by Rene Vera Jr.
Enjoy this never before published Christmas short story.
It was a cold, December night as I snuggled myself between two warm and cushiony gifts below the Christmas tree. The scent of pine was in the air, and a slight glimmer shone from the hallway nightlight, which the Martins would leave on for the comfort of the children. There weren’t many gifts below the old tree this year, but the love for each other in this household was unmatched, and I was proud to be a part of it.
My name is Harry. I guess you could call me the “House Mouse.” I’ve been a member of the Martin home now for many years. I’ve seen all five of the children arrive, and I’ve become very fond of them. I guess that’s why I did what I did that night. Cuddled, and cozy, and ready to call it a night, I began to slip into that dreamy zone where you know that you are still awake but quickly slipping away into Dreamland. Suddenly, I heard a faint rustling sound. At the moment, my mind was about to float away into the night’s first dream, so I thought nothing of it; but as the rustling began to grow louder, and the sound seemed to move closer, it was then that I realized that something was going on!
Rising to my feet, and ready to dash toward my favorite hole in the wall, I realized that something peculiar was happening. As loud as the rustling was becoming, and as close as it seemed to approaching, I still couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden, crashing through the fresh, green pine needles, came the Martins’ most cherished ornament…The Christmas Star! Wham! With a loud thud, it came to rest just two feet from me! I was so scared that my heart was beating in double-time, and my screams were stuck somewhere, down, just below my throat. I sat for a moment, pondering what to do next. It was then that I began to think of the Martins’ traditions, and their favorite ornament taking its place atop the tree on Christmas morning. Most people wouldn’t think much of it, but to a family of little means, small things in the home still meant something.
After some careful thought, I figured that it was my duty to see that the fallen star was returned to its treasured place on the tree; the place which it had occupied for many years. I immediately scurried to my favorite hole in the wall for supplies. After securing the star to my back, I zigzagged through the few gifts that laid before me, and with that I was on my way. Standing at the foot of the tree and staring up into an unnerving darkness…I was ready! I never thought of a Christmas tree as being spooky, but this one was, and I was ready for the challenge. Pondering the situation for a bit, I actually thought of turning back and dropping the whole silly idea, but remembering the times that Mr. Martin could have made it really tough for this old mouse, well, it just gave me the courage that I needed to carry on.
At first, the journey wasn’t so bad, I was making good time. As I climbed higher and higher, the brush of the tree began to grow thicker and thicker, and also dark and scary. A few more feet, and I was in total darkness. No problem! I clicked on my trusty helmet light and up I climbed. Upon reaching a clearing about halfway up, I stepped away from the trunk to take a little breather. I thought of how much easier this climb would have been if I would have kept on working out, after all, I didn’t have to pay that cat a dime to chase me around. After removing the star, and also my backpack, I treated myself to some of those good old Martin leftovers. I was just finishing up a scrumptious cheese cracker when I began to feel a faint rumbling all around me. Whatever it was, it seemed to shake the whole tree. I was really worried now.
Suddenly, the rumbling grew louder, and it grew closer. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, and I had the feeling that it surely wasn’t a welcoming committee, so I decided that I had better continue my climb. Making my way back to the trunk, I heard an unusual sound coming from behind me. At first I didn’t want to turn around, I thought that if I ignored whatever was there, that it would simply go away. Upon turning and preparing for the worst, I feasted my eyes on some of the strangest characters that I had ever seen. I thought Mr. Martin’s cousin Elmo was a peculiar looking individual, but these guys took the cake. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. It kind of reminded me of one of those showdowns on the old black and white Saturday cinema Westerns.
There they stood, a colossal eight inches tall. They each had the body of a candy cane, and the face of a reindeer. They were staring at me as if I were a pack of lunch meat, I thought I was a goner. I was so terrified, if I were a “boot mouse”, I would have jumped right out of them; but I prefer tennis shoes, and when I jump they just follow right along after me. Stepping forward with a low, booming voice, one of the strange characters spoke out.
“My name is Stripes, and we are the Candeers,” he said.
“Candeers?” I replied, “Are you guys friendly or should I be forced to defend myself?”
Standing in my fiercest-looking karate stance, I was praying they would back down. I still remember my mom’s take on this subject.
“Stand up to a bully, Harry, and he’ll back down from you,” she would say.
Well, if these guys were as mean as they looked, I wasn’t about to stick around to test that theory.
“Oh, ho, ho, there’s no need for that. We are your friends, and we are here to warn you.” he replied.
“Warn me?! Am I in danger?” I asked.
“You are in much danger, my friend. We know why you are here, and we ourselves would have tried to return the ornament, but that is impossible.” he said.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“The Ornameans.” he reluctantly replied.
