Henry Took and the Secret of Christmas

 
Up the rickety and creaky stairs you go, each side lined with old, grainy, pictures of stern faces, adults and children alike. Then, following the narrow and dimly lit hallway, all the way to the end, don’t be scared now, you’ll find a small, round, window that looks out over a quiet village and rolling green hills. To the left of this window is door, and behind this door, all but for the click and clack of a clock, is the cold sound of silence, a silence that is, very soon, to be broken.
Inside, the room is small and sparse. On one side, the right side stands a tall, tatty, wardrobe, overflowing with clothes, its double doors bulging under the volume of its contents. Moving your gaze left you’ll next see, situated under the window, all manor of trinkets and knick-knacks, along with a film of dust, covering its surface, an, equally tatty, chest of drawers. Finally, against the left hand wall, a black, metal frame and white mattress is partially hidden by a thick, red, duvet. It’s from underneath this duvet that our story begins.
 
 
1.
 
 
Like an animal emerging from a deep slumber, Pa Took slowly opened his eyes, still stuck together with sleep, stretched his arms out from underneath the covers, and slowly sat himself up in bed.
For a few short moments he sat there, as his tired, sleepy, brain kicked into gear and his eyes took up focus. The tip of his nose like a block of ice, his mouth parched with a raging thirst.
With a wide yawn he swung his, thin, bony legs out from underneath the warmth of the covers, and snuggled his large feet into his cosy, red and white, slippers.
‘Brrr.’ he said, shivering and rubbing his hands together. ‘It’s ruddy freezing in this house.’
Standing up, he slowly made his way across the hard wooden floor to the far wall, the icy cold of the air encasing him like a frozen blanket, and turned the knobs on the radiator. A few seconds and the room was met with a series of loud clanks as the pipes burst into life, soon to deliver the much needed warmth to the room.
Shuffling around the bed, and careful not wake the sleeping figure of Ma, still curled up and cocooned in the duvet, he approached the window and snapped back the curtains.
It took a good few seconds for his eyes to adjust the light, but when they did, he was overcome with joy.
‘Oh me, oh my!’ he said, his voice a shriek. ‘What a sight I see.’
The night had brought a thick covering of snow to the small village of Digden. Everywhere as far as the eye could see was as white as white can be, the scene confronting him standing like something more familiar to that of a child’s snow globe.
The usual lush greenery of the fields and gardens were now like the white icing on a Christmas cake. The main street that ran through the middle of the village turned from a busy through road into a children’s playground, snowballs filling the air, sledges and toboggans sliding from here, there and everywhere. Even Frank, the old garden gnome that stood by the front gate, had disappeared under a clump of white, his tiny little fishing rod the only thing now visible.
Looking across the street, Pa spotted the tall, gangly, frame of Mr. Frekkle, decked out in full winter clothes. A brown, fur lined coat, woolly hat pulled down low on his head, thick gloves and scarf, clearing his garden path. Glancing up he caught Pa’s eye and met it with a shrug of his shoulders. With a small, one-sided smile and a brief wave, Pa stepped back from the window and turned to Ma, unable to hide his child-like joy.
‘Look Ma, look at the snow, look at what the night has brought us, look, look!’
Ma, herself just beginning to stir, and completely unaware of the reason for Pa’s excitement, half opened one eye, took one look at the clock, then settled it upon Pa.
‘Do you know what time it is you big dope? It’s the middle of the ruddy night is what it is!’
With the wonder in his voice remaining, Pa switched his attention from Ma and to the scene outside. ‘But look, Ma, look.’
Pa’s, he thought, exciting news, seemed to have the reverse effect on Ma. With a deep breath, she drew herself up onto an elbow and looked at him, now with both eyes open, and her face full of scorn.
‘I was hoping to get a lie in today, but I guess that’s out of the question now.’ Shaking her head, she sat up further, pulling the covers up with her around her chin. ‘How about you put yourself to some ruddy use and make me a cuppa.’
But Pa was in the midst of pulling on his red and white stripy dressing gown.
‘I must run and tell the boy. I just must.’
‘You’ll do no such thing Pa Took!’ shouted Ma, stopping him in his tracks. ‘You’ll leave him to sleep and do as your ruddy well told. You could even try and get that ruddy teas made to work for once.’
Shuffling to the edge of the bed she hit the top of the dust covered contraption that sat on the bedside table with the flat of her hand.
‘You know, this thing that you said would be the end of our days of having to get up in the cold and go all the way downstairs to have ourselves a cuppa. “‘It’ll change our lives'” ‘you said, a nice brew in the warmth of the bed to start the day,’ but look!’ Angrily she smacked the top of it again, not once this time, but three times. ‘Look, nothing! Not even a bloomin’ drop have we got from it since the day you brought it home with you.’
Pa’s head dropped, the air forcing its way from his lungs like a deflating football.
Ma continued. ‘I’m going to the bathroom for a soak in the tub; have a piping hot cuppa waiting for me when I get out. You can manage that, can’t you?’
With a face like thunder, she grabbed her dressing gown from the end of the bed and barged past Pa and out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Tying the cord of his dressing gown tightly around his waist, Pa muttered his thoughts under his breath.
‘What was that?’ Ma’s voice came back from the hallway.
Pa jumped in his skin. ‘Erm, nothing dear, nothing, just looking at the snow is all.’
‘Well quit looking at the ruddy snow and fix me some tea you big oaf!’
SLAM! Went the bathroom door.
With his orders made perfectly clear, Pa Took went about trying to fix the teas-made. The very thing that he did indeed announce, the night that he brought it home from work, and not from the pub after a meeting with a man who could only be described as ‘odd’, would change their lives.  The thing that he did indeed announce would be nothing short of revolutionary in the way their tea was brewed, and the most perfect start to any day. The rest of the family on hearing his ramblings took no notice, Pa, however, had thought that he had struck gold, pure gold.
Sitting down on the bed he lifted the machine from the table. He began by shaking it; it seemed to be the best way to start, but still nothing. Reaching into the bedside draw he next took out a screwdriver, with which he proceeded to prod, poke and jab at it, not that he knew what he was prodding, poking and jabbing at, mind, but, again, he thought it was the best way forward. You see, Pa was less than a dab hand with anything like this. Anything technical, even the most basic of tasks, would have him stumped. Putting up the odd shelf and tinkering in the garden was just about his limit, and even that would require his best concentration and, on occasion, a manual of some description.
There was really only one thing for it, only one more option available to him. Clenching his hand into a fist he set about hitting the contraption, hoping, praying, that this method might just work. But, after five good thuds, and one for luck, still the thing was showing no sign of budging and providing the tea that Ma wanted, and Pa knew that if a piping hot cuppa was not waiting for her when she came out of the bathroom then…well, he didn’t like to think of that!
With a deep breath of resignation, he decided that he’d just have to take the traditional route of going on down to the kitchen, and hopefully getting back in time before Ma came out from the bathroom.
Leaving the bedroom he stepped out into the cold hallway, quietly shutting the door behind him to keep the warmth inside. Passing the bathroom he stopped and pressed his ear to the door, listening intently to see if Ma was in the tub, the splish splashing of water and out of tune singing, confirming to him that she was.
Knowing that he only had a few minutes to be downstairs and back again in time, he quickly paced along the corridor and down the stairs.
 
