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Approx. 13,000 words Ages 7 - 10

Mike Anderson PO Box 35 Jacksonville, IL 62651 217-473-5889 mike@dulcimerguy.com

A CHRISTMAS RIDDLE by Mike Anderson


A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 1 …………….. Pg. 3 Chapter 2 …………….. Pg. 6 Chapter 3 ……………. Pg. 9 Chapter 4 ……………. Pg. 13 Chapter 5 ……………. Pg. 16 Chapter 6 ……………. Pg. 18 Chapter 7 ……………. Pg. 23 Chapter 8 ……………. Pg. 28 Chapter 9 ……………. Pg. 34 Chapter 10 …………… Pg. 39 Chapter 11 …………… Pg. 44 Chapter 12 …………… Pg. 46 Chapter 13 …………… Pg. 52 Chapter 14 …………… Pg. 55 Chapter 15 …………… Pg. 58 Chapter 16 …………… Pg. 63 Chapter 17……………. Pg. 66 Chapter 18…………….. Pg. 68

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CHAPTER 1

Henry Ricke sat quietly in the third seat of the last row in Mrs. Zehr’s classroom. For several minutes he hadn’t heard a thing she had said. He sat reading and rereading the note that Andy had passed to him. Glancing out the window, one of the good things about sitting in the last row, and Andy watched the snowfall. Mrs. Zehr talked on and on about Christmas in England two hundred years ago. Right now Henry really didn’t care, Christmas next week was much more important. The final bell rang. Wishing her class a good holiday, Mrs. Zehr gave everyone a candy cane. The last day of school before Christmas was finally over! Henry and his best friend Tom charged out of Stark Elementary School and headed for home. Tom talked excitedly about the holidays as they crunched down the sidewalk. “What are you going to do over the vacation? I’m going to go to my grandpa and grandma’s house in Toledo. They always have a lot of snow, and I get to play outside all the time. I usually catch a 3


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cold, but my grandpa says that’s just part of growing up.” Tom noticed that he had been talking to himself because, when he looked at Henry, he knew Henry hadn’t heard a thing that he had said. “Hey, what’s with you? You asleep or something?” He pulled on his glove and began to snap his winter coat shut. “What do you think about Santa Claus?” Henry asked. “What’s that got to do with anything?” said Tom. “He’s one of the good guys, if you know what I mean. Sometimes he mixes up presents, or just forgets something, but he must be real old. My grandpa’s pretty old and he forgets stuff all the time.” “But is he real or fake?” insisted Henry. “Oh, he’s real all right, come on up to Toledo if you don’t believe me. My parents won’t care.” “I know your grandpa is real! I’m talking about Santa Claus. Do you realize that if he isn’t real everyone has had a big laugh on us for a long time?” Henry kicked at the snow, sending a blur of white flakes floating in the chilly breeze. Henry pulled his stocking cap down over his ears. Tom looked at his friend. He had seen this kind of thing before. Tom himself wasn’t sure about Santa; the whole story was a bit unbelievable. But then again, so were lasers, cell phones, and walking on the moon. Tom’s dad thought that the moon landing was something dreamed up in a movie studio somewhere.

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Santa wasn’t easy to believe in, but why couldn’t people just accept some things without proof? It wasn’t like believing in Santa Claus could hurt you or anything. “I don’t know, Henry, maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. I don’t worry about it. There must be something to him, otherwise, why would so many people talk about him?” Henry threw a glance at Tom. “Andy told me Santa was a lie. His big brother told him, and he’s in high school.” He pulled his hat down over his ears and looked at Tom, “Andy’s a pretty smart guy.” “Andy couldn’t think his way out if a lunch sack!” Tom laughed. “What do you care what he says anyway? Or his big brother?” Tom started up the snow-covered sidewalk to his house. “See you in a week.” He reached down and scooped up a snowball. “Just make up your own mind about Santa Claus, don’t listen to any one else...even me.” Henry walked on home where he knew his mother was waiting to go Christmas shopping. Somehow, he didn’t feel in the mood. “Ho, ho, ho,” he grumbled. At least school was out for a couple of days.

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CHAPTER 2

Henry followed his mother through the stores while his mother bought gifts. She hummed her way through crowds of people and didn’t pay any attention to the fact that Henry was in a particularly sour mood. It wasn’t until they got to the center of the mall that she found out. They paused in front of the overly decorated little house where a long line of kids and parents were waiting to see Santa Claus. Henry shook his head. “O.K., Henry, I won’t make you. I just thought that you might want to let him know what you want for Christmas this year.” Henry’s mother looked at her son as they walked through the busy parking lot to their car. “Last year you couldn’t wait to talk to Santa.” Henry waited sullenly as his mother unlocked the car door. He climbed in and sat stiffly in his seat.

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The ride home was quiet. Henry looked out the windows at the twinkling lights on the stores and houses.

“I just don’t believe that stuff about Santa anymore,” Henry said when they got home. “When we were out today, I saw at least ten different Santas. Some were tall and fat, some were short and fat, one was a lady, and one kept complaining about the cold. “Henry,” his mother began, “those Santas were fake ones. They help us keep the happiness and magic of Christmas in mind while the real Santa is busy getting ready for his trip around the world.” That was the kind of answer he would expect from an adult. “THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!” There was a silence then. He didn’t feel any better for have said it right out loud. A sad look came over his mother’s face and she opened her mouth to say something. He stomped up the stairs and slammed the door to his room. Henry knew he had done two things he was never supposed to do: yell at his mother and slam doors in anger. He didn’t care. He was mad at everyone who had led him to believe that Santa and all those other things were true. He was mad at himself for having fallen for it so easily. He knew he wasn’t that stupid. Henry laid face down on his bed. Henry’s mother was trying hard to understand her son chose to ignore his rule breaking for the time being. She went into the kitchen and began to wrap presents. She was soon humming Christmas carols along with the radio and singing when she knew the words. She had just wrapped the last gift, and was 7


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about to carry them to the tree, when she heard a soft knock at the door.

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CHAPTER 3

At first she wasn’t sure that she had heard anything at all; but as she took another step, she heard it again; a soft “tap, tap, tap” on the back door. “Just a minute!” she called. She hurried into the living room and set the packages beneath the Christmas tree. The knocking came again as she walked back into the kitchen. “I’m coming!” she called again. She peeked out the curtain but no one seemed to be outside. Opening the door she first looked out and then down. “Oh, my...” she gasped as she stared at the short, squat little man on the doorstep. “Yes? May I help you?” “Hello, Mrs. Ricke, my name is Hugo. Santa Claus sent me to pick up Henry.” His voice was low and gruff and had a tone of urgency to it. Henry’s mother was speechless. Hugo looked just like

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an elf should. He was about three feet tall with a thick bristly beard that almost reached to his chest. His clothes were old-fashioned and green. He had on boots with fur coming out the top and small spectacles that seemed to be sliding off the end of his nose. He stomped his furry boots on the ground and said, “May I come in?” “Uh...yes, please do,” she said, recovering a bit from her surprise, “What can I do for you?” Closing the door behind him, the little man followed Mrs. Ricke into the kitchen, “I’ve come for Henry,” he repeated, “I’m supposed to take him back to The Pole for a day. I’ll have him back tomorrow.” Again a blank look crossed her face, “Why?” “It’s a long story, Mrs. Ricke. It seems a lot of kids this year believe that Santa Claus is dead or, even worse, never existed in the first place. Santa felt that he should invite some of kids who don’t believe up to The Pole to give him a chance to prove that he’s real.” Suddenly Ms. Ricke became suspicious, “But how do I know that you’re really a messenger from Santa Claus and not just some fruitcake dressed up in an elf costume?” Hugo gave a weary sigh and wondered why people never believed. This was exactly why they were in trouble. “Look outside, Mrs. Ricke.” Henry’s mother opened the back door and stepped out onto the driveway. For the second time in ten minutes she was speechless. There in the backyard was a small sleigh with two

