Clara smiled up at the deep blue of the early winter night, looking at the full moon, visible through the transparent snow clouds above. There was a halo circling the heavenly body, casting it's white brilliance into a ring of frosty light. #02
As her godfather once again concluded his fairy tale about the nutcracker, Clara couldn't help but roll her eyes a little. It did not go unnoticed, and Herr Drosselmeyer raised his eyebrows pointedly at her.
"Something upsets you?" he asked.
"Well, it sort of seems like Hans was trying to be a hero, jumping in and trying to free the princess from the curse, when no one even asked him."
"But his uncle would have been killed, yes?"
it just seems ironic that he went out of his way, maybe in a partial attempt to get the prize of the princess and the throne, but wound up being the prince of the dolls, of all things."
"Heroes are never unfortunate, you say?"
Clara just shrugged. "Maybe, I don't know. It doesn't really matter. But it's still ironic."#03
Clara walked into the living room, where the Christmas tree was still alight, and the last embers were burning in the fireplace. The Franklin stove had been turned off, and she shivered, hurrying over to the fireplace, pulling her thick, nearly blanket-sized shawl more tightly around her. Noticing the Nutcracker, her ribbon around his injured jaw, tied at the top of his head like Jacob Marley's ghost, she could not help but grin. Looking around the room again, it seemed just like yesterday that she had broken through the largest window and had played the afternoon away with the dolls in the room. It had been quite a shock for Drosselmeyer when he came home to find his goddaughter had run away from her own parents to his house and had been playing there safely all day while her family fretted and panicked.#04
Clara dove behind one of the castaway present boxes that had been piled around the garland-adorned coffee table. She curled up, trying to hold her breath before panicked, raw gasps tore from her as the vision of the seven-headed Mouse King came back to her mind's eye with all its very real grotesque horror.#05
As Clara sprinted away from the now partially animated Nutcracker, she heard the other dolls making rather indignant remarks about it. For some reason, they did not expect her to run for her life from an old adolescent fear that had suddenly come to life.
But what did dolls know, anyways?#06
Moving with the melody and the residue rhythm and beat from the other dancers, Clara whipped and spun about on the stage, feeling like she was flying. As she began to execute the fastest and most intense part of the sequence, she could even fancy that she was whipping up a hurricane of fancy and lace. #07
Sitting down by the fireplace, she gazed up at the flowing angel atop the Christmas tree. For one fleeting moment, she envied its golden wings and wondered what real freedom must be like.#08
The Nutcracker popped the small pane of glass open with what must have been magic. A burst of freezing winter air poured on them. Clara automatically shivered and pulled her torn shawl around her shoulders, but stopped, and did not pull it up to her neck. For some reason, the hard, dark cold felt deliciously crisp on her exposed skin, and while it was painful, she wanted to relish it.#09
The choir sounded like a host of otherworldly beings, probably angels, as they began to sing their next carol. Clara just sat back in the pew, hardly listening. Her godfather, sitting next to her, elbowed her softly. Looking over, she followed his pointing figure to the brilliantly adorned alter. The warm and bright colors that were being used for Christmas Eve Mass were ones that she had missed during the Advent Season. She realized her godfather had been pointing at the poinsettias, and she smiled, remembering when she had once eaten the flowers to try to get attention. While her mother had scolded and panicked, wondering if she was going to die of poisoning, Drosselmeyer remained calm as Clara just got a mild allergic reaction. That was the last time she had ever done anything quite so stupid. #10
Turning around, Clara's eye fell on her little brother Fritz reaching for a glass of alcoholic cider while none of the adults were looking. She immediately leapt over and wrenched his wrist away, ignoring his loud complaints.
"You'll get sick drinking that!" she hissed, leading him away from the bar.
"Aww come on, Clara, it's Christmas!" Her brother gave her a hopeful look.
"Sure, you wanna be in bed all day tomorrow?"
"But I won't be in bed. Just a little, come on? I never get sick!"
"No means no. Remember what happened when you smoked Uncle Drosselmeyer's pipe when I told you not to?"
Fritz clumsily folded his arms and scowled, sticking out his lip. "Just because you're right sometimes doesn't mean you're ALWAYS right! Why do I hafta listen to you all the time?"
Reaching out her fingers, Clara held her right hand up in front of his face. One by one she clenched her fingers in, ending with her hand in a fist ready to perform a fine right hook. Fritz just stuck his tongue out at her. #11
The large grandfather clock in the living room began to strike midnight in it's deep, rich and soothing tones. Clara peeked up at it, glancing at its top where looking down at her was the ominous yet wise owl Clara had dubbed "Fitzgerald" when she was young. She closed her eyes again, too tired to move. #12
After sliding down what felt like a frozen, make-shift slide, they had dove right into a puddle of an assortment of over-sized, candied nuts. Clara groaned, then made to sit up. Her hands met something soft and sticky, and she jolted up using her legs alone. She looked at her hands to find peanut butter smeared on them. Turning around, she saw an entire mountain of candied peanuts, caramel peanuts, roasted peanuts, spiced peanuts and even sweet boiled peanuts, rising into the distance. She realized she was drooling and quickly wiped her mouth on her arm.
