CRACKED! A Christmas Tale (Part III)
The king sat on his throne studying the captives before him with large, glassy eyes. “Who is the one with doubt in their heart?”
“Him, sire,” said Needles—pointing to Tommy.
King Frederick raised his chin in judgement and proclaimed, “As ruler of this tree and all that hangs upon it, I hereby declare this young man a nonbeliever in the spirit of Christmas. Such an act calls for immediate termination of this tree, the ornaments upon it, and all gifts beneath it.”
“But, there must be some mistake,” the boy pleaded. “I never doubted the spirit of Christmas. I just…”
“SILENCE!” The king shouted. “Judgement has been passed and now you, and your family, shall deal with the consequences.”
“No, I beg you, Mr. Frog King. Please don’t do anything to cause my family any further suffering. This year has been hard enough as it is.”
“You should have thought of that before you cast judgement upon your gift,” said the king.
“It was just a thought…a harmless thought. Please don’t,” said Tommy.
“Bring me Captain G,” the king commanded.
The sound of awkward footsteps echoed from beyond the left-side doorway of the throne room. Squirrel ornament soldiers parted ways, allowing the captain to pass between them. Emerging from a dark hallway and marching up to the throne was the gift Tommy had received the year before. A large, homemade gingerbread man ornament with a partially gnawed left leg and foot.
Standing well above the boy and those around him, Captain G came to attention.
Tommy looked up, admiring in fear last year’s gift at such a large scale. The captain was broad and thick—detailed with colorfully painted frosting. He had no nose, though his eyes were very large and round, and his mouth, wide and expressive. His gnawed left leg was slightly shorter than the right, giving him an award limp when he walked.
“How can I serve you, my king,” said the captain.
“This tree, the ornaments upon it, and the presents below, are to be destroyed immediately,” said the king. “Take the squirrels and carry out my orders.”
“Yes, sire,” the captain replied.
“Nooooo!” Tommy shouted.
“That’s enough from you,” said the king.
Wooden vines from above grew down, wrapped themselves around the boy and his pets, and pulled them up beyond the floating lights into the shadows of the ceiling.
Tommy screamed, the dog howled, and Fritz meowed, as they battled to break free from the pine-scented vines. The harder they fought, the more restrained they became, until the branches had covered their mouths—silencing the boy and his pets.
The gingerbread captain led the squirrels out among the branches of the Christmas tree. In the warmth of the colorful tree lights, the soldiers attacked the unprotected ornaments of the tree, casting them down towards the hardwood floor. One by one, the glass ornaments popped as they shattered to pieces. The captain and his squirrels destructively worked their way up the tree. Some soldiers even chewed off branches—sending them tumbling towards the ground. Not an ornament or branch was spared.
The Finkleton’s tree was quickly being dismantled, while Tommy and his pets lay helplessly restrained in the the Frog King’s throne room—another dimension all together.
Exhausted from fighting the stubborn vines, the boy closed his eyes.—saddened by his vision of what Christmas morning would look like for his family.
But then…something magical began to happen.
Slowly, his heartbroken thoughts were replaced by happy memories of Christmas past. He pictured the faces of his brother, sister, and himself, smiling. Exchanging expressions of surprise and joy as they opened gifts and shared Christmas tales. He could see his parents as they watched from the sofa, sipping hot cocoa. Reggie and Fritz were frolicking around on the floor in discarded wrapping paper, as the pop and crackle of the fireplace provided the perfect backdrop. What could be more wonderful than this, Tommy thought to himself. Why would anyone ever doubt my belief in the spirit of Christmas.
The warmth from the young boy’s memories generated a mysterious, golden glow. An energy force of Christmas spirit. It grew out from his body and began to travel through the pine tree vines of which he and his pets were restrained. It traveled through the Frog King’s ornately-carved throne room walls, ceiling and floor, freeing the three elves from their ruler’s spell. It traveled through the trunk of the tree—into the pine needle branches, and the ornaments still hanging on limbs, not yet reached by the ruthless squirrel soldiers.
On the far side of the tree, near the top, the gift Tommy had received that evening was awakened by the boy’s spirit. Gleaming red and green, the nutcracker ornament freed himself from the tree. Taking his peppermint stick firmly in hand, he mounted an attack on the Frog King’s soldiers. He freed a snowman from the tree, then a chimney sweep and a penguin. He freed a teddy bear, a cricket and an assortment of reindeer too.
The nutcracker and his band of merriment worked their way down the Christmas tree. Bouncing and swinging from branch to branch, as they battled the ruthless captain and his squirrel soldiers.
Some battles were won, others lost, as magical glass ornaments from each army fell to the floor, shattering into hundreds of tiny pieces—only to rebuild themselves and rejoin the battle.
