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“… and to this day Marie should still be the queen of a country in which shimmering Christmas forests and glazed marzipan castles – in short, the most marvellous things you can imagine – can be seen if you only look.
With a sigh, Little Timmy slowly closes the book, gets up and places it on his “corner of books”, as his mother calls the pile at the corner of the room where Timmy puts his books.
“Did you finish that already honey?”
“Yeah,” Timmy responds, his soft voice trembling from the cold.
“Did you like it? I will take you to the bookshop to get another one for the holidays when the weather becomes better,” Timmy’s mother says, before she is struck by a coughing fit. It has been snowing heavily for days now and the two of them have been trapped in their home, while the old stove in the basement has broken down and there is no heating in the house.
“It’s OK mom, I don’t need one right now.” Timmy, despite his young age, knows his mother doesn’t have much money and doesn’t want to put pressure on her.
He jumps on the couch next to his mother and she strokes his hair affectionately as the two of them huddle together to fight off the growing cold.
”During the night…”
It is just past midnight and Little Timmy is laying on his bed, tightly clutching his raggedy blanket close to his chest. He is having trouble going to sleep. His mother’s muffled crying and raspy coughing can be heard through the wall. He pulls the blanket over his head, to fend off both the lingering cold and his mother’s suffering.
“Having trouble sleeping, little one?” a voice speaks up from the foot of the bed. With a swift move, a wooden nutcracker toy soldier climbs onto the bed and sits on Little Timmy’s leg.
Little Timmy peeks out from under the blanket. “Hi Alexandre,” the boy says with a frail voice.
“Worried about your mother, huh?” the toy soldier says, readjusting the wooden hat on his wooden head.
Little Timmy nods in agreement.
“She is having a rough night, isn’t she?” Alexandre pauses for a second. “But I heard you just finished your book! How was it?”
“It was good.”
“Hmm, you are not in the mood for talking, eh?” Alexandre scratches off a wood chip from his knee. He looks sternly at Little Timmy. “Tell you what lad, I will take care of this. I will go down at the basement and see what I can do about the stove.”
“I want to help too!” Little Timmy says, his voice stronger.
“That’s the spirit lad! Have a good night’s sleep now.”
With that, Alexandre takes a bow and jumps off the bed. Little Timmy is very glad he has Alexandre. He is shy, sickly and small in frame, and he doesn’t have many he can call friends. Alexandre is there for him ever since he can remember, taking care of him since he was young. These thoughts float in Timmy’s mind as he falls into the warm embrace of a deep sleep.
Little Timmy spends the day taking care of his mother. He cleans around the house, cooks and caters to her needs. Her condition has worsened during the night. She is feverish and can’t stop coughing. She is stuck to her bed for the whole day. To keep her warm, Timmy gave her his blanket, no matter how she refused. Still, the house is terribly cold and the stove remains broken.
”Night falls again…”
Timmy bids his mother goodnight and goes for his bed. He has no blanket, instead he uses the heaviest clothes he could find in his wardrobe. Still, the cold is stinging and harsh. With a trembling breath, he lays down and closes his eyes.
“Pssst, lad, are you asleep?” Alexandre opens the toys chest and walks slowly towards the bed.
Little Timmy groggily opens his eyes. The moustachioed face of the soldier greets him.
“Sorry to wake you up, but I think I found what the problem with the stove is. The basement is covered in snow!”
“In snow? H-how?” Timmy’s timid voice speaks out.
“There is snow everywhere! On the floor, the shelves, everywhere I say!”
“H-how is this pos-” Timmy’s sentence is interrupted by heavy coughing from his mother’s room. Alexandre looks at Little Timmy stoically.
“Tomorrow I will go down there and take care of it, do not worry lad,” the toy soldier tries to soothe Timmy.
Suddenly, the sound of a door slamming shut echoes across the house. Little Timmy gasps.
“Must have been the wind…” Alexandre says.
Then, just outside the room, footsteps. Slow, unsteady footsteps, like someone is dragging his feet. Little Timmy hides under the covers, while Alexander stands up.
The footsteps abruptly stop. The door to the mother’s room creaks open. The footsteps resume. Someone has entered the room.
