Monster of Snow and Flame: Original Chapter One

Author's note:

Hi there! Thanks for dropping by to read this longer, more backstory-y version of Chapter One of Monster of Snow and Flame.

I cut down this chapter a bunch about midway through the editing process, so please excuse any typos, grammatical errors, general lack of my usual quality, etc! Turns out I'm a writer who needs a good edit. 😂

Without further ado, enjoy!


Monster of Snow and Flame

a new year's eve romantic urban fantasy

by Betsy Flak

Chapter One: a girl, a boy, and a pesky magical raccoon

Original, longer version with more backstory

On New Year’s Eve night, I stroll down the snowy sidewalks of Ann Arbor with my crush and my casual “more than friends as of a couple weeks ago” friend.

Ahhh, Leo Belstrani, all tall and handsome with loose waves of chestnut-brown hair that gleam gold in the buttercup-yellow light of tonight’s streetlamps and with a deep, rumbly, swoonworthy voice. A strong jaw leads to an adorable cleft in his chin, and the black-framed lenses of his ever-present glasses can’t dim the butterfly-inducing intensity of that hazel gaze.

Yeah, I’ve had a crush on him since the moment we met at a Halloween party two months ago.

Two weeks ago, he kissed me right before he left my place after hanging out as two casual friends watching TV together. It was a quick kiss, almost like he was testing the waters.

And I just about melted against my closed door afterwards, while he drove away.

Four nights later—and the night before all my friends and I traveled to our respective families to relax and celebrate the winter holidays—I found out I was magical.

Well, not exactly. As far as I know, I’m not magical.

But I was chosen by some magical beings to light a tree in the woods on the edge of Ann Arbor proper, apparently the single tree that ends the longest night of the year every year at winter solstice.

Of course, doing so wasn’t easy. No, various mythological creatures challenged my right to light the tree. After defeating all of them, I still had to climb that taller-than-tall tree as it grew by the second and swayed with the slightest winter breeze. I’d had to figure out how to light that tree too, all the while clinging to its swaying and swinging top who knew how many tens of feet above the snowy ground.

Not to mention deal with an annoying raccoon wearing a red knit cap who’d pulled me into all that.

But hey, it wasn’t all bad. I eventually succeeded with the help of that red-hat-wearing raccoon, the year’s longest night ended, and I came away from the experience with an awesome magical fighting staff, a reindeer ally with a fiery nose by the name of Rudolph, and knowledge of the secret magical world all around me.

Not that my friends or Leo knew about any of that. Or could know.

At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Stop it, I rebuke myself. I don’t want to think about my magical side or past or whatever it is that’s magical about my life now. I want to enjoy this moment with my nonmagical crush.

I want to enjoy the tiny, nonmagical flakes falling and swirling and drifting around us.

I want to enjoy the intoxicating, nonmagical perfume of fresh snow.

I want to enjoy the nonmagical flutters of my heart.

I could do without the nonmagical tickle of nonmagical butterfly wings in my nonmagical stomach, but a girl can’t have it all.

Besides, there’s no reason to be nervous. It’s New Year’s Day now. Midnight came and went—with a kiss of course, though nothing earth-shattering.

Not yet anyway. Neither of us is a fan of public displays of affection, at least not ones more than holding hands and quick, chaste kisses.

But we’ve done none of even that in public, where my friends or his friends could see. Our midnight New Year’s Eve kiss was a quick one in the kitchen where no one could witness it and not the passionate, earth-shattering, head-spinning, body-melting kiss I longed for.

That may be a problem. Not the passionate, earth-shattering, head-spinning, body-melting kiss—I was reasonably sure Leo would give me that based on my body’s reaction to him just being near me—but the secret of our relationship he seemed to insist upon, not that he said so in actual, spoken-out-loud words.

Of course, we’d only kissed for the first time two weeks ago, and we hadn’t been alone together till now due to the holidays.

But I don’t like secrets.

Which, yeah, this whole brand-new magic thing definitely falls into the “I don’t like secrets” bucket.

That’s a problem for later.

As is this whole brand-new, maybe-secret relationship with Leo that could be in the “friends with benefits” bucket, which I don’t want to be in, at least not with him. I want more than that with him.

I need more than that with him.

Again, a problem for later.

For now, I’ll savor this romantic, snow-filled night with my crush, even if it is a secret between the two of us.

Gloved hand in gloved hand, Leo and I amble down the empty streets toward my empty apartment.

