by Nyki Blatchley
"Is this the way you always celebrate Christmas?" asks the stranger in his outlandish accent, rubbing his hands in front of the fire. "Or is it special?"
I see glances between the people crowded in Agnes's house — the whole village — though I reckon the stranger didn't. It's said cities make you half blind.
We leave it to Agnes to answer, though, like what's proper for the eldest.
"This ben't Christmas," she explains. "Be feast to honour the Snow Spirit, what we have each seventh seventh year."
I shiver. I never saw it — none of us has except Agnes, and she was a little girl — but we know what happens. The stranger don't, though.
"Like in faery lore," he says, eyes lighting up. "Can I see it?"
"Oh, aye. You come now, if you want."
He follows her outside, and we all go too. When we're gathered in the snow on the mountainside, Agnes speaks the special words, the words from before time, and we repeat. The children too. One of them'll be doing it next time.
Reckon the stranger don't know what's happening till the snow-swirl rouses up round him. Then he screams, but it's too late. The Spirit settles down into the snow, fully fed, and he's gone.
"Well, me dears," says Agnes, "that's that. Reckon Spirit'll leave us alone another seven seven years. Maybe there'll be another stranger. There were last time."
We file back into the house to start the celebrations.