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beautiful, brown reindeer hitched to it. Their harnesses were covered with jingle bells that glittered in the moonlight. They pawed at the snow and nibbled at the grass they uncovered. “Can. can they fly?” “Of course they can, they’d never be able to pull a sleigh on the ground all the way from The Pole. Take too long, be too slow.” Hugo impatiently pushed his glasses up his nose. “Now, can I please have Henry so I can get going? I’ve got a lot of kids to pick up and a long way to travel.” “Well, I guess so...” Hugo followed her back into the house. Mrs. Ricke walked to the foot of the stairs and yelled, “Henry! Henry, come down here, please!” Her voice traveled up the stairs and through Henry’s closed door. Henry got up and came down the stairs slowly. He’d cried himself into a deep, restless sleep. Her voice brought him to the edge of being awake. “Aw, Mom, do I have to go to school?” muttered Henry. “I feel kind of sick.” “Henry, this is Hugo. You are supposed to go with him.” “O.K., Mom. I’m still tired.” Henry yawned; he still wasn’t awake and definitely not thinking clearly. “Come on, Henry. Get your coat and let’s go, I’ve been here too long now as it is.” Henry got his coat and numbly followed Hugo out to the little sleigh. Once he was aboard, Hugo wrapped a warm

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blanket around him and climbed into the driver’s seat. Henry immediately went back to sleep. Hugo looked at his passenger and smiled, kids looked so harmless when they were asleep. He glanced at Mrs. Ricke and lightly flicked the reins. The deer sprang lightly into the night air. Henry’s mother waved as they circled the house and sped away towards the west. She watched until she could no longer see the twinkle of moonlight on the bells.

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CHAPTER 4

Hugo picked up five more kids, some asleep and some not, before he turned the sleigh back towards the North Pole. His mood had continued to get worse and his face was as red from being mad as it was from being cold. His badly misshapen glasses kept sliding down his nose. A girl who didn’t trust Hugo and his Santa Claus story had knocked them off. Hugo stepped on them himself while searching blindly in the snow. Most of the kids were asleep by the time the sleigh was skimming through the crisp air over Canada. Those that weren’t were too scared to make any noise. Hugo was glad to be going home. He was tired of people who didn’t believe in either him or Santa Claus. The more he thought about it, the sadder he became. He couldn’t help but think that Christmas just wasn’t the same anymore. No one got as happy or excited as he remembered. People were in too much of a hurry to enjoy the holidays. Hugo shook his head and sighed as he pushed his 13


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glasses back up his nose. He lightly flicked the reins, “Come on, Comet; come on, Prancer, let’s go home.” The reindeer surged ahead as a falling star fell off to the east.

Several hundred miles later he guided the sleigh onto the lane that ran in front of a large house. A man waved from the door and walked to where the reindeer stood impatiently pawing the snow-packed path. He rubbed their noses and murmured something softly to them that Henry wasn’t able to hear. The reindeer raised their heads and stood proudly in their traces at the words. The man wasn’t a tall person, but he was stocky. He was wearing a thick flannel shirt, jeans, and a stocking cap that said “Ho, Ho, Ho” on it in bright yellow letters. He looked like the pictures that Henry had seen of Minnesota lumberjacks. He left the deer and walked back to the sleigh. “How was your trip?” he asked cheerfully. “I see you got everyone. Did you have any problems?” “Problems?” Hugo exploded. “Why, I picked up problems wherever I went. If I had my way I would have...” “That’s why you don’t have your way!” the man interrupted with a chuckle. “Why don’t you go in and have a nice warm cup of hot chocolate and try to relax.” Hugo took off his glasses and waved them in the air. “But my glasses, these kids...” Hugo shrugged and muttered into the house.

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The children watched him all the way and then turned and looked at the fellow in front of them. “Now then, how is everyone? Welcome to The Pole.” He looked at each of the tired, surprised kids in the sleigh. “Won’t you come inside and have something warm to drink? Maybe I can even scare up a cookie or two.” The boys and girls climbed down from the sleigh and started to follow him towards the house. “Oh,” he stopped suddenly and turned around, “we’ll have to go somewhere else so Hugo can calm down a bit. He’s rather excitable, you know.” He winked and herded them to another building farther down the lane.

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CHAPTER 5

Hugo pushed open the big door that led into the Main House. It slammed behind him as he put on his glasses and glanced quickly around the room. It was a friendly room. A room where he felt immediately comfortable. The cheerful surroundings, the smiles, and the words of welcome from the people in the room made him feel better. The anger seemed to melt inside him. “Well?” asked one on the elves, raising his eyebrows. “I got ‘em,” Hugo said with a wave of his hand, “for all the good it’s going to do.” He sat down on a stool and leaned on the table. “I think this is the silliest idea he’s ever come up with. We’ve never had to invite kids up here before, why start now?” He snorted. “And those kids to boot.”

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Hugo looked around the room at the elves he had worked with for many years. Then he took off his glasses and began bending them back into shape. “Maybe you’re right,” said the elf, “but Santa is right about one thing: something has to be done. Bringing the kids up here and showing them around is the best idea we’ve come up with so far. You know what will happen if the tree goes out. Look what happened to Zeus.” “Yeah, I know. The magic disappears, and we lose our jobs. But we’re not even sure that these kids, or anything else for that matter, can make the tree stronger.” He paused. “What if the tree is just old? Things do get old, you know. Maybe it’s just time.” Hugo put his glasses on; they were still a little crooked, but they stayed firmly on his nose. “Well, I guess that will have to do.” “Maybe you’re right,” said the elf, “but I hope you’re not. I’m willing to take a chance that Santa has figured out the problem.” He got up and walked towards the door, “I’m going to go take a look at them, and I’ve never seen a kid close up before.” “Watch out,” grinned Hugo, “they attack glasses!” Hugo sat for a long time enjoying the warmth of the chocolate and the conversation of his friends. Finally, he set his cup down and said, “I’m going to take a look at that tree. Maybe the old fellow is right.” He walked out the door and into the dimly lit, snowy world outside.

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\

CHAPTER 6

As they walked, one boy whispered to Henry, “This is a trick, isn’t it? That’s not really Santa, he’s not dressed the way he should be.” “No one said he was,” Henry whispered back. “He sure looks like he could be, and this place looks like it could be the North Pole.” Henry was awake now, and a little scared. He had slept through most of the trip and didn’t remember anything until they were somewhere over Nome, Alaska. Half awake, he had glanced over the side of the sleigh and discovered he could see only snow and rooftops in the moonlight. That was when he woke up! “Look at that building,” the boy whispered, “Only someone who wanted to really make you believe there was a Santa would make a building like that.” 18


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“Why do you think he’s Santa Claus?” Henry whispered as he walked. “I told my dad that I didn’t believe in him anymore, and he got really upset. I think this might be one of his tricks.” Henry looked at the boy and thought about his mom, then glanced at the building as they approached it. It was red with jet-black shutters. It looked perfect, even the snow seemed to be in exactly the right places. There was smoke cheerfully curling from the chimney and bright lights shining through the frosty windows. There seemed to be a lot of activity near the building as elves hurried up and down the lane. Most carried things and a couple were leading Hugo’s sleigh and two reindeer back towards the barn. “I wonder where they got all these little people to be the elves?” the boy whispered, “Maybe they used short kids and lots of makeup.” Henry didn’t reply. He didn’t know what to trust anymore: his eyes, this man who might be Santa, the boy (whose name was Chad), or the things that he had believed when he yelled at his mom. The kids were ushered into the building and showed where to put their coats and boots. The inside looked more real than the outside had looked. There were piles of toys along the walls and a large evergreen tree in the center of the room. The tree was decorated with ornaments, cookies, and toys hanging from its limbs. Popcorn chains were laced around and around. It seemed to glow softly, but Henry

