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KEEPING CHRISTMAS


Keeping Christmas


––– PROLOGUE - Prologue - –––

My name is Berkley Eisenhower. I’m fifteen years old, and the story I am about to tell you will be unlike anything you have ever heard before. It will sound far-fetched, unimaginable and most importantly impossible. But unlike the countless police officers and parents across this city, it will be you and you alone who will understand. Not because it is something that you have experienced or because it is something you know. In fact, my story is very far from anything you’ve ever heard before. It will be difficult to believe me at first, but you will. Because you are a believer. Because deep within you, you believe that what I’m about to tell you is the complete and utter truth... the truth about how my two best friends and I saved Christmas. ––– -CHAPTER Chapter 1 1- –––

The room was stifling, as I expected it to be. It wasn’t easy having to squeeze in all of New York City’s heavyset stockbrokers and their middle-aged wives and children in a room that size. The annual Millwall Festive Ball was the one night of the year when the deep-pocketed businessmen could act crazy with no repercussions. I hated it. I was always bored off my face and typically my parents always used to let me get out of it, but for some reason this year they were adamant I come. Actually, they told me I had to. Didn’t even give me a choice in the matter. I told them to calm down and in turn got my computer and cell phone taken away. It was strange. Something was up with my parents, they were never that mean. Like any kid I like to walk the line between what is right and wrong. Who doesn’t? But I never got in serious trouble. It was weird. For the past few weeks my parents had been acting off. I was getting in trouble for every little thing I did. Even got yelled at for making an ‘A’ on a book report in English class. To be truthful, they were starting to freak me out. With the party in full swing, people dancing in expensive ball gowns and top hats, I could feel myself growing more and more appalled by the second. Perhaps it’s because I’m not athletic... in any sense of the word. So it was natural I would hate dancing. The temperature of the room was rising with every laugh and shout and the noise level was so high already I could barely hear myself think. I was constantly struggling to hear anything above the chanting of “Happy Saint Millwall’s Week”. It was disgusting. I didn’t get how these people bought into the Millwalls and 1 1

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their annoying celebrations. Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I don’t like the Millwalls. I don’t like them for one main reason, their son Theo. He’s the meanest kid in my school and for the past seven years he’s taken to bullying me and only me. End point: he’s made my educational life unbearable and I don’t like him, or any of them. “What the heck is Saint Millwall’s Week?” I yelled to Ripley McKallister, a senior from my high school and an old family friend. When he shrugged his wannabe girlfriend Claire replied, “Don’t you know Saint Millwall’s Week? It’s apparently the new rage across the Upper East Side. Anyone who’s anyone knows about it.” I immediately went back to sipping my overly sugared juice drink, ignoring her annoyingly high-pitched voice and ugly face. My best friend Jenny Williams shouted over the noise of our embarrassing parents, “Millwall’s Week is actually Millwall’s Day. According to the kids around town it’s replacing Christmas this year.” “Do you believe it?” I asked, pulling at my tie. Fact: I hate wearing tuxedos, they make me look ridiculous. Jenny looked at me for a moment before throwing her empty cup on the floor and motioning towards the doors. In the hallway I asked her my question again. “I don’t know really,” she said as we stopped in front of the toilets, “It all seems kinda farfetched if you ask me.” I wanted to ask another question but Ripley interrupted. “Quick, help me, you gotta hide me from Claire.” I looked at Jenny. It was clear she had been in love with Rip since freshman year. What was even more clear? Her apparent hatred of Claire. “What’s wrong? Trouble in paradise with your new girlfriend?” Jenny sneered. Ripley struggled to reply. That was interesting. Never in my life had I ever seen Rip struggle with words. He was student body president for goodness’ sake. I looked around. Claire was on the other side of the room scanning the crowd for us. To be truthful I’d had my fill of the drama queen and Rip’s facial expression was like something my puppy Wallis would show when he got in trouble for peeing on the carpet. So I took control, grabbed him by the elbow and pushed them both through the nearest door.

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“She won’t leave me alone, she’s been constantly nagging at me all night,” Rip said as he looked out the circular window. “She’s a nightmare.” I shivered. What? She’s a scary popular cheerleader. Who wouldn’t be afraid of someone with that kind of social power! For the next few minutes no one said anything. It was awkward. I mean it was super awkward. I mean... the awkwardness in that moment, in that bathroom, was the worst I think I have ever experienced, and I’m weird. “You do realize we’re in the women’s toilet right?” Jenny finally broke the tension when she walked over towards the sinks and set her handbag down. “Imagine what people would say if they saw you both in here?” “You’re right,” Rip looked down at his shoes and then back up at Jenny with a weird expression in his eyes. “Let’s go Berk. We’ll wait for you outside.” This is where things got interesting. I felt something in the atmosphere change in that moment. But it wasn’t something between the three of us. It was something else. Something different. When Ripley reached for the door he attempted to pull it open but it wouldn’t budge. It seemed as if it had sealed itself shut. Which is impossible. Doors don’t just seal themselves shut. He tugged at it again and nothing happened. “It’s jammed,” he muttered. “Jammed? What do you mean it’s jammed?” Jenny said, storming over. “Move out of the way.” He stepped back as she pulled at the handle, with one hand, then two. Again nothing. I could feel myself starting to panic. I don’t do well in stressful situations, so I tried to talk myself down but let’s be truthful here... that was never going to happen. Rip reached around Jenny and attempted to pull at the same time, and of course they started bickering. They were like small children. A classic he likes her, she likes him moment. It was then, over the screaming of insults, that I started to hear it. This weird buzzing sound. Kind of like bees. Side note: I’m familiar with bees... because I’m allergic. “Can you guys hear that?” I asked as the buzzing noise grew louder and louder by the second. Apparently they didn’t hear me because they kept on arguing. The noise kept getting louder. I walked over to the middle toilet stall and pressed my hand against its metal door. I could feel the vibrations rippling through. 3 3

