Sharon’s note: So, this was supposed to come out the week of Christmas, but, you know, life happened. As kind of an apology, here is a little bit longer story, my belated Christmas present from me to all of you. Warning: Author has never actually built a snowman, and feels this may be a shortcoming in her life.
“Mom,” Billy said, bouncing on his heels.
“Just a second, Sweetie.” His mother held out a single finger in a gesture of ‘wait’ while not even looking away from the screen. “Come on, Sam. I’m asking for a couple of hours on one freaking day. You even told me that your office is closed.”
“Yeah, well that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have work to do. I work from home most of the time right now.” Billy couldn’t see Uncle Sam, but he sounded mad.
“I’m asking for a couple of hours on Christmas Day. It’s been eight years since you’ve made it for Christmas-”
“Dad was the one who said he didn’t want to see me!”
“Dad’s been dead for two years!” When his mother yelled, Billy jumped. He’d been just about to poke her shoulder to get her attention. “You and Dad had a stupid fight over money, and because both of you were too stubborn to appologise and work out your differences like adults he died without you ever saying another word to each other. Do you really want to do the same with Mom? She’s sick, and there’s a really good chance that she’s not going to make it to next Christmas. Because of this stupid virus, we can’t even meet up at her hose to see her in person. Can you really spare time to argue with me here, but not give your mother two stinking hours?”
They were both quiet for a second, so Billy proceeded to poke his mother. “I’m hungry.”
“There’s left over pizza from last night in the fridge. Go ahead and start heating some up.”
“Hey, that you, Billy-boy?” Uncle Sam’s voice sounded a little thick, like he had a cold.
Billy pressed his shoulder into his mother’s while he squeezed himself into the camera’s view. “Hey!”
“Dang, you’re huge. How old are you now? Fourteen? Fifteen?”
Billy brayed. “I’m ten.”
“Billy, go make yourself some pizza, okay?” His mom rubbed her forehead.
“I want you to make it.” He poked his mother in the arm again.
“Are you saying that you’re not making your own food, little man? At your age?” Uncle Sam started laughing, and Billy’s mouth puckered like he bit a lemon.
“I can to!” He stomped, which made his uncle laugh harder. “I just want Mom to feel like she’s useful and stuff. You know, since she’s getting old.”
“Gee, thanks.” Billy’s mom frowned at him. “Now go on. I’ve got to finish talking with your uncle, then I’ve got to make some other calls.”
“Bye, Billy-boy.” His uncle called as he walked away. Billy didn’t answer as he stomped away.
The last few days Billy’s mom had been talking to people constantly trying to set up a Christmas thing for his grandma. He didn’t know why. Grandma barely knew who anyone was anymore. On a good day, she thought he was Uncle Sam. His dad was barely home anymore because of his work at the hospital. Billy was tired of being alone and didn’t want to eat leftover pizza. He grinned.
His mom’s purse lay open on the kitchen counter. It only took a moment to fish around inside and find her walet. Billy grabbed a twenty and shoved it into his pocket. Giggling, he dropped the wallet back in her purse and ran out the back door. He was going to go down the street to get himself some chicken nuggets.
Snow piled up on either side of the road, and cold bit Billy’s exposed face and arms. He wished he’d thought to put on a coat before leaving the house, but there was no way that he was going back to the house just for his mom to ignore him. Soon, she’d get off of all those stupid calls, and she’d realize that he was gone. She’d be worried, but then he’d come back, and she would realize how she’d treated him.
Not far from the faded yellow roof of his favorite burger place, the wind kicked up and Billy jumped between two buildings to let the gust die down.
“Hello there. You aren’t dressed for the cold.”
Billy squawked and spun to see an old man leaning against a brick wall. He was bundled up like it was even colder than it was, so it was hard to tell if he was just really fat under the quilted parka, or if he was just wearing that many layers. His face bore a passing resemblance to Santa’s, if Santa had skin like old shoe leather and bad teeth. The beard was passible, though.
“What do you care?” Billy frowned at the discount Santa.
“I was just wondering. The warm front is supposed to be here until tomorrow. I thought maybe you were confused, is all.” The old man laughed, and it wasn’t quite a proper ‘Ho ho ho’, but it was close.
“Whatever.” Billy rolled his eyes, and went to leave the old weirdo behind, but the second he left the alleyway’s protection the wind came screaming down the lane, causing him to jump back.
