The hag held out the shinny red apple but Snow White refused it. The princess turned away thus changing her fate forever.
The hag held out the shinny red apple but Snow White refused it. The princess turned away thus changing her fate forever.
All the children but one were in bed. I looked at my oldest from across the living room, he was sat on a beanbag next to the Christmas tree, playing on a game console, headphones in and switched off from the rest of the world.
My wife give me a nudge with her elbow and and nodded towards him, her eyes telling me I had to convince our son to go to bed now. It was an hour or so before his normal time and I was finding being the father of a fourteen year old difficult.
‘It’s too early,’ I whispered back to my wife.
‘I know, but we have presents to wrap,’ she replied back.
‘So? Josh can help.’
She shook her head, ‘I want him to have one last magical Christmas.’
‘You said that last year…He’s a teenager now,’ I hissed back.
My wife pulled a face and turned her attention back to the TV. We had been watching some old Christmas movie but it wasn’t that interesting and followed the same old plot that other seasonal films did.
There would be no arguing with her. It really wasn’t the time. Christmas was stressful and more so when you had a big family and an even bigger extended one. We had six children; four girls and two boys, ageing between five and fourteen.
I had four older siblings who had many children of their own and my wife had three remaining siblings with families of their own, plus the children from her two brothers who had passed away. Then there were all the cousins, distant relatives and friends who were like family. Also, the people who only seemed to appear at Christmas then fade into memory for the rest of the year.
I got up, trying not to be grumpy. I was just as tired as she was and not in the mood for dealing with argumentative teenage boys. Perhaps, there was another way though?
Tapping, Josh lightly and motioning the removing of his headphones and I got his attention.
‘Why don’t you go and play that in bed now?’ I said.
‘It’s still early,’ he replied, a moaning tone in his voice.
‘I know, but we have present wrapping to do and you wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises.’
Josh fixed that look, the one that said he didn’t believe me and was getting on the edge to start arguing, ‘No, I won’t. I know what you’ve got me all ready. What I asked for; new headphones, Zombies Revenge Battle Two and The Haunted Earth games, Zomboz and Bomboz books, a download of the newest Death Rattle album, one of their band hoody and matching t-shirt.’
I took a deep breath, ‘and how do you really know we got you all of that?’
Josh shrugged and turned back to his game, ‘mum told me.’
Avoiding looking back at my wife, I spoke, ‘but we might have brought you something else too. Please, Josh, be good and think about your brothers and sisters. We know you don’t believe anymore but it’s important to keep things nice for them.’
I had noticed he had been keeping his distance all day. The other kids had been over-excited and unable to focus on much. Josh hadn’t spoke much and spent a lot of time playing his games. Even later, when we had gone out to lay the glitter and oats trail for the reindeer then put out the mince pie, whiskey and carrots, Josh hadn’t been with us.
Had my son really grown out of Christmas?
‘Come on, Josh. Bedtime or else you’ll have to help wrap presents,’ I pressed harder.
Josh sighed and gathered his things. He went upstairs and I followed after him.
‘I’m staying up to finish this level,’ Josh said, threateningly as he flopped down on his bed.
‘That’s fine. Thank you,’ I answered and went to shut the door.
‘Was Santa real?’ Josh asked.
I frowned and paused in the doorway. Where had that question come from?
‘Like, did he ever existed?’
I came back into the room, pushing the door closed behind me. Josh was sat up now, his game forgotten for the moment. I joined him on the bed and thought how to reply.
‘And don’t give me a fairy story, I know none of that is real,’ Josh added.
‘I guess there might have been an old man once who inspired the stories,’ I said carefully.
‘Like Robin Hood and King Arthur? There’s not much fact they existed, is there?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. It’s that kind of myth, legend thing. There must have been someone who inspired those stories,’ I replied, latching onto his way of thinking.
‘I guess that makes sense,’ Josh answered, ‘I wonder who he was? I bet the internet would know!’
‘The internet knows everything,’ I muttered, ‘but you know that some stories can’t be captured.’