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“Guys,” I stuttered. “Guys... I think... I think you should check this... out.” I heard them stutter and stop talking behind me, but it was too late for that. I was already on the verge of passing out in fear. Wasn’t it bad enough I was in the girls’ toilets? I was on the edge of something monumental and I had to experience it in here of all places. I couldn’t move. The door started to rattle because the vibrations were so strong. When I pushed the door open, I could see the water in the white porcelain bowl splashing up and over the rim. “Berk,” Jenny whispered, “step back.” Oh it was too late for that. Had she learned nothing from ten years of friendship? I’m like a fainting goat. I can’t run from anything scary, I just fall over. The noise was so loud at this point I could hardly make out my own thoughts. I could feel my whole body shaking. When suddenly it stopped. Then there was nothing. Nothing but silence. It was spooky. You could hear a pin drop, and that’s saying something cause those suckers are small. Just when I started to turn back to the others to ask what the heck was going on, the toilet flushed. On its own. Okay, I don’t like to believe in paranormal activity but that was something strange. Almost ghost-like. Because? Toilets do not, and let me repeat myself, do not flush on their own. I knew then that something life-altering was about to happen. And I was right. The toilet exploded. I mean like properly exploded. This wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill pipe burst. Oh no. It was so far past your typical mainline water break it could only be classified as something made up. The blast was so terrible it took down all the stalls and blew out some of the ceiling tiles. But that wasn’t what made this so different from your average potty problem. No, what made this issue so unique, besides the fact that I was launched off my feet and slammed into the bathroom door, was the water collection. That’s right. The water that was flowing from the sink taps and the geyser-like fountains spewing from the toilet bowls all began to collect in the center of the room and started to form something. It was like something was controlling it. At first I couldn’t make out what it was, until I noticed a doorknob. I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking it too. Why couldn‘t this happen to Claire? I didn’t deserve this. I was weird enough already. Couldn’t this happen to someone who could socially recover? No one was ever going to believe this actually happened. After another few seconds, which felt like days, a shimmering door made of water stood before us. The whooshing and buzzing noises had all stopped, and the room was silent again. 4 Keeping Christmas

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“What did you do?” Jenny said as she stood up and brushed water off her dress. “Me?” I asked back. “Yes, you,” Ripley supplied for her. “You always manage to get yourself in the worst situations. Of course you’d involve us this time!” I bit my tongue to hold back my retort. Rip is five times my size, and although I think of myself as a superhero, I knew he could easily knock me out with his morning breath. He was right though. I was always getting into tricky situations. But I didn’t need to give him the satisfaction of being right. No, it was better if I just kept quiet in this instance. Suddenly the doorknob started to rattle. “Did you...” Ripley pointed at the door. I could only nod. This door was freaky, like super freaky. Like freaky with a capital ‘F’. I took a step towards Jenny. As soon as my foot lifted from the floor it slammed back down like I had glue on the bottom of my shoe. I was glued down! Frozen in fear! Why? Because at that moment the door flew open. A cold blast of air filtered into the room, freezing the leftover water. Icicles hung from the ceilings and sinks, and the whole floor became an ice rink. Teeny-tiny white snowflakes covered my whole body within a second, and a creature stepped through the door two seconds later. I say creature but I’ve embellished a little bit. A being of some sort. A tiny person. Whoever it was had their entire face covered. When it stepped into the bathroom I let out a girly scream! I’m sorry, I was scared and it looked very scary. Covered head to toe in snow-drenched clothes, it reached up and ripped off its goggles. Two eyes as blue as the sea gleamed back at us. When the blue-eyed monster pulled off its face mask, I realized it... was a she. She was an it. This tiny monster was a girl. A girl with a mop of bleached blonde hair. “Hidey Ho! My little panda!” she exclaimed, pulling her hair behind her pointy ears. She paused to look at me harder. I’m sure I had a picture-perfect expression etched on my face. “What? Haven’t you ever seen an elf before?” she questioned. I attempted to stutter a reply, “I... is... was that... ummm... you...” I finished by pointing at the door. She looked at me with narrow eyes. “If you’re trying to ask if I just came through that door? The answer is yes, obviously.” 5 5

