Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
Hello, and welcome to chapter four of "We, Cryptids". As always, I'll be tagging all entries as Action/Horror as those are the primary genres of the story, even if each individual chapter does not reflect this. Thanks, and enjoy!
A young boy slid into the room and rushed to the side of the bed, mildly tugging on his father's arm. His wide eyes of wonder danced with raw excitement as he tried to awaken his papa. Most days, the child would be snugly tucked under his blankets and sheets for hours longer, but this was not just any day. The sky wept beautiful crystals of ice and fluff. Winter begins, truly, when the land is first tinted white with snowfall. Even still, every kid knows that there are both real and fake snow days. The false ones are awfully deceptive, beginning with light flurries that promise to thicken and coat the ground substantially, only to peter out and melt away before it has a chance to stick. The true ones, and the one that presented itself that day, delivered on its oath to cover the world, the homes, and the trees as far as the eye could see.
"Hey buddy... up already? It's early, give me ten more minutes okay?"
"Pleaseee?! It's snowing, we have to go out and play before it goes away. Come on, come on!"
The man groaned and sat up, feeling the texture of his eyebags graze against his palms while he rubbed his head. Standing up and sliding his feet into a pair of bunny slippers that sat by his nightstand, he smiled and patted his son's head.
"Right, guess I can't win an argument with you. We can go out, but only after I make breakfast. And you have to clean your plate, alright?"
The boy resembled a bobblehead as he practically bounced off the walls, mind already planning the blueprint of the snowman he'd be making within the hour. First, though, came a well-cooked batch of scrambled eggs and sausage patties. Both the man and his son looked upon the meal, admiring the steam rising from every mouth-watering morsel.
"Wanna play a game," spoke the man
"Whoever can clear the plate the quickest gets to throw a snowball at the othe-"
He couldn't even finish his sentence before the child lifted his fork and began scarfing down everything in sight, hardly taking time to chew as he swallowed every bite like he'd been starving just moments before.
"H-hey! At least take some time to taste it. You could choke!"
The boy giggled and spoke in a mumbled fashion, words obscured by the chunks of breakfast stuffed in his mouth. Scraps and crumbs dropped down his chin every now and again, but he did slow down as per his father's request... somewhat.
"Sorry... You said to race and I'm beating you! Try to keep up!"
"Hm... but still, you shouldn't eat so hastily. Besides, it's bad for... wait. Hey, do you see that? What's that behind you?!"
The child's neck snapped back quickly, vision darting around behind him. To his surprise, the room appeared to be normal. He turned back, confused.
"What? I don't see anythi-"
His eyes widened in shock as he witnessed his father expeditiously digging his fork in and out of his plate, hardly chewing his breakfast either.
"What?! Hey, that's cheating!" The boy once again plunged into his meal, trying to keep pace.
They both slammed their utensils down at the same time, finishing in unison. The boy's grin, a boundless crescent stitched into the fabric of his face, preceded his abundant laughter when he realized he had tied with his cheating father.
"I win, I win! Haha, you didn't stand a chance!"
"We finished at the same time, don't be ridiculous..."
"You cheated and I didn't, so I won! That's how it works, right?"
"Excuse me?! Says the one who had a head start, I didn't even finish explaining the game before you were stuffing your cheeks like a chipmunk!"
"Doesn't matter, I won! Can we go outside now? I wanna make a snow angel and a snowman, and then an even bigger snowman... with a carrot nose and eyes of coal. And two stick arms, don't forget! We'll call him Frosty, like from the movie."
"Aren't you forgetting something? Big boys don't rush out without cleaning their plate first."
"But I did clean my plate, just like you asked!"
"Don't play dumb, you know what I mean. Wash it, and then we can go. Deal?"
The child stood up and huffed before marching to the sink, getting to work on his dish just as he was told. When he finished, he dried it with a cloth and neatly placed it back into the cupboard it came from. Upon returning to the table, he found it to be empty, his father's once-occupied chair now pushed back to its original, vacant position. Bewildered, he wandered to the front door which was conspicuously ajar, if only by a few inches. Reaching for his coat and pulling his arms through the sleeves, he stepped foot into the winter wonderland before him, before feeling a cold, spheric object nail him in the shoulder.