 
2.
 
Tucked away on the first floor of the house, in a room no bigger than a shoebox, the other member of the Took household, awoken by the commotion of upstairs, was also beginning to stir.
Slowly opening his eyes and stretching his arms above his head he gave a huge yawn. For a moment or two he laid there, his eyes searching the ceiling. The spider, who he had named Trevor, was still tucked away in the corner by his Harry Potter poster. He wondered if he was happy, if he liked being up there. He thought about whether a spider would make a good pet, but soon thought against it. He couldn’t see Ma and Pa liking the idea. Besides, they didn’t even like cats and dogs.
Sitting himself up, and wiping the sleep from his eyes, he yawned once again, before swinging his legs from under the covers and dropping down to the floor. It was then that the coldness of the room struck him.
‘Blimey, it’s f-f-freezing.’ He muttered to himself whilst sinking his small feet into his snug slippers.
Quickly pacing across the room, he grabbed up his thick, warm, dressing gown from the old wooden chair in the corner, and slipped it on, it’s furry warmth immediately encasing him.
Turning to the window he then reached up and grabbed the curtains in order to let some light into his little space. Pulling them apart it took his eyes a short moment or two to adjust to the light, but when they did, the surprise sent a jolt of excitement coursing through his small body.
‘Woo-Hoo!’ he yelped at the top of his lungs. ‘Look at all the snow. Look at it!’
For a moment his brain seemed to freeze inside his head, the cogs and motors numbed by the overwhelming joy of what he had seen.
Regaining himself, he turned on his heels and dashed across the room and to his chest of drawers, before hurriedly pulling out a pair of socks from inside. Then, sitting down on the old wooden chair he rolled them onto his feet, slipped his slippers back on, and bolted from the room.
Dashing along the narrow hallway, almost knocking one of Ma’s prized vases from its stand, his little legs moving nineteen to the dozen, a big smile on his chubby little face, he soon reached the top of the stairs. Taking them two at a time, his pulse now racing like a steam engine, he quickly came to the bottom. Then, darting through the kitchen, past where Pa was stood at the worktop, a steaming kettle in his hand, he pulled open the back door, set himself on the step, his smile now stretching at his cheeks, before diving, headlong, into the snow.
‘Pa, Pa, look at all the lovely snow!’ said a very excited Henry, rolling around on his back. ‘It’s going to be a white Christmas.’
Thumping the kettle down, Pa turned towards the open door, a cold breeze drifting around his ankles, his face bright red with anger.
‘Boy, get yourself in here right this second! He said. ‘You’ll catch your death!’
‘But, Pa…’
‘No buts boy, get yourself in, NOW!’
With a sinking feeling, Henry slowly pulled himself to his feet.
‘Come on, boy, step to it, I haven’t got all day!’
Stepping back into the house, his dressing gown and slippers covered with snow, water dripping onto the kitchen floor and pooling at his feet, Henry stood with his head hung down onto his chest.
Pa looked Henry up and down. ‘Look at you boy, you’re dripping all over Ma’s nice clean floor!’ He said. ‘She’ll have your guts for garters, she will.’
‘But, Pa, I just…’
‘ENOUGH! Pa bellowed, his face becoming redder by the second. ‘Get yourself upstairs and out of those wet clothes. I don’t want you ill for Christmas.’
With a big sigh, and a longing look back over his shoulder at the snow that was quickly becoming deeper by the second, Henry trudged out of the kitchen and made his way back up the stairs, a moment later to be followed by Pa, a hot cup of tea in his grip, and hoping that Ma was still splish splashing in the bathroom. In fact, he was praying that Ma was still splish splashing in the bathroom and desperately tried to shift from his mind as to what would happen if she wasn’t.
Reaching the first floor, his head still hung low, his clothes still dripping water; Henry made his way along the corridor and back into his room, slamming the door, hard, behind him. From inside, he heard the dulcet tones of Pa.
‘Get yourself dry and downstairs for breakfast boy, and be quick about it!’
Waiting for a response that didn’t come, Pa carried on up the stairs to the next floor where he hoped that Ma wasn’t waiting for him. He could picture it, though. Opening up the bedroom door, and there she’d be, scowling, her arms folded across her large bosom, dressing gown wrapped around her, her hair tied up on top of her head in a towel. Then the shouting would start.
Reaching the bathroom and with his heart in his mouth, a slight perspiration appearing on his brow, he placed an ear to the door. A few moments and he was met with nothing but the stony sound of silence. A panic quickly set in, his pulse quickening, he felt like a brick had been dropped into his stomach. But, then, he heard it. A loud splash followed by Ma’s unmistakable out of tune singing.
With a relief that caused him to almost drop the mug of tea that he was holding, he dashed along the hallway and into the bedroom. Placing the steaming hot mug onto the bedside table, and with a smile of relief on his face, he left as quickly as he had arrived and headed back to the kitchen.
Back in his tiny room, Henry stood, still dressed in his wet pyjamas, in front of the window, his chubby face pressed to the glass, and looked out at the white world before him. The snow had now stared to fall even heavier than it had been, millions and millions of tiny flakes tumbling from the slate grey sky above and covering every inch of the landscape. 
From his vantage point he could see Mr. Frekkle, still struggling to clear his path. The Dibble twins, Dennis and Derek, were assisting Mrs. Gladstone, with very little success, in trying to dig her car out of the snow. No matter which way you looked, the village had come to a virtual standstill.
With a deep breath, and with Pa’s words of a few moments previous still ringing in his ears, Henry decided that he had better get out of the wet pyjamas, besides, he’d had enough of being shouted at for one day.
Rummaging through his chest of draws and the small rickety wardrobe he sought some dry clothes. After a few moments of searching he found his favourite brown corduroy trousers, and a stripy blue and brown jumper that his Grandma had bought for him last Christmas, and, before you could say, ‘look at all the lovely snow’ he was dressed, back downstairs and, once again, in the kitchen.
With one eye on the goings on outside and the other on Pa, stood at the old stove, wooden spoon in hand and stirring a large pan of porridge, he took a seat at the table.
‘Do you want some boy?’ Pa asked, without turning.
Too busy staring out of the window and day dreaming of snow angels and building the biggest and most perfect snowman he could, Pa’s words passed him by.
‘BOY! Bellowed Pa, now facing Henry, his face red like a tomato, ‘I said, do you want some porridge?’
Henry sat bolt upright, his attention drawn from the window and now onto his father.
‘Erm… yes please, Pa, just a little.’
Slopping a big spoonful of porridge into a small white bowl, Pa dropped it down onto the kitchen table with a thud. Pulling his chair closer, Henry began to scoff his breakfast like it was the last meal he would ever eat.
‘Easy boy, you’ll choke on it. The snow will wait for you.’ Said Pa.
Once again, Pa’s words escaped Henry, and, after five big mouthful’s he pushed his bowl away across the table. Just as he was about to jump down from the chair, dressed in a bright pink dressing gown, wrapped tightly around her bulbous frame, her wet hair hanging lank and lifeless onto her hunched shoulders, and sipping her tea, Ma appeared in the doorway.
‘You managed to fix it then Pa?’ she said.
Looking up from the bowl of porridge that he had just started to eat, ‘Erm…yes…yes I did, just a small technical thing, you know.’ said Pa, stumbling over his words, trying not to give anything away. ‘It was quite simple, really.’ 
Not having a clue what they were bumbling on about, Henry shrugged his shoulders and, once again, headed for the back door.
‘And where do you think you’re going boy?’ said Ma.
Henry stopped in his tracks, without turning, his face scrunched up. ‘To play in the snow.’
From behind him he heard Ma let out a hoarse laugh. ‘No you are not, you’re going to help me put the lights on the tree and decorate the front room ready for the arrival of Gramps and Grammy Took.’
Henry’s shoulders slumped, he turned to face her. ‘Oh Ma, can’t Pa help?’ he said. ‘I just want to go out and play in the snow, just for five minutes.’
With a thud, Ma put her mug of tea down onto the table, hot liquid splashing onto its surface. ‘No! Pa has things to do today and I need some help, so that leaves you, you got that?’ She said, with a huff.
Standing there in his warm clothes, Henry could feel his chubby little face becoming redder by the second, if things carried on this way then all of the snow would have melted before he had a chance to go outside and enjoy it. With a last, desperate, look at Ma and Pa, and with a vain hope that they were joking, their faces, however, saying otherwise, he trudged past them both and stomped back up to his room, behind him the voice of his Mother ringing in his ears.
‘Be back down in half an hour boy, so we can start the decorating! Don’t make me come up and get you.’
Back into his room once more, Henry, with a scowl on his face, dropped down onto his bed and cursed his parents for spoiling any fun that he might have.
Sitting there, his head now in his hands, he thought of all the other children in the village, Tommy and Ray, Peter and Melody, all with nicer parents than his, outside enjoying the white world, throwing snowballs, smiles on their faces, and a skip in their hearts, when,
‘Tap.’
Startled, he glanced around the room. All was still. All as it should be. Odd, he thought, returning his mind to his parents and wishing that they would turn into slugs so he could squish them. The noise then came again.
‘Tap.’
This time he caught sight something out of the corner of his eye. ‘Strange,’ he said to himself, ‘what on earth was that.’ Jumping down from the bed, he slowly walked over to the window, and peered out.
Looking from left to right, then right to left, he scanned his eyes over the village, now deserted of a soul, a frown creasing his forehead. He was about to step away.
‘Tap.’
This time he jumped back from the window as something, a stone, hit it, and bounced away. It was followed by three more in quick succession.
‘Tap, Tap, Tap.’
He was now a little frightened, to think that someone was outside, throwing stones; maybe there was more than one. Oh dear.
He pondered what to do, should he hide? Maybe go and tell Ma and Pa? No, that wouldn’t be a good idea at all; they would just think that he was telling tales, just like they always did. ‘Stop lying, Henry.’ They would say. ‘You’re always making things up. Why can’t you be a good boy?’
There as only one thing for it, he was going to have to find out for himself.
 
