It was his fevered, dying delusion, of course. How could it be otherwise, after days stumbling through the burning sands of the desert? Maybe death was kind, after all, and came as a cold, beautiful snow-fall.
He rolled onto his back, opening a parched mouth to catch the flakes, but they swirled too wildly in the wind – still the burning winds of the desert – and settled on his body instead. Weak hands scrunched up suddenly wet clothes, so that he could bend and suck their moisture.
It was scarcely enough to dampen his mouth, but he felt at once refreshed and stronger. Sitting up, he tried to peer through the snow, but it was falling heavily now, whiting out his surroundings as effectively as a sandstorm.
He got to his feet like a newborn foal, staggering on weak legs but gradually regaining balance. Taking an experimental step, he realised that he was still walking on sand, even though the blizzard was now heavy enough for a complete carpet of white.
It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except that he was strong again and happy.
“Will you play with me?”
He whirled around at the voice, and saw her standing where no-one had been a moment before. She looked about ten: a pretty girl with a sparkling, impudent face, dressed in a thin summer frock, her feet bare.
When he didn’t reply – he tried, but no voice would come – she put her head on one side and asked, “Do you like the snow? I thought you would.”
“Did you make the snow?” His voice sounded harsh and unnatural in his own ears. “Are you a goddess?”
She considered that. “I suppose I am, in a way. I’m not a scary goddess, though. I just like to play. Do you like snowballs?”
“Yes.” It was a strange conversation, though entirely natural. “But there’s no snow on the ground.”
The girl hit her forehead dramatically, pulling a playful face. “I knew I’d forgotten something. There is now.”
Looking down, he saw thick snow carpeting the ground for as far as he could see. The girl bent down, gathering snow up into a tight ball, and threw it at him. It didn’t sting at all, merely refreshed him, and he stooped to make his own snowball.
“Can’t catch me,” the girl called out, running away, but not fast enough to avoid being hit by his creation. She squealed in delight, and they began a running, screaming snowball-fight that seemed to last for hours. When they finally tired of that, they built a snowman together, and then lay exhausted, making snow-angels.
Finally, the girl reached over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “It’s time to go now,” she said. “It’s all right, though. You don’t have to go back to the desert. I told you, I’m not a scary goddess.”
His body was lighter, less substantial than he’d ever known it, but that was all right. The snow still fell, playing in the wind in and out of him, and his body and consciousness mingled with it, playing and swirling in all directions, until it was indistinguishable from the rest of the snow.
“Goodbye,” said the girl softly. “Have fun.”