The Immortal Boy of Winter

Min Young E Kim January 10, 2019
Animals
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    Once, there was a little boy called Jack. He had a lovely mother and a wonderful father. They were poor and lived in a rickety old shack by the lake, but they were the happiest family in the world.
    One day during the winter, Jack’s father suddenly vanished. He never came back.

    “Where’s Father?” Jack asked.
    “He lives in Heaven now, my dear,” his mother said sadly. “He’s watching us from the skies.”
    That night, Jack couldn’t sleep. His chest felt heavy and his face was cold because the shack walls had gaps where the winter wind blew. He got up, wide-awake, and decided to go for a walk outside. He closed the creaky door carefully, so that his mother wouldn’t wake up, and snuck out.

    Jack couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a glowing, golden staircase in the middle of the frozen lake. It led up into the sky and disappeared into the clouds. The staircase was never there before.
    “Maybe I can meet Father if I go up these stairs,” Jack thought. “Mother said he’s in the sky, after all.”
    So Jack started to climb the stairs. It was only a minute or two when it began to snow. Jack watched the snowflakes drift by.
    “Brr,” he shivered. He came across a hedgehog on the staircase. He was small and had many spikes on his back.
    “It’s cold, isn’t it?” the hedgehog remarked. “Did you know that, as you get closer to the sky, it gets warmer? That’s why I’m climbing these stairs.”
    “Is that so?” Jack replied. He was a little confused. He was sure that hedgehogs hibernated during the winter. His mother had said so.

    Not long after, they came across a polar bear. The polar bear was fluffy and big and had kind eyes.
    “Hello,” she said. “I’m looking for some food. I’m awfully hungry – there’s hardly anything in the North Pole nowadays. Someone told me that the skies have the most luxurious food. That’s why I’m climbing these stairs. What about you two?”
    “I’m looking for someplace warmer,” the hedgehog answered.
    “I want to meet Father,” Jack said. He was even more confused. He was very sure that polar bears hibernated in the winter.

    They continued to go up the stairs. As they got higher and higher, the land below faded and they were walking amongst the clouds.
    “You’re right,” Jack exclaimed in awe to the hedgehog. “It is getting warmer.”
    It wasn’t very long before they reached the top of the staircase. There was a set of big, beautiful pearly gates, on which a snowy owl with glasses sat.
    “I’ve been expecting you, Mr. Hedgehog and Mrs. Polar Bear,” the owl said, allowing them entry through the pearly gates. They waved goodbye to Jack. The owl peered through his glasses at the boy. “Who are you?”
    “I’ve come to see Father,” Jack said. “Mother said he lives here.”
    “Well, I can’t allow you through the gates, but I can let you meet him,” the owl said. At the flap of his great feathered wings, Jack’s father appeared with a poof.
    “Father!” Jack cried, rushing into his father’s arms.
    “I’ve missed you son,” Jack’s father said, hugging him back. “But why are you here? You didn’t…?”
    “Young boy,” the owl said, clicking his tongue. “You are not dead. However, those who step on the stairs are no longer alive, either. You’re a fool. You should’ve stayed in your own world.”
    “My good owl,” Jack’s father pleaded. “I beg you, don’t allow him entry to this place. While I miss him dearly, it’s much too early for him to step a foot here.”
    “But why, Father?” Jack argued desperately. “Can’t you come back home? Why must you stay here?”
    Jack’s father shook his head sorrowfully. “I can’t. You’ll understand when the time comes, my child.”
    The owl thought for a moment, racking his wise brains.
    “I have a solution,” he said finally. “Jack, I’ll allow you to go back to earth; but since you are no longer alive, nobody will be able to see you.”
    “What?” Jack said. “I’d rather be dead!”
    The owl chuckled with irony. “However, you can make your presence known. You will flourish in the winter, the season in which your time will be stuck. You will not grow old nor die, as long as the season of winter exists.” The owl stared at Jack steadily. “This is your only option.”
    “I suppose I have no choice,” Jack said. He hugged his father tight once more. “Bye, Father.”
    “Bye, my beloved son,” Jack’s father said, his voice thick. They held onto each other, never wanting to let go. The embrace was warm and comfortable, and tinged with regret.
    “Both of you have to leave,” the owl said. With a flap of his wings, Jack’s father vanished yet again. Tears fell from Jack’s eyes and he cried. He had a feeling that he would never see his father again.
    “Oh, you poor soul,” the owl said, wrapping his soft feathers around Jack. “You’re a fool, but young. Go back down the stairs and you’ll return to earth.”
    Jack wiped his eyes and nodded. He waved goodbye to the owl and went back the way he came. He passed by other animals as he went, and they greeted each other. Among them was an arctic fox with white fur, who was sitting glumly on the golden stairs.

    “Hello,” Jack said. “What’s wrong?”
    “I came up here because I was bored,” the arctic fox replied, “but the owl shooed me away, and told me to go back. I don’t have anything else to do.”
    “Why don’t you come to my place?” Jack offered. “We have a frozen lake. We could ice skate together. I’m Jack, by the way.”
    “That’s great, Jack! I’ll go! I’m Snowy,” said the fox happily. They hopped down the staircase together enthusiastically. Soon, they reached the ground, and the golden staircase disappeared.

    “Oof,” Snowy said, slipping on the frozen lake. Jack laughed. He felt strange – in fact, the warmth from the top of the staircase hadn’t gone. He was still warm and more alive than ever. It was like the cold didn’t bother him anymore.
    Jack and Snowy played in the wintry surroundings and forgot all about time. They faded away as the season merged into spring, when the weather got warmer and trees grew their leaves back.

    Jack’s mother grieved. She had lost her son one night, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. She was alone in the shack and endured the year with extreme suffering. But when the next winter came about, she felt calmer as she saw the lake starting to freeze. Sometimes, her eyes would play tricks on her, and she would see her son for a split second, playing happily on the ice. Sometimes she even saw a white furry creature with him. At those moments, the burden on her heart was lifted.

    Jack didn’t grow old, just as the owl had said, and neither did Snowy. They vanished when spring came and reappeared when autumn ended. They visited the shack often during the winter to keep Jack’s mother company, but other times, they went to different villages and caused all sorts of mischief.
    This is a story from centuries ago. Amazingly, nobody has forgotten about Jack. He keeps his presence known, like the owl foretold. Who knows how long he’ll keep it up for? Nobody really knows. Nevertheless, for many years to come, I’m sure that children and adults alike will remember the name Jack Frost.

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