“Ough!” Crystal cried out. She jumped in fright, looking over her shoulder.
“Shh!” Mama warned, her breath fogging in front of them as she spoke.
“But, did you hear that?” Crystal whispered back.
“It’s just the crackle of the fire,” Mama whispered, starting to sound exasperated, “Now you promised me that you could handle this.”
Crystal eyed the fireplace wearily. The chill didn’t bother her; she was used to it just like Mama. In fact, she didn’t like the warm. Even the houses without roaring fires made her sweat a little bit. Though, she had to admit, the flames were beautiful...in a terrifying kind of way. Crystal shivered, turning back to her mother.
Mama sighed, looking over at her young daughter, “Please don’t make me regret bringing you along. We still have many houses to visit.”
Little Crystal nodded enthusiastically, returning obediently back to work on the tree. She couldn’t help but laugh as she noticed each of the ornaments, sending icy crystals all over the branches as she giggled. The last house they had visited wasn’t as fun. The tree had been bland and uniform, but this tree...now, this tree had character. There were ornaments that looked like they had been handmade by little girls and boys and there were some that looked very old. No two ornaments were the same. It was just like something out of a flurrytale!
“Mama! Look at this one!” Crystal flew over to a beautiful swan lake ballerina. She wore white feathers and a pretty silver crown. Crystal mimicked the pose, mirroring the graceful porcelain ornament. She wasn’t quite as tall as the ballerina, yet, but one day she would be, just like Mama. Crystal blew gently on the ballerina’s dress, sending glittering sparkles all over the white feathers. Her smile grew even wider when she looked at the finished product.
“Yes, dear, it’s very beautiful,” Mama smiled, looking up from the small pair of sparkling silver slippers that she was working on. It hadn’t been all that long ago that she’d been amazed by the sights of every light and candy cane too. She’d always loved the gifts beneath the tree. Even to this day, she never tired of gazing at the array of wrapping paper and ribbons. Mama didn’t want to be hard on Crystal. This was her first Christmas Eve inside the homes, so Mama let her little girl flutter about, taking in as much of the grandeur as she could.
The pair danced and twirled around the tree, smiling and laughing as they worked. Finally, after the tree had been thoroughly dusted in a light coat of sparkling snow and twinkling glitter and the tinsel had been arranged just so, Mama called out for them to move on to the next house. The two stood back, surveying their work before turning to go. Crystal followed gleefully, waving goodbye to Odette. This was the best night of her life!
Back out in the cold, Crystal took a deep breath, relieved to feel the icy wind against her pale skin. She could practically feel the energy seeping back into her as they traveled through the dead of night to the next house on their list. The wind whistled loudly around them, playing in Mama’s curly hair. Crystal kept hers up in a tight bun, like the ballerinas. It was frosted over, a bluish-blonde, like her mother’s. Ice crystals wove through the strands of her hair, sparkling in the twinkling light of the stars and streetlights. Crystal whistled back into the wind, smiling when the snowflakes danced in response. Crystal nearly crashed into her mother when she stopped in front of the girl.
“This is it,” Mama smiled at the grand brick house in front of them. She looked over at Crystal, whose deep, blue eyes widened at once.
“Mama, this is the house you always tell stories about! It looks just like you always said.”
The house had white shutters and you could see the tree through the first window. There were two stories and lovely dark green curtains covered the windows upstairs. Lights dripped from the gutter like delightful icicles. There were even more lights on the trees in the yard and little reindeer tracks on the porch, leading up to a small wooden rocking pony. A pair of pink snow boots sat on the Christmas-themed welcome mat next to two large, black pairs and one small, red pair.
“That’s right,” Mama replied, “This was my first house, and the same family still lives here, even after all these years. I try to leave them a little something special each year. What do you say? Should we go inside?”
Crystal grinned, clapping her hands together. She burst through the door, not worried about making too much noise. She was naturally quiet, just like her mother. Only her loud voice would ever disturb the family. Crystal had been practicing her silent movements all her life and she was at the top of her class. Mama said it was in her blood. Her family had always moved and worked silently and they were proud of it. Mama was always so quiet when she spoke, but sometimes, little Crystal got really excited and forgot to whisper.
Inside the house, Crystal noticed more snow boots lying about the foyer with hats, gloves, and coats strewn about the hall. They fluttered down the long hallway and into the open living room. A fire burned in a small fireplace across the room; it was far enough away from the tree to almost seem quaint. They approached the large, very decorated tree, gazing up, up, and up. Crystal patted the head of a nearby nutcracker who stood guarding the gifts under the tree. She smiled again. This was the most wonderful tree yet!
Crystal set to work on the back of the tree, starting at the top. Mama started at the bottom. Crystal knew it was so she could peek at the presents as she worked, but she didn’t mind. She found that she liked to see the angels and stars on top of the trees. The angels were her favorite. There were so many of them and they all looked so different. This one even lit up with different colors on her wings!
