Before going to class, Phred decided to stop by Coy's place, to get some popcorn for Donner, his name for the sad reindeer. When he arrived at Frosty Corners, he heard a loud commotion coming from the train station. He shook his head, and went directly to Coy's.

            "I'll have some of your fresh popcorn," Phred said.

            "Comin' up," Coy replied.  "Did you see Beblee or Brojo? It's pretty loud over there."

            "I didn't see anyone, but I heard the racket," Phred said. "I'll have a cup of cocoa, too."

            Coy offered the mug of cocoa and wiped his hands on his apron. "It's windy today. And it's going to snow again."

            "Yeah, I gotta stop by the stables on my way to school. Gonna give Donner some popcorn -- try to cheer him up."

            "That's good. How's school?"

            "Not too bad. Pretty much like I remembered it. Brubaker's an old stiff, but not a bad sort."

            Coy grimaced. "School's over for me. I don't even want to think about Glacier Lake; makes me freeze."

            "Aw, c'mon. It's no colder than it is here."

            "Well, it looks colder, with that huge iceberg, and the sparse buildings."

            Phred stood up. "Speaking of the wind and snow, I need to get goin'."

            "It sounds quiet over there," Coy commented, almost to himself.

            It was quiet, too, because Brojo had stormed out.


            "Where are you going?" Beblee shouted.

            "Out! And I'm not coming back," Brojo mumbled. He thrust his hands deep in his pockets and stomped down the icy path, away from Frosty Corners.  He was fed up with Beblee's nagging and the purpose.  He didn't want to talk to anyone ever again. Why should I care about all those kids?  They don't even know I exist!  I don't even know they really exist! This spirit of love and cooperation is stupid!

            He continued walking for so long, he reached a fork in the path. A sign pointed left to the Christmas Tree Forest and right to North Pole Proper. The area directly ahead of Brojo had another sign. “BEWARE! Authorized Helpers Only Beyond This Point," Brojo read.  "Well, I'm not going to North Pole Proper!" He shouted.  "And I'm not going to the Christmas Tree Forest either."  Ignoring the sign and trail.  He mumbled and grumbled as he trudged through the waist deep snow.


            At the Northern Lights Weather Station, Orin jumped out of his seat, knocking it over. 
"Yort!" He shouted.  "The TS is rising."

            Yort dropped his pencil and ran up the stairs.  The TS was at 4 and rising.  He dashed back down the stairs, grabbed his woollies, and was out the door with a bang.

            Upstairs, Orin gnawed at his ragged fingernails, as he continued to monitor the scalometer.


            Brojo had picked up his pace. The farther I get, the better.  He was already well beyond any area he recognized.  Mountains loomed in the distance.  He carved a new path through the waist deep snow.

            It began to sleet, and then it turned to snow. It was still summer, so it was light, but the snow storm caused the sky to darkenBrojo knew he had traveled through the long summer night when he was able to make out the outline of the hills and mountains against the dim mid morning sky.  He didn't know how long he'd been walking.  It was impossible to see the stars.  The snowfall was gentle now, but the visibility was still limited.

            He trudged toward the mountain.  There was no trail, and the ground beneath his feet was uneven.  He lost his footing, and fell into the snowbank--only it wasn't snow.  He licked his lips. Sugar! It was sugar. Brojo gazed at the scene before him.  Lots of twinkling silvery-white hills, littered with colorful all-day-and-night lollipops, led to huge brown and white mountains. 

            Brojo couldn't believe his good fortune. Those must be the Swiss Chocolate Alps, and I'm in the Sugar Hills.  They really exist.

            He kept walking, all the while grabbing fists full of fluff, and gobbling like he'd never eaten before.  He tossed handfuls of twinkle berries into his mouth. He ate until he was sick, collapsing by the Mocha Falls.  He was in a sugar sleep.


            Meanwhile, things were grim at home.  Folks were worried about Brojo's disappearance.  Volunteers organized a search party,  but weren't confident about finding him in the falling snow.  Those who remained behind wrung their hands and sobbed, despite Mrs. Claus' admonitions to be cheerful.

            When questioned, Beblee told Santa that Brojo had simply gone crazy, that he had left the train station the day before, yelling, and she hadn't seen or heard from him since.

            Coy and Phred shared their stories of loud noise coming from the train depot.

            "Did either of you see anything?" Santa asked.

            "No," they chorused.

            "When I left, it was quiet again." Phred shook his head. "I should have stopped by."

            "No time for 'should haves'," Santa said. "We have to find him."

            The search party divided into two groups.  Those who were walking searched North Pole Proper, and surrounding areas. The other group took the cart.  Jingles took them to the Christmas Tree Forest where they were joined by Clancy, Farley, and Smitty. Both seach parties looked everywhere, but no one had seen Brojo. The following day, everyone gathered at Frosty Corners and decided to search the uncharted areas.


            The Trouble Scale could not be stopped.  The helpers had never seen anything like it, at least not since the Candle Shop disappeared. That was before the scalometer, though. The TS rose higher and higher until it remained steady at 10. The positive ions slowly were replaced with negative ions. It took two days, but the PIN dropped!  The Tin Man disappeared, with all the toy soldiers!


