Chapter 1: Winterland
The Snow Queen’s eyes flickered over the icy, swirling rivers, the permafrost valleys, and the white-blanketed forests . . . all encased in her tiny sphere of glass.
Her loyal Jabberwocks swarmed her, their wings beating against the viewing glass. With a wave of a hand, scenes of Winterland faded in and out from the orb’s cloudy depths. Then, a kemonomimi came into sight. The queen curled her lips.
The kemonomimi scuttled through the blowing snow. Her long, white ears perked up, testing for any sound of danger. With a frantic glance behind, the half-girl, half rabbit broke into a full-bore run. Smiling, the queen raised a finger to the viewing glass. Too easy . . .
Before she could turn the creature into an ice sculpture, the scene blurred. A sharp gasp cracked the wind. The queen jolted from her throne. A new figure was emerging within the crystal sphere. That face. It couldn’t be . . . Her eyes blazed cold fire at her archenemy.
The Mirror Princess.
Before I could turn the page, I jolted in my own seat as someone flounced past my shoulder. My Chemistry textbook dropped to the desk. Son of a biscuit. I quickly concealed my Winterland manga back into the textbook, then blew the black bangs out of my face.
My gaze wandered from my workstation, where I had spent the last half hour of lunch working on my Winterland fanfiction, to Olivia – aka resident Ice Queen of Charles Dodgson High.
Flipping her ombre locks behind her, Olivia dispatched from her girl squad and waltzed across the library. Her heavy Kate Spade perfume lingered in the air. I crinkled my nose. The blonde sidled next to Andrew Lewis, her free hand on his arm.
“You’ll come early, right?” She dangled a glittery card in front of him.
Ugh. Olivia’s infamous holiday ball. Snow or no snow, December 21st rolled around, and everyone who was anyone would receive a personalized invitation to the party of the year.
Not that I knew any of that first hand, of course. Olivia never invited . . . my type. The day I received a snazzy invite with the name Alice Leira calligraphed in fancy ink would be the day pigs flew. But what happened next was something I couldn’t have predicted, even with a crystal ball. My eyes widened.
Andrew winced. He retracted his hand from Olivia and ran his fingers through his hair – taking pains to ensure the motion didn’t look like a desperate attempt to avoid her touch.
I bit my pen. I could watch him stroke that mussed, flaxen hair all day long. Afterall, everyone knew why Olivia – and half of the high school – were so interested in having the head of the swim team around. From an aesthetic point of view, Andrew Lewis was like a 90 degree angle – right in every way. The Vitruvian man had nothing on him. Of course, I wasn’t superficial enough to oogle over a boy just because he looked like an eye-candy jock.
Andrew had made the Honor Roll almost every semester, volunteered at an alpaca farm during summers, and even shared my zodiac sign of Gemini (or so my google searches had told me). His only tragic flaw was hanging with the likes of Olivia. The thought thoroughly nauseated me.
I clicked my tongue. Why was I getting worked up over them? As if Andrew and I would ever become canon. Even getting noticed by your out-of-reach senpai stood more of a chance.
I resumed my eavesdsropping.
“Wish I could, Olivia, but my swim team has practice.” Andrew shifted in his seat, not meeting her stare.
Olivia narrowed her eyes. “On a Saturday night?”
“I’m meeting with some friends after it,” he murmured. “We already made plans to go to this event together . . ."
A frown marred her pretty face. “But you can hang out with your friends anytime. My Christmas party only comes once a year. Besides, I’m putting a two-page spread of it in the yearbook – perk of being yearbook editor.” She peered at him through her mascara slathered lashes and wiggled her brow. “So, when can I expect you?”
“Tempting as that sounds, I can’t bail on them last minute.” Andrew shrugged and offered her an apologetic smile.
He shook his head, but this time met her gaze. “Sorry, Olivia . . . I just can’t.”
For a split second, I could’ve sworn Olivia’s winter blue eyes turned glossy. But before I could tell for sure, one of the librarians shushed the pair and disappeared into the printing room. Wordlessly, Olivia tucked the invite into her purse, her curtained hair covering her face. She sauntered to her girl squad.
I frowned. A part of me almost felt bad for her. Almost. I found it hard to garner sympathy towards a super Slytherin. The girl made Draco Malfoy look like a cinnamon roll.
