The Winter King

A dying man receives a mysterious letter from the inhabitants of his childhood imaginary world,

begging their hero to come back and save them.

Duncan Wilson Delaney wasn’t always such a wicked old man. Once, he’d been a child, he’d had adventures, and he’d been happy. But everything changed when his father died a mysterious and sudden death. 


Alone and nearing the end of his life, Duncan Wilson receives a mysterious letter from the inhabitants of his childhood imaginary world, begging their hero to come back and save them. The last thing Duncan Wilson wants is to leave his boring, predictable life but when the mysterious Winter King steals Ana, his annoying grandniece, he must go to the Other World and face the dreams—and nightmares—of his childhood to save her. 


Armed with nothing but a frying pan, Duncan Wilson squeezes under his kitchen cabinet and travels to the Other World where he sets out to find Ana. But, to his horror, he finds that the sun has gone dark and the world is dying. Can Duncan Wilson undo the mistakes of his past, rescue Ana, and save his childhood world from destruction? Or will he succumb to the nightmares?

THE WINTER KING is a complete 37,000 word middle-grade fantasy novel that explores themes of family, the power of belief, and dealing with loss.

You can read the opening chapters below.

Duncan Wilson Delaney hated dogs on his lawn, he hated visitors at his door, and he hated postcards from annoying relatives. But, most of all, Duncan Wilson hated children. 


He lived in a perfect little house, with a perfect little lawn, and was perfectly miserable. For as long as his neighbors could remember, Duncan Wilson had lived in that house, being miserable and, whenever he could, spreading his misery to others. But it hadn’t always been that way. 


Even such a wicked old man as Duncan Wilson had once had a mother and a father who loved him and he’d been a happy child. Then something changed. He grew up. Now he was an old man and he was alone. Worst of all, he seemed to prefer things that way. 


Every day was the same routine in which nothing unexpected ever happened and nothing ever changed. He woke up at six every day, he made his tea, he checked the mail, he dusted the house and tended his lawn, and he went to bed at precisely ten o’clock. Day in and day outexcept the last Sunday of the month when he played bingo at the senior center. That was a bit adventurous for Duncan Wilson. He would have considered dropping it except that meant a change in his routine. He’d gone every month for over ten years, saw the same people, made the same remarks. He couldn’t change now.


Then, one day, the second worst thing that could have happened to Duncan Wilson, happened. 


A letter arrived.


He didn’t receive many letters. He got bills, he got junk mail, and, every year, he got a birthday card from his dentist. Postcards from annoying relatives stopped coming a long time ago. 


The letter was none of these things. 


It was a fine letter with a crisp, white envelope, a green wax seal, and Duncan Wilson’s address written in blue ink so dark it was nearly black:



To the boy Duncan Wilson, now grown up

Cumberland Road 

Third house on the right



There was no return address. How unexpected. Duncan Wilson scowled. He hated the unexpected. 


He tore open the envelope with one knobby finger. He read its contents:



Duncan Wilson: 


I don’t know if this letter will ever find you. It has been so long and so much has changed. I know you no longer want anything to do with us but I wouldn’t send this letter if it wasn’t important. There aren’t many of us left and I fear this could be The End. Most forget. They say you don’t exist, that you never existed. But that can’t be true because I remember.

So, if it’s not too much trouble, please save us all.




An Old Friend



Duncan Wilson wondered who could have sent such a letter. Old friends wanting money? Annoying relatives trying to reach out? The government? Duncan Wilson’s scowl deepened. You never saw a face bunched up into so many wrinkles as Duncan Wilson’s with that scowl. He took the letter into the living room and threw it into the fireplace. There wasn’t a fire so he made one, just to burn that letter. The wrinkles relaxed. Duncan Wilson’s lip twitched in what could have been, by the loosest definition, a smile. The letter burned up and was gone, and that was that.


Until the next day, when another letter arrived. He broke the wax seal. He tore the envelope. He read:



It has been a month since my last letter. You must not have received it. Or perhaps you don’t remember how to reach us? It’s been so long. My worldour worldis in danger. If anything can be done to save us, it must be soon.


Faithfully yours,


An Old Friend



A month? thought Duncan Wilson. But it’s only been a day! It must have gotten lost in the mail. Yes, that explained it. The first letter had gotten lost and arrived a month late. Anything else was impossible. Impossible, he told himself, but he was not reassured. 


Grumbling about the post office’s incompetence, Duncan Wilson frowned, he burned the letter, he nearly smiled. But deep down inside, Duncan Wilson suspected. Something was not right. Something was happening that he couldn’t explain. Or, rather, he chose not to explain it. It wasn’t something he wanted to think about.


