Ah, the prevailing sounds in a home at Christmastime. Amid carols and crackling fires, music, the jingling of bells and laughter of friends, perhaps the happiest sound is that contented delight of a tasty Christmas cookie.
It was the shortest day of the year, December 21st, and the mood was merry as could be. Our home was decorated in the colors of little crystalline plastic lights, shimmering from the snowfall outside. But the cold out there isn't this story's focus--we were all too excited indoors to think about the snowfall.
I was sitting at a table happily munching on a peppermint sugar cookie, humming carols despite my full mouth as my little brother Ronan laughed about how silly i looked, trying to sing with stuffed cheeks. The middle sibling, our sister Panda, just giggled while she gazed up at our tree.
What an amazing tree it was! Not an artificial one, no--a nine-foot tall Douglas fir, with those wonderful pine needles that are soft to touch yet keep that special scent of Christmastime evergreen.
Amid my humming, Panda started to speak. "Okay, we've just about finished our cookie break. We still have ornaments to put on the tree, so let's get to it." She winked at me and said "Because when we're done, we get to uphold that special tradition of ours!"
Ronan's eyes widened and he blushed a little. The youngest sibling among us, he got warmed up to our 'tradition' later than Panda and I had. Yet he was growing to love it greatly, that much was obvious from the smile now sitting on his face. "D-do you really want to? I mean, we've already all had cookies and everything, I--"
"What?" Pamda giggled, "Afraid we'll be too full to play? Don't be silly!"
"I thought the whole point of this WAS to be silly." i said. "It's Christmas! And we only get this time of year once a year, so let's make it bright and special--even if that means silly, too!" I took a swig of milk, finishing off my glass then wiped my face. "C'mon, we've got a tree to trim."
Really, the tree was almost done already. We only needed to add ornaments to one side, then drape the garland around the tree. I snickered at being the tallest, the only one who could really accomplish the task...until Panda decided to one-up me! See, if you didn't already know, Panda can change her size! Actually, all three of us can, but Ro and I usually enjoy shrinking while she grows--sometimes nearly 12 feet tall!
Of course, she decided to show off right now, raising her size to stand above me AND the tree! "Haha, for once you won't be a tree-trimming tyrant, Andrew!" She reached up and looped the sparkling garland around the tree's tip. Ronan looked up in admiration, just finishing up with the last ornament of his--a little gift Panda'd made for him, a Milotic wearing a stocking around its long, snakelike body. It looked so much like Ro's friend, Myla, that it made the perfect decoration.
"Well Panda, looks like you just about wrapped this up, huh?" I couldn't help but laugh at his pun, Panda groaning but smiling at the joke. "Yeah, but you're the one who finished the ornaments while SOMEBODY--" she pointed down at my curly head of hair"--somebody just stopped working!"
"Geez, you two! You kinda booted me from my job, what'd ya expect?" I sat down on the couch, taking a look at our work. The tree just, glowed. Have you ever had a perfect Christmas tree? I may not know what perfection looks like, but I had an idea from looking at that tree.
"Well, we're all done.." Ronan started to say. I blinked and looked up at Panda, who in an instant was back to her normal size. "Yeah, and we know what that means!"
Panda smiled wide, sitting down and crossing her leg as she started. "Aright, then let's make sure we know the rules. The game is Christmas Hide-and-Seek, with the boundaries being this room." She gestured around at our decorated living room. "You two do what you do best--shrink down and spend some time looking for a hiding spot, and i'll come in looking for you in...let's say, 10 minutes." "Sounds good to me," I interjected. "Yeah, that's more than enough time to search as a tiny!" Ronan piped up.
"Ah, ah, ah. Don't get too cocky, Ro! You remember what's at stake," Panda slyly said. "I get to come and look for you. If I don't find you after 10 minutes, you win and I have to make you some more of those cookies! BUT...If I find you, you have to get ME a snack. And neither of you are very good at baking..." Panda licked her lips playfully, primed for our little game. At that, she sat up and started to leave the room. "Well, what are you waiting for?"
It didn't take long for Ronan to find a nice hiding spot. You see, we're both too smart and experienced to just hide behind or next to things. Panda doesn't just look for us; she senses us, listens and sniffs the air for us. I'm not exactly sure how she does it, but it's let her win this game many years over. I haven't had a victory since I was 11 years old. But...this year, I had a good plan; actually, a great one. One i'd been meaning to try for a long time and had finally built up the muscle for.
Meanwhile, Ronan had scrambled up the legs of a table, climbing across to sit next to a cluster of snowglobes. It was a good idea; all of the little shapes of ceramic figures inside the orbs of Christmas decoration would distract Panda on her preying search. I, however, thought i'd found the best spot ever. I began to climb...up the smaller branches of the Christmas Tree! I weaved my way between the needles and lights. While they were soft at my larger size, these pointy green pine needles would hurt at this size. That's why i'd worked on getting stronger, so I could climb up with more ease.
After a few minutes of meticulous movement, I rested next to a snowman ornament. Just then I peeked through the tree branches and saw Panda, already on the prowl. Ten minutes had gone faster than i'd thought! At my six-inch size I saw her sneak around the room, eyes wide as she listened for tiny breaths and looked for tiny bodies.
