Under A Winter's Moon

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This is your usual disclaimer. It's fiction people! It was inspired by a number of popular shows and movies, but I do believe that my take on them is all mine. That also mean that despite Cathy's best efforts all the mistake are mine. Please enjoy and take it in the spirit that it is meant. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all and the rest of that Jazz!

Under a Winter's Moon
by
Grover

My eyes opened to the light shining high above me. Enraptured by the sight, it filled me. Slowly, I became aware I was drifting away from the brightness into a darker, deeper gloom.

No.

As I formed the thought, I ceased sinking and began rising even as my hand reached for the light. It was strangely fuzzy and out of focus, but I knew it beckoned me upwards.

First surprise and then anger flowed though me as I bumped into something, a barrier keeping me from the light. Infuriated, I explored it with my hands. It was hard, and smooth, but transparent enough so the illuminated orb above me was visible even if it was distorted.

I flowed back and forth over the barrier like a water droplet over a pane of glass searching for a way through. My sluggish thoughts latched onto that image. If it was like glass, it could be broken. Using my increasing frustration, I drew back my fist striking the cause of my anger. It was as if the very forces of the earth herself were holding me back. My weak blow barely made a sound.

That fueled my wrath not with burning fire, but something else that was cold, so very cold. Not the mere chill of a winter's wind, but the frigid of absolute zero that's so intense it burns like the hottest fires.

The Light fractured into multitudes of splintered images as my prison exploded into a wide spiderweb as my right fist cracked into it like lightning. A second joined it as my left struck, sending a creaking groan across the imprisoning pane.

The shining orb was now only a diffracted mass, but it would be mine!

Focusing all of my energy I slammed both fists forward fueled by all my frustrations.

Like a missile erupting from an submerged submarine, I shot upwards in a towering geyser of ice and spray into the clear winter's night. Impossibly, I hung suspended in the air as, just as unbelievably, the falling water crystallized into snow that swirled around me. Even the larger chunks of ice slowed their fall and began a slow orbit about me as they shrank, shedding glittering particles that joined the icy dance of which I was the center.

Some part of me knows I should be freezing, but I'm not. All I have eyes for is the source of that Light. High above me the light of the full moon turned the world into stark black and white. Not able to look away, it was a communing that sang to my spirit.

A small voice within me objected. There's nothing mystical about the moon. It's just a big life-less rock orbiting about the Earth. Sure, I might know that, but what I felt was something else again.

It was as if I was a beloved child that'd been too long lost to her mother, and we both rejoiced in the reunion.

Like that same mother, she gently reminded me, I had matters that needed attending.

The snow and ice playfully twirled as I descended gracefully to the ice capped lake. The shattered opening, from which I'd escaped, was already icing over.

I knew I should be alarmed by all of this, but there was this curious disconnection with my past. All my memories seemed to be there, but that wasn't who I was in the now. Right here, I glowed with energy and vitality.

Looking down at myself, the ice crusted clothes I wore were ill-fitting and offended me greatly in a way I had trouble voicing. They were just wrong. Even so, that doubtful part of me objected to discarding them.

It's winter, it whispered. You need protection from the cold.

Ignoring its pleas, I wished them gone. The faithful winds and snows obeyed cleansing them from me in tornado of ice, but one that did not so much as strike me with a single stinging bite.

Free of those ugly things, I looked upon myself using the glazed over lake as my mirror.

My hair was long and the same color as the Lady Moon who shined above me. So fine its silvery strands danced in the wind about my so very fair complexioned face. Even my brows and lashes were the same luminous silver of the Moon. They edged my pale blue eyes perfectly and made my fair skin appear less pale and more fitting.

While all of that made my face appear somewhat severe, my lips were inviting if not the bee-stung pout so popular with today's media obsessed culture. Experimenting I found I could change their color from a icy blue to a shiny silver matching my hair.

Going further down, I was pleased at the high firm breasts that, although not big, appeared ample for my trim body. Perhaps not a body by Mae West, but one that would never be mistaken as male. The patch of silver hair capping the mound between my legs proved that.

I had a feeling of satisfaction, but also one of confusion as if I hadn't always been this way. Pushing that thought aside, I recalled my previous desire for clothes. Just the thought caused the merry sparkles to settle upon me clothing my body in a grown of white. Stepping forward, I slipped my feet into the shoes of ice that had formed from the lake.

That annoying voice insisted this had to be uncomfortable, cold and even life threatening, but it didn't feel like it to me. It simply felt right.

High above, the smiling Lady Moon reminded me of my tasks.

Returning her smile, the winds lifted me their arms again carrying me into the sky. Searching, I saw the fires of all of the little lives for miles around. The fish beneath the ice; the furry little ones hibernating in their burrows, and there... the much brighter lights of larger warm bloods, humans, as well as the constructions they'd built to keep them warm.

