“Find it yet?” Alan the Cyclops calls out from the back right corner of the Town Hall.
“No,” everyone replies. They’ve been searching for the key (even Jack, Snow, and the Mayor) for a good fifteen minutes, but other than making a pile of broken stuff and non-broken stuff, they haven’t found the key to the storage room (which takes up part of the basement, so Snow and Jack have to find it regardless if they want to find the paint).
Snow, who is used to keys having teeth and being of gold, silver, tin, or copper metal, has already found the key, but she doesn’t know it yet. She keeps searching for a Christmas Town-like key, feeling like a failure every passing moment. ‘I’ve let them down,’ she can’t help but think, plopping on the ground. ‘I can’t find it. I can’t do anything. No wonder I don’t do anything special in Christmas Town except snack delivery.’ She buries her face in her hands and cries.
She hears footsteps approaching, but she doesn’t look up. Her heart skips a beat when she feels Jack’s arms wrap around her to give her a hug and rub her back, but she still doesn't look up. “It’s okay, Snow,” he tells her soothingly. “We’ll find the key eventually. It’s bound to show up somewhere.”
“I’m a failure,” she moans through her hands.
Only Jack understood what she said – everyone else, who had stopped searching when they heard the little girl sob, is too far away to hear her slightly slurred words. “You are not a failure, Snow,” Jack assures her. “You’ve been a big help here.”
She shakes her head and curls her fingers into little fists near her chin, her tears reduced to mere sniffles, thanks to Jack rubbing her back. “I can’t do anything right,” she wails. “I couldn't even do anything right in Christmas Town. That’s why I got the job no one else wanted.” She squeezes her pale gray eyes shut and buries her face in Jack’s jacket and shirt, feeling his bones beneath his clothes. He just hugs her tight and rocks her back and forth a little to calm her down all the way.
“We could definitely use your help here,” says Bobby the bat boy. “There’s a lot of important stuff to do we haven’t done yet.”
“Yeah, like-” The Mayor was about to recite a long list of things to do, but for the sake of the elf girl and the skeleton man, he keeps his mouth shut.
“We’re sorry, Jack,” Benjamin says. Snow dares a glance out: all the citizens have gathered near. She hides her face again. “We got so carried away with making the perfect wedding that we’ve made it stressful for you. It shouldn’t be like that.”
“I appreciate that, Benjamin,” Jack tells him. “Thank you.” Snow can feel his voice vibrate through his bones when he talks.
“We were too busy thinking about what we wanted to do,” Bertha the corpse mom explains. “We should’ve been thinking about what you and Sally want.”
“Both of us are fine with whatever you come up with,” Jack replies.
“But surely you both have ideas about what you want,” John says.
“Spiders and pumpkins,” Snow mumbles.
“What was that?” Bobby asks.
Snow lifts her face away from Jack and says a little louder, “Spiders and pumpkins.”
Jack gives a little smile while everyone else just looks confused. “Spiders and pumpkins?” Tommy the clown repeats.
“Why that?” Ethan the corpse kid asks.
“Um, well, Sally likes spiders, and they connect stuff, like…uh…” Poor Snow’s train of thought is derailed, and she can’t remember exactly what Sally said, so she makes it up as she goes along, “The spiders seemed to connect things in life, like imagination and stuff, and she liked the connections and wanted to be connected to Jack, in a way. And Jack’s the Pumpkin King, not Halloween King, so there had to be something with pumpkins, and in that Pumpkin King legend it mentioned pumpkins with lights-” (again, Snow can’t remember the details, so she makes up her own definition) “-so the pumpkins represent light and goodness, and…Pumpkin Kings.”
Everyone’s silent as they take this in. Jack gives her a squeeze and whispers in her pointed ear, “You’re a smart girl.” She smiles. He reminds her of her dad, how he would always give her compliments whenever he could.
“Huh,” says Tommy. “I never thought of it like that.”
“Us neither,” the Three Hydes say in unison.
“Well,” says happy Mayor, “now we have an idea of how we should set up Town Hall-” he switches to worried, “-but we still haven’t found the key!”
