A never before recalled history of something no one remembers anymore, or "How Santa Saved The World Then Lost It All"
What is fear? One shade in the rainbow of fears is the unknown that is disguised as the familiar.
Is there a man clinging to the side of your house? Are you sure? Go look. Maybe he moved to the other side when you peeked out. A Man. A House- nothing scary there- but combine them in a certain way and.....
If there were a man clinging to the outside of your home would anyone even know? Do you know what’s clinging to your neighbor's home right now?
What if you did see him, the shadowy man crawling up the side of someone's house, and then what if he slipped into a window and disappeared inside? Maybe you'd call the cops- or maybe you'd pause for just a second staring and listening to see what would happen.
What if this were a nightly occurrence and it was no big deal to see a man creeping into windows at night because, for example, it was his job? Then how would you know when the man crouching on your windowsill wasn't supposed to be there?
If bad people made use of this enough times, what was once familiar would become fearful because now no one would ever know for sure if that man clinging to the house was the guy who was supposed to be there, or someone else.
Now you see why a certain service was being dropped. The Sandman was quickly losing clients. Rumors of an impostor were spreading.
His work now seemed to always start with a lovely night and a child in bed, the glass dissolving to mist, quietly slipping inside, and then the screams. Always the screams and the Sandman knew what would come next. The pet hamster running on his squeaky wheel witnessed the entire thing this particular night.
"I hate when you do this! That’s why I'm putting a stop to it- you are no longer needed Sandman. I have heard too many stories of strange people climbing about robbing people or worse, who pretend to be you!"
The Sandman was trying to apply his ancient trade to wakeful children and once again was being informed by a mother that she did not need him. Apparently with this mother, sleep comes naturally enough to her ever so gently medicated son. No more sleep services for her child thank you, and more importantly to the Sandman himself, she no longer had to pay that part of the FGT (Fairytale Gift Tax).
The real problem was this was the last person to sign off needed to set Sandman and all the others in his group back one FGT payment bracket. This new lower bracket was so low it was not enough to live on.
Sandman curtly informed her that by cutting him off she was also cutting off the services of the others who had been included in that portion of the FGT. That meant, The Easter Bunny, and those little Pixies that do shoes at night, and his own wife, The Tooth Fairy, The Fairy Godmother, and many others. It was important for the mother to know what she was losing in those forms she had just signed. The news spread quickly after that in the Fairytale working ranks.
When she heard about this, the Tooth Fairy wasn't surprised.
She had been having a recurring dream that she was lying out under a sunny sky in a wooded park. She is relaxed and happy when she notices a huge shadow blotting out the sun. She sees an object falling from the sky and can't move. She could tell no matter how fast she ran it would hit her so she watches it fall toward her, transfixed. It doesn't hit her though, it crashes into the field just a few feet from her. It’s a large funny white tooth shaped object. It cracks open and all kinds of fake Tooth Fairies fall out and run off. Each was more ridiculous looking than the next. They disappear and leave the tooth behind, broken, and then she wakes up. It could not have meant anything good.
The Fairy Godmother heard about the FGT bracket change because she was also included in that group, but it really didn't make her that mad personally. The majority of her work was freelance and out of the goodness of her heart. She worked mainly for poor downtrodden maidens attending balls and assorted soirees. This work eventually added up to more maidens and balls than were allotted by the FGT reimbursement anyway so she didn't pay attention to whether she had cost over-runs. She used her own resources when needed. The angry scrunched up faces of mean nasty stepsisters were worth it. Yes even the Fairy Godmother had a fun yet wicked side.
Lavender Mary was in the dress shop when The Fairy Godmother heard about this FGT payment issue from the Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy was stopping by to drop off a gown ripped on a warped stairway one night.
Lavender Mary was never included in the FGT because she was an ethereal Ghost. No one hired her for anything.. she just showed up. Lavender Mary could become like the girl she was before she died and go out dancing in the real world. Dancing was the thing she had loved most of all in life and that didn't change after death. She'd arrive at proms, parties and weddings, uninvited, to dance all night. She’d have unsuspecting fellows drive her home and drop her off at her gate in the black of night. These poor lovestruck young men would come back the next morning to discover her gate led to an old graveyard over grown in ivy and lavender. If they had lent her a jacket in the cold, they would find it neatly folded on her grave.
She felt bad for everybody and their loss of income. She luckily didn't have any bills to pay other than the dresses she had made.
The Fairy Godmother wondered where she got her money because she always paid in faded cash, and old coins, or even jewelry. She always brought in the most wonderful vintage fabrics to sew into swirling dancing gowns. Actually when The Fairy Godmother thought about it sometimes she saw visions of empty pocketed, undressed dead people, and she'd shoo that thought out pretty quick. It really didn't matter to her anyway. If someone came from beyond the grave to complain she would deal with it then.
Lavender Mary’s money helped pay the bill for the poorest maidens who deserved a free gown for a dance.
