It was another bitterly cold morning. The sun, still low in the sky, could not muster enough strength to melt through the thick carpet of snow.
Fausty’s bored gaze fell upon a little robin redbreast, dancing clumsily across the icy fence top. Beyond the fence lay the village: row after row of seemingly ancient cottages, bejewelled with tinsel and wreaths, roofs topped with crisp snow. In the village square, partially concealed from Fausty’s view, was the gaudy Christmas tree, glimmering with baubles and flickering lights: red, blue, gold, green. In an hour or two, the children would spill from crowded cottages and play games in the snow. Some would engage one another in a village-wide guerrilla snowball fight; others would eagerly pull on ice skates and glide across the frozen pond. Maybe some lonely child would build another snowman, a friend, a rival. Fausty was not sure if he would like that. He had been alone so long, he felt sure a rival snowman would spoil him.
Thirty four years, Fausty had spent alone in his garden. Thirty four years of the robin, slipping and bobbing on that unchanging fence; of the Christmas tree, ever sparkling and glinting; of cottages, pregnant with the excitement of Yule, waiting to lease their young tenants on that same crisp, fresh thirty four year old snow.
Fausty was no ordinary snowman, you see; nor was the village an ordinary village. Whilst to him this was reality, in our world the village was an illustration on the front of a Christmas card, sent to Miss Alice Borville by her brother, Anthony, in 1979. By New Years 1980 the card had been put in a box with other Christmas cards, put in the attic, and forgotten about.
Since then, Miss Borville had become Mrs Hitchens, had three children, been widowed, become Mrs Hecklesthwaite, seen Anthony die from heart disease, had another child and three grandchildren, beaten cancer, and been on more diets than she cared to remember. Meanwhile, in the village, everything was as it always had been. Fausty’s coal grin and blue scarf, the frozen pond, the clumsy robin redbreast.
To Fausty, the village was the only reality. He knew nothing of the dusty old box of Christmas cards in the attic of a 21st century house. He knew only the fence, the village, the square. He was bored.
Whilst Mrs Hecklesthwaite (nee Borville) and her grandkids were adorning her house with Christmas decorations, in the attic a quite different story was unfolding.
Fausty caught a glimpse of some movement across the pond. He wondered if perhaps the robin redbreast had been freed from her slippery purgatory and managed to fly free. However, she was right there on the fence, where she always was.
Then, he noticed a shadow flicker behind the fence. Fausty called out in greeting.
A short, rotund gentleman bedecked in red fur hopped over the fence and approached the snowman. He had a red face, reminiscent of the burst capillaries of longterm alcoholics, partially framed by a fluffy white beard that extended down to his chest.
“Good day, kind sir snowman,” said the stranger, “I am Mr Mephisantalis.”
Now, as we have established, Fausty was no ordinary snowman- he was printed on the front of a Christmas card. He was made from ink and paper and, like all ink and paper people, he knew everything ever put down on paper with ink. This is because of a process some people like to call ‘quantum entanglement’, although its real name is Terry. As such, Fausty knew everything there was to know about castles, and types of cheese, and kingfishers, and- of course- he knew all about Mr Mephisantalis and his mysterious powers.
“Sir,” said Fausty, his voice trembling with hope, “I know who you are and what you can do for me. I also know the cost, and am glad to pay it.”
“You are a learned snowman,” purred Mr Mephisantalis.
Fausty continued, “This village is so beautiful, so picturesque, so dull. I have been stuck in this snowy field for so long, and nothing ever changes. The robin redbreast never learns how to walk on her fence without slipping. The cottage doors never open, the children never pour out into the streets and break the virgin snow. Here, it is always Christmas morning.”
Mr Mephisantalis smiled, “What more could a snowman want?”
Fausty continued, “This is not real, is it? None of it is real; I am sure of it. And if this is not real, then I cannot be real either, can I?”
Again, Mr Mephisantalis smiled broadly, “I can make you a real snowman if you wish, however once you leave the village you can never return.”
Fausty gladly agreed to the terms.
Mrs Hecklesthwaite threw back the curtains and looked out onto her garden, the same garden she had played in as a child forty years or more ago. The blades of grass, framed inside a case of frost. The patches of ice gripping the driveway. The red brick wall at the far end, ivy embracing it from the ground up. The robin redbreasts squabbling over nuts in the bird-feeder. It was cold out, she thought, but the sun’s warmth would soon defrost her lawn and driveway.
Then, something in the garden caught her eye. Something impossible. She called to her just-waking grandchildren, who tumbled down the stairs together in their excitement.
There, in the frosty garden, sat a perfectly-formed snowman.
The children clamoured, “Where did he come from,” “Look at his big coal smile,” “But it hasn’t even snowed yet!”
Mrs Hecklesthwaite, mystified herself, explained Fausty’s appearance as a “Christmas miracle,” and found herself inexplicably thinking of her late brother Anthony, some ten years gone.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, Fausty felt himself begin to melt away. He was not sad, or frightened, and he never once thought about the eternal village he had left behind. For the first time in his life, Fausty felt real, and that was enough for him.
By teatime, all that was left of Fausty was a muddy blue scarf, a few scattered lumps of coal, an inedible carrot, and a very satisfied puddle.
And that was the end of Fausty the Snowman.