“All we found,” say Bobby and Ethan, “were bows and candlesticks.”
“I just found a lot of wax and broken pieces,” complains Bertha.
“I found drape after drape,” Alan says. “We have too many, if you ask me.”
“And all I found was this,” Snow mumbles, holding up the thing she found.
Everyone stares at the thing in her hand and exclaim at the same time, “The key!”
Snow quizzically inspects it. It’s the size of her hand and is made from a dull, pale metal. It doesn’t have teeth, but the end of it is very jagged. “It doesn’t look like a key,” Snow comments. She looks up at them. “Keys are gold or silver.”
Jack explains, taking the key from her, “Here in Halloween Town, most keys look like this.”
“See? You’re not a failure!” Bobby tells her. “You found the key!”
While the Mayor directs the cleanup of the broken pile, Jack takes Snow down to the basement. It’s a good thing they have the key, since the first part of the basement (barely the size of a small room) holds only two boxes of pale orange blueprints, a bunch of cobwebs, and lots of dust. Jack unlocks the door to the storage room and lets Snow go in first. She looks around at the many boxes and baskets of fabric, threads, paints, brushes, boards, old-fashioned costumes, and a table.
“We really ought to clean this out one day,” Jack remarks, taking in all the excess boxes, dust, and webs.
Snow half-hears him as she makes her way to the paints. Scanning the labels, she finds orange, black, gray, pale gray, stone gray, yellow, red, white, off-white, green, dirt brown, and purple, among other colors.
“Found what you wanted?” Jack asks her, coming over.
She shrugs. “I found white,” she says, “but I don’t know if I want that much white.”
“Hmmm…” He scans the labels, too, pulling out a can that caught his eye. He holds it out to her. “What about this?”
She takes it and reads the label: translucent white. “Maybe. I’ll try it out.” She dusts it off and sneezes.
“Good. Let’s get back up to the top.”
They leave the storage room and lock it again before heading upstairs. In that short amount of time, the citizens managed to dump all the broken and useless stuff and organize the rest of the things into piles, like drapes and candles. “Good job everybody,” Jack says.
Ethan and Bobby lean against each other and yawn. “Can we go home now?” Ethan grumbles.
Bertha walks over and picks up her son. “We should be getting home soon,” she says. “It’s getting late.”
The Mayor flips to his worried side. “But we haven’t done anything yet,” he moans, “and the wedding is only five days away!”
“Four days, actually,” corrects Alan. “We’re done for today.”
“That’s even worse!”
Jack holds a hand up. “Everyone, please! We’ll all go home tonight and meet back here first thing in the morning to go over decoration ideas.”
“And the reception,” Mayor adds.
“That too,” Jack groans. “Come along, Snow.”
They all say goodbye and head off in different directions. Inside Jack’s house, she lays Frost on his web, where he circles it twice and curls up. Jack and Zero head up the stairs to his room, and Snow goes up the stairs to the second floor bathroom to change into her long white nightgown. Bringing her stuff downstairs and dropping it on the floor near the couch, she lies down and draws the warm blanket up by her chin. She closes her eyes.
But she can’t sleep. Her mind is swimming with the Town Hall decorating. It needs to be done soon if Jack and Sally are gonna get married in it. She thinks of all those items and supplies lying in piles near and on the stage. Four days. Will that be enough time to get everything done?
She tosses and turns, closing her eyes at one moment and opening them at another. She wishes there were a clock down here. She’s not sure what time it is or how long she’s stayed awake. Her mind is reeling with the urgency of the situation. ‘What would they do back home?’ she wonders. What the elves do if there’s so much to do in so little time is stay up all night working. Her father, on the Green Squad, would search the whole night in the Evergreen Forest for the right branches to roll up into wreaths, even though the Forest would get very cold and dark at night. Her mother, Ginger, who is one of the lucky elves who gets to work the sewing machines in the Toy Factory, would push herself to work faster and harder than normal, not stopping once to rest until every teddy bear was stitched up and the dollies had pretty dresses.
Snow sits up on the couch. “I need to go to Town Hall,” she whispers.