“Hallo again, children,” said the Queen.

“Hallo,” said the children.

Now that she saw them in the same room, Dora realised that Urizen and the Queen resembled each other. Both of them were very tall, dressed in white, and with long hair hanging down almost to their feet; but there was something else too, almost like a family resemblance between them.

On the other hand, the Queen looked young and beautiful; while Urizen, with his red-rimmed eyes, long fingernails and dirty, tangled hair, looked old and filthy.

“And you, Mr Blake,” said the Queen. “Thank you for your summons, which was most timely.”

“You came to me in a vision,” said Mr Blake. “I always write down or draw the things that come to me in visions. I regard them as more real and important than the things of the everyday world.”

“You are a man of imagination,” said the Queen. “But even amongst men of imagination, not many would have seen me so clearly, or drawn my likeness so firmly.”

Mr Blake bowed modestly.

“But I thought you had to stay on the moon,” said Adam, “except during the daytime, when you had to go to your palace under the earth. That's what Ratatosk told us.”

“He was correct,” said the Queen. “But things have changed. You remember what I told you about my husband Prometheus: how he was fastened to a rock on the moon by Urizen, and the bowel-rope which fastened him grew for twenty-eight days, but on the twenty-eighth day the beetle came to gnaw at it.”

“And there was a prophecy,” said Dora.

“Yes,” confirmed the Queen. “Well remembered. There was a prophecy that on one of the twenty-eighth days, his bonds would be broken and he would be free again. That was what happened last night. The black beetle finally did his work -”

“What!” said Adam. “The black beetle! But he's a baddy, not a goody!”

The Queen smiled. “The black beetle is neither bad nor good,” she said. “He is necessary. My owls are afraid of him, and quite rightly. One day he will destroy their world-tree. I fear him myself, and so does Urizen. There is nothing anyone can do to stop him: it is in his nature to gnaw things, it is in the nature of things that they must be gnawed by him, and it is also in the nature of things to fear his coming. But he is a force for creation as well as destruction. By gnawing at the world-tree's root every night, he forces it to renew itself, which is what keeps it young. And he is the power which pushes the sun through the sky every day. And if he had not come to gnaw at my husband's rope every twenty-eight days, it would have grown so big that it either strangled or suffocated him.”

“So what's happened now?” said Dora.

“Last night,” said the Queen, “when the beetle had gnawed his fill, and the bowel-rope was at its thinnest and most ragged, my husband awoke. He normally half-wakes when the beetle comes, because of the pain; he feels the beetle's jaws tearing at him, and he moans and writhes, but only as it were in a delirium, without ever becoming fully conscious. Last night he opened his eyes and saw everything clearly. Then he began to struggle for his freedom, and finally he managed to break out of the rope and free of the rock.”

“That must have been horrible!” said Dora.

“It wasn't very nice,” agreed the Queen. “It was his own flesh that was binding him, after all. I was urging him on, but I almost lost heart and told him to stop. I watered that slab of rock with my tears, and he watered it with his own blood and sweat. In the end, when he broke free, he walked three or four steps and then collapsed. For a few moments I thought he might be dead. And this was your doing, Urizen!” she added with sudden anger, pointing her moon-tipped wand at him. “You bound him there!”

Dora wondered if the Queen was going to strike Urizen down with some kind of spell, but she merely lowered her arm again after a few moments of silence. As for Urizen, he said nothing. He looked stricken by despair, but he had looked like that all along. He stared at the Queen the way a bankrupt man might stare at an overdue electricity bill – as if he had given up hope already, and one more disaster wasn't going to make much difference.

“All of yesterday I feared for his life,” said the Queen. “I carried him to my palace beneath the earth, and gave him food and drink. Ice-cold water from the well beneath the world-tree, and manna from the deserts of the moon. Tonight he stood up and asked what time of year it was. Then he went roaming out into the world, as he used to in the old days. I went up to the moon, to keep watch, and it seemed to me that the world already looked different. Then I remembered the puzzle that you had shown me, Dora, and I guessed the answer. I also guessed where I might find you and the box: that much was easy, as I had seen the servants of Urizen carry you off. So I closed my eyes and sent my spirit into Urizen's stronghold, and luckily Mr Blake responded to my sending, and summoned me here.”