It took only moments for the winds to whisk me to the nearest of those. Without a sound, I set foot outside the small shack sitting on the frozen lake. Sensing the hole in the ice inside, I somehow knew this was how I'd been trapped in my prison and carried by the currents until I'd awakened quite some distance away.

“Damn it, Brady! You frakking redneck hick!” A gravelly voice cussed from inside the small shack. “If I'd wanted that damn rent-a-cop killed, I would've killed him myself. Now not only do we not have a hostage, but we have murder charges hanging over our heads. How could you be so stupid?”

“P'haps Ya'll right.” Brady drawled back. “I ain't all that smart, but ya'll better watch yer mouth. My daddy didn't take no back talk and I ain't much for it neither. That wanna-be faggot cop mouthed off, and he paid the price. Don't you be makin' the same mistake, Ron.”

“You threatening me, Brady?” Ron asked dangerously.

“Nope,” The other replied just as edgy. “Don't make threats, just promises. Ain't no cause for us to get in each other's faces. We done the deed and got away with it, 'cept for that idiot guard who is feedin' the fishes right now. All that's left is to deliver that crown to the buyers. Good as done!”

Outside, I had vague memories of Brady and Ron and they weren't pleasant. I felt my so very cold anger rising again.

It was time.

Six Hours before:

Being a security guard was generally pretty damn boring, and working Christmas Eve night sucked. However, Karl smiled as he swiped his Detex card on the watchman pad. It would record the exact time he passed this way so his anal retentive bosses had proof he was actually walking his rounds. Normally it bugged the hell out of him to be tied to the damned, very predictable schedule, but this job was different.

Hurrying, he made it to the special exhibit hall so he had a little time to spare before having to race to the next watchman station. The security with this assignment was almost as tight as that of the fabled King Tut tour years and years ago. That was why he and the rest of the Smackenhut security officers were here as an extra precaution.

Despite the number of times he'd seen it, the real show piece of the tour never ceased to amaze him. With the popularity of the exhibit and the madness of the holiday crowds, stealing a few minutes from his rounds was the only way he got to see it. Walking up to the rope that kept the curious from getting too close to the secure, bulletproof display case, Karl swore he could almost hear an orchestra playing dramatic music.

Resting on a purple velvet cushion was a crown, but it wasn't made of gold. In its front was a hand-sized, leaf-shaped, leaded cut crystal which had silver veins running though it. Braided together on either side with fine silver wire were diamonds cut like stylized icicles, forming the rest of the crown's headband.

Most wondered from just reading about it, why the crystal was, pardon the pun, in the crowning position among all the diamonds. The reason why had to be seen, preferably in person. In an outstanding display of craftsmanship the diamond's facets were cut just so to channel all the light to the centerpiece. The silver veins in the crystal blazed with icy light, The Snow Queen's Crown.

Of course that was just part of the huge bounty that had been discovered. Silver and gold jewelry, as well as ancient coins, were displayed in the other cases of the exhibit. Ornate daggers, cups and other artifacts signalized that all this had belonged to a person of very high status.

Karl took a deep breath as he pulled his eyes away from the light. Even in the museum's dim, night time lighting, the Crown blazed as brightly as any of the other treasures, and all light was channeled into the crystal. The silver streaks in the amazing glass glowed like electric filaments, making the inner light all that much brighter.

Needless to say, that bought all the crystal power nuts out of the closet, making all sorts of wild claims about its supposedly mystic powers. He thought they were entirely missing the point that this one of a kind creation that had been crafted by the hand and ingenuity of man. No magic was required for this magnificent work of art.

Chuckling, he passed the placard explaining how the discovery had been made. A construction worker on the rather remote and very northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen had been clearing a lot. While laying down a foundation, he stumbled across the find of the century.

Being a very small and remote community it was impossible to hide what he'd found, even if he'd tried. Everyone was awed at the amount and size of the treasure. Again, another pun, the crowning piece was the Crown, whose workmanship and preservation was simply remarkable.

It was, he thought, inevitable that it would be called The Snow Queen's Crown after the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. In the story, the Snow Queen's palace was on the island, although in truth no one really knew just where all the treasure came from. Archaeologists were still investigating the area, but the arctic conditions made such things very difficult and provided only the short summer in which access was available at all.

The good news was that the restricted circumstances kept the opportunistic treasure hunters mostly at bay, letting the science guys do their job. On the other hand, it must be nice to find something really amazing like that. The only things he'd ever found were pennies, dimes and the occasional quarter.

