I See Your True Colors | fiction by Esther Lee Deitch

            No one remembers the snow anymore. And no one believes me when I tell them about the Ice King, but he was real. I got to know him - to my great regret - when he was hiding out in Silver City.
           There was an omen the day I met him: an ice-grey dove landed at my feet as I turned the corner. It flapped its wings and gave a sudden cry, making my heart race, and then it flew off just as suddenly. I was still flustered and trying to collect myself when I settled into the womblike warmth of the Silver City Bar and Grill and leaned my elbows on the polished wood of the bar.
           "You're drinking Guinness, I see." The stranger who addressed me had an accent I couldn't place, and I shivered slightly as he took his seat next to me. He ordered a brandy and held out his hand. "I'd like to introduce myself, but I can't tell you my name. You'll just have to call me Berg."
           "Stella," I said, giving him my own name as I grasped his hand. His palm felt cool and smooth.
           Then he leaned close enough that I could feel his soft breath on my face. It smelled like morning dew. "We'll be seeing more of one another," he said. And that was how he cast his spell.
           I was the only woman who was a regular at the Silver City, but the bartender, Reiner, watched out for me. He kept his old baseball bat behind the bar, and all he had to do was heft it thoughtfully and that forestalled any trouble. Reiner wouldn't hurt a fly, but he was a big guy with thick arms and a broken nose, and the bad ones found him intimidating. Oddly enough, he got along great with Berg. That was one reason I let my guard down. That and the spell, of course.
           Berg. The first time I met him he was wearing a peacock blue three-piece suit that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else, and his hair was military short cut. Me, I liked guys who had long hair and wore a lot of black. I wouldn't have looked twice at Berg if I hadn't been drinking and trying to be all friendly.
           He told me he came from far away, and that his father - who had been cruel - was dead, and his mother was ill but he couldn't go back to visit her. He looked at me so mournfully, gazing on me with his slate-blue eyes, that I obediently fell in love with him.
           I didn't know he'd tried to cast a spell on Reiner, too, though I wasn't surprised when I found out. First, though, I would have to find myself alone on a frozen street, disoriented by the sparkle of snow, reeling drunk on Guinness and unrequited love and with my heart searching like a compass for Berg's north. And by then it would be too late. 
           It was autumn when we met. Looking back, it seems obvious that it would have been an unseasonably cold autumn complete with early frost. It was always warm in the City Grill, though, and I tried everything I could to melt Berg.
           He said he couldn't go out with me because he didn't have any money. I told him I didn't care about money, but he was stubborn. So he just sat next to me at the bar, telling me stories and laughing at my jokes and breathing on me. I would come home from the Grill and, with my headphones on so as not to disturb the neighbors, crank up some hurting love songs from the likes of Prince and the Cranberries, and I would dance next to my bed in my tiny apartment.
           I bought a new dress, new shoes. Didn't get me anywhere. When my feminine wiles, such as they were, failed utterly, I asked him if I could walk him home. My addled brain searching for some other means of courtship.
           Berg let me walk him home, but he didn't invite me in. Still I couldn't stop. I'd go on to a dance club - by myself, of course - and get out on the floor right up next to the speaker that was twice my size so the music could fill my mind and give me a moment of freedom. It seemed there wasn't enough liquor or noise in the world to get the Ice King out of my head. Not until I did what he wanted.
           See, Berg - I never did find out his real name - wanted only one thing: to get back home. And it wasn't so he could see his sick old mother again before one of them died, no. It was all about power. And he couldn't just tell me what he wanted from me because that would have been too easy. He had to make me bang my head against all his doors until I found the open one. And by "open" I don't mean in the way I wanted it to be. But first –
           "I thought he was interested in me," I whined to Reiner one evening when I'd got to the bar early and no one else was there. "I thought we had a connection."
           "Not -" Reiner replied, flashing me a smile that came from the depths of his big brown eyes "- that you're not an enchantingly lovely lady, but I'm sorry to have to tell you that Berg has hit on me too. Of course, I don't date customers."
           "You don't find Berg attractive?" I inquired, knowing full well that Reiner would date a customer if he really wanted to.
           "Not really my type," he answered, and gave the spotless bar a wipe with his spotless rag.
           "Not really mine either," I griped. "What am I supposed to do?"
           "One day," Reiner told me, "you'll wake up and you'll be free. And you'll take a deep breath and - ah! - the air will smell so sweet. You just wait. It'll come."
           Waiting, I drank. I drank up all the Guinness in the Silver City Bar and Grill, and then I went on to another bar and drank up all of theirs until the bars became a blur and my credit cards were maxed out. The way I had it figured, in order to wake up the way Reiner said, I'd have to sleep first. And that was getting harder and harder.
           I wondered sometimes if it was some kind of test. If I was being tested, it was like one of those nightmares where you show up for the exam but you haven’t been to any of the classes. And I didn't even know anything then about the curse.