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noticed it had no lights on it. The tree was probably the prettiest tree he had ever seen. Chad whispered, “This must have cost our parents a fortune!” Henry looked at Chad and turned to face the man who was scurrying around getting chairs and arranging them in a half circle around the woodstove. “Now I’ll make us some hot chocolate. You kids find a seat and start to warm a bit,” he smiled at Henry and left the room. Henry and Chad sat down. The other four kids, three girls and a boy, did the same. “What’s going on? Where are we?” asked the boy. “Do you kids believe in Santa Claus?” asked Chad. One of the girls made a face and said, “I don’t. I haven’t believed in him since I was six. He’s baby stuff.” The other kids nodded their heads in agreement. Chad looked at Henry with an “I told you so”. “We think our parents sent us here to make us believe in Santa Claus. Kind of like camp, except in the winter,” said Chad. “Yeah, I’ll bet you’re right! Santa Camp. That explains why this place is so perfect. This is like a Christmas Disneyland, and all these people are just actors. Just like all the fake Santas in the stores!” the girl smiled.

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“And most of them aren’t very good,” added Henry. The kids sat in silence. Henry noticed Hugo’s face looking in the window and then disappear.

The would-be Santa returned to the room carrying a tray loaded with cups of hot chocolate and some cookies. He passed them around and pulled up a chair in front of them. “Now, I supposed you’re all wondering what’s going on,” he said in a serious tone. Henry noticed that there seemed to be a twinkle in his eye. His eyes were excited even though his voice was not. “I’ll bet he’s going to tell us he’s really Santa and all that stuff,” whispered Chad. “Yeah, you’re right,” the other boy whispered back. “No, I’m not, Chad,” Santa said. “I’m not going to tell you who I am. You’re going to tell me!” Chad was startled to hear his name, “How’d you know my name?” he asked. “You forget who I am.” “You mean if I tell you that you’re Santa Claus, I can go home?” interrupted a chubby girl from the corner. “I’d tell him anything to go home,” whispered Chad, “I’d even tell him he was the Easter Bunny or Batman if I could go home.” “There’s a catch, Traci,” said Santa to the girl.

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“I knew it wouldn’t be that easy,” whispered Henry. “Before you leave, you have to give me a chance to show you my home. I don’t get many visitors, what with the snow and the fact that I live so far away.” Slapping his knee and standing up, he said, “Let’s go outside!” “This guy sure is a good actor,” whispered Traci. “I’ll bet he even grew that beard special.” Henry looked at Santa’s beard as he put on his coat and gloves.

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CHAPTER 7

“I’ll bet if there was a Santa, this guy would be him,” Henry said to Chad and Traci as he and the other children began to walk down the lane. “I mean, look.... He’s not even trying to be a nice guy, he just is! He’s the best looking fake Santa I’ve ever seen!” Chad and Traci just looked at each other. “You’re not falling for all of this are you? Sure, he looks real, he supposed to! Our parents hired the best to make us believe in Santa Claus,” Traci sneered at Henry. “They sure got their money’s worth, this place is great!” said Chad.

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The children followed Santa. He turned left onto a lane that went through the center of most of the buildings that made up The Pole. They walked almost to the end of the lane and came to a building that was obviously for the reindeer. It had stalls and doors that opened at the top or the bottom or both. The deer were standing or walking around a large area next to the barn. Henry noticed that the deer all held their heads high as if they were something special or really proud of themselves. His cat always held her head high when she caught a mouse. “Aren’t those deer beautiful?” said Traci. “Yeah, I wonder where they got them?” replied Chad. “Oh, probably at the zoo. I bet one of the elves is really a zookeeper,” said Henry, wondering if the reindeer could fly. “Yes, Henry, they can,” said Santa. “Do you want to see?” Henry nodded, he was afraid to even think about how Santa had known what he was thinking. “Up, Dancer! Up, Blitzen!” Santa shouted towards the deer. Two deer that had been standing at the water trough sprang lightly into the air. They circled about ten feet above the kids’ heads, gliding gracefully through the air. “Down now, Blitzen and Dancer, let’s not show off,” said Santa. Dancer and Blitzen returned to the trough as easily as they had left it. “Holy cow!” shouted Chad.

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“They’re reindeer, not cows,” said Santa, his eyes dancing with magic. Chad blushed and all the kids laughed at the joke. Chad smiled for the first time since he had gotten there. Everyone seemed to get happier then, as if the joke was a signal to have fun. The kids were laughing and talking now, pointing things out to each other and asking a million and one questions. “Can we pet them?” asked Traci. “I’ve always wanted to pet a reindeer, ever since I was a little girl!” Without a word from anyone, one of the reindeer walked to the fence near Traci. Santa nodded, “This is Comet, one of the deer that brought you here. I don’t think he would mind being petted.” Traci gingerly reached out her hand and rubbed Comet’s nose. “He’s bigger than I thought he’d be. How tall is he?” Everyone had gathered around the proud animal to rub its nose and feel its thick, shaggy fur. “About six feet at the shoulder, nine to the top of its antlers. Come on, I’ll show you where they live most of the time.” As they walked, Henry asked, “If the reindeer wanted to get away, couldn’t they just fly over the fence?” “You bet,” said Santa, “a fence really isn’t much good for keeping them from running away. We put it up to show the deer where we would like them to stay. It by no means guarantees they won’t leave.” “Then why don’t they?” asked Chad.

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“Well, I guess they like it here. Where else can they get good food, a warm stall to live in, and their noses scratched?” He smiled at Traci, who smiled back. “Speaking of a warm stall, this is where the reindeer live.” Santa held the door as the children entered the barn. The barn smelled of fresh hay and oats. Several elves were brushing the coats of the deer that were in their stalls. “This looks like the inside of my Uncle Mike’s barn,” said one of the girls, “except this is a lot bigger. How many reindeer live here?” “Twenty-four,” said Santa. “I thought you had eight tiny reindeer like the poem says,” Chad pointed out. “These reindeer aren’t tiny, and twenty-four is a lot more than eight.” “You shouldn’t believe everything that you read, especially notes in school.” He looked at Henry who looked at the ground quickly. “Sometimes writers change things to make them more interesting. Mr. Moore wrote a beautiful poem, but he wasn’t exactly right about the `tiny reindeer’, but there were eight of them.” “If you only use eight, why do you have so many extra?” asked the boy standing next to Henry. “We use all of them, not just eight. Goodness, if the same reindeer had to pull a sleigh all Christmas Eve night, they would be exhausted. We use three teams and three sleighs on the trip. The elves drive them to different parts of the world. When I get there, we switch sleighs. That’s how I carry so many gifts, too.”

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“That makes sense,” said the boy. “I’ve always wondered about that. Why do people say you carry all the toys in one bag if you don’t?” Santa smiled, “Like I said, I don’t get many visitors, so I don’t get a chance to tell anybody. Anyway, people used to believe in as much magic at Christmas time as they could find.” Henry glanced around the barn. It had a comfortable feel to it. It felt like it was used all the time to keep reindeer not just every now and then. The reindeer were relaxed here, too, like this really was their home. Then he wondered why Andy Grueling wasn’t here with him. Santa turned and led them out the door.

