“POOF!” The helpers hit the ground running, and they didn’t stop until they hit the Frosty Corners Express Station.

            “Yippers!  We’re home!” Elmer shouted.

            “Who are your friends?” Brojo pointed to Lydia and several pink flamingos.

            “Uh-oh,” Phred moaned.

            Lydia shivered, “It’s c-c-c-cold here.”

            “This is Lydia, and I don’t know their names,” Ted said as he gestured to the flock of large birds. He led Lydia into the warmth of the train station. The flamingos followed behind them. “We didn’t mean to bring them,” Ted apologized. “Got any hot cocoa, Beblee?  Lydia’s freezing.”

            “Coming right up,” Beblee said. “Santa already knows that you’re back. He’s on his way. She placed the mugs of cocoa on the table. “What about these birds? They can’t stay in here,” she said, arching her eyebrow.

            “Where’s Mom and Dad?” Lydia whimpered.

            “It will be okay,” Phred said, trying to comfort both Beblee and Lydia. “Santa will be here soon. He will know what to do.”

            “Those are strange woollies.”  Brojo stared at Elmer’s legs.

            “Not nearly warm enough,” Elmer moaned; his teeth were chattering.

            Beblee brought several blankets to the group.  “Here, wrap up in these.”

            The helpers gratefully accepted the blankets and wrapped them snugly around their shivering bodies.

            News of the helpers’ return was spreading fast, and a crowd began to assemble at the train station. Lydia was just beginning to get warm when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived.

            “What have we here?” Santa’s voice boomed.

            “We’ve returned,” Ted announced.  

            Santa chuckled. “So I see, and you brought guests.”

            “Well, they sort of got caught in the dust cloud,” Phred said.

            “So what exactly happened?  You were supposed to return by plane to North Pole, Alaska, and wait for Willie,” Santa said, frowning.

            “Yes, well, these people were chasing us,” Elmer began.

            “And they were going to put us in jail,” Phred added.

            “Like my cousin!” Ted roared.

            “Jail? Cousin? What on Earth?" Mrs. Claus finally spoke.

            The helpers started talking at once, trying to explain what had happened.

              “Are you really Santa Claus?" Lydia blurted. She swatted at one of the flamingos that was nibbling at her blanket.

            “Yes, dear. He is truly Santa,” Mrs. Claus said smiling. Then she turned to the crowd. “Is Tessie here?”

            Tessie stepped forward.

            “Tessie, please show Lydia around the North Pole and then take her to your shop and show her your dolls and other things,” Mrs. Claus instructed.

            “You know my name!” Lydia exclaimed.

            “Yes, dear.  I know all of the Earth’s children by name,” Mrs. Claus stated.

            “Welcome to the North Pole, Lydia,” Tessie said, extending her hand.  “I hope you like snow.”

            “I don’t think I have enough clothes,” Lydia said, taking Tessie’s hand. “It never snows in Miami.”

            “You can borrow these,” Beblee offered a heavy coat and some mittens, which Lydia gratefully accepted.

            “Would you like to see the reindeer?” Tessie asked.

            Lydia nodded, as she carefully buttoned the coat and tugged at the mittens.  Things were happening so quickly.

            Donovan had accompanied Tessie to Frosty Corners, and Mrs. Claus turned to him next. “Donovan, see if you can find Duck and ask him to come and get these birds.  He will have to care for them for a bit. I think you better dust them; they aren’t accustomed to our climate,” she added.

            Fingering his pouch, Donovan nodded.

            Tessie and Lydia left and then Santa and Mrs. Claus began to sort out what had happened. It was mass confusion as everyone talked at once. Finally Santa said, “I’m going to the Reindeer Traffic Control Tower and observe the scene.”

            He and Mrs. Claus climbed into the waiting cart. Verde and Rojo took them to Reindeer Traffic Control.

             Violet met them at the door. “Nobby is already at the Control Center,” she informed them, leading the way up the staircase.

            Get the Miami Metro Zoo in the window,” Santa ordered, as he entered the Reindeer Traffic Control Tower, where the magical window was located.

