A short story by Paul Carroll
Christmas was coming. The date was marked on the calendar, encircled with a red permanent marker. In the run-up to Christmas Eve, Jack Frost’s social life was busy, and involved his peers. A couple of weeks before Christmas, the Winter Folk held their Winter Ball, an event to which all three must attend, with an assortment of other figures – many of them made from living snow.
Jack was not overly fond of the Winter Ball. It was a formal occasion, its origins lost to him. He had attended ninety eight times, now, and still looked thirteen years old. His body was frozen in youth. The power he had over the Winter March didn’t work, otherwise.
While Jack considered himself the joker of their trio, he still took his duties to the Winter March very seriously. Despite his lack of regard for the formal affair of the Ball, an event from which he would not stumble home from until Christmas Eve, the March was significant for him. It marked the time of the year when he was free to unleash a storm of cold and snow. He was allowed to bring about snow days when the climate was just right, and even when it wasn’t. Jack was allowed to play jokes on the world that wasn’t supposed to know he was really, and truly, a living boy. Technically speaking.
He had once asked Nick – the consistent leader of the group – why it was called the March, when Jack soared on the air as light as a snow flake, followed by a magical carriage. He received a mince pie in response, and that was that.
Now, on his ninety eighth Winter March, Jack soared through the sky over America. He had grown up on a farm in Connecticut, in the days before he could really remember being himself. He wasn’t Jack Frost then. He wasn’t anybody worth mentioning at all, then.
Sometimes, he couldn’t even remember becoming the boy wonder. It was lost to him, hidden behind a snow storm in his mind.
He saw a farm that might have been his down below, and lead the March across its fields. Great snow clouds were bulging overhead, waiting for the signal to unleash a flurry of snowflakes. He slowed to a halt at a window, watching a girl and a boy at work in the house. Jack guessed that the boy was nine, and the girl fourteen. He tried not to think that she looked older than he did.
“Why can’t Santa come early?” the boy asked her.
She smiled, and handed him a plate for him to dry. She was standing by the sink, washing up after dinner. “Because, silly, Christmas wouldn’t happen if Santa came early. Everything has to be just right before Santa can come.”
The boy sulked, and Jack couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “But Allie, it’s not fair. Everybody else in my class already has everything I asked for. Why can’t we ever get anything nice?”
She lowered the plate into the sink and put her hands on his shoulders. “How many of your friends in school have a sister who would do anything for them?” she asked him.
“I don’t know.”
“How many of your friends give out about their older brothers and sisters all the time?”
“A lot. They don’t like them. They always say they’re not allowed hang out with them.”
Allie smiled at her younger brother. “And how many of my friends love having you with us while we watch movies mom and dad don’t want you to see? Or just like having you eat with us?”
“All of them?”
“All of them. Because they like that I like having you around.” Jack didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to keep watching them. He could already feel an icy tear clinging to his cheek. “We might not have a lot in this world, Ken, but we have each other. We’re friends, not just brother and sister, and I promise you that will mean so much more to you when you’re older than whether or not you have the latest X-Box game.”
Jack pulled away from the house. He couldn’t take it. Vague and hazy memories returned to him of life without enough coal to keep the fire going through winter, and days spent running through the trees and the fields because he didn’t have anything else to do. He held on to the last memory that came to him, when he was happiest in the winter: snow day.
He wiped his eyes with a chilly sleeve and turned his head to the clouds. “Order up!” he cheered.
In the response, the clouds exploded overhead, thick white snowflakes falling by the thousands in a matter of seconds. The house was immediately coated in the tell-tale signs of winter. Even from way overhead, Jack could hear Ken and Allie as they ran into the garden in delight, their parents following them with coats and laughter.
The Winter March, by its nature, was practically invisible. Aside from the trio that made up the Winter Folk, nothing could ever be seen or heard by accident. With this in mind, Jack lowered himself once more to the ground, hiding behind the house as Allie and Ken danced in the snow storm.
The family still had a coal shed, its supplies running low. “Nobody gets a sack of coal for Christmas, even when they need one,” Jack said to himself. With a click of his fingers, the shed filled to the brim, nearly overflowing. “Merry Christmas, kids,” he whispered, taking to the air once more, and leading the Winter March away.
Mere moments later, Allie discovered his footprints, clear as the snow was white. She followed them to the coal shed, her jaw dropped. Just before he vanished from sight – and she never really believed it – she saw him, hovering in the sky over the fields, taking the Winter March with him.