Snow groans and turns over, feeling something heavy on her. Opening her eyes a squint, she sees a blur of black and spots of orange, green, and gray. Rubbing her eyes and blinking away the sleep, she sees a black crocheted blanket with orange pumpkins, green vines, and gray stars dotted here and there on the blanket. “Huh?”
“Oh, good, you’re up,” Jack says, walking into the room from the kitchen. A transparent ghost dog with a pumpkin nose follows after him.
“Who’s that?” Snow asks.
Jack smiles at the ghost dog. “He’s my friend, Zero. Sometimes he likes to sleep at the cemetery, but usually he’ll stay here. Lately, though, he’s been spending more and more time out of the house. Don’t know where he gets off to.”
Zero flies over and sniffs the startled Snow. He seems to like her, as he begins licking her face. “Hey, boy,” she coos, moving her head to avoid being licked on the mouth. “Aren’t you a good ghost doggie?”
“So,” says Jack, clapping his hands together and rubbing them, “is anyone ready for some breakfast?”
Zero’s pumpkin nose lights up (blinding Snow) and he zooms back into the kitchen, where they can hear his hungry pants. They chuckle. “Are you hungry, Snow?” Jack asks.
“I am, but I should change into my uniform first. It’s what we do back at the North Pole Boarding School for Young Elves.”
“Okay. I’ll wait for you.”
She grabs her bag but freezes. Frost isn’t on the web he made last night. “Frost?” she asks, looking frantically all around her.
Jack points to one of the closed curtains. “Your spider friend’s up there. Remarkable design,” he adds with an approving whistle.
Snow turns around – “Whoa!” she says. Frost is indeed on the shut black curtain, but he’s made a web design spanning top to bottom, covering the fabric with veins of silver. It looks like cracks of moonlight are coming through the curtain. “You’re good!”
He laughs. “He is,” he agrees. “Hurry up and get dressed. I’ll have something out for you when you come down.” He walks back into the kitchen. “Alright, Zero! I’m coming!”
Snow bounds up the stairs, into the bathroom on the second floor. Good thing she brought extra uniforms, since the one she wore yesterday got dirty from searching the cemetery and pumpkin patch for the crown box. Keeping her crystal necklace on, she heads back downstairs, pausing halfway down as she smells the air. Is that…cocoa? And cinnamon, and peppermint, and…pumpkin? Curious (and starving, as she had nothing yesterday), she comes to the kitchen. Zero’s trying to snatch a piece of cinnamon toast from Jack’s plate, and Jack’s trying to hold the ghost dog at bay. She can’t help but laugh.
The skeleton and the dog look up. “Hi, Snow,” he says. “I wasn’t quite sure what elves had for breakfast, so I have some things lined up on the counter for you to choose from. Zero! No! You already had your food!” The dog whines, giving Jack the cutest dog pout ever. After a few seconds, Jack says, “Fine, I’ll split it in half.” Zero cheerfully takes his half of the cinnamon toast into the other room to munch.
Snow walks over to the gray counter and sees a plate of cookies, pumpkin pie, candy canes, candy cane pie (her favorite kind of pie), cinnamon toast, cinnamon rolls, milk, and hot cocoa. “Yummy,” she says, picking up the plate of cinnamon rolls and bringing it to the table. “Do you eat this stuff?” she asks Jack, going back for the hot cocoa.
He picks up his own mug of hot cocoa, a few wisps of steam still rising from the brown liquid. “Sometimes, but not always for breakfast.” Sip.
Snow picks up a cinnamon roll and takes a bite. “Mmm! Just like back home!” she tells him with her mouth full.
He laughs. “I’m glad you like it.”
After a couple sips of the hot cocoa, she pauses, thinking back to last night and all she read and thought. “Hey, Jack,” she says, “why do you have that snowglobe in your bookcase? Does it have something to do with Halloween?”
He shakes his head. “I really love Christmas, besides Halloween, and I like collecting Christmas items.”
“Is that why you tried to take it over two years ago?”
He smiles and exhales through his nose, remembering that fateful night. “Yes, I thought I would give Christmas a try, but you know how that turned out. After that, I’ve stuck to Halloween.”
“Yeah, you should.”
She wonders, “Did you know what Christmas was about? Is that why you tried to do it?”
