The small black goat looked out into the immense auditorium and sighed. The cavernous space was devoid of an audience, each of the 600 upholstered maroon seats stared back at him with taunting flat faces.
“Jaxon Jesse Simpson!” Screeched the teacher. Literally. She was a puffy, square-shaped screech owl with chestnut tufts for ears, and round golden eyes the size of saucers behind her wire framed glasses.
Jaxon jumped and glowered at her. His scruffy eyebrows pulled into hoods over his eyes. The three kittens playing angels giggled. Mazie, the calf, rolled her eyes at Rollie, the donkey. He brayed soft laughter in return.
Mrs.Pollimer tapped her cane on the polished oak stage. ‘Tonk tonk tonk!’ The sound echoed out into the cold, dark theatre. She said, “Please pay attention!”
“Why?” He asked sulkily, his voice small, from the back row of animals. He added, “I don’t even have any lines.” His head hung low, the ends of his red woolen scarf dusted the floor.
“This is a group effort, young goat. It is tradition that all the class play a part.”
“Why can’t I be a wise man?” Jaxon implored, lifting his dark eyes to the opossum, raccoon and badger cast in those parts. Jerry the possum stuck his tongue out at the little black goat who then added, “I’m wiser than they are.”
Now the entire class guffawed.
“Hush now! Quiet down!” Screeched the screech owl. “Time for one more rehearsal! In your places please!”
Jaxon’s ears echoed with the sound of paws and hooves trotting and tapping and clodding on the wooden stage as he crept behind the backdrop scenery and heavy curtain beyond. If anyone noticed his absence, they remained in relieved silence of it.
Jaxon stepped out one of the double backstage doors and into an icy grey world, swirling with white, it was as if he’d stepped into a snow-globe. He picked up his pace, his scarf a whipping flag before him, and bounded into the safety of the cedar trees bunched at the far end of the school property. He shivered icy flakes from his coat and leapt deeper into the woods.
The small black goat didn’t want to go home to the orphanage. He felt alone amongst his peers and today, had never felt so unloved, so useless, so small.
After an hour he realized that not only had he never ventured this far into the dark, shadowy forest, but he was entering the forbidden acres. The wind whipped bare branches into his face, he squinted to protect his eyes. Snowy gales played hide-and-seek with him from between the immense pines. They always found him, stabbing at his soft belly with icicle fingers, ‘you’re it!’
He rounded a bend and a flurry of immense black birds ‘fwap, fwap, fwapped’ into the charcoal grey sky. The whole world was a baroque black and white movie of harsh contrasts and menacing premonitions. ‘Ravens!’ He thought, suddenly nervous. The worst thing about ravens is that where they lurk, death does too.
The birds flew to the tree tops high above him and screeched curses at him in an ancient language he did not understand. He lay on his belly on the frozen white earth, and covered his head with his hooves, expecting to feel razor sharp talons slicing into his fur any second.
A blue jay swooped suddenly from a patch of inky-black cedar shadows, it’s feathers a welcome splash of brilliant azure in the monochromatic clearing. It cawed as it circled above him. As he watched, bolts of brilliant yellow lightening flew from the bird’s head, aimed towards the ravens in the trees. All but one raven flew into the sky, like graceful, distinguished Draculas.
The jay flew into the tree opposite the remaining raven. A tiny figure popped up from around the far side of its neck, it looked like charred kindling pulled from a hearth, bound together by wire, and wrapped in black rags. A tiny, pointed hat sported tiny, pointed ears. As Jaxon watched in wonder and horror, the evil creature’s eyes flashed blue sparks and a nearly white fire ball, tinged in blue, flew from its outstretched twiggy hands.
It nailed the jay bird’s wing! The jay tumbled head over heels, to the ground; a splash of blue feathers drifted in its wake. Before hitting the ground, a tiny figure leapt from the bird’s back.
