Snow yawns. The morning sky is still dotted with stars, the first rays of the sun just barely peeking over the snow-capped mountains. She rolls out of bed and after rubbing the sore spots, she changes out of her nightgown into her school uniform: a satin, green, knee-length dress with a black sash, a red sweater, white tights, and Mary Janes. She also puts on a crystal necklace in the shape of the Christmas Star. It’s a gift from her parents, so that she can “always remember the meaning of Christmas.”
Like an elf should ever need reminding.
She’s packing up a green bag with everything she’ll need for her trip when she spots a white-and-silver dot on her bed’s comforter. The ice spider. Snow smiles and reaches out to pick it up when it scurries over to the foot of her bed. Snow sees another woven message: “Take me.”
“You wanna come?” she asks the little spider. It runs in circles. Smiling, Snow says, “Okay. Come on up.” She lays her hand on the bed. The spider crawls on and up her arm onto her shoulder. “I’ll call you Frost, since you look like frost.” The spider likes its new name.
Snow turns to leave when she hears, “Where are you going, Snow?” She looks behind her – it’s Holly, her best friend since pre-school. Holly’s sitting up in bed, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
“I’m going to see Santa,” Snow replies.
Holly gets a better look at her friend. “Why do you have a traveling bag?” she asks.
“Um, I’m going with him to Halloween Town.”
“Um, for a wedding.”
“Oh, cool.” Holly yawns and falls back in bed. “Bring me back a present.” And Holly is sound asleep again.
Snow giggles to herself, then leaves. She finds Santa near the stable, attaching two reindeer (Dasher and Comet) to the sleigh. “Good morning, sir,” she says as cheerfully as she can this early in the morning.
He smiles at her after he hooks Comet’s harness up. “Good morning, Snow. Are you ready?”
“Yep.” She holds up her bag.
“Then, hop in.”
Snow squeals. She’s never ridden in his sleigh before – heck, she’s never seen it up close before! She excitedly climbs in and sits on the plush front seat. She hops up and down a couple of times, testing its plushness. “My butt gets sore otherwise,” Santa explains, getting in himself. “Ready, boys?” he calls to his reindeer. They nod. With a snap of the reigns, the reindeer, sleigh, and passengers are all up in the sky.
“Whoa!” Snow cries, looking over the side of the sleigh. “It’s so tiny!” Sure enough, her boarding school looks like a doll house, and everything gets smaller and smaller as they get higher and higher. Snow keeps watching as the little dots of light pass below her. The hills pass, the pine trees pass, and soon they’re flying over some tall, leafless trees. The leafless forest seems to stretch on for miles. Leaning back in, Snow asks, “What’s that forest down there?”
“The Hinterlands,” Santa responds. “It’s the gateway to all holidays. There are entrances to the different holiday kingdoms in some of the trees down there, and there are also some portals up here.”
“What do you – oh.” Looking ahead, she sees an orange portal with black swirls.
“Hold on tight.” Santa snaps the reigns and they speed up. Snow clings to her seat and checks to make sure Frost didn’t fall off. The ride is a little bumpy as they pass through the portal, and Snow gets a little dizzy staring at all the swirls. She moans, closes her eyes for a sec, and when she opens them, they’re flying in a sky colored with reds, golds, yellows, oranges, and the dark sky lightens to a cloudy gray. They fly through the clouds – and on the other side is a hauntingly beautiful town with buildings of all sizes and shapes. There is one with spindly towers reaching up high. Just outside the town is a dirt park of sorts, and beyond that a cemetery and a pumpkin patch. In between the patch and the graveyard is a hill with a spiral top. “Welcome, Snow,” Santa says, “to Halloween Town.”
“Wow.” As they come in for a landing, she sees some of the early birds walking around town. ‘Wow, they look so different,’ she thinks.
One of them, an oversized crow in a yellow coat and hat, stands just outside the gate to enter the town. “Hey, Santa!” he calls out as the sleigh touches down.
“Hello, Mr. Crow,” Santa returns as he gets out of the sleigh. “How are preparations for the wedding coming along?”
“Not so good. No one can agree on decorations or food, and the bride and groom haven’t even decided on their clothes yet.”
“Oh, dear,” Santa moans. “It’s worse than I thought.”
“Will everything be done in time?” Snow pipes up, hopping out of the sleigh.
Mr. Crow looks around Santa at her. “Who’s this?”
“This is Snow,” Santa says, putting an arm around her. “She came with me to help.”
