Introduction


Burgess, Pennsylvania, U.S.

"I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known, don't know where it goes, but it's home to me and I walk alone." Jack gave no mind to his volume. The town was sleeping, but no one could hear (or see) him, so what point was there to tone it down? "I walk this empty street, on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, when the city sleeps, and I'm the only one and I walk. I walk alone, I walk alone."

Jack walked past the Burgess gas station for the second time, marking his second lap around the town.

"I walk alone, I walk a-"

"Put a lid on it. You make me want to shove a carrot down your throat." Bunny's voice came from the street corner Jack had just passed.

Jack had seen Bunny standing there; he didn't feel inclined to acknowledge the Guardian's presence.

"You'd like that," Jack tossed back, and then he carried on with his singing. "My shadow's the only one that walks beside me, my shallow heart's the only thing that's beating, sometimes I wish someone up there will find me, 'til then I walk alone."

"Actually," Bunny hopped over to Jack. The boy's slow pace was easy to match without getting down on all fours. "I'm walking beside you right now. Someone up there has already found you: Manny. And you're obviously not walking alone, unless you can't see me."

"Not in the mood," Jack said. "I'm walking down the line, that divides me somewhere in my mind-"

"Mate-"

"-on the border line, of the edge of where I walk alone."

"Mate, it's not-"

Jack sang louder. "Read between the lines, what's fucked up and everything's alright, check my vital signs, to know I'm still alive and I walk alone."

"When you want to talk, drop by North's workshop or Tooth's palace and-"

"I said I'm not in the mood," Jack snapped.

"We're here for you, Jack. Don't forget it."

The street lamps picked out the soft smile on Bunny's face. He raised a hand as if to touch Jack, hesitated, and then dropped it. He left after a quiet "see ya later".

Jack turned into an alley between two apartment buildings. "I walk alone, I walk alone."

#

Jamie tried to keep up with his friends, but found it difficult with the daunting shadows the trees cast over him. He jogged up the path. His fear turned his voice into a soft whisper. "Wait guys!"

"Keep up. If we lose you, my dad's gonna flip!" Caleb said.

His twin brother Claude nodded. "And we'll be grounded forever!"

"We're not even supposed to be here," Jamie whispered. He had a creeping feeling in his belly that they were being followed. "And it's getting dark."

"That's what flashlights are for," Caleb said. He twirled his heavy duty flashlight. Claude copied him.

"I know, but it's still not safe. No one's supposed to come out here." Jamie stepped his pace up; he was falling behind again.

"Didn't you hear what my mom said? You only have one life."

"She didn't mean breaking the rules and risking our lives."

"Hey," Caleb said. He held a hand up. "YOLO."

"Yeah! YOLO!" Claude cheered.

A blast of wind sent chills through Jamie's body and rooted his feet to the ground. The twins continued on, unaffected.

Jamie strode to Caleb's side. He was the eldest of the twins, and therefore the leader. "We should go back."

"Come on Jamie, don't be a baby."

"It's not safe."

"But YOLO!" Claude said.

"That's just an excuse. And your mom meant to have as much fun as you can safely. Not to have fun with danger!"

"We're just going to do a little skating," Caleb said. The trees cleared and the path ended at the shore of a frozen pond.

"Wahoo!" Claude slung his backpack to the ground, next to a large frosted rock, and pulled out his skates.

"If you want to skate, go to the ice rink!"

"But we're already here," Claude said.

Caleb dropped his pack next to his brother's and pulled out two pairs of skates. "Want one?" he asked Jamie.

"I'm not skating here." Jamie folded his arms boldly, but his voice had the opposite effect. "I really don't think we should be here."

"You think too much."

"You think too little. What if the ice cracks?"

"It won't crack." Caleb waved his worry off. "We'll be fine."

"Go! Go! Go! Go!" Claude pushed off the shore and blasted a path down the pond.

Jamie crossed his fingers and hoped the ice wouldn't give under the sudden weight.