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CHAPTER 8

Henry fell behind as the boys and girls followed Santa to the next building. He was having a hard time figuring out what he had seen. Two things in particular didn’t make sense to him. The first was when he had looked over the side of the sleigh and had seen what looked like a town far below him. He also remembered that two reindeer had pulled the sleigh. The other thing he couldn’t explain was how Blitzen and Dancer had flown back in the barnyard. He had looked closely, but the deer had not been machines, and he hadn’t seen any wires. “Maybe those were the only two reindeer that could fly!” he thought. He dropped farther back from the group until he was able to slip behind an evergreen tree. He waited until the kids had turned a corner as Santa pointed out something by the lane. Henry ran back to the barnyard as quickly as he could.

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Breathing hard, he ran to the fence and leaned on it. The reindeer raised their heads and seemed to be studying him carefully. “Hey, can you deer understand me?” he yelled. “I want to find out if all of you can really fly.” The reindeer continued to stare at him, as if they were indeed listening. “Fly, reindeer, fly!” he commanded. Nothing happened. He yelled it again and got the same results. “Just as I thought. It was a trick. You can’t really fly.” He turned to walk away. He was a little disappointed, but at least he knew that he had been right about Santa Claus. He took several steps away from the fence and then stopped and turned to face the reindeer once again. Comet had walked over to the fence and was looking at him with big, sad brown eyes. Henry walked to him and rubbed his nose. “I wish you really could fly, Comet. I’d like to see you go up.” Comet jerked his head and leaped into the air away from Henry. He flew around the fenced in area, watching Henry the entire way. Henry tried to remember exactly what Santa had said when he commanded Blitzen and Dancer. “Down now, Comet,” hollered Henry. Comet made one last circle and landed easily next to Henry. Shocked, Henry stared at him and then looked at the rest of the deer. “Up, all of you!” he whispered. The deer all sprang into the air, confused as to where they were supposed to go, but eager to follow orders. They just sort of milled around in the air over the barn. Henry

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became afraid that they would hurt themselves, so he gave the down command. The reindeer all settled back to what they were doing. Henry stood quietly for a moment then turned to walk back to the group. He noticed Hugo come around the side of the barn. “Why aren’t you with the rest of the kids? Have you been bothering the reindeer?” he asked. “I got lost, the last place I saw everyone was here, so I came back. Do you know where they are?” Henry stammered. He wasn’t very good at lying, and he knew it. “They’re up the lane a bit. Santa stopped to show them the snowy owl that lives up there. If you hurry you can probably catch up with them and still have a chance to see the owl.” “Thanks,” shouted Henry as he quickly ran to the place where Santa and the kids were. As he ran he remembered that Santa had not told them why they were here, Traci had interrupted him before he had had a chance. He hurried to get close to Santa. Maybe if he had a chance, he could ask.

Santa led the kids into another very large barn. The children stopped in amazement at what they saw. Parked carefully in the barn were six sleighs. Three large ones, a couple of medium-sized ones, and a small, fancy one. Each sleigh was painted bright red and had been polished to a high gloss. The large sleighs were up on blocks so that the elves could stand beneath them.

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“What are those elves doing?” asked Traci, pointing at an elf under the sleigh. “They’re rubbing a special wax onto the runners of the sleigh. The wax makes the sleigh slide through the snow a little easier. The reindeer will take any help they can when it comes to pulling a heavy sleigh,” said Santa. “The big sleighs are the ones we use on Christmas Eve. The other ones are used to run errands, like when Hugo came to pick you all up yesterday.” Henry saw his chance, “Why did Hugo pick us up yesterday?” Chad interrupted before Santa answered, “Can we climb onto the big sleigh? Can we, please?” “Sure,” said Santa. He looked at Henry but didn’t say anything. Henry was sure that he had heard him. Anyone who seemed to be able to read minds surely could use their ears. Instead, Santa busied himself helping everyone onto the sleighs. Henry sat in the front seat with Chad. Chad was pretending that he was driving a team of reindeer in the Old West and being chased by Jesse James. “You hold them off until I get across the bridge,” Chad shouted, “then I’ll help you pick ‘em off one by one!” Henry looked at Chad in disbelief, “Chad, what are you doing? We’re at the North Pole with some guy who just might be Santa Claus, and you’re playing cowboys!”

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Chad looked at Henry and said, “O.K., you drive across the river, and I’ll hold ‘em off, pardner.” Chad loaded his finger gun to get ready for action. When Chad turned around to shoot Jesse James, he saw Santa. Chad blushed for the second time. “Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away.” Everybody laughed. “Don’t be embarrassed, you’re here to have a good time. Ever since you were a little boy you’ve been great at pretending, don’t stop just because you are getting older. This old world can use people who can dream and pretend, without them nothing new would ever be invented.” “Yeah, my mom says I always have as much fun with the boxes and wrapping paper as I do with my new toys.” Chad grinned. “These sleds are great!” “Who takes care of the sleighs, Santa?” asked the girl sitting next to Traci. Santa smiled and his eyes twinkled, “A team of elves take care of them, Sherry, the same elves that drive the sleighs to meet me on Christmas Eve. They are the only ones the reindeer will allow to drive them, except me, of course. The reindeer won’t obey just anyone, you know.” “Like Hugo?” asked Sherry. Santa nodded as Hugo walked into the barn. He walked up to Santa and looked at the kids, pausing to look longer at Henry than the rest.

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“So this is where you’re hiding them, we were wondering,” said Hugo. “You and your glasses look much better,” said Santa. “How are things back at the house?” “A little better,” said Hugo. “It’s getting a little brighter. I must say I’m surprised, I didn’t think it was possible.” Hugo looked at the kids. “Now, how about getting them out of here so I can get some work done? I’m supposed to tell you they have some food for you and your guests back at the main house.” Santa winked at the kids and said, “Are you sure we couldn’t stay here and help you?” “Help! Why, if I had my way...” sputtered Hugo. With that Santa hurried the kids out the door, grinning all the way. “Hugo is very picky about the sleighs. He gets even more so as Christmas approaches. He won’t even let me help! But I can always count on him to have them ready to go for the big trip. Come on, let’s go get something to eat before I show you the shop.”

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CHAPTER 9

They wound their way back to the building near where Hugo had landed the sleigh. “This is the main house,” explained Santa. “It’s the gathering place for the elves when they aren’t working, or when they are taking a break. Usually there are a lot of people here, but as we get closer and closer to Christmas, we tend to take fewer and fewer breaks. It seems no matter how hard we work throughout the year, we’re behind when Christmas comes.” “Why don’t you hang your coats and take off your boots in the cloak room,” said Santa, “I’ll find us a place to sit and see what they’ve fixed us to eat.” Santa disappeared around a corner leaving the kids alone. “Well, what do you think?” asked Chad. “Is he real or not?”

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Henry hung up his hat and began to unbutton his coat. “There are a lot of things that I can’t explain around here if he isn’t Santa Claus. If he is Santa Claus, then they are easy to explain,” answered Henry. “You’re not making sense now,” laughed Traci, “Boy, that Hugo sure is a grouch, isn’t he? I don’t think he likes kids very much.” Sherry looked up from the floor where she was trying to take off her left boot. “If this whole thing was fake, wouldn’t everyone be super nice? Nobody would be grouchy, especially around us. If they are behind schedule here and Santa made Hugo leave his work to go get us, then he should be a little upset that we’re here. He’s probably going to lose more time when he takes us home.” Sherry pulled her boot off. “I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I think he is Santa Claus. Even if he isn’t, I’m going to believe he is.” With that she stood up and walked into the main room. Henry, Chad, and Traci watched her go. “I wish I could be that sure,” said Henry. “Don’t give in now, Henry,” said Traci. “We both know that Santa Claus is just kids’ stuff.” “Maybe you know that,” said Chad, “but he’s got me wondering. Come on, let’s go get something to eat, I’m starving!” “I wonder what they eat up here. Eskimo Pies?” laughed Henry. “Probably snow cones,” returned Chad, “or polar bear burgers!”