So, on the third day, Duncan Wilson broke his sacred routine and spent the morning camped out in his foyer. He dragged in a dining room chair and sipped black tea as he spied through the front door sidelights. When he saw the mailman he rose, unfolding from his chair like a giant spider. He grabbed his cane from its stand and stepped out the door. 


“Good morning, Mister Delaney. I” began the mailman, reaching into his mailbag.


“Don’t you ‘good morning’ me, son. Shame on you for playing tricks on an old man!” and then Duncan Wilson chased him down the lane, brandishing his cane like a sword. He got a couple good hits in, too, before the mailman could sprint to safety, letters flying this way and that the whole way. More than one had a green wax seal. Satisfied, Duncan Wilson resumed his post guarding the mail slot. But no more mailmen arrived that day.


By the end of the day, not a single letter had arrived. He smiled smugly in victory as he retired to his armchair and stared into the fireplace, which was empty except for black ashes and as cold as Duncan Wilson’s heart.


Then, the worst thing that could have happened to Duncan Wilson, happened. 


The doorbell rang.

Duncan Wilson answered the door. 


A man and a woman were busily unpacking a minivan and a rat-like terrier relieved itself on his lawn. But he saw no one at the door. Duncan Wilson looked down. It was a child. That would have been bad enough but it was worse than that: it was his grandniece. 


Anastasia Barnhart wasn’t just any child. Everyone called her Ana and she was the most curious, imaginative, and playful child that Duncan Wilson had ever had the displeasure of meeting. Her parents were nearly as bad. When they came to visit, they never called ahead. Perhaps it was because, when they did, Duncan Wilson would lock his doors and pretend to be away. Whatever the reason, they just showed up. And they stayed overnightsometimes for more than one night! Duncan Wilson once asked if they’d ever heard of a hotel. They’d just laughed. That’s how they were. They seemed to regard life itself as a joke and they laughed at everything. Duncan Wilson didn’t understand how any family member of his could have gone so wrong.


Duncan Wilson stepped back to shut the door but he was too slow. 


“Uncle Duncan!” Two sticky hands wrapped themselves in a hug around his legs, pinning him to the spot and staining his pants.

“Good to see you, Uncle. Ha!” said Mr. Barnhart, his top half obscured behind a stack of suitcases as he stumbled blindly into the foyer.

“We’re just passing through,” said Mrs. Barnhart, reassuringly, and his niece pecked him on the cheek. She wore jeans and a t-shirt, sturdy and practical. A fat baby in a drool-stained onesie named Brendan or Brandon or something was perched on one hip and stared at him with big, blue eyes. “We’re on our way to Breezy Beach Resort for vacation but they seem to have double booked our room and we’re having a bit of car trouble. Shouldn’t be more than a few days.”


The little dog (Mr. Gubbins was his name) yapped at Duncan Wilson as he passed. Then, he yapped at the grandfather clock and he yapped at Duncan Wilson’s favorite armchair. Mr. Gubbins was always in the mood for a spirited argument with anyone. Or any thing, for that matter.

The afternoon was hell as Duncan Wilson did his best to contain the Barnharts’ chaos. Unpacking was a nightmare. The minivan exploded like a pinata, spewing suitcases and toys and goodness knows what else all over Duncan Wilson’s perfect little house. Little Brayden or Benson or whatever fumigated the house with interesting and offensive smells. Mrs. Barnhart insisted on using cloth diapers (“better for the environment, you know”) and the washing machine ran constantly. Duncan Wilson wondered dismally what his water bill was going to be. 


The baby had four very sharp, very large front teeth coming in and he crawled around biting everything, leaving little incisor-shaped indents and marking his territory. He bit Duncan Wilson’s ankle marking him as his territory, too, and said, “Baba!” Which probably meant something like, “Thank you for accommodating us on such short notice and giving me so many new and interesting things to bite.”


To which Duncan Wilson replied, “Ahh!” which probably meant something like “painful surprise” and from then on he stayed as far away from Brendon as possible.


Mr. Gubbins left lots of presents desecrating his perfect little lawn. The beast shed everywhere and he had to follow it around with a lint roller. Duncan Wilson fought the mess like a trained soldier at war. He’d die before he’d admit defeat. 


Then, the screaming began. Ana was a screamer: she squealed in delight, she cried in the utter depths of despair, sometimes she shouted for no apparent reason whatsoever because, why not? All of this was done at a volume and a pitch to make even the deaf flinch. This was too much for Duncan Wilson.