"It's so smooth!" Caleb said when he joined his brother. He made a smooth figure eight. "You've got to try this!" he said to Jamie.

"I'll just stay here." Jamie sat down on the rock.

He dug his hands into his vest's pockets and watched his friends have their fun. He'd give them ten minutes or so and then bring up how their parents would start getting worried if they didn't head back; the sky was darkening quickly.

Jamie picked up one of the flashlights.

Something rustled behind him.

He stood up and searched the trees and searched the area behind the rock.

"Tag! You're it!" Claude exclaimed. He gave a whoop and Jamie could hear the scratch of his skates.

Jamie turned the flashlight on and shone it in the woods. The light beam picked out a few details he wouldn't have seen without the extra light. There was nobody – who he could see.

He could hear the crunch of footsteps on snow. It was quiet, and if his hearing was as sensitive as it was, he probably wouldn't have picked it out.

"Hello?" he called out. "Is someone there?"

"Can't touch this!" Caleb sang.

"Oh yeah I can!" Claude sang back.

Jamie looked back at his friends. The pond was holding their weight. Maybe he was being paranoid. He stepped into the woods.

"Hello?"

Something pelted his back. He shrieked and jumped around. "Who did that?" he asked, rubbing the snow off his vest. Someone had thrown a snowball at him.

Another one hit his back. He whirled around. "Who's there?"

Snow crunched.

"I can hear you." Jamie ventured to a thickset tree. The sound had come from behind it. "Is someone-"

"JAMIE! JAMIE HELP!"

"Caleb?"

Jamie ran to the clearing. Claude was sitting at the center of the pond, legs splayed out and hands propping him up. He didn't move, but Jamie could see the slight trembling of his arms.

Caleb was sitting several feet from Claude, eyes darting to cracks that had appeared on the pond's surface. The largest ones were by Claude.

"I told you." Jamie walked to the shore and looked for something to inspire a plan. "I told you it wasn't safe and now look."

"What do we do?" Claude asked.

Jamie ran his hands over his head, slipping his hat off. He fingered the hem as he tried to remember what his mother had once told him.

"My mom once told me what to do, but I don't remember," Jamie said.

Caleb slowly stretched a leg out behind him, and then another. "I think we're supposed to lie down."

"Yes!" Jamie clapped his hands. "That's it! Lie on your stomach and crawl to the edge. Slowly," he said when Caleb quickly pressed his stomach to the ice. "Crawl very, very slowly."

"I know." Caleb licked his lips and started pulling himself towards Jamie.

"What about me?" Claude asked.

"Go after Caleb. Two of you moving might crack the ice some more."

"What a bunch of idiots."

"Wah!" Jamie whirled around.

A white haired boy stared at Jamie with huge eyes.

"Who are you?" Jamie asked.

"Who's there?" Claude tilted his head very slightly from left to right, trying to look around Jamie without disturbing the pond's fault lines.

"You can see me?" the boy asked.

Jamie looked at the tall, frost covered staff the boy propped on his shoulder.

"Can I use that?" Jamie asked. "To pull my friends off the pond?"

"Who are you talking to?" Claude asked.

Jamie stepped to the side so Claude could see.

"I don't see anyone."

"He can't see me," the boy said. "Only you can."

"Wha-what are you talking about?"

"Don't talk to me right now. Your friends probably think you're a loony."

The boy walked past Jamie. As he walked past, Jamie felt the cold emitted from his body.

"Act like you can't see me. It's for your own good." The boy walked onto the pond. Where his feet touched, bursts of frost shot across the surface. He walked to Claude and lowered the hooked part of his staff to the ice. Frost blossomed across the cracks.

"Oh snap!" Claude scurried backwards. "What's that?"

"Your savoir." The boy walked to Caleb who had gone still.

He frosted a path from Caleb to the shore.

"Tell them to stand up."

"Stand up now," Jamie said, wonder coating his every word.

"Tell them to walk on the frost."

"Walk on the frost."

The twins got to their feet and skated slowly to shore, keeping their balance centered.