“Stay here lad,” Alexander whispers to Little Timmy before he jumps down the bed and goes for the door. He jumps to the handle and pulls it down, but the door does not open.
The door to the mother’s room closes shut.
Timmy starts sobbing lightly. Alexandre frantically jumps around the room, trying to find the key. Then, from the mother’s room, a loud moan.
“Mommy!” Timmy cries. Alexandre is livid, eyes darting around and mind racing for a way out.
The moans get louder and louder, until they suddenly stop, replaced by rhythmic wheezing.
Alexandre moves a stool under the handle, climbs on and jams his metal sword in the lock and frantically moves it around. The door clicks open and the toy soldier jumps out, his wooden boots clacking across the cold floor. He runs to the mother’s room, but as he reaches the door, it swings open and a wild gust of wind blows into the hallway, lifting Alexandre and slamming him against the wall.
Then, an eerie silence falls upon the house. Only the muffled crying of Little Timmy and the heavy breathing of the mother disturb the stillness of the cold night.
”The weak morning sunrays break through the dark clouds…”
“Mommy. Mommy, please wake up,” Little Timmy begs his mother. She has grown deathly pale and she is very cold. She is breathing with difficulty and she is shaking. “I warmed you some milk, please drink it, it will do you good.”
But she does not respond, lost deep into feverish dreams.
Little Timmy places the glass of milk on the nightstand and turns to leave. He has a lot of housework to do. During the day though, he takes great care to stay away from the basement door.
“The moon shines brightly in the sky…”
“Lad, is everything alright?” Alexandre jumps from the toys chest and sits on the windowsill, next to Little Timmy who has been staring out of the window for the past hour. Alexandre’s left hand is bruised and its red paint is scratched off, while a button is missing from his torso, from the scuffle last night.
“I gathered some wood and dry branches, I will light the old stove and we will be warm again.”
“Wh-what about the thing?”
“Don’t be scared Little Timmy, Alexandre will take care of it!” the toy soldier says with a warm smile.
“Anyway, I see you started writing the story you were telling me about,” he says pointing at the notebook by the nightstand. “How is it going? This must be fun!”
“It’s great, I’m at the part where Jack sneaks into the Mouse King’s castle to save Eliza.”
“Oh, I am so eager to read it! Jack sounds like a very fine lad!”
“He is very brave. But he is not as brave as his guardian…” Little Timmy says, his gaze wandering off in the distance.
Alexandre sighs. “I’ll go fire the stove up for a moment and then I’ll return to talk about your story more, alright lad?”
Little Timmy gives Alexandre a fleeting, nervous glance and Alexandre bows his head and backs away.
An hour has passed and Alexandre still hasn’t returned, nor is the stove lit. Little Timmy is growing more anxious by the minute. He fears the worst. Thinking of what Alexandre would do for him, he decides to go to the basement. With trembling hands he opens the door.
His mother is fast asleep. Little Timmy covers her exposed to the cold body with her blankets and starts the long walk towards the basement.
Time seems to have stopped while Timmy makes his way to the basement door. The incessant wind has ceased blowing and the house is plunged into complete silence. He takes a deep breath and with shaking hands reaches for the doorknob. The old door opens, the rusty hinges groaning under the weight of the metal door.
The cold breath of the darkness below hits Little Timmy in the face. For a moment his will falters, but he steels himself and pushes his legs down the slippery stairs, the open, dark mouth of the basement below staring back into his little heart.
Slowly but steadily, Little Timmy descends into the abyss. The further down he goes the colder and darker it gets. Snow and ice have formed on the stairs. Then, Timmy reaches the floor of the basement. He gets on his toes to reach the light switch, but it is completely frozen and stuck in place. Darkness and cold envelopes the little boy.
In front of him stands the old stove, asleep and dormant. All the boxes and old shelves around it are just shadows in the dark. Alexandre though is nowhere to be seen.
Timidly, Little Timmy takes a step forward. As soon as his foot lands, a gust of wind blows from the back of the basement, swirling snow and stuff around. Timmy covers himself as best as he can. When the ruckus stops, a tall, white silhouette stands in the middle of the room. The man-like creature is crouched over, its thin torso almost floating on its lean limbs. Its skin has a parch like texture and breaks up here and there. The creature sniffs the air and turns towards Timmy. Its black eyes meet with his as the creature starts to move towards Timmy, who can only watch paralyzed.