“Ornameans? What are Ornameans?” I asked.
“The Ornameans live at the outer edge of the tree, and also occupy the top section of the tree. Why, they are so mean, they should be put out on Halloween.” he said.
“Why, there’s no use trying to reason with the Ornameans, my friend. However, if you must go, let me give you something that might help you on your journey.” he said.
“Sure,” I replied, “I can use all the help I can get.”
Pulling off his backpack and reaching in, he presented a small, shiny wooden box. It looked similar to the one I had at home, where I keep my favorite baseball card of my most favorite player ever, “The Big Rattino.” I was surprised when he reached in and pulled out something which looked like a flute. I thought for sure it was going to be something like a genie lamp or a pair of magic slippers or something of the sort.
“Here you go, my friend. This should help you if you run into trouble along the way.” he said.
“Thank you,” I replied, “It seems to be a mighty fine instrument, but I’m not sure I’ll need it; and really, I’m not much of a musician.”
“Oh, take it, little one. You might be very surprised at what a special instrument this is. Besides, you never know what kind of problems you can run into inside a big old Christmas tree like this one.” he said.
“Tell me,” I asked, “Will this flute help me if I should run into these so called “Ornameans” that you speak of?”
“Well, my friend,” he said, “Hopefully, you won’t have to use it, but should you need to, this just might be the one thing that will save your life.”
After packing away my new gift, it was at this time I decided that I had better get back to climbing before I lost my nerve and chickened out.
And with that, I was off… Again…
Once again scaling the tree, I began to wonder, “Just how bad can these Ornameans be? I may not be the toughest mouse on the block, but with that cat around, I’m probably the doggone fastest. Besides, who could hate a cute little mouse like me?”
At about this time, confidence was starting to build up inside of me. Then all of a sudden, I heard the strangest-sounding voice. I couldn’t tell where this voice was coming from, but I knew that it was close. If I had to describe this peculiar sound, I would say that either somebody was pinching this character’s nose shut, or he had a sinus cold that you could write home about. Waiting patiently, I stood my ground. Nothing was about to stop me now. I was a mouse on a mission.
Suddenly, I heard this stranger’s voice speak up, sarcastically, “What’s your problem? Why don’t you come over here, so I can punch you in the nose?”
Well, not being one to stir up trouble, I decided that I had better get back to climbing. Then all of a sudden, this strange-looking character came out, into the clearing. He was so small and funny-looking, I couldn’t keep from giggling. I didn’t want to be rude, but you know how it is, sometimes your lips don’t want to cooperate and stay together, and everything just sort of blurts out. So, regaining my composure, I decided that I had better try and stay on this guy’s good side and make friends. After all, I had this long journey ahead of me and I couldn’t afford to make enemies; and hopefully, he could tell me how to deal with the “Ornameans.”
Slowly, I approached him and asked, “Are you the one who would like to punch me in the nose?”
“No duh.” he replied.
Well, well, well, I thought to myself, This guy must be a real smarty pants, and he had better watch it because I’m sure that I can take him any day of the week. Besides, I’m really not in the mood for any more wisecracks.
“Speak up or back up!” he said in his sneezy little voice.
“Now look here,” I said, “I don’t want any trouble. I’m just here to return the Christmas star, and I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“You will do nothing of the sort,” he said, “Besides, you would never make it past the Ornameans.”
By this time, I was starting to get a little angry. You see, we mice are naturally cute and cuddly little things, but sometimes a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do. After I took a deep breath and counted to one hundred, I asked him what he meant by his comments. Seeing that I meant business, he quickly changed his attitude and spoke to me in friendlier terms.
Speaking in a firm but sneezy voice, the little character said, “I am from a group called the “Coptorns”.”
“Coptorns?” I asked, “That sounds kind of peculiar, but do you mean popcorn?”
“No, I do not mean popcorn!” He answered.
“The Popcorns belong on the outside of the tree because they’re supposed to be sooooo beautiful, and since we Coptorns didn’t come out bright and fluffy, like the Popcorns, we have to stay hidden on the inside of the tree.”
Ok, so now I knew why this guy was so mean, and I figured I should try to be nice to him. After all, I didn’t think that I needed to make my journey any tougher than it was already. After a short chat with the little guy, he asked if he could tag along and help return the star to its rightful place. I didn’t think that he could be of any help, but I felt sorry for him and let him come along.
After what seemed like endless climbing, I began to wonder, “Just how tall can this tree be? I’ve seen it plenty of times from ground level, and I know that it looks huge from my point of view, but it seemed like we’d been climbing forever.”