When both boys were safely on shore, they dropped on their bottoms.

"That was terrifying," Caleb said.

"Forget YOLO. I don't wanna die," Claude said.

"Never doing that again," Caleb breathed.

"Never," Claude confirmed.

Neither of the twins noticed the white haired boy walking toward them.

"Go home," the boy said. "I'll follow, and then we're going to talk."

"Okay."

"Okay what?" Caleb asked.

"Let's go home." Jamie distributed the flashlights to the brothers. "It's getting dark, and our parents might be getting worried."

The twins traded their skates for snow boots, slipped on their backpacks, and then headed down the path to town.

The white haired boy followed them.

"Who'd you see?" Claude asked.

"I thought I saw someone," Jamie said.

"Boy or girl?"

"A boy."

"What'd he look like?"

"Well…" Jamie looked at the boy in question.

The boy shrugged. "Tell them what you want."

Claude and Caleb looked back too.

"What?" Caleb asked.

"Thought I heard something. Well, he had white hair and was wearing a blue sweater with snow on it."

"Frost," the boy said.

"I mean frost. And he had brown pants that were ripped and also had frost. He had this long staff with a hook and he was barefoot."

"My feet would freeze off if I went barefoot," Caleb said and looked down at his warm feet.

"He sounds like a fairy," Claude said.

"Excuse me? A fairy?" The boy breezed in front of the boys. He walked backwards. "I'm not a fairy. If you want to call me anything, call me a sprite. Better yet, call me Jack Frost."

"Jack Frost?" Jamie said.

"You saw Jack Frost?" Claude furrowed his eyebrows. "He doesn't exist."

Jack sucked in a corner of his mouth. His eyes traveled across Claude's face as if he was trying to figure something out.

"I believe he does."

Jack's eyes snapped to Jamie. He grinned, showing off his sparkling snow white teeth, and winked.

"I don't."

Jack rolled his eyes, grin falling, and stopped walking. Claude walked right past him.

"The things I do to get noticed," Jack mused. "So far only one kid can see me. One kid. And it's been 300 years! What am I doing wrong?"

Jamie sighed. "Let's walk faster."

"You don't think he's following us, do you?" Claude looked back.

Jamie wondered if Claude could see Jack now, but when Claude returned forward, he showed no sign of spotting the white haired boy.

"You don't believe in Jack Frost," Caleb said.

"But I feel like someone's following us. I keep getting chills."

Jack laughed. "That's what you get for being a jerk."

"Maybe Jack Frost is nipping at you," Jamie said.

"Sure as hell I am," Jack grumbled. "Oops. Pardon my language."

#

If the twins' parents were worried, they didn't look it. They invited Jamie in for dinner; he politely declined and said he had a guest waiting at home.

"So you're Jack Frost," Jamie said as they walked to his home.

"The one and only."

Jamie looked up at Jack. "Are you in charge of winter?"

"Not completely. The seasons are all natural, but I have control over winter elements."

"Cool. Literally."

Jack smirked, icy blue eyes sparkling at Jamie. "Do you know why you can see me?"

"Do you know?"

"It's because you believe in me. You believe I exist."

"Can I only see you? Or can I touch you?"

"You can touch me."

Jamie tentatively poked Jack's arm. "You're cold."

"Duh."

"My friends couldn't see you," Jamie said, "because they don't believe in you."

"True. It's a shame. I was pretty much breathing down their necks."

"Maybe you should throw snowballs at them."

Jack shook his head. "People get paranoid when I do that."

"Like me?"

"I need to let loose once in a while, and you were so frightened that I couldn't help myself. You make yourself a target, you know?"

Jamie bit his lip. "Yeah. I do."

Jack watched Jamie's face quietly. His expression changed from amused to curious to concerned. Jamie noticed that Jack's eyes changed shades with his emotions.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing. Just your classic bully down the street."

"I don't think that's a classic, but I can see why you're a target. You look easy."

"Easy?"

