The Christmas Season isn't really considered a time for scary stories. Maybe that's why even the most inexplicably violent and gory crimes seem to go unnoticed during the winter months.
Take, for example, the mysterious murders of Mercer Street.
Mercer was a dead end, coincidentally enough. Little cookie-cutter houses sat in regimented rows, their little shutters with little windows giving little glimpses into the little lives of all the little people.
It was as close to perfection as you can get... at least in the mind of a suburban Soccer Mom.
One winter, a particularly harsh blizzard blanketed the whole place in a few feet of snow. Residents didn't take the storm lying down as snow shovels and blowers were dusted off and dragged out of various backyard sheds.
Once the men were done abusing the drifts with their multitude of torture devices, children filtered out into the blinding white emptiness and began to form it like small gods.
Crude forts were erected, snowballs were slung, and snowmen were built.
Many, many snowmen.
As time pressed on, the amount of snow people became absurd. Three to five of the slushy forms spread out over each and every yard. However, the attention of residents didn't seem to be placed on their odd mass-production.
Instead, folks were concerned about their missing neighbors.
Some residents left their cars running. Others had their whole house aglow, television acting out scenes for an empty room. A bulldog was found wandering the snowy streets as if its owner had simply let go of the leash.
Locals were at a loss to explain it, and as their confusion grew... more among them disappeared.
All the while, snowmen seemed to stand accusingly, facing random directions. Their bent twig-arms pointed in every direction, as if there was some disagreement as to where the missing people had gone.
More than one of the remaining, dwindling population wished their dead button eyes could have seen what was going on... that they'd remove the corn cob pipe long enough to explain.
Eventually, the thaw came.
Winter conceals many things. The job of Spring is to reveal them.
As the snowmen melted, hunched over, and eventually toppled into piles of dirty brown muck...all WAS revealed. Each snowman contained a body. Bent up, compacted, blue and bloated with wide, frosted-over eyes and crystals lining their nostrils.
Men, women, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it. Anyone and everyone who had gone missing were quickly birthed out of a cold, stark snowman. Some of the smaller children were stacked in by twos.
What's worse, some of the snowmen that could be recognized among the rest had existed well before the person inside had disappeared.
One of the children... one of the few remaining children... collected the buttons and kept them in a shoe box. He brought them in for a school report some months later, noting they appeared to be hammered bronze... relics from a past civilization or tribe...
In a similar account, a snowman of a different sort provided a glimpse into the realm of broken promises.
The only thing Teddy did wrong on Christmas Eve was to answer his Mother's call. He'd been out playing in the snow all day, and it was time for dinner. Leaving his snowman incomplete, the young boy trotted into the house, pulled off his saturated snow gear, and rushed to the table.
Teddy was a sheltered kid. Sickly. He developed a relationship with inanimate objects that would appear unhealthy to the casual viewer. He talked to his toys, made sure they were happy, and cracked the lid of his toy box so they wouldn't suffocate at night.
When he built that snowman... or rather, when he started to... he talked to that as well.
"You're gonna be the best snowman on the block!" He said breathlessly in mid-roll, "Promise!"
As I mentioned, it was a verbal contract that was soon broken.
Teddy finished dinner, went to his room, and prepared for a good night's sleep. Down the hall from his room, his parents were doing much the same.
He was half asleep, in that strange space between the waking world and the mind's fantasy, when he heard the scream.
Calling for his parents, Teddy leapt out of bed. It took all of his nerve to creep toward his own bedroom door and crack it open slightly. His night light did little to illuminate the hallway just beyond.
What he could make out, however, was the bulky silhouette of a man slowly moving down the stairs.
The man's form seemed bloated, and his hair was wild. Teddy knew immediately that this was some sort of unknown intruder. Quickly, silently, sniffling all the way, Teddy ran from the door and into his parents' room.
There, he was witness to a gruesome sight.
Teddy's Mother lay across the bed, her throat cut. Blood spattered the ceiling and the walls. In the corner, slumped to the floor, was his father's body...
...or what was left of it.
His eyes wide, Teddy turned to run, only to see a crimson message painted on the wall behind him.
Police were at a loss to explain the incident, and Teddy was too much of a wreck to be any help at all. They chalked it up to a home invasion gone wrong, at first. They then moved to the idea of a serial killer after seven more homes in the area were struck by the same killer.
In each instance, the same message remained.
Each crime scene had striking similarities to the last; not only the message, but the method of the murder. The killing was always done with some sort of sharpened, wooden implement.
What's more, the missing head from the last murder would always be left behind at the next.
You have to pity the snowman, in a way. Teddy never made him a head, and he just couldn't find one that fit.
You can see why these stories aren't for polite company... especially not during a time of joy and celebration.
Teddy got the worst of it, yes, but he's far from the only child who has experienced something awful around that time of year.
Kids in Sobersville, just around the corner from Dove Hills, will gladly tell you about the Pale Boy if you ask them. There's nothing they love more than rehashing the same old story about the weird child who belonged to no one.
It's sort of like a game of Telephone, though. The more the tale is passed on, from child to child, the more it detaches from reality.
For that reason, I'll give you the straight story.
The Pale Boy first appeared during a neighborhood "war" between different factions of school children. Each had set up their own snow fort, and the lobbing of snowballs had reached a fevered pitch.
Snowballs which, of course, contained everything from icicles to small rocks.
"Hey, can I play?" the Pale Boy asked one group.
He was wearing a black snowsuit with hood, black boots, and bright red mittens. The boy looked as if he could barely walk without falling face-first into the slush, but the mystery surrounding a "new kid" quickly got their attention.
They agreed to let him play.
"Can I come into the fort?" He asked, meekly.
The children agreed, noting that if he didn't he'd be killed by a stray gravel-ball. The Pale Boy slipped into the fort with the others and began awkwardly molding snowballs in his wool-stunted hands.
On the other side of the makeshift battlefield, the completely separate yet identical group of children continued their assault while creating intricate plots against the enemy. Everything from buckets of frozen water to cruel insults seemed to be on the table for this offensive.
As the volley of ammunition from the other side died down, the kids assumed the others had exhausted their stockpile. The cry rang out across that silent field.
There was a rush. All at once, every child fled the fort with a handful of snow-weapons. They ran toward the opposing fort, intent on making the enemy suffer.
Then, a single child bolted from the other fort. It was a young girl in pink gear, her flowered boots pumping madly through the white powder.
"Chicken!" cried one child, and soon they were all clucking.
She fell forward, her short legs flying into the air and nearly past her head.
She didn't move.
One child sighed, annoyed. "C'mon, let's see if she's hurt." He groaned.
She was hurt. Very hurt. A dry, bloodless gash in her shoulder lay exposed between fuzzy, jagged flaps of sweater.
The Pale Boy emerged from the fort and cast a casual glance at the dumbfounded attacking force. He didn't seem so pale anymore, and the wide, impossibly wide smile on his face was an unwelcome and eerie change.
The Pale Boy, without turning away from the group, unzipped his snow pants.
"Hey, guys!" He taunted, letting fly a stream of scarlet urine, "Don't eat the red snow!"
As the children checked on the opposing fort, they found a frightening scene that would crush even the hardest heart.
All but a few of the children within were dead, bloodless, and pale like the child had been when he arrived. The others were nearly the same, though spared for some unknown reason.
Most of the kids who witnessed the carnage immediately ran. Among the directionless, fleeing crowd was the Pale Boy who never joined their games again.
Keep your eyes opened this winter. They know you aren't paying attention.