The top of a light pole provided an optimal spot for watching karma in action. Jack trapped the boy's foot in ice, planning to teach him a lesson on what happened to those who hazed their little sisters, but he didn't have to do anything else. A plow truck dumping yellow snow right into the boy's face was a just retribution.
"Serves you right!"
The boy sputtered the stinking snow and whined on the ground, and Jack released the icy trap, already growing bored with him.
"Bother her again, and I'll find you," he warned and bounded to the next light pole.
The boy didn't hear him, of course, no one could see or hear the white-haired, staff-wielding Spirit of Winter, but it didn't stop him from talking to them. What else was there to do besides playing snow games with children and assisting karma in his spare time?
The street lamps turned on, and one by one, the Christmas lights followed. Small towns were the best. Shops decorated their windows, wreaths hung from street lights, and on this charming little street, each shop owner put a fully-decorated Christmas tree in front of their shop. Even those who didn't celebrate the holiday couldn't ignore the magical warmth that radiated from the twinkling lights and thought up their own version of winter decorations.
But there was nothing charming about melting snow. Thankfully, the Spirit of Winter was in town. Jack balanced on the light pole with ease, raised his face to the sky, and focused on the clouds above, willing them to transform. Within seconds, gentle snowflakes floated down and soon would turn this street into a picture-perfect Winter Wonderland.
"That's more like it!"
He asked Wind for a lift and glided down the street, sprinkling shop windows with glittering frosty lace on the way.
He visited a quaint neighborhood, taking in house decorations and tried to pick his favorite. It was difficult to choose between the twinkling deer family nibbling on snow or the house that had so many lights on its roof, it could be seen from space. He laughed at the inflated jolly Santa riding a motorcycle. He never met the man personally but from what he knew, this was in character.
One house stood out, completely dark and unadorned, as uninteresting as the space between the stars. He wouldn't pay attention to it if not for a little boy who ran out the door, wearing only pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Jack landed next to him and leaned on his staff to watch the boy dance in the snow, and hold his tongue out to catch the flakes.
"You're welcome," Jack said. Children knew how to appreciate his work.
"Come back here, Brian. You're not dressed!"
The boy's joy deflated and he dragged his feet back up the stairs.
"Come on, Brian's mom," Jack pleaded to the woman who wrapped her robe tightly around herself. "Let him play. It's not that cold."
Parents were the worst, thinking their children were too fragile for a moment outside as if they could catch a cold from a snowflake. His snow was pure. There were no viruses in it!
He flew up to the porch to scold her some more, but his anger got caught in his throat when he saw her up close. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy, her hair uncombed and in disarray. Her young face sagged under the weight of her sorrow. She pushed her son back inside, and Jack wasn't sure why, but he snuck in before she shut the door.
He liked to watch families from a window, imagine that he sat with them at dinner or played their board game. If they played outside, he joined them and pretended that when they spoke to each other, they spoke to him. But he didn't break into their homes. Until now.
He kept his staff close and waited in the corner of the dated kitchen, trying to understand why he walked in and plan an exit. Though he was invisible to them, he couldn't walk through walls like a ghost.
"It's getting late," Brian's mom said, sinking into a kitchen chair. "Brush your teeth and get ready for bed."
The boy shifted on his feet. "But we didn't do Christmas decorations yet. Everyone has lights on already."
She shook her head and her voice trembled. "I can't, Brian. Not now."
"When? Christmas is almost here."
She supported her head on her hand and scrutinized the stack of envelopes in front of her. "I have to deal with this first. Just go to sleep."
Brian said in a small voice. "Grams wouldn't want us to cancel Christmas just because she..."
His mom covered her eyes with her hand, her shoulders rose and fell as she failed to calm herself but Brian did not give up. He stood there in his dinosaur pajamas, his lower lip quivering, his hands in fists.
"Grams loved Christmas. She always said that Christmas spirit makes everything better. It will make us feel better, mommy."
She sobbed openly and spread her arms wide for him. He ran to her embrace and they cried together, unaware that there was a third person in their kitchen, feeling their loss as if it were his own.
Jack's tear turned to frost as it landed on the table and he composed himself, not wanting to accidentally create a winter indoors. As he removed his frosty tear from the envelope, he noticed big red letters printed on it, "FINAL NOTICE." The other envelopes had similar messages on them. Grief was not their only problem.
Brian dozed off in his mom's embrace and she groaned as she carried his weight out of the kitchen. Jack lingered, wanting to do something about what he witnessed. It wasn't fair when bad things happened to good people. He hated being a spectator, unable to change their fate. Children should be happy and carefree. They shouldn't cry themselves to sleep. But he couldn't bring Brian's grandmother back any more than he could pay their bills.
