A Lock Of White Hair
Ten-year-old Pippa Frost felt like she was walking on air. Timothy Baker, who was a year older than her, had held her hand during class today, and afterward had kissed her on the cheek while they hid behind the one-room school house. The girl hummed absently to herself as she skipped down the road toward the tiny village of Burgess. There were only a few children in her village, and they didn't have a teacher, so those who wanted to learn had to walk three miles north to Heathsville. Timothy had stayed in the small town to visit his grandmum, leaving Pippa to walk home alone. They were the only two from the small livestock village who insisted on going to school every day; Pippa so she could learn to read, and Timothy so he could learn to write.
The girl ran a mitten-clad hand over a patch of thick bushes, devoid of their raspberries this late in the winter. A dusting of snow had fallen, softening the land in a blanket of white. It was two weeks to Christmas, and Pippa couldn't help but give a little skip at the thought. She had asked her mother for a book she had seen in the window of the Heathsville General Store. It was a new book, full of fairy tales from all over Europe. There were two different kinds – one with just the stories, and the other packed with full-page illustrations and gilded edges. She didn't need the fancyone – after all, one didn't need pictures when they had an imagination!
A snowball hit her square in the face. Pippa stopped dead in her tracks, jolted out of her pleasant thoughts all at once. She blinked, the snow clinging to her lashes, and reached up to slowly wipe her face off. Standing a few feet away on the heavily rutted road, Jack was standing there, looking just as surprised as she felt. They stared at each other in silence for a moment.
"Why didn't you duck?" He finally asked, leaning casually on his shepherd crook.
Pippa spluttered for a moment, before shaking her head. "I was thinking."
"You must have been thinking pretty hard." Jack strolled over in his light, easy gait and rested a hand on her head, brushing off some of the snow. The little girl frowned and rubbed at her nose.
"That kind of hurt," she complained, turning big eyes on her brother.
"Aw, I'm sorry Pips." He threw a skinny arm around her shoulder. Jack had always been skinny, ever since he was little. Pippa had asked her mother about it once, and she had said that when Jack was five, he had been very sick for a month with something called 'pneumonia' that had ravaged his body with a high fever. Since then Jack had never eaten much, and had stayed as skinny as a stick, despite growing like a weed. "I really did think you were going to duck. What were you thinking so hard about?"
"Christmas." Pippa tugged on his arm and they strolled toward the village, which was nearly half a mile away now.
"Ah yes, that time of year where a fat man bribes kids with gifts so they'll behave." Jack snorted, swinging his staff through a snow drift and stirring up a cloud of sparkling flakes.
Pippa tugged on his arm and gave him a nervous look. "Don't say that about Santa! He might hear you, and not bring you any presents."
"Oh my, I didn't think about that." Jack agreed with all the seriousness a sixteen-year-old boy talking about Santa Claus could. "I suppose I should do something nice to get back in his good graces again, huh?" Pippa nodded, and Jack stopped, pretending to think hard. He stroked an imaginary beard, which got a giggle out the little girl at his side. "What if I took my little sister ice skating? Do you think that would get me back on the nice list?"
Pippa shook her head. "No, it would take a lot more than that to get you off Santas naughty list!" She giggled. "But it's a good start. Come on, lets go grab our skates!"
She took off at a dead run, leaving her brother to walk behind and shake his head, wondering at the marvel that was his little sister.
The memory went wobbly for a moment, as though it were a cracked vinyl record and the needle was jumping across the grooves. The sight of the snowy road, the village, the boy standing watching his sister run was replaced by a swirl of colors. Jack reached up and placed a hand around Baby Tooth, who was hunched down in his hood, watching the memory with wide, mis-matched eyes. She whimpered at his touch, and pointed as the memory rearranged itself around them.
Terror. Pure, unadulterated terror was pumping through her veins, putting every nerve on alert and making her dizzy with adrenaline. They had gone ice skating, just like Jack said, on Frost Pond. It was where they always went – it was small enough to freeze over early in the winter, and was close to the village. It was also, technically, on their land. Their dad stopped by it on his herding route most days, especially during the dry season, so the sheep could drink. During the winter it was a well-loved play area for the handful of children nearby. Today, however, it was just the Frost siblings.
Pippa shifted on the ice, and froze as it cracked beneath her skates once more. Jack was a few feet away, his own eyes reflecting her terror. He had turned as soon as he heard the tell-tale crack and had come as close as possible. Now he knelt, untying his skates and laying them to the side.
"It's okay. It's okay. Don't look down. Just look at me." Jack rested a hand on his chest, which was beating much too fast for his liking.
His words did nothing to ease the roaring in her ears. "Jack, I'm scared." She shifted on the skates, and the ice cracked even farther apart beneath her.
"I know. I know." The words were coming without thinking, and the boy repeated himself as panic threatened to take over. He stood, taking a step forward, and paused when more of the ice splintered. "You're gonna be alright, you're not gonna fall in." He paused, taking a breath, and forced back the icy tendrils of terror. If she fell in, if she got cold – well, pneumonia would be the least of her worries, if she ever got out of the lake alive. She would, though. Jack would dive in himself and save her if he had too, ice be damned. "Uh...we're gonna have a little fun, instead." He went back to what he knew, and if there was one thing Jack Frost knew, it was fun.
"No we're not!" Pippa's voice came out an octave higher than normal.
"Would I trick you?" Jack flashed her his roguish grin, inching towards his staff.
"Yes, you always play tricks!" Pippa had tears in her eyes and on her cheeks now. She reached up to brush them off.