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I tried to say something else but more mumbled gibberish flew from my mouth. She turned to Jenny, who let out a small scream as Rip tried to shield her with his body. “Oh great, there’s three of you!” the tiny elf said. “Well, I hope you’re not like this the whole way there.” “What? Ummm, what does she mean the whole way there?” Jenny voiced my inner monologue. “To Froston,” she spoke as she stepped over to the sinks, unzipped her outer jacket and pulled out a crumpled little square piece of paper. “Which one of you is Berkley Eisenhower?” I felt a noise gurgle in my throat, causing her to look back over at me. “Great,” she stuffed the paper back into her pocket, “that was easy enough. I’m Wickenly Popularous Hawthorn, you can call me Wick for short. I can explain everything along the way if you just come with me. But there is really no time to waste. We have to go right now.” “Go? Go where?” Ripley demanded, stepping towards the girl. “Where are you taking him?” She walked over, grabbed me by the elbow and started pushing me towards the door. I tried to stop her, but she used the ice on the ground to her advantage. I slid across the floor. I fought to resist, I tried to get away from her and her death grip, I wiggled, I shimmied, I danced... But no luck. She held firm. “To Froston,” Wick responded with a huff. “What? No! You can’t take him!” Jenny yelled. “Listen here you little girl-” I felt the grip on my arm tighten painfully. Something told me that was not the right thing to say. “Little girl?” Wick asked slowly, turning around. “I am an elf. Get it right.” I could feel the temperature in the room rising with every word Wick spoke. Jenny squared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. “So... elf shemelf.” The hand on my arm released me and I started running towards the bathroom exit. I could hear a lot of screaming and noise behind me, but I kept scrambling across the room. I slammed into the sealed door. Wrapping my hands around the metal handle I pulled. Nothing. I pulled again. Nothing. Oh, come on! They really needed to get these doors fixed. I kept pulling and pulling, but still nothing. Then the room went silent. I chanced a look back only to find both Jenny and Rip lying on the floor. Wick was pulling something from Ripley’s neck. I froze in horror. They were dead! She looked up at my silenced movements. 6 Keeping Christmas

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“Don’t worry, they’re fine,” she said, tucking whatever she took from him into her front jacket pocket. “What did you do to them?!” I bellowed. “I said they’re fine... gosh!” she said, kicking Rip with the tip of her boot. When she looked back at me again she held her finger out. “Don’t even think about it!” I felt the scream start deep in my body. I could feel it move up between my ribs and past my heart and through my lungs. I felt my jaw relax and open when I took crisp cold wintery air into my body. Then the noise began to rip through my throat. And then it stopped. It just died. Like someone stole it from me. My head whipped back and a bee-sting sensation erupted on the right side of my neck. When I reached up I felt some metal sticking out of my neck. I grasped it between my cold fingers and pulled. A dart. “What did you do?” I asked as things started to go wonky. I could feel time slowing and my body grow heavy. “I hit you with a sleeping dart,” Wick answered in a weird deep voice. She stepped closer to me and I felt my back hit the door. “You’re gonna go to sleep now, just like your friends.” As she said the last bit I lost balance and plunged down towards the icy floor... halfway down everything went black. Chapter 2 2- ––– ––– -CHAPTER When I came to I felt sick. Not because of the sleeping dart, but because I was strapped to the back of a seventeen-foot-tall galloping moose. I felt sick because of the motion. I’m one of those guys who throws up from riding in the car too long and on roller coasters. So believe me when I tell you it should be very clear that riding on the back of a beast would easily give me stomach problems. My head hurt. A lot. I couldn’t hear anything above the roaring wind and the stamping of hooves. Snow stung my face, flake after flake hitting me as I tried to focus my eyes more but couldn’t as everything was so white. It was too bright. It made my head hurt more. I raised a heavy hand to my temples and pressed, trying to ease the pain. When I pulled it away I saw that it was covered in blood. That would explain the pain. I felt my stomach grumble for another

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reason. Fact: I hate blood. It hates me. We don’t get along. I see blood, it sees me. Whoosh! I throw up. Wick snapped the reins that controlled the galloping beast, pulling us faster. My vision started to blur from the combination of the cold and snow. She kept looking towards the sky. Searching for something. Curiosity got the best of me, or so goes the saying. “What are you looking for?” I asked, straining my voice so as to be heard over the frosty wind. “Theo Millwall!” she bellowed back. “We need to get inside before he takes notice. I don’t want him to know you’re here. It’s too quiet! I don’t like it!” She whipped the driving reins, egging the moose to go faster. Truth be told I was freezing and my head pounded with pain. But mostly I was more distracted by the outline of something big forming on the horizon. Ahead of us, growing at rapid speed, stood the makings of a small wintery village. It was surreal. Like a scene out of a cheesy film or Christmas soda pop ad. It was like those overly romantic girly books; like Twilight... not that I’ve ever read that junk. The town felt like it was possessed by magic. Bright beautiful magic that had been stolen. Taken from the town. It was too dark, like Wick said, it was too quiet. Something was off, something was wrong. As we wound our way through the dying town we passed shop after shop, all closed. It was a wasteland of toy shops and factories where everyone had decided to pack up and move someplace new. Like everyone just forgot about it. It was no longer a place filled with happiness, it had become a dull decrepit place filled with despair. With everything closed the streets were left unkempt, snow piled so high that shop doors were sealed shut and their windows frosted over. It was one of the saddest things I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my fifteen years. “Everything’s closed up!” Jenny screamed in my ear, making me jump. “Theo closed everything down when he got here!” Wick supplied again as she steered us towards the only lights in town.

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––– -CHAPTER Chapter 3 3- –––

