Chloe stopped walking. Snowflakes drifted down around her. The air was silent. But Chloe knew she had heard something. She stared down at her purple snow-boots almost covered in snow and listened again, waiting. There it was again! A whisper. The slightest laughter. Chloe started toward the sound, her steps making a swish, swish sound in the snow. She didn’t even think about the porch light from her house growing fainter as she stepped further into the woods. She was so intent on finding the whispering— a faint conversation.
She stopped to listen again and there it was! A word.
Chloe’s heart skipped a beat. She crept forward, the cold seeping into her mittens now. It was biting her cheeks too. And the snow was now up to her knees! But Chloe heard someone say “Christmas” this time and she forgot about the cold. Finally, she stopped at the edge of a small clearing with a giant snow pile in the center of it. It sparkled in what moonlight that shown through the skeletal trees. She was nearer to whoever was talking. She waded through the snow as quietly as she could, walking around the edge of the clearing, until she saw a gaping hole dug out of the side of the snow pile. She gasped at how big it was. Then clamped a hand over her mouth. The conversation stopped. They had heard her!
She abandoned quiet footsteps and scuttled behind a tree, waiting to see if anyone came out of the snow-cave. But no one did. The conversation resumed. Their voices were clearer now that the swish of the snow wasn’t filling her ears when she walked.
“I say we follow Stigr’s plan,” said a high-pitched voice.
“How’re we gon get on the roof though?”
“Bard’s got a point. I forgot about that part.”
They all began to talk at once, shouting different ideas about a ladder or a song or a snowball fight. Chloe moved around her tree and toward the snow-cave, holding her breath.
“We trick Santa!”
She froze. Trick Santa?
“How?” One of the voices said.
“Maybe we uh say Runa’s melted.”
“Why me!” said the high-pitched voice
“That isn’t believable in the cold. We should say we lost her nose and we need help finding it!”
“Why me!” the high-pitched voice said again. Runa, Chloe thought.
“How long’ll we hold him fo?”
“As long as we need to. We can’t let Christmas happen–or at least not for a while.”
Chloe gasped. The voices stopped. She held her breath.
“Did you hear that?” One voice whispered.
Chloe started to back away, the cold making her teeth chatter.
“Who’s there?” A voice shouted.
Chloe kept backing up. Then she heard movement from inside the snow-cave. The sound was like a sled or something slid across the ground toward her. And fast. Chloe ran. She stumbled, grabbed a tree branch for support, and then kept running. She glanced behind her, but no one was chasing her. The only peculiar thing was that she thought she saw a fat tree shaped like a snowman. It hadn’t been there before —
Smack! She ran right into her mother.
“Chloe!” Her mother sank to her knees and threw her arms around her daughter. “I was looking everywhere.”
“What in the world were you doing?!” She pulled back, looking Chloe dead in the eye. Then her frown softened, and she squeezed Chloe tight to her chest again. She stood.
“No Momma, you don’t understand! A snowman just appeared out of nowhere. I think he’s alive. And there was this snow-cave and it was really big and dark, and there were voices. It’s an evil plan to stop Christmas!”
“Chloe it isn’t funny. And I’m not in the mood. I was seriously freaking out!”
“No Momma it’s true—”
“Not right now. Come on,” her mother said and scooped her into her arms. She trudged them the rest of the way to the house, rounding the corner to the driveway Chloe’s dad had shoveled that morning. It was now covered in a thin layer of snowflakes. Chloe’s mother set her down.
“Momma, I’m telling the truth you know,” Chloe protested.
Her mother looked at her and then shook her head. Chloe didn’t know how else to tell her and tried to think of a way as they headed inside.
“Momma, there really was a cave,” Chloe tried again as her mother took off her snow gear. “Please, momma. I heard them say Santa’s name!”
“And what about Santa?” Her mother asked, pulling off a snow boot.
“They are going to trick him!”
“No one can trick Santa, dear,” her mother said. “Besides, you must go to bed if you want to see presents under that tree in the morning.” Chloe could see the smile hiding behind that fake frown.
“You don’t believe me!” Chloe yanked off the other boot and ran to her room. She slammed the door and started to cry. But Chloe didn’t cry long. She decided that she would have to save Christmas without Momma. And if Momma didn’t believe her, she knew that Daddy wouldn’t either. So, she had to save Santa and Christmas by herself. She didn’t know who was in the cave that night, but she was pretty sure Bard and Stigr were snowmen and Runa was a snowwoman. How else could she explain the snowman-shaped tree?
Chloe’s mother came to tuck her into bed. “Remember, if Santa feels that you’re awake, he won’t drop off the presents. He’ll fly on by and deliver other presents until you fall back asleep.”
