Orin and Yort, the weather guessers, spent most of their time observing, tracking, and predicting the atmospheric conditions at the North Pole. One thing was certain; it was freezing cold, no matter the season. Because the sun shone brightly in summer, the temperature was a little warmer than in the winter, when it was way below freezing.

            In addition to reporting the weather, they monitored the positive ion count.  These particles were critical to the existence of the North Pole.  The PIN, or Positive Ion iNdex, indicated the number of positive ions present in the atmosphere.  The PIN was almost always close to the top of the scale, but occasionally it would fall a bit.  No one wanted the PIN to drop, because that meant the North Pole was in danger.  In fact, once, when the PIN dropped, the Candle Shop disappeared; but that was before the Trouble Scale was invented.

            Since the implementation of the Trouble Scale, the PIN had not dropped.  The TS measured trouble at the North Pole.  Now trouble could come in a variety of ways; for example, anger, sadness, or disappointment.  Most of the time, the TS read 0, which was exactly what Orin and Yort liked to see.  If the TS rose above 0, the elves became concerned, because once it reached 10, the PIN would drop.

            Finally, there was the Brilliance Gauge  (BG), which detected the intensity with which the entire North Pole sparkled.  This rarely changed, but if it rose, an area at the North Pole was twinkling more than usual, which almost always meant someone was fading.


            Yort was in charge of the first floor, where the properties of wuffle dust were studied.  In the lab, he routinely experimented with the mystical powder, and documented the results of its effects.  Then he repeated the experiments and analyzed the data in the hopes of learning more about the North Pole’s primary resource.  However, the majority of information collected about this powder was discovered accidentally, and most frequently when someone used it irresponsibly.


            “Wuffle dust will transport elves and humans over vast distances.  When used in this manner, its effects last much longer than the usual 24 hours.  The length of time the wuffle dust is effective has not yet been determined.”  Yort was meticulous when he documented in the record because Strubby was very particular about the information that was preserved at the Christmas Archives.

            Yort was closing the big log book when Orin burst into the room.  “The BG is rising!  Someone is fading!”

            Yort dropped the log and raced up the stairs, with Orin close behind him.  They both stared at the Brilliance Gauge, as it rose slowly, but steadily.  “I think I better get Santa,” Yort said as he pulled his stocking hat over his ears.

            Orin continued to monitor the BG while Yort ran all the way to the Workshop.  “Where’s Santa?” he gasped.  He was breathing hard.

            “He's in the residence,” Bernard said.

            “Please send him to the Weather Station as soon as possible,” Yort ordered.

            Bernard could tell it was urgent. “I’m on my way."

            Yort quickly retraced his steps to the Weather Station.  “What’s the BG reading now?” he shouted as he reached the top of the stairs.

            “It’s still rising,” said Orin.

            Yort had just finished hanging his overcoat when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived.

            “What’s happening?” Santa bellowed as he hurried up the staircase.

            “Someone’s fading.”  Orin gestured to the BG.

            Santa eyed it momentarily.  “Yes, someone is definitely fading. Come, Mama.  We must get to the oBGervation tower.  Orin, you come, too.”  Orin and Mrs. Claus followed Santa down the stairs and out the door, where Verde and Rojo were waiting.

            In no time, they were running up the stairs at Reindeer Traffic Control.  “What’s going on?” Donovan yelled to Orin.

            “Someone's fading.”

            Donovan, Nobby, and Violet followed the others to the tower.  Everyone gathered around the window and Nobby asked, “Who is fading?”

            Santa snapped his fingers and the swirling snow cleared.  Santa’s Stables appeared in the window.  At first, they saw only Donder, but then he moved aside, and Duck was leaning against the building, twinkling.

            “I’ll get the urn, and go to the Stables,” said Mrs. Claus. “You dispatch the others, Papa.”

            Santa thought for a moment, then cleared his throat. “Orin and Nobby, please find Brojo, Strubby, Jimbo, and Tessie. Ask them to go to the stables. Tell them that Duck is fading, and to hurry. Mrs. Claus will meet them there.”  Santa snapped his fingers and the swirling snow reappeared in the window.

            “It’s important to keep your spirits high,” Santa reminded the others.  Violet and Donovan nodded their understanding.

            Mrs. Claus smiled and said, “Yes, Papa, I’m on my way.  I will see you at home.”  She went to the waiting cart.

            “Do you want me to dust you home?” Violet asked.

            “No thank you.  I think I’ll walk,” Santa said, and left the Reindeer Traffic Control Tower.


            Brojo and Tessie went together to the Stables.  Strubby was already there, and Jimbo arrived shortly thereafter.  They found Duck, now twinkling brightly.  They could still see that Duck was smiling. 

            “I’m going back to the forest,” he said happily.

            “We will miss you,” Jimbo said.

            Duck was twinkling very brightly now . . . and very quickly.  He brightened so intensely that they had to look away, and when they turned back to him, all that remained was a pile of sparkling dust.

            Mrs. Claus arrived as the helpers began to gather the dust.  Tessie took the urn and held it while Brojo, Jimbo, and Strubby carefully put the sparkling dust, that was once Duck, inside.  Tessie replaced the lid and handed the urn to Mrs. Claus.

            “Where is Ria?” Mrs. Claus asked, remembering the little elf who worked with Duck. 

            “We haven’t seen her,” Strubby replied.

            “Please find her, and when you do, take her to Santa.  He will be at home. Do not upset her.  Remember, we must avoid making the PIN drop, no matter what.”

            Mrs. Claus got into the cart, and Verde and Rojo took her in the direction of the Starlight Forest.


