A white bird fell with the snow. It wasn't unusual for this to happen; the winter cold was so intense over the far northern island of Arctic Atoll that birds' muscles would simply seize up. When it happened to a white bird, as in this case, the bird is christened a "snow angel", but in the case of a black bird, it is a "snow devil".
Our young hero, Martin, happened to be walking by when the snow angel fell. The snow angel in question crash-landed at his feet. Martin was overjoyed. Anyone whom a snow angel fell in front of would be blessed with good luck the entire year. That is, only if the person cares for the bird until it is warm enough to fly again.
Martin scooped up the bird and hurried home. Home meant a ragged shack occupied by his bed-ridden grandfather, his overworked and often tired parents, and his sister and himself. The shack itself had seen one too many families, one too many winters, and one too many storms. Therefore, it was a pretty run-down place.
Martin's father tried, time and time again, to fix the holes in the walls and the leaky roof, to no avail. The wood was too flimsy or too brittle for the wintry cold. The cloth was too thick for the brief, warm summers but too thin for the long, freezing winters. The black rubber kept heat in the house, but was useless during the winter when it barely stopped snowing enough for the children to get to school and the adults to work.
The grandfather, or Bart (for he made absolutely everyone (even his own son) call him by his first name), had served in the official Army of the Fair Island of Arctic Atoll. The Army had been funded only for two or three years, after the ruler realized no other country wanted the bare arctic island.
The year following the Army's disbanding, they were all called back. This time they were to serve in the Air Force dubbed the Subzero Flight Division. This was funded two more years, ending when a number of planes were shot down in an attempt to take over a nearby Canadian island.
Bart's plane had been among the ones shot down. He had miraculously survived and somehow returned to Arctic Atoll. Since then, however, he had had several health problems, confining him to his bed.
Martin's mother was a mail sorter at the tiny post office. She didn't have a very interesting history, but she did flee from the U.S. after she couldn't find a job there or in Canada. She had tried school teacher, factory worker, and even author. Each job had failed. When she came here, she had found the perfect job, the job she continued to hold the rest of her life, mail sorter.
Ella, the sister, was a rather sickly girl, never able to leave the shack during the freezing grasp of winter. She stayed at home most of the time, listening to her grandfather's stories while she cared for him.
Martin himself was the older of the two children. He frequently went to school, and, when school wasn't open, he worked at the post office for some extra money. Now, he was the luckiest of the family, thanks to the snow angel.
The shack came into view, and, judging by the smoke pouring out the makeshift chimney, supper was cooking. Martin burst through the door, accidently knocking it over in the process. Picking the door back up, Martin grinned. "Guess what I found lying around," he asked.
"Some sturdy wood for the shack?" Father guessed.
"A puppy?" Ella deduced.
"The legendary phoenix?" Bart jokingly assumed.
"A potato for tonight's stew?" Mother predicted.
"Better than all of those," Martin exclaimed, grinning broadly, "I found a snow angel!" He proudly held the shivering, wet white bird in the air for all to see. Everyone who was able crowded around and took turns touching the bird's icy feathers.
Ella slipped away and fetched a pouch made from cloth that once had stretched over the numerous cracks in the shack's walls. "Here," she said, offering the pouch to Martin, "Put him in this; it'll help warm him up." Martin did so and set the still-shaking bird near the fire.
Soon afterward, dinner was ready. Everyone settled down to eat broiled chicken (an infrequent luxury) and carrots (an even rarer delicacy in winter). The snow angel gently thawed as Ella fed him small seeds Mother had bargained for in the market.
"Eat your own supper," Bart lightly commanded, "Martin will take care of his bird." Ella obediently sat back at the table and spooned thick broth into her mouth.
Martin looked at the bird, then at his bowl. He poked a slice of carrot before getting up and lifting the ladle out of the pot. He scooped up some broth and picked up a smaller spoon. Turning back around, he knelt down and began to tenderly feed the snow angel the steaming broth.
Upon finishing the murky liquid in the ladle, the snow angel made a quiet chirp, looking calmly at Martin. The bird's shivering had lost much of its intensity, and the bird seemed warmer to the touch. Martin fetched more broth and continued to feed the bird, hardly touching his supper himself.
The boy returned to dinner as soon as the snow angel finished the second ladle-full of broth. He scooped the now-cold food into his mouth and quickly went back to the bird. The shivering had now died away and the bird was almost as warm as he should be. "He should stay the night," Mother suggested, "So he can get all of his strength back."
Just before bed, Martin made sure the bird was comfortably situated in the rafters over the fire. As he settled back in his tiny, makeshift cot, he heard the sweet, song-like cry christened the Snow Call.
The soothing melody was swept along with the wind, proclaiming messages in an ancient, long-forgotten tongue. Martin listened closely, as he often did, to try to figure out what the indecipherable words meant. Looking up, he saw the snow angel standing upright on his perch, also paying attention.
Without warning, the bird began to sing in a strident but gentle voice. His chirps and trills rose and fell with the Snow Call, mixing perfectly with the olden tones. On a certain note, the flames below the snow angel grew a little, flaring higher.
Eventually, the fire engulfed the bird, though the rafters were not damaged. Martin was in awe, partly because none of his family members woke in the heat of the greatly enlarged blaze. The flame subsided much more quickly than it had sprung up, leaving white feathers in its wake.
The snow angel was not the same, though still perched on the miraculously intact, rickety roof beams. His talons had become much larger, as the rest of him had. The wings were immensely powerful and the beak was hooked at the end. The snow angel, once so weak and helpless, had become a pure white eagle.
Staring in amazement at the changed bird, Martin resolved that he would search for the source of the remarkable, ancient Snow Call.