Buri took his wet boots off, climbed up on the stool by the fire, and hung them up to dry on the smoke rack.
"I hate this."
"It will be better when snow comes," his mother said. "Dryer and brighter, and the cold bites less."
"Soon," Buri nodded.
But no snow came. Every day Paws, the old cat, looked out the door at the grey and rain, and gave Buri a disapproving stare.
Then one night, Buri woke up with the cat sitting on his chest.
"Get dressed," Paws hissed.
"To find Winter."
Buri quietly followed Paws to the door, lifted the latch, and paused. The moon shone on an unfamiliar, snowy landscape.
"Am I dreaming?"
"It's a door," Paws said, "it can open to anywhere. That's what they do."
The cat stepped out. "Let's go."
Buri closed the door behind him. "So where are we?"
"In the land of Winter."
"Are we allowed here?"
"I'm a cat," Paws said.
The hard crust on the snow was strong enough to walk on. Paws led Buri up a ridge, from which they could see a grand castle.
When they got closer, they saw the castle was in disrepair; turrets fallen, the gates askew.
"This is not good," said Paws.
There were icicles hanging from the roof.
"Those shouldn't be there," Paws said.
"Why not?" Buri asked.
"We must hurry!"
In the great hall, a pale figure in once-white robes sat on a throne, a diamond crown in his lap.
"Hail Winter," Paws said.
Winter gave the cat and the boy a tired look. "I am busy. Go away."
"You are missed," Paws said.
"You lie. You are a cat."
Paws tilted his head. "So I hear."
He turned to Buri and whispered, "Be kind, be patient, and close the door behind us."
"What?" Buri said.
"An ill shadow lurks here. I'll try to lead it away, so you can talk."
Paws nodded to a side door. "Go."
Buri hurried to the side and looked back. A sinuous shadow crept over Winter's neck and ear as Paws approached.
Paws ignored Winter's words, but crouched down, tail wagging, and stared intently at an ice shard in front of the throne.
Paws pounced. The shard shot away. He ran after, slipping on the icy floor. Winter watched his antics and began to smile.
The shadow seemed to pull darkness in. It grew, took the shape of a huge dog, then leapt at Paws.
"Go away!" it roared.
Paws ran towards the door. Buri pulled it open, waited for the dog to chase Paws through, and slammed it shut behind them.
The hall felt less gloomy as Buri walked to the throne. "I miss you."
"Why?" Winter said.
"Snow makes the world brighter."
"The days are so short, my snow won't make a difference," Winter said.
"They grow longer," said Buri.
Winter looked at him.
"I heard nobody likes me," Winter said. He weighed the crown in his hands.
"I do," Buri said. "That's what I came to say."
Boy and cat sat in silence, listening to the fire. After a while, there was a soft whisper outside, as snow began to fall.
@MicroSFF I waited till the end to read this.
It’s a beautiful little story I really enjoyed.
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