This is one of the first stories I ever wrote, and still remains one of my favorites. I can't get anyone to publish it -- the fact that the protagonist is a young child doesn't help -- so I'm putting it up here myself, giving aid and comfort to those who believe the Web will allow everyone who wants to, to get their work out before the public.
Pointless home-town fact: You can actually trace Trevor's path through my home-town of Pelham, N.Y., if you have absolutely nothing better to do. I should hasten to point out that the Devil has never visited Pelham. At least so far as I know.
A Hat Too Good to Miss
By Daniel Hood
There are days when waking reveals a snowfall so perfect that the moment stays with you throughout your life, and manages to drag the whole day with it, so that you remember every detail from the white, softly glowing dawn to the early darkness.
Trevor had the beginnings of such a day, when the covers had to be thrown aside like chains, and the soft, neutral light reflected off the deep snow outside meant he did not have to turn on his bedroom light while he dressed. Jumping around his toy-crowded room, he thrust himself into his unimportant clothes. The important clothes -- the snow clothes -- were downstairs, waiting to have their various locations pried out of his mother. When the important clothes were finally properly in place, and the important friends reached by phone, he told his mother good-bye and raced for the door.
His mother smiled lopsidedly after him, in the manner that meant he might expect cocoa when he returned. Trevor did not see the smile, but he guessed at its existence from the way she had helped him with his boots and gloves.
The gloves were very important, because there could be no sledding in snow this deep. Sledding would have to wait at least a day for sun and wind and hardier souls to pack it down and create tracks. The first day of a really deep snow was only good for snowball fights, and snowball fights required gloves. Mittens restricted the fingers, the moulding and shaping, the whole process of properly throwing a snowball worthy of the name.
So, Trevor closed the door of his house and entered the black and white (mostly white) world of his perfect snow day, adjusting the gloves snugly on his fingers. Someone -- probably his father, though it might have been anyone, a monster, maybe -- had left a series of footprints down the front walk, but Trevor could not be expected to follow it. It was his duty to expose as many of the slate grey stones as he could, scuffing his boot-laden feet along, driving the wet snow before him. He made a fair trail, careful to keep the snow in front of him and within the boundaries of the walk. A blank expanse of white lay where his lawn had once been, but he would not disturb the shroud. He did not want to see what lay beneath.
Streets and sidewalks had long since been shaved close, their covering of snow humped beside them like discarded bandages, and they shone blackly with the slight melt. Trevor ploughed onto the street and began running clumsily in his bulky down coat and thumping boots. Everything was covered with white, or darkly exposed. Bushes that had in summer offered tantalizingly green hiding spots now huddled in thick mantles, their interiors closed to him. The trees, though, bore only thin coverings, black limbs thrust up in anguish like stripped bones, snow sprinkled in crotches and on horizontal limbs like strips of pale flesh. It was beautiful, in its extremity, frozen beneath an obscuring grey sky, and not just because it hinted at warmth behind closed doors and cocoa in mugs too hot to hold. Black and white and grey, shapes with few hard outlines, deformities covered and absolved. The world slept beneath an alabaster mask.
Hidden behind the elementary school, Trevor found most of his friends already gathered on the kindergarden playground. They sat on the merry-go-round, waiting for his arrival. Though they were well past kindergarden, in fact almost two years past it, they chose that playground for their battle. The yard huddled against the back of the kindergarden wing of the elementary school, bound on that side by a brick wall black with cold and ivy, and on the other by a steep slope topped by a chain link fence. The fence continued around to cut off one end, and the other was blocked by a high wall of irregular stone blocks that shored up the big kids' playground. There were several large playsets scattered in the small yard, and three hoary old oaks took stands along the kindergarden wall. With the broad concrete sills of the school windows, the irregular pipe projections of the playsets, the trees and untrampled ground, there was more than enough snow gathered for the fight.
In this sunken arena they played out an epic battle, complete with charges, retreats, single combats, great heroism and contemptible cowardice. The boys, nearly indistinguishable in their lumpy coats, hoods and hats, fought out of sight of the street, throwing perfect snowballs for about two minutes before resorting to catching up great armsful of snow and spraying it out in clouds.
Trevor distinguished himself by tearing back the hood of a boy whose name he did not know and shoving a fistful of snow down his back, where it instantly began to melt. As the others cheered, the boy howled in terror, his face exposed, mottled red, snot streaming from his nose to coat his upper lip. Then he plunged at Trevor, bearing him to the ground and thrashing at him, still screaming. With a single will, the other boys piled on, dragging as much snow as they could, crushing Trevor and the screaming boy with equal violence.
When it was over, the hoodless kid's nose was bleeding and his screaming had given way to hoarse, undirected blubbering. His face was a scarlet mask, below his nose with blood, everywhere else with cold and rubbing snow and icy gloves. Safe behind ski-masks, scarves and high-zipped collars, the others regarded him curiously, but without sympathy, until he turned and loped, still sobbing, for home.