Ronan's heart beat fast as Panda looked over the snowglobes. In truth, it was just luck that she was there; she was just looking at the decorations themselves. But as she picked one up to shake it, letting the fake snow swirl around inside, she noticed a tiny shoe sticking out from behind one of the globes. "Oh?" she mumbled. She set down the globe and moved the other one over, revealing a very sheepish Ronan!
"Whoa now, looks like I was just lucky this time! Hmmm...you chose a nice hiding place this time, lil' bro!" She smiled then reached down and held him in her soft palm. "With the glasss distorting things, i'm really lucky to have found you!"
"Aww... " Ronan groaned. "Yeah, sure YOU are. But what about me?"
"Oh hush...I gotcha fair and square. So..." Panda smiled again, the slipped her tongue out and licked at Ronan's tiny form. "Mmmh...well then, no need to prolong this! Gotta find Andrew still, too, after all." With that, Panda lifted Ronan into her soft, warm maw, slicking him down as she tilted her head back and GULP! she swallowed Ronan whole.
What? It's not a bad thing I promise. Remember, we've been playing this game for years! Panda's...well, she's more than just a sister to us. She's a dear friend and a protective 'predator,' a strong willed and soft-hearted girl who also happens to have a bit of rumbly-tummy syndrome around tinies like me and Ro. But she's really safe to us, and staying awhile inside her stomach fills her up and gives us a nice, warm place to sleep. It's perfect for keeping warm on a cold winter night.
I was relieved, I guess--relieved she hadn't found me yet! I bet that her time was running low, so I started to climb down a bit. I thought she hadn't noticed, but I saw her start to move towards the tree. I guess you could say I panicked--I edged my way backwards, towards the trunk, further from her eyes and more importantly, her grasp. But my perfectly-timed clumsiness came back again, and my small shoes got caught on a knot in the tiny tree branch.
"Whooaaa1" I started to fall but grasped an ornament--a Dragonair wearing a stocking cap (Panda had made it for me years ago! <3)--and held on tight.
"Okay, okay. I see you, Andrew. C'mon, I don't want you to fall and get hurt, just come on out." I heard the rustling of needles and ornaments with tiny bells jingling, and her strong fingers wrapped around my torso. "Aw c'mon! Seriously?" I grumbled, letting go of my ornament. She pulled me out of the tree, taking me up to her eye level. "You know, you had me going there, Andrew! I couldn't smell you and you were being as quiet as possible. The pine scent...it got in the way, didn't it?"
"That was my PLAN, at least...but it didn't work! Usually it's good to keep moving, keep you on your toes...ah well." I smiled and reached over, bopping my big little sister's nose. "You might as well go ahead, don't wanna keep Ro waiting!"
"Heeeey!" Panda stuck her tongue out, an involuntary reaction to the nose bop. But she used the opportunity to get a quick taste of me. She swears I taste like cinnamon or some spiced apple cider, which I suppose is good for this time of year. "Mmmmh...well, in you go my lovable loser! Cheer up, you'll win again sooner or later. " With that, Panda popped me in between her jaws and shut them tight. Surrounded by her saliva I hugged at her tongue, not quite willing to go down her gullet until I was nice and soaked. It made things easier when her saliva coated me, for both of us; her esophagus took me more naturally and the covering kept me from getting much stickier inside her.
I heard her sighs of enjoyment echo at my taste, letting her tumble my tiny body around in her maw, before she tilted me towards her waiting throat. Hands-first I slid back past her tonsils, into her rosy-red esophagus.
I closed my eyes, defeated but delighted to be surrounded by such warmth and soothing atmosphere. Panda's body is incredibly beautiful, inside and out--and I'm not just boasting that because she's my little sis! It's true, she's an incredible pred, kind and protective but really willing to let her prey play around, too. So I squirmed a little bit as I slid down towards her squishy stomach, her internal muscle opening up for me and delivering me into my safe, special place.
Ronan was almost surprise to see me. He sat, leaning against her stomach tissues, looking at his wristwatch as I tumbled into her tummy. "Hey, you were really close, Andrew!" He scooted onto his knees and leaned over, showing me his watch.
"Oh really," I sighed, wiping some of Panda's stomach juices off of my glasses so I could see better. The electronic display on Ro's wristwatch read "9:43".
"You were timing it? I never thought about doing that...she's the honest one." I poked her belly cave's walls, the slowly-moving mesh of squishy flesh that surrounded her brothers with the embrace of her belly. "I mean, she'd be truthful about the time so I never thought of timing it myself. Ah, so close and yet so far!"
"Indeed!" Ronan chirped up. "And yet, it's still nice...y'know, to be this close, right.?"
I smiled and laid a hand on Ro's shoulder as we both sat in Panda's stomach. "I couldn't agree more, Ronan."
"MMMMMmmmmhhh, and I second the thought!" We laughed as Panda responded, placing her hand over her full tummy. "Ahh, thanks you two. For keeping this up, with me. It's such a nice way to stay cozy inside: holding somebody else in that same warmth."
"Well,two somebodies!" Ronan said. Panda laughed again, which made her diaphragm bounce us a bit in her belly.
"Hey Panda? Thank you, too. And, I know it's early and all, but...Merry Christmas, Sis. And of course to you, too, Ronan."
"Merry Christmas my playful preys, my swallowed siblings." Panda pressed her hand into her stomach, the indented shape finding us inside her.
"Yes, Merry Christmas. And Panda?" Ronan quipped. "Let's have a happy--and hungry--New Year, too"