 
3.
 
 
Walking back to the window once again, he carefully peered outside to see if he could try and spot the culprit of the stone throwing. From the church in the east and all the way up to the parade of shops to the west he searched, his eyes flicking from one place to the next. A minute passed, then two and then three, the passing of each causing his heart to pound harder in his chest, but he could see nothing. But then, about to give in, and from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of something moving.
He wasn’t sure what it was but there was definitely something there, right below, down in the garden. Pressing his chubby little face closer to the glass, he craned his neck in order to get a better view of what might be lurking. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t slightly scared, but something inside of him just had to know.
It took another moment or so until he saw it again, a figure, hiding in the bushes next to Pa’s garden shed. But, apart from glimpsing a flash of colour and the bobble of a hat, he couldn’t quite make out whom, or indeed, what, it was.
At first he thought it might be one of the kids from the next village, messing around like they always did, trying to scare him. Maybe, and he gulped at the very thought, it was the school hard boy, Biffa’ Barry, come to duff him up, for no other reason than he was mad and liked to eat little first years for dinner. He didn’t like it, he didn’t like it one little bit.
Now sweating, his brain all of a tizz with worry, he decided against wanting to know after all, that was until the figure stepped out from the cover of the bushes.
Recoiling from the window, his eyes wide like saucers, Henry stared down at the, well, he didn’t quite know what it was. It certainly wasn’t, to his relief, Biffa Barry, or indeed any one of the children from the next village, in fact, it wasn’t a child at all, and it wasn’t even, as far as he could make out, a human being! What it was he hadn’t a clue.
Stood in the garden, dressed in a pair of green dungarees and black boots, a red bobble hat pulled onto its large head and staring up at him with wide eyes, was a creature of the like he had never seen before.
‘Oh my.’ He said, under his breath, ‘what on earth is that.’
Stepping away from the window, Henry pondered his next move. Did he wait in the safety of his room until it went away, until whatever it was went and bothered somebody else? But what if it didn’t go away, what if it came into the house looking for him. What if Ma and Pa saw it, and what if it attacked them? Actually, that might not be such a -.
Shifting the thought from his mind, he slowly went back to the window, undecided as to whether he wanted it to still be there, and peered, eyes half closed, over the windowsill.
Stood in exactly the same spot as where it had been a few moments previous, the snow building up around its small legs, the creature, once again, caught Henry’s eye, this time, raising a long, bony, finger, and beckoning him outside.
‘This isn’t happening.’ Henry said to himself, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head.
But it was happening, and of that there was no doubt. Henry Took had woken that morning, as usual, the excitement of the impending festivities and over night snowfall overloading his mind. He had eaten breakfast, been shouted at by his parents, which was no surprise, and now, when all he wanted to do was go outside and play in the snow, he, not only had his mother pestering him to help her with the chores, but he was being confronted by an unknown creature of whom he didn’t know whether wanted to play or beat him up.
Stepping back once again from the window, Henry stood in the middle of his room, head spinning, and in an instant made up his mind. He was going out.
Finding his woolly hat under a pile of comics at the end of his bed, he pulled it down tightly onto his head. Then, slipping on his snug winter jacket and gloves, and after a big deep breath, he was ready to go.
If there was one thing that Henry was good at, it was his ability to manoeuvre around the house undetected and without a sound. His many midnight trips to the kitchen for snacks and fizzy drinks had allowed him to memorise the location of every creaky or loose floorboard that could possibly give him away.
So, slowly opening his bedroom door, and checking that the coast was clear, he tiptoed out into the hallway, and then, gently pulling the door closed behind him, he set off on his journey to meet the creature.
 