With a deep breath, I returned my attention to my laptop screen and cracked my knuckles. I had more important things to do than fret over some silly, only slightly amazing Christmas party. Like uploading my Winterland fanfiction by midnight. After months of working on it, I had gathered a slew of Winterlanders on Tumblr following my fanfic updates, waiting for the finale to go live tonight as promised. My lips turned up in a half smile. One wouldn’t want to disappoint fangirls.
If only my Internet popularity translated to the Outernet.
With a wistful sigh, I adjusted my thick rimmed glasses against my nose bridge. An epic finale wouldn’t write itself. I resumed my typing. I had to finish just one more paragraph before the bell rang. But then, without warning, a slender hand plucked the Winterland manga out of my Chemistry textbook.
“Hey there, Hogwarts. What do we have here?”
Shimatta. I glanced up to see Olivia holding my manga captive. Distaste clung to her angular features, making her face look sharper than usal. She eyed me like I was that weird kid in class who liked anime – which admittedly, I was.
Olivia’s girl squad swarmed her and watched in glee. I mustered some bravado in my voice. “Forgot you don’t know how to read?”
“Oh, very funny, Alice.” Olivia flipped through the graphic novel and scruntched her lip. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Aren’t you a little too old for Pokémon?” Her girl squad did an infuriating whisper-giggle into each other’s ears.
My cheeks burned. “It’s not Pokémon. It’s called Winterland.”
“Whatever, same thing.” Olivia crinkled her nose as she flipped through more pages. “Why do they all look bug-eyed?”
“Because it’s anime.” I tried to contain my indignation. The girl was worse than an Internet troll. “It’s a style of Japanese animation. The printed form is called manga, a type of graphic nov–”
“Spare me the explanation, Professor Wapanese.”
I stared at the Chemistry textbook on the desk and whispered under my breath, “Bismuth-technetium-hydrogen.”
Olivia arched a flawless eyebrow. “What did you say?”
“Nothing…” I gave her a wide eyed, innocent look. If only she knew her chemical symbols. At times like this, being a geek girl had its perks.
Olivia narrowed her eyes. She tilted the graphic novel, displaying it to her friends and anyone else who could see – which, of course, with my luck, was a gaggle of students.
A wave of hushed whispers traversed the library. Olivia took in the image of a kemonomimi – a half-rabbit, half-human character named Usagi. “Honestly, Alice, I don’t understand the appeal of this unless you’re a ten year old boy.” She tossed the manga onto my desk, her gaze drifting to my laptop screen. A shadow of a smile touched her lips.
“Well, well, what do we have here?”
Before I could react, one of Olivia’s cronies snatched up my laptop and brought it to her. The Queen Bee smiled at the fanart of my OTP I had drawn. She scrolled down, and her smiled broadened.
“Winterland fanfiction,” she read out.
My palms went damp. She wouldn’t.
Olivia cleared her throat. Everyone gathered around us as she made a spectacle of my rough draft. She butchered the Japanese names, making every inch of me cringe. Her girl squad laughed to the flux of her cruel, satirical tone. Olivia’s lip glossed mouth moved in slow motion, but the words didn’t register.
I slunk down in my seat, wanting to melt. I scanned the crowd in desperation and glimpsed a familiar face at the far end of the library – Deanna Kitlyn, a hipster dressed, gap-toothed booktuber who happened to be my best friend. Balancing a wobbly stack of books, she chewed her bottom lip as she helplessly watched my humiliation.
And then, when I thought things couldn’t get worse, I caught Andrew Lewis staring oddly at my laptop screen. His brows slanted into two hard lines. Then, he caught my eye. An inexplicable look washed over him.
Face aflame, I veered away from his scrutiny and leapt awkwardly over the table. I yanked the laptop from Olivia’s grip. The lid slammed with a loud click.
Olivia backed away and tittered. “Word of advice, Alice. If you’re going to spend all day writing like a little nerdy freak, it could atleast be something worth writing.” I swallowed my anger and chagrin away, trying to form a riposte when a ring pierced the air.
Saved by the bell.
The librarian emerged from the printing room and students started to disperse. Olivia and her lackeys joined the murmuring crowd. When she made it out the door, she paused and glanced over her shoulder. Her lips inched upwards, her cheekbones sharp as glass. She mouthed a single word to me. A word so clear and unmistakable that I had to choke back a gasp.
