When santa fell to earth, p.1

When Santa Fell to Earth, page 1

 

When Santa Fell to Earth


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When Santa Fell to Earth


  Praise

  When Santa Fell to Earth

  “Germany’s bestselling children’s author takes a bunch of traditional Christmas ingredients … and tosses them together with fantasy, suspense, humor and lots of derring-do in this delightful tale.”s

  —The Washington Post Book World

  “Cornelia Funke serves up a delightful Christmas story … and wraps a poignant message about modern materialism inside a spirited adventure.”

  —The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

  “A super stocking stuffer.”

  —The Illinois State Journal-Register

  When Santa Fell to Earth

  CORNELIA FUNKE

  Translated by OLIVER G. LATSCH

  Illustrated by PAUL HOWARD

  Contents

  Cover

  Praise

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Niklas Goodfellow Falls to Earth

  The Wrong Street

  The Bet

  A Visitor for Niklas Goodfellow

  The Great Christmas Council Christmas

  Christmas Plans

  Christmas Dreams

  Ben Is Jealous

  The Invisible Reindeer

  Santa’s Workshop

  Little Secrets

  A Silver-Gray Limousine

  Trouble

  Another Crazy Idea

  Yule Land

  Snow

  The Wrong Santa

  The Lost Boots

  No Christmas Spirit

  Santa Claus

  Farewell, Niklas

  Also By Cornelia Funke

  About the Author

  Copyright

  For Rolf

  Niklas Goodfellow Falls to Earth

  On the tenth night of December, a terrible storm was approaching from the north. A thousand lightning bolts skewered the stars, and thunder rolled across the pitch-black sky with a sound like a derailed freight train.

  Niklas Goodfellow, a Santa Claus by trade, didn’t notice any of this. He lay fast asleep inside his caravan, snoring peacefully, while Twinklestar, his reindeer, pulled him through the clouds high above the sleeping world. Lightning licked the ramshackle caravan like a snake’s tongue, but Niklas dreamed of almonds and marzipan, as Santas usually do.

  Twinklestar galloped faster and faster through the black clouds. Still he could not outrun the storm. The rumbling darkness swallowed the stars, and lightning crackled between his hooves.

  Terrified, Twinklestar reared up, broke his reins, and bolted down toward the Earth. Niklas Goodfellow’s reindeerless caravan swayed from side to side like a boat on a churning sea. Then it toppled forward into the swirling clouds. Niklas tumbled out of his bed, hitting his head on the leg of a chair, and rolled helter-skelter under the table.

  “Whoa there!” he shouted. “What’s going on?”

  But by then he and his caravan were already plummeting toward the ground.

  Niklas’s ears roared and his head reeled as if it were going to explode. The wheels of the caravan brushed against some treetops, bumped against a chimney, tore off a few TV antennae, and then landed with a crash in the gutter of a narrow street.

  A flock of carrion crows rose from the branches of a bare lime tree, cawing angrily. A fat gray tomcat nearly fell off a roof. And the people kept awake by the storm thought: What a thunderclap! As though the moon had dropped from the sky.

  Niklas Goodfellow’s caravan rolled a little farther, then it leaned to one side with a groan and stopped.

  Niklas took his hands from his ears and listened. No more roaring and raging, no crashing — only the rumble of thunder. He crawled from beneath the table. “Matilda? Emmanuel? Are you all right?” he called while he felt for his flashlight in the dark. But of course it was no longer where it had been before. Nothing was in its place anymore.

  “Oh dear, oh dear! Oh dear me!” someone twittered. “What happened, Niklas?”

  “If only I knew!” Niklas replied, gently prodding the huge bump on his forehead.

  A match flared in the dark, and a small, plump lady angel fluttered down from the cupboard with a candle in her hand.

  “Gracious me, what a misfortune!” she fussed, fluttering anxiously around Niklas. A second angel peered in shock from the edge of the cupboard. The young Santa was still sitting on his bottom, dumbfounded — in the midst of scattered books and broken crockery.