 
4.
 
 
He knew, along the narrow passageway from his room to the top of the stairs, that there were six creaks to the left and two squeaks to the right. Following that, stairs two, five, eight and eleven groaned if you stepped on them too close to the centre, whereas stairs one, three, four and six if you stepped to far to the right. Stairs seven, nine and ten, however, were his favourite, because they didn’t make any sound at all.
After a few, short, moments, and with all the stealth of a cat, he reached the foot of the stairs, then, poking his head around the kitchen door, to see if Ma and Pa were anywhere in sight, which they were, but both with there backs to where he was, he quietly moved through the back of the kitchen and into the living room.
From here his journey was a simple one, and it was only a few moments more and he was at the front door, turning the handle, and stepping outside to freedom.
The village was silent, the sound drained like a television on mute. The usual morning hustle and bustle now replaced by an eerie stillness.
Moving slowly, and with soft steps, along where he knew the garden path to be, Henry kept his eyes peeled to his surroundings. From within the safety of his bedroom a few moments previous the adventure had seemed like a grand idea, but now, outside in the cold, and with huge flakes of snow drifting down from a menacing looking sky, he had to admit that his courage was beginning to fade.
With the church bells chiming upon the hour, their sound cutting through the silence like a knife through butter, Henry reached the garden shed, and the bush of which he had seen the creature hiding behind.
Bracing himself, and avoiding the prickles and spikes, he slowly reached his hands in amongst the naked branches, and after a deep breath, his little heart beating ninety to the dozen, swiftly pulled them apart.
What he saw caused him to gasp in relief, for behind the bush, and apart from the shape of two small, neat, boot prints, was nothing but an empty space.
With his brow furrowed he stepped back, his mind ticking overtime, the silence of the air seeming to cling to him like Christmas wrapping paper, and pondered on what he was going to do next.
Suddenly, from behind him, cutting short that moment he so desperately needed to think, he heard the sound of crunching snow. Turning on his heels he looked back toward the house, his eyes large, and took a few seconds to scan his gaze over the snow covered garden.
All but for a lonesome blackbird, drifting to a stop upon the handle of his father’s wheelbarrow, all was still, all was calm. This had to be a dream, he thought to himself. Strange little creatures, like the one he had seen, well, that was something you only saw in dreams and on the pages of books, of course, but this wasn’t either of those things.   
Alert for any sounds or movement, no matter how tiny, Henry began to slowly walk back towards the house. He’d forgotten all about his parents. About what they would say, or more importantly, do, if they found him outside, and not in his room where he should be. No food for a week? Grounded until forever? Locked in the cupboard under the stairs with the cold, bare walls and the spiders? But the thing was, he couldn’t go back now, he just couldn’t. No matter how frightening he imagined his quest could become, and how fierce his parents’ punishment, he had to soldier on.
Within touching distance of the house he heard another noise, this time a sharp bang. Frozen to the spot, a shiver washed over him, the blackbird once again taking flight and fluttering over his head and disappearing out across the street and into the distance.
BANG! BANG! Louder this time, and he was now starting to get scared. He thought about running, running back indoors, pulling the curtains and hiding away, but he had to find out what it was, he just had to.
Glancing along the thin alleyway that ran down the side of the house, he caught sight of a shape darting from sight, and, seeing this as his chance, and mustering up all the bravery he could, he took up chase.
Dodging dustbins, full to the brim with smelly rubbish, and the old, rusted frame of Pa’s bicycle, he soon found himself at the rear of the house.
With stealth he moved along the long narrow garden. Past the old apple tree with the rope swing, and his climbing frame he went, all the while keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of the creature.
A gust of wind rustled through the trees, a noise to Henry’s right hand side. Turning, he caught sight of a flash of colour, towards the rear of the garden.
It was then that he saw the creature, stood, looking straight at him, beckoning him as before with a long, bony, finger, before disappearing out through the garden gate and towards the dark woods beyond.
Henry’s breath caught in his throat, his heart skipping a beat. The thought of the creepy woods, with its trees bent and twisted like old men, their branches like spindly fingers, made him shudder with fright. If he was going to follow, and he was, then he was going to have to be extra brave.
He had never been in the woods behind the house, well, not alone anyway. It had always been forbidden of him, and it was the one rule that he had never, once, considered breaking. But, if he was going to get to the bottom of this, then that was going to have to change.
Crouching behind the old apple tree, Henry took a brief moment to compose himself. It was pointless trying to deny that he wasn’t frightened; for he was possibly more frightened than he had ever been in his life.
After a quick look back towards the house, checking each of the windows in turn for the spying eyes of his parents, he, keeping low, made a dash for the undergrowth at the rear of the garden, then, after summoning up all of his courage, exited through the gate.
Standing on the edge of the woods, a certain something hanging in the air that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, he looked into its darkness and tried hard not to think of all the bad things that he imagined were hidden within. From ghosts and goblins to witches and monsters, and everything else that scared him. He then realised why he had never ventured this far before.
Pulling the collar of his coat up around his face and his hat down further on his head he slowly took a step forward. It was then that he heard it.
‘Heeeeennnnnnnrrrry.’
With a shiver rippling up his spine and his heart thudding hard in his chest, Henry took a step back, pressing himself up against the garden gate.
It came again, this time a little louder.
‘Heeeeennnnnnnrrrry.’
Looking from left to right, a bead of sweat appearing from under his hat and trickling down his face, he called out.
‘Hello, who’s there?’
To his left, a flock of birds took flight from the tree tops, disappearing into the greying sky, the eerie silence, once again, taking hold.
He repeated. ‘‘Hello, who’s there?’
A rustling from the undergrowth directly in front of him caused him to start. A brief moment and he heard it from his left, then, to his right. The thought then dawned on him, what if there was more than one. What if he had been lured into a trap, at any moment a hoard of little creatures jumping out and pulling him into the darkness?
With that thought heavy in his mind, the decision was quickly made that he would rather be in his bedroom after all, safe and warm under the bed clothes, and with just Trevor for company.
About to turn and head back through the gate and to the, relative, safety of the garden, he was stopped in his tracks by a tug at his sleeve.
Spinning around, and almost stumbling in the process, his hands instinctively coming up in front of himas protection, Henrygave a yelp as he came face to face with the little creature.
‘P- Please, don’t hurt me!’
The creature looked up at Henry with large eyes.
‘I mean Henry no harm.’
Slowly lowering his hands, Henry took a short moment to look the creature over. ‘Wh-what are you, and how do you know my name?’
‘Snick is my name, and I know all about you.’
Henry frowned. ‘You do, how?’
Snick shrugged. ‘I know all children’s names. I know where they live and what they wish for. We all do.’
Henry frowned. ‘All? You mean there are more of you?’
Snick nodded. ‘Oh yes, Snick isn’t the only one. There are many, just like me. There’s Dill, Moom and Judd. There’s Hopp and Habby, Avro and Uff. And not forgetting Roop and Farz. Oh and there’s Tavvo and…’
Henry held up his hand, whilst glancing towards the dark woods with worry. ‘And are they all here now?
