Axel stooped low, close to the ground, his pointed boots slipping slightly on the ice.
He could hear the reindeer shifting about in their stable stalls close by, their musty scent in the air making it hard to breathe. Trying not to make a sound, cursing the tiny bells sewn onto the end of his boots, Axel crept forward, daring enough to poke his head around the corner. What he saw made him smile. Not a happy smile, but one that twisted his features up, warping his lips into a terrifying grimace.
Axel watched as the giant man withdrew, pulling the huge wooden door shut behind him and slotting three heavy keys into their locks, turning them one by one. The man drew his big red coat around him, his breath hanging in the air as he walked away, big black boots marching steadily on the ice.
As soon as the coast was clear, Axel scampered out from his hiding place, coming to a stop before the most important door in the North Pole Headquarters. The top of his hat barely brushed even the lowest of the keyholes, but that didn’t matter. Axel was an elf. He easily scrambled up the door, his long, spindly fingers latching onto gaps in the wood, an impossible feat for a pair of human hands. He was nimble, reaching in with a pin he had stolen from an elf in the sewing department, fiddling around until he heard not one click, not two, but three. The door swung open, and Axel’s smile grew much, much wider.
A bluish glow illuminated the room as Axel crept inside, so focused on his prize that he left the door open behind him. The glow was coming from a box, caged in by a lock and chain, and placed in the middle of the room. Another few minutes with his nifty pin, and Axel was heaving the chains across the box, almost as large as he was, letting them fall to the floor with a loud crash.
Axel opened the box and the glow became so much brighter, dazzling him, though he still couldn’t take his eyes off of it. He was looking at magic. Christmas magic. It was a blue ball hanging in the air, its tendrils reaching out towards Axel, as if curious. Axel stretched his hands forward – he was a greedy elf and wanted it for himself. The tendrils touched Axel’s fingertips, and he was thrown backwards with a bang.
Axel was dazed, lying on the ground as the world spun around him. He got back on his feet, still unsteady as he looked towards the box, unsure as to what had happened. He heard a horrified gasp from behind him, and his stomach dropped. He had been caught! He spun around, meeting the eyes of another elf, stretched wide in terror.
“Magic thief!” she screamed before her fist came down on a big red button, and an alarm started to screech, Axel’s hands coming to his ears in pain. And he noticed a faint blue trail following his movements. It had worked! Axel laughed out loud, closing his eyes and clicking his fingers. He was gone.
Axel opened his eyes. He was sitting on what looked like scaffolding, harsh lights shining down of all colours. There were purple lights, and green, and yellow, all illuminating something behind a black curtain. And what was that noise? It sounded almost like applause. Curious, Axel peeled back the curtain, poking his head out over the top and peering down. It was applause. There were hundreds of people it seemed, all staring at something. Axel followed their gaze, looking directly below him – it was a stage! A stage filled with children, all dressed up. Some were what looked like shepherds, with tea-towels tied around their heads, held on by string. Others were dressed as peasants, while some wore crowns on their heads – one had even been painted silver to look like a star.
Axel furrowed his brow, trying to work out the puzzle. Then it dawned on him! They had been told this story as children in the North Pole – the story of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Axel started to giggle, clutching his sides as he tried not to make a sound. He was in disbelief – did people really think that this was the story of Christmas? Ha! What would Santa think? As Axel laughed, he had an idea, and the smile returned.
He looked down at his hands, trailing them through the air. Sure enough, they still glowed faintly, a mist tracing the air where his hands had been moments ago. He looked down at the children below, all gathered around a plastic doll in a cradle. Axel searched the stage, waiting for inspiration. Of course! The three wise men held boxes, painted to look like the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Axel giggled to himself, before pointing his finger at the boxes, and closing his eyes.
Suddenly, the three boxes burst open, clowns jumping out, bouncing up and down on springs. The children screamed in fright, dropping the boxes and running into the wings. Axel opened his eyes as soon as he heard the commotion, his face lit up with glee. He had transformed the gifts into three jack-in-the-boxes! But though the audience jumped, they soon started to laugh, thinking it was part of the show. The children started to join in, and even the three wise men got enough courage to creep slowly back on stage.
Axel frowned. Jack-in-the-boxes were the scariest toys in the North Pole – he had invented them himself. He looked down at the crowd below, realising that they must be made of tougher stuff than he had first thought. But Axel was mischievous, and he loved a challenge. There must be something he could do, something that would ruin the play! He spied the animals, two hobby-horses that had been dressed up with scraps of cloth and paint. One was made to look like a donkey, the other a sheep. Axel closed his eyes again, pointing his spindly finger towards them.
“You know, it would be a lot more believable if you used a real baby instead of a doll,” somebody said. The children looked around confused, trying to work out where the unfamiliar voice had come from.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said another voice, “they’re children. Just look at the number of times that the kid on the end has pulled baby Jesus’ head right off his neck – if that had been a real baby, there would have been carnage.”
Suddenly, one of the children gasped out loud, pointing his finger towards the animals.
“Look, everybody,” he shouted, “the animals are alive!” Sure enough, the sheep turned his head towards the audience, and winked, before morphing back into cotton balls and wood. The children laughed and clapped, and a burst of applause sounded from the audience, all convinced it was an amazing special effect. Damn, Axel thought, he hadn’t scared them, he’d given everyone a wonderful show.
Axel wracked his brains, his eyes scanning the stage, searching for inspiration. He dangled so far over the curtain he was almost upside-down, but his tiny frame meant that he was almost invisible to the watching audience. His blue glow only meant that he blended into the curtain, decorated with softly glowing stars. Of course! The stars! If they wanted a show, he would give them a show. Axel closed his eyes once more.
Suddenly, sparks went off and the children scarpered, fleeing into the audience and into the arms of their parents. It was a marvel to look out, hundreds of shooting stars were flying from the curtain onto the stage, singing the wood where they landed. All of a sudden, the curtain started to smoke and a fire broke out. Axel’s heart went to his throat. Sprinklers went off and sirens blared as the school evacuated quickly, people lifting up their children and clambering over chairs – Axel had definitely succeeded in giving them a fright.
Yet he was just as terrified. Axel clambered down the curtain as fast as he could, his fingers getting burnt as the fire spread. He squeezed underneath the door before getting soaked from head to toe with an enormous amount of water as the firefighters started dousing the building with their hosepipes. Axel did only what he knew best. He ran away, the top of his hat still alight, leaving a trail of smoke behind him. He knew not to play with Christmas magic ever again.