She whispered in her ghostly voice that she was very sympathetic to the cause of the FGT. Her feelings were that for their Fairytale services to mankind, the magical folk should be rewarded.
In a large ancient warren not too far away, the Easter Bunny had to think about it for a little bit. Sometimes when he was doing his egg rounds on his holiday, people in certain areas (mainly the Deep South) tried to hunt him to make him into a stew and something about hanging his lucky paws from their belts. He wasn't sure if he was happy or not that his services might be canceled due to lack of funds. If he was forced to stop, he could stop, and not feel bad about it. It wouldn't be his fault.
The Golden Goose, who laid non-golden eggs for Easter decorating, finally talked him into filing for a hearing with her and others to look into re-structuring the FGT so folk could live and eat. People had tried to catch her plenty of times too, but filing seemed to be the right thing to do.
The magical folk made people happy and kept the magic alive in the world. They were paid by the numbers of people who loved them- by the total number of people subscribing to fairytale gift services- and that last lady screaming at the Sandman happened to put them under the line for the decent pay-out. Now they were kicked back to the next bracket, and that meant very little money now. This brought all the FGT recipients out of the woodwork.
Everyone demanded a day in court to discuss the matter, and they got it.
Gathering on the appointed day in High Court the magical community argued for their livelihood. It was a packed courthouse and voices were crying out one after another with the Justice serenely listening and watching. When he finally spoke, the matter was settled.
They could re-submit separately or in small self-chosen Unions to get payments based on their individual subscriber numbers. They had never been allowed to submit as individuals before. Only Santa had been allowed to do that. Some people who did not want the Sandman's services might still want the Easter Bunny for example, which of course meant all magical folk had to re-submit and gather personal clients. Everyone silently filed out pondering the fallout from this.
It was a paperwork flood.
Previously existing folk on the FGT rolls were ushered through quickly and got far less than they expected because they had to use the numbers currently on record. To get more they had to start collecting signatures to prove their popularity and need for more money for the next year.
The small unions that cropped up were including folks for total numbers sake who didn't even know they had been included. These unsuspecting members were suddenly being chased down for outlines on what services they provided and how many people they serviced even though they had no idea what anyone was talking about. The Muffin Man for example got confused and just started handing over recipe books as his outline of services provided. He had never had subscribers officially but out of feelings of friendship went along. He tried to count people who bought his baked goods. He still had no idea who else was in his new union though. It was a massive bureaucratic mess in the civic office set up for the purpose of reviewing these papers.
The other side-effect was new people came out of another type of woodwork with self-made "holidays" to hopefully collect money doing their invented holiday every night, or once a month, or once a year. If all they had to do was collect names of interested people and write an outline of their holiday idea, there was a chance they could get money to do it from the FGT.
Pay the Piper
One person who was tired of working so hard for a living was The Pied Piper. I know I know- you probably thought he would have already been on the FGT rolls but no- he had to perform services and submit bills like regular people. One of his ancestors did a very very bad thing and was thrown out of the magical community. Later Pied Pipers were never included in the FGT. People had very long memories.
The Piper couldn't remember when he got caught up in the billing cycle but it was killing him. You see no one on his route paid their bills. He'd creep around the lower levels of their homes and charm the bugs and assorted creatures out of hiding, while playing what was a very lovely tune, and then he'd lead the insectile and creature intruders away or into bags to be discarded.
He worked in one town mainly, all of which he could walk if needed, because sometimes he couldn't afford gas for his Bug van.
No, he did not re-infest non-paying neighborhoods with captured bugs, as some nastier minded people might think. The Piper was just lucky they were a dirty town with lots of fallen crumbs. The houses re-infested on their own quite easily and quickly. He worked all the time, and would have been pretty well off if people paid what they owed him. They did not pay their bills though, and he didn't have it in him to get mean. Well not at that point in his life. He thought of hiring a collection agency but he didn't have the money to do that either.
The Piper just got more and more depressed.
That’s why he thought if the FGT could subsidize him, he could be paid for a holiday he would create, and he could keep working too and somehow get by. The FGT would be very helpful, a true lifesaver. He came up with what he thought was a fantastic holiday idea.
The Piper went to the local library and collected the forms for the FGT Holiday submission and sat in his van at night with a flashlight and filled out forms. During the day while he worked, he presented his petition to his clients to sign but no one was interested in his Holiday idea. The Pied Piper didn't feel bad, he knew his proposal was good and well written, and if the panel read it they would love it. If they loved it, people would sign up for it.
That first night after he had finished his application, the Piper had a happy dream. He dreamed of his life as a FGT person with a holiday he created. Children's faces smiled up at him. His songs would be played at that time of the year. He thought Spring would be good because it was muddy and being clean then would mean a lot. Kids would write letters to him and draw his picture. He'd drive by schools and in the windows, cut out decorations of him would be taped up. He saw himself aligned with powerful companies that would chauffeur him around and he'd fly in jets to places to lend his thoughts to products bearing his picture. He woke up smiling and sure of himself. It was sure to work out, then maybe his wife, who was a mermaid, would come back and he'd see his daughter again too.
