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Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Christmas Adventure

Ethan had volunteered to go to bed early, which would have been unusual, except for the fact it was Christmas Eve. It is a well-known fact that all boys and girls around the world cannot wait for the eve to pass and the following morning commence. Ethan was no different, but before he lay himself down to sleep he wanted to see if he could spot Santa’s sleigh. So he stood at his window and peered intently into the night sky. It was cold and there was snow falling steadily and that meant it was going to be a white Christmas. Ethan was already as excited as he thought possible but throwing snow into the mix had ramped up the level considerably. His breath fogged up the window so that he had to use the sleeve of his pyjamas to clear the view. The sleeve felt damp and cool against his arm but he was not going to let that cause him to desert his post. He was a boy with a mission and his little face was set with determination.

As he watched the snow drift lazily past his window Ethan saw a light out the corner of his eye. He turned his head, his mouth suddenly dry; his little heart beating hard in his chest. Was this it, was he actually about to see Santa’s sleigh flying past? He frantically searched the night sky, where was it? And then suddenly he saw it again, a faint flicker but getting closer. He lost sight again, wait there it was. He let out the breath he did not know he was holding and immediately fogged up the window again. His sleeve once more swiping over the cold pane of glass. Ethan managed not to lose sight though, but felt his heart sink as he realised it was not the sleigh he was viewing. Whatever it was followed the shifts and eddies of the falling snow, seemingly at the mercy of the breeze in a way that Santa’s sleigh never would be. The disappointment was almost enough to send him under his covers to seek sleep but as we all know little boys are curious beasts and Ethan was no exception.

He watched the light grow brighter and closer but he still could not work it out, it was falling like the snow but surely it couldn't be, could it? He watched amazed as it came to rest on the window ledge. It was a snowflake, around the size of a fifty pence piece. Other than the fact it still cast a luminescent glow it seemed oddly formed, not delicate like its smaller cousins but somehow substantial, Ethan had the feeling that this flake would not melt away come the morning sun. Now a grown up would approach this situation with a sense of wonder and caution, Ethan did have a sense of wonder as he opened the window to grab it before the wind took it away, caution was not on his mind. His fingers closed around the flake and there was a blinding flash and he found himself stood under the branches of the biggest tree he had ever seen.

Ethan pulled his dressing gown tightly about himself, as a chill wind picked up. He looked around in wonder, around the tree there was a circular clearing that was white with the still falling snow. At the edge of the clearing was a forest, densely packed trees. The tops of these the snow covered in a blanket of white, in stark contrast to the browns and greens of the branches and leaves. Even these trees which would have been considered large back home were dwarfed by the tree behind him. The trunk was so wide he could not see around it, what he could do though was here raised voices from the other side. Caution still being outweighed by his curiosity, led Ethan to walk around the trunk to see what was happening.

He stopped in his tracks at the sight that lay before him. There were four of the tiniest men he had ever seen, dressed in the most amazing array of clashing colours you could ever imagine. With their long white beards and pointy hats Ethan knew with certainty that these must be elves. Where on earth was he? Three of the elves had surrounded the other and there seemed to be some form of dispute going on, all of them were talking at once and none of them listening to one another. All of a sudden they started pushing at each other and scooping snow off the floor, throwing perfectly formed snowballs at each other faster than seemed possible. Ethan stood gobsmacked and managed to piece together what had happened from the snatches of conversation he could understand. How they could carry on talking through a face full of snow, he did not know. What Ethan gathered was that these elves had lost a key and were in big trouble, they all seemed to be trying to blame each other.

Ethan was not sure what to do so he moved into the open and cleared his throat. The elves jumped in the air with fright and landed in a huddle looking for the threat. When they clocked Ethan stood there looking confused and more than a little cold they jumped up and bounded over to him. Ethan just stood there while the elves walked around him, all asking questions that he never had a chance to answer, all the while shivering more and more as snow soaked through his dressing gown and pyjamas. If this was what an adventure was like he could do without it. Finally one of the elves with a yellow hat finally noticed how cold he was and motioned the others to silence. He reached into his bright blue pocket and pulled out a sparkling powder, he held it in the palm of his hand, raised it to his face and blew. The powder settled over Ethan and he felt warmth seep back into him as his pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers dried out instantly.

