You open your eyes and there is a perfectly formed snowflake sitting on the glove in front of your face. You can’t move your limbs. You’ve lost your goggles, and you’re unsure which way is up. Your ears are packed with snow, and the silence is a tinnitus roar in your head.

As your breath labours through lack of oxygen, you recall the stuffiness of the bar, the smell of stale beer and overheated bodies. You remember bragging about your achievements on the slopes, each of you claiming a longer, steeper descent, beer bottles clinking louder with each round.

The thorns of a multitude of tiny crystals linked like soldiers in the stormy night, creating a vast army of white. In the blizzard, they assembled and swelled, curling themselves into a cornice.

The dawn air was as honed as a glass bayonet. In the calm of morning the troops waited for the first wisp of wind to tip their balance. As the rising sun glittered on the slope, your skis teetered on the lip of the wave, anticipating the joy of the sweeping fall. You jumped, and a serpentine furrow appeared behind you, refilling with a feathery layer. You pushed on, sucked down by temptation. Your single victory cry echoed in the gulley.

And the snow released its hold on the mountain to chase you in silent menace.

Now your eyes burn with cold, as tears try to form. No one knows you’re here. The others were too hungover to take up the challenge. It was you and nature, making a pact, and now your cheeks are brushed with her kiss of betrayal.

In your fading coffin you concentrate on the absolute perfection of that microscopic crystal with six fragile arms sprouting delicate spikes. You know this thing of beauty has an infinitesimal speck at its nucleus, a nanoparticle of dust around which water condensed in the troposphere, before freezing into a unique miracle and falling to the mountain.

A solitary accomplishment only possible because of one fatal flaw.

long listed on Reflex Fiction in May 2019