Waterworks obscured my vision. My chest tightened. This was a new low. Olivia had actually done research this time to insult me. The girl had called me many things before, but this insult felt so personal… and yet somewhat accurate. As much as I hated to admit it, Olivia had a point. I was a Japanophile-fandom-obsessed fangirl. A pathetic weeaboo.
I rubbed my stinging eyes and glanced up. Andrew lingered behind Olivia. His dark eyes locked with mine, and his gaze drifted to my shoes. My breath stilled. Beneath the Sharpie scribbles of Winterland characters on my worn-out Converse, my toes wriggled self-consciously. Andrew returned his gaze to my face. His lips parted as if on the precipice of speech. My thoughts went awhirl.
I held my breath, but he turned away from me. From his jeans pocket, he withdrew his cell phone and texted something as he slipped into the current of students. Walking alongside Olivia.
A gentle hand squeezed my slumped shoulder. Deanna had bounded up beside me. She eased her towering stack of books onto my table. They toppled before me, befitting my mood. I turned to acknowledge her, letting my black hair fall across my face to cover my angst. She brushed it back without missing a beat. I suppose that’s one of the duties that befell a bestie.
“High school pecking orders aren’t the end of the world, Alice.” Great. Another one of my friend’s pick-me-up speeches.
“Your stories are wonderful. You know that, I know that . . . all your Tumblr followers know that. Olivia is just mean–the classic Regina George of high school.”
That’s an understatement.
Slowly, I raised my head. An elfin gleam touched my friend’s eyes. “Just remember this, Alice. One day that girl will find herself… and really, really wish she didn’t.”
I forced a half-laugh. Deanna always had a knack for picking my mood back up when Olivia had kicked it to the curb like a mangy puppy. Still, this particular pep talk fell flat. I couldn’t help but snap back a little as I crammed my belongings into my Sanrio backpack.
“You’re right. Olivia might risk looking into a mirror one day and realize how pretty and popular and socially perfect she is. Thanks, Deanna. You’ve really turned my opinion of this day around.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she chided. “You speak almost as if Olivia is never not looking into a mirror.”
“Ha, ha, ha.”
“Alice, did you know statistically you have a better chance of marrying your favorite kpop member than winning the lottery? If that doesn’t make your day, I don’t know what will.”
This time, I laughed for real. Deanna grinned. She looped her arm around my shoulders, and I stood a little straighter as we walked through the hallways. But before we parted to our classes, I caught a glittery card sticking out of her satchel. My insides tightened.
“Dee–is that . . ?”
Deanna’s face bloomed pink. “One of Olivia’s she-wolves gave me it this morning. Obviously, I’m not going. Her Christmas parties are way overrated.” A pang of disappointment twisted my stomach. My friend’s dismissive tone sounded . . . so feigned.
“Maybe you should go.”
Deanna blinked. “What?”
“I said you should go. Live the fancy life for a day. You skip it ever year because of me. Why not see what the hype is all about for once?” I shuffled my sneakers. “My weekend is booked anyway.”
“Booked as in . . . playing DDR by yourself and marathoning Winterland – subbed?”
Heat swiped my cheeks. “No.” Dubbed.
“Alice . . .”
“Deanna, my weekend is booked. Literally. I have a stash of manga I borrowed from the library – it’s due Saturday.” Next, next Saturday technically, but she didn’t need to know that.
Deanna cast me a skeptical glance. “You really want me to go to this thing?”
I knew she could see through my web of white lies, but I couldn’t let her boycott the biggest party of the year again because of me. A good friend wouldn’t let misery have company.
“You’re going for once,” I said with an air of finality. “And that’s that.”
“And you’re okay with missing all the fun?”
“Having fun isn’t hard when you got a library card.”
Rolling her eyes, Deanna stuck her hand into her satchel and rummaged through her belongings. Then, her eyes lit up. She pulled out two tickets – each with a symbol of a crystal heart on the stub. A frisson of anticipation snaked through me. That symbol . . .
“A double weekend pass for a Winterland cosplay convention.” She handed my ticket with a smile. “Because your weekend needs to trump Olivia’s.”
“Deanna, my appreciation for you is like a limit approaching infinity.” I glomped her right then and there, paying no mind to the onlookers in the hallway.
My friend grinned until she eyed her watch, then jumped. “Shoot. Almost noon.” She broke my chokehold and hastily re-buttoned her satchel, not wanting to break her perfect attendance record. “I’ll meet you at the convention on Sunday around ten.”