            “USA – Florida – Miami Metro Zoo,” Nobby spoke directly to the window.  The group gazed into the window as the swirling snow gradually became sunshine. They studied the zoo scene as an officer strung crime tape around the large area.

            “That must be where they threw the dust,” Mrs. Claus commented.

            “Yes, and we must do some damage control,” Santa stated.

            “Look at all those pink birds,” Mrs. Claus said, thoughtfully.

            “And the people – who are those people?” Donovan wondered.

            “Well, there’s Jose, Rosie – Lydia’s parents – and Stan, the zookeeper, and Officer Jim,” Santa stated. “We will have to straighten this mess out, and of course, send Lydia back to her parents. See, they’re distraught.”

            Mrs. Claus nodded her agreement.  “You’ll need to draft a letter to Officer Jim,” she began.

            “And to Rosie and Jose. Lydia can deliver it when she returns,” Santa added.  “I will do that now.” He snapped his fingers and the swirling snow reappeared in the window.

            Meanwhile, Lydia was enjoying her tour of the North Pole. Tessie introduced her to all the shop elves, and then took her to Coy’s, where she ate heartily. “This is the coolest place.” Lydia was mesmerized by all the trinkets and decorations. “I’ve never seen so many ornaments, not even in the stores!”

            “And I doubt that you ever will,” Coy said proudly. “I have at least one of every ornament ever created.  Do you have a favorite Christmas song?” Coy was eager to show off his jukebox, Soozie.

            “Oh, I like them all,” Lydia laughed.

            “Well then, just think of one, and Soozie will play it for you.”

            Lydia was astounded to hear ‘Jingle Bells’ fill the room. “That’s amazing – it knew exactly what I was thinking! And just look at it rocking! ”

            “Not it, She. Go ahead, think of another one,” Coy coaxed. He placed a mug of hot cider in front of her.

            “Ummmm, okay.” Lydia sipped her cider thoughtfully.

            Soozie began playing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’

            “That’s awesome!”

            “Go ahead, another one.” Coy was grinning from ear to ear.

            “Coy, we have to get going. I still want to show Lydia a few things before we have to meet Santa at my place.” Tessie interrupted.

            “Aw, gee,” Coy said, disappointed. “I’m enjoying this visit.”

            “I’m sorry I have to leave, Coy, but it was very nice meeting you.” Lydia drained her mug. “I love Soozie,” she yelled over her shoulder, as she followed Tessie out into the cold.

            “This is North Pole Boulevard,” Tessie said, as they turned the corner.

            “What’s that place?” Lydia pointed.

            “Well, this is Polar Park, and over there is Jingle Bell Square. That’s the Big Tree,” Tessie gestured.

            “Wow! That’s the biggest Christmas tree I’ve ever seen,” said Lydia looking straight up.

            “It’s quite beautiful when it’s lighted,” Tessie said. “Would you like to see some penguins?”

            “Oh yes!” Lydia cried.

            “They’re usually at the Slippery Slope Skating Pond. It’s this way,” Tessie led her toward the Gazebo.

            “Are they in that building?”

            “No, they’re at the pond, on the other side of the building. See, there they are.”

            Lydia ran toward the frozen pond where Bee-eff and Dee-ell were skating. “Penguins can skate?”

            “These penguins can.  Bee-Eff,  Dee-Ell,” Tessie called. The pair of penguins skated in their direction. “Lydia, meet Bee-eff and Dee-ell. The penguins were a gift to Santa from the South Pole.”

            Lydia curtsied. “Pleased to meet you.”

            Bee-eff and Dee-ell nodded their hello, and then skated away.

            “They don’t talk,” Tessie said.

            “Oh. Why not?”

           “Only animals born right here, at the North Pole, can talk without wuffle dust. That’s why the reindeer don’t talk. They migrated here.” Tessie extended her hand to Lydia and urged, “We need to move on.” She led Lydia down North Pole Boulevard toward Second Street. “There’s Strubby. He operates the Christmas Archives, where Santa’s list kept,” Tessie said. Strubby hurried toward them.

         “Hello, Strubby.” Lydia greeted him.

         “Hi! You must be the little human girl I’ve been hearing ‘bout.”