‘Get into bed and let me tell you about an old man in Iceland who was the first Santa.’
‘Dad,’ Josh groaned, ‘I’m not a kid and I don’t need a bedtime story! And I have this level to finish.’
‘I know all that but just this once okay? I thought you wanted to hear about it.’
Pulling a face and muttering, Josh did as I asked and settled into bed.
‘Once there was an old man who lived alone but he loved children. He had longed wished for his own but, and though he’d had a few wives, he never had any of his own. He was black smith and also a carpenter because where he lived in a small town in Iceland it was far from anywhere else.’
‘He could have moved,’ Josh cut in.
‘Not the point,’ I replied and got on with the story, ‘the man made little money mending things, so he made things to sell but soon no one wanted anymore chairs or tables or shelves. The man decided he would have to make something else instead or he would have no money to get food or firewood.’
‘Sounds like he needs a new job,’ Josh muttered.
‘One day, watching the children play in the snow, an idea came to him; he would make them some toys. He spent a long time planning and trying to make things. At first he wasn’t sure what the children would like and because there was so few toys around, there was little for him to go off. The man asked the children and they told him they would like dolls and blocks, hoops and spinning tops, rocking horses and pull along dogs.’
‘Baby toys?’ Josh scoffed, ‘why?’
‘No, these where old fashioned toys. They didn’t have computers and TVs back then! Or even plastic. The toys were all made of wood and spare things that were left over from making other things. Children didn’t have a lot of time to play in the old days. They had to help their parents run farms and they had to go out to work as money was always short,’ I explained.
‘Like the Victorian children? We learned about them in history class.’
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘So, he made these toys and then what? He went and give them out?’
‘Erm, no, because he wouldn’t have made any money then. The man tried to sell the toys but people weren’t interesting. They didn’t have spare money to buy toys, they had to buy meat, bread and firewood instead. The man was disheartened but then another idea came to him and he asked some of the children to come and work for him. He give them easy tasks and paid them with toys.’
Josh laughed and asked, ‘for real?’
‘Sure, why not?’ I questioned, ‘the idea did work and other children came looking for work because they too wanted toys and the man found them jobs, sometimes helping him to make the toys themselves. When he ran out of jobs, the man got the children to help other people and because the children were getting toys instead of money, there was more money to go around.’
‘But, he wasn’t making any money himself was he? So, the man was just as poor as before.’
I give a nod and carried on, spinning the story I was making up on the spot as if it was a well known tale, ‘but because there was more money to go around now, people could offered to buy toys for their children. They could have special presents on their birthdays and Christmas. Then, one of the adults came to the old man and asked him to start making gifts that the adults could give each other because they had seen how happy the children were and the grown ups wanted to celebrate too.’
Josh nodded sleepily but didn’t interrupted. He was curled in bed, looking like a child once again as he started to doze off.
I continued, ‘The man was happy to do this because it meant more work and more money. So, he made gifts the adults could give each other and soon that become a tradition too. On the winter solace that year, the town celebrated the shortest day and the man give away many toys to lots of people, thus another tradition was born.’
Getting up, I tucked Josh in, he was almost asleep so it was time to finish the story, ‘ word began spreading about an old man in Iceland who give children toys in winter and people liked that idea and decided to make it so. Stories were told and added to and changed over the years. Santa was created from all them, but who knows what is true or not now? Like all great myths and legends, we’ll never know for sure but doesn’t that make them more interesting?’
This year elf on the shelf was out and gnomes were in. I liked them better, they had funny, fluffy beards, no faces just a nose sticking out from under a far too big hat and fat woollen bodies. They looked far cuter to have a round the house.
Until, things started happening. Little things went missing and then reappeared in other places. I heard child like giggling and it wasn’t my own children. I came down one morning and found the dishes all washed and put away!
‘What is going on around here?’ I muttered as I went around the playroom and put away all the farm animals for the third time that week.
‘It’s the gnomes, mum!’ my children cried.