Wick pulled us to a slamming halt in front of a tiny building with a wooden sign nailed above its rickety misshaped door, The Holly Oak Pub. It didn’t look like a pub. But then again I don’t normally go to pubs. I could tell you I used my sweet superhero skills to jump down off that noble steed and impress our captor, but that would be a lie. “Head on in,” she said after she helped me get my balance back. “I’m just gonna put Francis in the stables.” She grabbed the moose’s leads and left me with my two angry best friends. “Before you even start, please know that I had nothing to do with this!” I said once I turned to face them. “Right...” Jenny muttered, looking around, “okay... she’s gone. Let’s make a run for it!” “And go where?” Rip said, stepping up to her as her eyes began to water. “Take a look around... we don’t know where we are. It’s freezing and gonna be dark soon.” “Yeah! And I’m injured!” I supplied, pointing to my bleeding head. It took me a second to figure it out. But when I did it all made sense. You see, Jenny isn’t the type of girl who likes to show her weaknesses. In fact she doesn’t normally show anything of the sort, especially when it’s with me. I’m her best friend and she has always taken care of me. It was clear, even though she wasn’t showing it outright, she was scared. Heck, I was scared. I think anyone in our situation would have been. Truth: I felt kind of useless... especially when Rip wrapped her up in his arms. I figured I had to do the next best thing. I had to pretend. I pretended I wasn’t scared. It was my turn to take care of my best friend. “Let’s go inside.” I dropped all pretense with that sentence. “We’ll find a phone. We’ll figure out how to get home.” I turned on my heel and pushed open the door. The first thing we saw when we stepped into the warm pub wasn’t the deep brown wooden bar stretched against the far wall or the mismatched tables and chairs that littered the sitting area, it was the drunk elves. Little tiny elf people dressed in the most awful festive multi-colored clothes, dancing and slurring all over the place. I never thought I’d live to see something like that, but alas I was wrong.

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Almost at once everything stopped, and collectively as one they all turned and stared. It was the most creepy thing I had ever seen. The silence was broken only when a little one in the back corner hiccuped and fell over. Okay, I was wrong before. It was actually awesome. It kind of reminded me of those really cheesy westerns Mr. Lowe made us watch whenever he was the substitute teacher in our Math class. It was totally the same, all the elves sat around tables guzzling some mysterious brown liquid, smacking their lips, swaying in their seats and playing cards. You know, a standard night out. One elf gasped loudly and dived from his bar stool, making a gap large enough for us to fit at the bar when we reached the back. The bartender was this stumpy old elf with a sagging right eyelid and a missing front tooth. Totally classy. Totally not. All he did was stare at us with a hard look for a good long minute. “Excuse me, can you help us? Do you have a phone we could use?” Jenny asked while he kept shining up his pint glass. He set the glass down and leaned against the bar, squaring his shoulders. He snapped his cloth like a whip against the sleeping elf to my right. It screamed and sat up straight then promptly put its head back down. “You know good and well we don’t want to help you. Couldn’t, even if we wanted to. Besides, ya’ll Millwalls always bring your own phones,” the barman snapped. “Millwalls? What? No! We’re not with the Millwalls,” I wheezed. I had so many questions. But the bartender just kept his one good eye trained on us like a hawk, like it was all some kind of trick. “You ain’t a Millwall?” A glass dropped and shattered but he didn’t flinch. “How’d y’all get up here then?” “By toilet. Like a door that was a toilet... more like a toilet that turned into a door... a watery thing... it was like whoosh and blahhh.” I had verbal diarrhea, so I kept making sound effects in the hope that he would understand. “Ahhh, the flushing system!” he chuckled, breaking the tension. Thank goodness. He poured us each a pint of the amber liquid we’d seen around the bar and set them down heavily in front of us. Sweet Skywalker I was parched.

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“Got to be careful using that thing. A newbie can get lost. This one time in ’63-” he started again. A glass slammed at the end of the bar, cutting him off. “Don’t get him started on the Flushing System!” Wick said. I didn’t even realize she’d come in. Drinking that brown sludge was pretty much my worst idea so far in Froston. Easily the most disgusting thing ever created... ever! It was like drinking liquefied wood with fizz. It carried a terrible aftertaste, and I’m pretty sure dust flew out of my mouth and I threw up a little. I caught the bartender laughing. Jenny looked the way I felt. Gross. Not that I’d ever tell her that. She’s a girl. Girls like to think they’re pretty all the time. We let them believe that, even when they’re not. Wick had turned back to us and burst into cute giggles at my facial expression. Cute giggles? Can things or people even be hit with a bout of cute giggles? Honestly, where did that come from? “What is this?!?” Jenny bellowed, slamming her glass down on the counter top. The cackling lazy-eyed man exclaimed, “Oak sap! Finest drink in all of the North Pole, brewed right here in Froston!” “I wouldn’t try drinking that again if I were you,” Wick laughed. “Billy likes to trick the newcomers before they’ve seen Nick. Forgive him... it’s an acquired taste.” She turned to the barman, “Old man, I’m looking for Santa!” “Aye! He’s in the back corner,” he said, pointing towards a guy slumped in a booth surrounded by tools and gadgets. “Excellent! Serve up three pints of Snowball Water for the pandas will ya,” she said as she made her way over to the corner. Seconds later three new glasses, each brimming with a white frothy substance, plopped down in front of us. I took a tentative sip. It had to have been the sweetest dang water I’d ever tasted. I slurped that junk down quick. I already wanted another. Wick came back over to us, followed by a tall skinny guy with night vision goggles attached to his head. He pulled the goggles off and ran a hand through his brown hair. He looked nervous. I don’t blame him, I’m not the best with newcomers either. “Hello,” he whispered. “This is Nick. He doesn’t talk much,” Wick provided from her seat next to me. “Ahhh...” I started. As I clearly stated before, I wasn’t good with new people, except Wick for some reason. She was different. Jenny smirked at me. I waved my hand at her to take over. No 11 11

