*Special Christmas Edition – The Nutcracker Sweet*
By Abigail CR
It would be fun, the horse said.
Stop the evil rat, the horse said. Be the soldier. Save the toymaker’s livelihood. Save the toys. Become who you were made to be.
This is the last time that I am going to follow the advice of someone who has more scratches than the couch after the new kitten was done with it. How far had we fallen? I squinted up into the winter sun, trying to guess which window belonged to our apartment. It was the one with the string of colored Christmas lights, I finally found it. Our fight at the top of the stairs really hadn’t gone well.
I didn’t answer.
“Major!” The horse slide to a stop next to me and prodded me with his high quality cellulose acetate hoof. “Are you alright?” demanded the indefatigable equine.
“Good! Come on, he’s getting away!” The horse prodded me more urgently.
“Why do I listen to you, Red?” I demanded, rolling to my feet and checking myself for nicks and gashes. My paint job wasn’t too much the worse for wear. I looked again at the colored lights high above us and shuddered.
“Because you were made to be a hero, come on!” Red pranced.
“I was made to crack nuts,” I griped, climbing aboard my eager plastic mount.
“And so you shall!” Red leapt forward and it was all I could do to hold onto his mane. We clattered across the roofing tiles and jumped up onto the windowsill. Sliding off Red, I struggled to pull the window open. It finally gave with a crackle of old paint; I got my shoulder under it and straightened to my full 12 inches and had a full view of the apartment building staircase. I could hear the rat scampering down the stairs. Our fall had actually put us ahead of him. Adrenaline suddenly coursed through me. “Hurry, Red!”
The horse came to my side and I remounted. Red heard the rat, too, and he took a tremendous leap off the sill down onto the stairs. We stumbled and nearly ended up in a pile of wood and plastic but Red kept his feet and staggered into a regal position. I drew my curving saber and waited.
In the few seconds that followed it occurred to me that we didn’t have a plan beyond “Stop the rat! Save Christmas for the toymaker!” and I realized that I didn’t care. What had come over me? What enchantment had my psychotic horse put on me? The rat rounded the corner of the stairwell and all time to reflect was gone.
It was the rat-king, for certain. Dark shiny fur, long wicked whiskers, beady black eyes and savage claws were all nothing to the gold circlet on his head and the slim wood box in his clutches. The toymaker’s toolkit. The rat-king and I locked eyes.
“You shall not escape,” I declared. Red stamped his feet for emphasis.
“I would like to see you try to stop me,” hissed the rat-king.
Inside, I thought the same thing.
The rat-king charged and Red dug in to the worn carpet. All at once the rat was upon us and my saber slashed against his claws. I smashed his knuckles with my hilt and with a shriek he dropped the tool box. With both paws free the rat tackled me off Red and we tumbled down the next flight of stairs hissing and spitting at each other. The rat tried to bite my face but got caught in my beard; I slugged him with my free hand.
I heard Red cheering above the din of our fight. The brazen plastic horse had followed us down and was dancing about kicking at the rat whenever he could. The rat-king was getting angry. With a horrible ratty-roar he smashed my face and lunged at Red. I lunged after him and…then…the fight was over.
Red stood, his eyes huge, the rat’s claws a hair’s breadth from his tender side.
My saber stood out between the rat-king’s shoulders.
“You saved me!” puffed Red. “You saved the toymaker’s tools!”
I stood up and dusted myself off. Both legs? Both arms? Some scratches and dings…I ran my fingers through my beard. All there in spite of the rat’s teeth.
“Let’s take the tools back!” Just like that Red was clambering up the stairs.
I stood over the vanquished rat-king trying to catch my breath. I still wasn’t sure that the horse was right about me being made to fight rats, but the saber sure wasn’t for cracking nuts. I retrieved my weapon and gingerly cleaned it off before starting the weary trek back up umpteen flights of stairs. Red was waiting for me on the landing where the toolkit had fallen. He, of course, had no hands. I used my saber to cut a long thread from the worn carpet and tied the toolkit to Red’s back. Together we climbed the stairs and made our way back to the toymaker’s apartment. There was a cluster of toys waiting anxiously for us by the door.
“We’re back!” neighed Red, cheerfully. “The Major slew the Rat-King! It was a mighty fight!”
The other toys cheered. The pretty marionette girl took the toolkit from Red’s back while he told the story and the toy bull used the marionette’s strings to hoist her to the top of the tool bench where the tools belong. The stuffed animals fawned to make sure that I was alright, and the wooden elephant helped me get back on the coffee table next to the walnuts. I looked around the toymaker’s little apartment as the toys scurried around restoring the order—or relative order—that the rat king had disturbed. I’d saved the day—though only with Red’s help. Perhaps I was meant to defend the apartment, just as I was meant to crack nuts.
Merry Christmas, I thought, my world enbiggened.