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Laughing, the three children joined the rest of the group at a large table near the corner of the room. There weren’t many people sitting around, but the ones that were seemed very curious about the children. One by one the elves would come over to the table to ask Santa a question just to get a closer look. Finally Santa asked the kids if they would mind being introduced. “Most of the elves have never seen children before, they’ve just heard stories. They spend all of their time here at The Pole. We don’t take many vacations.” Santa stood up and announced, “May I have your attention, please? I would like to take this opportunity to introduce our visitors to you. On the end over there is Steve Ank from Seattle, Washington. He’s eight years old and has two brothers and a sister.” Steve stood up and looked embarrassed. “Next to him is Sherry Clems. She’s nine years old and lives with her sister and mother in Jacksonville, Illinois.” Sherry stood up and flashed a beautiful smile. All the elves smiled back warmly. “Beside her is nine and a half year old Traci Chin from Laurel, Maryland. She has a brand new baby brother and a cat named T.L.” Traci refused to stand until Chad nudged her in the ribs. Shooting him a nasty look, she got to her feet. “The fellow with the elbow is Chad Turner. Stand up, Chad.” Chad blushed a deep red as he got to his feet. “Chad is seven years old and lives in Felton, California. He doesn’t have any brothers or sisters, 36


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but he has a pet squirrel named Nutso living in the tree behind his house,” Everybody laughed, and Santa winked at Chad. Chad looked at Santa in total disbelief. He had just named the squirrel Nutso an hour or so before Hugo had picked him up. He hadn’t told anyone. Henry had to reach up and pull Chad down into his seat again. Santa skipped Henry and said, “Next to me is Samantha Sturey. She just turned ten and lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Samantha is a very good artist and has painted several pictures. The St. Martinsville Parish Library in Breaux Bridge framed them and hung them on the wall for everyone to see.” The elves applauded. Samantha thanked them and sat down. “I saved this next person for last because he may be the most important member of the group.” Santa paused. Chad looked at Henry, and Henry shrugged an I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about look back. “This is Henry Ricke. Henry is ten years old, almost eleven.” There was mumbling among the elves and they looked at Henry with great interest. “Henry is from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He lives there with his mother. She’s one of the best cookie bakers I’ve ever run across.” Henry smiled. He had known that his mother’s cookies were good, but not that good. He couldn’t wait to get home to tell her what Santa Claus had said. “Why am I more important than the other kids?” asked Henry. “Is it because my mother makes good cookies?”

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Santa laughed, “No, it’s because you’re the oldest, but enough of that. My fellow Pole-dwellers, I present to you the children of America!” The elves applauded and returned to whatever they had been doing. Most of them looked at the clock and hurried out the door and back to work.

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CHAPTER 10

Soon Santa and the children were the only ones left in the room. The cook, an elf himself, had just brought them a half a pie without the pan. Steve had looked at it suspiciously and asked what it was. “It’s a pastie, Steve. I learned to make them one year when I went to Europe,” said the cook. “A pastie is a meat and vegetable pie. Try it, I’ll bet you’ll be surprised how good it tastes.” Henry picked up his fork and said, “I’ll try it. I’m so hungry I could eat a polar bear!” With that he took a large mouthful, chewed, and swallowed. All the other kids watched. Henry smiled a big smile and pronounced, “It’s great! You sure are a good cook!” The cook beamed.

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“Thanks, I’d never cooked for kids before. I was worried you might not like them.” “They’re great,” said Samantha, “may I have the recipe? Maybe my mom can make them.” The cook grinned and hurried into the kitchen to write it down.

When the meal was over, Santa led them to a circle of chairs near a wood stove. “Please, make yourself comfortable.” Santa waited as the kids settled into their chairs. “Let’s sit for a while and relax. You’ve had a pretty busy day so far. Also, maybe I can answer any questions you might still have. Our time is growing short. Now, what do you want to know?” Henry noticed that the twinkle in Santa’s eye was dimmer than it had been all day. Instead of chattering, everyone sat quietly, even Chad who always seemed to have something to say. It was an uncomfortable silence. It reminded Henry of the quiet while his mother decided if she was going to ground him for disobeying. Henry remembered that Santa had told the elves that he was the oldest. Maybe that meant that he was supposed to be the leader. He knew that he had never been a very good leader. Whenever he was a captain, his team always told him what to do. He couldn’t seem to make quick, correct decisions. But, being the oldest, he felt he had to do something.

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Gathering up all his courage, Henry broke the silence by asking, “How do the reindeer fly? I didn’t see any wires, and everyone knows that reindeer can’t fly.” Samantha almost leaped out of her chair, “Didn’t you see them fly? What’s the matter, did you have your eyes closed?” “I don’t believe my eyes, Samantha. I watch movies where spaceships fly and monsters eat buildings. They can make anything happen, and look real, too,” replied Henry. “They weren’t fake deer. They were eating and drinking and everything. I scratched Comet’s nose. He was real!” said Samantha. Santa smiled, “I can tell you, but you probably won’t like the answer. “They can fly because of the magic that is in them.” “Magic is fake stuff,” said Traci. “I had a teacher once who said anything you don’t understand is magic. A bird flying is magic until you know how its muscles and wings work. How do the reindeer really fly?” “They fly because of the magic, that’s all I know. You’re at an age, Traci, when you want everything explained scientifically. Not everything follows the rules of science here at The Pole. Magic, pure unexplained magic, does exist up here. Your teacher was right, I don’t understand it, and I just accept it.” Santa leaned forward in his chair and gave a weak smile. “Up here you have to believe that your eyes are telling the truth. We do not use wires, mirrors, or cameras to make unbelievable things happen.”

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Chad brightened, “You hypnotized us! That way you could tell us that the reindeer were flying and we’d believe you. I saw a man on TV get hypnotized. He thought he was a dog. He acted like one, too!” “You weren’t hypnotized either,” replied Santa. “If we had hypnotized you, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?” Chad nodded and looked at Henry. There was another silence. Henry looked at Samantha and asked, “Do you think the reindeer were flying?” Santa leaned back in his chair and smiled. Samantha thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I do think they were flying.” “What would your friends say if you told them you saw reindeer flying?” asked Henry. “They would probably tell me that I was nuts, and that I had watched too many Christmas specials,” laughed Samantha, then she frowned, “and they might be right.” Henry was quiet for a moment. “Can the magic make anything else fly up here?” He paused. “Can you fly?” “No, Henry, I can’t and neither can the elves, only the reindeer, but I think you’re on the right track.” Henry slumped into his chair, “Wonderful,” he mumbled to Chad, “now it’s a riddle.” Steve asked, “Are we really at the North Pole? If you’re Santa Claus, you live at the North Pole.”

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“No, this isn’t the North Pole. The North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. We are very far north though, northern Canada to be exact.” “Are the elves short people or what?” asked Sherry. “The elves are elves, that’s as tall as they ever will be. They have been called many things throughout the years: gnomes, leprechauns, and dwarves. At one time or another they have lived in almost all parts of the Earth.” “Why do they live here now?” asked Steve. “Because the magic is here now. The magic has disappeared in the places where they used to live. This is one of the last places where they can live.” “There’s that magic again,” said Traci, throwing up her hands. “Is everything magic up here?” “The magic effects almost everything that stays here in some way,” smiled Santa. “Even us?” Chad’s eyes got bigger. “There is magic in every living thing, some of you might even be able to talk to the reindeer. If you stayed here long enough your magic would show itself.” Santa looked at Henry. “Wow, maybe I could fly, or become invisible!” dreamed Chad. “Maybe,” laughed Santa.

