The trek to Bracken was arduous, winter having settled across the land. My frozen feet skated sloppily; I fell more than once. As is my nature, I rebounded each time and continued. Those of us who succeed at commerce are known for our obdurate will. I would have walked to Calcutta to gain access to Firth’s rumored discovery, an exotic yet hardy plant worth its weight in gold in the right hands.
The lake was frozen over to a depth of an inch or two. Beyond, a lump of an island supported a small village, including a church tower.
I stepped cautiously onto the surface. The ice held. I made a mental note to visit the church for prayer after my meeting with Firth. Walking so as to keep my weight squarely above the pads of my shuffling feet, I slowly made my way across.
I came to a section less opaque than the rest and a most amazing feeling came over me. Beneath the ice, I saw colours, vivid reds and purples, as if a painter had strewn beads of oil paint across the lake bed. It must be a reflection of the sun, which was beginning to set, or perhaps my tired imagination had dredged up a fantasy. In any case, I chose not to stop.
No sooner had I reached the edge of the clarified ice than I came to another shocking discovery. A frozen man stood before me, arms splayed wide. His clothing was as white as the island snow, and his skin nearly that pallid.
His eyes blinked open. Startled, I stumbled back, landing with a painful thud onto my flank.
“Who are you?” he said, mouth barely opening.
“James Lee,” I said. “I am a merchant. I seek Captain Firth.”
“You have found him,” the ice man said.
“If I may be so bold,” I said, hands pressed to the ice, “what has happened to — ”
“I am in no mood to explain,” Firth snapped. “Tell me your business or leave me to suffer my fate in peace.” His rigid white expression slanted down.
My heart shuddered, but my mouth reeled off the speech I had planned. “Word of your discovery reached me in London. I’m prepared to offer a generous sum for the marketing rights.”
He nodded laboriously. “Fuchsia Exotica, she’s a magnificent plant, like glowing embers on the vine.”
“Excellent,” I said, forgetting all about his condition. Business is a fine elixir. “Might I see this wonder?”
“Well,” he said, “I fear it has rather gotten out of hand.” It was then that I saw his legs, not merely touching the ice, but rooted into the frozen surface.
Shivering, I looked down. I had it wrong. He was the root, lifting through the icepack into chill air. Beneath, a vast vine spread from tendril extensions of his toes. Red-purple blossoms undulated with the current.
“I am truly sorry,” Firth whispered.
Like huge pulsating lips, the blossoms rose toward me.
Stephen V. Ramey has been published on Strange Horizons and PodCastle as well as in Triangulation: Taking Flight. He lives and writes in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river.