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dice. She just stepped up, took my tie from around my neck and wrapped it around my head. Yeah, I was still bleeding. “So... ahhh Nick... do you... want to... ahhh... I don’t know. Want to tell us about yourself?” I even managed to paste on a cheesy smile when I finished. He looked up at me while he fiddled with his goggles. “No.” It really didn’t help that Wick snorted. “He’s Santa. What more do you need to know?” We all sat in silence until Rip gasped, “I’m sorry but no. I don’t believe that. Santa is...” he pointed to Nick, “not that! He’s old, fat, long beard, red suit. He isn’t a computer repairman.” Wick’s eyes narrowed. “News Flash Jumbo! Santa hasn’t looked like that in ages. This is the twenty-first century. No one’s worn the suit except on Christmas Day for over a hundred years, and Nick’s only been Santa for three Christmases.” Okay. I think I fell in love with her in that moment. It was like, Boom! “Right!” Jenny said, “I can’t take this any more. I want... no, I need answers. Nick? Santa? Whatever you want to call yourself, put the goggles down and answer my questions. Someone needs to take the reins on this crazy train and it looks like it’s gonna be me!” He stood there awkwardly. Like a pelican in the wind. “First things first. If you’re Santa, that would make this place...” Jenny started waving her hands about. “Froston,” Nick supplied. “Right... it would make Froston the North Pole? If this is the North Pole then why is everything shut down? Don’t you have toys to make? Don’t you have workshops?” Jenny began. Nick looked to Wick for help. “We do have workshops. But they’re all closed up,” he replied defensively. “Obviously. Why?” Jenny pushed. He was refusing to make eye contact. Bad idea bro. Jenny will eat you alive when she knows you’re hiding something. She mastered that talent long ago. I couldn’t even keep her birthday presents a secret for more than a day. He mumbled something under his breath. “What was that?” Jenny asked. He mumbled again. We all just stared. He mumbled again. Jenny gave him her best evil eyes.

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“I said they’re closed because I messed up. It was a misunderstanding!” Nick exclaimed. “That’s all it was, a big misunderstanding.” Jenny glared. He fidgeted. She glared some more. He gave up. “Being Santa,” he started to pace, “I was never supposed to be Santa. I’m not even married. I don’t even have a girlfriend. I know it’s tradition and it’s passed down from generation to generation. But I’m not cut out to be the holly jolly happy charismatic guy everyone needs... I’m shy!” He took a deep breath. “I like to build things...” he started to tear up. “I’m not the person everyone should count on to cheer them up in the darkest days of winter.” He threw his goggles onto the bar. “I’ve always been embarrassed by my people skills, and he knew. He tricked me. Now I have more than just my poor social skills to be embarrassed about.” “Who tricked you?” Jenny said as she walked over to Nick. “Theo,” he sighed. “Who?” “Me!” a voice bellowed from behind. The door flew open so forcefully I thought it would be ripped from its hinges. I was so startled I fell off my seat and definitely bruised my bum. There standing in the doorway was Theodore Millwall. He stepped out from the shadows of the snow shower and into the golden pub light, his expensive designer clothes and shiny black shoes making him seem all the more menacing. Pfft, the guy had a flippin’ snowstorm on his side! How is anyone supposed to compete with that? “Oh don’t look so surprised. You know good and well I monitor who comes and goes in Froston,” he barked after slamming the door shut. “Where have you been? Everyone’s been looking for you!” Rip exclaimed. Theo sauntered through the pub. “I’ve been here. Erasing Christmas. It’s a full-time job. School wasn’t... so I had to let it go.” “What do you mean, erasing Christmas?” Rip questioned. “It’s already gone. Done. Bye bye.” Theo laughed. It was evil. Wick stepped forward. I could feel the anger spewing from her in waves. “You can’t just get rid of Christmas. You’re not even Santa. He is!” I said, pointing at Nick. 13 13

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“Oh I believe I can. You see, I came here about a month ago. Pointing fingers and throwing around a lot of big words. It was all very convincing...” he laughed again. “I really made it seem okay that Santa over there wasn’t comfortable with the job! Being Keeper of Christmas is a big deal, you shouldn’t just give that away. Oh wait! Too late!” He barked out a ridiculous laugh. His joke was stupid. He was stupid. “Shut up!” I yelled. I have no idea where that came from. But it stopped him from laughing. “Don’t tell me to shut up, worm! I don’t know why they brought you here. But you’re a nothing. A nobody,” Theo taunted. “Be quiet,” Jenny shouted. “Or what? What could you possibly do to me?” he taunted. It happened in a flash. Jenny was up and out of her chair and across the room before any of us could stop her. She threw her empty Snowball Water glass at him. He dodged it without hardly moving. Then, in slow motion, he wound his fist back and hit her hard in the face. Knocked her clean out. She fell down right next to him. I did my best to hold Rip back. But my grip was slipping. He was pulling too hard. “I don’t know why you guys are so worked up about all this. Christmas is stupid!” Theo bellowed. That was clearly the wrong thing to say. Within a second pandemonium broke out. Elves began screaming and running in all directions, destroying everything in their path. It was total chaos. I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed. I got caught in the moment and let out a crazy scream too as I tried to push through the madding crowd towards Jenny. From the corner of my eye I saw Wick launch herself from a tabletop, and watched in horror as Theo flicked his hand in her direction and she went crashing into the bar stools. Nick, Ripley and I turned back to Theo. Anger on each of our faces. He knew he was outnumbered. “It’s no use! Christmas is over! Haven’t you noticed your parents? None of them remember. We can all thank Nick for that!” Theo yelled over the chaos. He stooped down and picked up Jenny. Throwing her over his shoulder, he pushed his way to the door and kicked it open. He turned back to us.