“Why are you out here without a jacket? Do you not have one?” The old man leaned over so that his and Billy’s faces were even.
“I have one!” Billy snapped. He didn’t want this weirdo thinking he was poor. “I just wanted to get some food. I’m not going far.”
“Do you not have food at home?” The old man used one of those syrupy tones that you used with really little kids.
“We had pizza and stuff, but Mom wouldn’t heat it up for me. I decided that if she was going to make me get my own food, I’d just go and get whatever I want.” Billy crossed his arms and grinned proudly.
“Do your parents not pay attention to you?”
“Not lately. Dad’s too busy with this whole virus crap and he’s never home. Even when he is home, he says he’s too tired to play with me. We only play video games together like a couple of hours on Sunday. Mom was there, but like the last three days she’s been busy trying to get together this whole video party set up for Grandma. She’s said it’s because this is our last chance to have a holiday together, but I don’t know why she cares. Nobody in our family likes anyone else, and there’s never been a Christmas where everyone was there. And it’s not like Grandma would remember it anyway. It’s like Mom even said once when she thought I couldn’t hear her; there’s no bats left in that belfry.”
“Poor boy.” The discount Santa said, flatly. “Did it ever occur to you that this is more for your mother? So that she can have a good memory with her family before her own mother is gone forever?”
Billy wrinkled his nose. “No. That’s dumb.”
The old man tapped his lip for a moment before grinning widely. “You know, I think I have exactly what you need.”
Billy took a step towards the road. “What?”
With a flourish the old man reached around behind his back and pulled out a decrepit black top hat. “Ta da!”
“What is that?” Billy scrunched his face in disgust.
“Why it’s a magic hat.” He twirled it between his hands. “Haven’t you ever seen a magic hat before?”
“There’s no. Such thing. As magic.” Billy broke the words up for emphasis and smiled proudly at his worldly knowledge.
“Oh yeah?” The old man raised an eyebrow, and when Billy nodded he said, “Then where did I get the hat from?”
Billy thought long and hard about that, walked a circle around the old man, but couldn’t see where he’d have pulled the hat from. Frowning, he said, “It still could be some sort of magic trick.”
“Magic, but not a trick. Go on, take it home and try it out.”
“What do I do, put it on?” Billy stared inside the hat and made a face. It looked really dirty.
“Don’t you know the song, boy?” The old man laughed and hummed a bar.
“Frosty the Snowman?” Billy stared at the hat with new interest. “So this thing can really bring a snowman to life?”
“I guarantee it.” The old man smirked. “You should go home and try it out.”
Billy had never made a snowman. He’d seen snow before, but there’d never been enough to actually do anything with. It was a lot of work.
After the old man had given him the hat, he’d gone home, eaten a slice of cold pizza, bundled up, and then started construction. His mother hadn’t even known he was gone, which made him mad. She tried to call him in, but he’d ignored her and just continued to build his new snow friend.
Almost three hours later, he’d finished. It wasn’t a perfect snowman. They didn’t have any coal, but charcoal briquettes were practically the same thing, right? Anyway, they made a good mouth, lined up into a smile. Billy’s mom only bought baby carrots, so the nose was a little stubby. When he got to the eyes, he remembered that they were supposed to be made of coal, but he figured it was too late, so instead Billy broke the arms off an old pair of sunglasses and used those. With an old scarf his grandma had made him but he never wore because it choked him, it was all finished.
Chortling to himself, Billy produced the top hat and walked it over to the snowman. With great gravity, he placed it on the mostly round head. “I hereby name thee Frosty the Second.”
The snowman shuttered like a wet dog and Billy fell back with a squawk.
“Oh my, oh my, there’s so little time,” Frosty fretted, wiggling like a giant white worm. Only then did Billy realize he forgot to give the snowman arms.
“So where are you taking me?” The little boy launched to his feet, eyes and grin wide.
“Take you?” The glasses contracted like a blink.
“Yeah. You’re a magical snowman and I built you. Now you take me on some magical adventure while my parents are being jerks by ignoring me.”
“Why would I do that?”
Billy sputtered. “What do you mean why? This is how it works!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can’t worry about it now.” Frosty undulated in a way that Billy found a little freaky. “The heat wave is coming!”
“So?” The boy snorted.
