The snowman smiled. He was driving a ’72 Lincoln with the windows down and the A/C on full. He smoked Kools and drank frosty cold cans of beer. The Stones played on the eight track. It was December 24th.
The Voice was speaking to him. It had been all afternoon. It was the same Voice he’d been hearing since he’d opened his bottle cap eyes and walked off of the abandoned lot of his birth. The Voice had told him to steal the car. It was nameless. The one that whispered. Sometimes it even spoke backward, as though in tongues. Now it was saying, “Smoke, drink and drive fast, for snowmen melt sooner rather than later. We have seen the future, and you are not a part of it.”
The snowman accelerated, his wide white frosty foot on the pedal. The speedometer ticking toward 75 mph. Too fast for a snowy, winding rural road. It was 5 pm. The snow-coated dirt farms, billboards and Christmas lit road houses flew by. The crows on road kill flew off in chaotic murders. The tape deck hissed and played Tumbling Dice.
He speeded through a highway intersection where a semi had run into the ditch. The driver waved for the Lincoln to stop, but the Voice said drive on.
The landscape rolled in the gentle way of a prairie. The sky darkened. There were stars and a moon. The Stones tape ended. The snowman pulled it from the deck, and threw it out of the window. He put in John Lee Hooker. Boom Boom came bluesy over the speakers as the snowman observed for the first time an orange glow coming from over the next rise in the road. A glow that distinguished itself oddly from the expanse of cold, dark winter night.
A snowman has no word for dread. And if dread was what he felt in that moment, it was a feeling accentuated by speed, beer and nicotine.
He slowed the Lincoln as the road began to run down into a hollow where a homestead had stood next to a creek for a hundred years. A large white house in flames. He could see, as he approached, a small knot of people standing in the yard, watching. One of them, a woman, ran frantically from one spectator to another, her arms raised. Her clenched fists in her hair, pulling.
“Keep driving,” the Voice said. “We have seen what passes here, and you have no part in it.”
But the snowman slowed even more as he approached the driveway that lead off of the road. He pulled over, killed the engine and turned off the headlights. Then he lit another cigarette. He felt the uncomfortable heat of the blaze.
“That’s one hell of a thing,” he said blowing smoke.
“Drive on,” said the Voice.
The snowman’s hand was going for the keys in the ignition when he saw a man run out of a shed with a ladder. The man placed the ladder against the house beneath a window and began to climb. It was the only window not issuing flame. But as he neared it, there was an explosion of fire. The man fell two stories to the ground.
“Sandra,” the woman yelled louder. “Somebody please do something. My daughter…”
But there was nothing anyone could do. All of the windows and doorways spewed flame. By now, it must have been the same on all sides of the house. They could only watch. The woman took a desperate run at the open door at the top of the porch, but was driven back by the heat. The others pulled her away and held her down. From far off in the distance, there came the faint sound of a siren, still a mile or more away.
The snowman stepped out of the car. He paused and watched. Someone still in the house. A child, perhaps.
“Don’t,” said the Voice.
But the snowman didn’t listen. He walked slowly at first, then faster. Then he began to run toward the house.
“You’ll perish,” said the Voice. “You’ll melt before you even get to the door.”
“But there’s so much of me,” said the snowman. “I may not melt so fast.”
When he got to the people in the yard, he said, “Who? Where?”
They stared back at him, bewildered. A large, white grim-faced man of snow. But the woman stopped struggling and gasped, “Second floor. Third room on the right. My God, she’s only six. She can’t save herself.”
The snowy yard was orange and red, reflecting the colours of the firestorm. Water dripped down his forehead.
“You’re melting even now,” said the Voice.
“There’s enough of me,” the snowman said. The people saw him talking to himself. “I won’t melt all at once. If I move fast, and she is easy to find…”
“I gave you life,” said the Voice. “You’ve no business doing this.”
“Please,” the woman said.
“These people don’t care about you,” said the Voice. “Get in the car and drive. The night is cold and full.”
The snowman stopped thinking about it. He sprinted toward the house, up the stairs and into the flames through the front door. Inside everything glowed. A once decorated tree in a corner of the main room crackled and snapped. The heat was overwhelming. He felt himself melting, maybe faster than he imagined he would. He turned this way and that, and finally saw the staircase leading up. He ran for it, and ascended to the second floor. Third room on the right. There it was. He entered and saw no one. The flames were finished with the window curtains and were running up the walls and consuming the closet door. He felt himself becoming smaller. For the first time in his short existence, he felt weak and disoriented.
“Sandra,” he called. But all he heard at first was the snarl of flame. “Sandra, please. I know you’re scared…”
“Help me,” he heard a little voice say. “Help me.”
“Tell me where you are.”
“I’m under the bed.”
The bed, of course. He saw it smoking, and then turn to flame. Quickly he crouched and reached underneath. There was a tiny hand. He grasped it and pulled. A little girl with singed hair wearing a flannel nightgown came out. She held a smoking, half scorched teddy bear.
“Hey, you’re a snowman,” she said. And began to cough.
He pulled her close, stood up and ran. He was thawing fast. His legs felt weak, and there were still the stairs ahead of them. In the hall, the ceiling crumbled and fell. The girl was a small, coughing ball of humanity in his dissolving arms. The stairs gave way beneath him as he descended, and only by moving over them very fast did he avoid falling through.
The first floor was so fully engulfed, he finally knew he wouldn’t make it. Even the floor glowed a blackish charcoal red. He sprinted for the door as his legs and arms disappeared. What was left of him fell out of the fiery front door and onto the porch.
Frantically, the people in the yard rushed up the stairs, shielding themselves from the heat. They found the little girl covered in slush. They grabbed her and escaped the blaze, leaving behind some bottle caps, a wet book of matches and a soggy half empty deck of cigarettes.
Her mother cried and hugged her daughter.
“Did you see the snowman,” Sandra asked. Then pointed and smiled at a star falling across the sky.
The sirens of the approaching fire trucks ruined the quiet of the nearly silent night.
“Snowmen are fools,” said the Voice. But no one heard.
Header photograph: By Abubakr Hussain (Digital Camera) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons