Bristol was an extraordinary nine year-old. Perceptive, bright, and astute, Bristol possessed a special cache of brilliance. It was not that she could recite her times tables or list the capitals of all the African countries that gave her a reputation for cleverness (although she could do these things), but rather her ability to communicate with adults and interpret their not so subtle nuances and tendencies. For instance, by five years old Bristol was able to discern that when a grown-up retorted one of her questions with “We’ll see” or “maybe later,” it actually meant “shove off, I’m too busy or uninterested or both to bother.”
The nine inches of snow that fell on Storrs during the previous night was a harsh harbinger of the cruelty of mid-Decembers in the Northeast. Perhaps even crueler was the adamant fervor with which the superintendent refused to cancel the last day of classes before the winter holiday. The allotment of days in session mandatory for the school district was one shy of the quota. The instructors grumbled copiously, but it was imperceptible to the children. Only Bristol noticed.
The day slipped past uneventfully, not taking into account when a boy called Rupert tripped on a loose arm strap of an improperly stowed backpack and smashed into the classroom Christmas tree, sending the ornaments crashing to the ground, tinkling as they exploded into iridescent shards of ceramic red and green. While the snow failed to cancel the school day, it did provide ample delight at recess. A school yard of snowball fights, sledding, and snow angels dominated the hour before lunchtime. Runny noses and sniffles filled the corridors of the school as the children made their way to the cafeteria, which served doubly as the gymnasium during the last period of the day. Under the basketball hoop farthest from the entrance, Bristol sat silently, enjoying the lima beans and observing the spread of the cafeteria, raucous with laughter and festive delight.
“C-can I sit with you?” said a meek voice over Bristol’s shoulder. The voice belonged to a girl with curly blonde hair and two oversized front teeth.
“Of course,” answered Bristol.
“Thank you. I’m Holly, by the way.”
“Bristol Longshore. That is a very pretty locket.”
“Oh, thank you.” said Holly, fingering the locket tentatively. It was a pretty thing of silver and gold crafted into the shape of a Christmas tree, “It was a gift from my father. I’ve had it since before I can remember.” Her gaze remained purposefully off to the side, taking great caution not to meet Bristol's eyes.
“Are you a new student?”” asked Bristol, changing the subject.
“Where are you from, Holly?”
“From the North.”
“What? Like Canada?”
“Nope. Just North.” said Holly, her gaze now fixed upon Bristol.
“Well north is more like a direction than a location.”
“When did your family move to Storrs?”
Bristol laughed. “You’re sitting here with me, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but I don’t live here.” Her fingers were running across the locket’s smooth face at a quickened pace. Bristol did not draw attention to it.
“Well, where is your dad? What about your mom?”
“Mum passed a long time ago,” said Holly.
“I’m sorry. My dad is gone, too.” Bristol said this because it was true. He abandoned her mother and Bristol in her infancy.
“But I have Father. He’s in town on business and we’re looking at houses. Thinking about moving. He wanted me to see if I liked the school.”
Slightly baffled by the aloof girl sitting across from her, Bristol offered another question, “What do you want for Christmas? I think I’m getting some clothes and books and other boring stuff, but what I want most is a telescope.”
“You’re getting it, I think,” said Holly in a quick whisper.
“Really,” replied Bristol, “how do you know?”
“Santa Claus, of course,” said Holly, rather composed, “You’re still useful. Untapped potential. Yes, he will bring you the telescope.”
“I don’t understand how anyone believes in him,” said Bristol, shaking her head. “Think about it. He is an enormous round, old man squeezing through a square opening in chimneys no larger than a shoe box? It isn’t logical, is it?”
“I promise you, Santa Claus is real.” replied Holly, leaning in over the table, “He knows everything you do, and hears everything you say. Yes, he is very real.”
Enduring the cryptic conversation with Holly was beginning to wear thin on Bristol, but minding her manners, she shifted the conversation away from personal details and towards school and classmates and other whims and fancies. Still, Holly remained distant during their banter, as though speaking while the television held her attention. The bell sounded, marking the end of lunch, and the squealing chorus of chair legs scraping the tile floor coupled with the swift patter of footsteps headed for the cafeteria’s exit drowned all other sound. As Holly gathered her tray and left the table, Bristol’s eyes alighted on Holly’s shoes. They were a peculiar shape, curled at the toes and bright green. Bristol shrugged. She placed the styrofoam lunch tray in the proper receptacle and walked to class.
Physcial Sciences was Bristol’s least favorite subject of the six her mother had selected at the commencement of the semester, but she doodled her way through most lessons in Mr. Lawler’s classroom and pined after the final lesson of the day, Literature. The class was finishing up their study of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, a book Bristol regarded as most enchanting. All of her other subjects were practical and rather useful, but the imaginative nature of fiction often stymied Bristol’s cunning and ingenuity. She could not understand why the princess must await her true love’s kiss in the highest tower of the dark castle, or why the demented witch demanded that she be the fairest of all, or to what end one would even attempt to piece back together an impetuous, clumsy egg. It was this inability, this lack of understanding that fed Bristol’s eagerness to study literature. Mathematics and Geography were too empirical to be difficult, too utterly rational, and Bristol often lacked the concentration necessary to excel in these disciplines. In a story, however, anything could happen.
“Bristol!” Mr. Lawler was always keen in pulling her from her reverie. “What is the answer?”
“Caterpillars?” The class giggled with amusement.
“The question, Ms. Longshore, was asking for the circumference of the Earth.”
“I’m still going with Caterpillars.” The giggles pealed into high lilting laughter and snorts.
“Principle’s office, Miss,” said Mr. Lawler, pointing to the door. Only last week she was sent to Mrs. Haverty’s office for inattentiveness. When she explained that she only been considering if in Bristol there was a girl named Storrs daydreaming at the same time she was. The bent and grey old principle was unamused.
Humming quietly, Bristol made a slight detour into the bathroom before proceeding to her inevitable doom. The heavy metal bathroom door clanged shut behind her, and in an instant she knew she was only alone. In a stall she recognized the familiar crooked green shoes resting on the ground visible below the partition.
The shoes gave a startled skid on the cream-colored linoleum. Quick whispers came from behind the gray stall door. “Is everything alright, Holly?”The green shoes climbed out of sight and the toilet flushed. Above the din of the rushing water Bristol heard a distinct and unmistakable gurgle. The buzzing fluorescent light above the stall sputtered and flickered before going out entirely.
Approaching the door, Bristol found it unlatched. She pushed it open and what she saw sank her heart. The stall was empty. In the white bowl was a tight knot of blond tangles. Holly was nowhere to be found. Bristol’s eyes flicked and flitted over each corner of the stall, looking for a vent, a hole, an anything that might explain where a girl could escape to or hide. She found nothing. Nothing, save a locket, perched upon a roll of coarse toilet paper. Inset on the precious metal was H. Frost. It was Holly’s locket.
Her hand clutched it instinctively, grasping the chain and lifting it to examine. It was hot, not uncomfortably so, but warm to the touch, as though it had been kept beneath a lamp for many hours. Bristol opened the locket. The quick whisper from before filled her ears. It was too hurried and raspy a voice to be interpreted and she leaned closer in to better concentrate. It was Holly’s voice and this was the message it carried:
“Bristol, please save me from him. It has to end. Find my brother. He’ll know what to do. He’ll know how to end it. His name is Jack. Find Jack Frost.”