Zara raced to put on her skates, her brown fingers stiff with the cold. Ahead of her, Helena already leaped across the icy lake. She shrieked, dodging the snowballs her older brother, Sid, lobbed her way from where he stood on the embankment.
“Hurry up! He’s gaining on me!” Helena called. She zoomed off as Sid leapt onto the ice after her.
Wobbling to her feet, Zara put her gloves back on and eased her way onto the lake. “Right behind y—”
A violent shiver passed through her body, one that had nothing to do with the cold. She stopped, balanced on the edge of her skates, only for another shiver to hit her, harder and more insistent.
Clenching her teeth, she tried to play it cool while she studied the embankment. Faces blurred past, blocked by hats, hair, and movement. A blonde woman in a red jacket stood staring over the ice. Around them, a high wall of evergreens trembled, separating the lake from private property.
Nothing looked off…
…But it’s close…
Helena’s shriek filled her ear, and then the girl caught her arm, zooming them both away. Behind her, Sid’s snowball pelted Zara’s shoulder.
Distracted, she spun, catching the second ball he threw and sending it back. It hit him square in the chest. In minutes, the three of them had their snowball fight sailing across the lake.
They made it all the way to the far embankment, and then Zara shivered again. The feeling of being watched had grown stronger. Close enough to touch, even. Right as her instinct told her it came from the trees, she spied the blonde in the red jacket walking behind them. A second later, the woman disappeared into the evergreens.
Trembling with uneasiness, and more than a little fear, Zara slid to a stop, facing the trees head-on. “Do you guys feel that?” she asked, loud enough that only the siblings could hear. Glancing over her shoulder, she found them both staring at her.
“I think someone’s watching us,” she said, and clambered up the embankment.
“Wait!” Helena said. She skated over, climbing through the snow and taking Zara’s arm. Sid hustled after her.
Heart in her throat, Zara led them through the trees and gasped. In the yard behind the copse, an entire village of snow people bloomed beside igloos decorated in twinkling lights. In the center of it all, a five-year-old girl shrieked, dancing around the village.
A twig snapped. Jumping, Zara spun just in time to find the blonde in the red jacket grinning at them, a green scarf in her hand. She had the longest eyeteeth Zara had ever seen.
“Here to join us? I’m almost finished. I think the kids really like it,” the woman purred, turning her hungry gaze onto the child. Helena and Sid huddled closer together.
“S-sure,” Zara said, stepping back and ignoring her friends’ baffled looks. “Lead the way.”
The woman handed her the scarf, and entered the tiny space. The second her back was turned, Zara flung the scarf around the woman’s head, and gave her a shove into the nearest igloo. She landed with a crash of snow, and snarling.
“Get out of here!” Zara shouted at the little girl.
The kid stood there, stunned, until the woman screamed, “What the fuck!” Then the girl took off, shrieking for her mom, and Zara found she could breathe again. Turning back to the lake, she grabbed her friends and marched off until the red jacket was just a smudge in the forest.
Copyright © 2017 C.L. Mannarino All rights reserved.