December 12th – The Festival of the Mysterious Trail of the Snowbeast

It snowed for the first time this autumn last night (according to the official Buentoilliçan calendar, winter doesn’t start until December 21st), so this morning the City was painted white. The roads and pavements are relatively unaffected, due to pre-emptive gritting, but the parks and buildings will be covered in a layer of snow, come the morning. Nobody’s quite sure when the fist snows since the spring are expected to arrive on any given year, unlike the snows of January 16th, when the City is almost always covered in a thick blanket of the white stuff.

Regardless of whether there are thick blankets or simply a light smattering, the children of Buentoille will of course be out in force, building snowmen and throwing snowballs at each other and anyone unlucky enough to stray into their paths. Green-brown pathways will roam through the parks, where enormous snowballs have just rolled, gloves will be soaked through and left to shrink on radiators, fireplaces will be lit, chilblains formed, hot chocolate consumed with gusto. Out in the streets, Buentoillitants with carts will sell doughnuts and caramelised nuts, alongside highly spiced potato soup and all manner of cinnamon delights.

There’s always something magical about waking up when it snows, for children and adults alike, but especially so on the first day it snows: today the City’s inhabitants have a chance to see a mysterious yearly phenomenon: the wandering trail of the Snowbeast. As soon as the sun is up, a veritable race to locate the trail begins, a trail which has never failed to emerge on the first night it snows after the spring, at least for as long as anyone remembers. The prints are three-pronged, almost as if someone had pressed a handheld garden fork into the snow, though this obviously isn’t the explanation, given the virgin nature of the snow that lies around the tracks. They have been cross-referenced with all known animal tracks, but nothing seems to fit.

Since 1865, anyone who can locate either end of the trail is awarded a small financial prize by the Buentoilliçan Society of Natural Scientists, as well as their picture in many of tomorrow’s papers. This is part of the strangest thing about the prints, which can be difficult to track, given their tendency to cross roads, pavements, and other gritted, snow-free areas: they appear out of nowhere, and disappear in a similar manner. In the place that they begin, there is usually a slight twist to the snow that lies around them, as if a small whirlwind had centred on those first two prints.

The Snowbeast, if a beast is a fair description, is bipedal, and, given the length of its strides, moves with great speed, which could account for why anyone is yet to see it, at least verifiably; every year a new gritter or other night worker claims they’ve seen the prints being made, either by some strange creature or an invisible force. Usually, these alleged sightings are accompanied by feelings of extreme cold on the part of the viewer, and the creature is often said to look somewhere between a rabbit and a man. Seeing as there is no documentary evidence available to support either claim, the idea that the Snowbeast is some great rabbit probably comes from the fact that rabbits often leave trails in the snow, and that it can presumably leap very high, given that the trail often crosses roofs and even tower block tops.

Thankfully there is no suggestion that there is anything to fear from this illusive beast, though of course this is something that the people of Buentoille cannot be certain about until they’ve identified it. Some people believe that there is nothing to identify, that it is someone with a pair of shaped stilts, but according to various studies and experiments, this simply isn’t possible; stilts with ‘feet’ the size of the Snowbeast would cause any human using them to make indentations in the soil, of which there are none, they exist only in the snow. Besides, how would they walk on the roofs? Perhaps tomorrow will shed some fresh light on this enduring mystery.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Umer’s Nightshift Day
  • The Festival of the Lightshafts
  • The Festival of Nothing to Worry About