Gale doesn’t recall how long he has been buried under the snow when he blinks to see a gray sky.
Above him is a hand, an arm then a face. The hand moves one last time to brush the remaining traces of snow away from Gale’s face, then disappears. Allowing a plume of white breath to escape into the air, Gale stares around him at the remnants of trees that are frozen blue and a flat landscape of ice.
“A bit too cold around here,” a voice tells him. Blinking slowly, Gale lowers himself back into the snow. Almost instantly, a hand curls around his upper arm and snaps him out of the ice.
“Come on,” the voice says again. “Get up. Lots of things to do. Get up.”
“Teal,” Gale responds, stumbling on the sleek sheet of solid ice that he doesn’t remember being there. The hands brace against him before he can fall. As his arms flail limply, he recalls faint hints of green and red and blue, and attempts to burrow back into the ground. “Teal? Teal. Teal, Teal.”
He cannot recall what the word means. Blinking again, he clutches wildly at his face and chest and sinks down onto the ground when the hands let him. When he catches another glimpse of the sky that is crumbling gray, he clutches his head and wails into his knees.
“I can’t believe it,” the voice grumbles, then Gale can hear feet shifting next to him. There is a crackling of ice, which stops abruptly after a short moment.
A hand falls on his shoulder. “I don’t think you even know what that means. Do you?”
A sigh escapes into the air from beside him, and Gale shudders as his ears ring sharply. “Teal?”
Two hands forcefully tilt his head up and before he can tug away, he’s staring blankly into a pair of eyes that are even whiter than the snow around them. Gale parts his lips to say the word once more —a word that he’s spitting out to rip into his own stomach— when a finger touches his forehead.
Red and green rush into his head, wiping away the endless field of white that he still can feel under his body. A lake forces itself into his vision and a hand plunges into the water. As he watches, frozen with a bird singing high and low behind him and into his ears, the reflection on the surface of the lake distorts with the song. The clear water roars and bubbles into blood. The leaves turn gold around him then shatter into a million screaming blades.
As abruptly as it shifted, the world melts back into the palest shades of blue and gray. Unable to put any weight onto his knees, Gale collapses into the ice, coughing and choking on parts of himself that are boiling and flowing out of his eyes.
“Teal,” he manages. All of a sudden, the cold air presses down upon him and crushes him onto his stomach. He sobs as the vast emptiness of the icy world rushes into him.
Next to him, the voice is laughing.
2. Don’t fall, don’t fall, nobody’s there to catch you
The man with white eyes introduces himself as Jack.
Looking off into the sky blankly, Gale rubs his fingers against the ice-covered tree trunk.
“Jack,” the man repeats, this time with more force. His hair is as pale as his eyes, and tied in a ponytail, the strands flutter like wings in the whistling winds. “Now tell me your name.”
Instead of replying, Gale brings his gaze down onto the tree that has been dead for too long inside the thick coverage of ice. “Autumn,” he murmurs to himself and thinks of a mountain covered with golden leaves.
“Talk to me!” Gale can vaguely hear Jack yelling hoarsely. “Talk!”
“Teal,” Gale says softly, and when uttered like a fading breeze it is not as sharp and painful. He smiles to himself. “Teal.”
There is a low snarl, then Jack slams a hand through Gale’s ribcage.
Later, Gale tells Jack his name after he finds out how to put himself back together. The feeling makes him sick and his hands turn white, yet he finishes wiping away the blood and looks up at Jack from the icy ground.
“I’m Gale,” he coughs. Jack stares at him, then whips around to rip open the air and steps through without a word.
(Some time after Jack has left, Gale stretches out a hand and turns the world into a shower of red and gold that doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as he thought.)