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Hannah meets Santa Claus, aka grandpa

Hannah always had loved going to the mall and department stores at Christmas time; she enjoyed the way they always turned into magical winter wonderlands, and one of her favorite things to do was visit Santa at the mall every year.

Now, even though she was actually right here in the middle of the North Pole, feeling the cold air nip her face as the polar bear trotted down the road, she wanted to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

She hugged the bear, pressing her face down into his warm, soft fur as he slowed down outside of a massive log cabin, decorated to look like a gingerbread house.

“This is our stop, kiddo,” Max said as he slid off the bear. Hannah gave hers another hug before following Max up the wooden steps. Before they reached the candy-cane striped double doors, they burst open and a frazzled-looking elf with wild red hair rushed outside.

“What on earth took you so long? Hurry, hurry, everything is a mess and I just know we’ll never get it figured out in time, and Biggs said he quits because I yelled at him, but goodness, how was I NOT supposed to yell at him when he made such a terrible, awful mistake? And–“

“Spriggy.” Max cut him off, grabbing him by the shoulder and giving him a shake. “Get ahold of yourself. There’s no problem too big for us to fix, you know that.”

Spriggy blinked rapidly, nodding his head. “OK. Yes, you’re right. But–“

“No buts!” Max waved for Hannah to follow him inside. “Hannah, meet Spriggy, our production manager.”

Spriggy’s eyes widened as he recognized her. “Hannah! Of course! We’ve been expecting you.”

“Nice to meet you, Spriggy,” Hannah said distractedly as her senses were overwhelmed at the sights and smells and sounds around her. They stood on a landing that overlooked the workshop, and the scents of peppermint and cocoa mingled with fresh-cut wood and paint as she watched thousands of elves hard at work. Some were at long tables painting, some were assembling toys, some were sitting at desks behind giant computer screens, and hundreds were scurrying around the room. Laughter and chatter mixed with the merry sounds of Christmas music and the blips and beeps of countless toys being tested.

The huge room had multiple levels, going up much higher than the building had appeared from the outside. Crowded escalators took elves up to each level, while colorful, twisting slides took them down.

Against the far wall, under a bright sign that read “Letter Center,” envelopes constantly dropped out of a chute from the ceiling, and dozens of elves opened them and fed the pieces of paper into slots on the wall while they stared at huge computer screens.

“Oh my,” was all she could say, and Max smiled.

“It’s something, isn’t it?”

“Max!” A tall, thin elf ran over to greet them. “Max, you have to talk to Briggs, he’s about to have a breakdown!” He glared at Spriggy. “And one of the letter feeders just jammed at the Letter Center.”

Max sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Hannah, please excuse me for a moment. Let me take care of this, and then I’ll introduce you to your grandfather.”

“I think I can take care of the introductions just fine,” a deep, cheerful voice said from behind them, and with a gasp Hannah spun around to see Santa Claus himself standing not two feet away from her. He wore a simple red sweater instead of his famous white-cuffed Santa suit, and the blue eyes that twinkled at her from behind round spectacles were identical to her mother’s. He held bundles of bright yellow and black-striped paper in his arms.

“Grandpa,” she whispered.

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