A Sproutmas Story
A free Christmas short story in the Tales from the Forest of the Hooting Owl Series
It’s Christmas Eve and Sprout is on another adventure. He didn’t intend it to be an adventure, because he was only going out to see the Christmas lights, but that’s the way these things go.
He meets a Biglander wearing a red suit, who mistakes him for an elf. Who is this strange person? Does he not know the difference between an elf and a goblin? Could there be magic involved? Time to find out.
A Sproutmas Story is a 2,000 word short story in the world of the Tales from the Forest of the Hooting Owl, aimed at children of 8-12 years old and anyone else who is young of heart.
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A SPROUTMAS STORY
Tag, You're It
Sprout screamed louder than a bugle bird, but not quite as melodiously.
A tap on his shoulder was absolutely positively the least expected thing his brain thinkings had come up with (and it had come up with quite a few), as he’d squeezed through the barely-open window.
He had thought the shop was empty of Biglanders, because it was middle night and he had been told it was the eve of Christmas. This, he knew, was a popular Biglander celebration, one where there was the giving of gifts and the eating of huge platefuls of food. The latter was the thing that brought up the most colourful image in his mind, although he was unsure as to what foods would be included. He didn’t like everything Biglanders ate and he had yet to sample a large proportion of the different dishes. He knew, for positively certain, that most of them didn’t contain bugs. Unless it was what they called salad, which quite often did.
He’d thought it would be all right to take a quick look at the twinkly lights that he had seen doing their tantalising dance at the back of the shop. But, as usual, his extreme concentration on one thing, had dulled his goblin senses to the lurking definite danger. He had just dropped to the floor and he had his front to the corner of the room. There was nowhere for him to run.
His ma’s words rang loud in his ears. ‘When you’s in a back-facing situation, there’s no point in wishing you has eyes on stalks.’ Despite this, at that moment, he wished with all his might that he could turn into a stalk-eyed, centi-legged bug.
Sprout twizzled his body around, slower than a slimy-nosed tree worm on its journey to the forest canopy.
Elf and Safety
“You must be my new elf,” said the rosy-cheeked Biglander, wearing clothes to match. They were odd clothes, with fluffy white bits around the edges, and a big hat that flopped to one side. “Come on. I have your costume over here.”
Sprout screwed up his brow. He wasn’t sure what a costume was, but without any other possibilities making themselves known, he followed. He also had no idea what an elf was, or why it would be new, but he didn’t have long to ponder that question.
They stopped near a large, wooden chair, which had a bulging, red sack beside it. The Biglander picked up a green hat (quite similar in style to his own) and a matching green jacket and trousers.
“Looks like these might be exactly the right size for you. Try them on for me, will you?”
Sprout reached out and took the clothes. He did have an uneasy fester bubbling around in his stomach, a mixture of slightly scared and moderately worried. He ran his thumb across the jacket. The fabric felt much softer than his usual attire. Maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad to do as he’d been asked. He looked up at the Biglander. He did have a friendly face, but you couldn’t always tell.
He glanced at the walls of the room. He could see there were lots of shelves that went higher than the ones in a case for books. He could always climb to the top if he needed to. And he was very fast. He ensured his goblin senses were on high alert, just in case. No distractions allowed.
The Wait of Knowledge
Sprout straightened out the jacket and stood up tall. The Biglander had been right, it fitted perfectly, even to the unusually tapered shape of his body. It was almost as if it had been made for him. Of course, that couldn’t be the case.
The Biglander leaned down as he spoke, his face so close to Sprout’s ear that his long, white beard brushed against Sprout’s shoulder. “See that barrier over there?” He pointed to some pretend wood that was arranged like a movable fence. “That’s where the children will line up. Your job is to bring them to me one at a time, so I can listen to their wishes, and once I’ve given them their gift, you can take them back again and bring the next one.”
Sprout stared at the barrier. He was sure he hadn’t said he wanted a job, because jobs were usually like chores, and he rarely enjoyed them. Plus, a line of Biglander children? Here? And he was expected to talk to them, even though he didn’t know them? He felt a shiver wiggle down his spine. He chewed at his lip. This was weirding on a grand scale, but he was too intrigued to leave, and his uncle Long Tooth had impressed upon him the need to gather knowledge wherever it could be found (not that he always enjoyed such things, they were also a little like chores, but selective and unusual knowledge gathering was positively his style). He nodded and the bells on his hat jiggled. That was going to get annoying.
“You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?” the Biglander said, and he followed it up with a roaring laugh.
It was still dark outside when the Biglander children arrived. Sprout had never seen so many of them in one place. The most he’d ever seen before was on All Hallows’ Eve, and then they were a lot more spaced out than this. They were accompanied by ‘another’ elf, who was dressed in the same clothes as Sprout and, surprisingly, about his size. She stared at him for a moment, then nodded. Sprout gave her a wary smile. She turned back towards the children and started directing them into a line by the barrier.
The children were young, much younger than Wizard, or her sister. They all had a strange expression on their faces, as if they’d been stunned by a faerie spell. Their eyes were wide and their mouths slowly changed from gaping, to displaying large grins. Not one of them spoke, but some of them jiggled from foot to foot, making the line look a little like an itchy snake. Sprout did that sometimes, when he was impatient, or excited.
The Biglander gave Sprout a gentle shove in their direction. “Go on.”
