Coy spent most of Christmas Day at his diner, getting supper ready for the helpers.  As the time drew near, he checked his appearance in the mirror. He sighed and slapped his round belly.  The button popped off of his vest and rolled under the corner bench. Grunting, he squatted and looked around, but didn't find it. Using the bench for support, he pulled himself back up and gazed in the mirror.  He sucked in his tummy and held his vest together. “I don't need that ole button." He stroked his stubby brown beard and his vest sprung open.  "Nope, don't need it at all."

            Satisfied, he turned his attention to the rickety shelves that hung behind the counter. As he ran his cleaning cloth over the trinkets, Coy said, "I'm going to get rid of this junk one day.”  He shook his head.  "I ought to quit talking to myself. Someone might hear me." Glancing around his little place, he smiled. "Looks festive."

             The tables were covered with red cloths, and topped with vases of holly and poinsettias. The crystal and silver gleamed. The doors were trimmed with holiday greenery and large sprigs of mistletoe.  Crackling fires blazed from the three hearths that warmed the room.  Lights twinkled everywhere.

            Coy fingered his wuffle dust pouch. He knew Elfman Jack, the North Pole disc jockey, would arrive soon. Still, Jack would need time to set up. "We need music now." He fondly patted Soozie Q, his old jukebox, and doused her with the magical powder. "There ya go,gal."

            The jukebox bounced to life, playing Jingle Bells. There was no need to make selections; Soozie knew exactly what to play. She would happily play music for 24 hours, or until she was dusted again.

            Coy was just putting fresh logs on the fires when the bell over the door announced the arrival of Elfman Jack, owner and DJ at W-KLD.

            "Have no fear, Elfman's here. To razzle your dazzle and snazzy your jazzy.” Gonna spin you a holiday tune so you can hear ole Bing croon."

            "Hey Jack," Coy called over his shoulder. "You can set up over there."

            Elfman Jack pulled off his mirrored sunglasses and tucked them in the pocket of his tropical shirt. Then he set up his broadcasting station. He adjusted the microphone.

            Soozie switched tunes. "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth."

            Elfman frowned. "You making fun of my teeth again?" He placed his turntable and records on the bar and grinned broadly, revealing his gleaming gold front teeth.   

            "Not me! You know Soozie chooses her own songs," Coy said, chuckling.  "I love my ole gal. She always picks just the right thing, even tho she’s over 70. Still sharp as a tack.” He nuzzled Soozie.

            "You're gonna have to douse 'er ya know? To shut 'er up."

             "Once you're ready. Just wanted to make sure I had some music in case folks came early. Hey, you got a new hoop."

            Pleased that Coy noticed, Elfman Jack flicked his pointed ear. "Pure gold."

            "Nothing but," Coy said.  "I love me some bling bling."

            “Don’t I know it!” Elfman held up his hands and flashed his rings at Coy. Then he ran his boldly blinged fingers through his yellow spiked hair. "Time to rock and roll."

            The doorbell tinkled again. Yort, from the Northern Lights Weather Station, had arrived.

            "What's the word, Yort?" Elfman asked.

            "Cold!" Yort said. Without even taking off his woollies, he climbed on a chair and scanned the ceiling. "I'm gonna win this year."

            Traditionally, everyone gave an ornament to Coy to start the Christmas season. As each was given, it was placed among the thousands of trinkets from years past. During the annual Christmas Day Feast, everyone participated in a scavenger hunt; the first three helpers to find five of their previous contributions received either a special hollyberry and peppermint ice cream sundae, or a polar popcorn pop-a-doodle, winners' choice.

            "I found one," Yort yelped, tipping the chair as he fell.

            Coy giggled at Yort, who was in a heap on the floor. "Take off your coat and mittens. The hunt might be easier." 

            "It's not that funny!" Yort glared at Coy as he swatted at his backside.  He removed his woollies, to reveal his Christmas finery: a pink and gold argyle sweater, topped with a red and white polka dot bowtie.  He adjusted his yellow knickers with stubby fingers, then brushed off his bottom again, as best he could.  His short arms made it difficult to do a good job.  He was still an elfalescent, so he had hope that his stubby arms and legs would grow a little. He rubbed his smooth chin.

            “Aw, it'll show up one day," Coy teased, tugging his own scruffy beard.

***

            "It's W-KLD, twelve-25 on your dial, broadcasting from Coy's Christmas Cuisine and Popcorn Parlor, at Frosty Corners. C'mon down. The party's just beginning to roll. We're gonna Rock around the Christmas Tree, to kick things off." Elfman pushed some buttons and strains of the old favorite filled the air.

