“How come nothing is happening?” one said.
“Why isn’t she doing anything?” said another.
“Silly children,” the hunter shook his head and laughed. “Ah, to be a child again,” he thought. “To believe in such nonsense!”
So he continued on his way and went hunting for the rest of the day. But try as he might, he could not so much as kill a thing. His heart felt heavy as he made his way back home that frosty night. He lamented the fact that he had nothing to eat, no wife to come home to, and no fire waiting for him in the hearth. He stared up at the pale sickle moon and the crisp blue stars. He dared to make a wish -- but he kept it to himself for fear that if he said it out loud the wind might come and whisk it away, and then it would never come true.
As he trudged on in the moonlit snow he came upon the snow maiden that the children had made earlier that day. He paused to admire their handiwork. In the place where her eyes should have been, he marveled to see a pair of icy blue gems glistening by the light of the moon. And in the space where her heart should have been the children had placed a red rose. The children had done a fine job, he thought. The fair snow maiden almost looked real. He reached out to touch her -- but all he could feel was cold ice and snow.
Then he remembered the children’s rhyme:
“With heart of ice
And crystal eyes
Her snowflake skin
In death, she lies.
No candle flame
Can life impart,
No fire of love
Can melt her heart.”
He stood and stared at the snow maiden as if half-expecting, half-hoping to see her suddenly spring to life -- but she never did. She remained just as still and frozen as ever, and the hunter himself suddenly sensed a cold chill stealing over his own heart. In dejection, he removed the scarf from around her neck and threw it over his shoulders. He braced himself for the cold gusty winds that lay ahead as he proceeded to make his way back home.
Later that night in bed, he could hear her whispering to him in his sleep. “Where is my scarf?” she wailed, like a voice crying from beyond the grave. “If I don’t have my scarf, I’ll freeze to death!”
The hunter suddenly awoke. He was freezing. The room was so cold that he could see his breath unfurling like smoke from out of his mouth. When he looked at the hearth he saw that the fire that he had made before going to bed was still ablaze -- but its heat proved to be no match for the cold crisp night.
“It was only the wind,” he tried to tell himself. Still, he felt a cold chill in his bones, and suddenly realized that he was not alone. He looked down at the foot of the bed only to see the most beautiful girl crawling like a spider underneath the covers. Her hair was orange, but her skin was pale like the moon. It was the girl of his dreams, he knew, and he had somehow brought her back with him, crossed over from the realm of sleep into waking reality -- the snow maiden brought to life!
Her body gave off cold the way a living body gives off heat -- and in the space where her heart should have been there was nothing but a rosy pink glow like snow blushing. He looked into her cold blue eyes as she crawled closer – closer – and try as he might, he found that he could not so much as move a muscle. He was paralyzed. There was nothing that he could do as she pressed her cold mouth to his and kissed him. Icy smoke lingered on his lips. And even though he could see that the fire was still blazing in the hearth, its heat did nothing in the way of melting her skin.
“I came for you,” she said, and her voice was like the sound of icicles tinkling in the night wind. “Will you come with me?” she said, and he closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.
He awoke in the middle of the night. The fire in the hearth had all but died. By the light of the smoldering embers he walked over to the frosted window. He made a circle with his hand and saw his refection mirrored on the glass. On the other side he looked out at the night sky. The atmosphere was midnight blue and freckled with silver stars. A few clouds sped silently across the sky like islands on some nocturnal sea. With the cold and the chill and his breath like fog on the air, he could hear the night wind calling, beckoning him from the other side of the glass. “Shh,” he heard her whispering – and her voice was like the sound of the wind in the trees at night. “Come out to play.”
He would know her voice anywhere. It was the voice of his beloved calling to him. And even though he could not see her, he could still see her footprints in the snow. Without even giving it so much as a second thought he raced outside to greet her. He raced outside to “play.” The mere thought of her kindled such a warm fire in his heart that he was all but oblivious to the cold. The night air was so still that he could hear the sound of the snowflakes glistening. He could hear the passage of the clouds laboring so high up above.
“Where are you?” he whispered. “Why must you always play Hide and Seek?”
“I’m right here,” she said. He looked down and could see her footprints as they appeared in the snow. He chased after them, but she eluded him, laughing, teasing him. She led him through many a field and pasture drenched in blue snow. She brought him further and further away from – or perhaps closer and closer to – his home.
He followed her into the forest, and soon realized where it was that she was taking him: the holy shrine nestled by the side of the lake. The lake was frozen over, but he could see a blue flame glowing beneath the ice.
The woods were still. No creature stirred. Everything was tucked away, hidden safely from the cold night air. The tall white cedar trees arched high up above and the woods were serene, as silent as a cathedral. The holy goddess wore a garland of flowers dappled with snowflakes. In her lap an un-flickering candle still burned, it seemed, perpetually -- burned as one with the blue flame that endured at the bottom of the lake.
Upon sight of her he dropped to his knees and thanked her for the love with which he had been blessed.
As if sensing that he was cold, he could feel her arms wrap around him like a warm blanket. He could feel her sweet breath on his face, and he could feel her heart beating as one with his. He believed it was their love that was keeping them warm, and that they would never be cold again.
The night-gown that she wore was but a thin veil, and she longed to feel him inside of her, to feel his hands touching her body.
She took him into her arms and they danced throughout the forest. By the light of the moon he would appear to have been dancing with his own shadow, and giggling and laughing by himself.
They lay on a blue bed of snow and held each other in the dark. They looked up at the stars and watched them fall, one by one. Steam rose up from where they landed, melting in the snow. She reached down and picked one of them up and handed it to him. It was still glowing like cold fire, and he saw that the stars were really nothing more than just smoldering embers.
“Make a wish,” she said. So he closed his eyes and did. Only his wish was more like a silent prayer, and when he was finished he laid the star in the virgin’s lap, where it continues to glow to this day.
He continued to play with his beloved in the blue dark. They danced and laughed and made angels in the snow.
She wrapped the scarf around her neck and suddenly changed into a snow white swan. He climbed onto her back and she lifted him high up into the cold night air. He plucked feathers from her neck and watched them cascade down as snow, blanketing the forest below.
He held her close in his arms even as frozen gusts of snow carried them on the night wind. He kissed her lips and tasted death there and said, “Not even the very flames of hell could ever melt your cold cold heart!”
She just smiled, and said, “I burn only for you, my love.”
It was getting close to dawn, and he was sad because he knew that she would have to leave soon.
But when he looked over he saw that she was already gone. Her shadow had dissolved into the fabric of the very night itself. All that remained were her footprints in the snow, but even as he looked on, he could already see that the wind was erasing them as well as every last trace of her existence. He looked down at the snow angel that she had made. It seemed to be coming to life. The wings began to rise up and down.
“Don’t worry,” he heard her say. “I am always here. I will always be here, watching over you.”
The snow angel rose up from the ground and batted its wings and he watched as she slowly ascended into the starry night. There, she hovers amongst the stars that fall, and he knew that she would always be watching over him. Always.
The cold snow covered him like a blanket. The warmth of his touch was causing her to melt.
Soon there was nothing left of her but a blue puddle of water. The water turned to vapors that rose up and drifted into the night sky.
There was nothing left of him but frozen gusts of snow. He melted into vapors that dissolved in the twilight dawn.
The hunter was found by the children the next day. He was curled up at the foot of the snow maiden and appeared to have been sleeping. He still had her blood red scarf wrapped around his neck.
He had frozen to death.