Author's Note: Alright, this is my try on a more serious kind of fiction. It's a modern adaptation of The Nutcracker but it takes some serious liberties. If any characters feel iffy or OOC, that's probably because they are supposed to feel iffy and OOC.
The village is covered by winter itself, frost icicles glinting like diamonds and snow falling like precious pearls upon the ground. Carolers here and there litter on the streets, their tones audible even in here. All around, people swarm to their respective homes, anticipating the feast that awaits them there. Leaning against the window and squinting my eyes, I could make out the outline of the town church, decorated by hundreds of shimmering lights.
A voice, lilting and melodious, disturbs my reverie, quickly followed by a knock and then the creaking of the door. It is my mother, coming to fetch me for the party downstairs.
"Clara?" she prompts. "It's time for you to get down, darling. The rest are all waiting for you."
I only look at her, my eyes sending her a questioning glance. For a few seconds, we do nothing but stare at each other, though the moment is broken when my mother sighs sadly and sits down right beside me on my bed. I do not move, choosing only to stare down at the floor.
"Do I really have to go?" I say quietly. The party would be undoubtedly loud and entirely too light, certainly not a place for a girl like myself. Besides, even if it were only a solemn little thing, my brother would be there.
My mother sighs again—she does have a flair for theatrics, you know—and gently forces me to look up at her. "You know, you always had been a bit different from the other children," she said. Then, to complete the effect, she gestured to my room, decorated by drawings of what seemed to be childish fancy. It started out from crude drawings, no more than figures created using lines and dots, to more sophisticated ones, artworks that were almost a masterpiece in their form, blending just the right amounts of color and balance.
I should know; I made them, after all.
"How much people could boast that they have an artist for a daughter?" my mother asks me. "Not just any artist, but a true genius in the arts?" She beams proudly at me, and for a moment I feel shocked by the change in our conversation, only for it to die instantly. She always behaved like this every time I feel hesitant to join in whatever entertainment there is.
How could I tell her that these drawings came not from my own imagination, but from my dreams? How could I tell that every night I dream of a man and every night I go off in an adventure in some fantastic land? As a child, I had always thought these dreams as normal; now, not so much; for who retains their childhood dreams and fancies well until puberty?
My mother takes no notice of my thoughts and only lays a comforting hand on my black hair and places another on my cheek. "Go spend some time with the other children, Clara. The other girls have been asking for you."
"But Fritz —" I begin to say, but I cut myself off. It would not be much of a good idea to share just what kind of relationship my brother and I have.
"Fritz what, dear?" my mother asks, unfortunately catching on to my little slip. I begin to think rather quickly, trying to create a little lie.
"Fritz might feel left out," I say, mentally slapping myself for the most unbelievable lie in the entire history of mankind. "There's a lot of girls in there, you know."
My mother looks at me oddly, perhaps only chalking up this moment to my inherent 'strangeness,' and laughs weakly. "What do you mean?" she says. "There'll be plenty of boys for Fritz to play with. Now then, off you go."
I start to protest, but my mother silences me with a look. I stand up reluctantly, not really wanting to go to the party, and swear to myself that I'll be as sullen as I can throughout the whole event.
The party was well underway when I got downstairs. I know that the equivalence of a party for other people might mean an overly-loud sound system playing overplayed song, all the drugs they could manage to do under the watchful gaze of their parents, and dancing in such a coarse and vulgar manner with their partners. Luckily enough, the parents in this family had been entirely too strict in their children's upbringing and none of that were to occur.
That doesn't mean that I'd like it, though. There were still children, loud and boisterous and noisy; and there was also Fritz, annoying little brother that he is. The oldest of all of 'the youngsters,' as my parents call it, is aged seventeen, and that was myself. I was already old enough to tire of the childish games that the others were playing but I was still too young to hang out with the adults.
That left only one companion, really: Phillip.
Phillip and I were—or rather are—close to each other. His father was the cousin-in-law of my father and, ever since he and his family moved to the house next door a few years ago, he had been my playmate and confidante. If we had spent more hours together, we might have been the best of friends. But I was quiet and preferred to be alone, while Phillip was the charming and talkative boy whom everybody liked.
"Come on, Clara," he says, taking my hand and tugging it uselessly in what I think is an effort for me to stand up. "Let's dance."
Dance here not meaning what you think it probably means. Dance in our family meant formal ballroom dances, not the grind-each-other-senseless kind of dancing. Dancing now required intimacy, trust, and love—something which I felt reluctant to give since I'm trying my best to act sullen all throughout the evening.
"Come on, Clara," Phillip says, his tugging becoming more urgent. I pull it away and try my best to glare at him. I never could become angry at him, goodness knows why.