            Coy silenced Soozie with wuffle dust, and began greeting his guests, now arriving regularly.

***

            "Yo, Donovan. Boog," Yort hollered. "Over here."

            Donovan gave Yort the 'thumbs up.' "C'mon, Boog," he said, and he waved at Elfman as they passed by him.

            "My buddies." Yort embraced both of his friends. "Hey, did you bring 'em?"

            Boog smiled and nodded. "Right here in my pack."

            "Let's slip outside," Donovan said.

            Once behind Coy's store room, Boog opened his pack and retrieved the green and red sparklers. 

            "Jumpin’ jelly beans," Yort said, rubbing his hands together. 

            Donovan produced a pack of matches. 

            Within seconds they were drawing circles in the air with their brilliant fire sticks.

            "Boog and Holly," Donovan wrote. He enjoyed teasing Boog about the snow fairy.

            Boog rolled his eyes. When he was an elfling, he and Holly were best friends.

            Yort traced the words 'High Days' in the night sky. "When did you last see her?"

             "Um, Winter Wonderland, I think." Boog twirled his sparkler like a baton.

            "You haven't seen her since Wonderland?" Yort asked, surprised.

            "Boog doesn't wake up until Holly's all snug in her igloo," Donovan chided.

            Boog glared at him. "You could mind your own business," he said. Then he added wistfully, "I haven't seen her lately. Was she at the sleigh port this morning?"

            "I knew it!" Donovan yelped. "You like her, you like --"

            "Guys! “Coy yelled, interrupting. "What are you doing?"

            "Nothing," Yort said innocently, dropping his sparkler in the snow. "Just hangin' out."

            "Ting-a-ling." It was the Bell of Truth, located in the Circle of Forevergreens. It had many purposes, but it always rang softly if someone told a fib.

            "Well, you can't be up to any good out here. Besides, folks are askin' for ya." Coy started toward the door, then turned back, "I hope I'm not smelling sparklers.  They're dangerous, ya know."

            "What? No! We're just talkin'." Yort headed toward the door.

            "Ring-a-ding."

            "Let's get back to the party," Boog said to Donavan.

            They tossed their sparklers into the trash barrel and followed Coy and Yort into the dining room.

***

            A crowd had gathered inside. Some folks were chatting, others standing on chairs searching for trinkets.

            "My pal, Coy, says he has a winner," Elfman Jack announced. "First, though, supper is about to be served, here at Coy's Christmas Cuisine and Popcorn Parlor, at Frosty Corners.  If you're not here already, c'mon down and join the fun." He winked at the crowd. "And for those of you who can't make it, may you bask in the light of the High Days."

            The helpers found seats. "Take a break, Jack," Coy said, dousing Soozie Q again.

            Soozie began rocking as Coy served his fabulous sweet and savory soup and kringle crunchy corn bread. He was dipping up the sleighride punch when the loud racket started.

            Pop! Bang, pop pop pop!

            The warm, salty aroma of popcorn filled the air, followed by the unmistakable smell of smoke. 

            "Fire! Fire!" Several folks yelled, and the party turned into chaos.

            As most of the guests ran toward the exits, Coy fought his way toward the storeroom.  An avalanche of pop corn greeted him when he opened the door. He spotted the flames on the far side of the storage room by the open back door. He swam through the popcorn, but didn't get far. He felt the heat as he dug around for something to smother the fire. At last, he wrapped his fingers around Melvin, the fire extinguisher. Grabbing his wuffle dust pouch, he doused Melvin.

             Melvin sprang to life, spitting and hissing as he sprayed foam on the fire. "Take that, you big blowhard ball of blaze." He wielded his nozzle round and round.

            Tongues of fire lapped at Melvin. The flames were not ready to surrender, although they were smaller now.

            Melvin bravely bounced into the inferno, his nozzle circling. "Fizzle, you foul, fickle, freaky fire!"

            The flames flickered one last time in defiance and then disappeared.

            "So grateful to you, Melvin." Coy was relieved. "Let's get outta here."

             "I'm right behind you." Melvin's reply was muffled by the popcorn. He bounced behind Coy.

            They struggled and finally made it outdoors, but not before the popcorn flooded the area. It was flowing into the street. After a bit, the popping slowed and the river of popcorn finally stopped.

            Coy grabbed Melvin's spray nozzle and pumped it, thanking him again and again.