           It went on and on, so I learned to play darts. It was self-defence; I mean, any girl in Silver City needed a weapon. And it's a good thing, too, because that's how I met the Sage.
           It came about that I needed to get my own set of darts. The guys were getting sick of me borrowing theirs all the time. They sent me way up to the poor end of Silver City - they called it Tarnished Town - where they said I'd find a specialist who could match me with my perfect flytes.
           True to her name, she was all decked out in mossy green from the tips of her pointy boots to the tousles of her bleached and dyed hair. Even her eyes were that same shade of green, though I suspected that was due to colored contacts. And there was a bunch of the dried grassy stuff smouldering in a conch shell on the counter.
           "You must be Stella. Can I offer you a cuppa?" she inquired as soon as the doorbell stopped jangling.
           I nodded, and the steaming mug she handed me smelled suspiciously like turkey stuffing. "Sage tea," I observed.
           "It's good for you. Boosts the old immuno and flushes out the nasties. So Reiner sent you, did he? Well, hold out your hands."
           I took a bracing draught from the mug before setting it on the counter. Then I held them out, palms up. The Sage grasped my hands and closed her eyes, inhaling serenely, and then she started as if she'd met with the business end of a cattle prod.
           "The Ice King!" she gasped, gripping my hands more tightly. "You're in mortal danger - mortal danger! Thanks be to all the gods and goddesses that you've turned up on my patch! I only hope there’s time."
           I pulled my hands away and picked up the mug of tea again. Confused, I dipped my nose into its comforting aroma. I had no idea what she was talking about. And yet, I did.
           "The danger's not just to yourself, you know," she continued. "You must listen carefully, woman, and do as I say!"
           How did I know I could trust her? I didn't. But I did.
           "You mean Berg, don't you," I mumbled.
           "Berg!?" she spat. "Is that what the arsehole be callin' himself now?"
           "Urgh. I was still kind of hoping he might be, you know, The One."
           "Wayne Gretzky he ain't. And that's what all the grrls be hopin', sure. That's how he works it."
           "But - why?"
           Of course, she didn't answer right away. While she coughed and hummed, I looked around her shop. The whole thing was the size of a walk-in closet, with a tall narrow chest of drawers against the wall behind the counter, next to a little table with a hot plate where she decocted her tea. Bunches of dried herbs hung from the rafters, and an assortment of jars and bottles decorated the top of the dresser. I'd almost think I'd come to the wrong place but for the huge cork dartboard hanging over the tea table. It bristled with darts, like a porcupine had mated with a partridge. That and the fact she knew Berg.
           Finally she took a deep breath and explained to me that my exquisite and extensively drawn out suffering was all part of his master plan. The Ice King had been banished from his kingdom and was under a curse. The only way he could regain his power was to totally break the heart of one who loved him truly.
           The reason the spell hadn't worked on Reiner was that Reiner's heart was too pure to get snagged into such a game. Too bad Berg hadn't paid more attention to his language lessons at school: Reiner actually means "pure". No, it had to be someone who's heart was already flawed like mine, cracked and creviced so that there was a place for the Ice King to get his hooks in.
           "Is there any escape?" I asked desperately.
           "Well, I'll try to help you, as I said. It'll depend on yourself, how far gone you are and how far you’re wanting to go. First off, you're not to have your own set of darts! No way. Borrowin' will give you a measure of protection. And as soon as they stop lendin', you stop playing."
           I tried to do as she said. I couldn't stop going to the Silver City Grill because all my friends were there and I wasn't going to give them up, but I did make an effort to ignore Berg and have a good time without him. But I could still hear his voice, and it still enchanted me. I even heard his voice when I was alone; I woke up in the night, alone, smelling the scent of his cologne and the brandy he drank.
           And then the snow began to melt. "Unseasonable thaw," we said to one another, as the pavement began to show through.
           Berg was becoming more and more distant. He'd never been much for pub games so I wouldn't expect him to join us at the dartboard. But in the heyday of our relationship, such as it was, he'd sat watching me with those caressing blue eyes as I threw my borrowed arrows, and I'd felt sensuous and full of possibilities. Now he gulped back his brandy and chain-smoked, staring straight across the bar at the optics reflected in the mirror, not even laughing at Reiner's stilted jokes.
           When the other guys stopped lending me their darts, I could still count on Reiner to let me use his. I knew where he kept them, behind the VSOP. I complained publicly that the other guys were just sore losers because I was getting too good at hitting the bullseye; truth was, I tried to get all my frustrations out that way and I’d worn a hole in the middle of the cork. It was so bad that the points wouldn't stick in anymore, if anyone else hit the bullseye, and their darts would just fall on the floor. Mine still stuck. I had a lot of frustrations to get out. Until the day came when I looked for Reiner's darts and they weren't there anymore.
           I knew my time was up then, but I still didn't know what to do about it, so on my walk home that night I took a detour past Silver Lake. I lived just a few blocks from the shoreline, and though the lake froze solid in the midwinter it was still a fair favorite place of mine to find solace. I knew it would be deserted on a January night like this one.
           As I got within sight of the water that night, a strange groaning sound filled the air. Then a high-pitched shriek, follow by a terrifying crunching and crackling like shattering glass. These noises so vividly echoed my own emotional state that I didn't realize at first what I was hearing. The sharp pain in my chest was most likely the result of breathing in too much frigid, damp air, and the shattering sounds I heard were not really the final breaking of my heart. They were the result of the ice on the lake breaking up in the middle of winter, of course they were. It was something that had never happened before. And I was the only witness.
           Maybe my heart really did break that night. Whatever had really happened, it was sufficient to satisfy the Ice King because Berg never showed his face at the Silver City Grill again. I was the only one who still remembered him. But that's not quite the end of the story.