            Mrs. Claus was cross, and Santa was distressed.  The helpers gathered at the Big Tree and bawled, while Santa ordered the bears to head for the mountains to search.

            "Pull yourselves together.  You too, Papa," Mrs. Claus said.  "We can't afford to lose another building."

            "Mrs. Claus is right right," Smitty said.  "We have to stop this nonsense sense."

            "Santa, where should we look now?" Jackson asked.

            "The elves aren't going to look anywhere. The bears will search the hills, and Mrs. Claus and I will look for him in the Starlight Forest.  The rest of you, get back to work, and stop fretting." When Santa put his foot down, he put it down hard.

            "Um, dear," Mrs. Claus said.  "What about Beblee?"

            "Yes, Mama, thank you.  Beblee, you may have some Fallow time. The rest of you will have to wait.  No fooling.  I'm not very jolly right now!  Return to your routines, and we will meet here at the same time tomorrow."

            The helpers had never seen Santa so upset.  They looked at one another and then scattered. 


            Santa and Mrs. Claus left in their cart, drawn by Verde and Rojo.   They were going to search the Starlight Forest and surrounding area.  North Pole Phil and Ted E. Bear took off for the Sugar Hills.  Santa always asked the bears to travel great distances or go to uncharted areas because those bears could run fast, and they had a keen sense of smell.

            It was Ted who discovered Brojo at Majestic Falls.  "Phil," he roared.  "Phil, over here."

            Brojo was lying there, feet in the lake, in a sugar stupor.  He didn't respond to Ted's attempts to wake him.

            Phil looked at Ted. "What do you think?"

            "I'll carry him," Ted said. "I'm used to it."  He put Brojo on his back, then licked his paws.  "I knew it. It's chocolate."

            "Oh no you don't," Phil growled. "We gotta get back."

            "These hills really are sugar," Ted said, sniffing the air.  "I'll have to come back one day."

            "Not allowed." 

            "I know. I'm just saying --"

            "Not allowed!"

            Their race to return to the Big Tree was a long one, but they had great stamina.  When they arrived, the others were just starting to gather.

            "We found him," roared Phil.  "Doc, are you here?"

            Doc knelt beside Brojo and dug into his bag.  Pulling out his stethoscope, he said, "Everyone please stand back so we can have some air." 


             Brojo was sitting on a bench by the Big Tree, surrounded by the others, when the Clauses arrived. 

            Mrs. Claus walked straight up to Brojo. "Are you alright, dear?"

            "Yes and no, Ma'am." Brojo hung his head. "I'm better than I was when they found me, thanks to Doc, but I'm not happy."

            "Why are you so unhappy?" Beblee had circles under her eyes from lack of rest.

            Mrs. Claus looked at Beblee. "Dear, you're distraught.  Go and get some rest and I will bring you all the news, once we've sorted things out."

            "Thank you," Beblee whispered, and she left for her Fallow time.

            "Now, Brojo," Santa took a deep breath.  "What is causing your unhappiness?"

            All of the helpers were watching Brojo. They really wanted to know why he had betrayed the community.

            Brojo stared at the ground. "I don't know."

            "Not one single thing?" Mrs. Claus eyed him carefully.

            "I'm not sure there is one single thing." Brojo looked her in the eye. "But it sure felt good to get away."

            Santa looked at Mrs. Claus. She nodded. "Brownstudy," they said in unison.

            "Brownstudy?" the crowd mumbled.

            "What's Brownstudy, sir?" Brojo asked.

            Santa sighed. "It's a time away from the community, where you can search your soul, figure things out."

            "When you are finished, you will be welcomed back," Mrs. Claus said.

            "Welcomed back? Where am I going?"

            "The Coal Mine," Santa said sadly.

            There was muttering and sputtering throughout the crowd.  "The Coal Mine? the Coal Mine! -- why the Coal Mine? -- it's supposed to be awful . . ."

            "Shush!" Mrs. Claus shouted.  "Let Santa finish."

            "Zeldritch, the Coal Troll, will help you learn all you need to know," Santa said.

            "I'm afraid of the Coal Mine, Santa." Brojo's hands were trembling.

            "We know, dear, but you have things to think about and lessons to learn," Mrs. Claus said.  "Afterall, the PIN did drop, and we lost the Tin Man and all the toy soldiers."

            Brojo's mouth fell open. "The PIN dropped?"

            "Yes, and the Tin Man is gone."

            "Gone --" Brojo murmured.

            "After Phil and Ted have rested for a bit, they will take you to Switchland," Santa said. "Zeldritch will meet you and take you to the Coal Mine, where you will complete your Brownstudy."

            "All you need is your toothbrush," Mrs. Claus said.  "Zeldritch has everything else."

"You will leave first thing in the morning," Santa said. "Everyone else, back to work.!"


            Brojo didn't sleep that night.  He was already starting his Brownstudy, trying to figure out why he felt so uncomfortable. Even though he was frightened, he wanted to get to the Coal Mine as soon as possible.  The fear of the unknown was the worst part.

            Ted and Phil arrived early, and Brojo was ready.  He climbed on Ted's back and the three of them raced toward Switchland.



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