Glancing at the wrist watch he'd begun carrying with him since he started this job, he had just enough time to hoof it to the next watchman pad. However, if he hadn't lagged behind a bit, he never would've seen the two guys coming up out of the grate in the floor.

“Are you sure none of guards are around?” A loud whisper with a very distinct southern drawl asked.

“Keep it down.” The other cautioned. “ I told you, my cousin hacked their computers and got their watch schedules. The guard is all the way at the other end of the hallway and won't be back this way for a hour. Just so you won't ask again, my cousin got the camera's on a loop so they won't see a thing.”

Karl knelt behind a case so he wouldn't be seen. “Code 459 in the special exhibit hall.” He whispered into his radio, but nothing answered him.

Crap!

He wasn't armed. In reality he was just a low cost mobile organic warning system meant to serve as a deterrent and to give the alarm when the more sophisticated electronic ones failed. If these guys were armed he was in real trouble. The layout of the exhibit hall was set up for display and not conducive for sneaking.

A quick check of his radio showed it was on and yes it was broadcasting. From what he'd overheard, that suggested that the bad guys tech support was impressive which could mean his radio was being jammed somehow.

Reaching up past the boundary ropes, he touched the glass of the exhibit case. They'd been told all the cases had alarm systems and not to touch them. Pushing as hard as he dared Karl could only hope that would be enough to warn the guys back in the security center. There was one last trick he could pull. Keying his mike again, in one long and then one short burst, Code R, the carrier signal might get though whatever was killing the voice signal. Code R had replaced the old emergency SOS years ago.

As silently as he could Karl began working his way further from the burglars keeping low and hidden behind the display cases while sending his Code R.

“Why don't you just stop right thare Porky.” A cold southern voice commanded as Karl came nose to nose with the dark barrel of an automatic pistol.

Not being a hero, he did exactly what the man with the gun said. It was company policy and common sense. It did concern him that the man wasn't wearing a mask, although the low light did shadow the face.

“Don't shoot.” Karl replied, trying not to freak out.

“On yer feet, and turn around slow like.” The bad guy with the accent commanded.

In short order, he was stripped of his equipment belt, radio, and everything in his pockets. His hands were zip-tied behind him. The SOB even went so far as to yank down his uniform trousers.

That was a problem.

“Let's see you try and run with your pants around yer ankles.” The aforementioned robber then chuckled nastily. “Oh what have we here? Hey Ron, this cop wanna-be is wearing women's panties.”

“No names!” Hissed another voice from near the Snow Queen Crown's pedestal.

Burning red, Karl's face was filled with shame and embarrassment. His secret vice had dragged him down for years. It'd cost him his marriage, and more jobs and other opportunities than he could count. He knew he was capable of much more, but somehow he was never able to reach it. That was why he was stuck working here in the big city doing the lowest of the low, the bottom rung in security.

With child support payments for his daughter, he barely made ends meet at all working this and his other job doing part-time stocking at a dollar store. However it was all worth it. No matter the problems between him and The Ex, Karl loved his little girl, Kara. His heart melted every time he thought about her. It was an additional stab in his heart when The Ex moved them back with her parents way down south, and so far away he never got to see his daughter, only talk to her on the phone.

On the other hand, the working nights thing brought its own problems with the insistence of Smackenhut on the clean cut male authority figure image. Long hair, nails or any other visible feminine touchstone was denied him. That was why the holiday themed panties he'd ordered from the internet.

The red lace boyshorts panties with their cute embroidered Christmas bells and holly were anything, but masculine. It was perfect at letting him secretly express that forbidden femininity of his inner heart as well as celebrating the Christmas spirit in his own quiet way.

Of course he never counted on being involved in a robbery or having some crazed redneck with a gun pull his pants down.

“Stop playing with the rent-a-cop and get over here.” Ron ordered. “My brother thinks he stopped the alarm from going out, but doesn't know for sure.”

“You heard the man, Porky.” The Redneck poked Karl in the back. A detached part of his mind identified it a Beretta 92, possibly a stolen Army M9.

Awkwardly, he complied moving as fast as he could shuffle under the circumstances. Nasty snickers and powerful shoves from behind urged him to go faster, but there were just so much he could do.

“You would be so popular in the Big House thare Porky!” The felon jeered.

“Damn, you were right.” Ron said, turning his attention from the Crown. “The rent-a-cop is wearing panties.”

“Not that I've got anything against that alternative lifestyle thing. My brother is as bent as a three dollar bill, but he's still my brother, you know. However, you have given us a problem. If you behave yourself, you'll walk out of this alive, but if you don't ...”

He left the last hanging. Karl knew exactly what he meant. The Redneck's gun at his back made that perfectly clear. “I understand.”

“Good.” Ron stated, with silent menace.

