The cries echoed through the forest and pierced his soul. The cold biting through his flimsy cape became the chill of dread and he took off after his sister's voice.
"WHERE ARE YOU?" Jack's throat burned as he sprinted past trees and shrubs. His breath came out in short bursts of clouds, puffing more as his heart raced faster. "SARA-" He ended in a cough. "Sarah…"
He skirted to a halt, strained his ears. "WHERE?"
Her voice came from every direction. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to focus only on his hearing, but his pounding heart thudded a beat so loud his head throbbed with it.
"Help me!" Her voice was weak, shaking with a sob.
Jack took off diagonally, sure that her last cry had come from that direction. He scraped his fist on the bark of a frozen tree as he leapt over a tree stump. His foot got caught on a fallen branch hidden beneath a mound of snow. He fell on his hands and knees. The snow burned his hands, but he pushed himself up and continued his search.
Time slowed down. He didn't seem to ever speed up, only slow down. Memories of Sarah flashed before his eyes just like the white forestland he passed, up until the present. A simple prank, that's all it was. Jack didn't mean for this.
Sarah had been blabbering about the baker's son since the morning. She was filled with false hopes of falling in love with him, getting married, and then starting the perfect family. Jack couldn't take much of it, and he told her to keep her dreams to herself where they belonged. She hadn't listened and Jack persisted. He figured he could scare it out of her and save himself from the questions of how to get a boy's interest.
A short walk through the forest seemed appropriate. Jack gave Sarah the only bits of romantic advice he'd bothered to give, and then pointed out nowhere in particular. "There he is!" he had said, shoving her towards the imaginary boy. "Go talk to him!"
She had believed him. She called out, "Tommy?" and took small steps forward. While she ventured out, Jack snuck behind a tree far enough to keep out of direct sight but close enough to keep an eye on Sarah.
When Sarah finally realized she had been fooled, she whirled around. Jack ducked behind the tree, putting her out of sight.
"Jack, you idiot! I believed you!" A breath's pause, and then, "Jack?"
Jack stayed hidden. He listened to the volume of her voice and used it to measure how far she walked.
"Jack?" Some breaths later, "Jack, this isn't funny. Come out."
One minute and he would come out. He counted the seconds, but never got to sixty. He knew something was wrong when he reached thirty seconds and hadn't heard a sound from Sarah.
He peeked around the tree and where Sarah once stood was empty space. "Sarah?" He looked for footprints. There were none.
That was when she screamed.
"You better not be joking!" His voice cracked. "WHERE-!" He tripped. He rolled to his feet – and then was falling again.
He was rolling down a slope, bumping over rocks and branches sheathed by white. He clawed with his hands, trying to find a grip on something, but the times he managed, the grips broke free.
Jack finally came to a stop against the trunk of a tree. A branch he'd torn away from slope was clenched tight in his fist. He sat up, his ribs aching and his body scratched red. His wool hat and scarf were gone, torn away in his fall.
Sarah was standing in the middle of a frozen lake. She was sniveling, body shaking.
"What are you doing? Come here. The ice will break." Jack stood up, the branch still in his hand.
Sarah shook her head as if to clear it of thoughts. "I can't."
"She's frozen in fear – partially."
"Who said that?" Jack demanded. He took a step forward. "Show yourself." He wielded the branch as a weapon.
"Turn around boy."
Jack did. A man shrouded with shadows, tendrils pouring off him like wisps of black smoke, stood on top of the slope. Smoke cascaded down the slope towards Jack. He took steps backward, onto the ice, and then slipped.
The man laughed and became a cloud of smoke that flowed to the base of the hill. Jack was paralyzed as the smoke gathered in a dense pool in front of him and then rose into the lean figure of a man. Gray eyes regarded Jack with mild interest.
"Your sister would make an attractive fearling. You, not so much." The man walked onto the lake, shadows trailing after him. "An innocent child, tainted by blood and darkness." He looked at Jack. "Has a nice sound, doesn't it?"
"What are you talking about?" Jack climbed onto his knees. "Who are you?"
"Your beloved guardian of dreams. Nightmares, in particular." The man walked towards Sarah. "I'm in need of a replacement."
"What replacement? Hey, stay away from her!" Jack stood up. He took a large step forward, intending to strike the man, but slipped and fell. He landed painfully on his elbows.
"Careful. You might slip." The man cautioned.
Sarah was quivering. She squeezed her eyelids together. "Please…"
"Stay away!" Jack got to his feet. He stayed low to the lake's surface and took one step after another. He made little progress; the man reached Sarah before he got a fifth step in. "Leave!" He flung the branch at the man. It struck his neck.
A gray hand rubbed at it. "That's not polite. You should respect your guardians," he said.
"You're not a guardian! Guardians don't look like you!"
"And how would you know that?"
"You look like evil - like evil drips off you. It should be light, not darkness!"
The man chuckled deeply. "How naïve." He turned around. The edge of his coat fanned out with a sharp rustle.
Jack instinctively stepped back. The man's eyes were a bright yellow now, the darkness around him growing richer in shade and larger in size.
"Evil isn't characterized by dark or light. Your foolish bedtime stories taught you wrong." The man lifted a hand. The tendril of smoke wafting around his arm extended past his hand in a point. It lengthened into a large black spear.
Sarah screamed. "Please don't!" She dropped to her knees, hands pinned to her mouth.
Jack watched the spear's point.
The man threw the spear.
"JACK!" screamed Sarah.
The spear struck the ice inches from Jack's feet. The ice cracked. He gasped once and then he was being dragged under.
Everything was ice and darkness. He struggled against the claws dragging him down. He kicked and flailed. His lungs screamed, his heart thumped –
And then darkness descended on him like a curtain of black smoke.
"Jack, wake up."
"Wake up now."
He swatted at the air.
"Wha-!" He sat up. "Who's there?"
He glanced around. He was sitting on the center of a frozen lake. His pants were frayed at the hems, his shirt crisp and wrinkled, and his coat was ragged. As for shoes, he had none. He expected to feel the ice cut to his bones, but he didn't feel bothered. His bare hands and feet were fine.
He didn't remember taking a tumble to ruin his clothes as much as this.
Actually, he didn't remember anything.
"Jack Frost," he said. Someone had called him that; he was alone. Whoever had woken him was gone. "Jack Frost. Eh, it sounds good." He stood. "Jack Frost I am."
A few feet away was a branch. He walked to it with ease. He picked it up. White sparks erupted from where his hand touched the wood. He gasped and let it go. A shining light encased the branch which hovered before Jack's chest. The light stretched into a long line, hooking at one end.
The light faded, and in its place was a wooden staff, not a branch. Jack wrapped his fingers around it, ready to release it if it started glowing again. As if invisible strings holding it had been cut, the weight dropped into the staff.
Jack dropped to a squat, surprised at the sudden weight. One end of the staff struck the lake. A lacework of frost burst across the ice. It was a few feet long with elaborate snowflake designs, getting more complex the closer it was to the staff.
A smile spread on Jack's lips.