“Over here!” Alexandre’s voice echoes in the basement, pulling Timmy out of his trance. Little Timmy follows the voice and finds the toy soldier hiding under a shelf, a pile of wood by his side. He is in a very dire state, his torso is cracked, wooden splinters spurting out from his body, and his right leg is severed from the knee down. To stand up, he is using a branch as a crutch.
“We don’t have much time. You need to go and put the wood into the stove. That will drive the creature away and heat the house! I will distract him! Quickly!”
Alexandre starts hopping to the other side of the room while Little Timmy grabs the wood and branches and sneaks his way to the stove.
“Over here, you big snowflake!” Alexandre shouts at the creature, which turns and gallops toward him, its bony spine arched back and his sharp claws clicking on the floor.
Little Timmy is halfway to the stove, but he slips and the branches scatter across the floor with a loud noise. The creature stops in its tracks and turns towards the boy. It glances at the pile of wood on the floor and then the stove. With a gritty laugh it grabs the wood, which dissolves under its touch. It then moves closer to Timmy, who backs away as fast as he can.
Alexandre sprints as fast as his one leg allows and gets between the creature and Timmy.
“Over my dead body!” the soldier says, unsheathing his sword and staring down the vile beast. The beast falls on all fours and slowly prowls towards Alexandre who stands tall, its shouldreblades bobbing up and down. It stops right in front of the soldier and looks down on him, its black eyes examining the little thing that stands between it and its prey. Alexandre assumes a defensive stance. The beast goes to move over him to Little Timmy, uninterested in the soldier.
Alexandre strikes its arm with two quick slashes, and two red streaks splatter across the floor. The beast lets out an angry cry. The soldier moves back on the defensive and steadies himself.
“For Little Timmy, be strong for Little Timmy,” he whispers under his breath.
The beast lets out another bone-chilling cry and stands on its feet. When it comes back down, it strikes at Alexandre, throwing him to the side. His head hits the hard wall, his hat splintering into a thousand pieces and his sword thrown way out of his reach. The last thing the soldier sees before his strength leaves him is the creature lunging towards Little Timmy, who screams in fear. Alexandre’s eyes close and his world fades to black.
Little Timmy is now backed against the corner of the basement, clutching a box as a shield in front of him. The creature tears the box apart. Little Timmy starts crying, as the creatures grabs his leg. The creatures smashes Timmy against some cardboard boxes. Before it can grab him again, Little Timmy opens his tearful eyes. On the opening of the stove stands Alexandre. Both his legs are broken off, half his torso is gone and his head is cracked. Somehow he managed to climb on the stove. Below him on the floor where he crawled are wood splinters and parts of the toy soldier.
“You made it,” Little Timmy thinks as his heart is filled with new hope.
The eyes of Alexandre meet with Little Timmy’s. The wooden nutcracker toy soldier smiles warmly, “I will take care of it lad, I promised…”
With that, Alexandre pushes himself into the old stove, which flares up in powerful red flames. A blinding white light shoots out and the wave of heat that follows shakes the foundations of the whole room. First the stalactites quickly melt off and the snow evaporates into mist. Then the wave engulfs the creature, its white skin catching fire like old parchment. It lets out a scream of agony, flames shooting out from its body. A big hole of fire opens up in its chest as it falls to its knees. It looks at its hands as they are burned off its body, shattering and evaporating upon hitting the floor. The creature, finally, vaporizes into a dark smoke.
Only Little Timmy now stands in the basement.
After he collects himself, he shakily exits the basement. The house is now warm! He walks into his mother’s room. The mother is sat upwards on the bed, calmly drinking the warm milk Timmy made her earlier. Little Timmy runs to her and gives her a hug.
”In his warm, star-lit room…”
Little Timmy finishes writing his story. He gets up from his desk and walks towards his toys chest. He carefully places the notebook on the wooden box.
“… with the Mouse King defeated, Jack and Eliza lived happily ever after, with Alex always watching them from above, smiling warmly. Jack’s ever-loving guardian.