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“It was nice seeing you again! Not!” He laughed one last time and closed the door just before Wick’s boomerang could hit him. It clattered to the floor. I tried to reach the door but it took too long. When I opened it they were gone. Vanished. Disappeared. “No!” I heard Rip bellow. He fell to his knees in the fresh snow. I turned back to Nick and Wick and asked, “What’s he talking about? What did he mean by ‘we can thank you for that’?” Breathing heavily, Nick replied, “Wick and I created a Brainwashing Machine.” “A Brainwashing Machine?!” Rip yelled. “I realize now it was a stupid idea, that was only supposed to be for fun. When he came in and took over I tried to bribe him with the gadgets we created. He saw the blueprints for the Machine and took them. I had no idea that he would build it,” Nick tried to explain. “Oh yeah? Of course!” I yelled. “That’s why we called you,” Wick added. “We tried to get back Christmas and he bullied us.” “Welcome to the club. He bullies everyone!” Rip was verging on hysterics. “Right, but he bullies Berkley the most. That’s why we... why I kidnapped you guys. You know his tricks better than anyone. We figured if anyone can stop him it’s you guys!” I was flattered. The girl I was clearly in love with recognized my talents and was asking for my help. Granted, my talent for being bullied wasn’t something I’d chosen and she hadn’t asked for my help, she’d kidnapped me, but still I was very flattered. “Well we’re here now, and we need to get Jenny back,” I started. “Yes!” Nick exclaimed, stepping up, “I know how we can get to Theo and get your friend back.” Chapter 4 4- ––– ––– -CHAPTER We burst through an old wooden door and found ourselves in the most holy of holy rooms. Nick’s technological workshop. My mind was blown. To be truthful I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of gadgets he’d built and housed, but I found myself in complete and total awe at the same time. I’m a very tech-driven, nerdy type of guy so this place was like the motherland. Shelf upon shelf was covered in trinkets and toys, all designed and shaped differently from the next. Some shiny and some plain, some big and some small. It was all beyond my imagination. 15 15

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“He’s holed up in the old Post Office on the outskirts of town. You three have to get there and shut down the Brainwashing Machine. As soon as it’s off all the parents will start to remember again. Almost like a ripple effect,” Nick belted at us as he rummaged through a pile of old blueprints. “I know I have the layout somewhere... Ahhh ha!” He pulled up a long blue tube of paper. He cleared away a part of his workshop table and rolled it out. “So he keeps the Machine on the top floor in the office. If you land here,” he pointed to the roof, “it’ll be easier to get in and Wick can head straight to the Machine while you two take care of Theo.” I looked at Rip, everything sounded great and all except for one thing... “How are we supposed to get on the roof? There’s no toilets out on that thing,” Ripley asked. He looked worried. It made my stomach turn. I can’t handle anything revolving around throwing up. Seeing that he was worried made me want to spew. Trust me, that wasn’t something anyone wanted to see. “Oh no. You’re not taking toilets. They’re much too loud and will only slow you down. You’ll take the Flurry suits.” “Flurry suits?” I had to ask. I just had to. “As in...?” “As in snow flurry.” He got up and I shuffled after him. I don’t know how I missed them. Hanging in the middle of everything were these black suits. They reminded me of those longsleeved wet suits scuba divers wear when the water’s chilly. Only difference is they were shiny. Shiny with the sweet little logo ‘SNOW’ printed on the front. Just as I reached out to touch one I heard from behind me, “We have to save her.” I turned to see Ripley on the verge of tears. Pain etched in his eyes. “We have to get Jenny back.” Rip gulped down his emotions. “I’m in... I’m in love with her. We were gonna tell you.” I was happy for them. Besides, I’d got my eye on another. A blonde beauty. Perhaps we could double date. I’m not the type of guy who likes to step up and take charge, ever. But in that single moment, seeing the fear in Ripley’s eyes, I felt time freeze. Freeze and stretch out and consume my whole being. It was in that second everything became crystal clear. It wasn’t Ripley who was the strongest of our group and it wasn’t Jenny who was the feistiest. They didn’t keep us together. It was me. I was the one who was destined to keep us together. I was the one who was gonna get us through this. 16 Keeping Christmas

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“We are gonna get her back,” I whispered. “I promise, we are gonna get her back.” I felt like a new man. I felt like I was a real-life superhero. I heard Wick gasp as I swiveled around and pointed towards the suits. “Santa baby! Put papa panda in a suit! It’s showtime!” I realized two things about those suits once I got one on. One: they were skin tight and unflattering. Two: they were skin tight and unflattering. But it was cool. I was virtually a superhero. And just to clarify, I took a superhero test online once so I am legit. Fact. As I finished lacing up my boots Nick began, “Right, okay, before I leave you guys let me go over a few things with you quickly. On your arms there are a few buttons, blasters and stuff. Kind of like your superpowers. You can figure those out on your own. But the most important button is the one on your collar.” I could feel it pressing into my throat. “That’s the teleportation button. The most important part of this feature is that you have to visualize where you want to go. Don’t second-guess yourself. If you do you’ll be blown away.” “Blown away?” Rip asked. “Yes.” I gulped as Nick finished explaining, “These suits turn you into a snow flurry. It’s how you’re going to get in without being detected.” “Wait, you’re not coming?” I asked. Nick looked over to Wick and nodded. “No. I’ve got my own job to do here. I realize that now. I’ve got to get the elves back to work. If you stop him and this all works we need to be ready to deliver the presents to the children. I may have screwed up before, but I do want to fix this. I’m the only one who can deliver the presents. It’s the only thing I can do. You need to go. Remember. Visualize. Don’t get blown away.” He stepped back. Truth: I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to try and save Christmas. Second truth: all that mumbo jumbo about being an awesome superhero and having no fear flew right out the window in that moment, and I was on the verge of crapping my pants. There is no point in me lying. I was scared, and scared people sometimes crap their pants. It’s a very normal thing. Nick gave us a thumbs up and I pushed my button. I kept thinking the post office, the post office, the post office. I could feel my whole body go completely numb. When I looked down I watched my feet disappear! They turned into bright white snow and got blown away with the wind. I was having a nervous breakdown. You try watching your body disappear before your eyes. Next went my knees. Poof! Gone! I started losing my breath at that point. I must have 17 17

