Andrew gripped the steering wheel and prayed that the chugging of the engine of his Corsa wasn’t signifying imminent failure. He’d turned off the motorway half an hour ago and the traffic had finally eased – to the point where he was even able to switch his lights onto full beam between the stone cottages that suddenly loomed out of the bends in the darkness. There was still another hour before he got to his parent’s new home, along a couple of windy country roads. This drive was a very different experience to the one on an Indian summer’s morning. He knew that he had to make a left turn about 5 minutes after Old Nieves, but with the hamlets all now shrouded in the blackness of a crisp Christmas Eve night, he wasn’t sure he’d still be able to find it.
“There is some FANCY story about Old Nieves, you know Andrew,” his father had boomed out to him at the house-warming barbecue. Fancy was the word his father used when others would use strange. The booming was just his normal conversation voice. “Back in the OLD DAYS, apparently many a GENTLEMAN disappeared from his carriage. They’d set OFF, tucked up in the LAP OF LUXURY, and when they got to where they were going, POOF! GONE! Isn’t that fancy?”
“No doubt they just stopped by at the Old Snowman on the way,” he had said. The Old Snowman was the name of the inn at Old Nieves – it had apparently been open for over 400 years. Apparently the current landlord, Reg decided to rename it to give it a more “sophisticated” air – but when he’d asked Andrew had been surprised to find that the renaming had just involved the addition of “old”. It was a fancy name for a pub, his Dad thought.
“But THAT’S the thing. They always SAID that the DISAPPEARANCES coincided with the FIRST SNOWFALL of the year. And the YOUNG MEN were NEVER found.” His Mum had passed by then with the salad. “Oh stop telling Andrew all that nonsense, dear! You know very well that Reg just made it up for the tourists. Now come on, the sausages are getting cold!”
The story had been forgotten about, but now with Chris De Burgh giving his own strange take on the nativity, Andrew smiled. His father had always been overly credulous – and keen to broadcast it. His mother despaired each time he swallowed another tall tale from Reg – whether it was about the size of the fish in the duck pond, or the proposed restriction on hedge trimming to Monday nights. In some ways his parents fitted into the old other-worldly community of Old Nieves. It was all bit too Royston Vasey for Andrew, though. The old Victorian cottages, apparently built on top of a settlement going back to Anglo Saxon times and maybe older, were nice enough though. Andrew passed another couple of the old cottages – Westfold, he thought. That was the town before Old Nieves – so it shouldn’t be too much further now. The shuffle on his iPod had moved onto Elvis and his Blue Christmas, and he hummed along as he peered over the steering wheel at the trees and stone walls flashing past.
Specks of rain and ice were being swept off of the windscreen by the wipers, and the road seemed to be getting rougher. His parents had been complaining for a while that the council seemed not to care about the roads out in the county, leaving them to become potholed and uneven with each passing vehicle. Andrew eased off the accelerator slightly and reduced his speed, and the iPod moved onto Wizard wishing it could be Christmas everyday. As he did so, a sudden flurry of sleet covered the windscreen. “Might be about to snow…” he thought, flipping up the windscreen wiper. “Which will please Mum. I hope the roads won’t be too bad coming back though.”
The snow was indeed getting heavier, and Andrew was relieved when, in the seconds between the wipers clearing the screen and it being covered by more white flakes, he was able to make out the swinging sign of the Old Snowman. He had slowed down to almost a crawl, but if anything the snow was hitting the windscreen harder than ever. The jaunty sounds of the Christmas Song felt a bit out of place accompanied by the creak of the wipers and the squeal of the tires on the icy road. It had never been Andrew’s favourite song – the imagery had always been a bit strange, but at this time of year… and with this thought, his engine spluttered and died. Andrew sighed, looked at the lights flashing on the dashboard. It looked like the engine had overheated. Or get wet. Or… he didn’t really know. Fishing his mobile out of his pocket, he wasn’t surprised to see that the normal Old Nieves black hole had swallowed his reception. He’d give it a minute, and if it still wouldn’t restart, he’d head into the pub to call his parents.
A sudden creak drew his attention to the sign waving wildly above him. Reg appeared to have changed it – replacing what had been a fairly jolly “Frosty” type with a much more threatening snowman. Two pairs of dark coal eyes peered downwards, whilst the sticks used for arms looked like spindly claws. Andrew guessed that Reg was going for a more traditional Victorian look, in keeping with the change in name, although just how the tourists would react to it, he didn’t know.
The Wizard track had almost come to a close. But suddenly the iPod seemed to stick and jump backwards, until all it was playing was the last “…when the snowman brings the snow…” sung by the school choir, again and again. Andrew looked down, prodding at the controls, when a thump drew his attention back to the road. Looming in front of the car was the gigantic white shape of the snowman from the inn’s sign, his dark eyes glinting with an orange glow and his sharp, taloned hands reaching towards the window.