Coming back across the frozen lake to my house, I squinted my eyes to see if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Yup. I was. Someone had built a snowman in the middle of my yard. Classic-looking one, too: black top hat, coal eyes, carrot nose, stick arms, buttons down the front. I crunched my way through the hard shell of ice the previous night had dropped over the soft powder until I was eye-to-stone with the figure. Whoever had done it had done a damned good job. No one I’d ever known had bothered to make such neat, round balls for the body of a snowman.
“Ho, Frosty,” I said, because I’m the kind of guy that fills his empty life with conversations between himself and inanimate objects.
“Ho’s are for Santa,” Frosty replied, and it surprised me to see the crescent of rocks split apart and mouth the words. My mind expected to see jerky stop-motion animation, but the movement in real life was smooth. He pointed a stick-arm into my chest. “And you ain’t Santa.”
“Well,” I said, “color me clarified.”
“To color I would need crayons,” Frosty said. A harder poke. “And I ain’t got crayons!”
“Can you talk without moving your lips?” I asked.
“I can do anything,” Frosty said, “but I’d rather move my lips without talking.” He moved his lips all around. Opened to an O-shape, closed to a straight line, then undulating like a sine wave or a child’s picture of water. Then diamond shapes, spinning round. Then a wide half-moon grin. Then another frown, and the hardest poke yet: “So don’t test me, bitch!” He had a rather harsh voice, like the rasp of someone about to get laryngitis.
“Whoa,” I said, trying to grab the finger and move it away from my chest, which was sore from all the poking. “You really are frosty.” But the finger wouldn’t move. Frosty was strong.
Frosty seemed to feel he made his point, and he pulled his branch back. “Give me that!”
“Strong for a twig,” I said. “What exactly are you made of?”
Frosty froze. I saw one of the coals forming his dotted mouth turn almost imperceptibly, but nothing else moved. His arms were back to their upraised, default location of hey-how-ya-doin’-welcome-welcome common to stick figures the world over, as if all any barely-imagined form could think to do was enthusiastically greet people who came upon them.
Except on Frosty, those arms didn’t look welcoming. On Frosty, there was somehow an irony to the gesture; this was Frosty, “greeting” me, and “saying hello.”
“You’re not really made of snow are you?” I said.
“My veins are thick,” Frosty said. “My veins are blue and cold. I will wrap you in them and take you back with me.”
“Back where, Frosty?”
“Back to my home,” Frosty said, and his eyes turned upward to look at the sky. “It’s frosty out there,” he said. Pale blue cords moved under his chest like snakes, pushing out against the surface. The bottom edge of the sun hit the horizon, and the first stars of the night came out.