The wee elf tucked into a ball and rolled somersaults atop the snowy ground. It came to a stop in front of Jaxon’s nose, spraying the goat’s astonished face with fine, icy flakes. The enchanting elf bounced to her feet and looked around for her bird. In forest green tights and pointy brown booties, she was a blur of green as she raced to her feathered companion, she skidded to a halt at its chest. Her pretty, pale face all but disappeared in soft blue feathers as she listened for a heartbeat.
Jaxon said quietly, “is he dead?”
The wee she elf spun towards the voice as if she’d forgotten he was there. He was used to that.
She said, “No, her heart beats.”
The goat and elf looked up into the treetops. The evil black duo was gone.
Jaxon fired off questions, “what was that? You’re an elf, aren’t you? Where are we?”
The pretty little elf put her mittened hands on her hips. She wore a silky, long-sleeved tunic, emerald-green, with bronze colored embroidery, a yellow scarf and belt. Ash blond hair spiked out from her acorn helmet. She ‘hmphed’ and removed the nutshell from her head, her hair spilled in messy cornsilk waves down her back to her knees. As she neared the young goat, he saw that her enormous eyes were chocolate brown with gold and amber flecks. She looked like one of those old 1970s paintings of waifs with ginormous eyes.
She said, “Yes, I’m an elf…duh. That was a Nordicbalphi, a Nordif for short.” She added cryptically, “We are not far from my home, though I fear I have no way to get there. I won’t leave Blue-Berry Twinkle-Toes.” She looked sadly at the jay, tears magnified her mysterious dark eyes. One escaped, it slid down her rosy cheeks, and dropped from her pointy chin. When it hit the snow, a tiny spray of golden glitter ‘poofed’.
A flurry of fluttering wingbeats filled the clearing, a flurry of snowflakes drifted to the ground.
Cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, robins, and more alit on low lying branches, each carrying a wee elf dressed in similar outfits- tunics and tights, scarves and mittens- in a plethora of mainly green shades.
The elf next to Jaxon said, “This is my family. I’m Astra-Senika by the way…”
“I’m Jaxon. I can help you get home…”
“It’ll be dangerous. The Nordif are out in full force. We are losing the battle against them. I fear we may lose not only our home, but our entire race.”
“I have no family. I have nothing to lose. Let me help you.”
Astra looked into Jaxon’s sad, nearly black eyes for a few seconds then nodded. “What a shame. You have such a good heart, young goat.”
She called to her clan who waited silently in the trees. “This is Jaxon Jesse Simpson…”
Jaxon goggled at her.
She continued, “…he is going to help me home.”
The elves in the trees, mounted on songbirds, chattered amongst themselves. At last, the oldest, with snow white hair and a knee length, double-braided beard, called down, “very well, daughter. We will escort you from above, lest the demon Nordifs return.”
One by one, each bird-mounted elf dropped long, colorful filaments to the ground. Orange, yellow, red and purple silk-like threads floated down gracefully. Astra gathered them up quickly and tied them all together in one, ten-foot-long cord.
She whispered into Berry’s ear. The bird’s head lifted wearily. She rose shakily to her feet and cried out as her broken wing dropped to the ground.
One of the goldfinches came down and silently landed by the jay like a fluffy, lemony yellow pompom with legs and small, pointy beak. A thin elf with honey colored hair, wearing moss green tunic and tights, leapt like a ballet dancer, from the pretty bird’s back. Astra and the male elf, Branon, secured the poor blue jay’s wing to her side. Then, with Astra on one side of Jaxon, and Branon, on the other, they lifted the blue jay onto Jaxon’s shoulders and secured the bird with the remainder of the silken cord.
Brannon gave a little salute to the loaded-up goat and leapt upon his finch’s back.
Four miles into the woods, the sky grew dark.
Astra lifted her tiny mittened hands to the sky. The clouds parted, revealing the brilliant white orb of a moon. Astra’s hands filled with moonlight. The magical lantern was small but bright. High above them, two dozen more tiny lanterns glowed, and the sky was filled with flying stars.
