As little Emma slept, away with the fairies and in the dead of night, her shell-like lug holes heard a faint, ear-pricking murmur.
‘Can you imagine’ whispered the voice.
Emma remained fast asleep, the tiny ball bearings of her mind still sorting and filing every second from yesterday. It took a full minute for Emma’s sub-conscious brain to signal the whisper, bringing an immediate stop to all the filing and sorting.
Emma stirred, turned over and hugging one of her favourite teddies, remained deep in the land of Nod.
Inside her head, wheels, cogs and all those shiny ball bearings started to move in sync, as if building up to something meaningful. Fired up by the mythical essence of all little girls; sugar and spice and all things nice, chocolate buttons spun in uniform, all still nothing more than a growing storm in the tiniest teacup.
The voice whispered again, this time more urgently.
‘Please. Can you imagine, because I need your help’.
The storm in Emma’s head subsided. All the chocolate buttons screeched to a halt, suspended in trepidation.
Little girls like Emma often need time to grasp the thread of consciousness. Emma in particular, although sharp as a knife when awake, could be sluggish when it was time to get up. Hours from her usual waking time and in the middle of the night, Emma was about to wake herself up, with the help of all the mechanical goings-on in her thick head.
Gradually, like music to the ears and the game of musical chairs, Emma’s mind became a rhythmic harmony, sending the chocolate buttons dancing.
As they hopped and skipped, Emma was dreaming in another part of her brain. She was still oblivious to all the commotion an inch away in her skull when suddenly, in classic slow motion, the harmony stopped, sending one chocolate button hurtling down, smack onto Emma’s wake up switch.
Emma groaned. She wasn’t ready to wake. Little girls need their beauty sleep like their mums do. But now, Emma’s conscious mind was reminding her of the whisper, and the words ‘can you imagine?’.
She blinked. Her bedroom was pitch black, save only for the street lamp outside and the illuminated green light of her bedside clock.
Her first instinct was to shout for her mum. Emma was a real mummy’s girl, yet ruled the life of her beloved dad with a hand of iron. Both loved the very bones of her and while Emma knew that, in the dead of night her mum might be the best bet.
Something stopped her from doing so.
Thoughtfully, she asked herself, imagine what?
Other little girls might have been scared, even though there was nothing to be scared of. Not Emma. She was only 5 years old, but she’d got a mind of her own. Anyone trying to pull the wool over her eyes would get short shrift.
Out loud, she found herself saying “what’s going on?”.
Then, from behind her silently ticking alarm clock, a small spindly figure appeared. No bigger than a human hand, it was obviously male. It had a big red belly, a dopey red hat and a black beard.
He gave Emma an anxious smile.
“Who are you” ask Emma, more surprised than startled.
“I’m Father Christmas,” he said. “I’m the one who whispered to you. I came down your chimney to deliver your Christmas presents when I fell over something in your lounge.
“We haven’t got a chimney”, she said. But as she said it, she wasn’t so sure, so she added “what were you doing in our chimney”, determined to interrogate this strange creature robbing her of dream sleep.
Father Christmas sighed. Out of all the little girls out there, he had to go and pick a smart arse.
“Look”. he said. “I’m the true and only Father Christmas. No one knows I’m this small and usually, I can deliver all the presents for little boys and girls all over the world, using magic me and the missis have cooked up in the past twelve months”.
He went on. “Everyone has a chimney, whether real or make-believe. Yours is make-believe but very real to me. Nothing stops me from delivering presents at Christmas. At least, not until now.”
“But as I crossed your lounge to put presents under the tree, I smashed into one of your confounded toys scattered across the floor. I don’t know why, but then my beard turned black, and all my magic went, stranding me down here and my poor reindeer up on your roof”.
Emma gave him a typical Emma look, one open to many interpretations. Choose the wrong one and the interpreter might face unwelcome consequences!
Father Christmas’s long spider-like legs climbed over the alarm clock. He adjusted his wonky hat as he sat on the edge of Emma’s bedside table, thoughtfully stroking his new black beard.
“I climbed your stairs and tried all the other bedrooms, but I heard snoring, so eventually I ran into your room”.
“Please” Father Christmas pleaded. “I need you to imagine, because little girls can imagine anything when they need to and right now, if you don’t, no one else will get their presents this Christmas”.
Indifferent and emotionless, Emma stared at him. She giggled, imagining her tall, lanky older brother with an enormous red belly and a funny red hat.
Then all the wheels, cogs and ball bearing in her head began turning again, this time in a different direction as her mind churned, eliminating nonsense from maybe fact, or what she was and wasn’t prepared to believe.
Her mum had drummed into her never to speak to strangers, yet here she was, still in her bed, with this funny pot-bellied creature claiming he was Father Christmas.
As she sat up in bed, all the mechanics whizzed in her mind, bringing out the words “okay, prove to me you are Father Christmas”.
