Outside of the Proper, things weren't quite as busy. Helpers Unlimited had no students, at the moment, so nothing was going on there. Brubaker avoided the Proper during the Big Push. He hated all that blatant use of wuffle dust. He chose to spend the time doing lesson plans, for he knew more elves would come after Begin Again Day.

***

             At Santa's Stables, everything operated on a regular schedule, until December 23rd.  Ria and Rissy cared for the reindeer daily, but had an occasional chance for some rest and relaxation.  On this mid December afternoon, Ria and Rissy found themselves with just such an opportunity.

            Ria was more inquisitive than anyone at the North Pole.   She was into everyone’s business. She didn’t mean to be nosey; she just was.  Curiosity and eagerness usually got her into trouble.  Still, because she was so young and cute, just about everyone found her endearing -- everyone except Rissy.

          They had finished their chores.  All of the reindeer were brushed and fed, and their stalls were tidied.  Rissy was returning the water bucket to its peg on the wall – and of course, Ria was her usual nosey self.

            “What are you doing next, Rissy?”

            “Uh, I’m not sure.  I might go to Polar Park.”

            “Why are you going there?”

            “I said I ‘might’ go.”

            “Oh,” Ria said, frowning.  “Aren’t you gonna tell me what you’re up to?”  She pulled the bows from her curly brown ponytails and shook her hair so that it bounced around her face, forming a luscious mane.

            “No, and I’m tired of your questions, Ria.  I need a little time to myself.”  Rissy pressed Ria’s pug nose with her finger. “No offense, kiddo.”

             Ria grabbed her nose between her thumb and forefinger and straightened it, three times.  “Why do you always mess with my nose?  You know I hate that.”

            “Yep.  That’s why I do it.  It’s the only thing I know that aggravates you.  And, it’s funny the way you just have to straighten it out.”

            “Well, stop it,” Ria commanded.  Then, bouncing back, as always, she said, “Well, okay then, I’ll just take Comet out.”  Ria grabbed Comet’s lead.  “C’mon, boy.  We’re gonna fly.”  She turned back to Rissy and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to be a snowbird?  I could fly by myself.”

            Rissy shook her head and sighed.  “I’ll see you tomorrow, Ria.” She reached for Ria’s nose.

            Ria quickly turned her head.  “Stop it!”  She snatched her sack of wuffle dust from the bench and led Comet to the hill behind the Stables.   Ria climbed on Comet‘s back, and doused him with wuffle dust.

            “Fly,” she whispered in Comet’s ear, and he leapt into the air.  “Higher,” Ria pleaded, and Comet obliged.  “Faster,” she begged.  Together they soared farther than they ever had before.

            “Wheeee, I’m a snowbird!”  Ria closed her eyes and tilted her face toward the sky.  She extended her arms behind her, paralleling her flowing hair.  “I’m a snowbird!” she squealed with delight.

            Suddenly, Comet met a headwind.  He dipped his head as he tried to right himself, but the unexpected gusts proved to be too strong for him.

            Ria clutched at Comet’s neck, but it wasn’t within her grasp.  She tumbled through the air and landed hard in the deep snow.   She blinked, and faded, like fireworks in a nighttime sky.  In a snap, she was dust.

***

            Orin bolted upright!  The scalometers were on the move.  He watched as the TS began to rise.   “Yort,” he cried, knocking over his chair.  “Yort!”

            “I’m coming.”  Yort was already scrambling up the staircase.

            “It’s the TS--it’s rising.”

            Yort glanced at the Trouble Scale.  “I’ll go for Santa,” he said.  He started back down the stairs. 

            “Wait,” Orin yelled.  "The Brilliance Gauge is nearly at 10!"

            “Uh oh!  I’ll be back in a flash.” Yort grabbed his wrap as he dashed out the door.  He struggled into his coat as he hurried toward the Workshop, falling several times before he got there.  “Get Santa,” he said, breathlessly.

            Bernard, the workshop supervisor, ran out and was back with Santa in a flash.

            “I think something bad is happening, Santa!  The scalometer is going crazy,” Yort exclaimed.

            “Mama,” Santa called.

            “Coming.”

            “Get in the cart,” Santa told Yort.  Mrs. Claus was already climbing into the front seat.  “Reindeer Traffic Control!” Santa commanded.

            Verde and Rojo leapt to a gallop, almost dumping Yort from the cart.  They sped toward the Sleigh Port, and skidded to a stop in front of the control tower.

            "Get this stuff out of the way," Santa ordered, and the helpers were fast to clear the path.

            Quick as lightning, Santa, Mrs. Claus and Yort were running up the stairway toward the observation room.  Donovan was right behind them.  “What’s happening?”

            “We’re trying to find out,” Yort said.  He was standing with the others in front of the observation window, which was filled with swirling snow.

            Santa snapped his fingers.  The window cleared, and the group peered through it.  They were puzzled, for they saw nothing but snow.

            Mrs. Claus turned to Yort.“Are you sure the scalometer was erratic?”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Yort said.  “I saw them myself.”

            “Them?” Santa asked.

            “Well, I saw the TS rising a little, but as I was leaving, Orin said the BG was topping out.”

            “Oh dear!  There’s been an accident.” Mrs. Claus looked through the window again.  “Where is it, Papa?”

            Santa scratched his head.  “I’m not sure, but we better start some damage control.  Donovan, can you get Violet?  You two will have to pinpoint the exact location.”

            Donovan dashed toward the staircase. 

            “You can drop me at the weather station, Mama, then get the urn.”

            “I wonder who it is,” Yort said sadly.

            “We will find out soon enough.  Focus on the goodness and wonder of our mission.  We can’t let the PIN drop,” Santa said, as they climbed into the cart.  He snapped the reins, “Weather station.”

            In just seconds they were jumping out of the cart again.  Mrs. Claus took the reins and Verde and Rojo galloped off.

            Upon their arrival at the Northern Lights Weather Station, Santa and Yort climbed the stairs, more slowly now.  “What’s going on?  Santa wanted to know.

            Orin looked at him sadly.  “The BG went crazy, just for a second.  It went straight to the top, and then dropped right back down.”

            “Yes, there’s been an accident.  Someone faded instantly,” Santa said.

            “Who?”

            “We don’t know yet.  We don’t even know where.  Donovan and Violet are trying to determine that now.  It’s in the distant region, though – someplace where no one lives.  I don’t have the vaguest idea who it could be.  This is a job for the bears.” 

            “Yo, are you up there?” Donovan called.  Violet and Donovan were up the stairs before anyone could answer.

            “Wow, how’d you get here so fast?” Yort wondered.

            “Dust.” Violet rolled her eyes at Yort’s ignorance.  “Santa, we believe the accident occurred south of the stables, and just on the other side of the Christmas Tree Forest.”

            “Must be one of the forest elves.” Orin sighed.

            “Violet, find the bears.  Tell them to meet me at the Forest Cabin.  Then find Mrs. Santa and tell her to bring the urn.  Dust me out to the Cabin, will you?”

            “Forest Cabin,” Santa commanded.

             Violet tossed the dust on Santa and he disappeared.

***

            Meanwhile, Rissy returned to the stables, only to find Comet wandering around the yard, and Ria missing.

 


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