Donny and the Snowman

From the forthcoming novel Donny and the Snowman
 

It’s hard enough, lighting a cigarette in a snowstorm. Try doing it when you’ve got hooves instead of fancy hands with thumbs like some asshole species. But Donny’s a professional, and smoking helps him focus. He rears back on his hind legs, nearly nine feet from the back of his foot to the dagger tip of his antlers. He raises his trenchcoat over his face and lights a smuggled American Gusto. Contraband cigarettes might make Donny a less honest cop, but goddamned if you can't find a decent smoke in Christmastown anymore.

    Ziggy, his partner, watches him with coal-black eyes that are also literally made out of coal, his eyebrows arched in mock surprise as they float a few inches from his face. His pipe juts out from under his carrot nose, smoke pouring into the wind.

    “How the fuck do you do that?” Ziggy asks. His voice honks, an awful sound plucked out of North Jersey and given life in the CPD.

    Donny takes a long drag. “Magic,” he says, and tries to give Ziggy a knowing look. It doesn’t quite work. What Donny would give for eyebrows.

    “Bullshit. You’re not magic anymore.”

    “Doesn’t matter how long it’s been since they kicked me off the sleigh,” Donny says, “it stays with you. Just a little.”

    “You got some magic that makes this all go away?” he asks, gesturing to the body on ground between them. “‘cause otherwise we’re fucked.”

 Donny frowns. He’s nervous and a little drunk. Not as drunk as Ziggy, but no one ever is. It’s just that Donny doesn’t usually hit the nog on a school night.

    He still hasn’t looked at the ground. Neither of them have. Because once they acknowledge this dead human, they’ll be in a different world.

    They’d been on regular patrol, hunting for some brief distraction in the crimeless wasteland of December, when they had seen a strange flash of light on the horizon. They were expecting a fire at worst, or maybe just the Big Man doing something enigmatic and threatening, as is his way. They weren’t expecting something that would break their world.

    Donny’s forgotten that humans look weird up close. Like elves that smell worse, with boring ears. Not like they look on TV, that’s for sure. This one’s frozen solid, lying naked in a fetal position, and he’s got crazy tattoos of rocks all over him. Rocks. Not even interesting rocks, just rocks. We exist for these creatures, he thinks. And this is how they spend their time.

    “So...the fuck do we do?” Ziggy asks.
    Donny rolls his eyes. “We investigate. We try to figure this out. Why is he here? Why is he naked? Is something wrong with the border? It’s been hundreds of years since the last time this happened.”

    “Hmmm. That’s not what I’d suggest.”

    “What would you suggest, Mister Great Suggestions?”
    “We get the fuck out of here. We forget we saw this. A dead human in Christmastown? I don’t even know how we’d report that to the Chief. We don’t call it in, we go on our way. No one needs to know. It’d just go straight to the Big Man and before we know it, we’re snow in the wind.”

   While Ziggy’s talking, the air around their feet begins to shimmer. Donny trots backwards, Ziggy slides away with a shriek. Right in the spot where they were, something that Donny can only describe as an oblong hole in space unfolds. From the alien stillness falls a writhing, screaming human with no clothes on.

    “Fwucks!” Ziggy cries, his ability to curse coherently withering in shock. Donny bleats a wordless, animal sound. The human looks up at them, her eyes gone wide.

    “Oh my God!” she screams.

    “Don’t worry! We’ll save you!” Donny says, trying to sound reassuring.

   “Jesus, I’m hallucinating!” she says, stumbling backwards. She turns away from them, howling into the Arctic night, “Peter! Peter!”

    She turns back, and trips over the body. Her hands come up to its face, trembling, and she screams.

Donny extends a placating hoof and speaks in a soothing voice. “Hey, hey, look, we’re not gonna hurt you. We didn’t do this. I’m sorry about your friend, but we need to get you out of here, you’re going to freeze to death.”

    She looks at him, trembling, fear pulsating in her eyes. Donny’s seen a million movies and TV shows, but he’s only seen a handful of humans in his life, never up close like this. He’s certainly never seen this kind of fear before. It’s shocking, infectious. He tries to ignore his racing heart.

    She shakes her head. “Get away from me.”

    “I know this is all weird, but I want you to climb on my back, and I’m gonna get you outta here. Please.”

    She looks around, blinking, trying to process what’s happening. Her eyes settle on Donny’s, who’s trying his damndest to look safe and welcoming. He flicks the cigarette away and holds out his hoof. He sees something click behind her eyes and she climbs onto his back, throwing her arms around his neck. Ziggy reaches into his bag and pulls out a blanket. Donny’s usually annoyed that Ziggy’s always ready for a picnic, but tonight his commitment to poor work ethics just might save a life.

    The field in front of him narrows to a point as Donny reaches into his heart, down below his deepest self, into a place he hasn’t been in decades. The last time he tried this, it hurt. Using more magic than you’ve got hurts. But he doesn’t see any other way. He rears back, then gallops forward with all his might. Something moves in his secret heart and Donny launches into the night air. The human on his back screams again.

    “Meet us at my place!” Donny yells back. He’s going to fast to hear Ziggy’s response. The wind raises him up and greets him like an old friend. Pain rages in his muscles, but he doesn’t care.