"You look insecure. You kind of curl in on yourself. See here." Jack patted Jamie's shoulder. "Straighten your back."

Jamie did.

"That's better. You need to look more confident."

Jamie managed to keep a straight back all the way home.

"My room's kind of messy, so don't be surprised." Jamie held the door open for Jack.

"Don't worry. I don't mind."

"I'm home!" Jamie called out.

No one answered.

"My mom's probably grocery shopping." Jamie led Jack down a short hall to his bedroom.

Jaime's room was small and crowded with stuffed toys and books. Posters and drawings were taped on all four walls, including the closet door. There was a lot going on, but there was an order to everything. The toys were lined up on Jamie's bed-shelf and on the wall shelves. A small bookshelf next to the edge of the bed was packed with paperbacks and a few hardcovers. The occasional toy was stuffed in the spaces above the books, some laid against the spines.

Jack tilted his head and scanned the bookshelf. Jamie watched Jack make his way to a particular book. His eyes moved past it, and then a confused look crossed his face. He returned to the previous book.

He straightened his head and then wiggled the fat book out of its tight space. "Twilight?" he said.

"It's a gift from a friend," Jamie said with a blush. "But I think she was joking."

"Did you read it?"

"No. I don't want to read about sparkling vampires and I don't like romance."

Jack held the book up. "Want me to freeze it?"

"Do it!" Jamie's eyes brightened with glee.

Frost spread from Jack's fingertips to the cover. Jamie watched with engrossed interest as the ridged designs in the frost swirled with the movement. The book was soon coated in a fine layer of frost. Jack increased the thickness of the frost, and another layer spread.

Jamie held his breath as the red of the cover's apple dulled to a faint tint. When the frost stopped spreading, Jamie couldn't see the title or the outline of the cover image.

"Ta-dah." Jack held the book out to Jamie.

Jamie took it, gloves protecting his skin from most of the cold. He gaped at its beauty.

"I wonder what hipsters would make of it," Jack wondered.

"Anyone would call this beautiful. Did you make the designs or are they natural?"

"I can influence them, but that's all natural. It's my signature pattern."

Jamie ran a finger over the frost ridges. He could feel the sharp precision, as if Jack had created them with the finest of crafting tools.

"Will it melt?"

"Not as long as I keep it from doing so."

Jamie put the frozen book on his bed and sat next to it. He motioned for Jack to join him. Jack rested his staff against the wall between Jamie's bed and the bookshelf.

"You wanted to talk?" Jamie said.

Jack leaned back on his hands. "How long have you believed in me?"

"I don't know. Always I think."

"Why? What made you believe in me?"

Jamie tried to think of a reason, but nothing came to mind besides for it feeling natural. "I don't know. It just makes sense to believe in you."

"That's not what the other kids say. They just believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy-"

"The Sandman and the Groundhog and the Gingerbread Man," Jamie said.

"-plus the Boogeyman."

"The Boogeyman?" Jamie furrowed his eyebrows. "He exists?"

Jack sat up. "You don't believe in him?"

"Yeah, but I was hoping I was wrong." Jamie shivered from a sudden chill, not from of Jack's chilly presence.

"Everything exists, but it depends on how much belief you put into it."

"Slenderman exists?" Jamie's eyes bugged open.

"Don't think about it." Jack patted Jamie's shoulder. "Too much thought will lead to false beliefs – or whatever that is – and who knows? He might pop in here tonight."

"Shut up!" Jamie jumped from the bed. "Don't say that!"

"Sorry! Sorry!" Jack held his hands up. "I was just joking."

"Does he exist?"

"I don't know. I've never seen him."

"That's 'cause you're not supposed to!" Jamie gripped his hair and tugged hard.

"Ouch. Don't tug too hard. Bald spots aren't attractive."

Jamie dropped back on his bed, hair still gripped tightly. "He's not real. He's not real." If he repeated it enough, maybe he'd believe in it.

"Jeez, kid, if you're really spooked about it, I can stay the night."