“Not quite. I thought you could just give out presents and decorations to people and that was Christmas…except no one in the human world liked the Halloween presents and thought Christmas was ruined.” He rests his chin in his hand. "I still can’t figure it out.”
“Why not? You live like that.”
He looks puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you already have the spirit of Christmas.”
“There’s a ghost of Christmas?” He gets excited.
Snow giggles. “No, the spirit of Christmas. You always try to make people happy, and you give a lot.”
Jack takes this in. “Is that what Christmas is all about? Making people happy and giving?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Well, that’s anticlimactic.”
Before Snow can ask what that means, there’s a knock on the door. Jack gets up to answer it while Snow finishes her cinnamon roll. She hears the door open and the Mayor’s voice saying, “Good morning, Jack!”
“Good morning, Mayor,” Jack replies.
“Good morning, Mayor!” Snow shouts over her shoulder.
She sees his flushed, happy face peer around Jack. “Oh, hello, Snow!” He turns back to Jack. “Jack, we should work on your tuxedo for the wedding today, so we’ll have a bit of time for some touch-ups if we need them.”
“Okay.” Jack looks back at Snow. “When you’re done, put your dishes in the sink, then you can leave to go help someone who needs help.”
“Okay.” When the men leave and shut the door behind them, she scarves down another cinnamon roll, downs her mug of hot cocoa and brings the plate to the counter (there’s still one cinnamon roll left) and the mug to the steel sink. She feels something nudge her arm. Looking down, she sees Zero hovering right next to her. “Hey, boy!” She turns around and bends down to his eye level. “Wanna help me find someone to help?”
He does a flip in the air, then flies into the other room. When Snow enters, she sees Frost crawling onto Zero’s head. He flies the spider over to Snow’s outreached hand, and from there she places Frost on her right shoulder. “Let’s go,” she says.
They leave the manor and shut the door tight behind them, heading down the stairs when they hear a CRASH! They hurry down the stairs but stay close to the stone wall. Two voices are snickering, and soon they see Lock and Shock scurry past. Snow dares a peek around the corner – and sees Sally sprawled on the ground, one leg partly detached and a basket upset, spilling several spools of thread. To the ragdoll’s right, there’s a trash can on its side. ‘That must’ve caused the loud crash,’ Snow thinks. She comes out into the open. “Sally?”
The ragdoll looks up from her sewing on her leg. “Oh, Snow, it’s you,” she says, resuming her sewing. Snow waits patiently (though fidget-y, seeing a limb half-off) as she waits for Sally to be done. Once the last stitch is sewn, she gets to her knees, picks up the basket, and gathers the spools before straightening. “What are you doing?” she asks in a friendly manner.
“Just looking for someone to help,” Snow answers.
“Oh, well I could use some help, if you’re not too busy.” Zero flies over and nudges her with his nose. She smiles and scratches him behind the ears. “Hello, Zero.”
“I’ll help you,” Snow says. “What do you need help with?”
Sally, still scratching Zero on the head, looks at Snow and says, “It’s my dress. The fitting is mostly done with, but I still need a headpiece and veil, and I still need a personal touch.”
“Okay,” Snow says brightly. “Let’s get started.” Zero starts barking, and zooms down the street to chase a black cat. “So much for helping me out.”
Sally giggles. “Well, thank you, Snow. Follow me.” She starts walking down the street, and Snow runs to catch up to her, slowing to a walk when she reaches the ragdoll’s side. “Madame Pereny was kind enough to hold onto my dress at her fashion shop, and the others will be waiting there now for me.” Her smile vanishes as she thinks about something. “They’ll want to know what I want for my personal touch, but I still don’t know, and we’re running out of time.”
“Are you still thinking about spiders or pumpkins?”
“I still can’t decide.” Her head hangs a little.
An idea pops up in Snow’s mind. “Why don’t you do both?” she suggests.
Sally’s brown eyes stare at Snow. “You think I should?”
“Well, you can’t decide between the two designs, so just do both.”
Sally’s pace slows as she considers this.
Both girls look further down the street. Two witches, one tall, one small, with warts on their skin are walking up to the girls. “Hello, Helga-” the tall witch nods, “-and Zelda.” The small one nods. “Snow, these are some of my friends who are helping me on my dress.”
