To the rest of the world it was a flat, barren, frozen wasteland in the corner of nowhere. To others, it was called home. Surrounded mostly by farmland, Frost was a tiny town made up of pious farmers and their families whose purpose was to cultivate crops upon lush, fertile land during spring and summer. But, when fall arrived it was time to prepare for the harshest of all seasons—winter.
Frost was named for its frigid climate and long, desolate, winters, but nothing gave it more eerie quietus than its infamous legend. All who grew up there knew it well and passed it along to their children for fear they, too, would disappear amongst the mysterious snowcapped forest.
Sunny winter afternoons were the most deceiving of all. They appeared warmer, as the snow glistened, sparkling like tiny diamonds were hidden within it. But the air was utterly bitter—crisp enough to take anyone’s breath away. Despite the harsh cold, Jasmine Brandt and her two younger sisters, Elizabeth (eight) and Anna (four), were sent outside to play. Jasmine, nearly fourteen, was not amused by having to cart her siblings around. Especially considering she wanted to hang out with her friend, Thomas Brekken.
Just behind Jasmine’s house, and slightly visible from their kitchen window, was a small park. To outsiders it could be easily missed. It lay hidden behind rows of houses that lined three sides of it. A tall, full, forest of dark and prickly evergreen trees lined the last third of the square.
Nearly as old as the town itself, the park had squeaky chain-linked swings that swung very high; two wooden seesaws; a small, metal merry-go-round (just enough for four small children or one adult); and a large metal barrel set on its side just inside a small grassy hill—perfect for climbing upon or hiding away in. Jasmine, sisters in tow, was to meet Thomas there.
As they waited, Jasmine pushed her sisters on the swings and spun them as fast as she could on the merry-go-round. Elizabeth and Anna loved it when their big sister played with them at the park, even if it was cold outside. She could make them swing higher and spin faster than anyone else ever could or dared to do. The girls, forgetting their breath sent icicles dancing into the air and that their fingers were numb, giggled with euphoric delight until the spinning suddenly stopped. Having felt the abrupt jolt, Elizabeth sat at attention.
“What is it Jaz?” she asked.
A deafening silence fell upon them as her sister stood very still, staring deeply along the tree line. Elizabeth and Anna contorted their bodies to look in the direction Jasmine was searching.
“I think that’s Thomas. Do you see him?” Jasmine said to Elizabeth as she tried to stifle the excitement of his pending arrival in her voice. But the figure in the distance didn’t seem to move much closer. Jasmine grabbed Anna’s hand and pulled her gently off the merry-go-round.
“Come on, let’s go see!” Jasmine exclaimed to her sisters. Elizabeth took Anna’s other hand and the two swung her lightly back and forth between them as they tromped through the snow, edging closer to the forest. The nearer they came, the taller the trees became and the colder the wind felt upon their barely exposed flesh.
Each girl donned heavily lined boots, thick snow pants, puffy winter coats, wool hats, mittens and scarves that covered most of their faces—just enough their eyes could peer out. But, the further from the center of the park they went, the deeper the snow drifted and the harsher the wind blew, cutting through their thick layers like a hot knife to butter. Anna began to weep softly.
“Jasmine, it’s getting really cold. I think Anna got snow in her boot and I don’t think that’s Thomas. It doesn’t look like Thomas. His eyes look weird. Besides, you know what mom said about going too close to the forest.” Elizabeth protested.
Lilian Brandt skulked across the narrow hallway from her bedroom, in a robe she had haphazardly thrown on, as she slide her socked feet across the worn wooden floor. Most mornings she could barely function until she had her first cup of coffee, but always managed to drag herself into the kitchen to make a pot. As she waited for her coffee to brew, she sat down at a small kitchen table and peered out the window. She could see hints of the playground, off in the distance, lightly covered in glistening snow.
With a heavy sigh she realized it had been twenty years since the street lights came on, like they did every dusk, beckoning the neighborhood children home. But her girls never returned. They never walked through the back door, as they always had, begging for hot chocolate after playing in the cold. Frost had a history of missing children—most feared they had been lost to the forest. Her husband, Dorian, had gone to look for Jasmine, Elizabeth and Anna, but there was no trace—not even a snowy footprint to provide a clue. When everyone else thought all hope was lost, Dorian dared to believe he’d find them scared, lost and shivering in the forest.
Lilian had begged him not to go alone (no one went near the forest), but he insisted. A week later he was found dead, lying face down in the snow, frozen in the middle of the park. No one could explain it. Dorian grew up in southern Minnesota and was accustomed to Frost’s frigid elements—everyone thought he would have known better. It was easier for the coroner to explain the oddity away by ruling his death a suicide.
Lilian didn’t believe it. She knew Dorian too well. Regardless, something just didn’t sit right with her about it since the day she went to identify him. The skin on his entire body had turned a deep grayish-blue color and had shriveled upon his bones as if he were a decaying ninety-year-old man. Even his eye color was off. She tried to explain to the coroner that Dorian’s eyes were actually a deep, chestnut-brown—not blue—but he didn’t pay any attention. Everything else about Dorian (height, facial features) were exact. Except for following protocol, no one in that office would have needed her to identify him. Mysteriously, his body disappeared from the morgue a few days after. With great sorrow she was never able to have a proper funeral—for him or the girls.
Lilian poured herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee, sat back down at the table and sipped slowly as she tried to motivate herself to get ready for work. Each day she was greeted with soft, distressed stares. Everyone meant well, but false empathy made it difficult to have any sense of normalcy. She didn’t dare speak to anyone about her disbelief in Dorian’s suicide for fear they would believe she were in desperate denial. After all, not many people have the strength to greet each day after having lost a husband and three children within weeks of each other.
Often, when gazing out her kitchen window, she thought she could see the girls walking through the park, hand-in-hand, and imagined they were playfully laughing. Lilian shook the image out of her head when she noticed the window had begun to frost over. With amazement she leaned in to watch as it crawled across the glass like an elaborate spider web of tiny crystals, etching intricate lines and swirls of subtle snowflakes, from one corner to the other.
A soft, barely audible, knock at the back door shifted her focus. Lilian walked through the doorway directly across from the table and down three steps to answer the door. Patiently waiting, stood a young girl. The whites of her eyeballs were frosted over in the same intricate pattern as the window with a brilliant blue hue glowing from their center, peering out from beyond sullen and sunken sockets. Her long, straight, white hair sticking out from underneath her hat appeared as brittle as dangling icicles. Her scarf, wrapped snuggly over her mouth and nose, mostly hid the shriveled light blue skin, but Lilian recognized it immediately.
“Thomas couldn’t play,” the little girl said softly.
“Anna?” Lilian whispered, clutching at the pounding in her chest.
Mesmerized in disbelief she dropped to her knees. Anna, the youngest of the sisters, touched her tiny fingertip, blackened with frostbite, to Lilian’s forehead. Immediately she felt her body become ridged as a subzero burning sensation bit down upon her and climbed from her toes into her torso. Her chest became heavy and tight as she felt her heart begin to slow. A sharpness pierced her lungs as she struggled to fill them with air. Slowly her skin began to collapse upon her bones as a single tear trickled down her sunken cheek, turning to ice, as she exhaled her final frosty breath.
Image Credit: Robin Hedberg