           Berg was gone but my attachment to him remained, mired in the bog of my broken heart like a broken-winged bird caught in a net. Like the ice-grey dove that had startled me in the street on the day I'd first met the Ice King.
           The snow receded and disappeared, and the people of Silver City forgot what it looked like because it never returned. The Ice King had taken not only the snow but the memory of snow as well.
           But didn't people see pictures of it, in magazines or on TV or on greeting cards? Yes, of course, but they dismissed those pictures as a fiction, like flying reindeers and Santa and his magical elves. Little did they know. I wouldn't be surprised if Berg had some evil elves working for him, wherever he was.
           But didn't people ever travel outside of Silver City to places that still had snow, and see it for themselves? Of course they did, but the King's spell made them forget it again as soon as they re-entered the City's limits.
           But why? What did he get out of it? And would I ever be able to lay that broken-winged bird to rest? Wouldn't I ever be able to forget him? It was time to pay a second visit to the Sage.
           I suspected that she remembered the snow, though I wouldn't be able to get her to admit it. As soon as I walked in the door I could see that her aspect had changed: instead of the old greyish-green shades, she was wearing a silky long-sleeved orange blouse under a red velvet vest, with deep purple trousers and blue suede shoes with lime green laces. Her thick hair was dyed a fetching shade of gold. It looked good on her. 
           She had her back to me when I walked in. She was humming a toneless tune and fiddling with something underneath the dartboard, which was now oddly devoid of darts. I studied the board over her shoulder while I waited for her to turn around. I'd never noticed before, but it was clearly divided into twelve pie slices, six above and six below. Each slice was a different color of the rainbow. It matched her outfit.
           "We been waitin' for you," she announced over her shoulder.
           Before I could ask who "we" was, she swivelled just enough that I could see she held a small silvery-grey mound of fluff. It made a soft chirping sound. 
           "My broken-winged bird," I whispered, holding out my hands.
           The Sage faced me then, laying the poor creature on my palms.
           "Will it live?" I begged her.
           "See, there, missy, I've splinted the tiny bones with willow. All she's needing from you is your love."
           "You want me to love again?" I cried, aghast. "What if she dies?"
           "She will certainly do that eventually," the Sage answered matter-of-factly. "Does that really matter to you now?"
           I stroked the silky feathers with my forefinger and the bird cooed and tucked her beak under her wing. "No, it doesn't," I whispered.
           The Sage was satisfied with that answer. "Now," she said, reaching under the counter and pulling out a small package, "you'd better try these out before you go. Need to be sure you've not lost your skills."
           To my great surprise, the package contained a set of darts, three perfectly-balanced projectiles with ice-grey feathers for the flytes. She offered to cradle my bird while I practiced.
           "I needn't have worried," she said smugly as I sunk them in the bullseye one-two-three. "And not a hair's breadth too sharp. Soon you two love birds will be in for the fight of your lives. Not right away, mind you. You still have plenty of time to practice."