Just as she blew gently on a pretty, purple ball, Crystal heard a loud thump above her. She didn’t jump, but she was so startled that she missed the ornament! She bit her lip as she looked at the newly frosted light. No one would notice and Mama would only laugh. She took a breath to try again, but another thump caught her attention. It wasn’t exactly the same as the first one, but it must have come from the same place.
Crystal looked nervously down the tree to where her mother worked. She hadn’t appeared to notice the noise. Shaking her head, Crystal turned to the purple ornament, blew gently on it and searched for another. She walked up and down the branches, gently touching every part of the tree as she went and thinking about the strange noise.
“Snap out of it,” she whispered to herself as she found a small silver trumpet hanging from a branch, “Mama would tell you to just leave well enough alone.” She gently touched the pretty instrument and smiled as swirls of sparkling snowflake designs appeared on its side. Distractedly, Crystal moved on to the next ornament, a pretty red cardinal. Another thump sounded, and she looked up. It was coming from the room above them.
Glancing down, Crystal noticed that Mama was deep inside the tree. She wouldn’t notice if Crystal just slipped away for a moment...would she? Curiosity froze inside of her. She had to know what that noise was! With one final glance down at her mother, Crystal darted for the stairs. If Mama asked, she could say she was covering the stair rail. She’d heard stories of how others had decorated more than just trees.
Once she’d reached the stairway, Crystal hesitated, looking back at the tree. She couldn’t help but smile at the half-finished job. It was incredible to see the difference a little bit of magic made on a tree. Turning to the dark hallway above her, little Crystal paused. Determination set in as another thump sounded. She flew up the stairs and nearly ran straight into the wall. Luckily, she saw it in time and scurried to a stop, squeezing her eyes shut and holding in her squeak with great effort. Slowly, she opened her eyes again and backed away from the wall. Looking around her, she noticed a smaller tree on a table in the hallway. Smiling, she fluttered to it. This tree had only little glass angels for ornaments. They were different colors and just transparent enough to see the lights refracting through the skirts and wings.
Crystal quickly touched and blew on every one of the angels and even some of the branches. She refused to do sloppy work, but it was a small tree, so it didn’t take long. Finally, she turned to one of the doors at the end of the hallway, closing in on the odd thumping sound. Her slightly pointed ears perked up as she neared the door.
Crystal jumped back, startled. The noise was much louder up here. This was certainly where the noise was coming from. Crystal flew to the door handle, but dared not touch it. What would Mama say? She looked back over her shoulder toward the stairs. She crossed her arms and huffed, sending silver crystals flying all over the handle.
“Well…” Crystal grumbled, “You’ve come all this way. Now what?” She fluttered back over to the small tree. She felt safe around the tree. Her kind lived in trees and out in the wind. She took one comforting look at the angels and nodded her head. “Okay, I’ll do it.” She nearly marched through the air back to the door and without a second thought flew under it to the room beyond.
At first, Crystal couldn’t tell what had made the noise. She blinked in the darkness, trying to see past the delicate butterfly-shaped night light that made her eyes hurt. The lights on the trees were mellow, but this thing was huge and glaring. It even made shapes on the ceiling.
“Whoa,” Crystal breathed as she looked at the ceiling. There were glowing stars stuck all over the ceiling. She giggled, sending snow flurries into the air.
Crystal covered her mouth with her hands and backed against the door. Oh no! She thought as she realized what the thumping was. A huge, dark figure loomed above her. It was a shadow cast by the night light. But the shadow didn’t terrify Crystal as much as what threw it. It was a girl! A human girl! Crystal squeaked in fright and darted for the floor to fly back under the door and into the hallway.
“Wait,” a voice called out softly, “Please don’t go.”
Crystal paused, looking back at the little girl sitting on her bed. Her voice had been kind and soft, not like the stories told. Humans weren’t supposed to see them.
“You can see me?” Crystal asked, puzzled.
The little girl laughed, and Crystal smiled when she saw a missing tooth. “Of course I can see you. You can see me, can’t you?”
Crystal nodded, fluttering back up to the girl’s eye level, though she stayed right next to the door.
“Are you a sugar plum fairy?” asked the girl, her head cocked sideways.
This time, Crystal laughed so hard she nearly snorted. She covered her mouth with her hands as snow flurries filled the room. She shook her head, “No.”
The girl gasped, “How did you do that? You made it snow in my room! Oh, do it again! It was so pretty!” The girl bounced on the bed and Crystal heard the thump again.
“Your bed thumps,” Crystal smiled.
The little girl shrugged, “I never noticed that.” Crystal drew a little closer to the girl, daring to land on the night stand. She sat on the girl’s clock, putting her elbows on her knees.