“Sounds fetch. I might cosplay Shira Neko again.” I curled my hands like the Winterland character and raised them catlike. “Just look for the girl in the catsuit and white neko ears.”
But the ever punctual Deanna didn’t hear me. She had bounded to English class faster than a rabbit, leaving me awkwardly standing in a hallway echoing with snickers.
For the rest of the day, the entire school buzzed about Olivia’s Christmas party. I couldn’t make it from one class to the next without overhearing someone speculate about the number of Grecian ice sculptures Olivia would have this year, and a trip to my locker meant listening to some enamored freshmen drool over the silvery monograms embossed on the shiny, white invites.
I fought a sigh. The muggle struggle was real. What kind of spell had Olivia casted for everyone to obsess over her like this? The way they all chattered about her party, you’d think it was the premiere of a Firefly revamp. I couldn’t wait to get away from it all.
The moment the final bell rang, I made a hasty stop at my locker. My fingers fumbled with the combination: 2-21-8 (or as I liked to think of it, 221B). The locker sher-opened with a flourish. I stuffed my Calculus book into my backpack, wrapped myself in my Ravenclaw scarf, and turned my coat collar up, eager to go home. When I slammed my locker, I found myself staring into a pair of winter blue eyes. My insides turned to ice.
The ombre haired girl donned an uncertain smile, an invitation flapping in her hand. I stared, first at her lip-glossed smile, then the pretty white paper. My mouth dropped. Olivia knew how to smile? But of course she did – just not in my general direction. And yet, there she stood all OOC-like, looking at me, dare I say, kindly.
“Look, I know you hate my guts, but there’s something I need to off my chest.” A pregnant pause filled the air.
“Maybe you’ve heard,” she murmured. “Andrew can’t make it to my Christmas party this Saturday, so I have an open spot now.” Olivia shuffled her heels. “I’ve been thinking things through, Alice, and I realized my party is still missing something.” Her voice softened.
I froze as realization dawned on me. Olivia held out the invitation – to me. My eyes bugged out. I must have looked like a deer in headlights. I gaped at the sight of my name, Alice Leira, calligraphed across the card in silver ink. Of its own accord, my shaking hand reached for the card.
Maybe I had misjudged Olivia. Maybe she did possess a modicum of human decency. Afterall, if the evil villainess from Sailor Moon could have a change of heart, why couldn’t Olivia?
Just as my fingers touched the pretty card, something flashed in Olivia’s eyes.
“You misunderstood me, Alice. The only thing my party’s missing is confirmation of your absence.” She retracted the invite with two manicured fingers. “And now . . . I have it.”
With a frosty smile, Olivia tucked the invite into her Coach bag and traipsed away, flinging her icy blonde locks over her shoulder. The last thing I saw before I bolted through the exit was the janitor tossing a dozen white, blurry scraps into a trash.
I kicked the excess snow from my boots and fumbled with the key to the apartment. The door gave way, and I followed in its creaky wake.
“Holmes, sweet Holmes,” I said in a strained voice.
I slung my backpack over the couch and dragged myself into the kitchen to throw out the crumpled up tissues I had used on the bus-ride. After making a much needed cup of hot cocoa, I grabbed my comfort snack –Pocky– and scuttled upstairs.
I shut myself in my room. The door slammed hard in my latent anger. A zig-zaggy “D” fluttered down from the word ‘Dumble’ I had taped on the door. (Yes, a Dumble-door). As I stood on my tiptoes to re-tape it, I read another phrase above it, this one composed of decal words which glimmered gold.
’Don’t let the muggles get you down.’
I drew in a deep breath and repeated the quote to myself like a mantra. I needed the reminder now more than ever.
Slowly, I turned to take in the rest of my room. Three full shelves lined the bookcase, each filled with YA novels, manga, Sailor Moon dolls, and the occasional plastic Tardis. A heap of doujinshi lay poorly concealed under my bed. Fanart coated the walls – some of which I had printed off Tumblr and others I had drawn. To cement my geekiness, I had a 3x4 feet periodic table poster which hid the more questionable fanart underneath. The type only a Fujoshi would appreciate . . .
The wall against my bed featured a panoramic view of Hogwarts and pairings I shipped: Jelsa, Kaynara, Sebaciel, Johnlock, Dramione, Dalix, and most of all, Winterland’s Noushi. Above my desk hung a collage of fictional crushes –with my favorite bae, Akihiko the Winter Prince – smiling front and center. From the holographic print, his eyes glimmered at me.