Turning in the direction of the impact, he had just enough time to notice the second snowball grow larger and larger as it approached. "Wha-"
The projectile immediately caught him in the mouth, and he stumbled backward. Wiping the excess snow off, he looked up to see his papa scrambling away, retreating behind the front porch, ducking down out of sight.
"I see you!"
One, two, no... three snowballs had been collected into the kid's arm within moments, and he rushed forth in the direction of his father, locked and loaded with only one objective in mind; to pelt the man into undeniable defeat. Sliding beyond the perimeter of the porch, the child could hardly maintain his balance. This, however, became his advantage, as his awkward movements and forward momentum saved him from the snowball that had launched his way as soon as he appeared. It had hardly missed, and he felt the cold sting as it grazed his ear. Still, it wasn't a kill shot, and he knew it well. He propelled his arm forward, launching one lump of frozen destruction his father's way. It found its mark with utmost precision, crashing firmly into its target's chest.
The father spun backward and collected more snow, tightly compacting it between his gloved fingers and slinging it in his child's direction. The kid narrowed his eyes, inhaling deeply. He leaned back as if attempting the limbo, ducking underneath the assault as his eyes faced the heavens. The sun and its beautiful rays cast down upon him and the all-encompassing frost, like the hand of God itself had outstretched his way in all its glory. It was beautiful, for a moment, until he lost his balance and crashed to the ground. Grasping the opportunity, his dad widened his arms like a bear and scooped up a truckload worth of snow, preparing to deal the finishing blow. The child glanced above, the sight of his doom sending shivers down his spine, though admittedly it could have just been the cool winter air. He raised his arms in preparation, gulping down the saliva that had accumulated in his mouth. This was it. The climax of his fierce battle. It all came down to this. He had failed, and would now have his fate sealed.
"You did good, but you can't beat your pops just yet."
The boy laughed, for he knew his father was right. He couldn't win... not straightforwardly.
"Any last words, son?" The statement arrived in a deep, booming voice that could even spook the bravest of men.
The boy, curling his hand into a fist, erupted upright and delivered a weak yet effective punch into the pile of snow contained within his father's arms. Both of their eyes expanded as an explosion of powder caused them both the fall, the impact cushioned by the snow underneath. The father and son... laughed. They extended their arms and legs, sweeping them up and down as angel wings now rested upon their backs. No longer did they speak, there was no need for words. They simply gazed upon the beauty above, admiring the sky and enjoying each other's company.
For a while longer, silence reigned. The boy stuck out his tongue, letting the pellets up above land delicately on its surface, melting away. His warm breath represented itself in the form of smoke as it moved from his lungs and departed his lips.
"Will you help me build a snowman," asked the boy.
"No. I wanna see you make one yourself."
"What?! But that'll take forever!"
"Yet I want to see you make it all the same."
"But why? You could help me! It would be so easy..."
"I could help you. Maybe I will help with the next snowman, next year. But this one, now, I would like you to accomplish alone. Do you understand?"
The child gave an irritated "hmph" as he stood up and got to work, creating mounds of snow over the course of seconds, then minutes, and even an hour. Three roughly congruent ovals stood in his wake as he finished. A large branch, split in half, would serve as its arms, two coals as its eyes, and of course a carrot for a nose. A sloppily coordinated series of pebbles pressed into the top mound of snow branded a light-hearted grin upon it. Finally, he removed his own scarf and draped it around the "neck" area of his creation, formalizing the look.
"There... done! Does it look good, papa? I tried my best on it."
"It looks decent, good start. You'll surely get better over time. How about you stand next to it? I'll take a photograph so we can look back on this together, alright?"
Withdrawing a camera, the man snapped several photos, each subsequent image displaying his child's gleeful smile widening even further.
"Very good. I'm proud of you, for getting it done and working hard at it. There's not always going to be someone to help you out, to do all the work for you. You did this on your own. With your own hands and legs, motivated only by your wish to get it done. That's a good thing. Do you feel accomplished?"
