by Dawn Bush
It wasn't a door like a Hobbit door, cut into the side of a hill.
It wasn't a wardrobe door, like the one that leads to Narnia.
It wasn't a door in the top storey of a mysterious castle, like Bluebeard's: but it wasn't just an ordinary door, either.
It was a door to a cupboard that was set into a wall, and it was made of dark dark wood, darker than any wood anywhere else in the house. It was very old, and ornately carved with flowers and leaves. Emma liked to touch the carved wood, where she could reach. The crevices felt smooth and special, as if they hid a spring that would open the door with all its secrets. It was behind the wardrobe in Mum's room: and the bottom of it started just about where Emma's chin was. She could reach up her hand just far enough to touch the handle. That was dark, too, and it was round and shiny from all the hands that had pulled at it. Several times, Emma had tried to open it; but although the knob would turn, the door wouldn't budge.
Emma longed to unlock it and see what was inside. She knew exactly what the key ought to look like. It would be a big black iron one with twirly-whirly bits on the end, and when no-one was watching she would spy out the places where that key might be hidden. The big wardrobe was in the way, cutting across the corner of the room and covering the dark dark door completely so it couldn’t be seen when you stood in Mum’s room: but Emma could squeeze through the gap into the triangular space behind it. It wasn't very nice behind there. There was fluff and there were spiders' webs, and every time Emma squeezed her slight little figure through the gap, she started to sneeze. Because of this, she didn't try to get behind the wardrobe very often, but her older brother James had told her that it led to where the Christmas Elves lived and worked all year round and where, just before Christmas time, Santa kept his sackful of presents.
When she was very small, Emma believed him without question: but now she was getting to the age where she really wanted to see the Christmas Elves for herself.
When she told James, he shook his head.
"It'll never happen, kid," he said.
James was usually right about things, but this time he couldn’t have been more wrong.
The adventure happened, as adventures always do, when she was least expecting it. She was minding her own business, messing about where she shouldn't have been in the garden shed when she came across it…
A big iron key.
It was black with a big round head. She picked it up. It felt heavy in her hand. Emma turned the key over and over, feeling cold with excitement.
"At last," she thought, "I'm about to solve the mystery of the dark dark door."
Emma wasn't even supposed to go in the garden shed; so she flushed nervously as she crept upstairs with the iron key hidden inside her fleece. Mum was weeding out in the garden; and James was with his friends. All was quiet.
Emma slipped into the room, past the interesting pots on the dressing table, and went over to the wardrobe.
This was the moment of truth.
There was the gap, same as ever behind the wardrobe; but she had reckoned without one thing. It was a long time since she’d done any investigating round the back of the wardrobe, and something had happened to her that happens when you’re not even trying.
She’d grown enough so that she didn’t quite fit through the gap any more. She could see the dark, dark door tantalisingly near. The ornate carved flowers and leaves seemed to dance before her eyes, and she could imagine the feel of them under her fingers. She reached her left arm through the gap like a snake, but it went as far as her shoulder and got caught.
She looked at the large keyhole, and felt the key in her hand. Then she imagined herself as small as Arrietty Borrower, and pushed as hard as she could.
"I did it!" she thought, triumphantly, and immediately burst into a bout of sneezing.
She wiped her itchy nose on the sleeve of her fleece, and took hold of the key in both hands.
Carefully she placed it in the big keyhole and tried to turn it.
It wouldn't budge.
She tried to turn it right. ("Right is the hand you write with," she remembered her teacher saying.)
She tried to turn it left. ("Left is the hand that's left.")
Of course, if you were like Timothy Sutton, who was left handed, you had to learn it the other way round. Emma wondered if she'd turned left-handed suddenly in the middle of the night, so she tried it Timothy's way just in case.
"Left is the hand you write with -" no good. It wouldn't budge.
"-right is the hand that's left." Nope. It didn’t work.
Then she tried to pull the key out to start all over again. Stupid key! Now it wouldn't move. She pulled it, and wiggled it, and pulled it again, but it was completely stuck. Emma's face started to go all hot. She had to get that key out, or there'd be serious trouble.
With all her might, she pulled.
All of a sudden, something gave: and Emma fell backwards, banging her head on the back of the wardrobe. For a moment she sat there, shaken, while little bright stars floated around inside her eyes like specks of dust in a ray of sunlight.The key fell out, and the door swung silently open.
There was light inside; bright blinding light. It confused her for a moment. She got up.
Oh my. There they were.
Right there, right in front of her eyes, were the Christmas Elves, working away, wading through Fairy Dust up to their tiny ankles. They were very small, and very busy, sewing and inventing and testing out toys. One was zipping up and down on a motorised skateboard; another was having a go on a plastic pony: some were trying out computer games, others were getting tangled up in yo-yos and kite strings: but all of them seemed to be completely unaware of her. All, that is, but one of them, who was staring at her with a look of horror on his face.
"What are you doing?" he cried. "This is top secret, Human child!"
"Are you real?" she whispered. She didn't mean to whisper, her voice just did it.
The elf snorted.
"Stupid question. How do you think your stocking got filled last Christmas?"
"I- I don't know," said Emma, doubtfully.
"Well, there you are then," said the elf, as if that settled it.
Emma was gathering her wits.
"If it was you, and if you do my stocking this year -"
"Are you on the Good list?" snapped the elf.
"I don't know," said Emma, thinking guiltily of the iron key that didn't belong to her, "but if I am, and you do my stocking, do you think I could have a little less Fairy Dust on the wrappings? It's lovely, but it just gets everywhere."
"Tell me about it," said the elf, "you should try sweeping it all up after the Christmas rush. I always miss some. Just look at this place, for a start. Fairy dust in every nook and cranny. Look, I'll do a deal with you. You go away and say nothing about finding us, and I'll make sure that you don't get too much Fairy Dust this year."
"Deal," said Emma.
Emma jumped. It was her mum's voice. Quickly, reluctantly, she closed the dark dark door on the elf and his friends and went to squeeze back through the wardrobe gap. Halfway through she got stuck - and Mum came in to the bedroom.
"Emma? What on earth are you doing behind there?"
"Mum - I'm stuck!" yelled Emma, panicking.
Mum got hold of the wardrobe and heaved, and Emma slid out. Her chest hurt, and so did her head. Mum was laughing at her.
"What were you doing?"
"I wanted to see inside the cupboard."
Mum gave her a suspicious look.
"Have you looked in there before? Around Christmas, maybe?"
"I've tried," said Emma, honestly, "but it was always locked. That's why I needed the key." She pointed to the iron key on the floor.
"That looks like the key to the garden shed," said Mum. "This door isn't locked, it's just stiff: and there's nothing to see. Look." She heaved the wardrobe further out and reached behind it, pulling open the dark dark door.
"Don't!" cried Emma, afraid that Mum would see the Elves: but then she stopped short in amazement.
Everything had changed.
The cupboard was no longer full of light. It was so dark inside that she couldn't see the back of it. There was a shelf that was just the right height for Emma's nose to sit on the edge, her eyes on a level with it. Awed, she stood there looking for a moment.
"See?" said Mum. "Empty. Now, no peeking in my cupboards again, OK? "
Emma nodded, satisfied. Of course the cupboard was empty.
All except for a faint trail of Fairy Dust….
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