A modern fairy tale, and a bit of light-hearted fun. Tom is down about breaking up with his boyfriend, and the prospect of spending the Christmas alone with his hippy mum. But winter has a surprise for him.
“Hang the holly, Tom,” his mother shouted from upstairs. “The storm’s coming now. I can feel it.”
He put his book aside with a sigh. Holidays with his mother were always like that. He knew the second he’d stepped through the door, when she’d read his aura, how things were going to be. She believed the holly would keep out the evil spirits of winter. His father had tried to persuade him to fly out to California for the holiday, but it wouldn’t have felt right without the weather, so he’d gone up to his mother’s little cottage outside Whitby, where he’d get proper winter weather howling off the North Yorkshire moors. He wasn’t sure which was worse, his mother’s new age Wiccan eccentricities or his father’s bland Silicon Valley corporate bullshit. Once upon a time they’d run a wholefood café together, before they started taking themselves quite so seriously. Tom had planned to spend the holiday with his boyfriend, Josh, but then Josh became his ex-boyfriend, and he was stuck choosing between his parents again.
He grabbed his pack of cigarettes and lighter and pulled on his coat. On the table, his mother had left two bunches of holly neatly bound with twine, a hammer, and a couple of nails, one for each door frame. He would worry about them after he’d had a smoke. Thinking about Josh made him need a cig.
His breath steamed into the cold evening air, combining with the smoke, as he took a drag and watched the embers burn. He enjoyed the orange glow in the bluish dusk light. He claimed no special powers of weather detection, unlike his mother, but he could feel the chill winds whipping up a storm. He’d always liked the winter—proper winter, with blankets of snow— when the whole world felt wiped clean, and full of possibility, as if it could transform into anything. He loved that feeling of expectation.
“Tom,” a voice, very faint, whispered through the wind.
He thought, at first, it was his mother calling him from inside the cottage, but then he saw a pale figure shimmering in the moonlight beyond the low garden fence.
“Tom,” came the call again, this time a little stronger. The sound made him shudder, like an icy breeze down his back, but there was something about the voice that lured him out into the cold night.
As Tom drew nearer, he could see the figure was a man. Or at least, he seemed like one, but for his silvery skin and frost white hair that stood up in jagged spikes like ice. His features were sharp, and his almond-shaped eyes the grey of heavy winter skies. He wore a frock coat which shone in the dim light; when Tom looked closely, it seemed to be made from snowflakes strung together to form a sparkling cloth. He wore only that and trousers—his feet and chest were bare.
“Who are you?” Tom asked when he reached the fence. His voice came out as a whisper; he was afraid to break the spell of that moment.
The figure smile and raised two sharp pointed eyebrows. “Jack Frost.”
“Tom,” he said, although he realised straight away that the stranger had already called his name.
“I know you, Tom,” Jack said. “I know your heart. I feel your joy. You understand the beauty of winter. I want to help you.” His voice was like the crackle of frost on glass.
“To help me?”
Jack nodded and then he grinned. “Let’s see if we can find a salve for your broken heart.”
He held out a hand and Tom took it without hesitation. The storm blew up around them, the winds swirling faster, snow circling in a dizzying tornado as it lashed at Tom’s face and hands. The hand that held Jack’s felt numb with icy cold, but he held on. After just a moment, the winds calmed, the snow fell to the ground and everything was silent.
No more cottage. No more moors. A flat blanket of snow stretched all around, punctuated only by the stark blackness of bare trees. A park.
“Where are we?” Tom asked.
“St James’s Park,” Jack said. “Look.”
Tom followed his sharp, silvery finger towards a couple walking away from them, wrapped up in long winter coats, hats and scarves. They were huddled together in a way that suggested intimacy. Tom shivered as he recognised the one on the left was Josh, and his companion was Mark, the new boyfriend. Josh’s replacement. He looked down at the snowy ground and felt the familiar surge of anger and hurt.
“Oh no,” Jack said in soothing tones. “You mustn’t dredge up all that pain. That’s not what I had in mind at all. Look.” He bent down and gathered up a ball of snow and packed it firm. “They can’t see us.” He drew the snowball back and sent it singing through the air. It hit Mark in the back of the head. Tom couldn’t help but smile as Mark dug snow out from under his scarf and looked around in vain for the culprit. “Your turn,” Jack said.
Tom focused on the back of his ex, scooped up his own pile of snow and packed it nice and tight.
“You can throw, right?” Jack said.
Tom’s eyes sparkled in the half-light. “Oh yes,” he said. “I was captain of my school cricket team.” He drew back the snowball in his best over-arm bowl, and sent it speeding through the air. Thunk. Right in the back of the head.
“What in hell’s name?” Josh said, flailing wildly about, clutching at his head.
“I can’t see anyone!”
Jack was already scooping up another ball, and had sent it soaring to land smack in Mark’s face as he looked for their attacker.
Tom let out a laugh.
“Did you hear that?” Mark asked as he mopped snow from his face with his scarf.
“What?” Josh said.
The two of them were looking a little spooked now, and pretty angry. Tom packed another ball and let it fly at Josh, smacking him straight into his chest and spraying snow across his flash new coat.
“Can they hear us?” he asked, as he formed another ball.
Jack nodded. “Only faintly.”
Tom howled at the top of his lungs as he let a snowball fly at Josh’s chest. Thud. It exploded right where the other one had. Tom whooped and giggled.
Josh looked at Mark. “Let’s get home,” he said. “I don’t like this.”
Mark nodded and they started a jog towards the tree-lined path.
Jack gestured to Tom and they set off at a pace, swiftly outstripping the other two, until they reached the first tree. Jack flew up amongst the branches and, just as the two men jogged under the tree, he gave it a violent shake, loosing it’s snowy load down on their heads. On he flew to the next tree, following them along the path and once again he showered them.
Tom followed along below, out of range of the snow, wracked with laughter as, again and again, Jack covered them. They were running now, dripping with the quickly melting snow, along the path and through the gates. Tom howled again and clutched his stomach, doubled-over with laughter.
Jack swooped down to meet him.
“Do you feel better, Tom?” he asked.
Tom straightened up and smiled. “A little,” he said, panting in the icy air.
Jack held out his hand and Tom took it. “Time to go home.”
Tom woke to an icy blast of air as the window frame banged open. He pulled himself out of bed. The cottage was freezing. He bolted the window shut and padded downstairs.
His mother sat at the kitchen table wearing her home-made batik dressing gown, her long grey hair stuck out like straw. She looked up at him, her face pale with shock. “It’s all gone. All the food is gone.”
He looked through the cupboard and the fridge. She was right: gone were the smoked tofu and the mugi miso, the suspicious pear spread and the kelp flavoured maize snacks, the mung beans and carrot juice. Gone too were the carob cake and the disappointing Barley drink. Gone were all the ingredients. The cupboards and fridge were bare. Tom barely suppressed a smile at the thought that he wouldn’t have to see in another Yule with his mother’s barely edible nut roast.
“I told you to nail the holly up before the storm came,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Get yourself dressed and I’ll take us for fish and chips. I’ll just go and dig my car out.”
He left his mum to come round to the idea of some deliciously unhealthy battered fish as he went outside in just his pyjamas and socks, padding through the thick snow. That morning, the cold barely touched him. He grabbed a shovel from beside the back door. A chill wind swept down from the moors. Mingled with the howling, he could faintly hear the sound of laughter.