It was a snowy and windy night as Christmas Eve was upon the small town of St. Nicholas. The townsfolk were buzzing around, shopping for toys and groceries or decorating their houses as one would do in this season. They were as busy as the snowflakes rushing down from the dark sky.
Alice was a twelve year old girl with long black hair, green eyes and small birthmark on her right cheek, a happy-go-lucky child who loved Christmas more than her birthday. That night, she was merrily decorating the tree along with her mother under the supervision of their cat. The house smelled like mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. The roaring fire in the pit contributed to the overall festive atmosphere. Her father was busy working at the family owned clock workshop, so she wanted to surprise him with the decorations and some gingerbread when he would arrive.
They were having loads of fun when all of a sudden, everything stopped. The clocks stopped ticking, her mother and the cat froze as if time itself halted. Little did she know that was exactly what had happened.
“Mom, are you ok? Mom?”, Alice said as she lightly tapped her mother’s back.
“Mom, it's not funny! You are scaring me!”.
But her mother would not move an inch.
“Sir Lancelot?” Alice called her cat who had been enjoying the warmth of the fire. But no response.
The laptop stopped playing carols. Even the fire was looking like a photograph. The Christmas carousel they had on the living room table had stopped rotating. It was extremely peculiar.
She started inspecting the whole house. No lights would turn on, the tv was unresponsive, her phone was frozen. She wanted to pour some tea from the pot, but no liquid would flow. It was like she was living in a movie.
Alice tried to call her father, but there was no phone service. She had become confused and worried.
After a few minutes of contemplating, she put on her hat, scarf, mittens and winter coat and set off for the workshop to find her father.
As Alice stepped outside, she was amazed by what had happened. The snowflakes themselves stopped falling. There was no gush of wind, no traffic noises, no kids yelling. Nothing. Dead silence.
The workshop was a 20 minutes walk from their home. She could not stop goggling in disbelief. People were frozen on their ladders while putting Christmas lights on their houses, cars looked like they were parked in the middle of the street, children on sledges stopped mid-way on the slopes as if they had sprung roots. She lightly touched a snowflake with her finger and it just moved. It did not melt, it did not stick to her glove. She was filled with awe.
“I must be dreaming”, Alice said to herself. “I could play video games and finish my homework and chores on time”, she tried to find the silver lining of this situation.
After a while she reached her dad’s workshop, but the lights were turned off. She tried the door, but it was shut.
“Dad!” Alice yelled, breaking the silence.
“Dad! Where are you! Please tell me you’re not stuck as well!”
But there was no answer. Alice was very worried. What has happened to everybody? Where was her father?
“Maybe he is at grandpa’s!” Alice thought.
With some trace of hope in her heart, she ran to her grandparents. The snowflakes would be pushed away by her body like the Red Sea before Moses. The thing that seemed the most disturbing to Alice was the deep silence. Her brain knew that there should be sounds of cars or of people talking, but all she could hear was her own steps on the snow and her heavy breathing. It was an unnatural feeling that Alice could not fully comprehend.
Not long after she left the workshop, she arrived at her grandparents’ house.
“Grandpa! She yelled from the porch. Nothing.
“Grandma!” She tried again. Nothing.
Her worry was becoming despair. She found her grandfather out back in the middle of swinging an axe towards a log to cut it for firewood. It was an impressive sight. Such a dynamic movement being frozen in place. It was like he was a real life painting. Her grandmother was at the kitchen window washing the dishes. Even the stream of water from the faucet was frozen as ice.
Alice felt butterflies in her stomach. She leaned on the house wall and slid down on the ground, pulled her knees to her chest and buried her head in them. Tears were flowing down her cheeks.
“What if they never unfreeze? What will I do? I won’t see my friends again, or play with my cat” Alice cried out loud.
She sniffled her runny nose and whipped away her tears.
“I should go to the town square. Maybe I can find somebody else who is unfrozen”, thought Alice. She knew she must not lose hope.
She went inside the house, took a blanket, laid it over her grandfather and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I don’t know if you can feel the cold, grandpa, but better safe than sorry. I will find out what’s happening and unfreeze everybody. I promise!
She started running to the town square.
