(I heard this song and had to use it in a story. Happy Holidays. Stay safe.)
“Alright, Mr. Moose. Now that you’ve got eyes I need you to tell me where your arms are.”
Mr. Moose stared at the girl with vacant, stone-cold eyes. He kept his secrets.
“You’re not gonna be very good at hide-and-seek if you don’t have arms, Mr. Moose. Ah! Here’s one. It even has three whole fingers, look at that!”
Ellie stuck the arm back on with a soft squishing sound, frowned in thought, then made some minor adjustments.
As she worked, one eye plopped off and fell into the snow.
“Hey! Mr. Moose,” she complained, picking the rock up and stuffing it back onto his head, “if you don’t hold still we’re never gonna get to play hide-and-seek!”
“Maybe Mr. Moose is trying to tell you something.”
Ellie turned around to see Linden trudging a new path as he approached up the hill.
“Go away,” Ellie huffed, getting back to work looking for a second arm for Mr. Moose. “Mr. Moose is my only friend.”
“Ellie, you have to come back home, you’ll catch a cold out here,” Linden said. “You’re not even wearing your snowshoes.”
“I don’t need snowshoes,” she explained. “Mr. Moose doesn’t even have any shoes, and he’s fine.” Linden didn’t understand. She wasn’t going back home. Not ever.
“Would you refuse a coat?” he offered, already pulling it off now that he was close.
Ellie put Mr. Moose in between the two of them.
“You’re not gonna throw it at me and haul me away from my new friend, are you?”
“No, Ellie. I’ll even help you finish Mr. Moose if you would like me to.”
She considered that. She held her hand out and Linden handed her the coat, which was practically a blanket on her. The warmth was nice.
“All the best arms are up in the trees,” she explained, wrapping herself as much as possible. “He needs one with at least three fingers.”
Linden nodded and set about looking for an arm for Mr. Moose. Ellie refused the first three he offered, but the fourth one did the job. After that was done, she had a few more tasks for Linden to get Mr. Moose as perfect as he could be, and Ellie had a new huggable friend.
“He promised we’d play hide-and-seek once I finished him,” Ellie said.
Linden sighed. “Maybe we can play hide-and-seek with him tomorrow. Your face is turning blue.”
“You’re right. Hide-and-seek is no fun with only two people. We have to make a whole army of snowmen.”
“Ellie, why won’t you just come home?”
She buried her face in the coat a little bit. “I’m not telling.”
“Is this about what happened with Mom and Max?”
“I’m not telling,” she repeated.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Linden said, getting up. “Maybe you should talk to Mr. Moose about it.”
He walked a ways toward the trees and hid just out of sight of her. Ellie knew he was still there, of course, and was still close enough to hear, but Linden always knew just what to do.
She looked at Mr. Moose and blew out a chilly breath. He stared back at her, but somehow his eyes weren’t as vacant as before. “To be honest, Mr. Moose. I didn’t think anyone would notice I left. Nobody wants to play hide-and-seek. Or make snowmen. It’s always ‘Sorry, Ellie. Grown-ups only’ or ‘Maybe later, Ellie, Mommy’s busy’. I thought maybe if I went up the mountain I could find a new family. Maybe of snowmen. And they’d want to play hide-and-seek all the time and everything would be great.”
She patted Mr. Moose’s head. “But I didn’t find anyone so that’s why you’re here.”
“But then you’d never see Mom again. Or Linden. Or Max.”
Mr. Moose apparently had Linden’s voice.
“If they wanted to they would come find me with my new snowman family.”
“One of them did come to find you.”
Ellie frowned. “True. But I’m still mad at them. Maybe not Linden so much.”
“What if I told you that everyone’s come looking for you?”
“That’s dumb,” Ellie said. “Plus how would you know that, you’re a snowman.”
Linden came back out from behind the trees and sat next to Mr. Moose so that he was eye-level with Ellie. “I’m sorry we haven’t been there for you, Ellie. Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes, too. How about we find the others and have Mr. Moose tell them what you told him, okay? Would you like that?”
“Mom would be mad,” Ellie mumbled.
“She won’t be mad,” Linden said. “In fact, I think she’ll be so happy to see you back that she’ll make us all some hot chocolate. And I bet you’ll get the most marshmallows, too.”
Just then, Ellie realized how cold she still was, even with Linden’s coat.
She waddled over to him and, still wearing it, wrapped Linden in the coat and a hug as best she could so they could both share.
“Marshmallows today. Hide-and-seek tomorrow,” Ellie said. “Promise?”