"I don't want to," I say, acting very much like a spoiled little brat, which I actually am. "I didn't even want to go here. I just wanted to stay in my room and draw. I don't want to do anything except draw."
"Fine, then," says Phillip. "Suit yourself."
"I will," I say, in an act of complete immaturity. Just as expected, he stalks off angrily, complete with the stomping and all that. He may only be a year younger than me, but he's still every inch a child.
Now that I've managed to chase off the only person I was willing to spend my time with, I could tell that the night could only grow worse. I was already regretting the fact that I left the room in the first place.
"Claraaaaaa," says a voice behind me, a pair of hands reaching up to cover my eyes. Great, just when I thought that this night couldn't get any worse, it totally does. "Guess who, Clara?"
"I'm not up for your games right now, Fritz," I say, trying to get the hands off of me. "Go bother the other children. I just want peace and quiet."
"Ooh," my brother says in what I guess is an effort to taunt me. "Goody-two-shoes Clara wants some peace and quiet. She says she's not up to Fritz's games!"
Echoing words, referring to himself in the third person . . . honestly, could my brother grow any worse than he is?
"Goody-two-shoes Clara, goody-two-shoes Clara," he sings, circling all around me. Apparently, he can grow worse than he is. He's doing it by the second. I just close my eyes and try not to let my anger get the best of me.
Then, there's no more singing. I look around and heave a sigh of relief. He's nowhere to be found. He probably tired of singing some stupid song around someone who doesn't care.
But when I begin to relax, my brother pops in again, this time holding a pair of cymbals and leading some other boys to create what I suppose is music for their ears. My right eye twitches in irritation. Echoing words, using the third person in reference to himself, and going out of his way just to irritate me—my brother's looking more and more like some deranged criminal by the minute.
"Quiet down, will you?" Somehow, Phillip's voice makes it above the cacophony that the younger boys were doing. "The adults aren't liking it and you wouldn't want them to reprimand you, right?"
That shut them up, thankfully. I meet Phillips's eyes across the room and I try to give him a look of gratitude. He was about to mouth something—probably you're welcome—but the door suddenly opens and both of our attentions snap to it at once.
"Herr Drosselmeyer!" my mother greets, stepping up at once to the gentleman. "We thought that you weren't coming anymore."
Already, the novelty of a stranger passing through the door seemed to be lost to the other children. I could see them turning back to whatever they had been doing before this man arrived. Obviously, now that my mother identified him, he lost whatever allure he might have had for the others. Though, I admit, not for me.
Herr Drosselmeyer. His name sparks something in my mind, though I don't know why. Maybe he's some obscure television personality or something, though how on earth my parents could have known him is in the air.
"That's alright," he says. His voice is what I imagined silk would sound like, if silk could talk. "I didn't think that I'd be coming either. Fortunately, I've overestimated how long the opera would take and I've found the time to go here."
My father steps up, clearing his throat. "Marie," he says, meaning my mother. "You didn't say that he'd be coming in here."
The atmosphere suddenly grows tense and a little bit awkward. I grow confused between the three—was there some sort of history behind them? If so, what happened that could make them so tense around each other?
"Well," says my mother, "I thought that it'd be the most marvelous of surprises for the children, dear. You know that he's a magician. He could make them laugh, you know—he might even make Clara laugh."
At this they turned to stare at me, but I duck my head at once in an effort to look like I've been staring at the floor and thinking about something. I laughed well enough on my own; it just so happens that I'm not around other people when I do it.
Though, to be fair, I really am thinking about something. For instance, this gentleman was a magician? Seeing as the only recognition that I've got from him was a spark that was quick to die down, I conclude that he's an amateur one. Maybe even a lousy one.
"Very well, dear," says my father, his voice sounding a little bit resigned. "Whatever you think is best."
"Must I do magic tricks now?" asks Herr Drosselmeyer. "I thought that this was a Christmas party, not a magic show. Besides, why does it have to be me? Did you not order your own entertainment?"
My mother looks at Herr Drosselmeyer helplessly. "I did order entertainment," she says. "But the technological gizmos that they need seemed to be malfunctioning and . . . well, a huge portion of their act relied on those gizmos." She sighs, pushing back a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. "I suppose the children would have to make do with the television. Goodness knows that they could stare at that thing for hours and hours."
This announcement made me perk up a bit. The television was a wonderful, wonderful thing for me and, I admit, I was one of those people that could just stare at it without moving. That doesn't sound like a bad idea for me.
"Television?" my father echoes. "This is a Christmas party and you plan to entertain them with . . . with trashy, teeny-bopper shows? We have more class than that, Marie."
My mind protested at that. After all, I love those 'teeny-bopper' shows, and they most certainly aren't trashy.