He took his newspaper, went into the bathroom, and locked the door. He didn’t need to use the toilet. He just needed to be alone. He opened his newspaper and began reading a fascinating article on shoelaces.


Tap tap tap


Duncan Wilson ignored the knock at the door and continued to read: the plastic tube at the end of a shoelace was called an aglet, apparently. Astounding stuff, thought Duncan Wilson, much better than thinking about intrusive relatives, yappy dogs and




Grumbling, Duncan Wilson wrenched open the door. There stood his grandniece.


“What?” he said shortly, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had a headache.


“You didn’t answer the first time,” said Ana innocently.


“I was busy.”


“Were you pooping?”


“No! I was not pooping.”


“I drew you a picture,” said Ana holding up what had once been Duncan Wilson’s doctor’s bill but was now a purple rhinoceros. Although it could just as easily have been a unicorn or perhaps a horribly disfigured dog, he couldn’t tell.


“Where did you get that?” cried Duncan Wilson.


“I found it on the counter with all the other scrap paper. Where else?”


“Scrap paper? I still need to pay that!” What was he going to do? He couldn’t pay his bill with purple rhinoceroses all over it. What would the hospital think? Perhaps he could call and complain that his bill had been lost in the mail.


“Put it back where you found it and don’t touch any more papers,” said Duncan Wilson, wagging a knobby finger at her.


“But I need to go to the bathroom,” whined Ana.


Duncan Wilson paused.


“No,” he said, and slammed the door.


Tap tap tap


“I really need to go,” came Ana’s muffled voice. Duncan Wilson didn’t answer. There was a soft crinkle as Ana stuffed her purple crayon drawing under the door.


Duncan Wilson decided that the only respectable thing to do was to pretend to use the bathroom and then retreat to some other part of the house, where he could read about the fascinating history of aglets in peace. He stood and waited a while, but not too long. He didn’t want to be accused of pooping again. Then, he flushed and turned on the sink. But, to his horror, no water came out. There was a hollow banging noise as if something was moving through the pipes. Then, something squeezed out of the faucet. Sitting in the sink, crumpled and a little wet around the edges, was a letter.

Duncan Wilson had endured letters by mail. But he’d never endured letters by plumbing before. It started with the bathroom faucet but that was only the beginning. The next morning, Duncan Wilson was making breakfast but when the toaster popped, out flew a letter, smoking and slightly singed. 

For lunch, Duncan Wilson was enjoying a ham sandwich but when he bit into it he found himself chewing on a mustard-stained letter. That was peculiar because Duncan Wilson had made that sandwich himself and he certainly didn’t remember putting a letter between the ham and the lettuce. 

That evening, the printer turned on all on its own (as printers often do) and began printing letters. They even had the wax seals. Duncan Wilson unplugged the printer but it just kept printing, anyway. And, if that didn’t prove that printers are evil and that humans use them at their own peril, then Duncan Wilson didn’t know what did. 

Duncan Wilson worked very hard to keep the letters a secret from his guests. It would not do for them to think that something unexpected was going on in his house. He snuck the letters into the fireplace. Then, he sat in his armchair and warmed himself by the fire. The flames flared green and blue as almost-black ink burned.  

Duncan Wilson stopped using the faucet for fear of finding a letter. He stopped eating sandwiches and using kitchen appliances. When he opened his closet to find letters folded over the hangers he stopped getting dressed. He wore the same wrinkled suit day and night, his hair was a mess, and he had a haunted look in his eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart became concerned and they kept asking after his health. 

But Duncan Wilson believed that, if he could keep this up, things would go back to normal. There were signs. The letters were not as pristine as they once were. The handwriting began to look as if it had been scrawled in a hurry. They were increasingly damaged. Some were missing the wax seal. Others had no envelope at all. Whatever was happening at the other end of those letters, it was getting desperate and Duncan Wilson was sure that, if he could hold out just a little bit longer, they’d stop coming altogether. 

Somewhere, however, deep in a dark, cobwebbed corner of his brain, this frightened him.

Then, one morning, Duncan Wilson awoke to blessed silence. There was no ambient static of a family in the house. There were no squeals of delight or cries of despair from Ana. Had the Barnharts left in the middle of the night? Was it too good to be true? He descended the stairs with a newfound spring in his step and a smile on his face. It was an expression his face wasn’t used to making and he looked almost ghoulish. Duncan Wilson held his breath in anticipation but when he went downstairs he found, much to his disappointment, that Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart were still there. They were looking for something.

“I can’t find Ana,” said Mr. Barnhart.

“She wasn’t in her room this morning,” said Mrs. Barnhart.

