The Shivering Girls
by Angela Enos
We built the banquet hall in the center of town every year, just after the snow began to fall. The strongest men and women would haul freshly cut pine planks down the mountainside from the mills, bringing with them the clean sharp scent of winter.
It was tradition, the Winter Maiden’s Ball. I was taught the customs by my parents and they were taught by theirs, but it was from my Grandest Father than I learned the true story.
Or at least one of the true stories. It was whispered by the fireside on early winter evenings, when the snow fell only lightly and I practiced the funny trembling dances that the village girls performed at the Ball every year. He was well into his dotage by then, bent into his chair and lit by flickering flames as he spun tales.
It began with the girls.
No one could ever quite agree how they arrived. But it was agreed, by all the reliable sources on the mountain, that the girls used to come every year. They appeared all at once, creeping out of the forest in nightgowns and pristine dancing shoes that seemed to glide over the ice. They wore no cloaks or furs and left no footprints.
They were called the Winter Maidens formally, but most of the villagers paid no heed to that grand title.
The villagers called them the Shivering Girls.
Grandest Father said he didn’t know when the girls first appeared, but he did know that the villagers wasted no time preparing for their visitors in following years. At the first sign of snow, they began to fell pine trees from the top of the mountain. They began to build.
A great hall was built in the middle of the town square, smelling of resin and sap and the promise of new things. There was no glass in the windows, no roof overhead, nothing that spoke of permanence. But there was a fine floor for dancing and a stage for musicians and rows of sturdy benches lining the walls for the old ones to watch from and the young ones to res on.
The Shivering Girls never needed to rest. They could dance the entire night away, exhausting all the young men as they gamboled nimbly and kicked up tiny blizzards with their heels.
Grandest Father claimed he still remembered what it was like to dance at the Winter Maiden’s Ball. How the girls were hypnotically beautiful, but it was impossible to remember their faces as soon as they turned away. How they danced with fluid grace but never stopped shivering in your arms as you waltzed them across the floor. The cold of their bodies seeped through their thin dresses and crept into your limbs as you held them, your fingers succumbing to numbness while your feet kept pace.
Even in my youth, I didn’t quite believe him when he claimed that those lucky enough to receive a kiss from a Shivering Girl would be found blue of lip and smiling the next day in a snowbank, eyes blissful and blank.
The snow fell harder through the open roof as the night wore on, dusting the revelers and collecting in drifts around the long tables of refreshments. The stars shone brightly down on the heads of the townsfolk until they blinked out one by one.
When the snow began to fall in earnest, when the stars blinked out and gave way to strange rosy skies, the Shivering Girls forsook their partners and danced with each other in deep drifts of white. Their shivering bodies in motion took on a wild abandon, the careful steps of waltzes and gavottes becoming powerful and ferocious.
There was a reason why the hall was built anew every year. Winter, though a season that must arrive like all others in their turn, has a tendency to linger. It overstays its welcome. It becomes harsh and cruel, the snow no longer kissing faces but burning them with frost.
Winter must be scared away. It must be chased off. Battles must be fought before something green can show through the ice again. It must be told in no uncertain terms that it is no longer welcome.
When the moon was high overhead, as the musicians would play their most booming finale, four of the young men would slip out of the hall and light the first matches. The first small blazes were ceremonial, a warning. They began in braziers at each of the four corners of the hall, slowly warming the night and lighting the darkness as the revelers filtered out into the square. The music would fade away until only the fiddler was left, until he too packed up his bow and stepped outside. When the townsfolk were surrounding the hall, with the shivering girls dancing to the beats of their own shoes striking the floor, was when the blaze really began.
Grandest Father never admitted to being one of the match men, but I could tell from the way he told the story that he knew more than he was letting on. Even old men were young once, with pasts and secrets left untold.
The timber went quickly. The flames were hungry for it, eager to warm up the frigid night.
The spectators would stay in the square until dawn, watching the hall burn and warming themselves near the flames. No one knew what befell the Shivering Girls, at least according to legend. No trace of them was ever found in the wreckage after it cooled, not so much as a slipper, but nor were they ever seen fleeing into the woods that covered the mountain.
Over time, the girls came less and less frequently until they had disappeared entirely. We weren’t the only village they had visited on the mountain and peddlers spreading rumors of their wild dancing and frost-biting kisses surfaced even so recently as my own childhood.
Even after the girls stopped coming, the legends wore on. Nowadays the Winter Maiden’s Ball was purely ceremonial. Girls from the village performed the shivering dance with their sweethearts and children crafted tiny pine houses that were burnt at the culmination of the ball. There were cakes and songs and toasts to short winters and mild snows.
All the snows had been mild after the girls stopped coming.
No one much talked about the Shivering Girls anymore, except the old men on their benches, watching us dance and cavort and remembering what it was like to long for a blue-lipped kiss.
Issue #5 CONTENTS
Keeping it Necroreal
David Van Gough
The Quick and the Dead
The Potters' Field
Shed Shed Shed
Rachel Ann Girty
The Shivering Girls
The Monarch of the Sill Shenoa Carroll-Bradd
The Puzzle Box
Pink Afternoon, Reconstruction
Reflections of a Pissed Off Killown