Chloe nodded, still wishing her mother would believe her. But she knew that it was no use. After her mother shut the lights off, Chloe waited in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling. Soon she would hear the thump of Santa on their roof. Momma didn’t know very much about Santa. Chloe knew Momma only said that because she wanted Chloe to get some sleep. But she had been awake last Christmas too and Santa had delivered the presents. She had heard him on the roof, and she had even seen him put the presents under the tree! He wasn’t as fat like in the movies. And he wore not round glasses but square ones, like dad. She’d never let him know that she was awake, just in case. But tonight, she would have to, even if she didn’t get presents. Santa’s life depended on it.
Thump. Chloe sat up. He was here! She slipped out of bed and stuffed her feet into her snow boots. She opened the door; it creaked a little. She tip-toed past Momma and Daddy’s room and into the living room. Thump. Voices!
Chloe abandoned quiet and flung open the front door. She ran out of the house so she could get a better look on the roof. There was Santa. His reindeer were nowhere in sight. He didn’t even have a giant bag of presents! He was walking on the roof, pacing. And occasionally he would stomp. Maybe Rudolf had been a bad boy and took off?
“Santa?” Chloe called.
Santa whirled around. His eyes widened. He gasped. Slipped.
“Santa!” Chloe ran toward him. He slid down the roof like it was a slide and crashed into a snowbank.
“Hey thanks kid,” a voice chuckled behind her
Three giant snowmen the size of Momma stared down at her, their beady eyes squinting.
Chloe screamed. She ran toward the fallen Santa.
“Santa, get up!” She flung herself at where he fell and pounded on his chest. “Wake up!” His white hair covered his face. Maybe he couldn’t breathe—
“Now!” A voice said.
Chloe looked just in time to see one of the snowman’s tree-branch-hand whack her in the face. She saw stars and felt cold.
“Chloe!” Someone called her name
She sat up, rubbing her head. The snowmen were running away!
She blinked. They had got Santa too!
“Santa!” She called, dashing after him.
“Get your momma!” Santa called. “Get Mom!”
“No, she doesn’t believe me, Santa!” Chloe kept running. But the snowmen were fast. They weren’t running. They were rolling. Faster than a bike. Soon, Santa faded out of sight and disappeared into the woods. He was gone.
Chloe stood there in shock. But only for a moment. She had to get Momma and Daddy, even if they wouldn’t believe her. She had to try.
As soon as she ran into the house, she called out for them.
“What? What is it?” Momma stumbled out of the room.
“It’s Santa!” Chloe said.
Momma pushed past her and out the house. Chloe followed.
“Where?” she said. “Where is he? He fell off the roof, didn’t he?”
Chloe waited for her mom to calm down.
“Chloe, where is he?” She kept searching the snow. Then she stopped and looked at her daughter. “Where?!”
Chloe pointed toward the woods. “They took him, momma. The snowmen took him. Just like I said. Santa’s gone.”
Her mother shook her head, rubbing her temples like when she was upset and couldn’t think of an answer.
“Momma I don’t lie,” Chloe said.
“I know, Baby, I know.”
“Momma stop thinking, we need to go get Santa now! Before he’s gone.”
Momma nodded. “Okay. Okay, okay, okay. Get inside. I’m going to look for him.”
“No buts. Get inside.”
“What about Daddy?”
Her Momma paused, staring at Chloe with such intensity, as if she was thinking of what to say. Then she said, “Daddy’s already looking for him, Sweetheart. Now stay here. We’ll look for him.”
Chloe did as she was told and watched Momma get ready. She grabbed her phone, pepper spray, one of Daddy’s guns, and the keys.
“Stay put, Dear,” Momma said. “I’m sure Santa’s fine. So is Daddy. Just don’t leave the house.”
But as soon as Momma closed the front door, Chloe ran to her room to get dressed. She tugged on her mittens, even though they were wet from last night. She flung open the door. Slammed it shut. Momma was already near the edge of the woods. Chloe wrapped her scarf around her neck tighter and ran. When she reached the woods, panting, she thought she wouldn’t be able to tell where to go, but the snowmen left one big trail that was easy to follow. Momma’s footsteps were there too.
The trail wasn’t as long as Chloe thought either. In fact, it led her straight back to the clearing with the snow-cave. And there was Momma, back pressed against a tree, her gun ready. The voices were there again. The snowmen.
“You’re not the real Santa?” A high-pitched voice said. Runa.
“Well how’re ya dressed up like ‘im?”
“We find it hard to believe. You look just like him.”
“No, I just pretend to be!” Dad’s voice!
“Momma,” Chloe whispered.