“That’s great.” Mr. Crow smiles. “We can use all the help we can get. Let me get the gate for you.” He pulls a lever, and the creaky gate rises. “In you go.”
“Thank you. Follow me, Snow.” Santa gestures with his hand and leads her into town.
Snow gasps and stares around at everything. All those rumors from back home are all wrong: Halloween Town isn’t dark and evil and scary. It’s amazing! All the buildings are made of stones that come in all shades of gray, and the buildings are angular and variegated. Some of the buildings have different color trimming and bordering, like red, green, purple, or orange. The windows, some square, some round, range from being crystal clear to having an orange tint to them. The streets are made of some sort of cobblestone, and in the center of the plaza they now enter there’s a spectacular stone fountain with some sort of creature on top, from whose mouth greenish water is spewing.
She runs up to the fountain and leans over. She can see the sides of the fountain, but there is no bottom to it as far as she can see.
“Snow!” Santa calls. “Stay by me or else you’ll get lost.”
“Okay.” Snow hurries back to Santa’s side. She continues sightseeing as she walks: plants with orange and red petals, the occasional bare tree, patches of thistles here and there, more people walking around. “Where are we going?” she asks after a few minutes.
“Jack’s house,” Santa replies, not taking his eyes from the path.
“What’s it like?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never been.”
“Hmmm.” Snow stares down at the gray cobblestones as she tries to imaging what his house would be like. Would it be like a dungeon, dark and dank? Or would it be like a haunted castle, with voice-like winds and long, billowing curtains?
“We’re here,” Santa announces, coming to a stop at an iron gate with a pumpkin design on it.
Snow looks up. “It doesn’t look like a haunted castle,” she comments. Indeed, it doesn’t. It has a big yard in front with a long set of stairs leading up to the front door. The house itself looks small, with one long tower spindling up. The chimney is pathetically small – by Snow’s standards. Everything is made of some nearly-black wood.
Santa chuckles. “No, he doesn’t live in a haunted castle.” He opens the gate and they walk through. “Though he told me his house is much better than it appears.”
Snow cocks her head to the side. “How so?”
“We’ll find out, won’t we?”
At the top of the stairs, Santa knocks on the door. “Just a minute,” someone calls from inside. A minute later, the door opens to reveal a skeleton wearing a disheveled pinstriped tuxedo with a bat bow tie that appears half-tied. The skeleton sighs with relief when he sees Santa. “Sandy! Thank goodness you’re here!” He opens the door wider and steps to the side. Santa manages to enter without much difficulty. Snow follows him inside and is seeing how big the inside really is compared to outside when the skeleton asks, “Who might you be?”
Snow stares at him with her pale gray eyes. She knows he meant that as a friendly question, but she can’t help feel nervous at being singled out. She fiddles with the hem of her red sweater. “Uh…”
“Her name is Snow,” Santa answers for her.
The skeleton laughs kindly. “Pleasure to meet you, Snow,” he says.
Remembering her manners, Snow bobs a curtsey and replies, “Pleasure to meet you, sir.”
He smiles at her, but when he turns to Santa, his expression falls. “I’m at a loss. I can’t do anything.”
“What do you mean, Jack?” Santa asks, sitting down on a smoke-gray couch.
Jack goes over to an adjacent wingback chair near an empty fireplace and plops down, slouching a little. (Snow is surprised to see a king slouch. She’d heard they always had to sit up straight.) “The Mayor wanted me to give him plans for the decoration of the Town Hall,” he begins, “but I’ve been making and throwing away ideas left and right! The Mayor’s frantic with the stress of setting up the Hall on short notice, but I can’t get the plans right! Something’s missing!”
“You always think something’s missing, Jack,” Santa says.
Snow’s mind wanders off as she walks around the main room, examining everything. The wallpaper is a dark color with vertical gray stripes and orange pumpkins dotting both black and gray stripes. The wall she’s nearest to has an oak table in front of it covered by a red tablecloth. On top are two ornate, silver candlesticks holding unlit ivory candles. A matching mirror hangs on the wall between the two candles. At the other end of the wall is an entrance to the spotless kitchen.
On the other wall near the kitchen, there is a huge bookcase full of books and knickknacks. Snow walks over, running her finger along one of the shelves. Her eyes scan the titles of the different books – Over 100 Recipes for Pumpkin, Grimm Tales, Legend of the Haunted Mansion
– and she is surprised to find a snowglobe wedged between the Haunted Mansion book and one on Halloween history. ‘Why would a Halloween king keep Christmas stuff?’ she wonders, lightly touching the smooth glass.
