Posted on December 3, 2011

It was the night before Christmas; all was quiet, except for the sound of a little mouse. Twinkle wasn’t a pretend mouse, a fluffy mouse, or a cartoon mouse; he was a real live mouse who might chew his way through the skirting board; which he was doing right now.

Before Twinkle left for his nightly foraging, his great-great-great-great grandfather warned again, as he did every year, not to be tempted by the Cake of Mysteries. “It is forbidden to eat from the Cake,” he solemnly told Twinkle and his brothers, sisters and cousins, “if you see the bright lights in a tree, turn away. The Cake is guarded by the vapour snakes of the Spirits of the Fruit. They will grab you by the nose, befuddle your senses, and you will be lost.”

Twinkle paid little heed. `Old mouse tales,’ he said to himself. `Who would believe such nonsense?’

Before he knew it, his nose poked through the skirting. Twinkle sniffed and his nose with its fine whiskers twitched back and forth. He could smell much better than you or I, and the smells were wonderful. He could detect all the odours of the house, from the fresh ironing stacked on the chair, to the detergent used to do the dishes. He could smell young people, old people, flowers, floor wax, perfume, the bathroom disinfectant, but above all, the aromas of the kitchen. This made him chew faster and before he knew it the hole was big enough to squeeze through.

He looked to the right and twitched his nose, and looked to the left and twitched. He did it again; just making sure, just being careful, just keeping an eye sharp, because that is what mice do. He stopped, listened, and was gone.

Crouched in the corner shadow of the floor and wall, he scanned ahead and looked for his next move. He couldn’t smell a cat, but he was wary of other predators, of one of the humans being awake to chase him. ‘They will never catch me,’ he told himself, ‘I am too fast. Faster than Zoom, Flash, Scoot, Wink, Zip, and all my brothers, sisters, and cousins.’ Time to go.

Dashing across the room under the dining table through the forest of chair legs, he was brave. They would never catch him. He looked right and left, and right and left again. His tiny nose crinkled – food smells were stronger, his mouth began to water and the juices in his stomach churned. He was so hungry. Go.

Right before his eyes through the doorway he could see the moonlight dappling the kitchen floor. The aromas of a thousand meals past, and a thousand to come greeted him as he ran. He was headed down the usual route; first to the overhang of the kitchen benches, then to the big, shaking cupboard. He was almost there, when wafting through the air a vapour snake bit his nose, throwing him sideways, and inexplicably he ended up behind the door to the living room. His heart was pounding in his chest. The scent unlike any other became stronger and wrapped itself around him. Inside his nostrils a thousand tiny, volatile balloons of poison were exploding. He snuffled, shook his head and snorted. Were these the Spirits of the Fruit, his grandfathers told him about, who lived in the Cake of Mysteries?

He looked right, left, but the vapour snakes had him by the whiskers and led him fearlessly across open carpet and under a lounge chair. He avoided tripping on a pen top and bottle cap and peeked under the flounce at the room. He blinked repeatedly, blinded by bright flashing colour in the heart of darkness, until his eyes lay upon a wondrous sight. While transfixed for whole seconds, the Spirit’s snakes strengthened their hold and he tasted their essence in the air. He felt giddy and warm, and dashed towards the lights, darted through packages under the tree.

Once assured of ways he might escape, he pointed his nose in the air, seeking out the source of the irresistible scent. Through the vapour snakes he received the knowledge. He saw alongside the tree was a lounge chair, alongside it was a small table, on the small table was . . .

Quickening his step, he scampered onto the chair and gained the bolstered arm, easily. The Cake of Mysteries was close, and the ambrosia hanging thick and moist in the air overpowered him. Without pausing he spanned the gap between chair arm and table. At this point there was no left or right, no deliberation or thinking, better instincts and rationale were gone as the body succumbed, and he ran at it mouth open.

From the first bite the Cake gave over its trove of desiccated secrets; apple, grape, apricot, cherry, orange, nuts and the heavenly body. Flavors spilled across his tongue and into his stomach like the stuff of magic.

A noise woke him – the lights on the tree flashed. He had stuffed himself and fallen asleep. Must hide! `Go,’ he said to himself, but couldn’t move. His legs had gone to jelly and he was so bloated he couldn’t stand up. The coloured lights swirled in his vision. He could still feel every sound of the house, but now there was another one, heavy like silent thunder shaking his bones.

A hairy, red and white giant, a hundred times bigger, he’d swear, than any human he’d ever seen, loomed over him like a mountain. It came close to look at him, and Twinkle saw compared to it, he was no bigger than of one of it’s front teeth. He shivered as a big green eye examined him; laying there, his big fat pink belly exposed, unable to stand, lift his head; pitiful and helpless. He closed his eyes tight and waited for the worst.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Sound waves boomed in his ears.

He opened his eyes to see deep furrows forming in the ruddy flesh over bushy white eyebrows. “You’ve been eating from my cake!” A massive hand like the moon blocked the flashing coloured lights, and in the shadow, a finger the size of a bread loaf poked his stomach. He thought he was going to be sick, but he controlled himself in front of the beast.

“What are you?” he asked boldly, beyond caring, and was surprised when he got an answer he could understand.

“I’m Santa, Twinkle.”

“How you know my name?”

“I know everyone’s name.”

“Where you come from?”

“Humans believe in me. Every year on Christmas Eve they say I deliver presents all over the world.”

“An’ you can talk to mice?” he asked amazed.

“Why not?”

He was silent – what was there to say? His heart was beating a hundred beats per second and he thought it would jump out of his chest, he was panting so fast his throat was raw, and he felt he would drown in the odour of cattle. “Please spare me,” he squeaked.

“Twinkle, you have gorged yourself on my Cake and the Spirits of the Fruit have made you drunk.”

“Forgib me Great San-ta, I could not resis . . . .”

Two huge fingers, which could have squashed him like a pea, picked him up and placed him in a monstrous gloved palm. The room was spinning around him, so he closed his eyes.

“Now you believe in me, things will be different,” Santa’s voice rumbled and Twinkle felt fear echo in his bones. With the words he almost swooned, as the Spirits in Santa’s hot breath passed over his body. He opened his eyes and saw to his horror he had been elevated to level with the giant’s mouth. His big, fat, red nose covered in veins was so close he could have reached out and touched it.

“Because you have eaten from my Cake you will be cast out beyond the garden, into the bush to survive on your own.”

“You’re not going to throw me?” he remembered crying, before he was.

That Christmas Eve was the scariest night of his life. Luckily, he landed in a pile of leaves, and dragging himself under a large sheet of bark, was sick. He vomited up the Cake of Mysteries he had swallowed, and ants and insects came from far and wide lured by the Spirits of the Fruit to feast, and then came spiders and lizards to eat them.

From then on things were different. Life in the bush was hard, but he learned new skills. He was fast, but so were birds, and snakes and lizards. He had to live by his wits.

Years later, when as an old mouse, Twinkle returned to live in a house, he would tell his grandchildren, as he had been told, to be wary and not be tempted by the Cake of Mysteries, “Or you’ll end up believing in Santa like I do!”

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