I'm really sorry for the long wait! I've been busy/distracted/procrastinating.
Anyhow, hope you like this chapter! I know it's long, but there wasn't a good place to cut it in half.
P.S. Don't forget to comment!
Snow keeps yawning as Zero leads her back to Jack’s house. She keeps her gaze down, focusing on where she’s going. She hears Zero barks and looks up to see the gate to Jack’s house. She moans tiredly and pushes the gate open. She climbs the long stairs and pushes on the door at the top –
It won’t budge. Now she’s alert. She pushes and shoves, but still the door won’t open. There isn’t a lock on it, is there? She doesn’t think so, but she checks anyways. Zero pokes his head through the door right near the doorknob, startling Snow and nearly making her topple over. “Zero!” she cries. “The door’s locked. Can you get me in?”
He woofs, then vanishes through the door. She waits and waits and waits, bouncing around trying to keep herself warm. Elves may be used to the cold, but if they get too cold they’ll freeze to death, like any other living creature.
Zero flies up to Jack’s room, where the Pumpkin King is sleeping soundly, snoring a little. Zero shines his nose brightly. Jack squints and rolls over. “Turn the lights off, Mom,” he mumbles. Zero then tries pulling the blanket and sheets off of his friend, but even in his sleep Jack holds on tight. The ghost dog sighs.
The wind outside is now a gale, and Snow starts to worry that Zero still hasn’t shown up yet. She tries the handle again and pushing and pulling the door. Nothing works. Whimpering, she bounces more and more until she’s jumping up and down. Still, she’s not any warmer, and still, the door remains shut. Her mind thinks back to the Town Hall, wondering what else she could do. If there’s anything she could do. Just to keep her moving.
Hearing the howling wind outside makes Zero frantic. He knows Snow is waiting for him, but he doesn’t know how to open the door. In one last, desperate attempt, Zero takes a deep breath and…
Jack jumps up in bed. “Zero! Why are you barking so late at night?” he asks, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Zero snatches his master’s nightcap and zooms down the stairs with it. “Hey! Come back here!”
Snow hears something going on inside. She leans closer to hear – Zero pokes his head through the door again. He’s grinning. “What happened, boy?” Snow asks. “Can I get in now?” She jiggles the doorknob.
Grabbing his nightcap off the ground where Zero dropped it, he straightens and looks at Zero’s butt. Someone’s trying to get in, but Zero isn’t scaring them off. “Who’s out there?” he calls out.
“It’s me, Snow!”
Zero’s head disappears, and Snow hears something on the other side. The door opens to reveal Jack standing there in his off-white pajamas and nightcap, a surprised, yet tired, expression on his face. “Snow, what are you doing out there?”
“I, uh…” Should she tell him or keep it a secret until tomorrow?
Jack doesn’t give her any time to answer. “Come inside,” he says, ushering her in and shutting the door behind them. “Are you really cold? Do you want me to make a hot drink for you?”
“No, thank you,” she replies softly.
“What were you doing out there in the cold?” he asks her.
“How did you get out there?”
“Um…” She still doesn’t want to tell him just yet what she did in Town Hall; she wants him to be surprised. Instead, she asks him, “What’s so special about a ghost and a grave?”
He blinks. “Pardon?”
“Well, I heard someone say ghosts hurt people…when someone upsets their grave or insults their family,” Snow recalls Shock’s words.
“Oh, that.” Jack walks over to the couch and sits down. Snow plops down next to him, rubbing her arms to warm herself up. “Well, here in Halloween Town, there are ghosts who live among us.”
“Are they mean?”
He chuckles. “No, they’re not mean, though you don’t want to make one mad. If you make a ghost mad, they haunt you until you right your wrong.”
“Oh.” Snow shivers, though from the cold weather or the thrilling chill, she’s not sure.
“There’s no need to be scared,” Jack says, patting her on the shoulder. “Ghosts are tough to shake. You have to insult them or their family, or ruin their grave, in order to make them mad enough to haunt you.”