‘The yuletide gnomes. They keep doing all of this,’ my youngest daughter, Izzy said.
‘They like to play and keep the house clean,’ my oldest son, Ben replied, ‘I looked them up. They protect the house and like to eat porridge with butter on Christmas Eve.’
I laughed, ‘such imaginations you all have!’
‘No,’ my other daughter, Freya shouted, ‘they are real!’
I paused, ‘okay, they are real then….Do they report back to Santa like the elf did last year?’
‘Nope,’ my son replied, ‘they are like Santa and give out presents alongside a Yule goat.’
‘Is that why they keep getting the farm animals out? They need a goat?’ I questioned.
‘Maybe,’ Izzy said.
‘We need to buy a goat!’ Freya cried.
‘Let’s see what we can do then,’ I said.
That night after putting the children to bed and sitting down to watch TV with my husband, I kept looking over at the two Yuletide gnomes. Were they really the cause of things? Well, they weren’t doing any harm and if they wanted a goat and porridge on Christmas Eve then I was happy to join in the fun.
(Find out more here; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisse_(folklore) )
The snow froze the ground and lay not as a solid blanket but more patchy and lumpy. The Wastelands were like that, rising and falling, all wild with long grass, spiky bushes and stunted trees.
A small cabin, easily missed, stood nested in between two hills and the cover of trees. Smoke rose from the chimney as the clouds blocked the last rays of sun. The chopping of wood echoed and the whooshing of an axe came from the behind the cabin.
Lance collected the newly sliced logs and juggled them with the axe. He could have left the heavy tool outside but he had lost his last one to the Imps. Going inside, he knocked the snow from his boots and dumped the wood and the axe by the fire.
The two dogs growled at him then settled again on the sofa at the sound of his voice, ‘it’s only me. It’s fine.’
Lance went outside to get the rest of the wood. It was dark now the sun had set and a few flakes of snow fluttered from the heavy clouds above. Lance couldn’t see that far into The Wastelands but he knew the layout as if the map was drawn onto his skin.
Back inside, with the rest of the wood, he put two pieces on the fire then put the other logs into the basket beside. It felt too early to light the lamps but if he didn’t the Imps might try to use the shadows to sneak in.
The lamps went on to the two window sills and on the small table next to the door. Lance touched the holly above the door, the leaves were bright green and the red berries shone in the light. There was also dried sage and other plants that The Hollow Witch said should help to keep the Imps away.
The snow was falling faster now and sticking to the ground. A chilly wind was creaking the cabin and creeping through the gaps to try and freeze the inside up. Night rolled in, claiming The Wastelands in darkness.
Going back to the fire, Lance sit in the only other seat in the cabin, an armchair. One of the dogs thumped his tail, whilst the other didn’t even raise her head. Lance didn’t mind, when the dogs were calm it meant the spirits were away.
‘Let’s hope we have a quiet night,’ Lance uttered, ‘the snow is coming down again and that should help keep things at bay but other things might be seeking warmth and we don’t ever invite anything inside.’
The dog grumbled in agreement and rest his head on the arm of the sofa to watch Lance.
Looking into the fire, Lance fell into wondering why him. He could see things people couldn’t for as long as he could remember. It had drove his parents away and he had been left as an apprentice to a shoe maker. That had only last a year though because he hadn’t been able to stop talking about the little elves who mended shoes in the night.
Lance had tried to be a baker, but couldn’t stop talking to the Spirit Keeper of the Ovens and the bread ended up burning too many times. Next, he had tried to be a blacksmith but the Talker for the Horses had kept telling him he wasn’t doing it right and Lance had kept getting in trouble even though it was the Talker making the mistakes.
He had found not pointing out the spirits was the best thing to do but somehow everyone in the town and the neighbouring ones knew he could see things. That unknown was frighting to simple people so Lance had moved away and tried to be a guard in the King’s City. But the spirits were worse there and Lance found seeing them and hearing them all the time too much.
Seeking out the help of people of magic or others that saw the spirit world had helped. Though it had also lead to him being exploited. As a young man he wasn’t aware of this, just glad to have found he wasn’t alone and someone wanted to help him.