“Now stop playing with the pretty-boy and get over here.” He said to the Redneck. “It's time for you earn your cut.”

The Redneck stopped by me. “I'll be watchin' you Porky.”

In the light of the Crown Karl was surprised to find out both Ron and the Redneck were Blacks. Okay, maybe he'd misread the Southerner, but he'd grown up in the deep south himself. He knew that, skin color aside, there where very little differences between the accents of Southern Whites and Blacks. However, something about this seemed off.

In the meanwhile, he'd taken a grip on the Crown's display case. Karl saw that wires had been attacked to the base bypassing the alarm system, but surely they didn't intend on lifting it off? It was part of the security that the damn thing was heavy as hell needing a modified forklift to open the case.

Grunting, the Redneck did the impossible! Slowly the heavy bullet and tamper proof case rose as Ron swiftly inserted instruments under the cushion the Crown rested. Just as quickly, his gloved hands removed the Crown and substituted a fake.

Karl could immediately tell the difference. Although it looked the same, the same radiance from the jewels and crystal was missing.”

“Got it!” Ron whispered. “Okay lower it, gently!”

“Easy fer you to say.” Redneck snarled under the strain.

That's when Karl also got it. Neither man wore a mask nor seemed concerned he saw them. No, the clue was that the man struggling under that incredible weight wasn't sweating.

Ruling out him being an alien or a cyborg, that left Mission: Impossible. In other words they really were wearing very realistic face masks. Thinking about it, the whole thing made sense. Ron obviously was the brains of this bunch and had a thing about the high tech. The whole Black thing added up too, providing a measure of concealment.

That did not change the fact Redneck was one strong frakker who also had a gun, no matter who was the mastermind.

Karl concentrated on other things about the two. How tall were they? What kind of builds did they have? Anything to help the police catch these two.

Once Redneck had the case in place, Ron very competently removed all of his alarm bypasses as the strongman bent over breathing hard. Then the two put the Crown in a padded case.

Then everything got complicated.

“Security! Freeze!”

Moving like lightning, Redneck had his gun out and to Karl's head before anyone could even blink.

“I got me a better idea.” The man with the gun said dryly. “Ya'll put your piece on the floor and this here guard's brains don't end up messin' up this pretty room.”

Karl was really regretting giving out the alarm now. He could feel the cold pistol's barrel against his temple.

Instead, whichever guard had found them had quickly retreated. Which Karl supposed was a good thing, since it kept another hostage from joining him.

“Damn,” cursed Ron. “So much for doing this the easy way.” He pulled a folded packet from the bag on his belt.

“I'm really beginning not to like you.” Ron muttered to Karl as he unfolded the Mylar space-blanket like material.

Karl was surprised to find that he could see out just fine but no one could see in. it was like a like a flexible one way mirror. Their plan was clear. With the blanket obscuring just where he was, police snipers had just as good a chance of hitting him as one of the bad guys.

That was bad. Not only had they prepared for taking a hostage, but had planned for it. That would put them a step ahead of the good guys, which was not a good thing for him.

Ron muttered some more when he had to pull Karl's trousers back up, but Redneck grinned at his partner's discomfort.

Karl soon found himself being frog-marched to the exit. Once again he was amazed and frightened by how strong the Redneck was. Even with just one hand he yanked the night watchman about like a puppet.

Went they reached the doors, there was a lot of confusing shouting, and screeching of tires. Karl knew he should be paying more attention, but that gun to his head was a distraction he couldn't overcome. Perhaps not entirely, but at least partly, because he was still searching for clues to these yahoo's identities.

He'd gotten tossed in the back of the van that'd run past the still arriving cops, which made him add one goon more to this gang. Ron and Redneck were two and Tech Support, Ron's brother made three. However, the wheel-man made four. It was possible Ron's brother was behind the wheel, but Karl wouldn't bet on it. Motor-heads and computer geeks tended to run in different circles, and not have the same interests.

Rolling around in the back of the van, as its engine roar, accented by the pursuing police sirens, got louder, he guessed the driver knew what he was doing. Maybe he wasn't Jason Statham in The Transporter, but Karl could tell, that even at the high speeds they were moving, the van was under smooth control.

Collecting more bruises then he wanted to think about and having his arms and shoulders wrenched about every time the driver hung a sharp turn, Karl tried to wedge himself in the cargo space to help keep from bouncing around. Panic was gathering on the borders of his sanity again, but thoughts of his daughter kept him hanging on. Fear was the mind killer, just like that old SF novel proclaimed. As long as he kept thinking he still had a chance at getting out of this alive.

Maybe he wasn't much of a man or a father, but his daughter needed him. Perhaps it was only for the money he made working two jobs or whatever comfort he could give talking to her on the phone, but it was still something.

