Friedrich the Snow Man

If you gaze long enough into the holidays, the holidays will gaze back into you.

This original short story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found, for when they placed it on my head, I found myself in full possession of my consciousness again. And yet, so monstrously changed! Instead of a body, three spherical aggregations of packed snow; instead of arms, two ragged, dead branches, one of them holding a broom; instead of legs, two worn leather boots. What a bitter confirmation of my belief in the eternal recurrence!

With a supreme effort of will, and using the broomstick as support, I was able to lift myself onto the boots and stagger about, sending the children who had unwittingly animated me running in terror. They fled a short distance and peered at me from the protection of the surrounding trees. I had no wish to alarm them, and so attempted some reassuring words. The effort proved most difficult, as I seemed to have no mouth, only a corncob pipe thrust into the uppermost sphere of snow, below whatever objects served as my eyes.

“Did he . . . say something?” one of the children asked. He spoke in English, a language I do not know well.

“I mean you no harm,” I managed to respond.

Slowly they emerged and began to approach me. “What’s your name?” one of them asked.

“Friedrich,” I tried to say, though the sounds that emerged were much distorted.

“Frosty!” cried one of the children happily. “His name is Frosty!”

“Nietzsche!” I corrected him firmly, but the children all laughed.

“Gesundheit!” one of them said.

At that moment the sun broke through the overcast and immediately I felt what seemed to be perspiration trickling down my back. With a shock I realized that no sooner had I been returned to life than I had begun to melt.

From the brightly colored, machine-made perfection of the clothes the children wore, I ascertained that many years had passed since my death. I was seized with curiosity about this new world, and driven, too, by some kind of compulsion that I did not fully understand, a sense of something important that I needed to see in the time remaining to me.

Through the trees I could see the houses and church steeples of a nearby town. My first steps were halting ones, but I soon found myself able to walk, and then, with the broom as my partner, I began to dance around, filled with an irrepressible lebensfreude, however brief that life might be.

Downhill I ran, trailing water and bits of myself all the while, until I found myself on the main street of a village. I saw many men in uniform, many American flags, banners with horrifying exhortations such as “Vanquish the Hun.” Advertisements in shop windows welcomed the new year of 1943. I ignored the astonished reactions I saw on the faces around me, pausing only when a policeman shouted “Stop!” because I found myself in front of the University Bookshop. There, looking in the window, I saw two things that tore at my heart.

The first was my own image in reflection: a man of snow, eyes of coal, button for a nose, but gaunt now, my body gouged and riven by fissures where the snow had melted away, my arm-branches wilted and flecked with icicles.

The second was the thing that I sensed I had been called back to see. The display in the bookstore window was labeled ROOTS OF WAR, and the centerpiece was a tintype of a fanatical looking man with a tiny mustache and receding hairline, standing in front of a flag with a reversed Hindoo swastika on it. There sat a pile of my books in English translations, along with a square object that purported to be Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and a thick volume named Mein Kampf. There was more, but I ran from it, faster than ever, outdistancing the children and the village itself, until I was alone again in the woods.

What cruel fate had brought me back to life, only to find my work subverted to the cause of war and hatred? I had proclaimed God dead; was this His revenge?

I had little time left. Even in the shadows of the forest, I continued to melt without surcease. And then, in my final moments, a kind of comfort came to me.

Had I not, throughout my life, pursued the idea of amor fati, of embracing one’s destiny? Surely I was not meant to disappear forever on this note of despair and defeat, called to account because an obvious madman had distorted my ideas. If this miracle of resurrection could happen once, could it not happen again? And bring me redemption as well?

One of the children had caught up to me, a beautiful little girl with golden hair. She burst into tears at the hideous sight of me.

I called out with the last of my strength, “Don’t you cry! I’ll be back again some day!”

 

Copyright© 2013 by Lewis Shiner

Art copyright© 2013 by Ross Macdonald

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