Pressing on, I noticed the trunk starting to grow a bit thinner. This told me that we must be nearing the top. Feeling proud of myself, and knowing how pleased the Martins would be on Christmas morning, I was glad that I had made the trip, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my hole in the wall. Suddenly, we heard a strange, rumbling sound. This was not a typical rumbling sound, but one which actually shook the tree! Then from behind, I heard a strange but familiar popping sound. I slowly turned to see where this sound was coming from and, WOW!..The little Coptorn seemed to be growing!
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m okay,” he replied, “It’s just that when I become scared or anxious, I sort of puff up a little; and I might be a bit frightened at the moment.”
Looking from left to right as though we were at a tennis match, and clawing into the tree until sap poured, we were ready to make tracks; and make them quickly. It was at this time that I found myself staring into the thick brush of the tree.
When all of a sudden, in the distance, I observed colors beginning to emerge: red, blue, orange, yellow, purple. All of the colors that you could imagine! As the colors drew closer, they appeared to grow brighter, and began to take shape.
“What are they?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” the Coptorn replied, “But I hope it’s not what I think it is.”
“They seem to be coming up on us real fast,” I said, “Almost as if they are charging.”
“Well, partner,” said the Coptorn, “you had better get ready because I think that we are in trouble.”
And before I could finish my sentence, he put his hand up to halt my speaking. Then he turned and looked me straight in the eye, more puffed up than ever, and let out a scream that even the Martins could have heard!
“ORNAMEANS!” he yelled. And with that, we both let out a shriek in harmony. And, WHOOSH! We were climbing that tree in record time!
Shooting through the tree like world-class sprinting champions, with the Ornameans hot on our trail, I thought I was really moving. I didn’t think anyone could catch us. Then, something surprising happened. Jumping on my back and doing some kind of tap dance on my head, while letting out a shriek that a mother hyena would have been proud of, that little Coptorn was gone! You should have seen him! His hair was all flattened back like he had stuck it out of a car window and had it wind-combed, while his tiny little arms were moving so fast that they were just a blur. His feet were moving up that trunk so quickly, I thought he was going to start a fire! I was alone now. I was scared and exhausted. I didn’t know how long I could keep up this pace, but I needed to give it my best.
At about this time, I took a look over my shoulder, and there they were. Just a few feet behind me and inching closer by the second. “This is it,” I thought. As soon as they got their hands on me, it would be history for this little old mouse. And what about the Martins on Christmas morning without the star? I was feeling extremely sad and scared about the whole thing, when all of a sudden, BAMB!
Like a light bulb exploding inside my head! I suddenly remembered the Candeer’s flute! I had completely forgotten about it, and I wasn’t sure how it could help me, but I had to try. Racing through the tree at top speed, I knew there was no way of reaching into my backpack to retrieve the flute. I was doomed. But I knew I might have a chance if I could catch up to the Coptorn and have him pull the flute from my backpack.
Using the last bit of strength in my body, I kicked it into high gear. Before I knew it, a white, fluffy patch appeared in front of me. Sneaking up on the little guy, I put my head down and rammed right into him, sending him into what could have been called a world class somersault. This caused him to land right on top of my back. After explaining to the Coptorn what I had in my backpack and what I needed him to do, he reached in and pulled out the flute, then let out a blast that curled my ears forward.
“Wowsie” I screamed, “What was that? A tenor sax?”
Then all of a sudden we came crashing through the top of the tree like lava out of a volcano. This was the end for us.
After landing flat on our backs, standing over us were some unfriendly-looking Ornameans. It was here that I began to wonder, “Are we really finished? Could this be the end?” I began to pray a silent prayer. Suddenly, a bright light appeared from somewhere above, a very bright light, indeed. As the Ornameans stared up in awe, I could see that an image was slowly descending upon us. It was the most beautiful sight that I had ever seen. Floating down ever-so-gently, like a leaf tossed by the wind, was music that couldn’t be heard by ears, but only from within, playing from afar.
There she was. She came down right in front of me.
“Hello.” she said.
“Hello.” I replied, with a squeaky, nervous little voice.
“I know who you are, and why you are here.” she said, “I think it’s a very noble task, and I would like to help you accomplish your duty.”
Well to make a long story short, Stinsel did help us restore the star to its rightful place. She also gave the Ornameans a lesson in good manners. Why, she even gave the Coptorns the fluffy white shape they needed in order to make it as real Christmas popcorn. As for me, well, I got myself a free angel-ride back down to the floor with just enough time to make it back to my favorite hole in the wall. And you know, seeing how happy the Martins were on Christmas day, made it all worthwhile. Why, I think I would even do it all over again.