Oppressive silence hangs in the air for a very long moment after the ice breaks and Jack disappears. Everything is still and silent, the snow glistening and the ice settling back into place, already starting to freeze over once more. And then she screams, long and high, an animalistic cry because she can't form any words, her mind as blank as the ice that has swallowed her brother. She screams and she screams, tears leaking from her eyes and stinging her face as they freeze on her cheeks. She chokes on her own snot and screams and still Jack does not appear. Hands grab her and pull her off the hard, unforgiving ice and into the warmth of her mother's embrace. She doesn't stop screaming.
Jack is everything bright in her world, everything happy and fun. He's always been there, since before she can remember, always been her wonderful big brother, the one that all the village children wish was their brother. But he's hers and she's guarded him jealously, especially after the stillborn baby that leaves her mother so weak and sick for so long, leaving Jack to care for her. He cared for her and raised her and he was everything to her, brother and friend and father all rolled into one.
She loves him with a fierce certainty that burns brightly in his chest no matter how many years drag on without him. She remembers the way that he would smile, the bright grin that promised so many things, the one that adults still talk about as heralding trouble. His eyes were so warm though, no matter what else had happened, his warm brown eyes that looked exactly like their mother's. They're perhaps what she remembers the most about her brother, if it weren't for his smile. It makes her chest ache to think of him even years later and tears sting her eyes.
But oh, Jack was fun and laughter, he wouldn't have wanted her to be sad. He would have played a trick on her, distracted her from the constant pain of his loss, made her smile. Jack was a good brother, the best brother, and she refuses to stop believing in him.
Her mother is useless, she just cries and cries, wailing for her son. She hates her mother for that briefly, hates her for not having the strength to go on after losing Jack. But mostly she hates herself. The night after Jack dies she goes to bed and wakes up screaming for her brother but he's not there. He's gone and all she can see is that brief moment when the smile disappeared from his face and the panic showed as he fell through the ice. All through that long, cruel winter she forgets what his smile looked like, forgets everything that he loved, and instead clings to that last image of him, of how he died. She dreads the spring as much as she always has but for a much different reason this year. Before it was because she never wanted the snow that she and Jack both loved so much to disappear, but now she never wants the ice to retreat so that the villagers can retrieve her brother's body.
Once, when she was very little and her mother had been in one of her bouts of depression over her baby brother, she remembers Jack packing a bag. He'd looked so angry that she'd been frightened of him for a moment, unsure who this creature was that resembled her beautiful brother. Then he'd seen her and it was as if the tension had drained from his body and the shadows disappeared from his eyes. He'd knelt on the floor and held his arms open and she'd come running into them. He'd held her close and ran his fingers through her hair as she cried her relief that he was still the same brother she'd always known.
When their father returned home that night all signs that Jack had planned to leave were gone, as if they'd never existed. She'd thrown tantrum after tantrum for days after that incident whenever it looked like Jack might leave her line of sight. It had taken her almost a week to trust he wasn't going to leave her behind if he wasn't in the same room as her. She never again saw evidence that he planned to leave her and then he slipped through the ice without any warning, disappearing forever.
And then spring comes and the men go to retrieve Jack's body. She goes with but she refuses to go near the water, she stays in the shadows of the trees, where the cold nips at her nose and she can watch the thin crusts of ice break free from where they still cling to the land. They spend all day looking, dragging nets through the water of the small, sheltered pond where Jack drowned, and by nightfall they have nothing to show for it. That's when the first bloom of hope begins to grow in her chest, because in some way the idea that if they can't find his body maybe he's still alive in some form, still up to some mischief. Her mother cries into her father's chest into the small hours of the morning that night and she just lays in bed, listening. She says nothing of that fragile hope but for the first time since Jack disappeared she remembers that he asked her to believe in him.
The first time she thinks she sees Jack she has to stop in the middle of the street and try to catch her breath because suddenly she can't get enough air. It's as if he's a ghost, the boy with her brother's face because he looks exactly like her brother only his hair has been drained of color and his eyes have lost their warmth, leaving only a piercing blue. Except when she stops, when she gasps for air and her lungs refuse to expand, he turns and steps in front of her and the concern on his face mirrors her brother's exactly. Everything goes dark as black creeps into the edges of her vision and she hears him speak, she hears her beloved Jack's voice before the black claims her.
When she wakes she's at home and her mother is hovering, terrified of losing her only remaining child. She writes it off as a hallucination brought on by stress and lets her mother fuss for a day or two because that's what Jack would have done. The entire time though the boy's face stays in her mind, always there waiting in the wings the second she lets down her guard. It's the image of him laughing that hurts the most, the split second when she thought she'd seen her brother that stays with her. She finds herself going out and looking for fun though, looking to feel as alive as she once had with Jack.
All through the spring she feels the hope burning ever brighter with each day that goes by and still Jack is never found. She starts to believe that maybe he was right, that she just needs to play a game to make it all go away. So she plays the game of life, finding the fun in everything just the way that Jack had always taught her to. She doesn't go back to the pond though, doesn't go swimming with the other children when spring turns to summer and the hot sun beats down, driving away the lingering memories of biting cold and the sound of ice cracking and breaking.
The next time she sees the boy doesn't come until the next winter, but she's ready for it. She watches out of the corner of her eye as he plays with the children, laughing and shouting and throwing snow the way Jack once had. The fire of hope that's been burning away for so many years bursts into life but she doesn't acknowledge that she sees him. It's obvious that the children don't see him and she doesn't want to start rumors that she's seeing ghosts. After all it's taken so long to get the villagers to accept her as more than poor Jack's sister and she doesn't want to remind them of that.
So she watches the ghost of her brother play and breathes freely for the first time since Jack fell. She was right to believe in Jack, she was right, and she'll cling to that knowledge for the rest of her life, the memory of the boy with white hair flying through the air, laughing so freely, replacing that of Jack's final moments, fear twisting his face into something she couldn't recognize for so long. When she finally turns away and walks home it's as if all the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders and she smiles as she hasn't since Jack pulled her free from the breaking ice.
She never sees the boy again but she sees Jack in the way that her son smiles and hears him in her daughter's laughter and feels him when the wind whips past her, blowing the snow wildly in every direction.