“What do they look like?”
“They’re white, and they look like they’re blowing in a wind that may or may not be there.”
‘That’s why Lock and Shock were acting so weird,’ Snow thinks. ‘They thought I was a ghost. But why were they talking about a grave? Did they mess up a grave and think I was the ghost coming to haunt them?’
She shivers again, this time from being cold. “Are you alright?” Jack asks.
Jack hugs her to him and rubs her back and arms. “You are cold,” he comments when he feels how cold she is. “Would you like some hot cider or hot chocolate?”
“Okay.” He releases her and gets off the couch to make the warm, chocolaty drink.
Snow waits half a minute before getting restless and getting off the couch to pad into the kitchen, the blanket wrapped around her like a cape. She enters right as Jack sets a small cauldron of water on top of the stove and turns the dial to heat it up. He gives her a smile and motions to the table. She walks over and plops down in a seat. No matter how hard she rubs her arms, she can’t get any warmer.
Jack comes over and lays his hand on her forehead. “You’re really cold,” he says. Tucking the blanket all around her, he asks again, “What were you doing out in the cold at three in the morning?”
“Is that how late it is?”
The water in the cauldron starts to bubble. Even though Jack goes over to pour the water in two gray mugs with different Halloween symbols, he doesn’t let the subject drop again. “I’m sure even elves can get sick out in the cold, or worse.”
Snow ducks her head. She really wants it to be a surprise, but she knows she has to tell the truth. Her parents wouldn’t want her saying anything else, especially not to Santa, or someone like Jack, who’s a king.
That last thought makes her guilty. As a king, Jack could punish anyone who didn’t tell the truth or did something he didn’t like, right? She’s not sure what punishments here are like, but in Christmas Town someone could be fired from their job, given a bucket-load of coal, or if they were really bad, they were exiled from Christmas Town. Were Halloween Town punishments worse than Christmas Town’s?
She sighs, not meeting Jack’s gaze. “I was at Town Hall,” she mumbles.
“What was that?”
“I was at Town Hall,” she repeats more loudly.
“Town Hall?” he echoes, a confused look on his face. “What were you doing there?”
Again, Snow stalls, not wanting to give away the surprise, yet feeling guilty for not telling. Wafts of steam hit her face as Jack sets a gray mug of hot chocolate in front of her. There’s a white creature on the mug with black eyes and a worried mouth. “What’s that?” she asks, pointing a shivering finger at the image.
“That’s a ghost,” he replies. When she doesn’t say anything for a while, Jack asks, “Do you want to switch mugs? I haven’t drunk anything yet from mine.”
“No, it’s okay.” Snow smiles up at him in assurance. She takes the mug with both hands, blows on the chocolate, and takes a slow sip. “Mmm! This is good!” She drinks some more.
Jack chuckles. “I’m glad to hear that.” He takes a seat across from her, taking a long sip from his mug, thinking. “Snow,” he says after a while, “are you scared of ghosts?”
Mug to her lips, she looks at him. “No,” she tells him, her voice slightly echo-y from talking into the mug.
“Oh. Well, you came in from outside and you were asking about ghosts, you were at Town Hall tonight, and you were just staring at the ghost on your mug. I was wondering if you had a bad experience with ghosts tonight.”
“No, but what does Town Hall have to do with ghosts?”
Jack’s face contorts in confusion. “You don’t know?”
She shakes her head and keeps sipping hot chocolate.
“Ghosts love hanging out in the attic of Town Hall.”
She stops drinking, eyes wide. “Oh.”
He folds his arms on the table and leans forward. Snow feels nervous from his staring at her, so she finishes her drink quickly and puts the mug down, focusing on the mug. “Since you didn’t know about the ghosts in the Hall, it couldn’t have been ghosts that drew you out of the house at night.” That again. Snow draws the blanket even tighter around her (if that’s even possible) and hides her face. “I want to know what’s going on, Snow,” he says authoritatively. Snow starts shivering again, unable to shake the cold. “Answer me.” She’s starting to get scared, and she hides her head within the blanket, whimpering.