Snick looked down at the ground, his face clouding with sadness. ‘No, Snick is alone. That is why I came for you, for help.’
‘Help?’ Henry said, slightly confused.
‘Yes. Snick is lost, you see. My sleigh was blown from its course and I crashed into the trees. If I can’t get it going again Santa will be very cross.’
Henry’s eyes lit up. ‘Santa? You know Santa?’
Snick nodded. ‘Why, yes. We Christmas Troll’s work for Santa to help deliver the…’
‘Christmas Troll’s?’ Henry interrupted, again looking rather confused.
‘Yes. Snick is a Christmas Troll.’
Henry frowned. ‘But I’ve never heard of such a thing before, an Elf, yes, but, a Christmas Troll?’
Snick sighed. ‘No-one knows about us. There are so few of our kind, and our job is not as important as the Elf’s, so, well, we are kept a secret.’
Henry’s fear of a few moments ago was slowly starting to fade. This little creature wasn’t a threat at all, in fact, he was anything but, and Henry was starting to feel a little sorry for him.
‘I’m sure that’s not true, you know.’ He said. ‘I bet that your job is just as important.’
Snick raised his head again to look at Henry. ‘Do you think so?’
‘Of course, I mean, why wouldn’t it be. Would you tell me what it is?’
‘Snick would be happy too.’ The sadness faded from his face. ‘The job of the Christmas Troll is to gather all of the materials for Santa’s workshop. We travel the world collecting this and that and anything else that we think could be useful in the making of the all the presents for all of the girls and boys. We also tend to all of Santa’s reindeers, making sure that they are fed and watered and ready for Christmas Eve.’
Henry’s face gave away his excitement. ‘Wow! That sounds like a brilliant job to me! I still can’t believe that no one knows about you, though.’
Snick sat down in the snow, his face looking sad once more. There seemed to be tears forming in his eyes.
‘Are you ok?’ asked Henry, taking a step closer.
Snick dropped his head into his hands. ‘I’m just worried that I will be stuck here, and that Christmas will be ruined if I can’t get going again.’ Tiny tears had started to drop down into the snow at his feet.
Henry stepped closer and sat down beside him. ‘Come on now, don’t cry. We can get you going again. I can help you if you would like?’
Lifting his head, Snick looked at Henry, the faint trace of a smile forming on his lips. ‘You are very kind; Snick knew that Henry would help.’
Quickly to his feet, Snick dusted the snow from his trousers and wiped his sleeve across his face. ‘We must get to work quickly; there isn’t a second to lose.’
Without another word, Snick turned and was off towards the darkness of the woods.
‘Wait!’ Henry shouted. ‘I have to help Ma with the decorations first, I’ll be in big trouble if I don’t.’
Stopping in his tracks, Snick turned back towards Henry. ‘Don’t you worry about that, everything will be ok. Now, come.’
Following behind, and trying not to lose the little creature as it headed into the woods, Henry could feel a sense of apprehension wash over him as he entered into the darkness.
‘Snick, what do you mean everything will be ok, we only have a little while. Ma won’t be pleased. I’ll be grounded forever!’
‘Trust me, Henry,’ came the reply from up ahead. ‘Trust me.’
Deeper into the woods they went. Be it in his mind, he just couldn’t work it out, but the temperature seemed to be dropping, the ground becoming more sodden, and the noises in the air more sinister.
It was then that Henry lost sight of Snick.
Stopping at a clearing he looked all around for the little creature, but he was nowhere to be seen.
‘SNICK, WHERE ARE YOU?’ he called out.
Silence. The only sound that of Henry’s own breath. He couldn’t lie, even if he wanted too, but he was feeling rather scared now. He had never been this deep into the woods before, not without the company of either Ma or Pa.
Looking all around him, the darkness closing in tight like a velvet glove, he called out again, but with the same result.
He considered turning back, making a dash for it and back into the safety of home, but he wasn’t sure as to whether he would be able to find his way out again.
Back to the path along which he had seen Snick disappear moments previous, he slowly made his way deeper into the woods, every few feet calling out his name, and every few feet receiving the same silence in return.
Deeper and deeper he went, every second the darkness creeping ever closer, the twisted trees reaching out with spindly fingers, black and naked against the crisp whiteness of the snow.
Just when he was starting to think that he’d never see the creature again, doubting that he’d actually seen him in the first place, and that the whole episode was nothing but a dream.
‘Hello, Henry.’
The voice from his right saw Henry almost jump out of his skin, his feet twisting underneath him as he spun around, causing him to fall, headlong, into a muddy puddle.
SPLASH!
Pulling himself to his feet, and wiping a hand across his dirty face, Henry stood, muddy water dripping from his coat, and looked at Snick.
‘What on earth do you think you are you doing?’ he said, angrily.
Snick took a step back. ‘I – I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you ok?’
‘Does it look like I’m ok? I’m covered in mud and soaking wet. Ma will have my guts for garters when she see’s me!’
That sad look returned to Snicks face, his head dropping down.
‘This is my best coat, my only coat! Look at me!’ continued Henry, his voice getting louder.
‘Snick is very sorry. I am nothing but trouble.’
Henry stopped, sensing that Snick was upset, feeling bad that he had snapped at him for something that was nothing but an accident.
Taking a step towards him, Henry placed a hand on Snicks shoulder. ‘I’m sorry that I shouted. And it’s not true that you are nothing but trouble.’ He paused. ‘Well, maybe just a little.’
Looking up and seeing a smile on Henry’s face, Snicks mood brightened.
‘I have found my sleigh; it’s just over there, through that clearing.’ Snick said, pointing through the trees. ‘If you still wanted to help me, that is?’
Henry nodded. ‘Of course, but promise me one thing?’ Snick raised his eyebrows. ‘No more jumping out on me, ok?’
With a smile, Snick agreed and without further ado, and with Henry in hot pursuit, headed off deeper into the woods.
After a few moments, and no more than one hundred yards, the tree’s parted, bringing them to the spot where the sleigh had crashed down. Its side and front bashed in.
‘My my.’ Henry said. ‘That is a bit of a mess isn’t it.’ Looking off to one side, he then spotted something else. Pointing towards it. ‘What’s that?’
Just off to one side, Snick approached what Henry had pointed at. Kneeling down at its side, he put a hand on the creatures head.
‘This is Ambrose, my reindeer.’
‘You have your own reindeer?’ Henry said, coming closer.
‘Yes. We all do. And I won’t be able to complete my job if he isn’t well enough.’
Henry knelt down at Snicks side. ‘What’s wrong with him? He doesn’t look ill.’
Stroking the reindeer on the neck, Snick whispered something that Henry couldn’t quite make out into its ear.
A brief moment and, with a slight groan, the animal rolled onto its side, revealing a paw that was bent at an angle that didn’t seem natural at all.
‘Ouch.’ Henry said. ‘That does look painful, the poor thing.’
Snick was beginning to look agitated. Climbing to his feet he began to pace back and forth.
‘We need to work fast, Henry, I’m running out of time. Santa is counting on us trolls. If I don’t getting going soon, then, well…’ He stopped, not wanting to think of the consequences.
‘It’s ok.’ Henry said, in his most reassuring voice. ‘We’ll fix it. My Dad has loads of things in his shed that we could use to fix up your sleigh.’
‘What about Ambrose?’ Said Snick still pacing up and down. ‘I can’t go anywhere if he can’t move.’
‘There must be something in the shed that we can use for that as well. It’ll be ok.’
Snick stopped in his tracks. ‘You will be in trouble with your parents if you are not back soon, I can’t have that. I can’t have any more trouble.’
‘Don’t worry about them,’ said Henry. ‘We need to get you home first, that’s the most important thing.’
With that Henry stood, brushing the snow from his knees. ‘Come on, the sooner we start the sooner we can get you home.’
Grabbing hold of the sleeve of Henry’s coat, a note of alarm on his face, Snick spoke in a quiet voice.
‘There’s no time, Henry, no time. There’s nothing else for it.’
 