  “Matilda,” he said, “could you please check on the elves?”

  “Oh, them!” Matilda put the candle on the table. “They’re all right. Can’t you hear them swearing again? Ugh!” There was a commotion in the top drawer of the upturned dresser. Excited voices were shouting over the top of one another.

  “Yes, yes! I’ll let you out,” Matilda shouted back. “But first you must stop swearing. Otherwise I won’t lift a wing, understood?”

  Niklas rose and staggered across the tilted floor, toward the caravan door. Cautiously he peered out into the night. No living thing was to be seen. Yawning, he put on his red coat and climbed down the two rickety steps, almost tripping over a bent street sign that poked out from underneath the caravan. MISTY CLOSE, it said. “Blast!” Niklas shook his head. His caravan was leaning precariously into the gutter, two wheels broken.

  “Look at this!” He sighed. “Aren’t I the lucky one?!” And his reindeer was nowhere to be seen, either. Which was no surprise. All Christmas reindeer are invisible — but greedy, too. Niklas took a few bits of gingerbread from his pocket and held them out hopefully into the darkness.

  “Twinklestar?” he called out quietly, clicking his tongue. “Twinklestar, food! Now come along, you faithless nag.”

  Nothing. No clattering hooves, no bells, no snorts. Just one last roll of thunder. A raindrop landed on Niklas Goodfellow’s nose. Splash. The very next moment it began to pour, and Niklas stumbled wearily back into his caravan, while the rain poured down onto Misty Close so heavily that even the crows sought cover in the bare trees.

  The Wrong Street

  It was cold inside the caravan, so cold that Niklas Goodfellow’s breath hung in the air in white clouds. But Matilda was already firing up the small stove, her wings and her nose black with soot. Emmanuel was busy gathering up the shattered crockery from the floor — tiny plates, cups the size of thimbles, and scattered amongst them the large broken pieces of Niklas’s coffee mug.

  “Misty Close,” he murmured, lifting the top off the window seat and rummaging around inside. “Now where is my street map, for goodness’ sake?”

  The dresser was still shaking with the sounds of tiny thuds and crashes.

  “Matilda, have you still not let those elves out?” asked Niklas.

  “Well, they haven’t stopped swearing yet!” Matilda answered defiantly. “Isn’t that right, Emmanuel?”

  The other angel nodded. He was just as fat as Matilda but his head was bald, with a crest of silver curls around it.

  “Oh come on, let them out,” Niklas said. “Aren’t we in enough trouble without your constant quarreling?”

  Without a word Matilda slammed the stove door shut, fluttered over to the dresser, and tugged open the drawer. Out burst three dozen tiny men wearing red caps. Muttering and cursing, they jumped down onto the floor, clambered up the table legs, and inspected the damage from above.

  “Booger-burps and reindeer poo! What kind of a mess is this?” cried the largest of them. “What happened?”

  “We’ve fallen from the sky again,” said Niklas wearily, and bent to look under his bed, but the map wasn’t there, either.

  “And where have we landed this time?” the elf asked.

  “My dear Rufflebeard, that is exactly what I am trying to find out!” Niklas answered.
But I can’t find the map!”

  “Would it be the official Santa District Map you’re looking for?” Matilda asked.

  “That’s the one.”

  “Well, why didn’t you say so?” With an air of great importance she fluttered up toward a large basket that dangled from the ceiling and pulled the map out from underneath a pile of used ribbons, stale gingerbread men, and candle ends.

  “Thank you.” Niklas spread the map out on the table and leaned over it anxiously. The elves crowded around him and the angels perched on his shoulders.

  “Oh no,” muttered Niklas. “Oh dear!”

  “Smelly goblin farts! For once can’t you just tell us what’s going on?” grumbled Firebeard, a spindly elf with shaggy red hair.

  “Well, that’s rude!” Matilda leaned down from Niklas’s shoulder. “You just mind your language, will you?”

  The elf poked his green tongue out at her.

  “Oh, stop it!” Niklas was still frowning at the map. Emmanuel shifted nervously on his shoulder. “What color is it?”