Crowing laughter from the front of the van as it stopped suddenly wasn't a good sign.

“Damn Ron!” The Redneck yelled, “That was some slick shit. I don't like fags much, but your brother shore' pulled a fast one with them traffic lights. Them pigs got red-lighted but good!”

“Ron's brother my ass, Brady!” A new voice spoke up. “It was my driving that got us away free and clean. Now get your ass out and peel off that false color. The cops won't stay fooled for long.”

“Damn it you two.” Ron yelled at them. “No names! We still have the rent-a-cop in the back, remember?”

“Ah wouldn't worry about Porky too much,” Brady the Redneck remarked. “He's probably dun' loaded his britches but good by now. Besides we got away clean. We don' need him no more.” The tone of his voice clearly said Karl was now disposable.

Right then the aforementioned 'expendable' decided it was a very good idea to play dumb. It just might keep him alive.

He heard the doors opening, and the sounds of something happening outside on the van. It kind of sounded like tape being pulled off. Did they have the van covered in some kind of colored film they could remove to throw off pursuit?

That would appear to be a yes, as the side door slid open and a garbage bag full of crinkling sounding, yet light, stuff bounced off of him. That was followed by a license plate that twirled about before fastening itself to the van's wall.

Magnets, Karl reasoned and probably powerful ones of the rare earths variety given the way it nearly leaped at the metal side. It was just more proof this heist had been carefully planned with backups and preparation. As a guess it was Ron or this brother of his who'd done the planning for all of this from the sound of their talking.

The driver spoke with the same drawl that Brady had, if somewhat less pronounced. Two sets of brothers perhaps?

The van lurched back into traffic at a somewhat more sedate pace. Karl soon ran into the problem of losing track of the time. At a guess they'd spent time on the interstate and then had turned off. He tried to keep track of the stops and turns, but soon lost count.

Then they turned onto what had to be a dirt road. The bumps, sliding and thumps added to his collection of indignities and hurts. Finally, they stopped.

“You stay in the van.” Ron snapped at the driver. “Brady you get the hostage into the shack.”

“Bro.” The driver grumbled. “I think Ronnie's having a bad day.”

“Well, ya'll know how he gets when one of his plans don't pan out.” Brady replied back.

“No.” The other laughed. “But I'm a'learnin'.”

“Move it, Brady!” Ron called.

“Keep your britches on.” He yelled, back. “I'm a'comin'.”

The van's side door slid open.

“Come on, Pork.” Brady pulled me out the van. “We gonna' sit a spell.”

He didn't get much time to look around as the redneck manhandled me into a small shack out in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't until we were inside that he recognized it was an ice shack sitting out on the ice on a lake.

The hole in the center of the floor was a dead giveaway. The fact it was large enough for him to fall though sent shivers up and down his spine that had nothing to do with the cold. Karl knew that Brady wouldn't hesitate to push him into the freezing water.

“Well, Pork.” Brady said to his face. “I can see it in your eyes you know what I'll do if you don't behave yourself. Just sit down and be quiet.”

Karl nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The other man's breath stank from the too sweet stench of a heavy smoker and that was on top of the bad hygiene of half rotted teeth. He forced himself not flinch as he was tied to the chair.

“For Gawd's sake, Brady.” Ron said, as it put the Ice Queen's Crown's case on the single table next to the camping lamp. “Don't kill the rent-a-cop and keep an eye on our acquisition.”

“Ain't a problem.” Brady grinned, as he lit a cigarette from the small heater. “We just gonna sit here like old friends, ain't we, Pork?”

Karl figured the best response was to keep his mouth shut, which was just as well since criminals ignored him.

“Just see that you do.” Ron glared at his partner. “This is going to be a big payday for us. Don't screw it up.”

Brady glared right back at the door as it shut behind the theft's mastermind.

It was then that Karl saw he was in very serious trouble as the man peeled off the concealing silicon mask. The nasty smirk it revealed nothing good. When the unmasked man reached into a bag and pulled out a liquor bottle, Karl knew he was going die.

There was no way Brady was going to let him live after seeing his real face. Watching him get liquored up was a guarantee that it was going to be … unpleasant. The helplessness was as bad as the anticipation of what was coming.

It was all of his fears come true. The wolf faced man was strong, intolerant, and seemingly proud of his ignorance. Brady was very personification of why he'd kept his feminine heart hidden for so very long.

Even Ron's grudging acceptance of his gay brother was only because of his blood relationship and usefulness to his schemes. That was very far from a loving and caring relationship.

So strange that now that this oldest of his nightmares was here, he felt only a weary pessimistic almost relief that it was finally here so he could stop worrying about it. He was ready for this to be over.