Mom shut Brian's door carefully and stopped in the living room, where she traced one finger on a large beat-up cardboard box that was marked "XMAS." Jack held his breath, waiting for her to open it and decorate the house for her son.
"There is no Christmas spirit without you, mom," she whispered before disappearing to her bedroom.
Jack stood over the box, opening and closing the lid, tempted to do the job she didn't. Brian would be ecstatic when he saw his house decorated but what would his mom think? She would freak out, worried that someone broke into her house. She was stressed out enough already. No, he couldn't be the one to do it.
They needed a miracle. He wished he could conjure some Christmas spirit for them but that was outside of his powers. He was just a winter spirit, not a sorcerer.
His thoughts did a double-take. What if the Spirit of Christmas was as real as he was?
He flipped in the air, thrilled at the possibility of meeting another spirit, but most of all, of being able to help. This family needed a magical intervention, and they needed the right spirit for the job.
Jack flew out through the window, knowing what to do. If anyone knew where to find the Spirit of Christmas, it had to be the Christmas expert - Santa.
It was embarrassing to admit, but Jack was lost. He rarely ever visited the Poles. What would he do here, anyway? It wasn't like this place needed more snow and there were no children to play with, not even penguins.
Jack scratched his head and tapped his bare toes on the frozen snow, searching the dark expanse around him. The stars twinkled overhead, the only source of light in this frigid night-land.
"Can you help me, Wind?" he asked his silent companion.
Snowdust swirled around him and he sighed. It was hard to interpret her responses.
"Please, push me towards the North Pole." She swirled around him again. Did this mean that he was already there? "But there's nothing here!"
It was eerily quiet: no birds, insects or animals for miles. Who would want to live here? All the legends said that Santa's workshop was at the North Pole. He knew that the man was real - he'd seen his sleigh cross the sky a couple of times. He supposed if he had a secret workshop, he would want to mislead people and plant false legends so they wouldn't snoop around. This was the wrong place.
"Is he hiding it with magic, Wind?"
She didn't react, maybe she didn't know. After all, why would Wind care? Jack wished he knew magic but all he had under his toolbelt were the powers of Winter and Wind's cooperation. On the other hand, Winter was particularly strong here - strong enough to do something impressive.
Jack placed his palm on the hardened snow and called for Winter to fill him. It rushed in with a strength he wasn't used to until he felt it all the way to his nostrils. At the North Pole, his power over Winter was maximized.
He jumped up, shook his stinging palm and laughed out loud. He felt like a coiled spring, no - an avalanche. Nothing could stop him now. He flipped in the air and landed on top of his staff, perfectly balanced. He could see the shape of each individual snowflake that formed the ancient ice beneath him. His hearing picked up an arctic fox call many miles away. The snow and ice around him called to him, recognizing he was its master.
"This is amazing, Wind! I feel like I could do ANYTHING. Give me something, Wind. Give me something to do!"
She ruffled his hair in encouragement so he jumped down and twirled the staff between his fingers, seeking a target. That icy mountain jutting out of the white landscape was asking for it. He pointed his staff at it and with a shout, blasted it with raw power. Nothing happened at first, and he was about to blast it again when a roar reverberated deep beneath him.
What exactly did he do?
Oh, he forgot there was an ocean beneath the ice.
The ground shook under his feet with a grunt like slow-motion thunder which echoed in the dark depths. The mountain in front of him came apart, split into uneven halves, and continued groaning like a giant that was brought to its knees. When it crumbled into pieces, all quieted down and Jack heard only Wind beside him again, a sly smirk formed on his lips.
"That. Was. Cool. Wind, find us another mountain."
"Puyano shashoshu banu."
Jack spun around to the sound and jumped a few feet back upon seeing two large creatures covered in thick, long fur and short ponytails on top of their heads. Where did they come from?
"Bulurulu-bu," one of them said while gesticulating at the crumble of ice that used to be a mountain. His equally-hairy friend smashed a black fist into a palm.
"What? You were attached to that mountain or something? It's just ice."
The Yeti's bushy eyebrows raised high, revealing large eyes. "Buara-tarawa," he said accusingly. "Hodubobodu."
Jack scratched his head, unsure of his next step. Oh, well, it was just two Yetis.
"Unless you can direct me to Santa's workshop, I'll get going. You can keep the rest of the ice."
The Yetis exchanged a shrug, their impressively long mustaches swayed in the wind. "Abutweti?"
Then, one of them looked over Jack's shoulder. "Tetayak-sheyoyo."
Jack didn't even get a chance to see what it was when he was suddenly enclosed in a dark cloth and grabbed around the waist. He struggled to get out but a strong arm held him in a secure lock. He was trapped.
"It was just a mountain of ice!" he pleaded with his captors, his voice muted by the thick fabric. "I can make you a new one if it's that important."