As time went on and Lance become more awake to things, he realised that some of those magic people couldn’t see like he could and were using him to trick people into spending money and sometimes getting their houses robbed.
Lance had come all the way out here, to The Wastelands were people didn’t live. He had wanted to be away from everything and not bothered by spirits. He had built his cabin and made a living for himself as a carpenter. He carved bowls, cups, spoons, buckets, children toys and other useful items which he sold anywhere he could do.
The money he used for food and to pay for The Hollow Witch’s services. Lance was grateful to have discovered her. She had come to his cabin one night, seeking shelter and warmth from a snowstorm.
Lance had been unsure at first then The Hollow Witch had told him she could see that he was being hounded by a group of Imps and in return for a night or two of shelter, she would get rid of them for him.
Agreeing, Lance had let her in and once she was warm, The Hollow Witch had cast spells about and got out some sage to banish the Imps.
‘I’m the Hollow Witch because I live in a tree hollow down in the valley on the edge of The Wastelands,’ she had told him, ‘I can help you with your other spirit problems too. But I can’t take away your Sight, only help keep things at bay.’
‘Do you know anyone who can take the Sight away?’ Lance had asked her as the wind had whipped the snow outside and the fire had crackled away.
‘No one can take away your gift or your curse if that’s what you call it. It is your’s alone. You can use it as I have, to aid people and yourself or you can try and ignore it. But some spirits won’t like that,’ The Hollow Witch spoke.
‘The imps?’ Lance had pondered.
‘Yes. They will stop at nothing till they have your attention. They will steal from you, pinch and bite you, laugh and scream in your ears. Anything that makes you speak of them. Then they will continue because that is what they do. They plague us, trick us and led us to danger.’
Lance nodded and had fallen silent. He had felt coming out here would help him escape but it seemed he had been wrong.
Coming back to the present, Lance heard the growling of the dogs. He watched them get off the sofa and go to the door. They stood with ears and tails up, fur raised, growling deeply.
Lance followed them and tried to look out the window but it was too dark. He pressed the side of his face to the door and listened. He could hear laughter like a child but he knew it wasn’t.
He stood back and repeated what The Hollow Witch had told him to, ‘you are not welcome here. Go away. Don’t do anything to this place nor myself or my dogs. Stay away. I banish you from this space. Return to where you come from. BE GONE!’
Taking a few deep breaths, Lance pressed his ear to the door again and heard the wind blowing the snow.
The Imps were gone now but he knew they would be back soon enough.
(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2019/12/12/thursday-photo-prompt-chill-writephoto/ with thanks).
Mulch, the autumn fairy, stirred up the fallen leaves with his wings and laughed as he become wrapped in a snow globe like effect. He dropped in a heap against a tangle of tree roots. His mole skin tunic, leggings and mouse skull hat were splattered with dirt but he didn’t care.
A chilly wind shook more leaves down and Mulch dated upwards and danced with them as they fell.
This was his favourite time of year. The woods rang loud with Mulch’s laughter but to human ears it sounded like the babbling of the brook.
(Inspired by; https://crispinakemp.com/2019/11/06/crimsons-creative-challenge-52/ with thanks).
Once upon a time, a young Princess lived in a vast kingdom and her home was the mighty castle that stood at the heart of the country.
She lived with her parents; the King and Queen, nine siblings, many uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, other relatives and an army servants. The family were extreme close and enjoy being together.
One early autumn day, the young Princess and some of the other children were playing outside in the castle’s huge maze of gardens. The girls were catching butterflies and dragonflies whilst the boys hunted for beetles, worms and bugs.
The young Princess caught a very pretty butterfly that had many different reds, oranges and yellows on the wings.
‘I wish I could be like you, butterfly and know what it’s like the fly,’ the Princess whispered.
When the Princess went to bed that evening, her back hurt and she couldn’t settle to sleep. Her skin felt itchy and burning. She called for her Nanny – who was one of many in the castle- by ringing the bell by her bed.