Tommy’s magic glow of Christmas spirit continued to spread, even reaching the gnawed off branches and the ornaments first thrown to the floor by the squirrels. The branches found their way back into place and the smashed ornaments healed just as the others were healing. Slowly but surely the nutcracker and his army were gaining control of the tree.
The Frog King’s soldiers continued to battle fiercely, but the nutcracker’s mighty peppermint stick was too much to overcome. One after the other, he swung his stick, knocking squirrel after squirrel off the tree and to the floor—smashing them to bits. Each time they were broken, it became more difficult than the last for the relentless squirrels to rebuild their shattered selves.
Partially formed and pieces missing, the cracked squirrel ornaments continued to battle against the nutcracker and his merry soldiers. But it was no use. Even Sparky, Cookie and Needles had now joined the fight against the broken army of squirrels.
Captain G, the king’s last line of defense, found himself helplessly cornered by the three elves, as the nutcracker battalion burst through the magic portal doorway to confront his royal majesty.
“This tree must be destroyed,” the king demanded.
“You know in your heart, what you speak is not the truth,” replied the nutcracker.
“But it is,” replied the king, “and the leader of my army is here to see it through.”
On queue, the gingerbread captain broke free from the elves and charged the nutcracker.
“Watch out,” the snowman yelled.
Catching the attacker out the corner of his eye, the nutcracker timed his counterattack perfectly. As Captain G leapt towards him, the nutcracker spun round and struck the enemy with a mighty blow from his peppermint stick—sending the captain flying across the room, crashing into the throne.
“Get up you fool, get up,” the king shouted in frustration.
The gingerbread captain stood and shook his head. Again, he charged.
“Hey, what the…get away from me, you mangy beast!” shouted the captain—his legs and arms now gone.
“Good boy Reggie,” Tommy shouted down from above, as he and Fritz were lowered to the ground by the docile vines.
Reggie sat by the helpless captain, panting and wagging his tail. Proud of his accomplishment.
“I never knew dogs had such a strong taste for gingerbread,” said Needles.
Everyone in the throne room began to laugh, except for the Frog King, that is.
Grabbing his royal staff, the king leapt over the gathering of Tommy and the others, trying to flee. On his second hop, he attempted to make it through the magic portal and into the Christmas tree branches.
Tommy spun and thrust his golden hand towards the doorway, releasing one last bit of magic. The door closed.
The Frog King slammed into the door and fell backwards, causing the crown atop his head to tumble off and roll across the floor. The old king lay confused and disoriented.
“Nice move, kid,” said the penguin.
“That should teach him a lesson,” added the nutcracker. He waved his magic candy stick, reopening the portal. “It’s time to set things back the way they were. Christmas morning is but a moment away.”
Everyone pitched in, making sure the tree was set back to the way it was the night before. All the lights were strung in place, presents arranged as before. The ornaments placed themselves on the tree exactly as they had been that Christmas Eve.
The nutcracker was the last ornament to change back. But before he did, he said his farewells to Tommy. “Looks like everything is back in order. I don’t think your family will notice.”
The boy took one last look around. With Reggie and Fritz standing by his side, he admired the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights and sparkle of the ornaments. “Thank you, Mr. Nutcracker.”
“No, thank you, Tommy. It was your Christmas spirit that led us to victory.”
The young boy smiled. “So I am a believer.”
“You always have been,” replied the nutcracker.
Tommy hugged the soldier. “I’ll miss you…and the others.”
“No need to worry about that. You’ll always be able to find us hanging around this time of year. And by that I mean, literally…we’ll be hanging on the Christmas tree.”
Tommy giggled. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“If you do decide you need to see us, you can always dig us out of storage.”
“I’ll be fine,” said the boy.
“I know you will. Now go, enjoy this time with your family.” The nutcracker waved his peppermint stick over Tommy and his pets. Magically, they were lifted off the tree and set upon the living room floor, where they returned to normal size.
The young boy quickly walked back up to the tree, studying the nutcracker ornament closely. Looking for any signs of life. But none could be found.
“Hey Tommy, you’re supposed to wake us before you come downstairs,” said Adeline.
“Yeah, you know the rules,” added Robert.
Tommy snapped his head round. Overjoyed to see his brother and sister, he smiled.
Reggie scurried over to greet them at the bottom of the stairway.
“Sorry, I woke up early and didn’t want to bother you,” Tommy replied.
The three children gathered in front of the tree, where they sat in their pajamas to admire the lights and silent magic of Christmas morning.
“Should we wake Mother and Father?” asked Adeline.
Robert turned and gazed out the window...watching, as the snow floated gently down. “Let them sleep. I’m happy to just spend time with the two of you.”
“Me too, said Tommy.
“You’re right, said Adeline, the presents can wait.”
Reggie laid down between Tommy and Adeline as Fritz curled up on the sofa for a quiet, Christmas morning nap.