The Yetis grumbled something to each other and chuckled in triumph. His kicks and punches were doing him no good so he calmed down to listen.
Frozen snow crunched under their feet for a couple of minutes, then wood creaked and his ears were assaulted by an assembly of sounds: some strange jingling and puttering of little animal feet, clinking and clanking of objects, shuffling and fluttering, accompanied by more Yeti-talk near and far, and music - Christmas music. It became significantly warmer in his scratchy prison.
What would the Yetis plan as punishment for destroying their mountain? If it came to it, with his staff and the might of Winter at his disposal, he could fight his way out. He didn't care how many Yetis he had to face. The Spirit of Winter did not have to put up with such indignation.
A door closed, muting the busy commotion in the other room.
"What took so long, Phil? You captured something?" a voice boomed in a strong Russian accent.
"Buara-tarawa," the Yeti holding Jack replied.
"Let's see him."
Jack yelped as they dropped him to the floor. He struggled to disentangle himself out of the cloth and crawled out, clutching his staff close. A man towered over him, framed by the Yetis, and for a moment, Jack forgot that he was their prisoner and just stared.
Humans got the lore wrong. Santa had a long white beard and was an immense man but younger than what they depicted him as. His red coat was adorned with black fur, not white, which matched the fur on the Cossack hat he sported. The legends also did not mention the two sabers at his waist. He held his massive hands on their hilts like someone who knew how to use them.
Once Jack took in the man, he remembered what happened and hopped up.
"Do you greet all your visitors by throwing them in a potato sack?"
Eyebrows flew up. "Greet? No greet. You attacked us."
"At least I got your attention." Jack kicked the staff to rest it on his shoulder. Judging from the tall, beamed ceiling in this empty room, this had to be a large building. How did he not see it? Was it hidden underground?
Santa crossed arms over his chest. "What do you want, Jack Frost?"
Jack smirked, glad to be recognized. At least other magical beings believed in his existence. This part of the building had to be a hallway of sorts, separating the toy-making area from… What else was here? He wished he could get a tour of the workshop. It had to be amazing.
"I don't have time to dilly dally!" Santa growled, his hands reaching for his sabers. "I won't let you ruin Christmas."
"Rawobanu-rar," Phil backed him up.
This reminded Jack of his mission. "Help me find the Spirit of Christmas and I'll be out of your hair so you can get back to your toy thing."
"Spirit of Christmas?"
"Rotah!" Phil grumbled while Santa regarded Jack with a tilted head.
"Yes. I figured that you would know where I could find this spirit. Do you?"
"Hehe, you joke, Jack Frost."
"I'm not joking, Santa. Will you help me or not?"
The big man laughed heartily while the Yetis grunted in what could be a chuckle. Then, he stretched out his hand. "Nicholas St. North. Call me Nick or North. I'm no saint, Jack Frost."
Jack's hand seemed undersized in his meaty grip. Even the Yeti's hands were smaller than what he was shaking right now. "About that spirit…"
North boomed with laughter and put his inhumanly large hands on his belly. "Sorry to disappoint but Christmas spirit is just an expression."
Jack set his jaw. "Some people think that Jack Frost is an expression and yet here I stand."
"Ah." North raised a finger in the air, his wide eyes sparkling playfully. "Then keep looking, Jack Frost, and let me know if you find this spirit."
And he started laughing again while Jack ran a hand through his hair in frustration and threw the hood of his blue sweater on. He had not encountered the Spirit of Christmas in the three centuries since he was created but he hoped that North, who was much older, would have seen something, heard a tale or any sign that the spirit was real. What would he do now? He didn't have any other ideas.
"Why the long face, Jack Frost?"
Jack shook his head, ready to leave. "Nevermind."
He turned to the door but was lurched backward by a warm, heavy hand on his shoulder.
"What's the problem? You tell now."
The bright blue eyes of the giant looked genuinely concerned, revealing a gentle soul beneath this fierce exterior. Maybe North could cheer up Brian?
"I wanted to help this little boy and hoped for some miracle…"
It sounded ridiculous when he phrased it like that. What was he thinking?
"Who is this boy? If he's on the Nice List, I can make his wish come true."
Jack told him what he knew, which wasn't much, and to his surprise, North nodded like he knew exactly who that was. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing peculiar tattoos, and traced the letters on his left forearm. Names magically flashed and disappeared as North browsed it and Jack gasped when he realized that it was the Nice List.
"Aha! Here is Brian, no? Oh, a very nice boy, wrote me a letter, and he wished…" a range of expressions passed his features. "Aw. He wished for his grandma to get better. Such a good boy. She sick?"
Jack glared at the jolly man. "A little late for that."
The careless smile fell and North sighed. "We can't bring back loved ones. It is life."