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CHAPTER 11

The kids charged out of the Main House and onto the lane. The food and rest had given them more energy than they could keep bottled up inside of themselves. Henry watched as Chad scrambled ahead, trying to hurry everyone along. He scooped up a handful of snow and tossed it at Henry. He must drive his mother nuts, thought Henry as he brushed the snow off his coat. Samantha and Traci were walking beside Santa, holding his hands while Steve and Sherry held theirs. Henry hung back, trying to collect his thoughts. Unlike the rest of the kids, Henry was not smiling or laughing. He was thinking harder than he had thought in a long time. He had never really been

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good at riddles and usually didn’t even try to figure them out. But this one seemed important, and no one else seemed to be trying. As he looked around everything he saw looked real. He knew they couldn’t be. There were too many things that couldn’t be explained. For instance, if they really were in northern Canada, there would be very little sunlight during the month of December. He had learned that in science class last year. But the sky had been light ever since they had arrived and seemed to be getting brighter. Scientifically, that was impossible. But, then again, so were flying reindeer.

Henry quickened his pace and was soon beside Santa. “If I asked you why it was light outside during December instead of dark, would you tell me it was because of the magic and nothing else?” Santa smiled and nodded his head, “I’m afraid so, Henry. If I had a better answer, I’d be happy to give it to you, but I don’t.” Chad stopped and looked at Santa, “It seems that everything up here happens because of that magic stuff.” All the kids nodded. Henry stopped and stood still in the snow, the rest continued on down the path. They were almost to the toy factory before Henry started moving again.

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CHAPTER 12

The building was huge and noisy. There were hard-working elves standing or sitting next to long tables covered with wheels, doll hair, hammers, nails, glue, wood, plastic, and just about everything else that went into making toys. Near the walls were large carts that were nearly filled with different kinds of toys. When a cart was full, an elf would push it into another part of the building and replace it with an empty one. “This obviously is a workshop, if you would like to wander around by yourselves, you may. But remember, we are behind schedule and everyone is a little cranky right now. In other words: Don’t bother the elves if they don’t act like they want to be bothered.”

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“Oh, boy!” exclaimed Chad, “I’ve always dreamed of being able to run around Santa’s workshop! Come on, Steve, let’s go!” Chad was off like a shot, dragging Steve along with him.

Santa sat down on a bench near the door and watched as the kids wandered away. One of the elves came and sat down next to him. “You look tired,” said Hast, the foreman of the workshop. “I am a little,” said Santa, “but I think it’s worth it. The sky is brighter, have you noticed?” “Is it? I’ve been in here all day. Everyone is giving a tremendous effort to finish the toys. This could be our best year ever. Hope it’s not the last.” Hast looked around the room. “Have you told them about the magic yet?” “We’ve talked about what it does, but not where it comes from. Telling them wouldn’t be as powerful as letting them figure it out on their own. I think Henry just about has it. I know he’s trying harder than the rest to understand.” “I thought you were crazy when you said you were bringing kids up here. I knew you were when I found out that one was almost eleven. But now...maybe you were right.” “I hope so. These are sharp kids; I know they are all thinking about what they’ve seen. I think they will make a good, intelligent decision. If it’s the wrong one for us, maybe it’s because our time is

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over. Everything gets old, one kind of magic is traded for another.” Santa sighed. “At least we can say we tried.” Hast nodded and started to stand up, “Come on, old man. Let’s find your guests and see what they are up to. I think one of them went this way.” Hast pulled Santa to his feet and together they walked towards the worktables.

Samantha had wandered past the toy car bench and had stopped at the doll bench. The elves had been polite and had smiled back when she had smiled at them. None of them had spoken to her and, remembering what Santa had said, she had not spoken to them. She watched as the elves carefully and quickly put eyes and hair on the dolls. She had laughed when one of the elves had put the head facing one way and the arms and feet facing the other way. When the elf had looked at her, she noticed that his eyes were twinkling with laughter. “Oops,” he chuckled, “I think I’ve been working too long!” He laid the doll aside and started to work on another one. “Aren’t you going to fix it?” asked Samantha. “You can’t leave it like that. It’s backwards!” “I’m sure that someone will find that little backwards doll very special on Christmas morning,” said the elf. “It will probably mean more than one that was made the right way.” “If you say so,” shrugged Samantha. She walked slowly off looking at everything as she went. Soon she came to a bench where several elves were painting very small animals. Once again the elves 48


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smiled, but they didn’t say anything. Samantha watched with interest as one elf painted little bird after little bird. She watched cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, and other birds almost come to life under the skillful brush strokes of the elf. He looked up from a wood duck and smiled at her “Aren’t you the girl who paints?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” blushed Samantha, “but I’m not as good as you are. Where did you learn to paint like that? They almost look real!” “I’ve had a lot of practice, and I like what I’m painting.” The elf finished the wood duck and picked up the gray form of a cardinal. “I used to paint rainbows, you know. That’s where I learned how to make the colors come alive.” “I like painting rainbows, too. I have a hard time getting the colors close together without touching. Sometimes the curve isn’t very good either.” “I painted real rainbows, but I got replaced. Sun and water make rainbows now.” He looked at Samantha to see if she understood. “Would you like to paint a bird?” Samantha’s eyes lit up, “Wow! Could I?” “Sure, why not? Have a seat and I’ll get you a brush and paint pot. By the way, my name is Wesl. You’re...” “Samantha Sturey. It’s nice to meet you, Wesl.” “Well, you have a seat and I’ll be right back.” Wesl returned with a tray of paints and a tiny brush. “Here you go, make this cardinal come alive with color.”

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“I’ll try. But I’m not sure I know exactly how a cardinal looks. I know it’s mostly red, but...” Wesl waved his hand, as if he were trying to wave away her doubts. “Paint what you see in your mind. Trust in your magic. I don’t think you will be disappointed.” He smiled. “Now, you’ve got your work, and I’ve got mine. We had better get busy before Hast comes to hurry us along!” Samantha set to the task of painting the cardinal from memory. Wesl would glance over her way every so often and offer suggestions about how to hold the brush or how to blend the colors together. Samantha was glad for his advice. How often do you get a chance to learn from someone who’s painted real rainbows? Soon she finished the cardinal. Wesl said that it was good and put it into the finished pile with his. Soon she was working on a blackcapped chickadee. She had painted several birds and was just laying a goldfinch aside to dry when Santa and Hast came walking by. Wesl looked up and smiled at Hast, “She’s pretty good. You know, I think we ought to keep her. She’d make a good elf! Kind of tall though.” Wesl smiled broadly. “Wow, could I? That would be great!” “It’s possible, Samantha. I’ll talk to your folks about it for next year. However, now we need to gather up the rest of the bunch and leave these poor, hard-working elves alone.”

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He winked at Wesl and Hast, Samantha grinned. Samantha followed Santa away from the workbench, then stopped and turned to face Wesl. “Thank you for letting me paint. I’ll think of you every time I see a rainbow!” Wesl looked up from an eagle, “That would be the best gift I could ever receive.” He watched as she turned and walked away. Then he bent to the task of painting the eagle.