I trailed a finger along his elfish ears and angular jaw. “Oh, Akihiko. My adoration for you is like a monotically increasing function.” If only he’d stop being the square root of -1 and become real.
Backing away from him, I basked in my fangirl safe haven. Once more, my fandom world welcomed me with open arms when the rest of the world cast me aside.
I flung my long overcoat onto a mountain of Winterland plush on my bed, pulled out my laptop, and set it down among the Japanese stationary and sakura pens cluttering my desk. I typed in the password to my laptop: IamSherlocked. A safe enough choice at my school since no one there besides Deanna and I could pick a non-Turing Cumberbatch out of a lineup.
The thought of school sent an unpleasant shudder through me. No. Don’t let it get to you.
I forced myself to turn on my fanfic playlist, trying to set the perfect mood to delve into my fanfiction. The buoyant, upbeat tune of Not Literally’s ‘I Ship It’ still didn’t drown out the flux of laughter that replayed in my head. My brows creased. I typed in the url of my fanfiction page, and my Tumblr tab started flashing. My pulse quickened. A notification from JackFrost.
Talk about perfect timing.
A fellow fanfic writer in the Winterland fandom and always the first to review a chapter, JackFrost never failed to leave me with a wide, toothy smile. I clicked the notification. A message popped up.
JackFrost to Snowbaby23:
“11:54 AM Hey. Just wanted to tell u how psyched I am for the finale tonight. I know it’ll be totally awesome.
Just like it always is. 😏 ”
I blushed at the animated gif that winked at me, but then my face collapsed. I closed the tab. JackFrost was right. My fanfic was good, and I felt proud of it. But one teeny issue remained . . .
I had no finale.
At least, not a good one. I slumped over my desk and ruffled my hair. I’d already written two drafts at lunch but deleted both out of frustration. They just weren’t right. I couldn’t let down JackFrost and my other readers like that. They deserved better. Much.
Sighing, I opened the url to my fanfiction profile. My eyes skimmed the various fandom groups I had written for.
Alice Leira’s Works:
Adventure Time (1)
Attack on Titans (1)
Black Butler (5)
Dalix (Daphne + Felix) (3)
Daphne Valentine Holmes (6)
Final Fantasy (1)
Game of Thrones (1)
Harry Potter (7)
Kaichou Wa Maid Sama (2)
Kingdom Hearts (1)
Kiss Him, Not Me (1)
L x Light (3)
Maria Holic (2)
One Piece (1)
Ouran High School Host Club (3)
Phan-fics (Dan + Phil) (3)
Revolutionary Girl Utena (1)
Sailor Moon (5)
The Legend of Korra(1)
Totally Spies (2)
I hovered the mouse over the last entry and clicked. The cursor blinked at me. I blinked in return. An unsuccessful staring contest ensued between us. Tch. Nothing was coming to mind – not even the usual plot bunnies.
In an attempt to overcome my writer’s block, I donned on my lucky NanoWriMo Viking helmet. Elbows propped on my desk, Pocky stick balanced along my cupid’s bow, I meditated on possible finale solutions. Suddenly, my door swung open.
I jolted up. The chocolate coated biscuit stick dropped to the floor with a sad little crack.
My older sister flitted through the doorway. Lori took in my crooked Viking helmet and wore an expression that read, I’m not even going to ask.
For two sisters, we couldn’t be more different. If I was, as Olivia so kindly put it, a ‘weaboo,’ then Lori was a ‘teaboo.’ She preferred British classics like Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters, sipped Earl Grey tea with scones, roasted others in iambic pentameter, and even dressed like Emma Watson.
With her sophisticated pixie cut and priggish style, Lori was my polar opposite. She was the Tia to my Tamera. The Blossom to my Buttercup. The Elsa to my Anna. She didn’t understand my love of fandoms – and probably never would.
“Easy on the animato, Alice. Pianissimo, please. I can’t concentrate on my SAT prep with your Korean boy bands blaring through my wall.”
“It’s not K-pop,” I murmured. This time.
Lori folded her arms across her vintage tartan blouse, not looking the least impressed. Her gaze drifted to my laptop screen, and she heaved a sigh. “More fanfiction?” She leaned over my shoulder and squinted at the fanfic tags on the Winterland page.