“You've guessed the answer!” exclaimed Dora.

“What is it?” said Adam.

“Urizen has guessed it too,” said the Queen, “but though it was under my hand, I never recognised my own property until it was far from me again. That's how well Ratatosk has disguised it.”

“Ratatosk!” said Adam.

“Yes. This is another one of his tricks, and I still don't know if the joke is on me or on Urizen. Be that as it may, children, now you shall see what all the fuss has been about.”

She put the box down on the table in front of her, opened the lid, and took out the cards. But she hardly spared them a second glance. Instead, she took hold of the central divider which separated the box into two halves, and pulled it. It lifted upwards, and the floor of the box lifted up with it. Soft blue radiance flooded out – the same radiance which had helped the children when they were lost in the passages under the world-tree.

“Oh,” said Dora, “we've seen that light before! What is it?”

Even Urizen had moved forward a little, and there was a mixture of yearning and greed in his eyes.

“It is hope,” said the Queen. “And this box is mine – the one I lost all those years ago.”

“But – you said it was a pot!” said Dora.

“So I did; and so it was. But when a story has been told as often as mine, some of the details get changed in the telling. It started as a pot, but in time it became a box. What we believe about a thing becomes part of its truth. And in Ratatosk's hands, it became part of the disguise.”

“I knew it was Ratatosk!” said Adam. “You said you put it down for a moment, and then you could never find it again! That's how he works! I knew it must be him!”

“But what did he do it for?” said Dora. “I thought Ratatosk was on our side!”

“Ratatosk is Ratatosk,” replied the Queen. “Like the black beetle, he must work according to his nature, and his nature is to play tricks and set puzzles. And remember that by hiding the box from me, he also hid it from Urizen.”

She put down her wand on the table, and lifted the box again with both hands. As she lifted it, it ceased to be a box and became a pot, a big earthenware pot with a spray of flowers moulded onto it - but there was no precise moment at which the box disappeared and the pot took its place, and even when it was definitely a pot Dora felt that she could still see it as a box, if she made the effort to look at it that way.

“What are you going to do now?” said Adam.

“I am going to ask Mr Blake,” said the Queen. “Mr Blake, what should I do with Urizen?”

Mr Blake cleared his throat, put his hands in his pockets, and looked at Urizen.

“It hardly seems appropriate to ask me,” he remarked. “I am of no particular importance.”

“But you are the one who summoned me here,” said the Queen. “And I think you understand Urizen better than most. So tell me, what should I do with him – in view of all he has done to me, to my husband, to you, and to the rest of humanity?”

Mr Blake rocked backwards and forwards, frowning at Urizen. “Well,” he said angrily, “since you ask my opinion, I shall most certainly give it to you. Since you ask me, madam -” He took a deep breath. For a moment his face was transfigured by fury, and he seemed to be gathering himself for a terrific denunciation. Urizen stood with his eyes fixed mutely on the pot.

But then Mr Blake let his breath go again, in a gusty sigh, and said in a quiet voice, “I think you should give him his heart's desire.”

“You mean I should not imprison him, or take some terrible vengeance on him?”

“No. He is the prince of light. I think you should restore him to himself.”

“Then I think you are a very wise man,” said the Queen, “and I shall do as you say.”

She walked around the table until she reached Urizen, who was watching her with what seemed to be astonishment. When she reached him she held out the pot, and he looked into it. The light from the bottom of the pot shone up into his face, and immediately he was transformed. The dirty, desperate old man with long tangled hair and long twisted fingernails vanished, and a smooth-skinned young man stood in his place, bursting with energy and coruscating with light and colour like a newly-created angel: and Dora felt in her heart that this was what Urizen had really been like all along, but none of them had been able to see it until now, not even Urizen himself.

The young man spread out his arms and gave a single laugh of joy. Then he was gone.