 
5.
 
 
Leaving Henry’ side, Snick walked over to his sleigh. Pulling across the cover on a back compartment, he leant over the side, his little legs leaving the ground momentarily, and pulled out a small, red, drawstring bag.
Henry frowned. ‘What’s in there?’
Heading back towards him, the bag cradled in his hands like it was the most precious things in the world; Snick gestured towards the trunk of a fallen tree and asked Henry to sit down.
‘Do you believe in magic, Henry?’ Snick said as they sat side by side.
Henry’s eyes widened. ‘Magic? Oh, yes, I love magic. My Pa has a very good trick that he does with a pack of cards.’ He looked down at the bag that Snick held. ‘Are you going to do a trick?’
Snick frowned. ‘Sort of, but…’ he paused.
Henry edged closer. ‘But what? Maybe it’s the same trick that my Pa does.’
Snick looked away, shaking his head; he never imagined it coming to this, never imagined having to tell anyone the secret that he kept, but he didn’t see any other way.
‘Can you keep a secret, Henry?’
‘A secret?’ Henry said, frowning.
‘Yes, but not just any secret, a secret so big, so important, that if breathed to another living soul would,’ he paused, ‘would mean the end of Christmas, forever.’
Henry gasped. ‘The end of Christmas?’
Snick nodded. ‘No more presents, no more Santa, no more anything. Can you imagine that?’
Henry shook his head. ‘I don’t even want to think of it! No more Christmas? That’s horrible!’
‘Then promise me, Henry Took,’ Snick said, his eyes large. ‘Promise me that you will never tell anyone the thing I am about to tell you.’
‘I promise, of course, I promise.’
Snick shuffled where he sat. ‘Christmas is the most magical time of year, a time for celebration and a time for giving and sharing with the ones who we love. But for those of us involved in making it all happen, us trolls, the Elf’s and, of course, Santa, its very hard work. Not only do we have to collect all of the materials for the workshop, the Elf’s then only have a short while to make all of the toys and gifts for all of the boys and girls. Then, of course, there are the reindeers. They have to be groomed and fed so they are in the best shape and then, if that wasn’t enough, Santa has but a few short hours to deliver everything to the four corners of the world.’
Henry frowned. ‘But I know all of that. That’s not much of a secret.’
Snick sighed. ‘That’s not the secret, Henry.’ Holding up the little red bag, Snick then looked Henry in the eye.
‘It’s the contents of this bag that is the secret of Christmas.’
Looking between the little bag and Snick, Henry took a moment to think. ‘What on earth could be in there that was such a secret?’
Slowly pulling apart the string that fastened the bag, Snick reached inside. ‘Remember I asked you if you believed in magic?’ Henry nodded. ‘Well, watch this.’
Pulling his hand from the bag, his fist closed tightly, Snick closed his eyes. After a short moment and a muttered word that Henry couldn’t make out, he threw his arm above his head and opened his hand.
A short, sharp crack sounded in the air around them, causing Henry to cover his ears with gloved hands and give out a little yelp. ‘What on earth was that?’ He said, his voice all a quiver.
Jumping down from branch they where sat upon, Snick stood in front of Henry.
‘Every Christmas Eve, all of Santa’s helpers load up his sleigh and securely harness his reindeers for the journey. Then, he takes a bag, just like the one that I have, reaches inside, and pulls out a handful of dust, magic dust, and throws it into the air.’
Henry gasped. ‘Magic dust?’
‘Yes,’ Snick said. ‘And that, right there, is the secret, a secret that has been passed down through the generations. A secret so, well, secret, that it has the power, if let into the wrong hands, to destroy Christmas.’
Henry jumped down from the branch. ‘But I don’t understand, you still haven’t said what this big secret is.’
Snick smiled. ‘Look around you.’
With a frown, Henry did as he was asked. It took a moment or two for him to notice, but when he did…
‘WOW!’
Turning on the spot, his mouth open in amazement, he looked upon his surroundings. Everything, from the snow covered ground and up into the tall trees, from the birds in flight and the snow flakes as they fell from the sky, was frozen in time.
Snick stepped to Henry’s side. ‘That’s the secret of Christmas. In order for Santa to deliver presents to all of the boys and girls all over the world and be back before sunrise, he, just for a few hours, stops time.’
Henry looked at Snick with wide eyes, he wasn’t sure that he had ever seen or heard anything so unbelievable and amazing in his whole life.
‘I…I…don’t know what to say.’ said Henry, still a little confused. ‘I do have one question, though.’
‘Of course.’
‘Well, if the magic dust causes time to stop, then, how come it hasn’t stopped me?’
‘But you know the secret.’ Snick said. ‘And that is exactly why it is so very important that you never breathe a word of this to anyone, for those who know the secret will be instantly freed from the effects of the magic dust, and the spirit of Christmas,’ he paused. ‘Would be ruined.’
Henry could feel the weight of the whole situation starting to rest heavy on his shoulders, that the very existence of Christmas, the best, and by a country mile his most favourite time of the year, could, with one slipped word, be lost, forever. But he knew that helping Snick in returning home was important, and, right now, that was all he had to concentrate on.
With the landscape frozen in time around them, the wonder and bewilderment of it all causing Henry to feel just a little giddy, he lead Snick back through the woods from where they had come. Picking a snowflake from the air as it hung, as if suspended from an invisible wire, he marvelled as it rested upon his gloved hand without melting. He wasn’t sure, at that moment, that anything in his life would ever top what he was seeing. Until something else caught his eye, that is.
‘Wow!’ Henry said, jogging off ahead towards the stump of a tree.
Perched on a thick, gnarly branch, he had spotted a Robin. Stepping closer, and fully expecting the little bird to flutter its wings and fly away, he quickly realised that, even if it wanted to, it couldn’t.
‘I’ve never been this close to a Robin before.’ He said with excitement in his voice, his nose almost touching the tiny creature. ‘Look at its red chest, and its tiny wings. Oh, and look at its little feet!’
Snick frowned as he approached Henry. ‘Come along Henry, we haven’t got that long. I only used a tiny pinch of dust. The effect could wear off at any time.’
Making their way, quicker now, through the woods, the tree cover finally started to thin, and, before long, they found themselves, once again, back at the gate into Henry’s back garden.
Stepping inside, Henry led Snick back down the long narrow garden, past the old apple tree with the rope swing, and his old metal climbing frame, on top of which, now, sat Eric, the neighbours’ cat, paw in the air and mouth open as a blackbird swooped close by, both suspended in time, just as the robin had been earlier on.
Closer to the house and Henry spotted his Ma and Pa, stood at the kitchen window, looking out upon the white covered world. His heart skipped a beat at their presence, their blank faces and eyes, seemingly, staring right at him.
‘They can’t see me, can they?’ He said, looking back at Snick.
Snick shook his head. ‘No, no. They can’t see you.’ He smiled. ‘You don’t have to worry. But come on; let’s keep going before they can.’
Along the side of the house, past the overflowing dustbins and Pa’s rusted old bike and they were soon in the front garden. Looking out across the village, Henry was, once again, flabbergasted.
Picture a Christmas card scene, or a painting on an artist’s canvas, even. The image depicting a group of children, all wrapped up in their cosy winter clothes, having fun and with smiles on their faces, snowballs soaring through the air, sledges slipping and sliding. Well, that was exactly what Henry saw, except, that this image wasn’t on the front of a Christmas card or an artists canvas, it was frozen in time in the street that ran outside of his house.
