The Nutcracker Revisited
An Original Fiction by Dark Puck
As a child, Claire Simmons had always loved her Grandma Clara’s story about how she had received a nutcracker as a Christmas present from her eccentric uncle, how the nutcracker had come to life to fight off an army of enormous rats, how she had saved him by distracting the Rat King when all had seemed lost, how the victory had broken the curse that had trapped a prince inside the nutcracker figurine, and how the prince had taken her to the Land of Sweets out of gratitude.
Now sixteen, Claire thought the tale was so much bull and was probably just an embellished dream Grandma Clara had had as a child. However, Claire made sure to keep her opinions to herself, as her multitude of little cousins still adored every word of the story. It was Christmas Eve, and Grandma Clara had finished her own story. As one, the cousins flocked to Claire, begging her to read them The Night Before Christmas.
Laughing, the oldest of the cousins accepted the book from her mother and let the littlest of them climb in her lap. “All right, all right… ‘Twas the night before Christmas/ And all through the house/ Not a creature was stirring/ Not even a mouse/ The stockings were hung…”
The children were tucked into bed within an hour, and Claire soon joined them -- or rather, she tried to. Visions of sugar plums were not dancing through her head. After two and a half hours of tossing and turning, Claire slipped out of bed, pulling on a bathrobe over her pyjamas and walked to the living room, where the Christmas tree was kept. She stood still for a moment, allowing the lights from the tree to bathe her in their comforting glow.
Claire was quite fond of the Christmas season, despite knowing that Grandma Clara’s story was nothing more than a dream and that Santa Claus… well. She settled down on the couch, watching the lights change colour and blink softly on and off. The show soon made her sleepy, and she curled up on the couch, dragging the quilt on the back of the couch over her. Soon she fell asleep, her cheek nestled against the embroidered Nutcracker pillow Grandma Clara had made her one year as a present.
She slowly became aware of a finger poking her side. She muttered something along the lines of, “Go ‘way, Robbie,” and rolled over. The poking continued, insistent. She moaned, burying her face under the covers. “S’not Christmas yet, Robbie, go ‘way.” The poking didn’t stop, and Claire sat up straight. “Robbie!”
The owner of the finger screamed and fell backwards off the couch. Claire blinked, then crawled to the edge and looked down. A boy about her age lay on the ground, moaning and twitching.
It took Claire’s sleep-addled brain a moment to realise that the distance to the ground seemed to have increased. She also realised that the couch was a lot bigger than normal. Once her mind had processed all this and come to the inevitable conclusion -- that she was mouse-sized -- Claire shrieked, which caused the boy on the floor to shriek and scramble under the couch. Claire arched an eyebrow, then set about figuring out a way to get to the ground. Eventually, she just pushed the nutcracker pillow to the floor -- which was startlingly easy -- and jumped. Upon landing, she rolled off and looked under the couch. Her blue eyes met green ones, startling in their paleness, then the boy shrieked yet again. She clamped her hand over his mouth. “Shut up, you idiot! You’ll wake up the whole house!” she hissed.
He mumbled something against her hand, and she let go. “Sorry,” he said when his mouth was free. “I get startled easily.” He hopped from one foot to the other, looking as if he were in a nervous fit. Claire wasn’t happy to see that he was taller than she was by a good head. She planted her hands on his shoulders and held him down. “Sit!” Startled, he sat.
Claire sat across from him. “Okay, first things first, Twinkle-Toes. Who are you, and why have I shrunk?” His green eyes darted around nervously before coming to rest on her. “I’m called Jitter, Clara. The King has sent me to --” Claire cut him off. “First of all, the name’s Claire. Claire Simmons. My great-grandmother’s name is Clara.”
He stared at her for a long moment, then let out a wail of despair. Claire lunged for him and covered his mouth with her hand again. “Shut up!” she hissed. She let go, only to find out that he was moaning incoherently. She pursed her lips for a moment, then slapped him. After the third slap, he came out of his state of depression and shot her a hurt look.
“I don’t like playing around, Twinkle-Toes. What do you want with Grandma Clara, and what does it have to do with me being shrunk?”
At last Jitter calmed down -- not that it made much difference -- and said, “The Prince of the Land of Sweets has been kidnapped. We need Clara’s help… but if she is your great-grandmother….”
Claire’s eyes narrowed.
Jitter looked at her helplessly. “All may be lost.”