The plane landed and taxied to a halt. Ted gathered the travel bags. “I’ll be right back,” he said, smiling at his companions.

            As he exited the plane, a wall of heat greeted him. It was so stifling that it practically took his breath away. He staggered down the steps and gratefully dropped the bags on the tarmac. Resting on the luggage, he mopped his brow with the back of his paw.  “Whew!” he gasped. “It’s warm here.”

            “’Scuse me, but did you speak?” asked a child. Her eyes were wide with amazement.

            “I said it’s hot,” Ted repeated. He didn’t realize how unusual he appeared.

            “Yes, it’s a little warm, but it can get much hotter,” she replied. “My name is Lydia.  Are you lost?  Do you live at the zoo, or maybe the circus?”

             “Zoo? Circus? What on Earth are you talking about?”

            “Where are you from?” she countered.

            “I am from the north.” Ted was trying to adjust to the heat.

            “No fooling? Dad!” She yelled.

            “I have to help my friends off the plane,” Ted said, rising.

            “Dad!” She called again, running toward the building.

            Ted slowly climbed the steps to the plane and made his way down the aisle. He dropped heavily into the seat next to Elmer. “You guys aren’t gonna believe this,” he muttered. “It’s hot out there. I mean really hot!”

            “Then we should get well quickly,” Elmer said dryly.

            Ted mopped his brow again.  “Well, I guess we better go.” He lifted Farley to his shoulder, and led Phred and Elmer into the Florida sunshine.

            Lydia and her father greeted the strangers as they exited the plane. “Hey you, Lydia says you can talk,” the man said. “My name is Jose, by the way.”

            “Yes, well, nice to meet you,” Ted said. “We are looking for A Christmas Place.”

            “Awright! You can talk!” Jose nodded his head, grinning.

            “Do you know where it is?”

            “No, but we’ll take you there.” Jose was beside himself with pleasure. 

            Lydia clapped her hands gleefully. “Follow us,” she said, and she and Jose picked up the bags. They led the travelers through the airport, and into the parking lot.

            “Rosie, look what we found,” Jose said. “Oh, this is Rosie, my wife.” Turning back to Rosie, he said, “I told them we would give them a lift.” Then he asked Ted, “Where do you want to go again?”

            “A Christmas Place,” Ted replied.

            Rosie’s mouth dropped open. “You spoke!”

            “Yes ma’am. It’s not all that unusual where we come from,” Ted said. “Can you take us to A Christmas Place?”

            “Sure, I’ll be glad to. Hop in,” Rosie said, still a little stunned. Lydia slid into the front seat next to her mother. Jose opened the back door and gestured toward the back seat.

            Elmer and Phred looked at each other. While they were beginning to understand the concept of ‘hot’ they weren’t too sure about this contraption. Phred tugged at Ted’s fur. “I don’t know about this,” he muttered under his breath.

            “Well, what do you suggest?” Ted countered.

            “It’s a car,” Jose offered. “We use it to go from place to place.”

            “Oh. I see, a car,” Elmer said.  “We make toy cars at home.”

            “Oh!”  Phred smiled slowly. “Okay, let’s go.”

            They piled into the back seat, and Rosie switched gears and sped off.

            “Whoa,” Farley moaned.

            All of the windows were opened wide.  The elves’ beards were blowing in their faces and they couldn’t see.

            “Oofta! Get offa me!” Phred cried.

            “That’s my toe,” Elmer yowled.

            “The air feels good.  It’s really hot here,” Ted roared over the sound of the wind.

            The windows closed automatically, and Rosie snapped on the air conditioner.  “Sorry, guys. It’s not too hot for this area. Where are you from?”  She eyed them in the rearview mirror.

            “The North Pole,” Elmer said.  He was already beginning to feel a better.

            “The North Pole!  No one lives at the North Pole,” Lydia smirked.

            “You have heard of Santa Claus, I presume,” Elmer huffed. 

            Lydia laughed uncontrollably. “Did you hear that, Mom?”

            “Where are you from, really?” Jose struggled to keep a straight face.

            “We are Santa’s helpers. We are from the North Pole. These are elves – perhaps you noticed how small they are? Anyway, we would be very grateful if you would take us to A Christmas Place, please,” Ted said.

            “I’ll be glad to.  Where is it?” Rosie asked.