Nanny came at once and looked at the Princess’ back.
‘Nettle rash? Or ivy? Perhaps something else?’ Nanny pondered, ‘well, whatever it is, here is some of Nanny’s magic lotion. It will cool and soothe and make that rash gone!’
The Princess nodded and let Nanny cover her upper back in a sweet smelling lotion.
That night the Princess hardly slept. She tossed and turned, not able to get comfy because her back hurt too much. She felt like her skin was on fire and began crying. The Princess rang the bell for Nanny and a maid then sat wailing till they arrived.
Nanny came and looked again at the Princess back. The skin was bright red and looked like it was bubbling.
‘Not a rash then. Sunburn?’ Nanny wondered, ‘don’t worry, Princess! Nanny has something for everything.’
Turning to the maid, Nanny asked for, ‘cold water, clean cloths and some warm milk.’
They washed the Princess back, put on a different lotion then wrapped her up. The princess sipped the warm milk then lay on her stomach and finally fell to sleep.
In the morning, the young Princess was running a fever and her back was worse. The King and Queen came to see her then sent for a doctor- the best in the kingdom. When he arrived, he was puzzled and declared that the Princess must have sat too close to a fire and had burnt her back.
Nanny disagreed with him but what else could it be?
The doctor give some medicines, instructions and left to see the King’s father who had come down with a bad cold.
By that night the Princess felt little better but her back was still bad and she couldn’t lay down on it. As she tried to get some rest, she felt something moving over her shoulder blades.
Ringing for Nanny, the Princess crawled out of bed and made it across her bedroom to a big mirror. She looked at her back but it was wrapped up and she couldn’t see it.
When Nanny arrived, the Princess told her but Nanny thought she was still feverish.
However, when the Princess awoke in the morning, her back felt like someone was cutting into it and she took the bandages off to see.
There on her back, growing out of her shoulder blades were a tiny pair of black wings!
The Princess gasped and called for Nanny and maid.
‘Look at my back!’ the Princess cried to them, ‘I have wings!’
‘Go and get the King and Queen at once!’ Nanny snapped at the maid, who hurried off to do so.
‘They are real!’ the Princess cried and she tried to move them.
‘How did this happened?’ Nanny muttered.
The King and Queen came and when they saw the wings they wondered if their daughter had been cursed by an evil witch. They decided they would have to seek magical help and the Princess would have to stay in her bedroom and no one would be allowed near her.
The Princess wasn’t happy but no one would listen to her.
Over the next few days and nights the wings carried on growing until they were almost as tall as the Princess was. They were very pretty and brightly coloured in reds, oranges and yellows.
Lonely and bored, the Princess learned how to control the wings and when Nanny and maid were not around, the Princess would try to fly!
This took a lot of time but she began to get the hang of the wings.
Then one beautiful, full moon lit night, the princess decided she wanted to go and fly outside. She crept through the castle using many secret passages and servant corridors. Finally, she made it out into the kitchen gardens and without looked back, she hurried to one of the other gardens furthest from the castle.
There she felt the breeze tug on her wings and she knew what to do.
The Princess stepped up onto a stone bench, she fluttered her wings, closed her eyes, concentrated and jumped into the air.
She opened her eyes and looked down, her feet were off the ground!
She flapped the wings and rose higher and higher! Soon she was flying over the gardens then over the castle, over the city and towards the moon.
The Princess felt thrilled, she had gotten her wish to fly!
She yawed and decided it was time to return to bed. The Princess flew back to the castle, landed in a garden and sneaked back to her bedroom. No one could ever know what she had just done!
For the first night in a month the Princess slept well.
When she woke in the morning, her back felt different, lighter. The Princess looked down and saw on either side her butterfly wings! They had fallen off in the night. She was a normal girl again.
In the old days, Santa’s elves worked in pretty wooden sheds but now they worked in metal walled factories. The world’s population of children had become too much for the simpler times and with improvements in technology, the choice had been made to allow production to be faster, better and tripled.
