A/N: IMPORTANT! Howl's name was changed to Halcyon (Hal).
As a six year old, Molly Holiday can only remember having one best friend, and that was Sophia Ferguson, who was a thirteen years old with the strength and wisdom of a young dragon. Since Molly had been too young to remember when Sophia had first come to the circus, the concept of people joining and leaving was foreign to the young girl. So it was a strange night for Molly Holiday when she first stumbled across a new face.
Molly had spent the day playing with Sophia and the evening marching with her father and friends in the Winter Parade. Her eyes had widened at the sight of so many lights strung together, hanging from trees and buildings, making the crisp white snow twinkle like stars. It all felt so magical, even as she sat in her bed and peered over the window sill, listening to bells and carolers.
"Do you think there are any ghosts out there?" Molly quietly asked Sophia, who was next to Molly on the bed, gazing at the falling snow that gathered in soft heaps under the street lamps.
"Why would there be ghosts?" Sophia asked in return. Molly turned her head, pressing her cheek against the cold window, and stared at her friend in bewilderment.
"Haven't you ever heard of A Christmas Carol?" Sophia shook her head. Molly squashed her nose against the glass and smiled at the magical scene outside. "That story is chalk full of ghosts," she said.
Now that Molly got to thinking about it, her eyes started to sweep all the dark corners and alleys, hoping to catch a glimpse of a creeping specter. What would it be like, she wondered, to meet a Christmas spirit. She would probably have to be a grouchy, old grump like Scrooge, but it would be worth it.
"I suppose it makes sense," Sophia said, after a moment of thought. "If I were dead, Christmas would be the time of year that I would want to visit all my living friends and family."
"Do you have any dead family that might come visit you?" Molly asked curiously.
Sophia shrugged. "I don't even know if I have any living family. Either way, I don't think they would want to visit me." A delicate hush fell over the room again. Maybe it was the gentle snow that seemed to exude a peaceful silence, or perhaps it was a ghostly presence. Sophia softly cleared her throat, trying not to break the quiet that hung over them. "What about you, Molly? Do you think you're mom would ever try to visit you?"
Molly shook her head and smiled. "My mom's not dead. She's out there," she said and pointed to the window.
"No, no. She's out there, with everyone else," Molly said, and felt a small pang around her heart. "My dad said that she wasn't from the circus, so she couldn't stay forever. But I'll see her again some day, he promised."
Sophia nodded, and the two girls went back to watching the snow drift lazily from the sky. It was hard to say how long they sat there together, but sometime later Sophia stood up.
"I'll see you in the morning," she whispered. "Good night."
And Molly was left by herself. She knew it was getting late, even the carolers had retired for the night, but she just couldn't tear herself away from the window. Everything felt so magical, it seemed a shame to let all the magic go to waste. And who knew, that flurry of snow snaking its way across the street could be a ghost. She didn't want to be asleep for that.
Actually, something about that snow flurry did look a bit odd. It weaved back and forth and up and down, not with the breeze that ruffled all the Christmas lights. Suddenly, the ribbon of snow stopped right in front of her window. It hung in mid air, wiggling like a worm on a hook. The snow swirled and cracked, creating a frosty, feline face. Molly jumped back. Her hands clumsily grabbed her pillow and pulled it in front of her body like a shield.
The creature raised a frosty, claw-like finger and tapped on the glass. Molly hesitated. Opening the window was probably a bad idea. It might be a vampire, asking for permission to come in. On the other hand, this could also be her Christmas spirit. And if Molly had learned anything from A Christmas Carol, it was to always listen to Christmas spirits no matter how scary they looked. Slowly inching forward, Molly reached out with shaky fingers and unhooked the latch.
A gust of cold air and snow rushed into the room as the window was thrust open. The rest of the cat materialized with a crackling sound like breaking ice. It gave her a Cheshire grin and languidly stretched out on top of her dresser, scattering picture frames and stuffed penguins. Molly hurriedly shut the window. She scooted to the end of the bed and quickly turned on the lamp on her bedside table.
The cat lay on its side, its tail swishing back and forth, and examined one of its long claws like a person would examine a fingernail. It was a light blue color, the same color her lips turned when she stayed out in the cold for too long. Midnight blue stripes marked the cat's back and ringed its tail. Its eyes were huge and icy and blinked only occasionally. It didn't have paws so much as it had tiny hands with large, dangerous looking, curved claws. Its feet were the same.
"W-who are you?" Molly stuttered nervously and held her pillow in front of her again. The cat grinned, suddenly focusing its strange cold eyes on her.
"A winter chill," it said in a high, nasally voice, and then giggled. It sounded like a twisted version of Mickey Mouse.
"You're not a ghost?" Molly brought her legs in close and hugged her knees. Maybe she shouldn't have opened the window. The cat giggled again and rested the back of his head in his claws.
"Silly, I'm the newest circus freak. I heard you're the ring master's daughter. Thought I should drop by."
Molly breathed a sigh of relief and dropped the pillow she'd had clutched to her chest. A small part of her couldn't help but be disappointed. She had so hoped that it might be a Christmas ghost. Still, she put on her best smile for the cat.
"Yeah, Bruce Holiday is my dad. I'm Melinda May Holiday, but everyone calls me Molly." Molly held out her hand to the cat, but all it did was flick its tail in her direction. She dropped her hand awkwardly and asked, "What's your name?"
The cat giggled. "Artemis Snow, and if I had anyone they might call me Ari."
"Ari," smiled, testing the name on her tongue. "I like it."
Ari gave a dramatic sigh and floated over to the bed on a cloud of snow and icy wind. Molly was surprised to find that the window was still shut. He drew level with her and swished his tail.
"I suppose I should be going," he sighed again and flicked a speck of snow from one of his claws. "Until tomorrow," he said, but on the last word his voice began to change. Not only that, but snow swirled and crackled until it was not a cat floating near her bed, but a boy standing and holding out his hand to her. He had black hair sticking up and out in all directions, but his icy blue eyes were the same as Ari's. He grinned the same Cheshire grin when Molly placed her hand in his, too dazed to fully comprehend what had just happened.
"Merry Christmas," the boy whispered and kissed her hand. Then he disappeared in the same flurry of snow and ice that he had arrived in. The window blew open. Molly sat up wide-eyed and moved to close it again. She secured the latch and when she looked up, she saw that there was a frosty handprint left behind on the glass. Slowly the crystals started to melt into each other and run. In the light from the street lamp, the hand looked almost like it was glowing.
"Merry Christmas, Ari," she whispered in return. But without the evidence that Artemis Snow had been there, Molly had to wonder as she tucked herself in, if she hadn't seen a Christmas ghost after all.