           No one knew what month it was when the Ice King returned to Silver City. The mayor had been promising to rename the seasons, but it kept slipping her mind.
           You would have thought he'd know better than to seek me out. His hubris was his undoing. Contrary to what he'd planned, it gave me the advantage.
           It was a sunny afternoon, and I was out with Greyfeathers. I took her for a fly at the bird park at least once a day. The fresh air did us both a world of good. She was, of course, free to flap about my apartment. I hadn't given a single moment's consideration to the possibility of getting a cage for her, as the very thought made me cringe. Our favorite park was on the shore of Silver Lake; Grey liked to fly out over the water and show off for me with loop-de-loops and breathtaking sky dives. I was a captivated audience.
           And that's where the King found us. His approach was heralded by a rumbling of the earth. I looked in the direction from which it came and saw a figure approaching, the fresh green grass turning brown with each step he took. He got close enough to engage my glance before he addressed me.
           "Stella," he said, his voice with an edge like a sharpened icicle. "Still single, I see."
           "We know why you've come," I cut to the chase, lifting my hand so Grey could come and land on it. "And we know who you really are."
           That made him wobble for a moment. "You're gonna fight me with a - with a pigeon, are you?" he jeered.
           "She's a dove," I replied calmly, reaching into my pocket. "And I also have these." I took a deep draught of air and recalled the Sage's advice:
           'First of all, you gotta lay off the hooch!' she'd instructed.
           'But I'm such a loser if I don't drink. I have no social skills!' I'd objected.
           'Never you be mindin' that,' she replied soothingly. 'There ain't enough drugs in the whole kingdom to make Stella normal, and that's as it should be. You're meant for better. And, second and foremost, you gotta keep your wits about you.'
           Wits it was, then. Aim was just the beginning, she'd said. In battle, it's equally as important to know what to aim for. Those pretty colors on the Sage's dartboard? They could be changed with a thought, or a feeling, if you had the power. She suspected that the Ice King was planning to use colors for his own nefarious purposes, planning to co-opt them and reinterpret them until they became weapons in his own personal Armageddon. 
           So we practiced. The darts she gave me were, of course, spelled. It was only fair, considering the fact that she telekinetically rearranged the dartboard just as I threw each dart. She didn't know exactly what he had planned, but she had a pretty good idea. We practiced until the three spelled darts became an extension of my will.
           I pulled them from my pocket as I faced the Ice King on that fateful day, and I waved their feathery flytes in his sneering face. "We're not going to let you kill off all our plant life. You want the power that would give you, but you can't have it," I told him matter-of-factly. "And you're going to give back our snow."
           "Snow?" he asked, feigning innocence. "You're a bit cracked since I dumped you, I suppose. Now, Stella-girl, give those nasty sharp things to me and - "
           "First of all, Your Highness, you didn't dump me because we were never actually together."
           He flinched at that, and he pasted on a grin to cover up. "My Highness, is it now? No idea why you'd call me that, dear."
           Greyfeathers opened her beak and gave a warning squawk which made him take a step back. Then he frowned and rolled up his sleeves.
           When he hurled the first purple energy ball, I already had a dart ready to go. He'd turn purple to poison, the Sage had told me. I popped the deadly ball in mid-air like it was a child's balloon. The Ice King cursed and rubbed his hands together.
           The next two balls were green and blue - in the Ice King's artillery, they were disease and death - but I popped them quite efficiently before they got within range.
           Now he laughed evilly. "You've got no darts left, Stella. Take this!"
           He hadn't noticed Greyfeathers retrieving my weapons, so he was to be disappointed when he hurled the rest of the rainbow. Red - for blood, of course - POP. Orange for scorching - POP. Yellow for terror - big fat POP.
           "Look down, King," I suggested as he stood there panting.
           He emitted a tiny, high-pitched shriek when he saw that multicolored wildflowers had sprung up around his feet where the grass was now verdant.
           "It doesn't matter," he growled. "I've still got this."
           Then he raised his hands over his head and manifested a glowing clear sphere with a swirl of white within it. I always loved snow globes so it would be hard for me to destroy it, but I steeled myself and as soon as my bird returned my darts to me I released them all at once. I aimed straight for the King's head. 
           There was a sound like nothing I'd ever heard before, like crushing ice and shattering glass and falling rocks and moving earth, like wind and rain and thunder and the ocean crashing on the sand. I ducked and covered my eyes, but when I looked again the Ice King was gone and a flurry of gentle white flakes was falling from the sky.
           I looked around at the other people in the park. They had their hands raised in joy and wonder, and their tongues stuck out to catch the icy drops.
           "An April snow shower!" they cried, laughing. They remembered.
           And the Sage came striding along the shore towards us, dressed all in shades of green. Her hair was back to its old color too. As Greyfeathers cooed a greeting, my friend enveloped me in a victory hug.
           "We did it," she murmured emphatically. "Not that I ever thought we wouldn't."

           Greyfeathers had a good life. She enjoyed all four seasons many times over, and I loved caring for her. My heart broke again when she died. 
           I'd do it all again without a second thought.

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

Esther Lee Deitch was born in Detroit when Motown was young. After various adventures including a BSc and a few years of art school (where she learned to play darts), she now lives on a different Great Lake. She puts the best of herself into her stories, novels, and poems in hopes of making the world a little better. She’s had work published in Matriart Magazine and Montana Mouthful, and upcoming in Great Lakes Review. Her social media is Esther Lee Deitch – Mostly Fictional | Facebook