It felt so nice to be dry and warm again that Ethan sighed with pleasure. He murmured his thanks and while he had the chance and the elves were quiet he followed with a “where am I?” The elf that had blown the magic dust on him again took the lead, “why you are at the North Pole of course” Ethan had suspected as much, after all he was a very bright young boy and where else were you going to find elves? “How did I get here?” he asked and then another thought occurred to him “and how do I get home?” The elf looked really sorry and explained he was not sure what had happened to bring Ethan there, he looked totally flummoxed as to how Ethan was going to get home. All of a sudden his face lit up and he said “the big man will know what to do, won’t he?” Ethan was not sure what to say but the elf looked so pleased at the solution that he just nodded.

The elf in the red hat cleared his throat to get yellow hats attention, “ummm, before we see the big man shouldn’t we try and find the key?” All at once the elves were thrown back into their heated argument again, all desperate to blame each other. Ethan picked out snatches of the conversation “you lost” and then “blame me?” followed by a “not my fault” “snowflake in the snow” they seemed to go round in circles, over and over. Ethan being a sensible if not cautious little boy thought he might be able to help, after all these elves were his ticket home. He raised his voice to be heard over the squabbling to ask the question his mother always asked him when he lost something “When did you last see it” again all the elves fell silent and turned to look at him as if seeing him for the first time.

All at once they answered, a medley of voices all trying to say that one of the others must have seen it last. Ethan realised that they were about to disintegrate into another shouting match and so asked another question, “What does this key look like?” he really needed to help solve this problem to get home. As one all of the elves pointed at the tree behind him, and in unison said “Like that” Ethan turned and saw a massive snowflake shape carved in the side of the tree, it tugged at his mind, there was something familiar about it but he could not place it. He walked over to the tree and reached out to trace the carving with his finger. Ethan began to feel a vibration in his other hand and then he remembered the snowflake that had triggered this strange set of events.

He opened his hand and then he knew why the carving in the tree looked familiar, it was just like the one he had been clutching in his hand. The snowflake floated up away from his hand as the elves gasped in surprise, it began to rotate slowly and as it did it seemed to stretch and grow until it fit exactly into the carving on the tree. The flake started to glow and a faint but beautiful chiming began to emanate from the tree, at this point the elves were gathered again around Ethan looking at him with surprise and wonder, “wherever did you find the key?, I thought I had lost it forever” said the elf in the green hat. The other three elves turned to stare at him and he looked sheepishly at them “all’s well that ends well?” they had no chance to answer as the chiming finished and looking back to the tree a door had appeared and was swinging open. A wizened looking man, dressed in a white robe that made the fresh snow seem grey stepped out to greet them. He used a tall staff in one hand to aid him as he waded through the snow, in his other hand he carried a block of wood; perfectly square and smooth. Looking first at Ethan and then to the elves, he addressed the elf in the blue hat “Snatchkin” so that is your name thought Ethan “you seem to be running late this year” Snatchkin looked embarrassed as he relayed the tale and Ethan listened eagerly.

It transpired that on their way there had been a freak snowstorm and ‘Thatchkin’ the elf in the green hat had dropped the key but not realised at the time, as this part of the story was told, Thatchkin hung his head in shame. The key had not been discovered missing until they had reached the tree and they had all assumed that it was then the key went missing. Ethan leaned forward as they surmised that the storm must have whisked the key up and transported it to his house, it all seemed so magical to him and even the elves seemed a little awed by what had happened. The wizened man listen patiently as the tale unravelled and when they had finished he spoke “it has been known from time to time, for the key to choose a young boy or girl who has been very good to be its new bearer” he smiled kindly at Thatchkin “there was nothing you could have done my little friend so don’t look so glum” his words seemed to lift a great weight and soon Thatchkin joined the other elves and Ethan beaming with delight.

Turning to Ethan the man presented him the block of wood, Ethan took it and was surprised by its weight and he had to hold it with two hands to make sure he did not drop it. What he was to do with this, he had no idea but he wanted to learn. Now Ethan was caught up in this adventure, he had forgotten all about how he was to get home. It might have been the magic of the situation or it might have been the curiosity but Ethan was hooked and there was no way he would miss any of this adventure. The old man seemed to lean less on his staff as he made his way back to the tree, he looked back at the elves to wave goodbye and Ethan was sure there was less grey in his hair and a few less wrinkles, surely that was impossible? He must have been imagining it.

Snatchkin took the lead once more, “Come, come, come, there is so little time, we must not dally” the words had barely left his mouth and he was on his way. Thatchkin and the other two fell in behind him and Ethan brought up the rear, hurrying, not wanting to be left behind. They walked for an hour through the forest until they came to another clearing which contained a small wooden hut. Ethan was starting to get tired, carrying this heavy block of wood was making his arms ache. Snatchkin marched up to the door and knocked “we’re here; we’re here; open up; we’re here” he stepped back and motioned Ethan over.  The door opened revealing a workshop with a work table strewn with tools; there was sawdust everywhere including a liberal covering over yet another elf who stood in the doorway.