Jamie peeked up. "Really? You can stay? Can you stay and be my bodyguard?"

"If you want. I haven't settled down for a while, and it'd be nice to have some rest. I usually take a nap on a park bench or a rooftop or a tree branch. Sometimes that pond you and your friends went skating. That's the first place I remember."

Jamie wasn't sure if Jack wanted to explain; he looked out of it, mind in another place, reliving a memory. For a while Jack sat there, leaning forward as he gazed somewhere Jamie couldn't see.

"How'd you become Jack Frost?" Jamie asked, feeling irritatingly loud in the small room.

"I don't know. For the longest time I thought I was created to be Jack Frost." Jack's voice was soft, distant. "But now I'm told that I had a normal life. I used to be human. I had a life before I became Jack Frost."

"But you don't remember?"

"Tooth – I was told that my memories are elsewhere. I can't get them because I'm not ready." He huffed angrily. "300 years and I'm not ready. Bullsh – sorry."

"It's okay. You can curse if you want to. I hear a lot more at school."

Jack's eyes brightened to a faint blue. "Kids nowadays are exposed to so more than back then. You know, 'sucks' used to be as bad as the f-bomb? Like if you said 'that sucks', people would gasp like you had said the craziest thing."

"How long ago was that?"

"A really long time. I don't remember, but it was definitely more than a decade ago."

"If you've been around for 300 years, did you see the American Revolution?"

"I know who fired the shot heard 'round the world."

"Who did it?" Jamie leaned in.

"Would you believe me if I said it was me?"

"No… You didn't."

"It wasn't me. I wasn't even there. I think I was trying to break into Santa's workshop during that time."

"You know Santa?" Jamie could feel energy strumming through his veins. "Do you also know the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?"

Jack nodded, pleased at Jamie's obvious interest. "Don't forget the Sandman."

Jamie gaped. He waited for Jack to say he was kidding.

"O-M-G, right?" Jack smirked.

"O-M-freaking-G!" Jamie launched himself at Jack, clutching the neck of his sweater. "Am I on the Naughty List? Does the Tooth Fairy have all my teeth and does the Sandman know what dreams I like?"

"Woah there kiddo!" Jack gently pushed Jamie back. "Slow down."

"I'm sorry but do you know how many times I've imagined meeting them? Can I meet them?"

Jack straightened his hoodie out. He figured Sandy and North wouldn't mind, neither would Tooth. But Bunny? Jack didn't think the pooka would appreciate a human in his warren. He practically threw a fit when Jack dipped his toes in the eggs' coloring lake. "Tainting nature," Bunny had hissed, tugging on his ears as if he wanted to tear them off. "You're tainting it! Take out your bloody foot!"

"I'd have to ask," Jack said, and then at the diminishing sparkle in Jamie's eyes, "but I'm sure some of them would love to meet you. You're the first kid to actually see me, so…"

A door clicked unlocked and then opened. "I'm home!" Jamie's mom called. The door shut. "Jamie?" she called.

"I'm home!"

"How was the playdate?" Her voice grew louder, boots echoing on the wood floor as she approached. She peeped into the room. "Did you have fun with your friends?"

"Yeah."

"What'd you do?"

"We played in the park."

"That's good." She pulled her gloves off. "I'm making spaghetti for dinner. Sound good?"

Jamie nodded. "Just call me when it's done."

"You're not going to help your mother?" She made a pouty face.

Jack laughed. "Your mom's cute."

"Ew." Jamie wrinkled his nose. Then he realized it could be geared towards his mother as well. "I mean, sure! I'll help! I said 'ew' 'cause I thought I smelled something weird. Like a skunky smell."

"You're making it worse," said Jack. "Go help your mom."

"I'll help you after I change into my PJs."

"Okay…"

When she left, Jamie turned to Jack, a question on the tip of his tongue.

"I won't leave. I'll just chill in here, no pun."

"Okay!" Jamie quickly swapped his outerwear for soft nightwear. "You can look around if you want, just don't freeze anything or make a mess."