            “In Miami,” Phred replied heavily.

            “Miami’s a big place.  Let me find out.” Jose pulled out a little box and pushed some buttons.

            “What’s he doing?” Elmer whispered.

            “I dunno,” Ted shook his head.

            “It’s a GPS,” Rosie said “He’s getting the directions. So, tell us about the North Pole.”

            Lydia started laughing again.

“Lydia!” Rosie snapped. “Mind your manners.”

            “I can’t help it, Mom,” she giggled.

            “It’s very cold there,” Ted said, ignoring Lydia’s laughter. “In fact, we have never seen anything but white ground before. Your ground is so colorful,” he added.

            “Yep, asphalt, cement, grass, and some sand,” Rosie said wryly. “It’s real colorful.  It never snows here.”

            “There are a lot of cars here,” Elmer observed.

            Lydia giggled again. “There are a lot of cars everywhere.”

            Rosie followed Jose’s directions and skillfully parked in front of A Christmas Place. Ted began fumbling with the door. Jose jumped out, and opened it.

            Ted and the others found themselves standing on the sidewalk. They waved to their new friends and then entered A Christmas Place.

            “Well, this looks a little like home, I suppose.”  Ted looked around the store.

            “May I help you?” the lady said.

            “Santa sent us,” Ted said.

            “Oh, yes. I’ve been expecting you,” she said. She motioned for them to follow her. She opened a door. “You will stay in here. Those are rollaway beds.

            “Um, where will they take us?” Ted asked.

 The lady smiled. “Nowhere. They roll away when I don’t need them. I mean, I roll them away. She helped Ted and the elves get settled. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

            “Do you have any raspberry wrinkle?” Elmer asked hopefully.

            “I’m afraid not.”

            “Oh well,” Elmer sighed.  “I guess you don’t have any twinkle berries either?”

            “No twinkle berries,” she said.

            Elmer sat on his bed, rubbing his belly. “No, you can’t get me anything. You don’t have anything.”

            “Cheer up, Elmer, we won’t be here forever,” Ted said. Then, turning to the lady he added, “Thank you ma’am.  We’ll call you if we need anything.”

            The lady smiled and backed out of the room.

            “I think I’ll rest a bit,” Phred said, lying back on his bed. Elmer had already pulled his cover over his head.

            “That’s not a bad idea,” Ted yawned, and he sat on his bed. Before long, they were all sleeping soundly.

***

            “Good morning,” the lady said, flipping on the light switch. “Goodness, you have slept a long time.”

            “Mornin,’” Ted grunted.

            “I brought coffee,” the lady added.

            “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, sitting up.  “What’s your name?”

            “Lady,” she said, matter-of-factly.

            “Amazin’!” Phred said. “That’s exactly what we’ve been calling you.”

            She pulled up a chair and sat down. “I’m one of Santa’s human helpers. So, how’s the coffee?”

            “Interesting,” Elmer said, raising his eyebrows.  The helpers had never tasted coffee before.

            “You can add sugar and cream,” she offered.

            Farley grabbed the sugar.

            “Got any chocolate?”  Elmer asked.

            “I’d settle for some popcorn,” Phred said.

            “Well now, I can get you chocolate and popcorn,” Lady said, smiling.

            “That’s great!  I thought we were going to starve!” Elmer exclaimed happily.

            “Not likely,” chuckled Ted. “There’s all kinds of food around here – just not the kind we’re used to. Right, Lady?”

            “Yes, we have lots of food,” she smiled. “I’ll get some,” she said, and left the room.

            The change of climate had made quite a difference for the elves. They were feeling much better, although they were still covered with purple and green spots.

            “I feel fine,” Elmer said.  “Can we go home now?”

            “We can't return until the splotches are completely gone,” Ted replied.

            “I didn’t know Santa had human helpers,” Phred said.

            Lady re-entered the room.  “He has lots of human helpers – all over the world.” She knew the helpers weren’t interested in a balanced meal, so she had prepared a tray of goodies. She put it on the table.

            Ted and the elves ate heartily. “This is great.” Elmer smacked his lips.  “Thank you, Lady.”

            “I understand the ocean is close by,” Ted said, licking his paws clean.

            “Yes, you can walk from here,” Lady said.