“So, I have one night to live. Tomorrow the warmth comes, and I will melt and die. I must see as much as I can before I disappear. I can’t even touch the world before I go.” The snowman focused on Billy in a way he didn’t like at all. “You! You said you made me. Why would you make me incomplete like this?”
Billy’s stomach began to churn. The way the charcoal mouth twisted as words came from nowhere wasn’t right. “I don’t know. I just forgot, okay?”
“It is not okay.” Frosty hopped, making a heavy thump against the ground. “You have made me broken. You are a child playing god, and I curse you!”
The snowman raised his head to the sky and howled. Billy screamed and ran inside, slamming the backdoor behind him.
“Sweetie? Is there a dog in the yard? I thought I heard something.” Billy’s mom was back at the computer again.
“N-no. I mean, there was, but it ran away,” Billy stammered. He didn’t want his mom to go out there with the crazy snowman thing. “I’m just going to stay inside for now in case it comes back.”
“It wasn’t that weird nippy lab again was it? I’ve called animal control on it twice now.”
“Um, yeah. Yeah it was.” Billy peered out the kitchen window.
Frosty was sitting in the middle of the yard, smiling again. His charcoal mouth wiggled in a horrific motion that might have been a laugh, then he dropped to the ground and slithered to the fence before launching over it with ease.
Billy whimpered, before scampering to his mother’s side. He struggled for a second to figure out what to say. She wouldn’t believe him if he told her he’d accidentally brought to life a crazy, armless snowman. “Mom?”
“Yeah, Sweetie?” She looked away from the screen. There was some kind of shopping website on it.
“What’cha doin’?” He peered around her shoulder, curiosity momentarily shoving away his dread.
“I am ordering food so that Grandma and Uncle Charlie will have a good Christmas meal. You know he isn’t much of a cook, and Grandma shouldn’t be in the kitchen much anymore.” His mother’s smile faltered. “I got on to Sam for not being a good son, but I haven’t really been a good daughter. I’ve been leaving all Mom’s care to Charlie, because it’s easier that way. Now, there’s so little time left, and I can’t even go see her. The best I can do is send her a turkey that someone else made and browbeat the children she doesn’t even remember half the time into having a video chat with her.”
Tears slid down her cheeks. Billy hesitantly put a hand out to touch his mom’s shoulder. He hadn’t realized she was so sad. Her and the snowman had both said they didn’t have time. Billy started to cry too as he threw his arms around his mother. “It’s okay, Mom.”
“Not really, Baby, but it will be.” She sniffed, then smiled. “Come on, you can help me pick out some sides for Grandma’s dinner.”
“She likes macaroni and cheese.” Billy lit up, remembering the side his grandmother had always ordered in restaurants.
“Well, we’ll make sure she gets some, then.”
Billy didn’t sleep well that night. He had nightmares about a giant snake snowman coming through his window to eat him. When he woke up it was late morning, his mom had all the windows open, because it was almost warm.
As he climbed up onto the kitchen stool to wait for her to pour him some cereal, his mother said, “Sweetie? Why don’t you run outside real quick and grab all those things you put on the snowman. They’re going to get wet.”
Heart stuttering, Billy looked out the window, expecting to see Frosty glaring at him. Instead, he saw a lump of snow in the middle of the yard. It was the largest bit of white left in the yard, but even then it was mostly slush. On the very top sat the tattered old hat. The side gate into the yard opened, and the old man strolled into the yard.
“Mom!” Billy hollered at the top of his lungs. He looked around wildly, only to see she wasn’t in the kitchen. Slowly, he turned back to the window.
The old man stood over the rapidly disappearing remains of the snowman. He stooped to pick up the hat and twirled it as he straightened. Billy trembled as the discount Santa dropped the hat on his head and tipped the brim with a knowing smile. He sauntered slowly out of the yard and was just closing the gate just as Billy’s mom stumbled back into the kitchen.
“Everything alright, Sweetie?” She swiped at the hair in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I was in the bathroom. I came as soon as I could.”
Billy continued staring at the gate for a moment before turning back to his mother. “It’s fine. I just thought I saw the nippy dog again. I was wrong.”
“Okay. Give me just a minute and I’ll get you your breakfast.”
“It’s okay, Mom, I can get myself.” Billy got down off the stool. “I know you got stuff to do.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Are you sure?”
The old man’s smile haunted Billy when he closed his eyes. “Yeah. Go ahead and like, call Grandma or something. I know there’s not a lot of time.”