Looking upon the scene, mouth open, his mind whirling with the amazement of all that was happening, he heard a noise to his left. Turning, he spotted the door to Pa’s shed open wide, huffing and puffing coming from within.
Stepping to the open door, Henry entered.
‘We are going to need a lot of this.’ Snick said, his back to Henry as he rummaged through boxes and cupboards. ‘We can fix the sleigh with these bits of wood, and there must be something in the first aid kit that we can use to help Ambrose.’
Turning back to Henry, his arms full of supplies, Snick kindly asked his new friend to collect up all that he himself couldn’t carry, and, with time against them, they set about making their way back to the woods.
Along the path at the side of the house and into the garden, Henry took a moment to glance back at Ma and Pa, still frozen in time at the kitchen window, and couldn’t help a little giggle to himself along with a silent wish that would stay like that forever. It would certainly make his life a lot easier.
Following in their footprints from earlier, Snick led the way back up the long, narrow garden, out of the gate and into the darkness of the woods.
‘Hurray.’ Snick said, jogging ahead. ‘We haven’t much longer.’
Reaching their destination, they both laid out all of the things they had collected from Pa’s shed onto the ground and set to work.
While Snick made himself busy with the repairs on his damaged sleigh, sawing wood to size, banging in nails here and there and wrapping thick tape over anything else that looked as though it may, at any time, fall off, Henry set to tending to Ambrose’s injured leg.
Opening up the first aid kit, and taking a moment to rummage through its contents, he took out a roll of bandage. About to wrap it around the creature’s leg, an idea, then, hit him. 
Jumping to his feet he quickly went over to the pile of wood that was built up next to Snicks sleigh. After a brief look through, he came across a small enough piece that he hoped would do the job that he had in mind.
Back to Ambrose, and after a quick tickle of reassurance under his chin he placed the piece of wood, gently, onto to its injured ankle. Then, slowly, he began, as tightly as the creature would allow without hollering out in pain, to wrap it around and around.
After a few moments more they were both done, and Snick stepped to Henry’s side. ‘Excellent job, Henry, well done, Ambrose looks happier already.’ He then sniffed at the air, his eyes closed. ‘Time is almost up, we must be quick. I must find somewhere to take off.’
‘These woods lead out onto some fields.’ Henry said. ‘My Pa took me there once. It shouldn’t be too far from here.’
Snick smiled. ‘Fantastic. There’s no time to lose.’
As quick as they could, they both helped Ambrose to his feet, Snick stroking the fur on the top of the creatures head and whispering quietly into its ear, before harnessing him to the patched up sleigh.
‘Will you get back in time?’ Henry said.
‘I’m sure that I will, yes. The dust should last for a little while longer, so it should give me enough time.’
Stepping forward, Snick, then, wrapped his arms around Henry’s waist, squeezing him tightly.
‘I can’t thank you enough, Henry. Without your help I would have been stranded here, and who knows what would have happened to me, or to Christmas.’
After initially being terrified of the little man, and thinking that the only reason he was there was to eat him up for his dinner, Henry was, now, more than a little sad that Snick was leaving. Their adventure, albeit short, had been the most enjoyable thing that Henry had ever done, and, in that time he had grown to like him very much.
Climbing aboard his sleigh, Snick settled himself into his seat, and looked down at Henry. ‘You’ve saved Christmas, Henry Took, and for that Ill make it my personal duty to inform Santa of your good deed.’
Henry smiled. ‘Ill never forget you Snick.’
‘And Ill never forgot you. But remember our little secret, and remember how important it is that you never tell another living soul of what you know.’
Nodding his head, Henry then watched as Snick shook the reins for Ambrose’s attention and the sleigh slowly began its journey along the path that lead from the woods and out into the fields.
Watching as they built up speed, Henry then began to run after them, his little legs moving him quickly across the ground.
‘So long Snick!’ he called out. ‘So long Ambrose.’
Turning back in his seat, Snick flashed a smile and gave a wave of his hand, before ever so slowly the sleigh began to lift into the air. Reaching the edge of the woods, the snow covered fields rolling off into the distance; the sleigh rattling and rumbling, Snick called out a final goodbye, and gave another tug on the reins. Before Henry even had a chance to wave back, they were gone.
Gazing up into the grey sky, Henry looked for any sign of them, but without any luck, for it was empty but for thick clouds and frozen snow flakes.
Turning away with a heavy heart and a tear in his eye, his mind awhirl with all that had happened, and knowing that he didn’t have too much longer before the world around him unfroze; Henry began the journey back home.
Had it been a dream? Was he soon to wake up to the realisation that it had all been nothing but a creation of his sleepy mind? If that was indeed so, then all he could say was that it was the best dream that he’d ever had!
Taking one last chance to admire the robin up close, he was soon back at his house. Along the side alleyway he went, past the dustbins and Pa’s old bike. At the front of the house he took a moment to look out upon the frozen scene of the children at play, then, with a smile, he re-entered the house.
Through the hallway and into the front room he soon came to the kitchen, and with one final look at his parents as they stood at the window, the thought flitting through his mind that if only they could be like it all the time, he began to climb the stairs to his room.
Once there, he sat down on his bed and closed his eyes. He then dozed off.
‘HENRY!’
Jumping from his bed, eyes wide, Henry looked around the room, his mind in a dither.
‘HENRY!’ The call came again. ‘Get yourself down here right this second, these decorations aren’t going to put themselves up, you know!’
Sighing, his shoulders dropping at the realisation of his Ma’s voice, Henry removed his coat, hat and shoes and put them back where he had found them. He, then, thought of Snick and Ambrose and the little adventure they had had together, still wondering if it had even happened at all.
His mother’s dulcet tones, then, rang through the house again. ‘HENRY! You’ve got one minute. Don’t make me come up there!’
Before answering her call, he took a quick peek from the window, just to check that everything was normal again, to find that it was.
The children’s games were, once more, in full flow. Snowballs flying in every direction, sledges slip sliding on the cold, frozen ground. All accompanied by shouts and laughter. The birds were flitting through the sky and the snow had started to fall again.
Stepping back from the window and aware that he needed to be downstairs to save him from the wrath of Ma, Henry quickly made his way from the room.
The next couple of hours, being bossed around by Ma, weren’t the most fun that Henry had ever had. ‘Don’t put that there.’ ‘Stop doing that.’ ‘Why can’t you take things seriously?’ But Henry didn’t care; all he could think about was his adventure with Snick. He wondered if he had got home safely, and hoped that Santa wasn’t too angry if he hadn’t. He also wished that he could have gone with him, away from here and to a better life with people who cared for him.
Back upstairs, with a flea in his ear, Henry lay down on his bed with a sigh and closed his eyes, his request to go outside and play in the snow, just like everyone else in the village, seemingly, was, had been denied. He had argued, of course he had, but that had just made Ma more angry. Pulling the covers over his head, he went to sleep.
 