“OTP, One Shot, Coffee Shop AU, Crackfic, OOC, Lemon, Lime, Drabble,” she murmured. “Honestly, Alice, all of your fandom pedantry sounds like a foreign language to me.”
Her eyes twitched at the screen as though she had stumbled on that weird part of the Internet again. I knew all the jargon must’ve peeved my prim and proper sister out of her mind. I almost giggled, but then Lori turned to me.
“What’s . . . yah-oy?”
“Nothing,” I blurted before hastily scrolling down the page. I didn’t dare correct her mispronunciation. Some things were better left unsaid – especially yaoi.
Lori rolled her eyes and resumed her full height. Right on cue, she began the lecture I’d heard too many times.
“I don’t understand why you waste your time with fanfiction, Alice. Fandom fiction is terribly unoriginal. You do realize it uses pre-existing work – hardly qualifies as literature if you ask me.” Her voice stiffened. “I wish you’d use read something real, and write something that has more . . . substance.”
“Fanfiction does have substance,” I replied indignantly. “You would know since you read it all the time.”
Lori looked offended. “I most certainly do not.”
I smothered a snort. “Yes, you do. In your AP English class.”
“What on earth are you going on about, Alice?”
“Take your Classics textbook. Dante’s Divine Comedy is a self-insert fanfic. In his fic, Dante hangs out with his dream-girl, an OC named Beatrice, and then befriends his senpai – aka his favorite poet, Virgil.” I gave a little shrug. “But I guess Virgil wouldn’t have minded. Afterall, he fanboyed over Homer and wrote fanfics for the Homer fandom. The Aeneid is a fanfic sequel to The Iliad. And as for Shakespeare, the play scene in Midsummer’s Night Dream is a fluffed up, crackfic of Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe. Essentially, all the greats were fanfic writers and into fandoms, Lori.”
My sister’s lips went agape, her eyes wide as saucers.“H-how do you know all that?”
“Read a meta on Tumblr.” I picked up the Pocky stick off the floor and balanced it back on my cupid’s bow. “If it makes you feel any better, every great author gets their inspiration from the works of others. It’s just that fanfic writers are more transparent about their inspiration.”
Lori stared at me like a mannequin in shock. I wish I could’ve photographed her. She stood there gaping at me until, at last, she shook herself out of her reverie. She mumbled something incoherent as she sauntered to her room.
Well, that settled that.
Satisfied with my tiny victory, I lowered the music as Lori turned on Tchaikovsky next door. I returned to my own fanfiction with a sigh. Still nothing. Even after that impassioned fanfic speech. No matter how long I stared at the screen, it remained as blank as my mind. I turned off my music altogether, in hopes that Lori’s classical soundtrack might help me – but again, zilch. The vast emptiness of the page mocked me.
As badly as I longed to forget it all, my mind kept replaying the day’s events. This was ridiculous. Olivia already got the best of me at school. I refused to let her get under my skin at home too.
I threw my hands up in the air and grabbed a Winterland manga from my bookshelf for inspiration – and distraction. I plopped onto my bed. Nestling myself in a blanket burrito, I turned to page 394. Lori’s whimsical tunes of Casse Noisette drifted into my room, casting its soothing spell on my senses. I languidly flipped page after page.
My eyes grew heavy-lidded. I stared at the colorful manga scenes. The fairy-lights from my bedframe bathed the graphic novel in a soft, ethereal glow. Winterland’s snowflakes shimmered with invition, and my rabbit bookmark seemed to leap off the page and bound soundlessly about my room.
A muted gold stream of light trailed behind the airy rabbit as it circled my bed, lulling me to a deep slumber. Then, the golden light faded to an icy white-blue. Its streaks blurred together to form the walls of an ice tunnel. I found myself sliding through it – and fast.
A small, white circle of light emerged at the end. As I squinted to make it out, it grew – larger and larger and larger – until I shot out of the tunnel like a human cannonball. The world below me glistened as I toppled and tumbled toward it.
The alarm clock clamored.
I laughed and sighed with relief. The fall . . . It had been just some Pocky-induced dream. But my room was too cold, too wet, too bright. My dazed laughter faded. Even closed, my lids detected whiteness as if I’d dozed off with the fairy-lights still on. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I sat up and reached for the duvet.
No flipping way.
Goosebumps broke out across my skin. Instead of a duvet, my hand clutched a blanket of snow. Slowly, I glanced down. Thick ice surrounded my ankles, stretching over the endless white expanse of . . .