        “Yessir, that’s me. I’m sorry to have made such mess of things. I suppose only Santa can straighten it out. What’s that sparkly stuff on the buildings and trees and just about everything?” Lydia exploded, full of questions now.

         “Well, it’s wuffle dust,” Tessie said.  “Or at least what’s left of it. All of our buildings are created with the dust, and you’re seeing the residue.

         “Wuffle Dust?” Lydia repeated.

         “Yes, the stuff that brought you to us,” Tessie said, laughing. “It’s our primary resource.”

         “How do you like the North Pole? Strubby asked.

         “It’s really beautiful, and fun, but I haven’t seen any reindeer.”

          “Well,” Tessie said. “Perhaps there’s enough time to squeeze in a visit to Santa’s Stables.”

          “Let’s build a snowman first,” Strubby said.

         “Don’t you have real snowmen?” Lydia asked.

          “Only on occasion. They live in Bubbleopia.” Strubby started rolling a ball of snow.  By the time they had the largest ball formed, they were joined by Rissy and Donovan.

          “We’re building a snow woman,” Rissy said emphatically.

         “Uh-uh,” chorused Strubby and Donovan. “It’s a snowman!”

         “We don’t have a lot of time,” Tessie said. “Let’s make a snow deer.” The others agreed.

         Lydia had never heard of Bubbleopia or a snow deer before, but she happily joined in the fun.  Within minutes, a magnificent snow deer stood before them. Lydia clapped her mittened hands together. “This is so cool!”

         “We’re not quite finished,” Strubby said, grinning. He pulled out his pouch of dust and blew some on the snow deer. The deer sprang to life and ran circles around them.

         Lydia giggled.

         “You see. We use a lot of wuffle dust here,” Tessie said. “This was fun, but if you want to see a real deer, we must hurry!” She waved to the others.

         They bowed and waved to Lydia. She followed as Tessie trotted through the snow. Finally she broke the silence. “What if Santa can’t find us?”

         “He will find us,” Tessie said laughing. “Look, it’s Santa’s Stables.”

         Lydia looked at the mailbox and read, “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen.”

         “That’s right. The rest of the names are on the other side,” Tessie said, then she called, “Duck, oh Du-uck!”R         Ria and Duck came out of the barn leading the flock of flamingos.

         “Who are you?” Ria asked.

         “My name is Lydia.”

         “What are you?” Ria was curious.

         “I’m a girl,” Lydia said, looking at Tessie.

         “I’m a girl!” Ria countered.

         “Well so am I!” Lydia said emphatically.

          “Duck, is she a girl?” Ria asked.

         “Of course she is.” Duck rolled his eyes.

         “What kind of girl?”

         “Ria!” Duck was exasperated. He turned his attention to Lydia.

         “Would you like a gumdrop?” he held out his hand to Lydia.

         “Yes, thank you, and I would like to see the deer, please,” Lydia said, taking several gumdrops and dropping them into her mouth.

         “Right this way.” Duck gestured toward the stable. He led the way into the barn where Santa’s team was all warm and cozy. The flamingos followed behind him. “This is Donder.”  He rubbed his favorite reindeer’s head. Donder nudged Duck’s elbow. “Okay, here ya go little feller.” Duck offered Donder a handful of gumdrops.

         “And this is Comet, and Vixen, and Prancer, and Dancer, and Blitzen, and Cupid, and finally, Dasher. Comet’s my favorite,” Ria volunteered.

         Lydia was thrilled.  “They won’t believe this back home.”

         “They don’t believe in the reindeer?” asked Ria.

         “Not really.”

         “Do they believe in Santa?” Ria quizzed.

         “Some of the little kids do.”

         “What about the big kids? What about grown ups?” Ria was getting anxious.

         “Ria, we have to leave now,” Tessie interrupted.

         “But what about . . .”

         “Ria!” Duck shouted.  Ria clamped her hand over her mouth to keep any other questions from escaping.  After quieting Ria, Duck called after Tessie, “What about these, um, birds?”

         “We’ll take them with us.  Did they eat anything?”  Tessie took the handful of leads from Duck.