Usually, the place was filled with people, some just walking about, others at the cafes nearby. The town hall had the square decorated with a beautiful Christmas tree with lots of colorful lights and also a scene of the birth of Jesus next to it. Every year there were vendors of cotton candy, mulled wine or hot chocolate, chestnuts, Christmas nick-nacks and a large speaker from which carols could be heard. Alice loved to walk around this place and take in all the mixed aromas of Christmas delights. But now she could not smell anything.
As she had feared, everybody was frozen. There were a lot of people, but at the same time, there was nobody. No smells, no carols, no buzzing, nothing. It was depressing. Alice was starting to lose hope. Why was she cursed to be the only one “alive” ?
Just as she was about to go back home, she heard a bell ring and a door closing. Her heart skipped a beat. Was it somebody else unfrozen, or did she imagine it? She turned towards the place where the sound came. It was the local toy store, which was usually filled with agitated people this time of the year.
Alice approached it cautiously to investigate. Nobody was moving, as expected. But all of a sudden, she saw somebody at the counter. Filled with courage she bursted in and startled the man.
“Dad?” Shouted Alice in disbelief.
“Alice? What are you...How are you not...” he was babbling while trying to hide something from her.
Alice ran towards him and hugged him while tears were flowing down her cheeks.
“Everybody is frozen. Mom, grandma, grandpa, our neighbours, Sir Lancelot. I was so afraid. I went to the workshop to find you, I tried calling you. What is happening to everybody? Even the snow stopped falling” cried Alice uncontrollably.
Her dad started to feel guilty. He kneeled to get to her level, wiped her tears, kissed her on the cheek and confessed.
“I am sorry, my dear Alice, to have put you through this. I did not know you wouldn’t be affected by it. I was the one who stopped all the clocks and consequently, stopped time. I was so hung up on my work, that I forgot to buy you a Christmas gift and the stores were closing. I had to do it so you would have something under the tree.
Alice was listening in amazement with her eyes and mouth wide open.
“In our family we have a special clock given to me by your grandfather when he died. With it, we can stop all the clocks in the world and freeze time. This is the first time I’ve used it and I did not know that you would not be affected. I’m guessing it’s because you are my daughter”, her father said and gave her a big hug.
“I would not have put you through this scare if only I knew. I am so sorry, Alice! Please forgive me! ”.
Alice started laughing through the tears. She was relieved that the mystery was solved and that it could be reverted.
“How could I be mad at you when you literally stopped the whole world just to buy me a toy”.
They hugged, her father payed for the present and both left for home.
On the way, they were laughing at the town's people being frozen in awkward postures, like skaters mid falling on the ice ring, children dodging snowballs, or dogs scratching behind their ears.
“How come you don’t do this more often, dad? You could shop without staying in queues, finish chores and still have time for some fun”.
“It would not be fair to the rest of the people. I would have an unfair advantage over others. The time-stopping clock has been in our family for generations and it’s only being used for emergencies, or for actions that would help people. This time I kind of took advantage of it and I already saw the consequences. I’ve probably scared the living daylight out of you. I won’t use it again for any selfish reason. Who knows what could happen.”
When they arrived at the house, Alice was stopped by her father on the porch.
“Alice, you need to go to the same place you were before the time stopped, otherwise it will look to your mother like you teleported. The clock is a well kept secret and we must not tell anybody about it, not even her. I will turn on all the clocks and everything will go back to normal.”
“Ok! I will yell when I’m ready” said Alice with a smile. She went through a lot in the past hour and she was glad that everything would be back to normal soon.
She went inside, undressed from the winter clothes and took the position near the Christmas tree with a decoration in her hand.
A few seconds afterwards, everything came back to life. The fire, the cat, her mother, the carols, the outside noise. Snowflakes started falling down again. It was like nothing had happened.
Her father opened the door and a gush of cold wind blew inside the house.
“I’m home!” He shouted. “I smell gingerbread!”.
“It’s in the oven! It will be ready soon!” Alice said.
They both played it really cool.
After all three of them finished decorating the house, they sat down near the fire and ate gingerbread and drank hot chocolate. Alice was petting Sir Lancelot who was purring like a good oiled engine.
“How did you manage to finish work and buy presents as well?” her mother said with admiration to her father.
Alice and her father looked at each other with a smile as he said: “I have very good time management skills”.