Today, O readers, as you all know, is Fiction Friday. However, my writing brain has decided to go on strike, and I cannot get it to behave for me, despite quite a lot of tea and a tasty lunch. Therefore I am going to cheat just a little bit, and make up for it later. The story you will get here on the blog today is entitled "Not That Hat".
Anyone who has already purchased the 2014 Christmas collection, or read what I've had to say about it in previous posts, will probably recognize that title. Yes, this is the flash fiction from the end of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day. But to make up for that to anyone who's already read it, over the next two weeks (so long as my brain will allow it), I plan to write a novella-length Christmas epilogue to the Dangerverse.
*pause for riot*
More details about this epilogue will be forthcoming as it gets written, but I hope you will all enjoy it. I did leave a lot of things incompletely roughed out when I finished Surpassing Danger, and this will give me a chance to clear a few of them up without overwhelming either you or myself by going for another full-length DV story. And if you should happen to be so pleased with that epilogue story that you go and buy Tomorrow Shall Be, or one of my other collections or novels, well, I can't say I'd mind.
Now, without further ado, please enjoy "Not That Hat". And if anyone has an idea for a title for the new DV story, I'd love to hear it!
Whistling "O Christmas Tree" in time with the Vince Guaraldi Trio on her MP3 player, Michelle Ward glanced idly out her kitchen window at her snow-covered yard as she scrubbed a tea-stained mug.
Her second look was far less casual.
"Patrick David Ward!" she shouted, shoving open the window. In the yard below, the small, snowsuit-clad figure winced, and turned to look up at his mother as innocently as he could manage for the red, hand-knit scarf covering the majority of his face. "Where did you get that?"
"In the attic." The boy wrapped his arms possessively around his prize. "I found it when I was looking for the Christmas stockings for Dad last night. It was just sitting in a box, and I thought it would be really good for—"
"No," Michelle cut him off firmly, trying not to wince at what she could now clearly see beyond Patrick. He couldn't know what he'd been about to do, what he'd been about to start all over again, and there was no reason to scare him with what hadn't happened. "Inside, young man, now."
Shutting the window, she rinsed the soapsuds off her hands, then hurried down the basement stairs in time to meet her son at the back door. "This was your great-grandfather's," she said, relieving him of his burden. "He wore it the day he married your great-grandmother, and at every formal occasion for the rest of his life. Which means that no, you are not going to put it on your snowman."
"But Mom!" Patrick unwound his scarf, revealing a pair of pleading blue eyes set into a pink-cheeked face topped with tousled brown curls. "It's a top hat, a black top hat, just like the song! You know, where there was magic—"
"In the old silk hat the children found," Michelle finished for him, mussing his hair further. He'd inherited that bit of his coloring from his father, though the eyes were all hers. "And don't you remember what happened when your father set up the sink sprayer to squirt me while I was wearing my new silk blouse?"
Patrick snickered. "You chased him around the house and punched him a lot," he said. "And then Benji jumped up on both of you and knocked you down, and everybody laughed."
"Yes, well, that's because I love your father, and that crazy dog, no matter what they do. But do you know why I was so angry with him?" At Patrick's headshake, Michelle sighed. "Silk and water don't get along, bucko. It's why I can't just throw my silk things in the washing machine. I have to take them to the dry cleaner. And a big kid like you, six years old already, should know what snow is made out of, right?"
"It's made out of...water." Patrick slumped. "But Mom, it's a hat. A snowman has to have a hat!"
"Of course he does." Michelle beckoned her son towards the other side of the room, to begin the process of peeling him. "But I bet I can find you something better."
"Better than that?" Patrick gazed longingly at the tall silk top hat, gleaming in the light of the table lamp under which his mother had left it. "Really?"
"Oh, much better." Michelle smiled, unzipping the snow jacket and helping Patrick slither out of it, then steadying him while he climbed out of his black boots. "Come on, let's go back up to the attic and see what we shall see..."
Nearly an hour later, Michelle hummed to herself as she helped her son put the finishing touches on his second snowman. "There," she said, stepping back to survey their work. "Much better."
"Yeah, much better!" Patrick danced around the snowman, using a stick-sword to swipe and jab at it, though he was careful to never actually make contact. "Take that! And that! And that!"
"Horrible child!" Michelle growled, grabbing the towing cord attached to the sled on which they'd built their latest edition of Frosty and whistling for Benji. "You have defeated me! I must flee!"
The fluffy white dog erupted from the corner of the yard in a shower of snow and bounded up to his human, panting in the open-mouthed grin which characterized his breed. Michelle quickly hooked the cord to the harness Benji wore across his shoulders, then scooped up a handful of snow, packing it together and letting it fly. With a joyous bark, Benji bolted after the snowball, dragging sled and snowman behind him at high speed, Patrick giving gleeful chase with stick-sword flailing. "Dark and sinner man," he bellowed, "have at thee!"
"Sinister," Michelle corrected, but quietly. One word slightly wrong didn't diminish the impact of her son's very correct challenge to his much better snowman, with the hooked branch they'd jabbed into the snow in place of a left hand, the luxurious black mustache and eyepatch they'd fished out of one of the costume boxes, the brass buttons Patrick had dug triumphantly out of the button jar they'd inherited from his grandmother, and, of course, the all-important hat. Lavishly curved, stylishly ornamented, the tricorne sat rakishly atop the head of Frosty the Pirate, who was now rocking in place on his sled as Benji dug through the drifts in search of his missing ball. Patrick, needing no instructions, was already packing another snowball to throw for the dog.
"That should keep them busy for a while." Michelle dusted off her hands and made for the house. "And this way, if anything unusual should happen...well, pirates are a lot easier to deal with than creepy broom-wielding snow people."
A certain episode from her own childhood, involving the very same silk topper Patrick had found and a particularly warm winter's day, had never quite faded from her mind.
"You can have almost anything else in the house to put on a snowman, kid," she murmured under her breath as she closed the door behind her. "Just not that hat."