            “C’mon gang,” Ted roared, grabbing his satchel. “Let’s go see the ocean.”

            Following Lady’s directions, the helpers began the hike toward the beach.  “Geez, it’s really hot,” Phred moaned, wiping his face.

            “For real,” Elmer agreed.  He pushed his beard over his shoulder.

            By the time they reached the beach, they were all panting heavily, but the sight of the ocean revived them. Ted dropped his satchel, and they ran toward the water and began to play in the surf. The water felt cool and inviting, and before long they were soaked to the skin.

            “This is great!” yelled Ted. The others agreed. They played in the surf for awhile before they began to tire. At last, they dragged themselves onto the beach and collapsed there, exhausted but happy.

            After some time, Elmer pulled himself to a sitting position. “I feel all gritty and grimy.”         

            Their woollies were heavy with moisture and they were covered in sand. Farley tried to rake the sand from his beard.

            “Yech!”  Ted grimaced, brushing at his fur.

            “You can say that again,” Phred agreed.

            "Yech," the helpers chorused.

            They sat on the beach, in the noonday sun, not knowing what else to do.  As their clothes dried, they began to feel extremely warm and foul.

            “It is so hot here, and I can’t stand these nasty clothes,” Elmer said.

            Farley wriggled around in the sand, groaning.

            “I guess it’s time to use the dust,” Ted sighed. He dug in his satchel and found the pouch of wuffle dust. “We must use our dust sparingly,” he said.

            “I think we should ask for different clothes,” Phred said. “Look at everyone.  Folks don’t wear woollies here!”

            “Yes,” Elmer said.  “This stuff is just too darned hot!” 

Farley nodded his head in agreement.

            “Okay,” Ted said.  “Different clothes – appropriate clothes – and, uh, shorter fur.”  He carefully sprinkled some dust over the elves and himself.

            “POOF!”  The helpers clothing was transformed. 

            Elmer admired Farley’s Bermuda shorts. “Nice legs,” he grinned.

            “I don’t like these boots.” Phred frowned as he tripped over his flip flops.

            “You’ll get used to them, Phred,” Ted said. “I feel a lot cooler,” he added, admiring his own haircut.

            The helpers continued to sun themselves until dusk. Finally Ted said, “Let’s go back to A Christmas Place. I’m as hungry as a bear.”

            “You are a bear!” Elmer stated emphatically.  “Let’s go.”

            They ran all the way back to the Christmas shop.  As they threw open the door, they were met with strains of music. “—Fruitcakes in the kitchen -            Elmer’s eyes grew wide.  “Did you hear that, Farley? “Fruitcakes in the kitchen.”

            “I heard it,” Phred said, licking his lips.

            Lady greeted them.  “Did you like the beach?”

            “It was fun,” Phred said.  “Do you have fruitcakes in the kitchen?”

            Lady laughed.  “No, that’s just the radio. By the way, someone was here to see you,” she said.  “Her name was Rosie. She wants to take you to the beach tomorrow for a picnic.”

            “A picnic?” Phred wondered.

            “Lunch on the beach,” Lady said.

            “Hoo-ray,” the helpers chorused.

            “Is it time to sup?” Elmer asked, still thinking about fruitcake.

            “Yes, I have some supper for you,” she laughed.  “I like your shorts.”

            “We do too,” Phred chuckled.

            The helpers gratefully ate the goodies Lady provided and then bade her goodnight. Exhausted, they fell into their beds and slept soundly.

            The following morning they were awakened by enthusiastic chatter coming from the other room. Lydia burst through the door. “C’mon, we’re going to spend the day at the beach.”

            “Let them have their coffee, child,” Lady said, laughing. She offered the helpers their mugs.

            “Hurry,” Lydia clapped her hands.

            “Not so fast, little girl,” Phred said.  “We have to groom ourselves.”

            “Oh, okay. I’ll wait with Mom and Dad. But hurry!” Lydia left them to their preparations.

            “My spots are fading,” Elmer said, grinning.  He was admiring himself in the mirror.

            “Yes, they do seem a little lighter,” Phred agreed.

            “C’mon, we have a picnic to attend,” Ted roared. He grabbed his bag, and the elves followed him to the other room where Jose, Rosie, and Lydia were chatting with Lady.

