Helpers Unlimited was the trade school for elves. Those who migrated directly from the Starlight Forest magically found their way to the school. They learned a variety of skills under Brubaker's stern direction.  There were usually at least two or three new elves in training. For some, training lasted a long time. For others, it was brief. It really depended on the needs of the community, and the skills of the elf.

            Elves were the only helpers who attended school. They had to learn almost everything, from A to Z. Once they went to work at the North Pole, they needed many skills, because they were always adjusting to the needs of the community. Rarely did elder elves transfer, but elves and elfalescents were willing movers and shakers.

            On the rare occasion that an elf was offered an unfamiliar assignment, additional training might be required. They studied at Helpers Unlimited, too.

            Talan, an elfling, showed up at Helper's Unlimited one late summer morning. Skye, the only other first-time student, greeted him.

            "How long have you been here?" Talan asked.

            "Maybe a decade. I'm not sure," Skye said.

            "Brubaker wants to see me at half past." Talan eyed the pretty elfalescent. "Do you know what he wants?"

            Skye sighed. "He's going to give you a tour, and tell you what to study first. Then he'll say not to use wuffle dust."

            "What's wuffle dust?"

            "The stuff we're not allowed to use. There's this elf, though, named Phred. He knows all about it."

            "What are you studying? My name's Talan, by the way."

            "Nice to meet you. I'm Skye. I'm learning to make toys. It doesn't matter, though, because all I ever do is decorate for the parties."

            "Parties?"

            "Yep. The helpers are always having parties, and they're too busy working and playing to prepare for their shindigs. That's where we come in." Skye looked over her shoulder. "I thought Brubaker was coming, but it's just Ria."

            "Hey Skye!" Ria looked at Talan. "Who are you?"

            "Ria, meet Talan. He just got here. He has to meet with Brubaker at half past."

            "I just saw him. He said I had to pass my Kerfuttle Tea recipe this week. Next week we have to start decorating for Winter Wonderland."

            Skye looked at Talan. "See, I told you. We do all the decorations."

            Ria sighed. "Well, Phred and I have other jobs. I don't know how we'll find time to trim the place, unless we give up our play time."

            Brubaker, entering the room just then barked," The price of being a student." As the elves hastily straightened themselves, he added, "I'm ready for you, Talan." And he left the room.

            Nervous, Talan followed, looking back at Skye and Ria. He hurried along behind Brubaker.

            "For someone so noisy, he sure does sneak up on you," Skye said.

            "I have to go to the kitchen, and try to blend the Kerfuttle Tea again," Ria said. "I flunked it the last time."

***

            "This is where you will begin your study." Brubaker pointed to the long workbench. "It's trial and error, here. You may not use wuffle dust."

            "What will I be learning?" Talan asked.

            "Your first lesson is to keep your mouth closed and pay attention."

            Talan gulped.

            "You will begin by learning to make nutcrackers." Brubaker looked sternly at Talan. "Now, the text books are here, and -- follow me -- the library is there."

            "Yessir."

            "And your chores will be cleaning the little elf's room, and sweeping the floors. You will sleep in the bunk room. I'll be in the office, if you need me. Now get to work."

            Talan jumped. Just like that, he was alone in the hallway. He looked around.  Then he went into the room with the big workbench. He shoved the short step ladder against the bookcase and climbed to the middle rung. He read the titles until he found Nutcrackers from the North. He selected the book, and sat on the top of the ladder.

            Ria slipped into the room. "Hey, Talan," she whispered. "What did Brubaker say?"

            Talan closed the book. "He said I'm going to learn to make nutcrackers, and that he's in the office if I need him. I hope I don't!"

            "We learn from books, and by doing things ourselves. I never go looking for Brubaker. He finds me. He's everywhere!"

            "He's mean."

            "Not so much, after you get to know him. He's firm, though. Did he give you any chores?"

            "Cleaning the little elf's room and sweeping."

            Ria shrugged. "I have to clean the windows, and the kitchen."

            "What's wuffle dust?"

            "It's our natural resource, and it's what keeps the North Pole rolling along. We can't use it here, though. We have to learn to do things without it. Once we're outside, though, we use it everywhere."