Well, the streets are empty, but my apartment might be only mostly empty. Rudolph could be waiting for me out of sight. Two days ago, the reindeer figured out how to use his magic to shrink himself to fit in my apartment like an oversized dog.

We’re still working on the house-training part, though Rudolph has learned to disguise himself as a Great Dane of sorts, right down to turning his fiery nose wet and ebony.

Around Leo and me, flakes glitter in the lamplight. They melt on our faces and sparkle in the creases of our heavy coats. Crisp, clean winter air sears my nostrils and fills my lungs. Despite the late hour, a refreshing energy follows in its wake, like the frigid air purges whatever fatigue gathered during the day. Our shoes press into the fresh snow, a hushed smmm-moosh that’s almost like a quiet drumbeat. My heart echoes its rhythm.

Ahead, one of the many trees Ann Arbor is known for reaches out over our snowy sidewalk.

From the base of one of its bare branches, the black, beady eyes of a raccoon peer down.

Above those eyes perches a red knit cap.

Son of a witch. That’s the magical raccoon that dragged me into that enchanted forest a week and a half ago.

Okay, I suppose it was more like “tempted me” than “dragged me,” but the point remains. It’s responsible for me knowing about the hidden magical world.

And it might be here to “tempt” me into another adventure, this time with Leo too.

As much as I long to share the supernatural world with someone who can talk back—and especially with my crush and maybe-more-than-friends friend—my last adventure was dangerous. I will not risk anyone’s life but my own.

I cannot chase that raccoon into another adventure, not with Leo beside me.

Will the animal understand that I’m not available tonight?

Adrenaline mixed with fear heats my blood, and whatever lingering effects of the New Year’s Eve drinks I consumed earlier drain away—which, let’s be honest, I didn't have much to begin with and I haven’t had a drink since a little after midnight struck two-ish hours ago, so those lingering effects aren’t much.

How’d the animal get its hat back anyway? I’d used that cap to light the tree ending the longest night of the year, and that cap should have been nothing but ash now, something like ten days later.

Doesn’t matter. I’ll wait for the animal to leave and keep Leo busy in the meantime.

The raccoon at the edge of my vision, I drop Leo’s hand and back up. He follows me, his back to the tree and its pesky magical raccoon watching my every move. In the soft, fresh snow, I twist back and forth in my fancy new boots, all but dancing. I catch the snowflakes on my tongue, and my brown-flecked skirt swirls around me and my fleece-lined tights. For once, I’d dressed up, worn make-up, done my hair, the whole nine yards. I usually don’t bother before work—gotta get those extra ten, fifteen, thirty minutes of sleep—but tonight I did.

It was a special night after all.

Leo does the same—though not in kitten-heeled leather boots and a swingy skirt—and we smile and laugh and have a grand old time together in the snow at something like two in the morning, true Michiganders.

The raccoon—my raccoon?—glowers. It doesn’t budge from the tree.

I ignore it. Relishing the snow with Leo is utter perfection. Eventually, the raccoon will get the message and leave.

I hope.

And I hope Leo doesn’t notice the strange creature first.

Over Leo’s shoulder, the hill leading up to the middle school between my apartment and downtown Ann Arbor vibrates.

I blink my eyes. That can’t be right. It must just be shimmering in the moonlight.

The smooth, white-blanketed hill—the one that will be cut and rent by a multitude of sleds tomorrow—stops shimmering or vibrating or whatever it was doing.

It starts to grow.

And grow.

And grow.

It smacks of the same magic that happened in the woods near my place right after I met that raccoon a week and a half ago. That magic transformed a snippet of city forest into the wilds of a fantasy novel, deep and without end.

One that I’d had to fight my way through to stop the world from becoming trapped in endless night.

As my mother—a teacher—would say, filthy fetid feces.

I’ve got to get Leo out of here.

And me too. I’m not inherently magical, Rudolph isn’t here, and neither is my magical fighting staff.

Is that why the raccoon in the red hat is here? To warn me of this? If so, the animal needs some lessons on communication.

Something big, white, and fluffy starts rolling down that too-large hill toward us.

Despite being made of crisp, clean, delightful snow, it reeks of evil.

And death.

And darkness.

Hope you enjoyed the bonus backstory! I really wanted to keep it in, but it was the slowing the story down so it had to go. But I'm glad you got to read it and get all that bonus backstory I created but couldn't use. 😊