The children are excited to get a day off school
Ruby awoke to the sound of silence, as if the world was holding its breath.
“Oh my! She gasped with surprise when she threw open the bright yellow curtains, exposing a winter wonderland.
Snow piled up on the windowsill, as if it had attempted to enter the house, but then slid back defeated.
She gave a nod of smug satisfaction when she saw that their patchy, half dead grass looked the same as neighbour Linda’s manicured, verdant lawn, each now covered with inches of as yet unsullied snow.
“Come on, kids get up!” She yelled out to her children, “It’s snowing!”
Ruby heard the sound of galloping feet as two excited children flew into their parent’s room and on to the big bed.
“Where’s Daddy? He said he’d take us tobogganing the next time there was this much snow. Please, can we?” six-year-old Max, begged.
“He left early, darling. He had to go to work while the roads were clear enough. But by the looks of things there’ll be no school today.”
Ruby laughed at her children’s facial expressions. Their faces broke into huge grins at that unexpected bit of news.
Max’s missing front teeth had left a gap so wide, his tongue poked through when he spoke. “No school, Tess. That’s great!” He lisped.
“I tell you what, after breakfast you can build the biggest snowman in the world. How about that?” Ruby suggested.
“Wow, Max, I hope it snows for ever and ever,” his twin sister, Tess, squealed, bouncing up and down on the bed. Her long red hair flying wildly.
“I want to be the first one!” Tess and Max tussled in the doorway, each wanting to make the first footprint on the pristine carpet of snow outside their front door. They tumbled out into their snow covered garden.
“Ouch, that hurt, I’ll get you back for that!” Tess screamed when Max landed a well-aimed snowball on his sister’s head.
Ruby watched her children, their faces red with cold, gloved hands making piles of snowballs and laughing. “I love you guys, try not to kill each other,” she shouted over their screams, before she went back into the warmth of the kitchen to answer her phone.
“Hi Ruby, do you want to come over for coffee? If you can plough your way through all this snow.”
“Thanks Linda, I think I can manage to walk next door! Be there in ten?”
“Great. I’ll put the coffee on.”
Linda blew out a plume of cigarette smoke before asking, “No school today?”
“The radio says the roads are impassable until they get the ploughs out. They should be clear later on though. Joe called, said he should be able to get home okay.”
“Where are the kids, then?”
“In the garden making a snowman. They love snow, and of course a day off school.” Ruby looked at her neighbour, noticing her worried frown. “Why, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. I worry too much.” Her hand shook as she lit another cigarette.
Ruby grasped her friend’s trembling hand. “The kids are fine, Linda. They’re just next door.”
“Yeah, I know, but my sister’s kid disappeared from right under her nose!” Linda eyes reddened as she tried to stop the tears.
“It was terrible, Linda, but I don’t want to be one of those helicopter parents, not taking my eyes off the kids for a moment.”
Linda grabbed a tissue and wiped her nose, “I know. I shouldn’t burden you with my problems, but I love your kids and I’d hate it if something happened to them.”
“Come on, let’s join them. We’ll help build their snowman like I promised.” Ruby squeezed Linda’s hand.
“My hands are hurting mummy,” Max shook his gloved hands, caked with compacted snow.
“It’s time we had lunch anyway. You can finish your snowman later. What say we get some hot chocolate?”
Later that afternoon, after getting the children to do a little reading for school, she allowed them to watch the movie, Frozen, on television. More snow had fallen and covered any signs of the morning’s activities, except for the snowman standing in the front yard.
“Can we finish putting on his hat and scarf before Daddy comes home?” Tessa asked.
“No, it’s too cold now. Go and finish watching the movie, while I get dinner ready,” her mum told her.
“Come on, kids. Wash your hands. Dinner’s almost ready,” Ruby called. There was no reply from either of the children. She listened for any sounds that would tell her where they might be, but soon realised they were not in the house. When she opened the front door, the strong wind blew swirling snow inside the hallway. She stepped outside. The snow soaked into her slippers.
“Tessa? Max?” She called out, “Where are you?” The wind stole the words from her cold lips. Fear hit her like icy water. Her knees shook as she remembered what Linda had said a few hours earlier. She then noticed the snowman was sporting Joe’s hat, the one he’d bought last summer at the beach. The straw brim was torn, and flapped in the wind. The red and green striped scarf her mother had knitted for Ruby this winter was wrapped twice around the icy neck. Her heart beat faster when she saw fresh footprints in the snow. Two small sets. They crossed the snow-cloaked lawn as far as the snowman. Then nothing.
She stood, her mouth open wide in a silent scream when she saw the snowman’s face.
Max had used his biggest marbles for the eyes, which gleamed bright green, in contrast to the shimmering whiteness of the snowy cheeks. With his carrot nose and a mouth fashioned from chips of coal, what had seemed comical, now gave the appearance of malevolence. What appeared to be blood, spilled from its mouth. It ran down the chin into what looked to be a bright red beard.
Joe arrived home after Ruby’s distressed call. Several police patrol cars, red and blue lights still flashing, were outside his home. His blood ran cold as he entered the kitchen. The table was still set with four places.
“Oh Joe,” she flew into his arms, “they’ve gone. Someone has taken our children!”
She looked older, her face as white as the snow still falling, her brow furrowed with lines that weren’t there that morning. Joe looked over at five police officers, standing in his kitchen.
“What the hell’s happening here? Why are you just waiting? Get out there and find my kids!” He supported Ruby to prevent her falling to the floor.
The cops explained a search was under way, but with darkness fast approaching and the bad weather it would not be easy.
Joe glanced around the warm kitchen. Signs of his children were everywhere, a half-finished jigsaw on the table, and Tessa’s one eyed teddy, waiting for her to give him a hug.
A solitary mitten on the floor, caught his eye, and at last he cried.