He was different from the others in that he wore just the one colour, there were different shades but they were all green. “Well who are you young man?” Ethan was a little taken aback at the deep baritone voice emanating from such a tiny man and also by the fact that someone had asked his name. He stammered out “Ethan” and felt his face flush red enough to put the elves bright colours to shame. “I am called Flopkin” he smiled, ignoring Ethan’s discomfort, “I think you have something for me?” when Ethan did not seem to understand Flopkin pointed to the block of wood still cradled in his arms. Ethan was glad to hand it over and as he had a chatty elf he felt brave enough to ask “what will you do with it?” Flopkin looked surprised “you don’t know?” as Ethan shook his head Flopkin took the block over to the workbench and began turning it, looking at it from differing angles getting a feel for it. He nodded to himself and reached for a tool, rummaging through them by touch, not taking his eyes off the block.

Ethan thought he had been forgotten but Flopkin started to talk, he explained that each year a block similar to this was collected from the ‘Christmas Tree’, this block was then bought to him and he had to carve it to reflect the current Christmas, then it would then be taken to be wrapped and release the magic of Christmas over the world. All the while he talked he moved round the block, his hands a blur, as he turned it to start on another side a picture was revealed. Ethan was not able to comprehend what he saw, he could recognise holly and decorations but the rest was beyond him. The picture made Ethan ‘feel’ like Christmas morning; the giving of gifts; the receiving of gifts; the laughter and joy. He was mesmerised as Flopkin went about his work, the was no hesitation just a steady spray of sawdust filling the air until finally the tools were placed aside and Flopkin stood back to appraise his work.

The work must have passed muster because in a flurry of motion, the block was back in Ethan’s arms again. This time it was different, it felt light, almost like it wanted to float up and away. He held it close to his chest, as much as he wanted to examine it further he also wanted to make sure it got wrapped up, it was important for Christmas. As curious and brave as Ethan was, he truly was a good boy and had a sense of responsibility and he did not want to let everyone down, and as a good boy he set about the next stage of his mission with a sense of purpose. Outside again he found himself once more trudging through the snow behind Snatchkin. Orange hat had fallen in beside him so Ethan asked for his name, “Smushkin” he said “and that is Smishkin” pointing to the elf in the purple hat “he is my brother”.

Ethan enquired where they were going and how far it was, he did not want to sound like he was complaining but he was a little boy and he was up way past his bed time and he had been walking for a long time. Smushkin smiled at him and said they were nearly there, all they had to do was look to the North Star as it would show the way. Ethan looked up and the star was there, it seemed impossibly close like it was falling from the sky. When Ethan pointed this out to Smushkin, the elf laughed “of course it is, how could we get there otherwise?” Ethan was confused but the elves seemed to be expecting this. Ethan kept one eye on the star and every step saw it fall lower and lower until he thought he could not possibly take one more step due to the brightness. Then just like that, he found himself inside a large hall in the middle of which stood a pedestal of carved wood.

Beside the stool stood a lady dressed in a red dress with white fur trim. Ethan must have whispered his thought out loud as she beamed at him, “Yes child, I am Mrs Claus”.  Now the elves he had taken in his stride but this was beyond his wildest dreams and Ethan flushed with excitement. Mrs Claus was not what he was expecting, he imagined a matronly older lady but in reality she was a similar age to his mother; she had long blond hair that flowed halfway down her back; her face was kind and gentle and her eyes showing the faint lines that spoke of lots of laughter. “Come child, I believe you have something that I am waiting on and time grows short” Ethan carried the block over and placed it on the pedestal in front of her. “Thank you child, you have done a wonderful job. Now go stand over there and you will get to see something that only a few outsiders have ever seen.

As he stood to the side Ethan watched as Mrs Claus opened the side of the pedestal and withdrew a roll of shimmering green wrapping paper and a spool of bright red ribbon. Mrs Claus wrapped the block with practiced ease, cutting the paper and sticking down the edges until the cube was a neat looking present. All through this Ethan had held his breath, waiting for something to happen. He was not sure what he was expecting but he was a little disappointed when the final fold was stuck in place and still nothing had happened. Mrs Claus unwound a length of ribbon and wrapped it around the gift, still perfectly ordinary until she tied the final bow at the top. That was the moment it all changed.

