It was the first day of sun. The snow had finally stopped, leaving the valley cocooned in a world of white that shimmered like crystal under the orange glow and clear blue skies. It was the perfect chance for Laddie to roam and wander the winter wonderland before the rising temperature caused all of those tiny snowflakes piled high, one on top of the other, to melt. 

 With his boots snug, winter jacket buttoned and mittens hugging his fingers, he raced out the door, one foot after the other in the deep packed snow, adjusting to the feeling of sinking each time a boot fell through the soft powder. He stopped midway through the yard, bent over and scooped a bit of it up into his gloved hand, patting it with both to create a snowball and then threw it hard against the trunk of an old tree. The tree didn’t mind. It didn’t even move, but a rustling above in its branches caused a bit of high resting snow to fall. It looked like a sprinkling of fairy dust as it drifted down and then faded away.

Laddie looked up and realized there was a snowbird scuffling across the branch. The bird peeped, giving him a side eyed look as if he’d interrupted the bird’s search for food, fluffed its blue feathers and then scattered, lifting into the air to spread its wings.

Intrigue captured the boy’s heart and he decided to follow the bird down the road, cutting across his family’s property and out into an open field where the land sloped and ran into a small creek. He stopped at the bottom just short of the water, like one of those cartoons about to fall over the edge. The toes of his boots hung over the bank as the rhythmic sound of the ice-cold water moving underfoot distracted him. It was a soft, enchanting music and the bird was quickly forgotten. Instead, his eyes followed the swift sweeping pattern of the creek until he felt the urge to jump in it and splash around regardless of the chill.

Across the way, mounds of snow had piled up high against the trunk of another very large tree, but the shade did little to protect it from the onslaught of the sun’s rays and little by little as the sun grew higher in the sky, the white powder was melting.

The large icicles clinging for life to the tree’s pine branches created yet another distraction as large beads of water dripped and upon landing left large divots in the bank below. It was helping the melting process along, and as he stood there, mesmerized by the quiet of the winter world around him retreating, he noticed something sticking out of the bank. Something cone shaped.

Without a second thought, he jumped, splashing into the stream, disrupting the smooth movement of the water as he crossed it with determination while being careful not to fall. He made it across, only tripping over the ledge of the bank on the other side and fell face first in the deep snow. It didn’t hurt. It brought on laughter as he rolled over, flapping his arms and legs back and forth to create a snow angel as he looked up at the sky, and then back at what he’d been staring at before. He was still lying on his backside, looking at it upside down when he noticed something else peculiar.

Inside the middle of the snowbank was a small window covered in frost. 

“What?” Laddie gasped out loud as he turned fast and scrambled to his feet. There were no other houses or sheds on their property.

Laddie frowned as he absently brushed snow from his clothes and gazed at the wonder. Above, at the top of the bank, where he’d first noticed the protruding object, was what looked like part of a roof and a chimney pipe, but the circumference was very small. In fact, it was no bigger than a child’s outdoor playhouse.

Small tendrils of smoke lifted from the chimney and Laddie uttered a, “No way,” in disbelief as he took cautious steps towards the small spectacle.

When he reached it, he pulled off one of his mittens and extended a tentative hand to touch the window. The glass was cold, but not a figment of his imagination. It reminded him of something from gingerbread house. One of those heavily frosted sheets of sugar designed to look like glass, except you could actually eat it. 

The very idea brought a smile to his face and he pushed against it with the palm of his hand it creaked open.  His mouth gaped and his chin dropped in surprise. One glance back over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching, then he glanced from side to side and decided, as kids do, that it was time to have a peek inside. Especially since the aroma of sweet pastries and hot apple cider was wafting out through the opening of the window, enticing him to crawl through.

For a second, he wondered if he was dreaming, but didn’t bother pinching his arm to make sure as he rolled in, careful not to disturb the area and landed easily on his feet. When he stood tall, his head almost hit the ceiling.

As small as it was from the outside, the inside was vast and quite cozy. A table sat in the middle covered in a feast that could fill a small army. A turkey and a ham were the center feature, and steam rose from the dishes around them, hot out of the oven. Plates upon plates spread out around those, filled with cheese and plums, cherries and pineapple. Beside them, warm, sliced bread fell over itself waiting for a pad of butter to melt over its soft dough. Nuts and seeds and berries of all kinds outlined the perimeter of the table and of course, at each place setting was a cup filled to the brim with something that bubbled and frothed. The kind of drink that left foam spread across your upper lip.

