There once was a Winter so fierce and freezing that even the air was turning to ice.
The snow was so deep that it buried barns, farms and entire forests and the wind wailed as fierce as fire and burned the skin. And worst of all, April was almost over and there seemed to be no end to this blast of icy misery.
Despite the pressure of tons of prayers for Spring to come and melt the snow, Winter persisted.
The animals in the woods were running out of food. Some had frozen to death when they had gone out and tried to find food for their young. The situation was so grim that there was nothing left to do but cry, but the tears froze as they left the eyes.
This was the way it was for a fairly long time; until the geese started to fly north again as they always do when it's springtime.
But when they arrived and saw that Winter had still not retired they became just as frightened as everyone else. If Winter continued much longer the whole world would surely come to an end.
All the animals put their differences aside and formed committees to deal with the crisis. Discussions were held, debates debated, vows made, speeches given and clever plans and lists were drawn up but when it came to doing, no one really knew what to do. All the animals sat staring across at one another as if begging with their eyes "help me!" But not one was willing to make a sacrifice. And this was no time to be selfish. Only one goose realized that in order to save her family and friends, she would have to act and so decided to set off in search of Spring. When all the other animals heard this they laughed, "What! How can one insignificant goose bring an entire season to us! It comes when it sees fit. Don't be a silly goose!"
"No, this is not the time to be selfish," she said and flew off in search of Spring leaving all the animals shivering and freezing in the frozen wilderness as they desperately studied how to build igloos.
The poor goose had no idea where to look for Spring and soon because of the wind and snow she became lost and tired and was forced to take refuge inside the hollow of a tree. There she hoped to get the rest and warmth she needed to continue on her journey. Little did she know though that she had flown into the home of a shivering family of squirrels. As soon as she entered, they started asking her questions about winter. She didn't want to tell them about her plan. She thought they would laugh at her and she was already discouraged enough as it was. But she took pity on them because they were shivering and she wanted to give them some hope.
"I'm going to find Spring. This is not a time to be selfish and stay locked up inside. Maybe she is sleeping or is in trouble, but I must find her before we all die."
Not one squirrel laughed, quite the contrary, they all sat together for a long time in silence, thinking of ways to help the brave goose. Then the littlest squirrel who everyone made fun of because of it's far-fetched plans and ideas, spoke up, "Maybe Springtime is being held prisoner by the evil Winter up at the North Pole. If we could go there and free her, we would save the world. I have a sword! I can climb onto your back and feed you nuts as we race off to fight the evil Winter monster! Let's hurry before he kills her!" The young tot raced into his room to grab his sword and nuts. Everyone broke into laughter and started calling the little squirrel silly names. His mother put him to bed early. But since the goose had no other suggestions, she thought that the Arctic would be a good place to start.
"I see no other alternative. I must go to the Arctic and see what can be done there."
The family protested, "But it is even colder there and the wind is stronger too. You will certainly meet a most unpleasant death."
The goose understood well what they were saying but she had no choice. The squirrels bowed their heads in sad agreement. There was nothing to do but help the goose prepare for the great journey that lay ahead. Grandmother Squirrel had also travelled in her day and she had a special coat from Russia that she gave the brave little goose.
"Take this coat. It will keep you warm."
"But what about you," the goose protested.
"Think of it as my sacrifice, for as you said, this is certainly not a time to be selfish."
So the next day the goose left with the coat, for her journey to the arctic: one of the coldest, snowiest places on earth. She flew as high in the air as she dared, as much above the raging snowstorm as she could. The coat kept her only slightly cold as opposed to freezing cold and after weeks of sometimes flying in circles she came to the ice castle, which belonged to the Winter King. With her beak she meekly knocked on the door. A knight made of ice with a snowy beard answered, "We have no more ice cream—go away!"
"I don't want any ice cream, "the goose said, "I'm here to see the Winter King. It's very important."
"Really?" the knight exclaimed in surprise. "You want to see the King? My goodness, that is so kind of you. All everybody ever wants is ice cream. I'm sure he would be more than pleased to see someone who wants to actually see him. Please, do come in!"
The goose was lead through a labyrinth of corridors whose walls were made of icy mirrors with icicle chimes dangling in the soft wind that brushed through. The entire palace confused her very much. Snow servants and ice knights were skating through the hallways, and on the walls and ceiling, because there, there was no up or down. The castle itself wasn't so cold and except for the mirrors, the goose found it to be quite a comfortable home.