Frost crawls down her arm and stops on the edge of her finger, inspecting the snowglobe. “I forgot you were here, too,” Snow whispers to him.
She whirls around, hiding the ice spider between her hands near her heart. “Yes, sir?”
Santa says, “Jack was asking if you wanted to help decorate the Town Hall for the wedding.”
“Oh, um…” She doesn’t know what to say. As much fun as it could be, she doesn’t think she’ll be a big help. She never was back in Christmas Town – at least she never had the chance to be. She was always picked last for everything, even for picking a job to try out. (That’s how she ended up with the snack delivery; no one wanted that job.)
“It would really mean a lot to me if you could,” Jack adds.
Snow’s heart thumps and without thinking, she replies, “Okay.”
“Splendid!” Santa says. Both adults rise to their feet. “Jack will take you over to the Town Hall. I have to go back to Christmas Town, and I’ll let your parents know you made it here safe.”
“Okay,” Snow mumbles. She looks over at Jack and just now realizes how tall he is compared to her. She’s about three-and-a-half feet tall, and he’s about six-and-a-half feet tall.
He walks over to her and smiles. (‘His smile’s really wide,’ she notices. ‘It almost goes around his skull.’) “Shall we go?” he asks.
She nods, trying her best to smile and be friendly. “Sure.”
The three of them leave the house and they part at the gate: Santa back to his sleigh, Jack and Snow to the right to go to Town Hall. “Thank you so much for coming,” Jack says. “I was so relieved when Sandy told me you wanted to help.”
“I don’t know how much help I’ll be,” Snow confesses, sneaking Frost back onto her shoulder. “I can’t do much.”
“Every little bit counts,” Jack reassures her. “I’m sure you’ll be a big help, and Sandy says you’ve wanted to do other things.”
She looks up at him. “Why do you call him ‘Sandy?’ His name’s Santa.”
“He lets me call him Sandy.”
“Huh….Kinda like a nickname?”
Jack chuckles. “Something like a nickname, yes.”
“Huh.” They walk in silence for a while, Snow staring at the street, when finally she says, “So, you’re the Halloween King?” She already knows he is, but she didn’t like how uncomfortable the silence was getting.
He laughs again. “I’m actually known as the Pumpkin King, but yes, I’m the King of Halloween.”
Snow perks up and looks up at him. “Why are you the Pumpkin King? You don’t look like a pumpkin.”
“Pumpkins are symbolic of Halloween, so-”
“But why pumpkins? Why not bats or ghosts or demons? Or skeletons, like you?”
Jack slows down, thinking. “I don’t know,” he admits. “Maybe it has something to do with an old tradition? Ah, here we are.”
Snow stares up at the tall, angular building. It’s made of a slate gray stone and it has a few steps leading up to the front door. It also has pillars and a clock hanging on top. Right below the clock hangs a sign that reads: “Days to Wedding.”
“Wow. Everyone’s sure getting involved in this wedding.”
“They’re amazing,” Jack says. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”
“Jack!” shouts a stout man with a really tall hat. He’s running towards them from the Town Hall door.
Jack sighs. “Here we go,” he groans. When the stout man approaches them, he says, “Hello, Mayor.”
The Mayor’s face looks gray and worried. “Jack, thank goodness you’re here,” he pants. “The Vampire Brothers and the three Hydes can’t decide which drapes to use, and no one can find the box that holds the royal crowns! You and Sally need them to get married!”
Jack groans, slouches, and drags a bony hand agitatedly down his face. “Has anyone checked the attic?” He sounds tired.
“Could it be in the basement of the Hall or stored somewhere else?”
“We’ve searched for days all over town, but no one can find it anywhere!”
Jack makes a sound that’s a cross between a whine and a moan. “Why now?” he grumbled.
The Mayor cowers back. “I’m so sorry, Jack. I know how much this means to you.”
Snow looks between the two men. She pipes up, “What can I do?”
The Mayor suddenly seems to notice her. His face flips (Snow jumps at that) to a happier, livelier face, and says in a much more positive voice, “Who might you be?”
“Um…Snow?” she mutters.
“She’s here to help,” Jack explains.
“Wonderful!” The Mayor’s face switches back to its gray, worried face and he says, “We have to find the crown box! You have to help us find it as soon as possible!”