The trees were getting sparser, and the icy, frozen ground inclined upwards at sharper and sharper an angle. Astra told the sure-footed goat stories of their enemy, the Nordif, as they ascended the mountain. They were an ancient race of elves from the deepest bowels of Norway hills, displaced by ore mining humans. They sought to take over Astra’s race of Kindweenots. Their leader, Drookin, sought ultimate power through the death of Astra, the most powerful, magic elf their world had ever seen. He intended to enslave them and use their magic for his own elevation to a God-like status. He would drain them of their powers- their life-force- then toss the husks away like garbage. And he dreamed of taking revenge up the human race.
“We live at the top of this mountain, inside it. When the Nordifs discover this, we will be doomed…”
Just then, the entire mountain quaked. The earth under Jaxon’s small hooves reverberated with thunder, his feet did a scary little skittering dance, his back legs slipped over the steep edge…but only for a few seconds. After the shock wore off, he found his feet and continued up the steep slope with fierce determination.
The elves in the air chattered excitedly, in alarm.
Suddenly, the air around Jaxon and Astra was filled with huge, flapping black flags!
The ravens swooped and swirled, cutting Astra and Jaxon off from the rest of their clan. Over Jaxon’s head, Astra fired a white-hot fireball from her palms. She nailed a raven’s wing and it screamed in fury as it fell…a thousand feet below. Two more ravens fell past them, haven taken shots from overhead. Then a soft, greyish-brown wren fell past, fluttering a single wing uselessly. Astra pulled the bird and rider in on a strand of silken rope like a fisherman reeling in a trout. They clung to the cords around Jaxon’s shoulders.
A raven, the largest by nearly twice the size of the others, circled Jaxon’s group. Astra yelled, “Drookin! Faster! Faster Jaxon!”
Drookin sent a whitish blue bolt of lightning at a cardinal that swooped down close. She yelled, “No!” And shot a yellow-tailed bolt that intercepted the blue one. They burst together in a retina-scorching display of fireworks. As soon as Astra had let go of the last bolt, Drookin had one aimed at her. She was too late to deflect it. It knocked her flat against Jaxon’s neck.
He felt hot, burning, embers and smelled singed fur. He called out, “Astra!”
He got no answer from her. The elf they had rescued sobbed and said into Jaxon’s left ear, “She’s dead!”
A flurry of fire balls erupted angrily over their heads and three more ravens fell head over heels past them, black feathers swirled in the gale winds. Their strapped on stick-figure demon riders, either flopped limply, like knobby bags of bones… or they flayed futilely to get free.
The elves disappeared over the tip top of the mountain. Jaxon struggled to follow them to their world. The snow was a storm at the apex, it all but blinded the relentless goat
“There!” cried the elf on his back. Jaxon forced himself still. His legs trembled with the urgency to keep going, down the other side. He strained to see what the elf was pointing to. ‘There! A spark of light! A small crevasse!’ Jaxon wondered if he’d fit.
As if reading his mind, the elf yelled over the shrieking wind, “It’s wider than it looks! The entire length is covered by ice and snow!”
Jaxon nodded, and with renewed strength made his way quickly down the steep slope, sliding and scrabbling for footholds the whole way.
The giant raven screeched in his right ear! He jumped, losing his footing for a few seconds. “Hold on hold on!” Screamed the elf from his neck, “almost there!”
Jaxon was close enough to see half a dozen tiny green clad arms waving them on like grass stalks bristling in the wind.
The raven swooped and hovered directly in front of Jaxon’s face, blocking his advance.
Then ‘PSSSSF-SHOOP!’ A bluey-white fireball, sizzling with electricity, came straight at him! It flashed between his eyes and hurt like nothing he’d felt before. He was blind! He made his feet move, but they galloped in nothing but thin air!