“Hi,” Snow says with a wave of her hand.
“So you’re the little elf from Christmas Town,” Helga comments.
Snow’s taken aback. “How’d you-”
“Word travels fast in Halloween Town,” explains Zelda.
“Oh.” Snow looks away sheepishly and tugs on her red sweater.
Sally changes the subject to spare Snow any further embarrassment. “Shall we all go to Madame Pereny’s?”
“Sure, let’s go,” Zelda agrees.
The four of them head off down the street, the three adults discussing the different personal touches. Sally offers Snow’s idea, of using two touches, but Helga and Zelda think she should do one. To make things more chaotic, they list off other touches they think Sally should use: autumn leaves, spells and potions, cats, moon and stars, ghosts (this idea involves wispy material). Even Snow is feeling overwhelmed with these suggestions.
Finally, they reach a store with a wooden sign hanging overhead. Fancy gold writing on the sign reads: Magique Boutique. A bell rings when they open the door and step through. An old woman with wrinkles on her hands and around her blue eyes and the corners of her mouth, wiry white hair sticking under her pointy black hat, and wearing a floor-length black dress comes in from the back room and, upon recognizing the adults, smiles. “Back again,” she says.
“Hello, Madame Pereny,” Sally says.
“You sound tired, dearie.” Madame Pereny takes her gently by the arms.
“I just want this to be done.”
“We gave her plenty of ideas for her personal touch,” says Helga, “but she doesn’t seem to like the ones we gave her.”
Snow interrupts, “Because she already had an idea you didn't like.”
The women stare at her. Snow begins to regret speaking up like that, especially since she comes from a different town. Madame Pereny turns to Sally. “Is this true, Sally?”
Sally hesitates for a moment before responding, “Yes. It was actually Snow’s idea.” She smiles at the elf, who smiles shyly in return.
“We just thought you should have one touch, though,” Zelda defends. “You wanted two.”
“How would that work?” Madame Pereny asks.
Sally twiddles her fingers, looking anywhere but into their eyes. “Um, I’m not sure,” she admits.
The old witch turns to Snow. “What were you thinking of?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know,” she mumbles. She looks down at Frost on her shoulder, who appears to be sleeping, and she remembers the design he made on the curtains earlier. An idea pops into her mind. “Actually, I think there might be something. Um…” She scans the interior. There are rows and racks of various dresses, tuxedos, shirts, capes, and complete outfits occupying most of the space inside. The space on the pale brown walls from the middle down is taken up by shelves of accessories, like jewelry, hats, gloves, and masks. Above the shelves are lit ivory candles in iron sconces. There is a dressing room section in the back room, as indicated by a gold sign above, and another section for canes and umbrellas, and another whole section for purses and bags. In the middle of the shop stands a wooden, rectangular sales counter.
But there’s no wedding dress.
“Where’s the dress?” she asks slowly.
Madame Pereny nods her head behind her. “In the back,” she says.
“Could I see it?”
“Sally,” Helga says, “why don’t you put it on so we can finish the fittings, then we’ll worry about your touch?”
“Sure,” Sally says. She walks into the back room, and the three witches and elf girl follow her, though they stay outside the back room while Sally changes.
“Why did you tell Sally to have two personal touches?” Madame Pereny asks Snow.
The ten-year-old looks up at the old witch. “Uh, well,” she says quietly, tucking a silver-white strand of hair behind her ear, “she liked the two, so I thought she could…” Her voice trails off.
“No one’s ever done two before,” Helga says. “At least no one anyone in town knows of.”
“Oh. Well, she liked them both, and…um…”
“Personal touches are supposed to represent the bride,” explains Zelda. “You shouldn’t tell her what to pick, or it won’t be her own.”
“Oh.” Snow hangs her head, feeling guilty.
“I’m ready,” Sally calls out.
Snow goes in first, hoping to apologize to Sally for picking the touches for her – she freezes. “Whoa,” she breathes. Sally is standing on top of a step wearing a beautiful white dress. It has a form-fitting bodice with a square neckline and sleeves ending at her elbow. From the waistline, the satin skirt flows down, ball gown style. She’s not wearing a headpiece, and the entire dress is undecorated.