            Meanwhile, Ria and Comet were beyond the Stables, playing in the snow.  Ria loved Comet more than any of the other deer.  She didn’t know why, but Comet was her favorite.  Comet loved Ria, too, and allowed her to ride upon his back.  This was where Tessie and Strubby found her.

            “Santa wants to see you,” Tessie said, smiling.

            “Why?” Ria asked.  “Am I in trouble?”

            “No, but he wants you to meet him at his home,” said Strubby.

            “His home!”  Ria clapped her hands.

            “Yes, and he wants to see you right away,” Strubby added.

            “What about Duck?”

            “Santa just invited you,” Tessie said.

            “Why don’t you ride Comet?” Strubby said.

            “Really?  Duck might get mad.”

            “Duck won’t get mad.” Tessie said. "I promise."

            Ria jumped on Comet’s back and Strubby said, “Comet, take her to Santa.”

            Comet nodded and then leapt into the air.

            “Wheeeee!” Ria shouted, as they flew through the sky.


            Once in the Starlight Forest,Verde and Rojo slowed to a trot and then stopped.  Mrs. Claus took the urn and slowly removed the lid. Then she spoke to the trees and their stars. 

            “Be nourished with the dust of your descendant, Duck,” she said, “so that he will always be remembered and honored through your brilliance.” She carefully scattered the dust amongst the trees, and tucked the urn under her arm. She climbed back into the cart.  “Take me home."


            Comet descended from the sky and gracefully landed right in front of the Workshop.  Ria jumped off and hugged Comet’s neck. “Thank you,” she whispered.

            Comet dipped his head.

            Bernard greeted Ria. “Santa is expecting you.” He led Ria between the toy soldiers and through the Workshop. Santa appeared at the top of the spiral staircase. 

“There he is,” Bernard gestured. Ria dashed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

            “Ho ho ho,” Santa laughed, catching her. “Not so fast. Welcome, Ria.”

            “Sorry, Santa; I’m just so excited.”

            “I’m glad you came, Ria. Sit down. Mama isn’t here right now, but she’ll be back soon.”

            “That’s okay. Why do you want to see me?”

            “How do you like your job?” Santa asked.

            “I love my job. I love the reindeer, especially Comet.”

            “I saw you riding on Comet today.”

            “Strubby and Tessie said I could,” Ria said nervously. “I told them Duck would get mad.”

            “Come and sit on my lap.”

            “Really? I mean, are you mad at me?”

            “I’m not mad.” Santa opened his arms. “Oh me,” he groaned as Ria pounced upon his lap.  He gave her a big hug. “You are such a gem.”

            “What’s a gem?”

            “It means you are very special.”


            “Because you are so charming,” Santa said.


            Santa shook his head. “Ria, I have something to tell you. Duck has returned to the Starlight Forest,” he blurted.

            “But he can’t go there. He can’t see in there.”

            “Ria, Duck has faded.”

            As reality dawned on Ria, she began to bawl.“Oh no! What will I do?”

            “Now, Ria, I’m going to send you some help; but for now, we need to talk about Duck leaving. How does that make you feel?”

            “Sad . . . very sad.” Ria started crying.

            “Duck was very happy to go home, Ria.”

            “Why? Didn’t he like me?”

            “Duck loved you,” Santa replied, “but it was time for him to go back home.”

            “He didn’t like me because I was a nag.”

            Mrs. Claus entered the room. “Now, Ria, Duck loved you.”           

            “I’m glad you’re hom,.” Santa said, relieved to see her.

            “Come, Ria, let’s talk about it.” Mrs. Claus smiled at the little elfling.

            “I’m scared,” sobbed Ria, climbing on Mrs. Claus’ lap.

            Mrs. Claus held Ria and rocked her to and fro. “I know you are,” she said kindly “but there’s no need to be. What are you afraid of?”

            “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to be by myself.”

            “You will not be alone,” Mrs. Claus reassured her.

            “But what if I don’t do a good job?” Ria sniffed.

            “You will do a wonderful job, Ria. You are a terrific helper.”

            “But I will miss Duck.” 

            “We all will, and that’s the hard part,” Mrs. Claus said softly. “Remember, though, that Duck is very happy now, and we will all try to be happy for him.”

            “But I will be by myself.”  Ria was beginning to calm down.

            “We are going to send another elf to help you; and you are such a big girl, now.”

            “Is Duck really happy?”

            “Yes, Duck is happy. I was with him when he faded. He smiled and waved. Yes, he is happy, indeed. I took him to the Starlight Forest myself. Would you like a girl helper or a boy helper?”

            “Can Rissy come?” Ria asked hopefully.

            Mrs. Claus looked at Santa. “What do you think, Papa?”

            “Well, I don’t see why not. Boog is back at work and they’ve had a couple of tiffs already. Besides, Rissy loves animals. What do you think, Mama?”

            “I think Rissy would do a good job at the Stables,” Mrs. Claus said thoughtfully.  “Come, Ria, we’ll go and tell Rissy. Papa, you might want to go to the Weather Station and check the Trouble Scale. A few helpers may need Fallow Time.”  She nodded her head toward Ria. 

            Fallow time was given to those who needed time to feel sad, and the helpers took turns. Because of the positive ions, they were able to stay happy until it was their turn to feel sad.

            “Yes, I will do that now,” Santa said.“Ria, remember that Duck is very happy now, and that the reindeer need you. They will be a little sad, too. Above all else, remember that it is okay to feel your sadness, and take as long as you need. When you are finished being sad, you will be happy again, I promise. That’s the way it is.  And, when you feel better, you will still have a very important job. It is important for the good of the North Pole, and for children everywhere.”

            “Yes, Santa, thank you. I will try. I believe you when you say that Duck is happy, but I sure will miss him.” 

            Mrs. Claus took Ria’s hand, and together, they left the Workshop.





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