         “Just my sweater. They skittered around in the snow some. I dusted them again for warmth. They weren’t looking to well when Donovan brought them,” Duck said.

         “Well, we’re going to meet Santa now. He will know what to do with them,” Tessie said. “Come Lydia.”

          “Thank you for introducing me to the deer,” Lydia said, smiling. She followed Tessie and the flamingos out of the barn. They began walking back to Tessie’s shop.

         “We must hurry,” Tessie said. She and Lydia quickened their pace, and the birds ran along behind them.

         Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Violet were exiting the cart when Tessie and Lydia arrived.

         “How did you like your tour?”  Santa asked.

         “It was the greatest fun – really cool. I met the deer!”

         Mrs. Claus smiled. “Then you met Duck and Ria, too.”

         “Yes ma’am. She met Duck and Ria, too.”  Tessie led them into the shop.  She tethered the flamingos to a table leg.

         “Lydia, I have an important job for you,” Santa said. “I have written a letter to Officer Jim. He’s the policeman that was chasing you. When you return, please read this letter. It will explain everything.”

          Lydia nodded, taking the letter. “How will I get back?”

         “We will use wuffle dust. This is Violet, the dusting fairy,” Mrs. Claus said.

         Lydia nodded.  “Pleased to meet you, Violet.”

         “Mama, look at all these flamingos. Do you think we could keep a few here?” Santa asked hopefully.

         “Now Papa, how on Earth would they survive the cold?” Mrs. Claus arched her eyebrow.

         “Wuffle dust,” Santa said enthusiastically, “And we can keep them at the Workshop.”

         “The Workshop!” Mrs. Claus knew that her argument was futile, so she just shook her head.  “Alright, Papa, but the North Pole is fast becoming a menagerie.”

         Lydia gathered her shorts and T-shirt and sandals.  “I’m ready,” she said.  Then, fumbling with her shorts she shouted, “Wait!” She reached in the pocket until she found what she was looking for. She handed Santa a small figurine. “My Dad bought this for me at A Christmas Place, but I want you to have it.”

         “Why look, Mama. It’s two little Christmas seals.” As Santa held the figurine in the palm of his hand, the seals magically came to life.

         Mrs. Claus crossed her arms and tisked.

         Using his best puppy-dog look, Santa said, “Aw, c’mon, Mama.”

         “Well, they areI precious,” Mrs. Claus said, taking them in her arms.

         Lydia stood staring, open mouthed.

         “Tell your Dad that the seals will live in Polar Park,” Santa said with a twinkle in his eye. “Thank you very much, Lydia, for your gift. And please tell Stan that I have kept a few of his birds, and that they will be well cared for. Now, it is time for you to leave us.” He handed her the leads for all but a few of the flamingos. “I’m going to keep these flamingos here,” he chuckled, untethering the birds.

         Violet handed Lydia a pouch of wuffle dust. “After you read the letter, then toss this wuffle dust into the air.”

         Lydia nodded again. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Tessie hugged her. Violet doused her with wuffle dust. “POOF!” She and the remaining flamingos disappeared.


         Lydia and the flamingos reappeared in the middle of the roped-off area in the zoo.

         “There she is!” Officer Jim shouted.

         “Wait!” Lydia yelled. “I have a message from Santa at the North Pole.” She quickly opened the letter and began to read loudly:

Greetings from the North Pole. First, to Officer Jim. When you were four years old, I brought you a red pedal fire engine and helmet. You loved it much that you wouldn’t let your sister get in it. I tell you this now so that you will know that I am truly Santa Claus. Jim, please go to A Christmas Place and speak with Lady. She will be expecting you, so don’t worry about appearing foolish. Lady will give you money to pay for the helpers’ clothing.  She will also be able to tell you the rest of the story. Do that today, because tomorrow you won’t remember. Now, Jose and Rosie, you have a very beautiful, delightful daughter. We enjoyed her visit at the North Pole, and she has many stories to share. Let her do so today, for tomorrow all of you will remember this only as a dream – but Lydia, you will always have your photo. Peace be with you all.



         Lydia folded the letter, then emptied the pouch of magic dust into her palm and blew it into the air.


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