Even so, Sally is breathtakingly beautiful in her dress.
Snow is nudged to the side as the three witches enter. “Sally, dear,” says Madame Pereny, “you really must make up your mind soon. That dress looks awfully plain.”
“It’s beautiful!” Snow says.
Sally smiles. “Thank you.”
“So, Sally,” Zelda says, coming over and touching up the dress while Madame Pereny adds a couple pins, “have you decided what you’re going to do?”
“I have.” She takes a deep breath and declares, “I want to do the two touches: spiders and pumpkins.”
“What?” the witches cry at the same time. Snow’s mouth drops open. Did she hear right?
“Sally,” contradicts Helga, “you have to pick one.”
Sally raises her arms so that Madame Pereny can continue putting the pins in the dress. “Well, I was thinking about that, and then Snow gave me the idea-” she smiles at the elf, “-to use two that are special to me.”
“Are you sure?” Zelda asks.
“Sally,” says Snow, “I didn’t mean to make you choose anything, I’m sorry-”
“No, Snow,” assures Sally, “you didn’t make me do anything. I actually want to thank you.” She turns her head to look at her friend. “This whole time, when everyone was telling me to pick just one, I kept thinking about those two. They were my favorites, but I was torn with having to pick just one. You gave me the courage to pick them both, that it was okay if I did.”
Snow stands there speechless. She barely feels Frost crawling around on her hand.
“Are you okay, miss?” Zelda shakes Snow’s shoulder gently.
Blink. Clear the head. “Uh, yeah, sorry, it’s just…”
“You weren’t expecting me to go with your idea?” Sally smiles knowingly at the little girl.
“Heh, yeah.” Snow ducks her head and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Out of curiosity,” Helga speaks up, “why spiders and pumpkins?”
“You can bring your arms down now, dear,” Madame Pereny tells Sally.
She lowers her arms with a huff. “Thank you.” She turns her whole body to face Helga and explains, “Well, I’ve always loved spiders. They always make beautiful webs, and sometimes I would watch them make their webs while looking for inspiration for costumes and clothes. They just seemed to connect different ideas into their web; and I ended up combining different ideas into my other projects.”
“Cool,” Snow says.
Sally smiles and continues: “But I also wanted to do something with pumpkins, since Jack is the Pumpkin King and I’m going to be the Pumpkin Queen. And pumpkins are the symbol of Halloween, it seemed fitting that pumpkins would have something to do with my personal touch.”
Snow’s mind is blown as she lets this sink in.
“How are we going to do the dress with two touches, though?” Madame Pereny asks.
“Is the dress gonna have spots of orange?” suggests Zelda.
“Or spiders all over the dress,” offers Helga.
“Or vines of some sort, and webs.”
“Enough!” Madame Pereny may be old, but her voice is still strong. The other two witches quiet. “Sally, dear,” she turns to the bride-to-be, “did you have any ideas?”
“Um…I just want it to be simple,” she says. She looks down at Snow’s hand. “What’s Frost doing?”
“Huh?” Snow realizes that Frost has been crawling all over her hand and working hard on another web. Lifting her hand up, she watches Frost put the finishing touches on his newest message web. This one reads, “I stay.”
“I didn’t know elves had pet spiders,” Helga comments, intrigued by the silver-white ice spider.
Snow grins. “Nope. Just me.”
“What does he mean, ‘I stay?’” Zelda wants to know.
“He wants to stay here and help Sally, I guess. He’s really great at designing stuff, maybe he could help you out, Sally,” she tells the ragdoll.
She beams and clasps her hands together in front of her heart. “That would be wonderful!”
An idea pops into Snow’s mind. “Hey, could I go to the pumpkin patch and get some pumpkins for the dress?” she asks.
“Go to the pumpkin patch?” the witches echo.
“Dear, no one puts real pumpkins on a dress,” Madame Pereny explains.
“Oh.” Snow feels dumb now.
“No, that’s okay,” Sally says. “I’m sure we could do something with the pumpkins. I still need a headpiece – maybe we could figure something out with the pumpkins.”
“Cool,” Snow agrees. Silence. “So, can I go?”
Sally nods her head. “Sure.”
“Yay! See you later!” And Snow runs out of the boutique, eager to help her friend out.