Wasn't that the truth. Jack rarely stayed long enough in one place to get attached to any one person, but he saddened whenever someone he knew passed away. It was a cruel fate to be a witness to life and death, unable to partake in either.
"Just give him an extra-special gift this year, will you?"
Jack turned to leave, and this time, North let him though he had the last word. "Visit anytime, Jack Frost, but less destruction, please."
He was aware of the busy room he passed through but the bustling operation seemed far away. Any other time, he would have jumped at the opportunity to check out Santa's Workshop, see how toys were made, and witness the magic the jolly man wielded, but today, it all seemed unimportant, repulsive even.
Would little Brian be able to enjoy Santa's gift this year when his heart was heavy with loss and his future uncertain? What of his grief-drained mom, who had to stay strong for him though she was crumbling on the inside? What possible gift had the power to cheer them up?
Brian dragged a box as large as him to the living room, cut the tape with safety scissors and found the Christmas tree in three pieces. He tried to connect them but his hands were too short, the pieces were heavy and plastic needles kept scratching his face. This tree was not Brian-friendly.
He kneeled in front of it and sniffed, trying to hold back tears. He needed help but his mom locked herself in her room and wouldn't come out of bed. He would bug her but he knew that she was even more sad about grams than he was. Maybe she would get up later. Maybe.
"At least, it will be white Christmas," he murmured, watching the gentle snowstorm outside. He had already built two tree-shaped snowmen in the front yard and wished he could move one indoors, but he wanted something green, and the lights, and the decorations, so it would look like a real Christmas tree. He wanted real Christmas.
Jack's resolve became clearer, the more he watched the poor kid fail with his ambitious project. The boy's mom might freak out if he helped, but who was more important here? It was decided. Today, Jack Frost would be the Christmas Spirit.
He snapped the pieces of the tree together, figured out all the plugs and connected it to an outlet. All lights instantly turned on, sending a warm glow dancing on the wall.
Brian stared at the tree with an open mouth. Jack scratched his neck, wondering what the kid was thinking, how he would react, but as Brian did not even move, he interpreted it as a good sign. Brian jumped and clapped his hands when Jack placed a silver star on top.
"That's how grams always did it - she started from the star. Is this you, grams?"
Jack chuckled nervously. He's been called many things before but never that. Brian had tears in his eyes but was also grinning widely so Jack moved on to decorations. He kicked a box toward the kid and he instantly understood.
"I'll help, grams. We'll do it together."
Jack focused on the upper parts of the tree where Brian couldn't reach. He always thought of himself as an artist. He could create frost patterns so elaborate, it put gallery art to shame. This joint project was entirely unmagical, asymmetric, and random, and yet he was proud of the finished product. The way the lights reflected off each ornament, the chaotic combination of glass baubles, plastic icicles, giant glittery snowflakes, and random animals: owls, squirrels, deer and bunnies, it was beautiful. Art comes in many forms.
"Brian? What is… How… Brian?" Mom stood in the doorway and gaped at the tree.
"Grams is helping me. She's here."
"What? Brian, how did you…"
During the next few minutes, Brian tried to explain how the tree put itself together while his mom failed to form a logical explanation, and Jack deliberated if he should continue playing the role of grams' ghost or leave them to it. Instead, he decided to play the Christmas Spirit role and draped a lightweight sparkling chain in a spiral around the tree. When she collapsed to the floor with shrieks, he thought he made the wrong choice, she couldn't handle witnessing magic, but then she started sobbing. She believed.
Brian wrapped his arms around her, and soon, sobs turned to giggles.
"Are you really here, mom?" she asked.
Jack made it snow in the room for a moment and Brian laughed in that carefree way that would give the grumpiest Grinch a reason to smile.
"Do you like our tree, mom? All of those little angels are mine, and all of these stars, and grams put up the star on top, and the stuff up there, and do you like it? I think that this is the bestest tree we ever had."
Mom looked a couple of decades younger when she admired their work. "I love it. It's perfect."
Jack hopped onto a windowsill and observed them as they continued what he started - Brian was determined to hang absolutely everything that was in the boxes.
North was wrong. Spirit of Christmas was more than just an expression. In the right circumstances, anyone could become the Spirit of Christmas and make it real.
"Merry Christmas," he told them before opening the window, ready to get back to being the Spirit of Winter - there were more towns that needed a White Christmas.
And then, he saw it. A bright, translucent silhouette floated through the room. Every time it passed through Brian or his mom, it resulted in a smile.
"I knew it," Jack said.
In a small town, in a quaint house, one Christmas tree shone so brightly, it could heal your soul. And the Spirit of Christmas rejoiced because someone believed.
A/N: Do you feel fully fluffed up? Let me know if you liked this story.