"I hoped we'd come here," said the Nutcracker from somewhere behind Clara. "This is one of the nicest places in the kingdom. Just wait til we get to the coffee bean vines and..." He waited for a moment, and Clara just decided to ignore him as she began to lick the peanut butter off of her hands. It was perfect. Smooth enough and with the perfect amount of nutty texture, not to sweet yet not salty or pungent, and
oh, it was HEAVEN. She sucked on her peanut-butter-covered finger meditatively, wondering if she was floating.
"Should we stay here for a little bit?" asked the Nutcracker from some far distance.
"Yes." Clara opened her eyes again, then quickly shook her head. She scowled at the ground as she went on, "No, no, of course not, we've got to go find your mom to get me back to normal and find and rescue my dolls, right?"
"Well, no time to waste then, right?"
The Nutcracker just slowly nodded and began walking along a road of dusted walnuts lined with Russian Almonds. Clara eyed them but resisted the urge to pluck any up, forcing herself to be content with slowly licking what was left of the peanut butter from her hand. #13
The endless white snowflakes in the dark began to look just like the pale faces of the nameless crowds that had applauded Clara earlier that Christmas Eve. It seemed like ages ago as she lay in the snow, frozen and truly alone.#14
As Clara brushed her hair out on her bed, she looked up at the full moon out her window, and began to sing the version of Silent Night her second-cousin once-removed had taught her in their stint in Ireland. As she sung, she knew her otherwise utter lack of Gaelic meant she was definitely making at least a couple mistakes, but she still kept singing, lulled by the sound of the language and melody.#15
The deep red draperies that surrounded the inner area was lightened by bright flames that smelled like cinnamon. Coffee flowed out of large urns where it was being flitered and mixed with vanilla, spices and sugar by several people. Some looked almost just like Clara, except for things like four arms, or maybe they had no legs and were floating in the air. Some of them were large, animated nuts with twig-like arms and legs. They distinctly reminded Clara of the creatures she and her brother had invented on a bored winter evening when they were using a bunch of shelled Russian Almonds as makeshift soldiers. #16
The final musical cover to end the ballet was an unorthodox piano arrangement of two pianos, being played in an exceedingly masterful way. The dancers who were chosen to accompany them, including Clara, were only those who were deemed talented enough to have dancing that was as beautiful as the melody poured out from the fingertips of the two musicians. #17
"Fritz just breaks everything these days," muttered Clara to herself as she firmly but gently tied her ribbon around the Nutcracker's head. "But I won't let him ruin you, you've been around for too much and too long. We'll fix you soon, this week, definitely. Uncle Drosselmeyer gave you to me, so I have to take care of you now. Hmph." She sat the Nutcracker down firmly on the table. "Seems like I have to take care of everyone around here. I'm not saying I won't, you know, but it would be nice if you could take care of yourselves. Honestly, it's like Fritz is a toddler again
The over-sized mice began to crawl out from behind the furniture, which seemed to have grown over a hundred times what their proper size should be. Clara shied away towards the garland-adorned coffee table to hide behind it, wondering if this was really a dream like she had first thought. Much of it certainly felt real, and she was not the type to normally dream about rooms and mice being too large for their own good. #19
The wax just kept dripping down, off and away from the brilliantly blazing fire from the candle. The fire and hot wax poured life back into Clara's frozen body, but she just kept staring at the fire, eventually leaning against another candle. Nothing seemed worth doing other than just watching right now. #20
Clara was by now old enough to be aware of the fact that she had a small tendency of blowing most of her talents out of proportion. Sure, with dancing and ballet, there was no crime in this. She WAS good, extremely, exceedingly good even, perhaps a prodigy. There was no harm in acknowledging this. But she knew she was pushing it when she realized she had also toyed with such ideas of grandeur in regards to her other, much smaller talents, such as her singing voice. A few years ago, she had toyed with doing singing on the side of ballet, positive that she could hold an audience's attention and even write stunning songs of her own. Several failed attempts at even penning down any comprehensible lyrics combined with seeing a legendary folk band live made her arrogant delusions blow up in her face.
From thereon out, she decided to devote her life to dancing, and declared this to her family. She had seen that small, knowing but kind smile on her godfather's face, but just chose to ignore it. #21
The musicians had stopped playing. Clara had stopped dancing, she and all the other ballet dancers holding their finishing poses. It was considered good decorum in ballet halls for the audience in the front most row and the boxes to begin any applause, and for the rest of the audience to follow. The level of applause, if any, would determine the fate and popularity of a ballet and the dancers involved. The single second of intense silence between the end of the dance and melody and the beginning of any applause would kill anyone if it lasted longer. #22
"To get to the Doll Kingdom, we can't go the same way as the mice." The Nutcracker pointed up at the largest window in the living room.