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CHAPTER 13

Henry and Traci walked towards the carts that lined the walls of the workshop. They were filled with more toys than Henry had ever seen in one place. “Wow, look at all this stuff!” exclaimed Henry picking up a bright red train from a cart. “I wonder why you never see toys like these in the stores?” He looked closely at the train. “This train is really put together, it looks like it could last a long time.” “I got one of those for Christmas about six years ago,” said Traci. “I gave it to my cousin last year, he likes it a lot.” Henry looked at the bottom of the train, “I don’t see anything here that tells me which toy company made it. Most toys have that printed on the bottom somewhere.”

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“If these elves really made it, then there is no company. I don’t think Santa Claus is a company. I’m not sure if the one I gave my cousin said who made it or not. I didn’t read much back then. I think I’ll give him a call and have him check the bottom of that train.” They walked along in silence, looking at the toys. Occasionally Henry would pick one up and look to see who made it. He was never able to find a name. “I’m really confused about this place, Traci. There are too many things that don’t make sense. Like these toys, where did they get so many toys without a brand name on them? If the toys were made here, where did they get the metal and plastic and stuff?” Henry looked across the room. “Everyone here is putting things together, but where do the parts come from?” Traci shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. If you ask him he will tell you it’s because of the magic.” She was quiet for a moment. “Yesterday I didn’t believe in magic, now I’m not so sure. If magic is something you don’t understand; then he’s right, this place is full of magic.” Henry looked thoughtful. “Maybe we need to find out more about what makes the magic and forget about what the magic makes.” “You’re not making sense again, Henry. Come on. Let’s see more of this place. You know, I’m going to be sad when it’s time for us to go home. Whether it’s real or not, The Pole is a great place to visit.” Henry nodded. He glanced across the room and saw Chad and Steve sitting on life-sized rocking horses. Chad was turned around in 53


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the saddle, shooting at something with his finger. Henry poked Traci and pointed at Chad. “He’s probably still trying to catch Jesse James and Billy the Kid.” Traci laughed, “I hope his finger isn’t loaded!”

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CHAPTER 14

The air was colder than Henry had remembered when they had gone into the workshop. It also was brighter than it had been. Henry bundled his coat around himself and pulled his hat down over his ears. Samantha seemed to be having a harder time than the rest of them adapting to the sudden chill. Henry walked up beside her and used his body to block a little of the wind. “It’s never been this cold back home in Louisiana. I’ve only seen snow one other time in my life, and that was when I visited my grandparents in Iowa,” shivered Samantha. “Really? We get snow every winter. What’s Christmas like without snow?” 55


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“Probably just like Christmas with snow, except we don’t ask for sleds.” They both chuckled and hurried after the group.

“I’m going to take you back to the Tree House and fill you up with another warm drink before you head home. It’s getting towards evening and the night air is chilly,” Santa said over his shoulder. “Oh, boy, a tree house!” said Chad. “I’ve got one of those in my backyard!” “How can night be coming when the sky is getting brighter?” asked Henry. “You said the magic kept it from being dark all the time, but why does it get even brighter when it should be getting darker?” “The brightness of the sky has nothing to do with the time of day. You would find that anywhere near the North and South Poles. Here, the light is our way knowing the magic is still working. If the sky ever gets dark, then the magic will be gone,” replied Santa. “But the stronger the magic, the brighter the sky.” “Then the magic has been getting stronger all day, hasn’t it?” asked Steve. “That’s right, Steve,” said Santa. Henry noticed that his eyes were twinkling again. “Santa, what makes the magic?” asked Henry. He noticed the sky became a little brighter the moment he had started speaking.

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“A very good question, Henry. One that I hope you will be able to answer very soon.” Santa opened the door to a bright red house with black shutters. “Hey, this isn’t a tree house!” said Chad. “This is the first building we went into. The one with...” Chad paused, suddenly realizing what he was about to say, “the Christmas tree in it. I was wondering how you were going to have a tree house, I haven’t seen a tree all day!” Everyone laughed and Chad blushed.

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CHAPTER 15

The children all stopped and stared as soon as they got inside the door. The tree that had been pretty before was now beautiful. The ornaments glittered from light that seemed to come from within the tree. This was not the soft glow that Henry remembered. “Does the tree get brighter as the day gets later? It’s a lot brighter than it was this morning,” said Sherry. “No, it’s brighter because the magic is stronger, just like the sky. Come, everyone takes off your coats and has a seat by the stove. I’ll get us some hot chocolate, and then we’ll try to answer Henry’s question.” Santa scurried away and returned carrying a tray. Traci and Samantha helped him pass out the cups, and they were soon seated around the wood stove. “Your visit here is about to end. I

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saw Hugo heading down to the barn to hitch up a team. I’ve really enjoyed having you all here.” Santa smiled warmly at each of them. “You haven’t answered my question yet, Santa,” insisted Henry, as the tree got brighter. “If the magic makes everything happen, what makes the magic happen?” “Let’s see if you can figure it out, Henry.” “I’ve been trying to figure it out all day! I don’t know what makes all this happen, it just does!” Santa smiled, “Let’s look at the clues, Henry. Things have changed since you and the others arrived.” “Yeah, I didn’t want to be here, and now I don’t want to go home,” said Traci. Chad and Steve nodded their heads in agreement. “The sky and the tree have gotten a lot brighter,” said Samantha, “But that’s because the magic has gotten stronger, right?” Santa nodded. “So, whatever got stronger today is what made the tree get brighter! If whatever it is stops, do you and all the things at The Pole disappear?” asked Henry. “That’s it, Henry! You’ve figured it out!” Santa shouted gleefully. “I don’t have anything figured out,” said Henry. “I don’t know what got stronger.” He slumped down into his chair. “And you’re not going to tell me.”

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Samantha got up and walked to the tree. She looked closely at one of the ornaments. “Hey, this is one of the birds I painted!” Everyone, except Henry, rushed to the tree and admired the blackcapped chickadee sitting on the branch. Samantha told them about Wesl and how he had showed her how to make colors come alive. “I could never paint like that,” said Chad. “Maybe that’s your magic, the magic that Santa said would start to show if you stayed here long enough.” Samantha smiled, “Wesl said he used to paint rainbows. He said the sun and rain make rainbows now, so he paints for Santa.” “How am I supposed to figure this out when you’re talking about rainbows and elves? Nobody believes that rainbows are painted by elves anymore.” Henry glanced at the hurt look Samantha had on her face. “Sorry, Samantha. It’s just that maybe if we all think hard, together we can work it out!” Henry threw his hands up in frustration. Samantha walked over to Henry’s chair and put her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t care if we do figure it out. I got to meet someone who painted rainbows, and I got to spend a day with Santa Claus. Who cares where the magic comes from as long as it doesn’t stop?” “Yeah, lighten up, Henry,” said Traci and Chad. Henry looked helplessly at Santa, who shrugged. “Maybe you’re the only one who cares, or the only one who can understand, Henry,” said Santa. “Think of yesterday and what you believed. Now, think of what you believe right now.”

