By EA Young
“I don’t see why I have to give him some dumb old present,” nine-year-old Gandrin grumbled, closing his bedroom door. Scowling, he watched snow fall over the row of houses out his second-story window and wished it would stick.
From his pocket, he pulled a small crystal toy horse with a silver ring on its tail, glittering from the ceiling light.
“You’re mine,” he whispered, grasping the crystal horse. “You’ll always be mine.” A smile tried to appear on his face but something held it back.
Suddenly a spark flashed across his window.
“What was that?” Gandrin asked, feeling his muscles tighten from fright. With all the clouds up above it couldn’t have been a star. Maybe a bolt of lightning had struck.
“Help!” a shrill voice echoed through the walls. “You must help me!”
Shivering, Gandrin glanced around his bedroom. “Where are you?”
“Beside your window!”
Gandrin slowly leaned his head toward the window and spotted a small, white, pointy creature floating in the air. “Who are you?”
“I am from the North,” the creature said. “I am Icelis.”
Gandrin stared at the frosty crystal. “But what are you?”
“I am snow!” Icelis said, peevishly. “There is no time! Come, be quick, be quick!” The snowflake drifted away.
Believing that the creature didn’t mean him any harm, Gandrin pushed his window open. Then he looked down. “Hey! I can’t fly!”
“Oh! Yes, yes! I had forgotten,” cried Icelis.
Gandrin watched Icelis lower himself to the ground. He shut the window and snatched his coat from the bedpost and slipped into his boots. Burying the crystal toy horse inside his pocket, Gandrin tiptoed down the hall.
Passing his parents’ bedroom he peeked inside. His mother’s frown as she lay in bed proved that she was still cross from their talk earlier.
Gandrin crept downstairs and opened the front door, allowing crisp winter evening air to burst in. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“To save Mr. Claus,” Icelis said. “He is in great trouble at Christmas Village.”
“Mr. Claus?” Gandrin remarked, hurrying into his coat. “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
“There is no time to argue!” Icelis proclaimed. “You have been chosen!”
Gandrin followed, doubtfully studying the three-inch snowflake. His feathery crystals and sharp needles appeared as if they could break by just one touch. “So where is this Mr. Claus?” he asked.
“He is being held captive in Christmas Village,” Icelis explained. “The Christmas star will not release him until he has been granted his gift of freedom.”
“Gift of freedom?” Gandrin asked, tromping through feet of snow. “What do you mean by that?”
“The Christmas star can only exist on top of Christmas Village,” Icelis continued. “This makes him very unhappy, and to see all the children of the village delight in this tradition of giving has increased his sadness even more so.”
They had walked a great distance before Gandrin had realized that his neighborhood had vanished, for snow-covered trees were everywhere. He asked, “Why would he want to leave?”
“To be free like the stars in the sky,” Icelis explained, raising his arm. “Everywhere, they roam.”
Gandrin watched the clouds as they suddenly rolled away, uncovering the twinkling stars scattered above. He stepped back, bracing himself against a large branch to regain his balance, amazed at what he saw. “You’re making this up,” he said hesitantly. “Aren’t you?”
Icelis scowled at Gandrin. “Come! Be quick, be quick!”
“I can’t, it’s too deep.” He tried lifting one foot higher only to have the other descend even more.
“Give me your hand.” Icelis pricked one finger, sending an icy chill through Gandrin’s arm.
“Ouch!” Gandrin shrieked, rubbing his finger. Suddenly his boots were lifting him high above the snowy treetops and the wind sped him on his way. He felt a strong cushion of air support him from below, as swirls of clouds flew past his face, and imagined that this was how all the snowflakes and stars felt cushioned by the night sky.
Icelis soared beside him. “We are approaching Christmas Village.”
“Where?” Gandrin asked, bubbling with curiosity. “I don’t see it.”
“There.” Icelis raised his pointy arm causing a gust of wind to blow a mountain of snow from what appeared to be a small Christmas tree lavishly decorated, almost close enough to touch.
It bothered Gandrin that the tree seemed no taller than his waist. “If I try to climb that, I might damage the whole village,” he argued.
Icelis shook his head. “There is no other way,” he said. “Come.”
Gandrin carefully grasped Icelis’ pointy hand as they landed. While they walked, Gandrin noticed that instead of getting closer to the village, the village itself appeared to grow larger. Colorful blown-glass bulbs, brilliant tinsel ornaments, and other baubles seemed to expand along with the branches. Gandrin watched the top push its way through the sky.
“Stop!” Icelis shrieked at Gandrin. “You must watch your step!” He pointed at a frozen stream circling the bottom of the village.