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looked a mess. I couldn’t feel my chest or any other part of my body anymore. My vision turned white and my breath froze in front of me. I couldn’t do this. But it was too late for that now. I slammed my eyes closed and hoped for the best. The post office, the post office, the post office… ––– -CHAPTER Chapter 5 5- –––

Materializing wasn’t as hard as I thought it was gonna be. Heck no! That junk was easy as pie. It was trying not to fall off the ledge of the roof that was the difficult part. The wind was really whipping me back and forth and I could hardly keep the ol‘ balance. “Berk!” Rip shouted at me from a side door. “C’mon!” Clearly he didn’t have a problem with the landing like I did. I thought I was gonna take a tumble over the edge. I literally could feel my heart beating out of my chest. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Nope. Not at all. But I forced myself upright and raced to the door before I fell to my doom. The hallway we ended up in was eerily quiet after Rip closed the door and blocked out the roaring wind. “We’ll go secure the lobby and find Theo while you work on the Machine. Meet back here in fifteen minutes. Got it?” Rip commanded. Wick and I both nodded then split up. It was difficult to watch my blonde beauty run in the opposite direction from me. Alas, with pain in my heart, I watched her dash away. I made a pact with myself right then and there. I told myself I would ask her out for some milk and cookies if we made it back to Froston in one piece. They say that elevator music is supposed to calm the nerves. Wrong. If anything it put me more on edge. I had a bad feeling the moment I stepped into the elevator at the top and it tripled the moment I stepped out at the bottom. Something wasn’t right. That much was clearly obvious. I could see Jenny tied up at the bottom of the stairs. We made eye contact and I started to run to her. I should have known it was a trap. I felt like a fool the moment my feet left the floor. I definitely felt queasy when I flew through the air. Then pain when I slammed into the far wall. That one hurt. The upside was I could see Theo. “Still doing Santa’s dirty work I see.” Theo laughed. I watched Ripley charge at him. I fell to the ground immediately and stumbled to pick myself up. Horrified, I watched Rip get launched off his feet and fly into the coin pond by the front door. 18 Keeping Christmas

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“You like my gloves? They were a gift,” Theo taunted as he flashed his hands. ‘SNOW’ was written on the front of them. Gloves? Honestly, did he really think those little gloves could compete with my suit? I’d pretended to be scared by bullies most of my school career. Okay correction, maybe I only pretended some of the time. But that doesn’t mean I can’t act. Scene 27, take 2. I hit Theo with my scared face. “Don’t tell me he didn’t tell you!” Theo laughed again. “He tried to give me these gadgets in exchange for Christmas... so naturally... I took both.” From the corner of my eye I watched Ripley get back on his feet. He was soaking wet and very annoyed. Like a raging bull he charged at Theo again. So did I. I felt myself flip backwards and crash into the reception desk. Good thing those suits were designed to take the brunt of these attacks. I’d be doneski if it wasn’t for them. Rip managed to get close enough for a few good swings before he was launched through the air again; he even managed to land on both feet and went racing back for more. I could see Jenny still tied up and I knew I had to do something. When I stood this time it was with a purpose. I pressed the top button on my sleeve. It took a second but I felt my hands grow cold. Giant snowballs blasted out of my hands and hit both Theo and Ripley. With both hands glowing bright blue, I threw my hand out again and launched another lethal snowball attack. “What is that?!” Rip yelled as Theo pushed away from him and took cover behind a statue. “Try the top button,” I yelled back. “You think snowballs are gonna slow me down? Think again!” Theo screamed as he came racing out from behind his cover, slammed his feet into the ground and started flying. “Hover boots?” I complained when Rip scrambled over to me behind the desk. “Oh! You’ve got to be joking!” I was going to have some serious words with Nick when we got back. I mean the man could have given us a little insight on the gadgets he’d handed over. I looked over at Rip. “Go get Jenny!” He started to argue but I cut him off. “She’s helpless and tied up.” I shot another snowball attack at Theo, only this time it was much too slow as he zipped around. Pulling out a bulky round gun Theo cackled from the spot where he hovered at the top of the stairs. “Santa called this one the present blaster.”

