracks beneath her feet and she falls into a cavern beneath the snow.

“I don’t deserve to live,” she says. “I have no value.”

A time passes, in the dark.

“But it’s so very cold.”

So she lights a flashlight and looks around her. She’s in a great cavern, and all around her, in frozen sleep, they are.

“What are you?” she says. But she knows. This is a thing that was not meant to exist in her world.

She stands. She hobbles over. She stares at them.

There are princes in shining mail, and great beasts, and witches, and old women, and golden spindles. There is Princess Anthology, who would have been for Peter, and the crow that could have saved Linus from his fate. And there, to the left, is hers. Her prince.

She touches his frozen skin. “I had a wicked stepmother,” she tells him. “I ran away from her, and I lived in the forest, and you did not come.”

It wasn’t a forest. It was a boarding school. She is taking poetic license.

“She enchanted me, and I lived with that enchantment —”

That enchantment: you are no one important.

“And in the end I heard that she had died and turned to ash and been scattered, but even so, the enchantment didn’t break.”

The prince is silent.

Sally touches his face. It is frozen.

“And you didn’t come,” she says.

Sally walks through that great cavern, and sees them all, and after a time, she tells them the story of that place.

“You were here before us,” she says. “I don’t even know if there were people. You were here before us, you shining principles. You were heroes. You were Kings and you were Queens. And you fought for us, you were our salvation — for there were monsters back then, nightmares and horrors, that were just as much made for us as you. And you won. You won, you were winning. But the world grew cold.

“‘We shall die,’ said the princes, and the princesses with their golden hair, and the beasts that spoke, and the witches, and the frogs. ‘We shall die. The world grows cold.’

“And so you came to the coldest place of all and buried yourselves here. Not to die. Not truly. Simply to be. And the lady of winter kept you. That must have been what happened.”

Sally sits, leaning against an ice-pink unicorn. Its face is feral and wild.

“I do not think I can revive you,” she says. “I do not think anybody can.”

The unicorn is silent. Sally’s prince does not move.

If she escapes, she knows —

If she survives this, then she will say it. She will tell people. She will tell people, even though she’ll tell herself not to, and they will come, and they will see.

“I must die here,” she says. “So I won’t tell them. They must never know.

“The universe cares for us more than I can bear, and that gift is frozen, under the ice.”



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *