“Need some help with that?”
“Yeah, Daddy. We can’t lift the head high enough,” Leila said.
“Well, I think I can manage that,” Leonard told them, and he knelt down for the snowman’s head. He hoisted it into place and patted some snow to secure it.
“He looks great!” Leila said.
“Yes, he does,” her father agreed.
The family basked in their joy for another minute. Then there was a sound, and happiness turned to horror.
* * *
Peter popped his head in the door.
“Leila! Get your coat and come look at it!”
Leila hadn’t been too eager about snowmen for a long time, but her new husband had gleefully gone out after the first good snowfall and built one. She put on her coat, determined to make the best of it.
“Very nice, Peter,” she said.
Rather than a hat, Peter had used a pair of earmuffs on the snowman’s head. Two red reflectors made for a disturbing pair of eyes, and a line of small rocks made the snowman seem entirely too pleased.
“And now for the finishing touch,” Peter said, brandishing a carrot from his coat pocket.
Leila put her hands over her eyes and turned away with a shriek.
“What?” Peter asked. “It’s not our last carrot, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He realized she was sobbing. Still, he was half-focused on finishing his snowman; he quickly stuck the carrot in the snowman’s face and then went over to Leila.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just like when I was a kid and the horrible thing happened.”
“What horrible thing? With a snowman?”
She nodded and tried to control her breathing and her tears.
“When I was nine, Leo and I made a snowman. My dad came out to help and pulled a carrot out of his pocked just like you did. He put it on the snowman and …”
“And what, honey?”
“Something started eating the carrot from inside the snowman’s head.”
Peter stared at her for a moment.
“Come again?” he asked.
She glared at him through tear-filled eyes, daring him to make fun of her.
“Something … ate the carrot … from inside … our snowman’s head.”
“What ate the carrot?”
She shook her head. “We don’t know. Leo ran in the house; he was only four and it terrified him. Dad and I just watched as the carrot … was pulled into the snowman’s head a little at a time as it was devoured. When it was done, Dad pushed the snowman’s head to the ground and stomped on it, but there was nothing there. We never knew what ate the carrot.”
Peter believed Leila to be as level-headed as anyone he had ever known, and she was obviously reliving a traumatic memory. Still…
“Something ate the snowman’s nose from inside the head,” he repeated, just to hear it once more.
“Yes,” she said, wiping her tears on her mittens.
“That’s something you don’t see every day.”
“No, it isn’t. I’ve never heard or read about it happening to anyone else. Of course, we’ve kept quiet about it for almost twenty years. Dad and Leo and I don’t even talk about it among ourselves. We think Mom believes us; she puts up a good act if she doesn’t. But who would report such a thing? Who would want to tell the police or a reporter such a wild story? I know it’s crazy, but I saw it.”
Peter heard something and looked over at his snowman. He blinked.
“Um … Leila?”
She looked at the snowman, too, and screamed.
The carrot nose was slowly being pulled inside, and they could hear the sound of powerful jaws chewing it up.
Peter ran to the porch and grabbed the snow shovel. In three quick bounds he was in place. He swung the shovel and decapitated the snowman. The head landed face up and the carrot rapidly disappeared.
Peter brought the wide scoop down on top of the head and heard a shriek from inside. That brought a companion shriek from behind him, from Leila.
Peter kicked the snow away and there, on the ground, looking rather woozy, was a three-inch-tall green rabbit. Its long, thin ears were flattened against the side of its head, and rather than the traditional cotton ball tail it had a thin forked tail — somewhat kinked after the sharp blow from the shovel.
Peter looked over his shoulder at Leila; she nodded that she could see the rabbit.
The little creature stood up gingerly and dusted itself off. It held a hand to its head briefly, obviously in some pain. It glared at Peter.
“You people sure are getting possessive about your carrots,” the rabbit accused. Then it made a leap and disappeared into nothingness at the apex of its arc.
A short time later, Leila and Peter stared at each other from opposite ends of the couch. The brandy Leila had purchased to make hot toddies for the Christmas party was taking quite a hit.
* * *
Peter helped his eight-year-old daughter, Maddy, build a snowman. Leila remained inside with the baby, occasionally looking nervously out the window.
Peter put the top ball of snow into place. One of his old hats covered the snowman’s head, and Maddy had brightly colored plastic beads to use for the eyes and mouth.
“And now for the finishing touch,” Peter told her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a large jalapeno pepper. He put it in the middle of the snowman’s face.
“That’s a funny thing to use for a nose, Daddy.”
“Yeah, it is,” he said, watching the snowman intently.
“That’s a good-looking snowman,” Maddy said.
“What are you looking…?” Maddy’s question trailed off and became a shriek as the jalapeno began to disappear into the snowman’s head. “What’s happening?”
Peter put his hand on her shoulder but didn’t answer. He waited eagerly.
About half the jalapeno had disappeared when a shout came from the snowman’s head. Peter was expecting it, but Maddy cried out again when a three-inch-tall green rabbit with a thin, forked tail burst from the snowman and landed on the ground. It ate as much of the cooling snow as quickly as it could.
After a few moments, the tiny rabbit sat down hard and glared at Peter. Maddy stood beside her father, watching.
“I trust I’ve made my point,” Peter said quietly.
The little green rabbit stood, muttering about humans and their selfishness and anti-rabbit prejudice. It contemptuously kicked a bit of snow at Peter before making a leap and disappearing.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s fix the snowman’s head, and then we’ll go inside and get some hot chocolate and Mommy and I will tell you all about it.” Peter looked at the window where Leila stood; he gave her a thumbs-up and a big smile.
He and Maddy put the snowman’s head back together, and Peter replaced the half-eaten jalapeno with a large carrot from another coat pocket.
The carrot was still in place when the snowman began to melt during a brief thaw two months later.