Santa walking around the large conveyor belts and machinery on inspection missed the old days. Before the smell of candy canes, fires, newly sawed wood and paint hung in the air. Now it was all oil, smoke, warm plastic and metallic tang.
‘Are you happy elves?’ Santa asked them.
‘Yes, sir!’ cheery voices shouted, ‘we’re not stressed or tried anymore. There’s more time for creating, planning and double checking now.’
Santa nodded, he believed them but he also knew that in their hearts, just like his, they did missing the wooden workshops. Moving with the times had to be done though.
(Inspired by; https://crimsonprose.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/crimsons-creative-challenge-5/ with thanks).
The morning sun shone through the hole of the bending tree. The wood cutter looked up, shielding his eyes from the glare. He could see the rays of light exploding against the tree’s trunk. It’s a blessing, he thought, shifting his hand on the handle of his axe as he said his thanks to the sun god and the goddess of nature.
The wood cutter continued his walk into the forest, feeling like today was going to be good. He approached the first tree he planned to cut down in the small clearing. He begin chopping, the sounds of his axe startling birds into the sky and echoing in the other trees.
He was about halfway through the trunk when he heard the crying. He was about to swing again but the noise paused his movement. He listened and realised it was a baby. Lowering his axe, he followed the sound to the other side of the clearing and spotted a wicker basket poking out from under a bush.
Putting his axe down, he pulled the basket it towards himself and and saw in the wrapped in a blanket, a baby boy.
‘I was right!’ the wood cutter cried, ‘today is a blessed day.’
(Inspired by; https://scvincent.com/2018/08/23/thursday-photo-prompt-caught-writephoto/ with thanks).
I came across the boots whilst digging at the bottom of my new garden. They were just sat on the low wall as if waiting for their owner to come back. I glanced around but there was nobody, only me and the birds.
The boots had been out here for awhile also the toes were wrapped in duck tape. How strange! I had a flash of the fairy tale about elves mending shoes and laughed. Perhaps someone would come back for the boots soon enough? I decided to leave them be.
(Inspired by; https://rochellewisoff.com/2018/05/16/18-may-2018/ with thanks).
Caim; sanctuary; an invisible circle of protection, drawn around the body with the hand to remind one of being safe and loved, even in the darkest times.
I watched the sun rising from my window. It had been another sleepless night. Too many thoughts in my head and nothing to settle me. I pressed my cheek to the cold, wet glass as the clouds began to light up.
A story, told by one of my childhood’s nannies, came into my head. It was about a boy who got lost in a dark forest where an evil witch lived. The boy wanted to protect himself but carrying nothing, could only use a spell his mother had given him. Using the air, he drew a circle around himself with his hand, whilst at the same time recalling a memory of being safe and loved.
The boy walked further into the forest and happened upon the evil witch. She tried to capture him, so she could eat him, but the evil witch’s spell bounced off the boy. The witch tried again and again, chasing the boy through the forest as he tried to get away. Finally, the boy made it out of the forest and back to his village. The evil witch could do nothing but hover on her broomstick at the edge of the trees, cursing the boy.
The boy ran into this house and was greeted by a happy and tearful family, for they had all thought he’d never return. The boy told of how he had cast the Caim spell his mother had taught him and when the evil witch tried to capture him, it was that spell that had saved him.
I sighed and moved my head away from the window. I had long given up believing in fairy stories. The idea of casting that spell stuck with me though. Getting out of the window box, I stepped into a patch of dawn light laying on the bare floor. Shutting my eyes, I thought about the best time I had felt safe and loved. I drew a circle around myself in the air.
A touch of warm brushed my skin, opening my eyes and looking out of the window, I saw the valley below full of sunlight. I wasn’t sure if the spell had worked or not but I felt a lot better that day for the first time in weeks. And that night, I slept well.
(Photo prompt from; https://scvincent.com/2018/03/29/thursday-photo-prompt-valley-writephoto/ with thanks).
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And to the North there dwelled strange creatures indeed...