Jack forced a chuckle. "Alright, well, not, not," he tried to get his nerves under control, "Not this time. I promise. I promise, you're gonna be, you're gonna be fine." She looked up at him then, and he almost broke. Her eyes, so much like his own, showed absolute trust in him. "You have to believe in me," he encouraged, and she gave a little nod of her head. He jumped ahead with his idea. "You wanna play a game? We're gonna play hopscotch, like we play every day." He took a step to the side. "You see, it's just – one!" The ice groaned beneath his slight weight. He pretended to lose his balance, and Pippa giggled, distracted – however briefly – from her predicament. "Two – Three!" Jack took the last two steps lightly, landing on thicker ice, and scooped up his staff. "Alright, now it's your turn." He crouched, holding the hooked end of the staff towards her.
"One." She took a step and the ice rebelled, splintering violently beneath the shift in weight.
"Two." Her skates slid just a bit farther, but the cracks were spreading in a circle around her.
"Three!" Jack's arm shot out, and he caught her around the waist with his staff. He pulled, and she went flying across the ice, landing where it was thick and sturdy. She rolled several feet, then looked up, a startled grin filling her face. He had done it. He had saved her! She giggled, adrenaline fighting for a release and laughter the only thing she could think of to ease the pressure.
They shared a smile as Jack stood. It was a special smile – wide and open, full of teeth. Both sets of deep brown eyes sparkled, showing relief and faith and love, for each other and for whatever deity was watching over them. Jack chuckled and took a step forward.
This time, he wasn't plunging into the ice. This time he was standing there beside his sister, watching in horror as his past self dropped through the thin ice to become prey to the icy water below.
"JACK!" Pippa lunged forward, but the ice snarled a warning and she stopped. "Jack?" There was not sound other than the lapping of water against the edge of the ice. No tousled head emerged, laughing and reassuring her. No hand appeared to wave, no clothes appeared, nothing.
To fall into a frozen lake was to die. All the children knew that. Jack knew that. Pippa knew that. They lived in a mountainous region, and the whether got beyond cold some days. Ice reformed quickly on the ponds and lakes, simply because it was so cold. Even if someone was rescued, they had to deal with frostbite and pneumonia, and something a doctor in Richmond was researching called hypothermia. If you fell into ice, you died.
A minute. She had been staring for a minute. Jack could hold his breath for a while – maybe two or three minutes in all? Pippa struggled to her feet, skates suddenly feeling unbelievably heavy on her feet, and skated clumsily to the edge of the pond. As soon as she touched dirt, she took off running down the hill, to the village.
"Help! HELP! Jack fell in the pond! HELP!" She screamed, her shrill voice reaching the homes before she did. Several people looked up as she tumbled down the rest of the hill, landing at the bottom of the path in a shaking heap. "Jack is in the ice! HELP!"
Mr. Baker – the towns butcher – was the first to her side. "Pippa, lass, calm down and take a breath," he ordered, kneeling to gather the trembling girl up in his arms.
"Jack-ice-fell-help!" The girl sobbed, tangling her hand in his shirt.
"Jack fell through the ice?" Baker hazarded a guess, and she nodded frantically.
Several men, who had gathered around to see what the fuss was about, took off up the hill. Time was of the essence, they knew, but it was probably already too late. Several years ago the same thing had happened to a young girl from Heathsville – she had been under for only two minutes, and had died. They'd had to wait for the spring thaw to find her bones and have her properly buried.
The Frosts, who had heard the yelling, were sprinting over. Mr. Frost had just finished moving the sheep to a nearby barn, where they would be warm and well cared for while wolves prowled the winter hills. He reached them first, and dropped to his knees in order to gather his youngest into his arms. "Pippa? Pippa what is it? What's wrong?"
"Dad!" She gasped, rolling from one mans arms to the other. He held her close, and she sobbed breathlessly into his cape.
"Frost," Baker reached out, and placed a hand on the mans shoulder, "Jack, he fell through the ice."
The mans face froze in an expression of disbelief. Behind him Mrs. Frost collapsed into the arms of a concerned Mrs. Baker. The family shook as their world was torn apart and rearranged, only to contain one less member.
The memory faded. Jack Frost, eternal spirit of winter, dropped the box. It automatically snapped shut and rolled out of his lap, into the lake with a near-silent splash.
His hands shook, his heart hammered, his mind swirled with thoughts of the past. When he had first seen his memories, in the midst of the battle with Pitch, he had been happy. He had seen that he had a family, and he had given up his life to save his sister. Now, seeing it from this other angle, from his sisters point of view, he couldn't help but feel guilty and sick inside. His sister had seen him die, had lost her brother when she was only ten. How must she have felt for the years after that? He she ever skated again? Had she gotten married and had children of her own? His beautiful little sister, sweet to the core despite the Frost Family mischievous streak – had she ever smiled again after that?
Jack suddenly felt dizzy and sick and oh so tired. He moved Baby Tooth, who was chirring worriedly, from his shoulder and laid down on his side, curled up among the roots of the tree. The fairy buzzed around his head for a moment, a look of deep concern etched on her face, before she finally settled for perching on the root nearest his head, and running a miniscule hand through his hair.
That was how Tooth found them several hours later.
AN: Wow! I'm still overwhelmed at the sheer amount of readers this story has gotten. It baffles me! I hope y'all enjoy this newest chapter! It tore at my heartstrings to write, mostly because my own older brother was killed in a car crash last January. I can definitely sympathize with Pippa here, poor girl.
Love to all my reviewers/favoriters/followers!