"I do! And I made it look so awesome, all on my own. I bet the other kids all had their parents do it for them. Not me!" The boy folded his arms and gently leaned against the snowman, striking what he undoubtedly thought to be a very, very cool pose. "Hey papa...?"
"You think mom would've liked it?"
For a moment, there was no response. Only the noise of the wind coursing through the trees whispered in the boy's ears.
"She'd think it was beautiful, yes. She would have adored it, just like she adored you."
The child's demeanor grew solemn as his smile faltered if only a little. He wanted to ask why someone who adored him had never bothered sticking around. How someone like that could have been gone before he had a chance to even remember what she looked like, how she sounded, and how soothing her touch had been.
Asking was a fruitless endeavor, he knew as much. He would be told that it was complicated, and he would be given vague, uninformative answers much like he always had. He was a kid, but he wasn't stupid. Still, he knew how these things were. How children are entrusted with more information as they grow older and more mature. So, he hoped that as he developed and came into his own as a man, he would be told why she wasn't around. Perhaps that's why his father tested him, making him do things on his own. To see if, and when, he would be mature enough to be given such knowledge. He held onto that hope, savored that hope, each and every night as he closed his eyes. That perhaps the next day, he would be ready.
Nonetheless, his authentic grin returned as his father's loving hand patted his head once more.
"Let's go inside, I'll whip up some fresh cocoa, just for you."
The child nodded and walked alongside his father, head turned upward the entire time. A snowflake settled upon his nose, and he closed his eyes, immersing himself in the feeling of bliss that came with it.
When Holden reopened his eyes, there was no snow to be found. Only the banging of rain as his umbrella was assaulted. In one hand was a bag of groceries, stocked with food. Having not felt in the mood to cook back home, he deferred to something that required no preparation. His shoes, now soggy from the current of water that rampaged the sidewalk, created a splash with every step. It was a terrible night to have gone out on foot, and he felt idiotic for not having checked the forecast prior.
Granted, there was a lot on his plate, distracting him from doing things he would otherwise default to. That included forgetting to grab his coat on the way out, despite knowing how chilly the autumn air would get. At the very least, his umbrella could shield him from the harsh elements. He removed the cigarette that loosely hung from his lip and flicked it into a nearby trash can, then cocked his head up to face his apartment complex as he grew closer to it.
On the wall of a building next to the complex, he noticed something strange. Small and shivering sat a dog, its coat of brown fur flattened as it was drenched. Whimpering and shaking, it had been curled up into a ball, eyes firmly shut with its head resting on the concrete pathway. Its stomach, if you could even call it that, was more akin to a stretch of skin that wrapped around its ribs, which were visibly outlined along its belly. Alone and under the unforgiving torrent, its chest rose and fell softly, lacking the vigor one would expect of a young pup like itself.
Approaching, Holden realized that the animal didn't even flinch as he entered its proximity. He signed and sat beside it, propping his umbrella against the side of the wall, such that it sheltered the pup from the abusive, unrelenting weather. He leaned the top half of his body over his groceries, letting his back serve to mitigate the rain. Reaching inside it, he pulled out a sandwich he had bought just minutes before, placing it beside the dog's head. Slowly it stirred, weakly sniffing the food before taking several small bites.
Once the pup had devoured half of the sandwich, Holden meticulously reached forward, letting his fingers brush through its head and scratch behind its ears. As he confirmed its lack of aggression, he carefully picked the dog up and held it closely against his chest with one hand while retrieving the umbrella and holding it above them both using the other. Entering the complex, and then his apartment, he placed the still-shivering dog down on his bed, bundling it in blankets and sheets alike. For hours he spectated his new guest, watching until it finally stopped shivering and drifted off into sleep.
Even still, he set out a sleeping bag next to his bed where the dog could finally rest with comfort. Opening his phone, he swiped his way to his contacts, where Melony's information had been preserved. Dialing her number, he pressed the phone against his ear.
"Yeah... it's me. I'll be ready by tomorrow. Stop laughing, okay? Asshole."