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The rest of the kids were still looking at the tree, so Henry moved to the chair next to Santa. He thought back to the fight he had had with his mother. “Do you mean the way I feel about you is what makes the magic?” Santa smiled and nodded his head. “Think of one time today when you actually saw the sky get brighter. Do you remember?” “Yeah,” said Henry, “it was when we were walking over here. I had just asked you what made the magic.” “This morning Chad thought that I was going to tell you I was somebody...” “And you said that we would tell you who you were. So, what does that have to do with what I asked?” Henry looked puzzled. “What you said on the way here is the answer to your question,” said Santa. Henry put his head in his hands, trying to think of his exact words. “I think I said, `Santa, what makes the magic?’” Henry sat with his head down, thinking. He sat quietly for several minutes. Finally Santa got up and put his hand on Henry’s head. “Why do I call you Henry?” he asked softly. Henry raised his head to look at him, but Santa had walked over to the tree. Henry watched Santa and the kids at the tree for a couple of minutes before standing and joining them. He looked at the blackcapped chickadee that Samantha had painted. Samantha saw him and

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smiled as he looked up. Carrying the chickadee, he walked over to Santa. “If it’s O.K. with you and Samantha, may I please have this bird as a souvenir?” asked Henry. Santa noticed that Henry’s eyes seemed to be twinkling. Santa looked over to Samantha who nodded her head, “Sure, it’s yours, Henry. I’d really like you to have it.” Henry looked past Santa at the tree, “Thanks, Samantha and” Henry paused and took a breath, “...and Santa.” The tree suddenly flashed and got even brighter than before. “Wow! Did you see that?” yelled Chad. “It almost caught on fire!” “Whatever makes the magic must have really gotten strong then!” exclaimed Traci. “Henry did it,” said Samantha. Santa looked at Henry and smiled, “You know.”

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A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

CHAPTER 16

The ride home was more fun than the ride to The Pole for a lot of reasons. The first reason was that Hugo was in a much better mood. Henry wasn’t sure whether the good mood was because the magic was stronger or the fact he was getting rid of the kids. Also the kids were all friends, and awake, as they flew over Canada and the United States. Henry watched as Dancer and Comet glided gracefully through the air. Both deer were proud animals and seemed to be making the ride as smooth as possible. Hugo had insisted that Henry sit beside him in the front of the sleigh. When they were over Alaska, Hugo said to Henry in a hushed voice, “I saw what you did at the barnyard, very few people could ever talk to the deer and have them obey.”

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A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

“I’m sorry,” mumbled Henry, “I was just trying to...” “I know what you were doing, and I do not approve. But your magic came out then. You are a deer handler and one of the people that can drive the sleighs.” Hugo looked at Henry. “Would you like to drive?” Henry couldn’t believe his ears. Would he like to drive!? “Sure! But I don’t know where we’re going. I might get lost.” Hugo handed the reins to Henry. He felt the smooth leather and the surge of the deer against the traces. “Turn a little to the left, I’ll tell you when to straighten out.” Gently Henry pulled the left reins. Comet and Dancer glanced back as they felt the unfamiliar hands on the reins. Upon seeing Henry, they raised their heads high and then plunged them downward. The deer then began to turn to the left, a gentle curve in the sky. Henry glanced at Hugo to see if he had done everything right. Hugo smiled. As they flew Hugo taught Henry the whistles and clucks and words to use with the deer. Henry spent the rest of the trip home talking to Comet and Dancer as they took long strides through the air. Hugo said very little to the other kids except to point out things on the land. “There’s Lake Superior,” he said once, “Did you now that it’s the largest lake in North America?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but leaned back and relaxed in the seat, paying special attention to Henry.

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A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

Also along the way he pointed out Hudson Bay and Great Bear Lake, having Henry circle them so everyone could have a good look. Finally Henry glided the sleigh flawlessly onto the snow in his moonlit backyard. He reluctantly handed the reins back to Hugo and climbed out of the sleigh looking towards the house. There were no lights on, except for the electric candle his mother always put in the window during the holidays. The candle gave off a friendly glow. Henry was glad to be home. Turning back to the sleigh, Henry smiled and said, “Good-bye, Hugo, and thanks for taking the time to come and get me, and for teaching me to drive. It was great!” Hugo smiled at him and gently flicked the reins, “Don’t forget what you’ve seen, Henry, we’re counting on you. If I need a driver next year, I may come and get you again.” Comet and Dancer nodded to Henry and then smoothly pulled the sleigh off the ground. “Don’t forget to write!” Henry shouted to the kids. “Take care of my bird!” shouted Samantha, “I’ll write to you as soon as I get home!” With that the sleigh cleared the trees and veered off to the south. He watched it until it disappeared into the night sky. Henry turned and walked to the back door. He was surprised to find it unlocked. Maybe his parents had been expecting him to come home late. He went inside and, finding no one awake, went to his room and to bed. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until his head touched the pillow. He was asleep before Hugo and the kids were out of the city limits. 65


A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

CHAPTER 17

Henry opened his eyes and realized that the sun was a lot higher in the sky than it usually was when he woke up. He got out of bed and hurried downstairs. His mom was in the kitchen. She looked up from the dishes as he entered the room. “So you finally woke up. I was beginning to think you were sick. You slept almost twelve hours.” “It was a strange night last night, Mom. I think I dreamed that I went to visit Santa Claus with a bunch of other kids. I can remember the whole thing just as if it really happened.” “Strange things happen, Henry, especially at Christmas time. Would you like breakfast or lunch?” she asked. She opened the cabinet and got out a cereal bowl before he answered. Henry got the cereal and milk and was soon munching away. His mother left the kitchen as he ate. 66


A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

“I was putting away the coat you left laying on the couch last night. I cleaned out your pockets and found a recipe and this list of names and addresses for people all over the country. I also found this cute little bird. Why don’t we hang it in the tree?” Henry just about choked on his spoon. “That’s Samantha’s chickadee! She and Santa gave it to me.” Henry smiled. “That was when I found out how the magic works. Maybe my dream was more real than I thought.” “It’s good to hear you talking about the magic of Christmas. After yesterday I thought...” she stopped and looked at Henry. “A lot of things have changed since yesterday, Mom. Except, I think I’m a little old to talk to the mall Santa, ” He took the bird from his mother and carried it to the tree in the living room. “I’ll hang it at the top,” he said, “so everyone can see it. There.” He stepped back and admired it. “You’re not going to believe what happened. Wait until I tell you what Santa said about your cookies!” Mrs. Ricke smiled, “You go put on something besides your pajamas, and you can tell me all about it while we make a batch.” “Great! I’ve got a bunch of people I want to send them to!” Henry darted up the stairs to his room.

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A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

CHAPTER 18 Christmas came and went. It was one of the best Henry could remember, but he wasn’t sure why. He had put several dozen cookies under the tree on Christmas Eve for Santa and a special present for Hugo. On Christmas morning the cookies and the present were gone. In their place was a note that said simply, “Thanks for remembering.” A day or so after Christmas Henry got a letter from Samantha. He took it to his room and lay on the bed looking at it. He had never gotten a letter from a girl before. Finally he tore it open. It said:

Dear Henry, How was your Christmas? Mine was wonderful! On Christmas Eve my mother made pasties. They were good, but not as good as the 68


A Christmas Riddle Mike Anderson

ones we had with Santa. But that was the first time she ever made them. I know she’ll get better. Guess what, it snowed yesterday! It only stayed on the ground for a couple of hours and then melted, but it was fun for a while. I got a pretty blue dress and a new paint set for Christmas. I put a picture of me wearing it in this letter, the dress not the paint set. I hope you like it. The best present I got was a funny little doll with its head on backwards. I almost fainted when I opened the package! I think it is the one I watched the elf make in the workshop. He was right when he said some girl would like it, I love it! I’m going to practice painting like Wesl showed me. Maybe I can go back again and help the elves paint if I practice. Your good friend, Samantha

PS Thanks for the cookies; my mom wants to know if she can have the recipe. They were good! PSS. Write back soon! Maybe we could go back together! Do you want to?

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A Christmas Riddle  

“What do you think about Santa Claus?” Henry asked. “What’s that got to do with anything?” said Tom. “He’s one of the good guys, if you know...

A Christmas Riddle  

“What do you think about Santa Claus?” Henry asked. “What’s that got to do with anything?” said Tom. “He’s one of the good guys, if you know...

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