Christmas Eve marched towards the hour of Christmas Day like some chocolate covered colossus of a festive metaphoric personification...
('Get that English teacher out of here!' shouts Primrose. 'She's trying to muscle in on the Christmas production with her hoity-toity language and what we want is a load of double enpundres!' There is a slight scuffle from behind the wings, and a muffled shriek which sounds a little like an English teacher being muted by a chocolate orange. Lunacy is restored.)
...and the clock in the hall of the family Stahlbaum began to chime the time to midnight.
'Seven...eight...nine...ten...eleven...' counted Marie, the excitement of Christmas Day growing within her. She waited, holding her breath for the striking of midnight but...
...eventually she ran out of breath and sort of went a bit purple and might have passed out through oxygen deprivation for a few brief seconds and...
...when she came to, she found herself staring up at the clock. And perched upon the top of the clock, holding the pendulum in her ginger, feathery wing, was Mrs Drosselmiggins, her much esteemed and highly talented godmother.
'Why are you holding the pendulum?' said Marie. 'The clock won't strike midnight if you hold the pendulum and if it doesn't strike midnight, then Christmas won't arrive.'
Mrs Drosselmiggins stared down at her goddaughter from the great height of the clock. 'It's like this,' she said. 'I have to stop time to make magic happen.'
Marie thought about this for a moment. 'Like Doctor Who?' she said.
'NOT like Doctor Who,' said Mrs Drosselmiggins, sternly. 'More like a beneficent Christmas fairy. Or angel.' She was feeling quite angelic, perched on high as she was, and also jolly glad she was wearing her triple lined pantaloons with padded coccyx because the apex of the clock was a tad sharper than she had anticipated.
There was a bit of a silence. 'Well?' said Marie, eventually. 'Where's the magic?'
Mrs Drosselmiggins narrowed her eyes at Marie. Really, youngsters these days were so bold. Much bolder than when she was an egg. 'You want some magic?' she said. 'I shall give you magic. Brace yourself, my girl. And you might want to tuck your jim-jam bottoms into your slipper-socks.'
And without further explanation, she raised the pendulum of the clock into the air and waved it like a magic wand.
Glitter trembled through the air and little spots of light began to dance across the hallway floor. It was a parquet floor. It was that kind of a house, in case you were wondering.
And then there came the sound of scrittering and scrattering, of scrabbling and scuttering. And, to Marie's horror, there came from beneath the wooden floor a great wave of mice. Mouse upon mouse upon mices upon meeces. Even some mooses. Tens and then hundreds and then thousands of the things - okay, that might be a slight exaggeration - but there were a lot of mice and one of them shot straight up the leg of Marie's jim-jams because she was a foolish child who did not heed the sage advice of her godmother Drosselmiggins.
'Aaaargh!' shrieked Marie. And then, 'Aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!' because suddenly there appeared before her a mouse much larger than the other mice. A mouse with (wait for it)...seven heads!! That's right! Seven!! All topped with a shiny gold crown. Seven crowns for seven meece heads. Not as catchy as seven brides for seven brothers, but equally as hideous.
'I am the Mouse King!' roared the seven-headed mouse, in stereo or whatever ereo it is that is seven times sound, don't ask me, I never professed to be a scientist. 'And I am here to take over the world...'
He paused as another mouse tugged on his sleeve and whispered in his ear.
'Oh, right,' he said, when the whispering mouse had finished his whisper. (No, not the chocolate kind, although that would have been quite nice). 'Apparently, I am not here to take over the world. World taking over is scheduled for next April, when the weather warms up a bit. No! I am here to commandeer your entire supply of nuts and crackers. And cheese. And bananas, if you have any. For my enormous mouse family. Times are hard,' he added as an after-thought.
'And you have seven mouths to feed,' said Marie, who, having got over the whole mouse-invasion shock, was feeling rather narky that there was a potential theft in the offing.
'That's rather rude,' said the Mouse King.
'But true,' said Marie. 'And I cannot let this happen. I am going to stop you.' And she adopted the stance of a child on the edge.
'Oh yeah?' said the Mouse King. 'You and whose army?'
'This army!' came a shout, and from the shadows marched line upon line of Marie's dolls, all magically come to life, such was the magic of Drosselmiggins' Pendulum (available now at all good hardware and haberdashers.) At their head marched the NutCracker, looking a little daft with his broken jaw held up by a ribbon, but leading the way nonetheless.
'Gosh!' said Marie. 'I never realised I had so many dolls.' And she felt a little embarrassed by the wealth of her playstuff, given so many children over the world had so little.
(But given the gazzillions of mice facing them, she was also a little glad of her massive doll collection, too.)
The Nutcracker held up his arm. 'Charge!' he shouted. And the army of dolls charged.
Well! You've never seen such a thing! Dolls charging and screaming, mice screaming and charging. Such a hullabaloo there had never been heard before in the Stahlbaum house, not even when Louise and Fritz fought over who should sit next to the window on days out in the car.
At first it looked like the mice were winning, but the dolls fought back until it looked like THEY were winning, but then they were overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of MORE mice (who are well known for their rapid and prolific breeding habits) and suddenly a cry went up.
'The NutCracker has been captured!'
'Noooooo!' shouted Marie, who, even though she was a girl, was rather enjoying this fracas. 'I will not have my NutCracker captured!'
'Shall not!' shouted Mrs Drosselmiggins from the top of the clock, as she was a stickler for correct grammar.
But Marie was not at home to the refinements of grammar, not when her beloved NutCracker was in danger. Looking for a suitable weapon, she grabbed her shoe from the shoe stand by the front door, the one with the really pointy toe (the shoe, not the door - keep up, will you?) and she HURLED the shoe at the Mouse King with all the strength capital letters could afford.
'Take that!' she shouted.
Unfortunately, Take That were too busy recording an album to intervene at this point. And such was the force with which Marie hurled the shoe, she passed out and as she fell, she crashed into the dolls' display cabinet, breaking the glass and cutting her arm rather badly.
('Gosh!' says Primrose. 'Do we need to call an ambulance?'
Camilla shakes her head. 'No,' she says. 'All will be well.'
'How?' says Primrose.
'We shall find out in Act 3,' says Camilla.)