The raven screeched in pain and anger, its harsh voice disappeared downwards… he heard the feathers rustling, heading down.
The elf on his back said, “Astra’s spelled you. After you were hit, the fireball rebounded at the bird! Double strength! Whoo-hoo!”
He slammed into a snowy ledge and tried scabbling onto it. He managed to stand into a crouch but, still being blind and discombobulated, took a step in the wrong direction. He felt himself tumbling down into blood-freezing, empty space. The wee being screamed so high-pitchedly in his ear, it was nearly soundless, like a dog whistle.
In silent blackness his consciousness left him.
Gradually, the edges of his vision brightened to grey…then came on full force. He looked down and saw white and green and patches of brown streaking past, far below! His small, shiny black hooves were galloping…in thin air! The ground at least twelve hundred feet below! ‘I’m dead and dreaming!’ He thought, ‘A wonderful, bestest dream EVER!’
He looked up and screamed! He’d nearly flown right into the mountain that he recognized as the home of the elves. The elf on his back joined his scream, and pulled up on the cords as if they were reigns. The jay cawed and the wren squeaked a cry. Jaxon flew vertically up another four hundred feet to the mountain top, as if pulled up like a kite on the wind.
The sky was clearing, the top was level with the few remaining wispy clouds. They breezed away into the starry, black night. The crevasse was easy to spot. A lantern was burning warm, welcoming sunny light. As Jaxon and his riders approached the entrance, two elf sentries in green and gold waved frantically and laughed and cheered.
As Jaxon landed at the cavern mouth, two dozen more elves had appeared. They quickly untied the birds and Astra’s lifeless body and whisked them away inside. Jaxon squeezed through the narrow opening and followed the elves down deep into the bowels of the mountain. It was warm and cozy, with high, vaulted ceilings of natural granite. Hundreds of tiny moonlight lanterns lit up the vast space. The walls and ceiling sparkled magically with mica that caught the lantern light.
An old elf woman, the elder’s wife, brought the worn-out goat a warm drink of herbs and cinnamon. In minutes he was asleep.
The next morning, he awoke in a large, toasty-warm room with rows of beds like a hospital. He was amused to see the elves had put four of their largest beds together for him, yet his hooves still hung over the end.
Next to him was the jay bird, her wing bandaged against her body. He turned over and saw Astra, fast asleep in the next bed. She was breathing and alive, though bandages covered her arms, and her face was reddened as if sunburnt. Branon sat at her side and held her hand. He turned around to Jaxon and said, “she’ll be fine in a week or so…”
“Thank goodness! So, it wasn’t a dream then? I really flew?”
“My heaven’s yes! No! I mean yes, you can fly! And no, you weren’t dreaming!” He laughed in delight at the goat’s wondering, elated expression. He said, “Astra spelled you so you could save us all!”
“But I fell…I nearly killed us all…”
“Without you, Astra would be no longer and the Nordifs would either enslave us or slaughter us. She is still only a child- our savior- her powers will grow as she matures.”
“Like the baby Jesus…” Jaxon said under his breath. Louder, he said, “I’ve got to go! I’m needed at home!”
The elder elves and a few of the others had joined Branon. The eldest with the long white beard said, “Yes, you must go now. The flying spell won’t last much longer, though long enough to see you home.”
On the stage of the school auditorium, Jaxon Jesse Simpson looked out at the audience. Every seat was filled, and every face glowed with Christmas cheer.
He proudly stood in the back row of animals, in between a white pygmy goat smaller than he, and a pretty little chestnut filly, excitedly hopping from hoof to hoof. He looked at the three wise men, the opossum in the center looked up and winked at him, smiling.
As the entire cast sang Silent Night together, Jaxon’s voice joined in. He felt in perfect harmony for the first time ever. He saw at the very back of the theatre, in the ebony darkness, two hundred tiny yellowy white sparks, wavering to and fro along with the song that filled the air.