She jumped and pointed her gun. When she saw it was Chloe, she looked horrified. “Chloe?”
“I can help,” Chloe said, standing next to her. She felt safe now.
Momma listened in on the conversation.
“Does Santa lie?” said a voice.
“I don think so.”
“No, he doesn’t. But I’m not Santa!” Dad cried. “It was only for my daughter Chloe!”
Chloe frowned. “Momma why—”
The voices stopped.
“Did you hear that?”
Momma bent down to her daughter’s ear. “Stay here, okay? I mean it.”
Then she rounded the tree and disappeared inside the cave. Then there was light. Chloe could see it now. Momma stood at the front, pointing the gun. She was holding her phone as a light. In the middle of the cave was not Santa but Daddy! And he looked scared. He was tied to an ice pole with a red scarf. There were three snowmen all looking at Momma. But they had no expression on their faces.
“What is she holding?” Runa said.
“Leave. This isn’t your business,” the snowman with the top hat sneered at Momma.
Momma took a step back. Her hand was shaking.
“Rebekka!” Daddy said.
“What’s going on?” Momma said.
“Dear, I wish I could tell you.”
“Enough!” said the snowman with the top hat. “We are here for one thing and one thing only.”
“Santa Clause,” Runa said.
“No,” the third snowman growled. “To stop Christmas.”
“No Bard, not to just stop Christmas!” said Top Hat. “But to keep winter forever!”
Bard and Runa mumbled agreements with him.
“Why?” Daddy said.
Runa scoffed. “So we don’t melt. We want to stay here. We like it here.”
“Stopping our family Christmas isn’t going to help,” Momma said. Her voice shook but she still looked like she was ready for anything.
“Not your Christmas, darling,” said Runa. “But the world.”
“You didn’t stop it!” Chloe jumped out from behind the tree.
“Chloe!” Momma scolded.
Chloe continued even though now the snowmen looked a lot meaner and scarier. “Santa isn’t real, is he?” She looked straight at daddy when she said it. Her heart felt like it might break.
Daddy hung his head.
“Santa? Not real?” said Top Hat.
“How’re we gonna to stop Christmas now?” The snowman called Bard said.
“Or keep winter forever?” wailed Runa.
They seemed to growl, and Chloe was sure that they would be frowning if they had eyebrows.
“You can’t,” she said.
The snowmen stared at Chloe. They looked even more angry.
“Santa isn’t real,” Chloe said. “Don’t you see it now? You can’t keep winter around forever.”
The snowmen blinked at her. Then they started to close in on her. Top Hat snarled.
“But maybe you can stay,” Chloe said. An idea formed in her mind.
“We can’t stay in summer. We’re not like Olaf,” Top Hat said.
“Olaf?” Chloe frowned. “How do you know him?”
“How could we not?” Runa squeaked. “He is the only snowman known to live in summer until the next winter!”
Chloe glanced at her parents. “That’s because of Elsa.”
The snowmen looked at each other. They didn’t know who Elsa was.
“Well Olaf also said that water is memory,” Chloe said.
“Of course,” Runa said.
“Then when you melt, you won’t really ever go away,” Chloe said. “You will still be here.”
“We know that,” said Bard. “But we wanna see summer.”
“You have seen it,” Chloe insisted. “Water is memory. You’ve seen it before, haven’t you?”
“You can remember, if you try hard enough. The leaves in your puddle. The flowers you watered. And the sky you fell from. It’s all there. I think you just forgot.”
They stared at her blankly. But maybe that was their way of thinking because Top Hat’s mouth curved into a smile. Then he said, “She’s trying to trick us. I say we freeze ‘em, especially Santa.”
Chloe’s mom shot the gun, blowing off Top Hat’s face. Chloe screamed. Momma shot again, this time at the pole that Daddy was tied to. He slipped the scarf over the pole and scrambled toward his wife and Chloe.
“They’re gettin’ away,” Bard said, but he didn’t move.
“So they are,” Runa said as Chloe’s parents hurried to get out of the cave. “I think the kid’s right, Bard. I think we just forgot.”
Chloe’s mom scooped her up.
“Bye!” Chloe shouted. Runa waved. But then Top Hat’s body moved. That was all Chloe saw before her parents whisked her away back to the house.
The next morning, Chloe woke up with a start. It was all a dream! She leaped out of bed and ran to the living room. There were the presents under the tree. Everything was spotless. The cookies and milk were gone, and the stockings were stuffed.
“Momma! Daddy!” Chloe called.
There was a thump in their room. And then a grunt. The door was yanked open and both her parents staggered out of the room, her dad holding a bat and her mom pointing the gun.
Chloe smiled. It wasn’t a dream. The snowmen were real.