Deep in the woods lay a strange little house with a strange little man. He stumbles around his yard like drunken bum, yelling obscenities at some invisible nemesis. He darts and jumps and waves his little arms about. He's quite an oddity, this strange little man.
But he has a secret--a hidden treasure.
And he guards it well.
When the townsfolk have closed their doors for the night he comes out of his funny little shack. He stretches and yawns and grows three times his usual size. I know, because I spied on him once. Jimmy Connelly dared me to. Jimmy pinched my arm and said I was the worst girl ever. So I took the dare and trekked out into the woods and spied on the stranger.
I watched his knobby knees unbend, his back straighten. I watched his funny face contort and change as if a mask had fallen away. Gone were the misshapen eyes. Gone were the too-big ears. In the end, he was really quite beautiful and unexpected. I watched him work his magic with disbelief. He spread the ice and snow--curled the leaves for hibernation and awakened the winter frost. He worked with single-minded intent. And when he had finished he'd created an icy paradise--a garden.
Sparkly icicles shimmered from the tree branches. Powdery white snow dusted the garden floor. Frost clung cheerfully to the shrubs and his breath came out as warm steam. I sat in silence, slack-jawed, unable to comprehend what my eyes were seeing.
Just when I thought things couldn't be stranger he turned and looked right at me. His bright blue eyes saw my hiding place and I realized that he'd known I was there all along. "Come out, child." His voice rang out clearly in the eerie calm of night. I rose and walked toward him.
He smiled at me then, a smile I'll never forget. "My, what a pretty pet!" He squeezed my hand in his and led me over to the largest, oldest tree in his icy garden. "Look," he nudged me closer to the bony branches, "what do you see, girl?"
I squinted and shrugged. I didn't see anything. He laughed a rich-warm rumble from deep in his chest. He kissed my forehead and whispered something I couldn't understand in my ear. And then I felt a strong whoosh rip through me. My breath was knocked from my lungs and my entire body felt frozen from the inside out.
"Perfect," he said, then hung me on his tree with tender fingers. Now I'm just a bonny ornament, glistening among thousands more.