The block seemed to cast a light from within, this took on the hue of green and red as it passed through the paper and ribbon. All of the pictures lovingly carved on the surface of the block were cast upon the walls of the hall where they seemed to come alive. Ethan had thought the block itself was the essence of Christmas but he realised now he was wrong. The air was filled with the sweet sound of carol singers, hundreds of songs at once; yet impossibly each one was understood individually in its beauty. Ethan breathed in deeply savouring the aroma of a roast turkey dinner; succulent plum puddings; roasting chestnuts and a myriad of other smells that all made him think of Christmas. As he watched the images playing out on the wall he realised he was wearing the biggest grin and laughing out loud. For just a moment he felt silly but looking around and seeing everyone else unashamed of their joy he re-joined the merriment.

Gradually a new sound began, softly at first, barely heard but getting louder all the time. This sound began to drown out the carol singers and brought his focus back to the block from which it seemed to originate. The air around the pedestal began to shimmer as the sound grew louder. As it grew harder to see anything through the haze it also became easier to determine the sound as a booming laugh “Ho, Ho, Ho” Ethan as all small children did not need telling who laughed like that as he was mesmerised by Santa’s laugh. The lights began to dim and the laughter boomed off the walls, floor and ceiling until for a split second the room went pitch black and then returned to normal.

Ethan gasped in surprise, for where the block had once stood, both it and the pedestal had gone. In their place was a sleigh to which six reindeer were attached and more importantly a driver dressed in a suit of red and white stood and bellowed “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas” Ethan found himself cheering alongside the elves, he pointed to the figure on the sleigh and told any that would listen “there is Santa” even though he knew that they must know. Santa gestured for quiet and eventually calm was restored, he looked around the hall, now full of jostling elves, all trying to get a better view of the imposing figure stood in their midst. Ethan was not disappointed in any way by the man; he looked exactly as he would expect, tall with a large belly and a full and luxurious white beard he was every inch the Santa of his dreams.

Santa made a speech and Ethan tried very hard to listen and pay attention but as for all little boys, listening to ‘grown ups’ speak is very tiring; even if that person is Santa. He tried to concentrate but all he could think was ‘There’s Santa, there’s Santa, there’s Santa’. He could see the sleigh; the reindeer and now he noticed a huge red sack of presents on the back and his excitement level went through the roof. He may not have heard the speech but when the crowd erupted into cheers once again, no one cheered louder than him. Mrs Claus appeared by his side and bending down she whispered in his ear “come with me child, he wants to meet the key bearer” he could not believe it, he was going to meet Santa for real. Mrs Claus led him through the crowd of laughing elves until he was stood next to the sleigh.

“Hello Ethan, come sit with me” Santa said as he patted the seat beside him. “For a very little boy you have had a very big adventure, but it is time to get you home. I cannot deliver presents to boys and girls until they are asleep in their beds” He stood and in his booming voice bade the elves to stand clear, he kissed his wife on the cheek and told her he would be back in a jiffy then handed Ethan the reins to the sleigh. Santa told Ethan that when he was ready all he had to do was say “Hi Ho and off we go”. Ethan stammered a little on his first attempt but the elves all shouted encouragement and Ethan shouted “Hi Ho and off we go”. The sleigh surged forward, throwing him laughing back in the seat. There were two large double doors at the end of the hall and these had been opened in readiness. The sleigh flew through them and up into the night sky.

Ethan had really been on a big adventure and was very tired; as the sleigh whooshed high over the world he found himself drifting to sleep, he fought it, as best as he could; he did not want to miss a single thing but his eyelids were just too heavy. He woke with a start sometime later in his own bed. He was disappointed, surely he had not imagined it all? It had seemed so real to him. He sat there in his bed for a moment and then he realised it was Christmas morning!!! There would be presents under the tree and then there would be sweets, drinks, food and more sweets, it was going to be an amazing day. He leap out of his bed and rushed to his parents room to get them up and get the day started. He wanted to tell them all about his dream but forgot in all the excitement. At the end of the day when he was just about to go to bed he noticed there was still one gift under the tree that had not been opened. He crawled under the branches and pulled out a small box wrapped in shimmering green paper with the brightest red ribbon tied around it.

Hands shaking, Ethan undid the bow and ripped the paper apart to reveal a hand carved wooden box with a picture of a wise old man stood beside a tall tree. Ethan lifted the lid of the box and there it was, the snowflake key that unlocked Christmas. Beside the key was a note that simply said ‘Merry Christmas’ Ethan knew then that it was no dream and that little boys can have awfully big adventures.