 
6.
 
 
Christmas morning came around quickly and Henry was awake at 6:30am. Sitting up in bed, the room cold and dark, his breath visible in the air; he stretched his arms above his head and yawned.
Climbing out of bed, the cold air wrapping around him like a blanket, he quickly pulled on his dressing gown and slipped his feet into his slippers, hoping that it wouldn’t take too long for him to warm up.
At the window he opened up a gap in the curtains and peered out into the gloom, just making out the gentle fall of snow in the light of the streetlamps, the big white moon hanging silently in the sky, its face smiling down on the world. But Henry didn’t feel like smiling, which was unusual, for Christmas was his favourite time of year, but all he could think about, was Snick.
It had been magic, the time that he had spent with the little creature. He’d never felt more alive. The sights that he had seen, he knew, would stay with him forever, the robin, Eric, the neighbours’ cat, and, especially, the scene in front of the house of the village children, frozen at play. He so wished that he could just close his eyes and be back there, but he knew that couldn’t happen.
With a big sigh, he stepped away from the window. Quietly tip-toeing across the room, he gently pulled open his bedroom door, and stepped out into the corridor. The house was silent; the only noise to be heard, the faint ticking of the big old grandfather clock downstairs in the hallway. Using his trusted trick, he manoeuvred himself, like a cat, quiet, but with haste, along the corridor all the way to the end, then down the stairs to the bottom, he shuffled through the kitchen and into the living room. Flicking on the light, he was confronted by a mound of presents under the tree. Rushing over, he stared at all of the gifts, with their brightly coloured wrapping paper and bows. There seemed to be quite a few for him, which made him smile.
Knowing, however, that he wouldn’t be able to open any of them until every member of the family was up and washed and dressed, which, if it was to be like every other year, would mean close to midday, he decided that the best thing would be to head back to his room, and wait.
With one last look at all of the presents, and about to switch off the light, something caught his eye, something on the mantelpiece on the far side of the room. With a frown creasing his forehead, he headed towards the object, and only when he was within touching distance did he realise exactly what it was.
‘Oh my.’ He said to himself.
Reaching up, he took hold of the object and brought it close to him. In his hands he held a small, red, drawstring bag, just like the one that Snick had used. Opening it carefully, his excitement at boiling point, he peered inside, and, to his delight, a smile breaking over his chubby little face, he saw the dust, the magic dust. But, there was something else.
With trembling fingers he, carefully, dipped inside, and pulled out a small, tightly, folded, piece of paper. Opening it up, he read:
 
Dear Henry,
 
Well, I got home in time, just! And, without your help I know that I wouldn’t have made it at all. I spoke to Santa, just like I said I would, and he said that he would leave you a little gift as a thank you. Oh, but there’s just one tiny condition, make sure that you use it wisely.
 
I’ll never forget your kindness, Henry Took, and, you never know, maybe I’ll see you again some day.
 
Snick
 
p.s you might need a little something to make it work, so check your dressing gown pockets, but don’t forget, it’s our secret.
 
Folding the note up, Henry reached into the pockets of his dressing gown and pulled out another slip of paper, upon was written a single word:
 
KERBUNZLE
 
‘This must be the magic word.’ Henry said to himself.
Staring at the note, a voice from behind made him jump.
‘What are you doing, boy?’
Spinning around, Henry was met by the stern, tired face of Ma as she stood in the doorway.
‘Erm, nothing Ma.’ he replied, carefully slipping the note and the bag into his dressing gown pocket. ‘Just taking a look at the presents is all.’
Ma folded her arms across her chest. ‘I hope that you haven’t opened any presents yet. You know the rules.’
‘No, of course not.’ Henry said.
And with that, Henry walked past Ma and back up the stairs to his room. Once inside, he retrieved the gift from his pocket, the smile returning
to his face, and placed it, carefully, onto his bedside table.
Stepping to the window, he pulled back the curtains. The snow was still falling, and the village of Digden was slowly starting to come to life.
Christmas was good that year.
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