Praxis glared at the pixies variously sprawling against his garden fence. “Get away!” he yelled, shaking his fist. “Clear off! Leave me alone, you – you- fairies, you!”
The pixies howled with laughter. One of them leaped nimbly onto the fence and proceeded to pirouette like a fairy, to the increased hilarity of the others. Then they took up the chant, “Show us your colour, Praxis! Show us your colour, Praxis!”
Praxis glanced at his hand, the only exposed part of his body. It was already deep red, and as his fury rose, so the colour deepened. He pulled his hood down more firmly over his ears and strode abruptly into his little house in the base of the old oak tree, slamming the door and drawing the curtains. But he couldn't keep out the noise.
He had first noticed his problem when gazing sadly into the woodland pool, moonstruck over the exotic but untouchable beauty of the nymph from the next-door mushroom. As he looked into the water, he became aware that he had turned a delicate shade of blue. On that occasion he'd put it down to the unaccountable shivering which gripped his small frame whenever he spotted the delectable nymph.
But it had happened again when Praxis’ best friend Christle had been appointed chief director of the diamond mines. They’d been working together in the jewel mines for some years, and both of them knew every detail and facet of their profession in diamonds, emeralds, rubies or sapphires. Secretly, Praxis had been hoping to land the job himself, although naturally he’d never admit it. Even as he shook Christle’s hand in fulsome and generous congratulations, Praxis couldn't help but detect a distinct and telling green tinge to his skin, reflected in the diamond studded walls of the mine. Praxis was mortified, and from then on had gone about covered from head to toe in a long, loose robe.
Unfortunately, such strange clothing had served only to draw attention to him, and it wasn’t long before Praxis was the centre of woodland gossip and fascination. No-one had ever seen a colour-changing pixie before, and without the delights of television or other civilised wonders to amuse, he was the source of unending entertainment. He loftily pretended such fuss was beneath him, but much to the delight of his peers, was caught out when he was found to be turning imperial purple. That was when the chants and the jibes had started.
Most of the time, because he was a happy and healthy pixie, Praxis was the usual shade of pink, albeit a little brighter than most other pixies. He didn't mind that, but the jeering and the teasing were getting to him. The more miserable he felt, the more his skin became a dull, dark grey, relieved only by deep red when his misery changed to anger. It was exceedingly uncomfortable when everybody knew exactly what he was feeling because of the colour of his pixie skin. And the stronger his emotions, the deeper the colour. Hence the attempts to rile him by bands of wicked pixies.
It was so unfair. Praxis never knew what other pixies were thinking or feeling, unless they told him. But the whole world could see how he was, just by looking at him. It was all very disturbing, especially when, consumed with jealousy of his brother who was tipped to become the next chancellor at the royal pixie court, Praxis had suddenly erupted into a brilliant and shining yellow. Everybody had spotted that, much to Praxis’ humiliation.
And it seemed everybody knew what to do with their life, except Praxis. There was no unemployment in the woodland glade, and all the pixies seemed perfectly content with their chosen careers, except Praxis. He’d gone off any idea of working in the diamond mines since Christle’s promotion, and now the Royal Court was out. Anyway, he began to think no-one would want him, except as a jester. Who would want to employ a pixie who wore his heart so very obviously on his skin?
Praxis wondered whether, if he tried very hard to think and feel something different, he would be able to control his colour. He decided to experiment with his thoughts. The very next time he felt sad, he sang a happy song and marched around the woodland glade with a smile on his face. It felt a little fixed – like glue – but it seemed to work. To his delight, the blue colour began to fade, and was gradually replaced by pink. Praxis was so genuinely happy about his achievement, that the pink grew brighter and brighter until he glowed in the dark.
Praxis started to work hard at controlling his colour. He learned to change pink to red by pretending to be angry. He learned to change green to pink, by pretending he didn’t mind at all what exciting possessions other pixies had. He learned to change yellow to blue by pretending he wasn’t really jealous, only sad.