            "Just doin' my job." Melvin looked at the popcorn. "You have some tough work ahead, though."

            Coy sighed. "Yep, but you've done your job.  Now, go on.  Get outta here."

            Melvin saluted with his nozzle and disappeared into the popcorn.

***

            The helpers, who had fled down Second Street to safety, were now returning to observe the huge mess. They wore looks of concern.

            "Geez, what are we gonna do about this?" Donovan looked around.

            Coy thought for a moment. "Go to your shops and get wagons, and pails, and jars -- and shovels -- whatever you have."

            The helpers scattered in all directions. Within minutes they were returning with all the containers and tools they could carry.

            "Okay, now let's clean up the popcorn," Coy ordered.

            "But what will we do with it?" someone whined.

            "One thing at a --"

            "I came as soon as I heard." Violet interrupted Coy. "I brought some dust."  The Snow Fairy of Magic was in charge of the wuffle dust spring, and the Well.  Her purple and lavender gossamer wings sparkled and reflected the light as they gently fluttered.  Complementing her deep set violet eyes, her gown trained behind her as she hovered above the popcorn pile.

            "I'm sure glad to see you," Coy said. "What should we do?"

            "I will dust the popcorn, and then you can eat it," Violet said confidently, and she flew over the huge mountain of popcorn, and sprinkled it with wuffle dust.

            "POOF!" The popcorn was reduced to a fraction of its original size.

            "Okay, eat!" Violet and Coy chorused.

            The helpers began to gobble the popcorn. They ate until they were bloated, but in the end, the popcorn was gone, the problem was solved, and everyone was pleased.

***

            The following day proved to be historic, and became better known as 'the day the North Pole stood still.' That afternoon an illness of epidemic proportions fell upon the village. The wuffle dust wore off, the popcorn returned to normal size, and the helpers' tummies felt like they would explode from all they had eaten. They moaned and groaned and rolled around holding their bellies, and swearing never to eat that much of anything again.

            While delivering mail, North Pole Phil, the polar bear postman, discovered that everywhere he went, he found sick helpers. Even Doc, who normally cared for the ill, was affected. So, when Phil arrived at the Workshop, he summoned Mrs. Claus and explained the helpers' problem.

            Concerned, she left Santa sleeping, and went into the village to nurse the elves. Going from place to place, she offered them fizzy liquid remedies to help their tummy aches. She knew lots about tummy aches because Santa loved to eat. 

            When she arrived at the Northern Lights Weather Station, Mrs. Claus offered Yort a spoonful of medicine.             

            Yort opened his mouth wide and swallowed it like a champ. His nose twitched and his lower face puckered. "I think we learned something new about the wuffle dust," Yort scowled.

            "Yes," Mrs. Claus said. "It's not a good idea to make food small and eat it."

            "Yes ma'am, and that's what I'll be recording in the log."

            When she arrived at the Christmas Cuisine, she asked Coy how the fire started. 

            "I'm not sure, Mrs. Claus, but I think it was sparklers."

            "Sparklers! They're only allowed during Winter Wonderland!"

            "Yes ma'am." Coy groaned, clutching his belly. "But can we talk about it later?"

            "Yes, we will talk about it tomorrow -- but someone will have a consequence.  Fires are very dangerous!"

            At Elves' Quarters North, Boog and Donovan took their medicine without complaining. 

            Mrs. Claus tucked her spoon into her apron pocket and started toward the door.

            "Um, Mrs. Claus." Boog's voice was almost a whisper.

            "Yes, Boog."

            "It was my fault. I brought the sparklers."

            "And I had the matches," Donovan said meekly.

            "Was anyone else involved?"

            "No ma'am," Boog and Donovan chorused. "It was my idea," Boog added.

            "Ring-a-ling."

            Mrs. Claus thought for a bit.  "I don't think that is the complete truth, but thank you for taking responsibility for the fire. Now hand over the matches."

            Donovan slipped his hand into his pocket, and retrieved the matches. 

            "Now boys, for your consequence.  Until the Little Christmas party, you must work at the Fire Department instead of having the time off--and, you must help Coy restore his kitchen."

            "Yes, ma'am," they chorused.

            After visiting the remainder of the helpers, and making sure they were comfortable, she returned to the Workshop, where she woke Santa to tell him what happened.

            "They should be fine by tomorrow, and the culprits will have to work doubly hard," she reported. 

            Santa chuckled. "And I'm sure they will pop right to it."


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