            “Let’s go,” Lydia shouted, and the group headed for the beach.

            “Have fun,” Lady called after them.

            Upon their arrival at the beach, they dashed to the ocean. The waves broke upon the sand as Jose, Lydia and the helpers played happily in the surf.  Rosie tanned herself on the beach, and then prepared the picnic lunch. When she called to them that lunch was ready, they quickly descended upon the picnic spread and devoured it.

            “That was good.  What was it?”  Ted asked licking his paws.

            “Fried chicken,” Rosie said, smiling.

            “What!” Elmer gulped.

            “Fried chicken,” Lydia repeated.

            “Geez,” Ted moaned. “I can’t believe I ate a chicken.”

            “And liked it,” Jose said, grinning.

            Phred and Farley looked at each other woefully. “Can we go home now?” Phred pleaded with Ted.

            Ted just shook his head. “Not yet.”

            The helpers sat in the sun for awhile, lost in their thoughts. Finally, Lydia called to them, “Let’s go swimming again.”

            Ted just sat there, unable to forgive himself for eating a fellow animal. The elves stood up and started toward the water. “POOF!” Their clothes disappeared, and there they stood, buck naked.

            “Oooooo!” Lydia fell to the ground giggling.

            “Ted!” Elmer screeched.

            “Oh no!” Ted roared. He grabbed some towels and ran to his companions.

            “Wrong beach!” Jose grasped his tummy and laughed hysterically.

            Phred snatched a towel from Ted’s paws and covered himself. “Better dust us up some more clothes,” he grumbled.

            “I don’t know about that,” Ted said, handing towels to Elmer and Farley. “We have more woollies back at A Christmas Place, and we have to be careful with our dust.           If I dust up more clothes, they will just disappear again.”

            “Well, we can’t hang around here like this,” Elmer groaned.

            “We’ll get your clothes,” Jose said, trying to get control of himself. “C’mon Lydia.” They ran off in the direction of A Christmas Place. Rosie stayed with the helpers, who were huddled together, trying to hide their nakedness with towels.

            “What do we do now, Ted?”  asked Phred. “It’s too hot for those woollies.”

            “I dunno,” Ted growled, batting at his long fur. “It’s sure uncomfortable.”

            “At least you have your clothes on,” Elmer said, trying to lighten the mood.

            “Why don’t you just buy some summer clothes?” Rosie suggested.

            “And just how do we do that?” Phred asked.

            Rosie shook her head. “You guys really are from the North Pole! You take some money to the clothing store and buy some shorts and shirts. If I were you, I’d go to a children’s store,” she added, sizing up the elves.

            “What is money?” Elmer asked, confused.

            “Geez, Elmer! You know,money!  We make play money at home.” Ted shook his head in disbelief. “Money won’t be a problem. I will dust some up,” he said to Rosie.

            “I can take you shopping,” Rosie volunteered.

            “Just as long as you don’t feed me any more dead animals,” Phred said, wincing.

            “Well, if someone offers you something, be sure to ask what it is. We eat a lot of meat in these parts,” Rosie said, laughing.

            “We’re back,” Lydia hollered, as she ran toward the group.

            “Where’s Jose?” Rosie asked.

            “He’s coming,” Lydia said, catching her breath. “Here you go,” she added, handing Elmer a bunch of clothes.

            Jose came running up the beach and collapsed in the sand. 

“Beat ya,” Lydia yelled.

            “Getting’ old,” Jose gasped, out of breath.

            Rosie pointed to a sheltered bath house up the beach a way. “You can get dressed there, then I will take you to get some clothes,” she said.

            The elves were grateful to be dressed again, even though their clothes were too heavy.

“Money, and lots of it,” Ted said, and he blew a handful of wuffle dust into the air.

            “POOF!” There before them was a pile of bills, taller than they were. They stuffed their pockets and bags with the cash, and then found Rosie again.

            “We’re ready,” Phred said.

            They gathered the towels and picnic supplies and followed Jose and Rosie back to their car. “I know just where to go,” Rosie said. She dropped the car into gear and sped off.

            Before they knew what was happening, they were trying on outfits at a local children’s store. “That shirt has real personality.” Elmer laughed at Farley’s attire.

            “Better try some of these.”  Rosie handed a pair of sunglasses to Ted.