Ana was missing. 

Ana’s absence was a relief, certainly, but missing? That meant no more screaming but, on the other hand . . . Duncan Wilson ticked off the pros and cons in his head. Yes, this certainly created more problems than it solved. Duncan Wilson’s smile slipped. Then, he frowned. This was certainly not how he had expected to spend his morning. It was an inconvenience. But it may have been much worse than that. How could Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart have been so careless as to let this happen? And how was he going to undo it? He stuck his hands in his pockets and thought hard. Something crinkled against his fingers. He pulled it out. It wasn’t a letter. It was a scrap of paper, torn, and stained with a dark smear, like blood. Hastily scrawled on it were just three words:

They took her

Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart had moved to the yard, looking under the shrubs and calling for Ana. But Duncan Wilson didn’t bother. He knew where his grandniece was now. He read the note again: 

They took her.

He toyed with a bottle cap in his left pocket and thought. The note could only mean one thing and the fear in the back of his mind grew. He’d been so stupid. If They could send letters to this world then it stood to reason that They could take things from it as well. Duncan Wilson ground his teeth. How could his grandniece let herself get kidnapped like that? She was such a helpless little, little . . . child! Now he’d be the one to have to clean up her mess. She probably didn’t even know how much of a headache this would cause him. He’d have to go get Ana and put an end to this nonsense at once. Who knew what would happen next if he didn’t. He wondered absently if he’d be back in time for bingo night. He didn’t want to go to bingo night, of course, but he’d always gone and he wasn’t about to change that for an obnoxious grandniece.

Duncan Wilson knew these thoughts were unfair, that it wasn’t really her fault, but he clung to his annoyance at her all the same. It was better than being afraid. There was a problem, however, and this was what scared him. He knew where his grandniece was but he didn’t know what he’d find when he got there. He needed to prepare for the worst. Decision made, he didn’t waste any time.

Duncan Wilson ran through the house, Mr. Gubbins yapping madly and nipping at his heels the whole way. He grabbed his bathrobe, pulling it on over his clothes awkwardly. He grabbed his doctor’s bill covered in purple rhinoceroses and stuffed it in his pocket. In the kitchen, he shoved an aluminum colander on his head. He slipped on a pair of oven mitts and grabbed a cast-iron skillet, waving it in the air and testing its weight. Then, he flung open the kitchen cabinets and violently threw its contents aside. Tupperware, pots, pans: all went crashing across the kitchen floor. Each clang and bang pierced his heart like a wound. Duncan Wilson hated messes. Then, he heard Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart coming to investigate the commotion. 

He had to hurry.

He squeezed into the cabinet. His last view of the kitchen was of Mr. Gubbins running in frenzied circles around the carnage of kitchenware and Mr. and Mrs. Barnhart’s shocked faces in the doorway. Then, he shut the cabinet door. He hadn’t tried this since he was a child and the space was much smaller than he remembered. 

Duncan Wilson closed his eyes. He imagined the world, not as it appears, but as it could be. The exclamations of his niece, nephew-in-law, and Mr. Gubbins faded as he quickly nodded off and began to snore, dozing somewhere between waking and dreaming. But this, of course, is the proper way to enter the Other World. He opened his eyes. Then he opened his eyes again and looked for that which can’t be seen.

Duncan Wilson waited for something to happen. But the scene did not change from a dark, cramped kitchen cabinet. He did not feel younger or like magic was coursing in his veins. He just felt a kink in his back. In fact, nothing happened at all. At least, not inside his ransacked kitchen cabinet. He suddenly felt quite foolish. After waiting a little longer, he decided it was time to get out from under the kitchen counter and face reality. There was a lot of cracking and groaning as he got outand a little swearing, too, when he smacked his head. 

He opened the cabinet doors. But, to his delight and horror, Duncan Wilson’s kitchen was nowhere to be found. But neither was the Other World what he’d expected. In fact, it was nothing like he remembered it at all, some seventy years ago. 

He was outside, atop a hill overlooking the rolling countryside. It was winter and gray snow covered everything. A howling wind blew so that the snow piled up in drifts taller than houses. The treesthe ones that weren’t buriedwere cracked or burst to splinters from their sap freezing. There were no creatures to be seen or heard, not even a bird.

But worst of all was the sky. It was black. Not the black of night because there were no stars. It was the black of pure emptiness. A pale light hung over the landscape but there was no moon or sun to cast it, just the hungry void threatening to consume everything.

Duncan Wilson knew that this was where the letters had come from, it was where Ana had been kidnapped to, and it looked, very much, like the end of the world.