She didn't have to wait to see the King and she was led to his throne straight away. "What can I do for you," said the humongous Winter King clearly pleased to have a guest. "Can I offer you some ice-cream?" He himself was eating a ton of ice cream with a spoon the size of satellite dish.
"Sir, it's almost the end of May and Spring has not come. The animals are starving and the people are freezing. If you have Spring could you please release her or everything will die. If it pleases you, I will gladly take her place."
The Winter King was touched by the goose's willingness to sacrifice herself. "You are a brave being, little, little one. But you are wrong in believing that I have her. I am not so evil as you think."
The goose blushed.
"Everyone believes I am evil but no one bothers to come and see for themselves. It is all a plot. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Yes, I know Spring has not come," the King answered, "But what can I do? I'm tired and I need to rest too, so I wish she would come. But there is nothing I can do. I can't leave. We can't be without a season."
"Well Sir, do you know where she is or do you know anyone who might know where she is?"
"Well you would think that I should know, after all I am her father. But it seems she doesn't want to do as she is told. Instead, what does she do? She runs off with the holidays for a little amusement. I've sent all my messengers out to find her, and I think she knows she is missed, but she still refuses to do her job. But don't worry, when she returns she will be punished."
"What if she doesn't return, can't we just have Summer now?"
"What?" The Winter King roared. "Never! Him and I keep as far away from each other as possible. It's my daughter's job to deal with him. I would never call on him. All he wants to do is destroy me. It's he that is plotting against me. He is jealous of me. I'm bigger than he is and I'm more respected and feared than he is. Nevertheless people are fools enough to love him more than me. But what can I do about that?"
"Well where is Summer? Maybe Spring is with him since it seems you have a nasty temper."
"What do you mean by that?" the Winter King asked leaning forward with a wicked smile. It was clearly his intention to frighten the goose.
But the goose had no time to entertain any fears, "No offence Sir, just that maybe she went to live with him."
"I see. I never thought of that. Maybe they are both plotting against me. They have already managed to conquer certain parts of the Earth. But don't even think of visiting him, he doesn't even live on Earth and you would die trying to get to his palace. I'm the only season that lives on the Earth, with my daughter of course. No, your only hope is to go and wake up Yeporok."
"Who is that?" the goose asked.
"He's the night guard for this planet. He sleeps most of the time. He really doesn't need to be awake if all the seasons do their jobs."
"How can he help, I don't understand?" the goose asked.
"Well he can nudge the Earth in the direction of the sun, and then I can relax and get some rest. You see I can't leave my duty until the next season arrives and when Spring's late and she often is, the mindless little thing, I'm stuck to work overtime and there's nothing I can do about it-and I'm the King! Imagine that. You know, it did happen once before that Spring was late. I think it was almost the beginning of June before she came. That woke Yeporok up and he tilted the Earth and as far as us seasons are concerned, that is the same as a good beating. It's not very pleasant. I myself have gotten one, but only one when I was very young."
"Sir, do you think that I can wake Yeporok up myself?"
"Sure you can but there is a problem. You will have to die." This startled the goose, but then when she thought of all her friends suffering so far away, she decided that this was not the time to be selfish.
"Yes, I am ready to do whatever is necessary," and she listened closely to what the Winter King had to say.
"You have to climb up to th every top of the North Pole and tickle his stomach, that will get his attention. But you can't tickle him with your fingers or in your case with your wings. You have to tickle him with your heart. Make your heart beat fast, thinking of someone you love may help. If that doesn't work than picture them dying. This will probably wake him up. But as I said he doesn't like to be woken up and he kills whoever so dares do it. I'm afraid that that is just the way it is."
So without further delay the goose rushed off for the North Pole. When she reached it she wasted no time and flew to the top. She thought of all her friends and how she would never see them again and her tiny little heart sped up faster and faster until it broke. Then she heard a roar and saw a bright light and after that the tiny brave goose was no more. But it was enough to bring Spring, and after getting a good beating the snow quickly melted, it grew warm and all her friends and the whole world besides, were saved.
I heard this story when I was a child. I asked why it was that we got goose bumps when we were cold. My great grandfather told me this story and explained that it was in tribute to the goose that died for everyone, that we say goose bumps when we are cold.
"But what about when we are afraid?" I asked.
"Ugh, that is a different goose," was his response.
Whether this story is true or not is anyone's guess as you see, my great grandfather heard the story while he was drunk, fighting over a woman in a bar. He added, "Boy, never fight over a woman, always fight beside them, because there they can only see half of you. And of course, if you fight under them, you're a dead man."