Father Christmas put his head into his hands. Emma reminded him of one of his naughty elves. In Santa land, Father Christmas had many elves. Some were girls, some were boys, and some had not yet decided. For Santa, it didn’t matter because Father Christmas was much closer to the real world and intentions of nature.
Much like Emma, the particular girl elf always had to ask questions, argue the point, or disbelieve the possible. She was hopeless getting up in the morning and claimed to hate the work she was given to do.
Then, as cantankerous, she’d go and love every minute of sorting and wrapping presents for all the children around the world, until something irked her or what another elf said threw a spanner in the works.
Then Father Christmas had to wade in, and, very similar to Emma’s hen-pecked dad, give in or adapted to an imposed compromise. To make matters worse, Santa’s missis would give him earache for doing so.
“Well”, Emma snapped, becoming increasingly impatient with this absurd middle-of-the-night tale of woe.
“Look,” said Father Christmas. “My reindeer is up on the rooftop. Without my magic, he’s going to freeze. He’s only small, like me. If he jumped down the chimney, we would both be stuck here and that, in the eyes of millions of children, would never bring them Christmas”.
Emma still wasn’t convinced. But then all the mechanics in her head started whirling and again, chocolate buttons danced, this time to a different tune, coming from somewhere downstairs.
As suddenly, another chocolate button dropped, directly onto one of Emma’s memory keys, one that thankfully, had already been sorted and filed from the past.
Emma then remembered all the animals and creatures in her life, both imagined and for real. She thought of Rufus, the family dog now living the life of Riley in doggie heaven. She visualised many other cuddly animals shivering up on the rooftop only because Emma wouldn’t help Father Christmas.
“Right,” she said, as she climbed out of bed stumbling over yet another of her toys. “What do you want me to imagine?”
Father Christmas jumped with joy, just like a little soldier. “I need you to imagine me back up the chimney, but you’ll have to find the toy I tripped over first because that stole my magic.”
Emma switched on the bedroom light. An array of dolls, ribbons, toys, games and other strange things that somehow bring colour and sense to the confusing world of childhood were strewn across the room.
Emma tiptoed past her big sister’s bedroom and then her brother’s. She listened to make sure her parents were sleeping. Sure enough, the whole family were snoring their heads off.
She led Father Christmas back downstairs into the lounge.
“Do you know what toy you tripped over?” Emma asked.
“Of course not,” said Father Christmas. “It was dark. I think it was a similar size to me and something fluffy tickled my legs.”
Emma scratched her head and put her hands on her hips. Father Christmas, now closer to the toy that stole his magic, glimpsed the wheels moving in Emma’s head. He watched, dumbstruck, as lots of chocolate buttons pranced around in a circle, all within the flummox of Emma’s brain.
Then, in astonishment, Father Christmas observed every chocolate button, in perfect sequence one at a time, jump out onto the carpet, right in front of him.
They formed a circle, took Father Christmas’s hand, and danced around Emma, who was still scratching her head, trying to remember a toy with a fluffy tail.
Then, all of a sudden, Father Christmas shouted “Pink. It was pink.”
As he did so, the chocolate buttons zipped quickly back to where they came and Emma, as quick as a flash, shouted “Fox. It’s my pink Fox”.
Father Christmas looked at Emma, and she looked at him. In tandem, they both looked towards the imaginary fireplace and there, sitting all innocent like, was the pink fox.
Now full of magic stolen from Father Christmas, he winked and twirled and swished his furry tail. He might have got away with it, but as with all her toys and cuddly creatures, Emma was in charge.
“Give Father Christmas his magic back, NOW” she demanded.
Poor Fox curled his tail between his legs. He’d been so pleased with himself, but when Emma and Father Christmas told him about Reindeer still on the rooftop and all the children who might never get their presents, Fox repented.
He gave Father Christmas the biggest hug ever, even tickling his bum with his long bushy tail, making Father Christmas go all of a tither.
The magic was transferred within a second. Father Christmas’s beard turned snowy white as he thanked Emma and Fox, saying they would always be the best of friends. He told Emma she would only remember something vague from her future past, because she must never tell anyone how small Santa really was.
Then Father Christmas shot like a rocket back up the chimney, to find Reindeer fast asleep, none the worse from what had unfolded down the chimney.
Both then zoomed over the rooftop, on to their next delivery.
Emma cuddled her pink toy fox and headed back to bed. It was still the middle of the night, and Fox knew, in the morning she’d be like a sloth, even though it was now Christmas day.
As Emma switched off the lounge light, she never twigged about the Christmas Card she had drawn for her parents, two weeks earlier.
Taking pride of place in the lounge, it was a simple sketch of a reindeer, a funny stick creature with a red hat and a big red belly, the tip of the Christmas tree and Emma, still in her striped pyjamas with Fox and his pink fluffy tail sitting at her feet.