            "I guess I should get crackin' on these nutcrackers," Talan said.

            "I'll bring you some Kerfuttle Tea later, if it turns out."

***

            Later that day, Brubaker summoned the students and told them he was going to Frosty Corners on an outing. "I expect you to continue studying, as if I were here."

            "Yessir," they said in unison.

            Brubaker nodded, and strutted out the door, allowing it to slam behind him.

            "What's up with him?" Ria asked.

            Skye shook her head. "I don't know."

            "What? He never goes out?" Talan asked.

            "Sometimes, but not very often," said Skye.

            Phred, who had been silent until now, took charge. "Well, you heard him. Back to work."

            "Who's that?" Talan whispered.

            "Oh, sorry. That's Phred." Ria said. "Hey Phred, c'mere."

            "Yeah?"

            "This is Talan. He's brand new, straight from the Starlight Forest."

            Phred extended his hand. "So happy to meet you, young fella. What are you studying?"

            "Nutcrackers, sir."

            "Oh, I'm not a sir, I'm just Phred."

            "Why is that other old guy so mean?" Talan asked.

            "Brubaker? Aw, he just doesn't use any wuffle dust, so he's an old fuddy duddy." Phred looked at the new helper. "You'll get used to him, I promise. You can't use dust here, but when you get outdoors, make sure to use some, and you won't be like him."

            "Where do I get wuffle dust?"

            "It's everywhere," Phred said.

            "You get your own pouch, when you graduate," Ria proudly showed her pouch to Talan.

            "So, what are you doing here?"

            "I'm studying cooking. Sometimes it's fun, but sometimes it's hard. I'm failing my newest lesson." Ria stamped her foot.

            "But you already have a pouch," Talan said.

            "So does Phred," Skye chimed in. "They are studying new things, right Ria?"

            Phred stepped in. "That's right. I'll tell you a little about wuffle dust, but then we really must get back to work. Will you help me, Ria?"

            "Of course I will." Ria was happy to be treated as an equal.

            "Okay, then. Ria and I will tell you what we know about wuffle dust, but no one knows everything, and there are new discoveries from time to time. Yort, one of the weather guessers, is the expert," Phred said.

            Ria added, "He keeps a log book, and studies the dust."

            "So, first I'll ask what you know," Phred said.

            "Nothing," Talan said.

            "I know it makes toys small enough so they can all fit in Santa's sack. And Santa --it makes him small, too, so that he can slide down chimneys. It helps the reindeer fly, too." Skye smiled at Talan.

            "That's true," Phred said, "But it was also used to create every building here at the North Pole."

            "And it makes Soozie rock," Ria added.

            "Soozie?" Talan asked.

            "Okay, Soozie is Coy's jukebox. Talan, you are new here, so the best way to learn is to listen."

            "Brubaker told me to shut up, too."

            "Just don't interrupt, and ask your questions when we're finished. That way we can get back to our studies." Phred spoke with authority. "Now, wuffle dust seems to do almost everything we need here in this region. One thing we've learned is that it usually wears off in 24 hours."

            "The Forest Cabin elves use it to find the perfect Christmas trees," Ria said.

            "Yes, but the most important thing to remember is that when you decide to use it, your intention is as important as the dust itself. If you want to make something smaller, it will be smaller. Same thing with bigger. And if you want to make a snowman, or an ice sculpture come alive, that's what will happen. But, there is no accounting for what occurs when it's scattered accidently. One time I almost went to jail! But that's a long story for another time. Any questions?" Phred asked.

            "Where do we get some?" Talan asked.

            Ria crossed her arms. "You don't need it yet. It's not authorized."

            Phred grinned. "It's all over the place. When we're outdoors, I'll give you some, but you can only use it with supervision, because you have to know what you're doing. Your very last class here will be about wuffle dust. But, again, we don't know everything yet."

            "But, Phred, there's the Well at the sleigh port," Ria said.

            "Yep, you're right, Ria. If you run out of dust, you can always get more at the Magic Dust Well. So, are we good? Can we get back to work?"

            Talan and Skye nodded.

            Phred laughed. "Well, scoot, then."

            And the helpers scattered.

 

 


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