Clara sighed. "Out the window. Out into the cold? Really?"
"There's no other way to reach the Kingdom."
"If I don't freeze to death on the way," muttered Clara. #23
As the party and evening wore on, the fatigue from the ballet began to catch up with Clara. She sat near the fireplace, sometimes watching the Nutcracker up on the mantle, sometimes looking to check on her brother, yet mostly just staring at the flames. The only thing that normally made her want to dance more than snowflakes was fire. Yet tonight she stayed put, feeling content and as though she had danced as finely as any flame earlier that day. #24
"And so," continued Herr Drosselmeyer, "when all the princes came to try their luck at cracking the Crackatook nut and freeing the princess from her curse, she had them all blindfolded. She was just so ugly, none of them could stand the sight of her
which certainly indicates a degree of vanity on their side, yes? The only ones that saw her shouted in horror and disgust, and she simply threw her throne chair at them!"
Clara snorted, realizing her godfather had never mentioned this the other times he had told her this story. "Maybe the curse gave her super-strength, huh?"
Her godfather just chucked, then continued on. #25
The wooden face of the Nutcrakcer suddenly seemed to harden utterly, as if he were going utterly immobile, back to how he was before. But the wood began to splinter and fall away from him, as if it was a shell, hiding his true face. Clara gulped, wanting to look away but unable to, her fear coming back. #26
After Clara had made preliminary greetings to the adults at the party, she went outside with her brother and the other younger children. They played and slid on the frozen pond, once getting one of the smallest boys into a large scarf and slinging him around and throwing him out, flying over the ice as he screamed and laughed. #27
"What I don't get," said Clara, "is why Hans had time to fall down on the Mouse Queen and the Mouse King's tail and THEN turned into a Nutcracker. Wouldn't it just work instantly?"
"Mice magic isn't exactly efficient," Drosselmeyer said slowly. "Remember that it took nearly half a minute for the princess to fully turn back into her true form."
"Maybe. Seems like bad luck to me. "#28
As the children rushed into the room with the Christmas tree and began to help the adults put on the finishing touches, Clara took her time walking from the hall into the other rooms. She spotted a tiny porcelain doll on a high mantle with a red Christmas bow in her hair. The feeling the sight of the doll invoked was undeniably nostalgia, but Clara could not find the doll anywhere in her memory. She kept walking. #29
As they kept dancing on pure whim, using only the faint rhythm of the snow and wind in the gigantic pine trees as a melody, Clara realized she had never danced quite this way before. She was not sure if she was melting into a moving, but still potentially formless liquid in the Nutcracker's arms, or if she had become more solid and strong than ever, moving tirelessly and perfectly balanced like a ballerina in a music box. As they continued to dance, she suddenly realized that she could not decide between the two sensations, which felt like utter, polar opposites.
She stopped dancing, the cold immediately surrounding her again. #30
The tree seemed to keep growing and growing upward and outward. It was almost like a person who was suddenly standing up when you were sitting right beside them, and from the sudden perspective they seemed like a giant. #31
Right before they went to bed, the entire family sang a favorite, short hymn in front of the now completed manger scene. Clara tilted her head slightly, but still sang, despite a feeling that something was missing with the plain, rougher wooden manger pieces. They simply did not seem fine enough, and Clara wondered if she was the only one that thought so. #32
Clara felt a sudden chill as mass began to draw to a close. She glanced over at her godfather, wondering if this would be the last Christmas they spent together. #33
Even though her feet was certainly still on packed, solid snow, for a fleeting moment Clara thought she was in the sky, looking down on a bright, rich world beneath her. #34
There was no way around it. The family insisted upon it ever Christmas Eve, no matter how many relatives or friends there were. Nor did it matter how many young children there were in the families involved, it always proceeded as planned, and the proper decorum of herself and her younger brother and usually most of the other younger children rested solely on Clara's shoulders. She had no doubt in her own manners, but children seemed to either be submissive or go wild in such circumstances. It was nearly impossible to predict which would happen. Sometimes the smallest thing would set them off. There was no time to enjoy the conversation or anything else, no matter how grand or entertaining or unique it might all be. There was no other way to say it.
Formal dinners were hell. #35
As she closed the door, Clara glanced in once more at Fritz lying in his bed in the room that had been his very own bedroom ever since the first time they had come to the fine old house. The second Christmas they had spent there, their parents were very busy with a ballet that was very long, and took place daily. This left Clara and her godfather to look after a much younger Fritz, who was sick with a fever. She had nearly gotten a fever herself, worrying and nearly panicking as she did.