Karl's only regret was that he would never see or talk to his daughter again.

Taking a long pull, on the bottle Brady stared at him as if his very existence offended him. If anything Karl's fatalistic attitude just added fuel to the man's hot temper.

Stalking to his immobilized hostage, Karl held up the bottle.

“Open your mouth, drink” He ordered, the cigarette dangling from his lip dropping ash.

With a shake of his head, Karl stayed silent.

“I said, drink!” Brady grabbed the helpless man's face forcing his mouth open as he poured the fiery distilled spirits.

“I canna' drink alone.” He snarled. “I ain't no alcoholic.”

Eyes tearing and choking on the liquid fire, Karl fought to breathe.

“Ya'll not any kind of real man at all are you?” Brady spat with disgust. “A real man can hold his liquor.”

Karl shook from the coughing and the cold. He wasn't remotely dressed for this in only his security uniform. The single small heater didn't help warm the uninsulated shack very much. The constant chain smoking didn't help either quickly filling up the small space with smoke. However, he knew no good would come of saying anything about it. He very much doubted his captor would lend a sympathetic ear.

The only respite was the small window which let in chilly and yet fresh air from a crack. Moonlight shined though

Brady kept glaring at him, but all Karl could do was keep his eyes to himself. Like being in a cage with a wild animal he didn't dare meet the other's eyes. The bottle was half-full and then only three-quarters as he became drunk and then drunker.

“You ain't nuthin', but a Drag Queen.” He slurred, lighting yet another cigarette from the butt of the previous one.

Brady's eyes fell on the Crown's case.

“Every Queen needs to have her crown.” He walked with that exaggerated care experienced drunks learn.

“No, you can't.” The minute Karl opened his mouth he knew it was a mistake. However, the crown was a priceless artifact.

The redneck sent him a killing glare.

“It's just wire and glass. Think about what would happened if it got damaged.” Karl tried to recover from his mistake.

“No one!” Brady roared, somehow keeping his cigarette from falling from his mouth. “tells me what to do! Much less some F'ing faery in panties!”

Karl cringed as the redneck ripped opened the case. At least the drunk had on gloves.

Holding his breath, as the Crown was taken from its protection, Karl sat as still as he could. It was all he could do to keep the priceless item safe. As it was roughly placed on his head, he could feel the cold of the glass and wire.

Somehow it didn't have the same chill as the slight breeze that was his only fresh air. Karl had never thought of there being different kinds of cold like this one. It was the cool comfort on a hot day or the relieving ice of a cold pack on a throbbing injury. The Crown soothed and comforted him.

“Now yer a real Queen!” Brady took another long pull from his bottle.

Then the moon's light shined through the window upon the Crown.

The lantern's light faded as Luna's Light overcame all.

Karl was awed by the brightness shined by the Crown. At the same time he could feel 'something' although he didn't know what to call it. As if his whole soul, being, all of him, was bathed in the moonlight, he felt clean, renewed. At the same time, that 'something' was looking at him. It wasn't as if he was being judged, but like a doctor examining every single inch of him. No, it was 'her' that was revealed, because all the lies, masks, and half-truths he'd hidden behind had been washed away.

“Holy Jesus!” The redneck stood in the light like a startled deer. “Temptress!”

Abruptly, the light went dark as the redneck snatched the Crown from Karl's head

“Like hell!” Brady yelled, his eyes wild with fear as he held the head piece.

Karl blinked in the sudden dark darkness. There was this sense of having been on the edge of something wonderful, but it'd been snatched away.

“Like my Daddy always said.” Brady shouted, in near hysterics. “If something scares you, kill it!”

With that he kicked Karl's chair over next to the ice skimmed hole.

“No!” He gasped, the icy waters only inches away.

“Yes!” Brady growled, as he kicked again. “I canna' bust up this thing, but I can kill you!”

Karl tried to yell again, but the cold stole his breath. It took everything from him until only the light and his life were left. Then it took those too.

<><><><><>

A quarter mile away I spotted the heat of vehicle waiting on the shore. Ron's snowmobile tracks came from that direction. In a swirl of ice, I flew following his trail to a very familiar looking van.

I spared a glance at the driver and passenger huddled inside for warmth with their vehicle's heater going full blast. They both strongly resembled their brothers. The driver's face was much like Brady's. He also shared a nicotine habit since a cigarette dangled from his mouth.

Ron's sibling was typing away on a laptop, but it was plain the two did not care for each other. Even with the cold, they preferred to stay as far from each other as they could.

However, their faces triggered more memories as I floated above them unseen. Slowly I began to understand what had happened this night.