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“Go!” I pushed Ripley away when I heard the first bang. Theo shot a present at me. An actual Christmas present. It slid across the floor and stopped at my feet. I felt the laugh burst through my chest before I could stop it. “Wow! That’s scary? Sliding presents at my feet. Whoa. I don’t know what to do!” I clearly spoke too soon. Rule number one: never make fun of your enemy too soon. The blast itself wasn’t too loud but was powerful enough to knock me off my feet and singe off my eyebrows. Floof! Floof! Floof! Whap! Whap! Whap! Three more presents hit the ground and slid towards me. I scrambled to my feet, the dust from the first present blast making it difficult to stay upright. “Take cover!!!” Ripley bellowed. I saw snowballs flying from his hands and I ran. I ran for my life, the present bombs exploding behind me. Of course Theo was laughing from his position at the top of the stairs. Floof! Floof! Floof! Whap! Whap! Whap! More presents landed in front of me! Holy crap! I veered to the right trying to escape. Floof! Floof! Floof! Whap! Whap! Whap! I could hardly keep my balance as I tried to run through the minefield of presents. I pushed the second button on my sleeve as my feet came off the ground from one of the presents exploding. I flew across the lobby and crashed hard into a potted plant. Rocket shoes! Game changer. I turned back to face Theo. Everything went into slow motion and I froze. Horrified, I watched as Rip took two presents to the chest to protect Jenny. Everything went deathly still as I watched them both fly back and crash through the revolving door. I felt it then. Felt myself fill with rage, an angry red rage. I’m not proud that I let the tunnel vision take over. It was like I was operating on autopilot. I hit the second button again and blasted my way across the lobby towards Theo. Snowballs ahh blazin’, I even knocked the gun from his hand before I ploughed into him and we both crashed to the ground. I hit my head. The pain was blinding. What else was new? I came to rest at the bottom of the stairs and couldn’t move. I struggled to even open my eyes. It was the icy cold fingers that grasped me by my neck that brought me back to the present… “Christmas is mine,” Theo gritted through his teeth as he leaned over me. “You will not stop me from taking it.” He tightened his hold on my neck. I was struggling to breathe. They say that when you’re on the verge of death your life flashes before your eyes. That things go white and that someone of importance speaks to you. Not for me. Nope. All I could think about was Wick. It was strange. I didn’t think about Ripley or Jenny, I thought about her... my blonde beauty. As my chest grew tight and my body started to get cold, all I could think 20 Keeping Christmas

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about was Wick working on that stupid Brainwashing Machine. It was fitting that I would think of the woman I loved with my last dying breath. So when his hands tightened once more around my neck, I forced myself to look into the eyes of the Christmas Killer one last time... and I was startled by what I saw. His whole face had turned white as snow, like turned into actual snow. I saw my breath freeze in front of my face, and I knew then that the cold I was feeling had come from the suit. His grip had pushed the teleportation button on my neck collar. Wick, Brainwashing Machine, Wick, Brainwashing Machine! ––– -CHAPTER Chapter 6 6- –––

Wick screamed the moment we materialized next to her. I tried desperately to cling to Theo but he activated his hover boots before I could get a proper grip. “Keep working!” I yelled at Wick as I stood up. I saw her pick up her tools and go back to the Machine. “It’s over Theo!” I started to say but was cut off when I collided with the office desk. I hit my rocket boots button before I could properly think and crashed into Theo on the other side of the room. He was bigger than me. That was for sure. I didn’t expect this to end well. Plus I figured this was gonna be somewhat painful. So when I took that first blow to the face, I felt my head whip back and the taste of blood fill my mouth. I told myself the same thing I’d been telling myself for years. I am a superhero. Superheroes don’t give up. I am a superhero. Superheroes fight till the end. I am a superhero! I launched my fist out and struck Theo in the jaw. He stumbled. I am a SUPERHERO! I swung my fist again. Crack! I AM A SUPERHERO! I swung my arm back wide and put my back into the forward swing. When I missed I threw myself off balance, then took two feet to the chest, crashed into the computer and rolled across the desk. I sputtered for air as I climbed back to my feet. Wick had her back turned to Theo as she worked on the Brainwashing Machine. She wasn’t able to see when he raised his gloved hands in her direction. “NOOOOO!” I yelled and .3 seconds later I had rocket-launched myself across to her and rolled us both out of the way. The Brainwashing Machine took the attacking hit and crashed into the wall, its top splitting open. 21 21

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“What? NO!” Theo screeched. He ran towards the Machine but before he got there Wick had got on her feet and chucked her boomerang at him. It collided with his head with a sickening crack. Theo crumpled to the floor and didn’t move. “Use the third button will ya!” Wick said as she stepped over Theo. I heaved myself to my feet and pressed the last button on my sleeve. A heavy stream of wrapping paper shot out of my hand. I turned and pelted Theo with the paper. I covered every last inch of him. So much that he couldn’t move. I impressed myself with my work. My mom did always say I was a mighty fine present wrapper. I’d have made her proud. Wick pulled out a tiny metal ball from her suit belt and chucked it into the Brainwashing Machine. There was a series of wild beeping noises then poof! The whole thing blew up into a snowy cloud of powder and then melted. “Good work over there,” she said, turning to me. I looked over at Theo. “Oh that! It was nothing.” “Right!” she said as she grabbed me by the suit collar and planted a kiss on me. In that moment I knew what actual heaven was like. It was awesome! “Thanks for saving me back there, panda,” she said looking into my eyes. “Why do you keep calling me a panda?” I asked. She stepped back and laughed at my face. “It’s what I call everyone who comes to Froston. Now come on! Let’s go get the other pandas and get back. We’ve still got a lot to do.” ––– -EPILOGUE Epilogue - –––

We’ve come to the end of my story. I could tell you loads more about what happened, like how Nick got Christmas back and managed to deliver all the presents to children around the world, and how all of our parents woke up believing again. I could even tell you that I got that milk and cookies date with Wick, and that Jenny and Rip finally got together. But that isn’t what really matters. What matters is that we saved Christmas. Not just for us or for the elves of Froston, but for everyone, everywhere. And it was worth it. All of it was worth it because just knowing that we helped to keep the magic and spirit of Christmas alive for even just a little bit longer made it all that much more real for us.

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It’s true we may not have seen the last of Theodore Millwall and that’s okay. Because while he is out there, so are we. The Keepers of Christmas. And we will always be here. Watching, waiting, and protecting. Why? Because that is what superheroes do.

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Keeping Christmas  
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