Clara frowned, her resolve to not have children coming back. She knew it could have turned out even worse if her godfather had not been present. But still, having kids when you knew your career would make you that busy seemed strange. If your career was first, then why bother putting your kids through such misery? Clara loved her parents, but there were several times she could think of that she would never forget, mostly because of the loneliness.#36
The laughter of the children turned into excited screams as the purposely rounded an icy corner near a tree sharply, sending them off-balance and barely managing to slide around the tree and into a snow bank. #37
"Wait a moment," cut in Clara. "You just said that the
character, Drosselmeyer, used astrology to find out what the princess' curse was."
"Yes, I believe I did."
"Isn't astrology evil? It's just a bunch of lies, right?"
Herr Drosselmeyer blinked twice, and then continued telling the story as if she had never interrupted him.#38
As they stood outside the cathedral after Mass, Clara once again pointed out it's architecture to Fritz. It was dark enough for him to appreciate the lovely lights they had added onto it, and this time he was rather awe struck rather than just moving onto the next thing immediately. As she stood there with him, the voices of the people around her began to blur together, either as though they had sped up or had stopped, along with all sense of time. The latter seemed the nicer option. #39
"The princess of the kingdom, Princess Pirliplat, was incredibly beautiful, that almost no man could see her without making some sort of declaration of love or such gesture. Though, Hans was an exception amongst the young men in this."
Clara raised her eyes. Her godfather had never mentioned this part of the story before. "Was he not interested in a girl based on looks?"
"What? Of course he was! Well, the entire first year he worked in the castle, any time he saw the princess, he'd always do something clumsy or foolish or something of the like. Eventually he realized he was just making a fool of himself, and swore to not try to impress the princess to maintain some dignity. But I'm certain he still liked her, she was much too beautiful for any young man to not!"
Clara just rolled her eyes. #40
The smile faded from Clara's face as a cold, high yet foreboding twinkling sound floated from the falling snow around her. She tilted her head and knocked it slightly, making sure there was not anything in her ears. She then listened again. The dark night was cold and utterly silent. #41
The team based snowball fight ended when Fritz shouted "EVERYBODY FOR YOURSELF" and Clara was nailed by her former comrades right in the gut. She tackled them and it all denigrated into something that was more like a free-for-all snow wrestling match that then turned into a rough romp-race around the back grounds, the children sometimes calling for the older children to wait for them and be fair, only for their gullible elders to be assaulted with snowballs. #42
Clara was rooted to the spot as the Nutcracker turned to face her slowly, it's large, ugly wooden head not at all animated like the other dolls who were designed to move their eyelids at least. Like some horrible phantom, it reached up and untied Clara's ribbon off of its head and slid it off of its now undamaged jaw.
It's horrible, hinged mouth began to move and words began to flow out as it reached it's wooden hand with the ribbon in it out towards Clara.
If there was anything more horrible than the seven-headed Mouse King, this was it. #43
Clara opened her cupboards, finding the old shawl-blanket she used to love as a child. It was still whole and warm, and she wrapped herself in it as she headed out to the room with Christmas tree. #44
The crowd had exploded into applause. It was an intensely noisy din, and Clara felt tears welling up. She had never heard anything like it. She felt invincible, and knew that her dancing career could certainly go anywhere she willed it.#45
Every now and then, when Clara looked up at the moon in the Doll Kingdom, it would look just like the face of the grandfather clock in the living room. But then she would blink and it would turn back into a white orb, either with a lady dancing or a bunny rabbit making food on its face. #46
There was always one advantage that snowflakes would have over any dancer. While dancers could feel suspended and flying, it was only an illusion, and any moments spent in the air were all too fleeting. Snowflakes, on the other hand, could stay in the wind and the air, dancing to their hearts content, for perhaps a minute or more. They were at the mercy of the winds, but they were free. #47
They were now hurrying along a path of mashed, solid coconut. Clara wished they could go along slower, just to relish the smell, but they were definitely very close to wherever the Nutcracker's mother was. Clara did not blame him for hurrying to meet his mother again, and knew they were better off finding the woman sooner than later. #48
Looking down at her hands, she found them red and raw. Tentatively, she felt her left hand with her right. It was cold, too cold. She felt again. There was ice on it. And it was growing, like a living vine, blossoming onto her skin in a fine, glistening layer. #49
The silver key had fallen back into her lap from her hand. She couldn't seem to keep a grip on it anymore. She knew it could open or seal any lock, and that she should not lose it. But, as it began to turn into crystal ice just like her fingernails, she wondered if it was not made for some particular lock instead.#50
There was nothing like the sight of someone's breath in the cold air. It was as though the cold was not content with sealing and silencing every solid thing, but also sought to seal even breath into a frozen silence.