It’s silent for a few minutes. Snow feels a small nudge. Peeking over the edge of the blanket, she sees Zero hovering in front of her, a pout on his face. “Hey, boy,” she says softly, reaching out a hand to scratch him behind the ears. His eyes flicker and he grins. When she draws her hand back, he flies over to Jack – who’s slouching in his seat with his face in his hands. “Jack?” He doesn’t answer. She straightens, lifts her head all the way out from under the blanket, and says a little louder, “Jack?”
He mumbles something behind his hands.
Removing his hands, he repeats, “I’m sorry.” He looks so sad, and Snow can’t tell if he’s gazing at his lap or staring at her from the upper corner of his eyes.
Now it’s her turn to be confused. “Sorry about what?”
He sighs. “For scaring you, for making you nervous.”
“It’s okay, Jack.”
He shakes his head, still looking at his lap. “It’s not okay, Snow. Not for me.”
Snow’s heart melts and she hops off her seat to give the sad skeleton a hug, wrapping the blanket around him, too. “Don’t be sad, Jack,” she tells him. “You didn’t scare me….Well, not that much.”
He smiled sadly and returns the hug. “You sure you’re not too scared?” he asks.
“Nope,” she says, looking up at him. “Are you?”
Snow steps back and takes in Jack’s appearance: worry is etched into him, from the tilt of his head to the frown on his face to his slouch. “Why are you scared?” she asks him.
He pauses before saying, “Sally and I were talking about having kids and raising a family, but how can I do that when I scare every little kid I meet?”
“You didn’t scare me,” she insists.
“Still.” He sighs. “How can I be sure that I’ll be a good father?”
Snow feels guilty. Jack wouldn’t be feeling this way right now if she’d just told him the truth. “Um, Jack?” she mutters. “I’m sorry.” He lifts his skull to meet her gaze. “You wouldn’t be so sad if I’d just told you where I was.” Tears well up in her eyes.
“No, Snow, don’t cry.” He reaches out to hug her or rub her back, but she backs away, running back into the other room to bury her face in the couch, bringing the blanket up over her head. She doesn’t hear him enter the room, so she flinches when she feels his bony hand on her back. “Please don’t cry,” he says.
“I’m a naughty elf!” she wails, lifting the blanket enough for him to hear her, and so she could get some fresh air.
“No you’re not, Snow….Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Snow hesitates before poking her head out. She still refuses to look Jack in the eye sockets as she confesses, “I didn’t want to tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise, but then you wanted to know where I was and I didn’t wanna be punished ‘cause if I did something Santa didn’t like I could be kicked out and I don’t wanna get into trouble, I just wanted to be like my parents and do something to help you and Sally out.” She breathes.
“What? No, you wouldn’t be in trouble, Snow. I was just really worried that you slipped outside and were out for so long you got really cold.”
“You’re not sick, are you?” Jack places a hand on her forehead. She moans. Zero flies up and licks her face twice, making her smile. Jack rubs her back. “You would never get in trouble, Snow, but please don’t scare me like that again.”
Now she looks up at him. “You were scared?” She can hardly believe it.
He nods solemnly. “If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself.”
“Why? You’re the king.”
“But that’s no excuse. I’m responsible for everyone in town, and as long as you’re here, that includes you too.”
Before she can consider this, she yawns. “It’s been a long night for us,” Jack says. “You’d better get some sleep and I’ll check on you in the morning.” He helps her settle down on the couch and tucks the blanket around her. He’s walking over to the stairs when Snow sits up and looks over the back of the couch.
“Yes?” He looks back at her, one hand on the railing, Zero right behind him.
She yawns before saying, “I think you’ll be a good daddy.”
He smiles warmly at her. “Thank you, Snow. Good night.”
“Good night.” Snow lies back down. ‘Tomorrow,’ she thinks, ‘I’ll tell Jack what happened tonight.’