“Why are you awake?” Crystal asked.
“I couldn’t sleep,” the girl’s face turned sad and she looked down at her hands, “I was tossing and turning, but I keep having nightmares.”
Crystal nodded, that was why she heard all the thumping. Then she shook her head, staring at the girl, “Nightmares? On Christmas Eve? Why aren’t you dreaming of pleasant things like gingerbread men and…”
“Sugar plum fairies?” the girl looked at Crystal, “I was hoping you had come to make my dreams sweet. Santa won’t come if I’m still awake, but I can’t bare to see another nightmare.”
“What are your nightmares about?”
The little girl shrugged, “I only remember bits and pieces, but I wake up shaking and crying every time. I always see an army of mice as tall as men. They’re never very nice. It’s been like this for a few weeks now. Mother says they’ll go away soon. I thought if I found something sweet to dream about it would chase away the nightmares.” The girl smiled leaning down on her elbows so she could look Crystal in the eyes without looking down at her.
“Tell me about you. Maybe you can chase away my bad dreams.”
Crystal gazed curiously at the little girl. Her light blue lips parted and she thought hard before she spoke, sending puffs of fog into the air. “I’m not a gossamer,” she shook her head, “I can’t fix your dreams, and I’m not a sugar plum fairy. They’re helping the gossamers tonight because it’s Christmas Eve.”
“Then what are you?”
“I’m a snow sprite,” Crystal answered.
“What’s a snow sprite?” asked the little girl.
“We’re like sugar plum fairies and gossamers, but we don’t work with dreams. We decorate trees on Christmas Eve.”
“But we decorate the tree after Thanksgiving every year,” the girl said indignantly.
Crystal smiled, “But doesn’t the tree look extra special on Christmas morning?”
“Oh,” the girl said, “I thought Santa did that.”
Crystal laughed again and the little girl smiled at the icy snowflakes that burst into the air around the snow sprite. “How do you do that?”
Crystal stood up. She walked over to the lamp on the night stand and put her finger over her lips, “Shh…watch.” She gently touched the short lamp stand, sending silvery swirls all around it and up to the light bulb.
“Wow!” the girl grinned from ear to ear, “that’s beautiful!” Crystal smiled proudly.
“Is it always silver?” the girl asked, not daring to touch the frosted lampstand.
“Mine is,” Crystal hopped back to the clock, settling down again, “but not all snow sprites have the same color. Mama decorates with a dark blue.”
“Why did you pick silver?”
Crystal giggled, “We don’t pick our colors, silly. We’re born with them.”
“Really?” the girl settled down into her covers, peering sideways at the snow sprite.
Crystal nodded, “Yes, my best friend, Aspen, decorates with purple. Her work always looks best with Mama’s I think. And Eira, my little sister, will decorate with green when she’s old enough. She’s been practicing all year, but she’s still in school.”
“But you aren’t?”
“Not anymore,” Crystal shook her head, crossing her legs and pulling against her knees as she leaned back, “I just graduated! This is my first Christmas Eve in the homes.”
“Congratulations,” the girl giggled. She yawned, beginning to feel tired, “What’s your name?”
“Crystal. What’s yours?”
“I’m Clara,” the girl answered, sticking out a finger, “It’s very nice to meet you, Crystal the Snow Sprite.”
Crystal didn’t know what Clara wanted her to do with the finger, so she kissed it, sending snowflake patterns all the way down to the girl’s wrist. It’s what the snow sprites did when they met one another. They showcased their best talents when meeting new people. It was a gift, so she made sure to put extra detail into the snowflakes for Clara. She liked the little girl.
Clara shivered, “You’re so cold!”
Crystal bowed her head, “I live with the snowflakes and icicles. If anything, you’re warm!” She stuck out her tongue and crossed her arms again.
Clara’s purple eyes widened, “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.”
Crystal nodded. She looked down at the clock. “Oh,” she said, sadly, “I should go. Mama will worry and we’ve still a few more houses to visit before morning.”
Clara sat up and gently kissed Crystal’s small head. Crystal smiled as an oddly warm feeling spread through her. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but fuzzy and it made her smile inside and out. “Goodbye, Crystal.”
“Good night, Clara,” the snow sprite flew to the door. She turned back, taking in one large breath before filling the room with as much sparkle and glittery swirls as she could. It would last til morning and Clara would hopefully have better dreams. Though her magic didn’t work like the gossamers’ did, she imagined the snowflakes and frost would keep away the frightening nightmares and draw in the sugar plum fairies. They liked shiny things.
“Will you come back again?” Clara asked, yawning again. Her eyelids fluttered as she strained to keep them open, not wanting to miss a moment of the beautiful, icy blue snow sprite.
Crystal nodded, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Merry Chris...,” the girl whispered, finally drifting off.
“Have a magical Christmas, little one,” Crystal smiled.
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