Sprout approached the line and the elf leaned over. She sniffed in Sprout’s scent deeply, which was rude, but not an unknown practice in the forest.
“Ha. Knew you weren’t real,” she said, and turned her nose up to the air, at the same time as waving him towards the first child. Under her breath, she mumbled, “Goblins are not meant for Christmas.”
Sprout gulped and took a step closer, as he wondered just what goblins were meant for.
“C-come with me. Erm. Please?” Sprout said. He held out his hand to the girl at the front of the line and she grabbed it so tight, he almost screamed out. He noticed that her clothes were quite worn, as were those of the other children. They were more like forest wear, which was odd.
“Tell me,” the Biglander said to the girl, “What is it you wish for this Christmas?”
Sprout raised his eyebrows. Could this Biglander grant wishes? Was he really a witch? He tried to stop his eyes from widening, but he knew he hadn’t succeeded. He let his senses reach out. There was something there, something he hadn’t noticed before, but he couldn’t quite make out what it was. In a strange way, that made him feel a little more comfortable. Apart from one thing.
The girl didn’t let go of Sprout’s hand while she spoke to the Biglander. It began to ache with the need to move.
And what were all these things she wanted? He had never thought to make a list of his wants before. It seemed like a good idea. Some of hers sounded intriguing. Super heroes? Di-no-sores? Books. Books? He’d really like some of those. A great big pile that would take him a long time to read.
It was only when Santa had noted the girl’s wishes and reached into the sack beside him for her gift, that she released her grip. Boxes. It was full of them. Wrapped up in colourful paper.
Boxes that didn’t go through the posting? That was a much better idea.
As she walked back towards the line of children, Sprout was sure there were tears in the girl’s eyes. He thought they were happiness tears, but he wasn’t sure.
However, that wasn’t his greatest concern. The line of children went as far as Sprout could see. This was going to be a long night.
When the last of the children had received their gifts and the female elf had shushed them away to wherever they’d come from, Sprout slumped, exhausted, into a tiny chair with a green and red cushion on it. His heart was thumping, because he’d done something he never thought he would and even though it had been scary, he hadn’t run away. His mind was racing — there were so many questions in his head about what he’d just experienced that he had no idea which would be the most important one to ask.
He still hadn’t taken a proper look at the twinkly lights, but that didn’t seem important anymore.
“So, Sprout, did you enjoy your Christmas miracle? You know, those children don’t have much. Now, at least, they have a little something to cheer them on Christmas Day.”
For a moment, as Sprout digested the words, he didn’t realise the Biglander had used his name, but when he did, his head jolted around to look straight at him. The Biglander grinned.
“Ho, ho, ho. Do you even know who I am?”
Sprout shook his head. He felt silly. That should’ve been the question. The one and only most important question. Who are you? Or what are you? Those, of course, might be one and the same answer.
“Well, that’s probably for the best. Stay as you are, young goblin. You can keep the suit. It’s my gift to you for helping out. I was a little stuck until you snuck in. My usual helper ate one too many Christmas candies on the sly. His face is almost as green as your jacket. Here, why don’t you have one?”
He reached into the sack and pulled out something that was red and white striped, thin with a curve on the end.
“Go on. It’s sugary. You eat it.”
Sprout took the candy, stuck his tongue out and let the tip touch it. An explosion of flavour filled his mouth. “It’s … it’s ….” He had no words. It was even better than chocolate cake bowl scrapings.
“Ho, ho ho.” The Biglander looked at his wrist technology and tutted. “Time I was going. Lots to do tonight. I can give you a ride home, if you’d like. It’s on my way. Everywhere is on my way. Ho, ho, ho.”
Sprout thought about it seriously for a whole blink, then declined. He needed some thinking time to process everything that had happened and he wanted to do that before he arrived back home, in Coven’s Corner. This refusal was something about which he definitely certainly did feel a regret pricking at his thoughts, a few clock minutes later, as he walked back to the forest. That was when he looked up to the sky and saw an ornate sky vehicle, which had some horned beasts pulling it along through the air. He gasped and the cold, night air scratched at his throat. Definitely positively magic. Definitely absolutely a witch. No doubts of a waver bug about it.
The Biglander smiled down at him. Sprout returned the gesture and continued on his way.
Given the position of the moon in the sky, it almost seemed as if no time had passed. He had to be mistaken, but it turned out he wasn’t. It was just past middle night. He crept into his sleeping nook, barely disturbing his feather door and settled down for the night.
Of course, no one in the forest believed Sprout’s tale, when he told them the next morning. Wizard claimed it was extremely tall and that Santa didn’t really exist. His ma simply shook her head. They both thought he’d borrowed the outfit to give his words more weight. True, they did feel heavy in his mind, especially when he thought about the children and their gifts.
“So, who is Santa?” Sprout said.
Wizard laughed. “Okay. I’ll tell you all about him later. First, who’s up for a traditional Christmas lunch? I think I can just about manage to conjure that up.”
Sprout scratched at his chin. Wizard’s spelling was a lot better now and he did have a large food space waiting in his stomach, even though the candy was no more. “As long as it doesn’t contain curry powder.”
She grinned. “No, we save that for the leftovers. It’s traditional.” She winked.
His jaw dropped in unfettered shock. Leftovers? What in the goblinsphere were those?