Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 1: Rustle Meets a Gnome
In a small forest in the north of North America stood a little evergreen tree who was feeling pretty nervous. His name was Rustle, because of his bright green needles that rustled in the summer winds -- but it was winter now, and the loggers were coming to chop him down. He didn't want to be chopped. In fact, he wished he could pull himself free from the half-frozen earth and run away to the other side of the mountain which faced him across the blue-green valley. But he knew that that was just a winter's dream.
He talked to his friends, his voice a whisper on the wind. "I wish I could escape," he said.
"Escape?" echoed Bumpyhead, a gnarled elder to his left. "That's what the persons want, when they put bags on their backs and walk up and down the valley. That's for persons, not trees."
"Escape?" echoed Boughbent, a hoary ancient to his right. "The persons who own this land own everything on it. They have looked after us ever since they bought us, and you haven't objected to that. No, if they want to chop us down now, we have no right to complain."
"Escape?" echoed Threebranch, another young tree to his rear. "They're going to turn us into lumber, and put us who-knows-where! We could become a part of a house, of a chair -- ! We're going to see another part of the world!"
"Escape ?" muttered a voice that wasn't a tree's.
Rustle looked in front of himself and saw nothing.
"Down here," said the voice. It was speaking a language new to him, but trees understand all languages.
Rustle whispered, "I can't look down, not unless the wind picks up and bends me. I'm a tree."
Just then the wind picked up. Or did it? As Rustle felt his trunk bowing forward, tilting his top toward the ground, he noticed that the trees in front of him weren't moving in the slightest. But forward he bent, supple as only a tree can be, until he was looking at a thin and lanky creature about two feet tall. This little person was wearing a long brown pointed cap with the point flopped over to one side, and long brown pointed shoes with the points rolled backward in a wobbly spiral. His red pants were baggy, and the long sleeves of his emerald coat were folded back and held with different-sized brass buttons, as if his clothes were all hand-me-downs. A bag of cracked leather hung low on his stooped shoulder, almost to the ground. Turned up toward Rustle was his face, also seemingly made of old leather, with an expression half hidden in a thick brown beard.
"Who are you?" whispered Rustle in awe.
"I'm Yørgøn. I'm a gnome. Don't I look like a gnome?"
"Well, I've never seen a gnome."
"You've read about gnomes, haven't you?"
"I can't read. I'm a tree."
"But sometimes they grind us up and make us into books!" said Threebranch enthusiastically, wishing he could see past Rustle's branches better.
"Well, take my word for it, I'm a gnome," said the little person snappishly. "And I can help you escape because I've got the magic bell. It'll be as easy as pulling you down to look at me now. Do you want to come?"
"Well, I I guess I do," said Rustle, eyeing the gnome amazedly.
"Nonsense!" snapped Bumpyhead.
"Treason!" crackled Boughbent.
"You'll miss the sawdust parade!" moaned Threebranch.
"Yes, please," whispered Rustle.
So Yørgøn unlaced the flap on his leather bag and thrust knobby fingers inside. They came out clutching what looked like an ordinary silver bell, which sparkled in the midwinter sun. Since Rustle had no experience with putting things inside things, he did not find it strange that the bell was twice the size of the bag it came out of.
"Just stand still!" said Yørgøn, and laughed at his own joke.
The gnome began to ring the bell purposefully at Rustle, and wherever he rang it, a sparkling trail of silver light appeared, which faded to red, which spiraled 'round the little tree and seemed to snag on his branches. Deep shadows fell back from all the surrounding trees, as they prayed for wind to move them and let them see. In the chill solid ground, Rustle suddenly felt something stirring in his roots. It was almost like the stirrings of the springtime, when the sun came back and the new life spread. In the springtime his roots grew a little bit, but not as much as his branches -- and right now, in the wintertime, it seemed to Rustle that the roots were growing faster than he'd ever known. In fact, if they kept going the way they were going -- !
The roots popped right out of the ground!
Rustle rocked, tipped, and nearly fell -- but instinctively, he reached out with one loose root and steadied himself. He looked down at that root in absolute amazement -- and realized he was looking down! Because he was tilting himself forward with his back roots.
Because he could move.
"Are you ready?" asked Yørgøn. "I'm in a big hurry."
"Well sure," whispered Rustle, still staring at his roots. "Sure ."
"Then follow me," said the gnome, and without further ado started off through the wood.
Rustle tilted himself back and looked at his retreating friend. Follow? Rustle tilted himself forward forward 'til he started to topple. At the last minute, he thrust out a root and caught himself. But still leaning forward, he started to fall again -- and caught himself again. And again he did it. Again. Again.
He was walking. (Or more precisely, waddling.)
He was waddling out of his wood.
"Stop!" sighed Bumpyhead.
"Don't go!" moaned Boughbent.
"Come back!" wailed Threebranch.
"Escape!" whispered Rustle. And he left the wood behind.
He waddled up the chilly hill, doing his best to keep up with his new friend, trying to imagine what a gnome was like, trying to imagine what was beyond the nearing horizon. He couldn't, because he was a tree and he'd never been anyplace but that one spot on the hillside, but he was trying. "I'm coming, Yørgøn!" he called out as loudly as he could. "I'm coming, my friend!"
And at that very moment, far to the north, St. Nicholas pushed his tiny glasses back on his forehead and looked around his workshop, at the piles of toys and scurrying elves -- and murmured, "Now where did I put my silver bell??"