"Geez," Trevor muttered, tugging his plaid scarf into position, covering his face. Sweat and melted snow made it cling uncomfortably to his mouth and chin, but it was warm. He tightened the knot at the back of his neck.
Several of the boys had tired and headed home for lunch or TV or, perhaps, to avoid the nameless kid's fate. Trevor, however, would not go, and two other boys, one of them his best friend, stayed also. It was decided that they should go throw snowballs at cars.
Cars, however, did not want to drive on any but the busiest streets, and there their speed deterred the boys. Behind their masks, each imagined horrible accidents and policemen and poor second graders imprisoned for throwing snowballs at speeding cars. They unanimously decided that they would throw snowballs at the houses of people they did not like. The boy who was not Trevor's best friend suggested the nameless kid's house, but it was too far away.
Nonetheless, they managed to find several houses that would do, and spent almost half an hour pelting empty houses and running for their lives, giggling and exhilarated. They were about to break up the excitement for lunch, when Trevor's best friend saw the perfect target.
They were near the Roman Catholic church, at the edge of its mammoth parking lot, across the frozen distance of which stood the glass and multi-colored steel of the parochial day school. A path led between the school and pale stone of the church itself, and down the path was trudging a man with a remarkable hat.
Even across the parking lot they knew it for a remarkable hat. It stood easily two feet above the man's head, skinny like Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe on the wall of the second grade classroom and just as black, but near the top it canted at an impossible angle. What was more, the man was short and very fat, and muffled and swaddled to an even greater girth, with a black coat that swept about his feet. The hat exaggerated the whole affair by maintaining its precarious perch despite the sharp wind that swept whistling across the parking lot.
The three boys watched him trudge halfway across the lot before ducking away behind a stand of shrouded bushes.
"Gotta knock that hat off," they all whispered, thinking as one.
"He doesn't even hold it," Trevor's best friend said, "just hit it once and pow!"
So they waited impatiently, each rolling and packing as perfect a snowball as they could. They crouched at the bottom of the hedge, and Trevor caught a glimpse of the man as he trudged past their hiding spot. A black scarf masked his face from the eyes down, and the long black overcoat masked the rest of him. The black hat hung on at its impossible angle. The man was cheerily whistling a Christmas carol, though the sound was slightly distorted by his scarf.
When they all heard him pass, Trevor's best friend gave a war whoop and charged out, leading the other two. The best friend's snowball disintegrated less than a foot out of his hand, poorly packed; the other boy's snowball flew wide, because Trevor had unintentionally nudged him. Feeling invulnerable, and mesmerized by the crazy hat too good to miss, Trevor himself ran forward a few steps and lobbed his just as the man spun around, tearing his scarf away. The whoop and the wide-thrown snowball had alerted him.
Trevor froze and watched as the snowball flew toward the man, toward the snarling mouth set in the broad pasty face, the two nail-like incisors spiking down to rub at the jaw. The man's eyes blazed out of his face like coals set in ivory. Trevor's friends screamed at the face, and then the snowball, as if drawn by a magnet, splatted against the hat, which did not move. There was an angry hiss and the snowball vanished in a cloud of steam. His friends screamed again and he heard them run, but try as he might, he could not move.
The man was suddenly before him, hauling him up by the front of his down jacket, snarling at him. Breath like ammonia washed over him, making him light-headed and alert at once, and heat came off the snarling man in intense waves. Trevor's unimportant clothes soaked through with sweat before the man even spoke.
When he did speak, the words were garbled slightly by the inconvenience of his fangs, but the blazing eyes and the way he shook Trevor back and forth to punctuate his sentences were very clear.
"Trevor, Trevor, Trevor! Never throw snowballs at people you don't know! Never, never, never! Do you understand, Trevor? Never!"
Trevor tried to nod, but the man's shaking had somehow disconnected his head.
"Do you know why never, Trevor?"
Once again, his head responded to the shaking, and not his inclinations.
"Because if you do, Trevor," the man pulled him close and chopped out the words deliberately into the boy's face, "I'll come to your house, and tear your heart out of your chest. Do you understand?"
This time the man let Trevor nod and then put him down, where he teetered unsteadily, staring in fear at the fangs and flaming eyes.
"Good," the man said, rewrapping his scarf, no longer snarling. He even sounded amused. "Because I'd hate to tear the heart out of a nice boy like you." With that he reached out as if to stroke Trevor's forehead, and then pushed him hard, sending him sprawling onto the cold sidewalk.
The man turned with a hearty laugh and trudged on, resuming his Christmas carol, and from his position on the ground Trevor saw thin puffs of steam rise from beneath the swirling hem of the black overcoat. The man left a trail behind him, boiled out of the deep snow.
Trevor sat there for a long time even though the sudden sweat was freezing to him, staring at the wet, irregular holes, one like a normal footprint, the other like a pie with a wedge cut out, until the man had disappeared. Then he got up and ran home as fast as he could.
There was cocoa, but it could not stave off a nasty cold that became a fever. Trevor got over the fever soon enough, but the rising stayed with him throughout his life, and managed to drag the whole day with it, so that he remembered every detail down to the early darkness.