Laddie was beside himself, tiptoeing to hinder his sound as he rounded the spread, careful not to disturb anything, while taking a sniff to see if he could tell what was in the cups. He was familiar but had never tasted wine. At least, that’s what he thought it was. Yet he’d never seen any kind of wine like this. It smelled sweet and beckoned him to dip his fingers in, to which he did, but just one, plopping it into his mouth shortly after. The taste was pumpkin pie and his eyes went wide.

He backpedaled, noting that the chairs were smaller than normal, and a few had things like hats or scarves placed over them, while small creatures that hadn’t caught his eyes before ventured here and there. A chipmunk stole a nut but didn’t bother hiding the fact as he sat at the end of the table and nibbled it. A squirrel had found a hunk of bread on the floor, and a skunk moseyed around the room, unafraid of the boy’s presence.

Off to the right was the fireplace. A stack of wood sat beside it. Fuel for the fire as the day progressed. Laddie guessed maybe it was the cause of the melting snow around the tiny, mysterious house and not just the sun.

He decided to venture further in and noticed that the trunk of the tree outside came down straight through the middle of the hallway and beside it was an elaborate swiveling staircase carved into a rustic pattern so that each stair was just a little bit different than the rest.

Laddie was tempted to follow them, unsympathetic to the fact that he was in someone else’s home, but there was some kind of mysterious magic in it. There had to be. No other explanation was possible.

He put one foot on the first stair and heard a noise. It could have been one of the animals helping themselves to more food, but he doubted it. There were locks being moved with rattling keys and the creaking sound of a door, even though he’d yet to see one anywhere, save for the window out.

It was time to go! Now he didn’t care what kind of noise his boots made as he dashed straight back to where he’d entered, thanking the heavens and everything below that the window was still open. He dove through it, re-entering his world without a care until one of his boots got stuck on the sill and fell off.

“Who’s there?” he heard, as he rolled head over heels and high tailed it out of there, lost boot or not.

When he returned home with one foot near frostbite, he rambled on and on about the mysterious little cottage down near the creek as his mom drug him inside.

She scolded him for losing his boot out of concern for his well-being but laughed when she heard the tale. When he was even younger, she used to read him stories about gnomes and how they looked over the land and kept it safe. Surely, his claim was a child’s wild imagination due to those stories. Yet Laddie begged her to go with him, down to the creek to have a look.

His mother told him it would have to wait another day, and then she made him some hot noodle soup.

When the next day came, most of the snow was melted. Only the larger snowbanks had survived. It would take them awhile to vanish. The one under the large tree, however, was considerably gone. Laddie held his mom’s hand, dragging her through the water to the other side, eager to prove he wasn’t making it up, but the snow angel on the other side was nothing but sparse clumps of snow fading into the emerging grass, and the tiny house was gone.

“It was right here!” he swore, a sharp pointer finger stabbing down towards the earth. “There was a window and I crawled through it. I saw rooms and food and animals taking turns eating!”

“I believe you sweety,” his mom assured, even though her tone was doubtful.

“I’m serious! This is where I lost my boot,” and as he said that he started to look for it, but there was no sign of it anywhere.

“It probably fell off as you were crossing the stream and now it’s at the other end. We’ll find it. Don’t worry. Better yet, we’ll get you a new pair.”

“No. Mom. I’m not lying I swear.”

“Well,” she said, rubbing her hands together as she smiled “Maybe one day the house will come back.” She winked. After all, what was life without a little magic in it? But the air was still chilly and even with her sweater on, she was getting cold. “But I’d like to hear more about it. How about you tell me while we share a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?”

Instantly Laddie’s stomach growled. As much as he wanted to stay and figure out why the little house was gone, the temptation of melted cheese on toasted bread got the better of him.

“Okay,” he sighed, hanging his head as his feet shuffled back over towards the creek.


A couple months later when spring was in full bloom, and Laddie had made it a point to play there, always keeping an eye out, always hoping he would see something unusual, the boot reappeared. Inside it was a pastry wrapped in cloth and a note. The note simply said: Better not lose this again, you’ll need it come next winter. We’ll be watching. (Smiley face)

The pastry was buttery, flaky and melted in his mouth; the inside filled with custard and bits of melted chocolate.  Laddie sat under the large tree and enjoyed it, tempted to run and tell his mom, but afraid the entire thing would vanish by the time he got home.

When he finished, he wrapped the note in the cloth and stuck it in his pocket. To his surprise, it stayed with him even after he returned to his house later that day, but he still kept it a secret. He kept it into his teens and into adulthood, always aware that whenever life troubled him, something or someone was always looking out for him.

April 02, 2020 22:44

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