Girl heads to the North Pole, meets Santa

Editor’s note: This is the third of a 12-chapter holiday tale running daily until Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read aloud to their children.

Joy stared in disbelief as a short, pudgy man ran chaotically toward her, flailing his arms about.

He was shorter than her, though it was obvious he wasn’t a child. His skin was lined with age, and his short-trimmed beard was as white as the snow outside, but his cheeks were pink and his round blue eyes were bright.

He sighed impatiently and pointed his pudgy finger at her. “No time for dawdling, you’re late!”

He grabbed her hand and led her out of the warm shop, and she gasped as the icy air hit her face.

“Just where have you been?” he was asking her, and she yanked her hand away and stopped.

“I’ve been…” she looked around frantically. “Right here. Well, for a while. Before that I was at Sunnybrook, but then I was here. The snowflake!” she gasped. “I touched it and now I’m here! Where is here? Is this just a really real dream? When will I wake up? Why are you so short? And can you smell cookies?” Joy rattled of her list of nervous questions, staring down at the man.

His stern look of serious concern melted into a warm smile.

“Well, no matter why you’re late. You’re here now, and we have to hurry. Plenty of time for questions later. He’s waiting for you!”

“Who’s waiting for me? I’m not going anywhere with you! You’re a stranger!”

“Well, that’s an easy problem to solve.” He smiled again and gave short bow. “I’m Franklin, Head Elf. Very pleased to meet you, Joy Noelle. Now here.” Ignoring her look of confused shock, he reached into his tiny pocket and pulled out a pair of puffy snow boots, a warm wool hat and a scarf and handed them to Joy. “Put those on. We need to hurry.”

Joy hesitated, but she did as she was told. Not because she wanted to be obedient, but because she was freezing. And as strange at all of this was, she felt safe.

“Head Elf?” Joy shook her head. “There’s no such things as elves. That’s stupid. Just tell me where we are, I want to go home.”

“Do you?” he asked kindly “Do you really want to go back, Joy Noelle?” He raised his bushy white eyebrows at her and grinned and waited.

Joy thought of all the kids at Sunnybrook giggling and happy as they celebrated the magic of Christmas, the kind she’d stopped believing in ages ago.

“Well, maybe I’ll stay. Just long enough to get warm and dry,” she added snippily. “And I want answers.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Soon. Hurry now, he’s waiting.”

She had to jog to keep up with Franklin’s brisk walk. For such a little man, he could really move. He stopped abruptly once, throwing his arm out to halt Joy as three small reindeer darted out into the street directly in front of them. A man even smaller than Franklin chased after them, calling out a hurried “sorry!” as he zoomed past.

Franklin shook his fist and grimaced at them before continuing to the tall golden steps leading up to the multi-clock tower building.

“Silly reindeer recruits,” he mumbled to himself, but Joy ignored him, entirely focused on the person standing at the top of the steps.

The tall man with a long white beard smiled as he moved down the steps to where she and Franklin stood.

“Sir, I found her! She’s here!” Franklin said excitedly.

The man chuckled, sticking his thumbs under the straps of his suspenders. “I can see she’s here, Franklin.” He smiled, his eyes twinkling. “Welcome, Joy Noelle.”

Joy was speechless as she stared, taking in his velvety red pants with fluffy white cuffs. He looked awfully familiar. But…no, that was impossible.

Loud Christmas carols began to play, seeming to come from the air itself. “Ah, dinner,” the man said, rubbing his round belly. “Come, let’s eat and we can discuss why I called you here.”

“Why you called me? What do you mean? Where is here? Who are you?” Joy asked, her voice pleading.

The man looked to Franklin, who smiled, then back to Joy. He tilted his head and pushed his round glasses up his nose, and she saw a sparkle in them that was as bright as a star.

“I thought you knew, child.” He gestured to the small town surrounding them. “This is the North Pole, of course.”

He put an arm around her gently. “And I am Santa Claus.”

Read the next installment on Page 1B of Sunday’s Tribune Chronicle.

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