Slowly, he began to succeed. When he was confident he could control his feelings, Praxis threw off his all-enveloping robe, donned again his pixie suit and pixie boots and ventured back into the throng of pixie life.
It was difficult. It required enormous effort to close his pointed ears to the insults hurled in his direction, and even more effort not to rise when treated as an object of unrestricted mirth. But he restrained his fists and suppressed his pride, so that in time, even though other pixies could see his colour, now they saw only the colour Praxis allowed them to see. And mostly he was able to control his emotions to such an extent, that his colours were usually pale.
For a while, it was fun. Praxis hadn’t realised the huge enjoyment to be gained by dissembling. But before long, the novelty palled, and he soon discovered he wasn't happy. Gone were the carefree days of pixiehood, replaced by the constant need to concentrate on concealment in order to survive to his satisfaction. And he became aware that as time went on, he had to work harder and harder at controlling his colour. For some inexplicable reason he felt sad much more often, and it was tough trying to hide all that blue. The same thing happened with the red. He discovered he was feeling angry more frequently, and it wasn’t easy hiding his anger. And when he felt jealous or envious, the depth of his feelings was so great that the colour could be very vivid and dismayingly obvious. Praxis became increasingly isolated, terrified of being seen as he really was.
Clearly, under such circumstances there was only one thing to do. Praxis repaired to the bar of the Toad and Stool to obliterate his emotions. He was feeling very pink after several thimblefuls of fir beer chased down by fine acorn brandy, when the nymph from next door slipped quietly and unexpectedly into the seat beside him. She tugged gently at his sleeve.
Praxis wondered whether it was his birthday as the nymph gazed at him and tossed her pretty head, surely inviting him to follow. Then he wondered whether he was dreaming, through the mind-numbing delights of inebriation. Whatever it was, his eyes grew large and round and his colour slowly changed to the deep crimson of desire. When the nymph danced out of the bar he staggered after her, oblivious of the stifled pixie giggles in the background.
She led him a winding caper through the woodland, until he was unsure quite where he was. He kept stretching out to touch the nymph, but somehow, however much he tried she remained elusive, just out of reach. He was aware that his brain was a trifle fuddled, but her presence was enough to keep his concentration finely honed. Unfortunately her presence also served to prevent him noticing anything else at all, and so he remained unaware of the muffled whispers and smothered laughs in the undergrowth all around them.
Eventually the nymph arrived at the rocky outcrop overhanging the woodland pond. At last Praxis could catch up with her. But as he reached out to touch her slender arm, she gave a frightened cry and toppled from his sight into the pool below.
Praxis was horrified. His heart lurched. He hadn’t meant to hurt her; he hadn’t meant to cause her to fall. He hesitated only a moment, then stripped off his pixie clothes and plunged into the pool. The icy coldness shocked him into sobriety as he cast about under the water, searching for the nymph amongst the tangle of weeds. She was nowhere to be found. When he was unable to hold his breath any longer, Praxis surfaced, dread in his heart. As he did so he heard shrieks of raucous laughter issuing from the bank. The pool was surrounded by pixies in varying degrees of uncontrollable hilarity. Chief amongst them was the nymph, sat triumphantly high on the shoulders of the worst of the pixie ringleaders.
For a moment Praxis felt suffocated with humiliation, stripped in every sense of the word. Then powerful emotions shot through him, one after the other. He made no attempt to hide them, for there was no longer any point. Let them all see him as he really was, a pixie loser. With each emotion another splash of colour hit his unclothed body, until he was riot of rainbow colours. But as the colours reached their height, so they blended into a brilliant, translucent white, radiating in all directions, and Praxis the loser was transformed.
There was a abrupt intake of breath and a deep hush from collected pixies on the bank, who suddenly realised with a shock that they were in the presence of an unsuspected and special kind of greatness. And as he looked at himself with wonder, Praxis knew that never again would he need to pretend. He walked tall as he strode from the pond, and he never looked back.