Boog yawned and rolled over.  He pulled the covers over his head and tried to go back to sleep, but Elves' Quarters, North, was too quiet.  Something was amiss.  Reluctantly he sat up and stretched his slender arms over his head.  Suddenly it dawned on him.  It was Christmas morning.  He jumped out of bed and dashed to the nearest window, stubbing his toe on the way.  "Ouch!"  He said, as he raised the shade.  The stars twinkled in the blue-black velvet sky over the Sleigh Port.  He knew the others were gathering, and that Santa would be home soon.

            Forgoing his cup of hot cocoa, he pulled off his nightshirt and threw it on his bunk.  He grabbed his Christmas outfit -- green wool knickers, red and white striped stockings, and a ruby red and green sweater, with a little sprig of holly on the collar.  Quickly dressing, he checked his watch.  It read 'NOW.'  His red leather, pointed-toed boots were next.  He grabbed his yellow and blue plaid mittens and heavy overcoat.  Finally he plunked his blue ball cap over his shortly cropped brown hair.  He glanced at his watch again.  'NOW,' it said.  He would have to hurry, for he had slept too late.

            The stars provided little light.. Boog knew the way, though.  His boots made a 'schliff schliff' sound as he skidded along the path to the Sleigh Port. Finally, out of the darkness, the Sleigh Port's blue landing lights appeared. The sight of the silvery light rotating at the top of Reindeer Traffic Control made his belly flip with pride.

            Ria, a perky little elfling, and Duck, one of the elder elves and Ria's boss, worked at Santa's Stables. They were the first to greet Boog, upon his arrival.

            "May you bask in the light of the High Days," Duck said.

            "Santa will be back soon." Ria's brown curls bounced as she bobbed her head.  "When will he be back, Duck?"

            "Soon, just like you said."

            "But when, Duck?"

            "5:25!"  Duck shook his head and gestured to the Tower clock, which always read 5:25.

            Boog chuckled.  "Hey Duck, where's your stocking hat?"

            "Hate that thing." Duck rubbed the pink spot on his scalp.  "Where's yours?"

            "I prefer my ball cap."  Boog tapped his hat, and followed Duck and Ria into the hangar, located on the first floor of the Reindeer Traffic Control Tower.  "Hey, Duck, you gotta bald spot."

            Duck turned and arched a very bushy eyebrow.  "So?"

            "So, I better get to the runway."  Boog waved and moved into the crowd.  "Bye ole geezer," he added, once out of Duck's earshot.

            The helpers chattered loudly while they waited for the Team to return.  Boog cupped his pointed ears and inched his way through the mob in the hangar.  He couldn't block out much noise though.  He searched the crowd for Ticky, his boss and the proprietor of Ticky's Tack and Bridle Wares.

            Someone tapped him on the shoulder.  Startled, Boog turned to face Donovan, his short, scrawny pal.

            "Where've ya been?"  Donovan asked.  "Ticky's lookin' for ya."

            "Is he mad?"

            "Well --"

            "I just got here," Boog interrupted.  "Where is he?"

            "Last time I saw him, he was on his way to the runway.  So what happened?  Hunh?  Did ya oversleep again?"

            Boog was about to answer when the Bell of Truth sounded and the crowd burst into song.  "Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus."

            "Aw, geez, I'm in big trouble now," Boog moaned. He was supposed to remove the sleigh bells and he was still in the hangar.

            Boog and Donovan shoved their way out onto the runway just in time to see Santa and the team descend from the starry sky and land gracefully on the huge red and green target.

            "Perfect!" Donovan shouted.  "Move aside! Make a hole." He and Boog pushed past the mob.  "Lemme through," he hollered.  He was in charge of the sleigh, which was housed at the Reindeer Traffic Control Tower. It was time for him to go to work, but the helpers were so excited, they didn’t pay much attention to him.

            Finally Boog and Donovan threaded their way to the sleigh.  Donovan hopped in beside Santa and relieved him of the reins. 