  All the streets on the map were clearly marked in red, yellow, blue, and brown. Niklas sighed. “Brown.”

  “Oh, steaming reindeer poo!” Rufflebeard shouted, stomping angrily all over the map.

  “Rufflebeard, less of that swearing! That’s no way for a Christmas elf to talk.”

  Niklas bent down, pushed aside a few tattered books, and carefully picked up a small machine.

  “The snow machine,” he mumbled, holding the device to his ear. “Broken as well. Not a sound. And where are the glowworms …?”

  He looked up at the ceiling, where countless luminous spots were flickering in the dark. “Emmanuel, Matilda, could you please try to catch them? And you lot” — he tapped one of the elves on his cap — “will have to help me take off the broken wheels and repair them — tonight, if possible. The quicker we can get away from here, the better.”

  “Ech, yuk!!” In a flash all the elves had vanished underneath Niklas Goodfellow’s quilt. “We’re going to sleep,” one of them croaked. Niklas just shook his head, but Matilda flapped her wings angrily.

  “Well, if those aren’t the laziest, rudest elves ever to be born in Yule Land …” She gasped for breath and nearly fell over.

  “Don’t be too hard on them, my dear.” Niklas yawned while he swept the elves out from underneath his quilt. “After all, they do build the most wonderful toys, don’t they?”

  Cold air rushed in when he opened the caravan door; rain was still pelting down. The two angels, shivering, peered over Niklas Goodfellow’s shoulder. A few of the elves bounced down the steps and started kicking around in the puddles.

  “Not very Christmassy weather!” Emmanuel observed.

  “You could say that again.” Niklas sighed. Then he pulled his hood over his head and set to work with the elves.

  The little fellows were hardly bigger than a coffee mug, but together they were stronger than most humans. Effortlessly they jacked up the caravan on big wooden blocks, unfastened the broken wheels from the axles, and pulled them off. Niklas hardly had to lift a finger. But when the elves had finally dragged the wheels inside the caravan, they were all so cold and drenched that none of them felt like fixing anything. So they hung up their wet clothes next to the stove, slurped some of the hot soup the angels had prepared, and crawled into their beds.

  Soon the only sounds in the caravan were the crackling of the wood in the stove and the drumming of the rain on the roof. Niklas snored into his pillow, and in the big dresser drawer one of the elves swore gently in his sleep.

  The Bet

  It was still dark when the first children came past Niklas Goodfellow’s caravan. Every morning hundreds of them filed through Misty Close, heading for the school at the end of the narrow street. It wasn’t raining anymore, but it had grown frosty overnight. A thin film of ice covered the puddles and crunched under the children’s feet.

  Ben was trudging along the pavement with his friend Will. He had crawled out of bed only half an hour ago, because he lived very close to the school. But as far as Ben was concerned it was still far too early. Why couldn’t school start at a decent hour — ten, for instance? Ben sometimes thought his bad grades might be just because he had to get up so early…. Well, probably not. At least when it came to sports, everyone wanted him on their team, but as soon as a teacher asked him to talk instead of jump or throw, he was lost. He wasn’t any good with words. They slipped from his tongue the moment he wanted to say something. And so Ben mostly stayed silent.

  “Look at that strange trailer,” Will said, stopping in front of the caravan. “That wasn’t here yesterday.” “Nope,” said Ben.

  “Looks like it’s from a building site or something,” Will observed. “Look, it’s missing two wheels.”

  “Too colorful,” said Ben.

  “What do you mean, ‘too colorful’?”

  “Too colorful for a building site.”

  “Maybe it’s from the circus. Or belongs to gypsies.”

  Ben shrugged. He thought the caravan looked strange somehow. Different. But as usual he couldn’t find the right words to explain this to Will.

  A few boys from their class passed by. They were shouting and pushing one another into the wet hedges, but as soon as they saw the trailer, they stopped. Dean, the math genius in Ben’s class, was one of them. Dean was a master of words. And Dean was a real joker — at other people’s expense, of course. That didn’t make him very popular, but even the teachers respected his sharp tongue.