It took only a thought to steal the heat from that smoldering ember. His eyes were wide in astonishment, but I had no quarrel with him. However, I couldn't have him warning the two in the cabin. The van's motor stopped and the battery case cracked as the fuel and acids froze solid. You just have to get it cold enough.

The passenger simply stared wide-eyed at me the whole time. Seeing no threat I ignored them both.

I smiled as I thought about how they would see this, as I soared over the frozen lake.

The shack's normal wintry appearance suddenly went off the scale as it suddenly became shrouded in a thick layer of frost. They could feel the intense cold as the wind gusted across the lake.

“What the f'ing hell is going on here, Ron?” Brady cussed.

“Damn if I know.” The Mastermind replied, shaking his head..

The frozen shack's door shattered into small shards with a loud crack revealing a pale woman clad in nothing but glittering frost and ice.

“You should know Brady.” my voice was soft, but carried an icy edge. “After all you're the one who crowned me.”

“What is she talking about, Brady?” Ron demanded. “And just who the hell are you anyways?” He aimed his pistol at me.

“Brady?” Ron glanced at his partner who'd turned white with shock.

Simple was always best as a blinding flurry of ice and snow roared into the small cabin. The case with the Crown flew into my hands, as I let the small controlled blizzard fade away.

“I'm the Ice Queen.”

“And I'm a Monkey's Uncle.” Ron snapped back, shielding his eyes with his free hand. “Put the case on the ground.”

“Now!” He ordered, aiming his pistol.

“Not ground but ice.” I looked downwards as if getting a better look. “About six inches thick. The nearest ground is around a quarter of mile behind you or forty feet down.”

“Just put it down.” He waved the pistol for emphasis.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Ron barked at Brady.

“I killed you.” The Redneck hoarsely whispered. “Yer dead.”

“As you wish.” I said to Ron.

“I got better.” Winking at Brady, I knelt placing the box down using the distraction to open the case's clasp.

The wind picked up and it began to snow again. I smiled since there wasn't a cloud in the sky, the crystal clear night promising very cold temperatures.

Very deliberately I sent ice into the gun barrels sealing them tight. There had been enough evil this night, but I would not suffer again at the hands of these men.

“Brady!” Ron shouted, over the increasingly hard driven snow. “Get your head out of your ass. Get that damn case!”

The Redneck, although he did do his best to withstand the weather forcing them back against the cabin wall, just stared at me.

Unlike them, I was untouched by the wintry conditions aside from being clothed in my raiment of icy crystals. The moon light beamed down upon me like a celestial spotlight.

“Brady!” The Mastermind screamed. “What the hell is going on?”

“I dun kilt an Angel.” The Redneck whispered letting the gun slip from his fingers as he fell to his knees.

The opportunity was too good to pass up. Ice swirled skyward as the wind spun about me. Flipping the case open, I lifted the crown out, holding it high. The Crown blazed brighter that the sun as it found the Moonlight.

Still kneeling, I could feel the light upon me like a physical presence. In a glorious orchestra only I hear, I placed the Crown on my head.

“What the ...” Ron stared disbelievingly at my second coronation.

As for Brady, I think he got broken somewhere between where he crowned the man I'd been and now. His eyes were fixed on me. Perhaps, I could grasp why he thought I was an angel given my frosty white dress, but I still had not forgiven him. My anger still smoldered.

White, in days past, wasn't the color of purity at all, but of death. Winter's white shroud signaled starvation and hardship. It was the sleep from which some never wakened, but it was also a time for renewal.

No, I couldn't forgive him, but just maybe he could forgive himself.

All was forgotten as the Lady Moon shined down upon me on that frozen lake. The Crown impossibly blazed even brighter as she acknowledged as the reborn Winter Queen.

Brady bowed his head before the radiance even as Ron shielded his eyes slacked jaw at the blatant defiance to his world view.

They weren't the only ones, My senses stretched to cover the whole of our ailing Mother Earth. It was like one of those videos where you start out looking at a beautiful winter scene, but is carried skyward as your vision expands until you're seeing the whole planet.

Like peering at a puzzle that was missing pieces, I knew something was wrong, out of balance. While I could fill in some of the missing parts, others had to be healed by those with different talents. The best I could do was to start lessening some of the hurt, but I had to be careful. Like the proverb of the man with a hammer, the only tool I had to hand was the Winter. The trick was to restore as much of the balance as I could without pushing it too much the other way.

The other players in this drama were needed to fix this. However I had not a clue of who or what they were. It was possible that other artifacts were lost or hidden that would release them like the Crown had caused my rebirth.

I would have to find out.

However first there were other things to attend to.

“You have three choices.” I told Ron and Brady.

“You can stay and hide in the shack.” I let the winds dance around me. “Two, you can walk the quarter mile back to shore where your brothers are stranded with a busted van.”