            Wearily, Santa climbed out of the sleigh, which was still gleaming with wuffle dust.  He handed his empty sack to one of the helpers and then brushed at his sleeves.  The sparkles swirled around him.  Next he snatched his hat from his snow white head, and shook it out, adding more mystical powder to the area.

            Yort, one of the weather guessers, retrieved the maps and charts.

Boog was about to grab Dasher when the crowd pushed him back, making way for Mrs. Claus, who had been in the observation room of the Reindeer Traffic Control.

She greeted Santa with a warm embrace.  "How was the Run, Papa?"  She combed through his heavy white beard with her plump fingers. 

            Santa helped by shaking his head quickly.  The shimmering dust fell.  Although exhausted, he smiled broadly and announced,  "The Run went very well."

            The crowd roared.

            "I've been all over the world, but there's no place like home."

            The helpers cheered again.

            "Many thanks to all of you for making it possible.  Merry Christmas, everyone.  Merry Christmas."

            "C'mon, Papa," Mrs. Claus said, taking Santa’s hand. "It's time to go."  She put her arm around his waist and walked with him to their little cart.  Verde and Rojo, the Claus' personal reindeer, were waiting patiently to take them to the Circle of Forevergreens.

            As the time for Gratitude neared, the crowd migrated toward the Circle, on the corner of Candy Cane Lane and North Pole Boulevard. The few helpers that stayed behind still had work to do.

            Duck and Ria unhitched the reindeer and offered them water.

            "Can I ride Comet?" Ria asked hopefully.

            "I suspect he’s tired.” Duck winked at Comet. “Let's just lead the deer back to the stables."

            Ria frowned.  "Oh, alright." She picked up several leads and trotted toward Santa's Stables. The reindeer ran behind her.

            Duck picked up the remaining leads and walked at a fast clip. The rest of the reindeer followed him.

            Donovan and the other control tower helper, Nobby, inspected the runners on the sleigh.  Then they dragged the sleigh into the hangar.

            "Boog!" Ticky was irritated.

            Expecting to be scolded, Boog stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, and headed in Ticky's direction. "I'm here."

            "Help me with these bells." Ticky's thick gray eyebrows knitted as he frowned.  His voice was naturally gruff, and even more so when he was cross.

            "I'm sorry, Ticky.  I didn't wake up on time," Boog said. He heaved the heavy silver and gold sleigh bells onto a nearby sled. "I've been here for a bit, but I couldn't get through the crowd.”

            "It's time for our Gratitude Circle." 

            Boog watched as Ticky hobbled down the icy path toward the Circle. Boog shook his head. He knew Ticky would be angry for awhile. He pulled the sled behind him as he walked toward the shop.

            "Hey, Sleepin' Beauty, wait up," Donovan shouted. He ran to catch up with Boog. "Hey! I said, wait up."

            "Be Quiet!" Boog snapped.

            "Don't get mad at me!"

            "Look, Donovan, Ticky's angry and I'm grumpy. Don't fool with me right now."

            "Okay, but we better get to the Circle." Donovan combed his slender fingers through his scruffy, almost black hair.         

            "I gotta drop these bells off first."

            Donovan trotted beside Boog. "Did Ticky yell?"

            Boog sighed. "He didn’t have to. Now back off." He stopped in front of Ticky's Tack and Bridle Wares. "I'll be right back." Boog took the sleigh bells from the sled and dragged them toward the door.

            Donovan trotted ahead of Boog. The shop bell jingled as he opened the door. "I'll help," he said. He grabbed the worn leather strap and lifted the bells out of the snow. 

            The sleigh bells jingle-jangled as Boog and Donovan heaved them onto the wooden workbench.

            "They sound happy to be home, don't they?" Donovan pulled the door behind him.

            "Yeah, I guess.  We'd better hurry," Boog replied, and they raced toward the Circle of Forevergreens.


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