            “Why?” Ted asked, putting the glasses on. “Gee it’s dark in here.”

            “We’re going to take you to the zoo tomorrow,” Rosie said matter-of-factly. “Sunglasses for everyone.”

            “The Metro Zoo?” The cashier quizzed.  "You’ll enjoy that. It’s one of the biggest zoos in the country.”  She rang up the clothing and sunglasses.

            Farley looked down at his toes and shook his head. Ted paid the cashier. “Well, these things are bought and paid for.  They won’t disappear,” he chuckled.

            “Have a good time at the zoo,” the cashier said.

            “Let’s go.” Rosie led the way back to the car, and everyone piled in.  She eased out of the parking space and drove to A Christmas Place. She parked, so that the helpers could get out. “See you tomorrow,” she smiled.

            “Yes, Lydia said. “We want to spend the whole day at the zoo.”

            “Yep, we’re going to take you to see your cousin, Ted,” Jose chuckled. “Bye bye.”

***

            The helpers awakened early the next morning.  Elmer groomed his beard, and then admired himself in the mirror.  “These britches are so weird, and look . . . my splotches are gone,” he said enthusiastically.

            “Yes they are,” Ted agreed.  Then he examined the others. “Well, guys, it looks like we can go home tomorrow.”

            “Coffee?” Lady called, gently knocking on the door.

            “I could get used to this stuff,” Phred said, accepting the mug.

            “We’re going to the zoo today, to see my cousin,” Ted volunteered enthusiastically, “and then we’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

            “The zoo is nice. I’m glad you are feeling better. I’ll miss you when you leave, though,” Lady said.

            “Hello-o,” Lydia yelled. She burst into the room followed by her mother and father. “We brought you these,” she offered them cameras. “You’ll probably want to take pictures of the animals.”

            “What is this?” Phred asked, eying his gift.

            “A camera,” Lydia said, smirking. “You take pictures with it.”

            “Take them where?” Elmer asked.

            “We’ll show you,” Rosie said, “Once we get to the zoo.”

            “Don’t forget your new glasses, Ted,” Elmer said.

            Ted put his sunglasses on.  “It’s dark in here.”

            “They’re for outdoors only,” Jose laughed. “Let’s go.”

            Rosie skillfully maneuvered the car through the streets of Miami. The helpers were no longer afraid of the vehicle, and could even open the doors for themselves.

When they reached the zoo, Rosie parked the car, and everyone jumped out and ran toward the gate.

            Once inside, the helpers were quite taken with the big pink birds that spent more time on the ground than they did in the air. “What are those?” Ted pointed to the birds.

            “Flamingos,” Rosie said, smiling.

            “Pink flamingos,” Lydia added.

            “They’re real popular down here,” Jose said, grinning.

            Rosie taught the helpers how to take pictures. She pointed her camera at one of the large pink birds and snapped.

Farley jumped as the picture was ejected from the camera.

            “It’s okay,” Jose reassured him. “The picture will be ready in a second. Hey,” he yelled to the zookeeper. “Will you take a photo of us?”

            Happy to oblige, the zookeeper waited for them to pose. “Say ‘cheetah’,” he said, and snapped two photos.  He handed one to Farley and one to Lydia.

            The helpers were enjoying their visit to the zoo. They especially loved watching the monkeys.

 “Geez, Elmer, he looks like you,” Phred snickered, pointing.

            “I’m flattered,” Elmer chuckled.

            “This way,” Jose hollered, jogging down the path. Flamingos scattered in all directions as the helpers ran behind them. Finally, he stopped and pointed. “Your cousin,” he said triumphantly.

            Ted stared at the huge black bear. “Hello,” he said. “I’m your cousin.”

            The bear just rolled over. “What’s the matter with him?” Ted wondered.

            “He doesn’t talk!” Lydia squealed.

            “What’s he doing in jail?” Ted moaned.

            “He probably passed some funny money,” came a voice from behind him.

            The group turned and saw a man in uniform approaching. “Police,” Jose shouted. “Run!”

            The helpers wasted no time. They began running down the path.

            “Halt!” someone shouted, but the helpers kept running.

            “The dust!” Phred called to Ted, who was digging in his bag as he ran.

            “North Pole!” shouted Ted, and he threw what was left of the dust over himself and the others.

 


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