"Well, what do you want them to do?" my mother retorts. "Stare at the floor for the rest of the evening?"
"Stop," says Herr Drosselmeyer suddenly. "If you really cannot find any other alternative, I suppose I could step up and entertain them for the night. Consider it as my Christmas present to you both."
There was a few seconds of silence, my parents probably surprised at Herr Drosselmeyer's sudden announcement.
"Thank you," my mother finally says, and that was the end of their discussion.
I take back everything that I say about Herr Drosselmeyer being a lousy magician, even about him being an amateur one. He isn't lousy, and nor is he an amateur. He is, to put it frankly, a god.
That sounds far-fetched, though every bit true. I thought that the lure of magic acts would be lost on me, but the very moment he stepped on the center of the room, he controlled each and every single one of us with acts of . . . well . . . magic.
He was enthralling: pulling roses out of thin air; turning handkerchiefs into precious little doves; and performing acts of transportation and levitation as if it came to him as easily as breathing. It felt as if he was magic itself, gracing reality with his feats of splendor.
He turns, his silver cape glittering whenever it catches the light. He faces us, shows us that his hands, sleeves, and cape are all empty, and does this really awesome gesture with his hands. Then, to our fascination, he held a nutcracker, right before our very eyes, seemingly conjured out of nothing.
I swear, my brain is breaking just from thinking of how he could have done that. My mind conjures up a feeble excuse—that he could have just hidden it in some secret pocket in his cape and had fooled us all—but, from what I could see, his cape was entirely devoid of secret pockets.
"How?" I ask Phillip but he seems just as awed and fascinated as I am. As if in confirmation to my thoughts, Phillip shrugs at me and switches his attention back to the magic act, but Herr Drosselmeyer isn't doing magic anymore. Instead, he's just looking at the nutcracker as if it was a treasure to him, a ghost of a smile gracing his lips.
"May I present this as a gift to the lovely Clara Stahlbaum?" he suddenly asks, walking towards me and giving me the toy. Taken by surprise, I say nothing and only touch the nutcracker hesitantly, almost unwilling to believe that he's giving me something. I didn't even know the man and here he was, giving me Christmas presents.
"Go on," he says, his voice barely a whisper. "Take it; it's yours."
My hands wrap around the wooden toy, my fingers feeling the grainy texture of the doll. "Thank you," I say, not really certain what else to say. I look up at him and I find that he has the most magical eyes in the world, as if he knows all the world's secrets.
It wouldn't surprise me if he does.
"Treat it well," he might have said, but my attention was now on the nutcracker he gave me. It was a soldier, which was very common for a nutcracker. It possessed the common red vest, black hat, and white trousers that nutcrackers often have.
Yet its face . . . its face reminds me of something, though I can't figure out the reason why for. It was a normal one, after all. The only thing that set it apart was the fact that it didn't have a mustache.
A memory suddenly sparks, and I am reminded of my dreams.
Every single time I dream those dreams—which were almost always—it was a bit different each time. Sometimes, I might go to a land where everything is literally made out of sweets; sometimes I need to battle a legion of rats; sometimes, I go to the land of fairies.
Yet there is always a constant in those dreams: I am always accompanied by a young soldier wearing a red vest and white trousers. Sometimes, he wore a hat; sometimes he didn't—the hat wasn't really inconsequential.
I don't know where I got the inspiration for the soldier. He doesn't look like someone I know and I had always failed to put a name on him, despite looking up every actor whose face I might have seen as a child. Seeing as every attempt failed, and naming him myself seemed so wrong, I had given up in trying to name him.
Thus, I have always called him The Soldier.
He is kind and brave and so gentle with me that sometimes I just want to go to sleep forever and ever and not wake up. I know that it sounds foolish, laughable even, but I have somehow fallen in love with someone I can only meet in my dreams.
It would have been tragic, if it hadn't been so pitiful.
The Soldier smiles a lot and his brown eyes are bright and warm when he does. That's one thing that I liked about him and I'm not really sure why I'm thinking of it right now.
I look down at the nutcracker again and notice something that I haven't seen a while ago: it's smiling. The nutcracker is smiling, despite the fact that nutcrackers have always been made with serious faces, and it's as if its whole face had changed just by that smile. It became kind, good, warm.
I stifle a gasp. I don't know how, but this is The Soldier in my dreams, the one who always guided me throughout all those wondrous lands.
I look up to stare at Herr Drosselmeyer, trying to seek answers to the thousand of questions that are popping up in my head and I find him already staring at me, a warm smile on his lips—kind of like The Soldier, but this time more . . . worn, as if he endured thousands of years all by himself.
"How?" I ask again, though this time I wasn't referring to his magic tricks anymore.