“Or three,” My face showed only the icy cold I felt for them. “I can carry you both to civilization which will be a police station. Two of the three will likely result in your freezing to death.

“Choose wisely.” I lifted off the ice, clearly showing them I was hovering.

Ron looked at his ice fouled pistol and with a disgusted snort dropped it.

“Being in jail is better than being dead.” He replied. “What about our brothers? It's miles to anyplace where they can get help.”

“Assuming they haven't already called for help.” I beckoned the elemental forces to me. “You can tell the authorities where they are.”

Then in a icy tornado, we were carried away.

Leaving the two, half-frozen, but still alive at the police station, I turned south. It was important I not be seen. I'd no idea if that collector who hired Ron had other reasons besides the Crown's uniqueness to covet it. I would take no chances on being seen, not yet.

The further south I traveled the warmer it became. I would even admit to being lost a few times. Road signs aren't visible from the air, but neither could I ask for directions. Besides I did know the way from times in the past when as a family we had journeyed to The Ex's parents.

I even knew the very window I needed since she'd told me it was her mother's childhood room. Her warmth pulsed in time to her heart just like I could sense all life since my change. This one, however, was special because it belonged to my daughter.

For all that I wondered if I was even human anymore, she still had my heart, soul, and always my love.

Looking at the other occupants, I could see they hadn't been to bed long. The plentiful presents and gifts under the tree for their granddaughter told why. She would have no shortage of gifts, but one I knew that one would not be forthcoming was me. Our last call, she'd said how much she wanted to see me, but that would not happen ever again.

That man, her father, was gone. Now there was only me, The Ice Queen, the ruler of Winter. I would trade it all away despite the ordeal my life had always been for her. I couldn't even promise myself that I could be there when she needed me. There was no telling where my new position would lead me or how long I might it might take.

So much sadness was coming her way. My daughter would think I was dead and, despite how bitterly my Ex turned on me, I would like to think she would miss me too. Even if only the child support payments, but they would be getting my insurance what there was of it. After taking care of my debts it wouldn't be much.

However, there was something I could do in the here and now

Breathing on the window. Frost formed a fantastic pattern all over the panes as I left my message to those I loved. Lowering the temperature, so it would last a while, I made certain not to interfere with the weather as a whole. This was strictly a micro-climate change. Pulling moisture from there and adding cold there were as naturally to me as breathing. Not rushing things, I let things slowly mix together so they would be ready when the time was right.

Then I settled down to watch my daughter sleep for the rest of the early Christmas morning. There would be time enough to save the world tomorrow.

<><><><><>

Epilogue

“It's snowing!” The little girl stared out the frosted window.

So excited she didn't see the one who watched her as she ran from the room. She did not know which was the more important, Christmas or the so very rare snowfall. Thinking hard she decided that playing in the snow had precedence since it was sure to melt before noon.

Dressing in a fury of seldom used winter clothing, she missed seeing her mother's shocked face as she spoke on the phone. The door closing behind her, muffled the tears from the crying woman.

Tiring of making snow angels, she busily began building a snowman. Rolling the the ever growing snowball, she laughed and giggled at how easy it was. It was as if the snow itself was helping her. Even when she had to lift the snowman's tummy and head into place it wasn't as hard as she thought it would be.

As she adjusted the head so it wouldn't roll off, she had a moment's satisfaction, before going off and finding arms, a hat and all the other stuff a snowman needed. The sun was already out and she knew that meant she was on a time limit.

It was then that the wind kicked up spraying ice and snow that glittered and shined in the sunlight. She held her breath as like magic it swirled around her snowman in a dazzling light show. It built to a crescendo that was better than anything she'd seen on TV because she was here feeling the chilling wind and the icy snow as it blew past her.

Just as suddenly as it began the tornado of lights faded away, but her snowman was gone. In its place was a beautiful woman dressed in white and wearing the Snow Queen's Crown!

“Kara,” The Queen waved her hand at the winter wonderland about them. “This is a present from your father.”

“Daddy's here?” She asked, excitedly.

“No.” The woman replied, strangely sad. “I have a message for you from him. Walk with me.”

“Did something happen to my Daddy?” She felt the tears well up. The divorce had not been easy although she didn't entirely understand why her parents had split up. She loved both her Mommy and Daddy.

“He did a brave, brave thing and saved my Crown,” The Queen replied with glittering tears running down her pale cheeks. “Soon your mother will call you in, but will you first let me tell you of how he saved my Crown?”

“Please.” The girl's heartbroken voice was barely a whisper, taking the woman's hand.

They walked together with their footsteps leaving no sign of their passing as the snow danced behind them.

The End


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