“Where did he go?” said Adam.

“Out into the world, I expect,” replied the Queen. “To make a new start. This is no place for him now. This is a place for greedy old people: people without any hope. “

She went back to the other side of the table again. The pot had turned back into a box. She picked up the central divider and replaced it, then put the cards back in. The help cards were all blank now, except for one: the one which showed a nail or a pin sticking into a wooden floor, with a thread attached to it, and an empty loop on the loose end of the thread. The Queen paused when she came to this one, then packed it away with the rest and closed the box.

“Now, children,” she said, “tonight is Christmas Eve. How would you like to see Father Christmas?”

Dora felt a terrible sense of disappointment. She had been expecting something lovely to happen, now that Prometheus was free again, the Queen back in the world, the box back in the Queen's possession and Urizen rejuvenated.

“No, thank you,” she said. “I've already seen him.”

“Have you?” said the Queen. “How?”

“Well, it was like – it was like a kind of show, that the Urizen Corporation were putting on for some children; but then they used it as a way of tricking me into giving them the box. That was how they got it from me. The show had everything in it: elves and reindeer, dancing snowmen, and Santa Claus all dressed up in red. I really thought I was at the North Pole, and I really liked it, especially the reindeer. But then it all turned out to be a trick. Santa Claus promised that if I gave him the box, then my Dad would be able to come back home,” she said bitterly. “But it was just a trick. He didn't care about me or my Dad. All he wanted was the box. So I'd rather not see Santa Claus again, thank you very much. I don't think I like him any more.”

“People sometimes use good things for bad purposes,” said Mr Blake. “But the good things are still good.”

“I agree with Mr Blake,” said the Queen. “And besides, I am talking about Father Christmas. What you saw was Santa Claus.”

“What's the difference?” said Adam.

“For one thing, Father Christmas doesn't dress in red. He dresses in green.”

“Oh!” said Dora. “Like the one in my box? I mean, like the one in your box?”

“Just like,” said the Queen. “Shall we go up onto the roof and see?”

“But the lift didn't go any higher than this floor,” said Adam.

“I don't think we will need the lift,” replied the Queen with a smile. As she spoke, they found that they were no longer indoors. They were on the roof, in the darkness. It was flat, and enormous, with tall aerials and stumpy air-vents looming in the darkness here and there. The glittering city was spread out below. Dora felt giddy at the sight of it, but not scared. Her fear of heights seemed to have gone.

Above them, the sky was clouded, but the clouds were luminous, suffused with moonlight, driven rapidly from one horizon to the other by the biting cold wind.

“I sense a change in the weather,” said the Queen. “The north wind is blowing. And here is the first snow.”

As she spoke, Dora felt something small and hard stinging against her cheek; and when she looked down at her sleeve she could just make out, in the gloom, that it was speckled with white. Then she had to blink, because more of the speckles were blowing into her eyes. This wasn't the big, soft, feathery snow of the Christmas Experience: it was small and fierce, like tiny pellets or lumps of ice, and the air on which it travelled was bitterly cold.

“It's absolutely freezing!” said Adam, stamping his feet and rubbing his hands together.

Mr Blake turned up the collar of his jacket. “A brisk and nipping air,” he observed. “We shall have skating on the Thames, if this keeps up.”

“Look!” said the Queen. “Here he comes! Look to the North!”

They looked where she was pointing. It was hard to see, because the snow was driving straight into their eyes from that direction; but there was a gigantic figure coming towards them, leaping across the rooftops as if the city buildings were stepping-stones in a river. The figure seemed half human and half animal. Then they saw that it was a man riding on a huge stag. In his right hand he held a burning torch, and by its flapping light they caught glimpses of his green robe, and the wreath of holly and ivy round his head.

“It's the Green Man again!” shouted Adam.

“It is my husband Prometheus,” said the Queen.

“But he can't be Father Christmas,” protested Dora. “He isn't stopping at any of the houses, and he hasn't got any presents with him.”