Sighing, Gandrin followed him across a branch layered with pine needles, bridging the stream, and up a path of silver tinsel. They passed gold and silver bulbs dressed as houses with doors, windows, and chimneys trimmed with cottony snow. Colorful lights blinked from pine needles, sparkling the tinsel along their path.
Gandrin didn’t see who lived in these houses. Curtains in windows seemed to waver from small breezes but when Gandrin looked close enough he saw the windows were closed. The hair on the back of his neck began to rise as he felt eyes staring from all around and he wondered to whom did those eyes belong. Then he noticed an old gray-haired man working on a broken light hanging from a branch, and dressed in clothes similar to a German boy he had seen in a book.
Gandrin stepped timidly and tried not to trip over pine needles. The enormous size of the fragile decorations didn’t comfort his thoughts for they appeared so delicate.
Once they reached the top, Gandrin peered through the needles at a dim glow above. “Where is Mr. Claus?” he whispered to Icelis.
“He is trapped inside of Starlite,” Icelis answered.
Gandrin watched the giant ball of light glow like a bubbling gray cloud of smoke and felt his own stomach begin to quiver.
“Halt!” a voice thundered, causing Gandrin to back away. “Come no closer!”
Icelis approached the ball of smoke. “Starlite, you must release Mr. Claus.”
“He will not be freed,” Starlite said. “Your venture has been worthless. You must leave at once.”
“Mr. Claus cannot help you,” Icelis explained.
“There is no other way,” Starlite said, his glow darkening. “He is the one who must bestow my gift of freedom.”
Gandrin listened and wondered of the stars he had watched many nights and how brightly they had shined.
Timidly, he stepped closer to Starlite. “How do you think the stars in the sky are free?” he asked him. “They don’t keep the light trapped inside; they set it free to shine so everybody in the world can see them.” His eyes cast down to the crystal toy horse he had trapped inside his pocket.
“We can see them from millions of miles away. They’ve earned their freedom right there.” Gandrin waited, watching the gray cloud brighten and begin to spin faster and faster.
Suddenly streaks of light shot out from Starlite, his radiance blazing so that it almost blinded everyone and sent Gandrin and Icelis dodging for shade.
Gandrin buried his face inside his winter coat and huddled beside the tip of the stem, shaking with such fear. He opened one eye and saw bright thin streaks of light pouring down through layers of branches to the village far below. Peeking through pine needles, Gandrin watched Mr. Claus soar out the tip of Starlite and circle the sky.
“HO, HO, HOOO!” Mr. Claus cheered as he drove his reindeer, lowering the sleigh for Gandrin and Icelis to jump aboard. “Hold on!” he said and coasted the sleigh down around the village.
Gandrin waved to all the villagers as they stepped out of their homes to enjoy the radiant new Christmas and greet their new friend.
“Gandrin,” Mr. Claus called, in his bright red suit. “Do you know why I sent Icelis to you?”
Gandrin shook his head, staring at the man he thought did not exist.
Twinkling an eye, “It was the same reason your mother sent you to your room,” he said, holding out his palm.
Cringing, Gandrin reached into his pocket and laid the crystal toy horse upon it.
“Hmmm,” Mr. Claus remarked. “You let this toy come between you and your best friend Christopher.”
Gandrin shivered. “H-h-how did you know that?”
Mr. Claus chuckled. “The same way I knew this was the last crystal toy horse in town and you couldn’t find another. So you decided to keep this for yourself instead of giving it to Christopher as you had promised.” He handed it back.
“Your mother was very disappointed and sent you to your room, not knowing what I had in store.”
Gandrin lowered his eyes, ashamed of having his selfishness revealed so openly. It was almost the same as Starlite revealing his selfishness by denying his greatest gift of light.
Mr. Claus smiled. “Gandrin, you encouraged Starlite to make the right decision, I am sure you will do the same.”
Mr. Claus turned to the snowflake. “Icelis, would you see to it that Gandrin is safely on his way home, for I must begin my journey.”
Icelis bowed obediently and they hopped down onto the blanket of snow. Gandrin watched the train of reindeer pull the sleigh away. He held up the crystal horse, Starlite’s sparkle clashing against the silver ring, and knew exactly what he had to do.
Looking at the village, Gandrin watched Starlite glitter so brilliantly, freely giving itself to the world.
Suddenly Icelis, blissfully laughing, soared into the nocturnal sky to join his winter friends.
Gandrin’s smile proved that Christmas could get no better than that moment. He waved at Icelis and gazed at the village once more. “Merry Christmas, Starlite!” he whispered and turned to let Starlite’s glow lead him home.
On that Christmas Morning, to Gandrin’s surprise, he found in his present from Christopher a beautiful crystal toy horse with a silver ring on its tail–exactly like the one he had given to Christopher.