  “Hey, Pea-brain.” Dean shoved Ben with his elbow. “Did you park that heap of junk there? Planning to move out from your parents’?”

  The others laughed.

  Will tried to drag Ben away. But Ben didn’t feel like leaving, and when that happened no one could move him. Especially not his friend Will.

  Ben didn’t like Dean. He didn’t like him at all, and he would have loved to give a smart reply, something that would have made the others laugh at Dean for a change, but he couldn’t think of anything. Of course not. So he just stared angrily at the bully.

  “Uuuuh! Look at him. OK, I give up!” snorted Dean, pretending he was shaking with fear. The others cracked up.

  “You know what I think?” Dean gave Ben a nasty smile. “I bet you’re too chicken to go and knock on that door.”

  There was a tense silence. Will was still pulling Ben’s arm. A woman walked past with a huge dog. The dog sniffed curiously at one of the colorful wheels, then peed on it. Ben looked up at the red door.

  “Come on. I’ll let you copy off me on the next math test,” Dean teased, “if you knock and stay in front of the door until someone opens it. What do you say?”

  That was a tempting bet for someone like Ben, who got massive headaches from just looking at numbers.

  “OK, deal!” he murmured.

  Will let go of his friend’s arm, and the others immediately moved back a few steps to be out of the danger zone. Ben wiped his cold nose with his glove — and ran. He jumped up the caravan steps and knocked on the door. Once. Twice, as cool as possible, while his heart dropped into his boots.

  “Now stay there!” Dean called from a safe distance. The others giggled nervously.

  Ben stayed, for a whole clammy eternity.

  Then suddenly the door sprang open. A tall young man smiled down at him.

  “Yes?” Niklas Goodfellow asked.

  “Morning!” Ben jumped down the steps again and ran off, pulling Will with him.

  The others followed, whooping. Only when they had nearly reached the school gates did Ben slow down. Will was panting heavily, and even Dean was gasping like a beached fish when he finally caught up with them.

  “Jeez, Pea-brain, what’s the hurry?” he puffed. “That guy didn’t exactly look like a cannibal. Or did you see anything else in that caravan?”

  Ben shook his head sullenly. “Nope. What should I have seen?” Then he turned around and marched through the gate, Will
in tow.

  “So … did you see anything in there?” Will asked him in a low voice.

  “No,” Ben replied, avoiding Will’s curious glance. What should he have answered? That he had seen a minuscule man with a red cap peering out of the man’s coat pocket? There were no words to describe that.

  A Visitor for Niklas Goodfellow

  Niklas was sitting at his table sipping coffee, nibbling gingerbread, and mending a hole in his Santa coat. It was already dark outside. A whole day had passed and still only one of the broken wheels was leaning, fully mended, against the wall. The elves were still hammering away on the second one. And they were cursing. Of course.

  “How is it going, Fuzzbeard?” Niklas asked, trying to thread his needle.

  “Not good!” the stoutest of the elves answered. “I think we’re going to hammer our fingers into smithereens on this one.”

  Niklas put down his needle with a sigh and looked at his coat. It was old and threadbare and covered with patches. “Matilda, could you thread this needle for me, please?” he asked. The two angels had been baking gingerbread and spiced biscuits all day.

  “Just a moment!” Matilda wiped the flour from her hands and fluttered over to the table.

  Niklas got up and walked over to the window. The lights of the city colored the night a smeary gray, and it was once again raining, a fine drizzly rain. On the other side of the road stood a small forlorn Christmas tree in front of one of the houses. The electric candles shimmered weakly through the drizzle, when suddenly Niklas saw the boy. He was standing next to a tree, behind a parked car, chewing on his thumbnail, staring at the caravan.

  “Matilda, look!” Niklas said, surprised. “Isn’t that the boy who knocked on our door this morning? What do you think? Should we ask him in?”

  “Oh yes. How nice!” Matilda clapped her hands. “We haven’t had a child visit us in ages.”

 
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