“He doesn't bring presents,” said the Queen. “Not the kind of present you mean, anyway. This is Father Christmas, or Father Winter as some call him: not Santa Claus. He comes at the darkest time of year, and he brings renewal. That's the reason why people make a festival, and why they give each other gifts.”

The gigantic figure passed them by, and faded into the swirling darkness.

“Brr,” said Dora, “it's freezing. Can we go home now?”

“Very well,” said the Queen. “I shall take you home.”


But she didn't take them to Dora's house.

“Where are we?” said Dora.

It was like her house, but different. There were no lights on, and no curtains on the window. Outside, there had been a heavy fall of snow, but the snow had stopped now and the moon was standing in the clear sky next to a ragged edge of cloud. The moonlight shone on a frozen white garden which was like Dora's garden, but unlike it too. After a moment she realised what was wrong. The front drive was on the wrong side.

In fact, she saw as the looked around, everything in the house seemed to be back to front. The door into the front hall was to her left instead of her right, and the door into the kitchen was to her right instead of her left.

“My house,” said Adam.

It was the empty house next door: the one that was supposed to be haunted.

"Is my Dad still here?" said Dora

“Come on,” said Adam. “Let's go upstairs and see.”

He led the way. The house was a confusing mixture of light and darkness. The curtainless windows made everything feel oddly exposed to the outside world. The moonlight in the garden was almost as plain as day, but colourless, and the snow gleamed whitely beneath its stare.

The major items of furniture were the same as in Dora's house: the table and piano in the front room, the two settees and the wooden chair in the living-room; but the television – she caught a glimpse of it through the living-room door as they went past – was like the old one she remembered from when she was little; there was none of the familiar clutter, her clutter; and the house was freezing. How does he live here? she wondered.

They climbed the stairs, and crossed the landing to the bedroom. It was the wrong way round again: the bed was pushed up against the left-hand wall instead of the right – but also, Dora noticed, it was a double bed, whereas her Dad always slept in a single one; and the dressing-table, opposite the bed, was jumbled with talcum-powder, perfume, makeup, brushes and combs, hairclips and scrunchies, whereas in her house it was bare. But everything was coated with dust.

“There he is,” said Adam.

Her Dad was in the bed. Normally, if she came into his room before he woke, she would find him curled up on his side, with one hand tucked beneath the pillow; but here he lay flat on his back, with his arms stretched out by his sides. He looked a little bit like the Green Man lying at the foot of the world-tree, or like Prometheus fastened to his stone slab on the moon; but he also looked as if he was in hospital, recovering from an operation or waiting for one. A white sheet covered him up to his chin.

And normally, if she came into his room before he woke, she would hear him breathing – perhaps even snoring, but at any rate breathing deeply and rhythmically. And there would be that Dad-smell, warm and slightly frowsty. Here there was no smell, she couldn't hear him breathing, and his chest didn't even seem to be moving.

Suddenly she found herself fighting against panic and tears. “Oh no,” she said, “he isn't – he's not -”

“He isn't dead,” replied the Queen, stepping forward and looking down at him. “No, not dead. But this isn't really him.”

“But it is him!” cried Dora.

“No. Not the whole of him,” said the Queen.

“Then this must be his outer shell,” said Mr Blake.

“Yes,” said the Queen. “His inner self is elsewhere. His spirit. This is his outer shell, as Mr Blake says, which is waiting for the spirit either to return, or to cross over.”

“What do you mean?” said Dora desperately. “What do you mean, it's elsewhere? It can't really cross over, can it? Where is it? Is it – is it still in London? Don't tell me I've come all the way back here, and -”

“He may be trying to find his way back,” said Mr Blake, “since Urizen no longer holds him captive.”

“What's that on his chest?” said Adam.

Beneath the white sheet, on Dora's Dad's chest, was a lump about the size of half an orange.

“Let's see,” said the Queen.

She bent down and pulled back the sheet. Dora screamed. Adam gave a moan of terror, and grabbed Dora's arm. Even Mr Blake uttered an exclamation of surprize. The object on Dora's Dad's chest was a big black beetle.