Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 19: Home Again
The sound of the bell seemed to go on forever -- and perhaps it did. This time the light didn't blind Rustle, and the sound didn't deafen him, and he saw the time pass by.
He saw generations of trees, cycling through the seasons of the year. He saw saplings spring up from the brown-black wet earth of spring, so green -- he saw their first limbs blossom, and their leaves -- he saw their first growth of summer, the long, lean, lazy days of soaking in the sunshine and scented air -- he saw the leaves turn to yellow and red and brown, and fall, while the trees lived on into autumn -- he saw them drop their seeds as well, to be carried for them by the wind and the small furry creatures -- he saw their rings form as they tightened down their barks to huddle against winter's chill -- he saw the snowstorms of freezing winter nights -- he saw the cold, clear stars in the vast black sky above -- and he saw the trees all together, clustered together, like the stars each one always there for the other ones big ones and little ones, young ones and old
And he saw the trees stand tall through the cold and the darkness 'til the dawn of a new year came, when all the old familiar things would come 'round again, always fresh and new and different --
He saw Chiss, Mymla, Melchior and Regina.
"I'm back!" he whispered in wonder.
"YOU'RE BACK!!!" shouted Mymla, Melchior and Regina.
"I told you he would be!" snapped Chiss.
"Did you save Nick?" asked Mymla.
"Did you catch the Coalman?" demanded Chiss.
"Did you see the Lycian forests?" wondered Melchior.
"Is that why you're twisted like that?" murmured Regina.
"Stop, please!" begged Rustle. "I'm just getting my roots back on the ground!"
So the welcome party fell to chattering excitedly amongst itself while Rustle stopped the world from spinning. When he did, he found himself on a snowy hillside, overlooking the outpost they'd passed through on their way to the glacier, which was glistening gray and white in the distance. He also found that Regina was right: he was still an olive tree. Quickly, he returned to his normal form, feeling himself stretch freely in the fresh, cold air. Then, finally, he told his friends everything he'd seen and done, in detail.
Then he told it all again, because everybody enjoyed it so much.
"You met Nick when he wasn't even Nick!" said Mymla.
"Oh no," said Rustle. "He was Nick, all right. I mean, I don't know the Nick you know, but the way you describe your Nick sounds like the Nick I know."
"And the Coalman's really dead?" asked Chiss.
"He said he was destroying himself so Nick could never recover the knowledge he'd used to destroy Nick's future."
"And the future of so many others -- !" said Regina.
"A world without Nick would seem so empty!" sighed Mymla.
"But wait a minute," said Rustle. "Do you know that Nick exists again? Has anyone been to a town?"
"Not recently -- " said Mymla.
"What if it didn't work? What if something else happened?"
"Relax, Rustle," said Melchior. "Chiss and Mymla were in the town three days ago -- "
" -- and everything was the way it was before!" the water-elf gushed. "All the decorations, the preparations of gifts, the songs, the laughter! He's back, all right -- with the bell -- and it's just as if he'd never left!"
"But I don't understand," protested Rustle. "I was only away for two days."
"Two days to you, perhaps," answered Melchior. "For us, it was one week exactly."
"I don't understand Well, maybe I do," said Rustle. "Time is a funny thing, that's for sure. But now Melchior, I haven't asked you what you're doing here. I thought you never left your forest."
"I don't ordinarily," said the moose. "But I heard persons walking in my forest saying the same sorts of things that you and the elves heard in town. You'd told me you were trying to save this person named Nick, and all of a sudden, he seemed to have been destroyed. So I decided to investigate -- and just then my cousin Regina called to me. I came out to meet her."
"We got off the glacier to await your return," said Mymla. "I couldn't keep Chiss on my shoulders forever."
"And I was very concerned about you," said Regina. "Cousin Melchior and the elves told me how fine and how brave you've been."
"Oh no no no," muttered Rustle, embarrassed. "I'm not any of that."
"They say you are, and I trust them."
"No, no, no I just did what had to be done."
"This is wasting time," interjected Chiss. "Now that he's back, we only have a few days left to get up to the North Pole before Christmas."
Mymla said to Rustle, "Regina's going to call to Nick's reindeer -- have them ask Nick to ring the bell and fly us home."
"Oh," said Rustle. "Oh, that won't -- I mean, you can't -- that is -- "
"What?" snapped Chiss.
"I'm not going to the North Pole," said Rustle.
"What did you say?!! Not going to the North Pole?!! Of course you're going to the North Pole! Nick is waiting for you!!"
"And surely you'll want to see him again," said Mymla.
"I do," said Rustle, bending his bough a little. "But I've had enough of movement. Too much of movement. For a long while."
Chiss started to speak, but Mymla and Regina shushed him. "This is the Spirit in the Bark talking," said Melchior kindly. "Continue, Rustle."
The tree looked from face to face, slowly. "I'm not like all of you -- creatures who move every moment of every day. I sprang up as a sapling rooted to the ground, and everything I was before Yørgøn rang the bell at me was shaped by that ground. What I ate, what I drank, what I looked at, who stood beside me and exactly where they were -- that was my world, and I was happy in it.
"Don't you see? I'm a tree. The feeling of what it means to be a tree has grown in me during these adventures, so that now I realize how much I miss it -- how foolish I was to 'escape' from my woods. I'm happy that I did what I did, happy that I could help Nick, and Chiss and Mymla, and all the persons around the world -- but I'm also happy that it's over.
"I'm going to walk back to my woods, and then I'll never walk again. I want -- I need to settle down and be like any other tree from now on. There's something about this time of year that makes me want to be with my family."
"All right, Rustle. I'm sure we all understand," said Regina, "but there's no need for you to walk home. I can have the reindeer ask Nick to use the bell to fly you there."
"And we'll all go with you," said Mymla. "There's no need to say goodbye just yet."
"All right," answered Rustle.
"I'll call, then," said Regina, and she lifted her horns toward the Northlands
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