The truth that no one knew.. was that the Piper had lost his home and lived in his van in a remote corner of a park. Sometimes he'd have dreams that his family had come back to him but he'd wake up and it was just kids playing in the distance. He couldn't blame his wife for not wanting to live in a van with their child. They used to have a pool and he’d watch them splash and play in the salt water he had put in for them.
He had watched her on the beach pour saltwater over her and their daughter's legs and their mermaid tails came back. The last he saw of them was when they dove into the sea and disappeared beneath the waves. He smiled when he thought of the day he'd play the song he wrote for her and she would come back to the surface and he'd show her his bank statement. He thought life would be so good then.
A Fly on the wall heard something one day. The flies on the wall were organized in their own way and watched with curiosity the struggles of the big people. Almost all of the small insects and furry creatures spied on the big people, even the fish in the lakes and oceans. Even if it wasn’t written down some tiny creature had the dialog memorized. And if you knew how to ask, you could know almost anything that was said almost anywhere. That is how much of this history has been preserved, the rest has been captured in the ether.
This particular Fly watched the Pied Piper reasoning with a city worker.
"What we tell everybody who shows up like you is- do it on your own first, and get people to like it. Then get signatures."
The Piper tried not to get mad because he knew it would get him nowhere.
"But I can't fund this on my own, that’s why I need the money to start it. I can tell you about the Holiday- make a presentation to the committee and then they'll give me the money.. I'm sure of it if they heard me out."
"What’s so great about your day pal?" The city worker had jelly roll crumbs on his chin.
"Well, I don't have a catchy name for it yet, but it’s a day to reward good children for staying Clean. One day a year they'd get a gift for it. Maybe something health related like soap or towels or a new wash mitt or toothbrush."
"Stuff their mother buys anyway? the worker snorted. Yeah good luck getting them to pay the Gift Tax increase for that."
"Well it would be special because it would come to them on the back of a mouse or a rat."
"That’s creepy pal- no one wants rats and mice in their house hauling stuff around."
"Maybe a large roach.."
"Hey I don't think I'll be eating lunch today or EVER."
"I play the flute and they are enchanted and will follow me anywhere I go and it's really very dramatic. The insect or creature would not stay in the house, just deliver the gifts."
"You mean they’d have to touch a roach?! Listen- all these holiday applicants are ahead of you for consideration. Look at all these boxes! They all got crazy ideas like you- they all wanna get paid like you- look at this one, look at this huge proposal- its insane! Even HE has a better shot at it than you because he got a pot load of signatures!" After that tirade the jelly roll crumbs had fallen into the boxes and onto the desk. The Piper couldn't help but calculate how many bugs those would attract.
"Can I read this?" The Pied Piper picked up the folders of the proposal the worker had pointed out.
"Sure you can look- just put it back. No signatures no chance!"
The huge proposal the Piper held was for a holiday called "Wig Day". A man just across the valley in the Town By The Sea had created it. There was even background information and photographs. Everything was bound in big fancy notebooks. The whole story was written out in one of them.
Some guy named Eugene went to a party and had his hair styled as a joke in a combination of extensions and hairpieces. It ended up becoming a huge black creation that looked like a beehive hair-do, tall and puffy, with curly strands hanging down behind and Eugene adored it. After the party he kept his hair that way. He bought outfits that worked with it like little black dresses and pantsuits and loved walking in the park to show it off.
Eventually the hair-do became ragged and frizzy- hairpieces were beginning to fall out and get tangled. His untidy appearance depressed him and one night at home he tried to fix his hair with glue, staples, tape and black markers and the entire thing was ruined. Eugene stayed inside after that, upset, and his friends worried. He looked in catalogs for wigs that were the same as his wig but they were horribly expensive. He didn't go out because he didn't want to be seen in just his own hair or with a hat on.
Then one day someone left him a package with a big purple Mod styled wig and as nice as that was... it was purple and he really wanted black. Eugene's friends worried because they never heard from him- were always wondering how he was doing. They slipped notes under his door, yelled up at his windows. Somewhere during that period Eugene got the idea to film himself in black and white so his wig looked black. He installed a TV in his front door where he would leave a tape for its VCR everyday so his friends could come by and watch his updates saying he was fine and what he was doing that day. Mostly the updates were about cleaning up and making lunch.
On several tapes he tried to be creative- and animated them with simple cartoons. They were crudely done black and white animations of himself in a perky dress in some kind of happy badly drawn landscape. Eventually a few tapes were stolen, especially the animated ones, and used to make fun of him in the neighborhood. When some got onto the town's local TV channel, word spread and a sudden and unexpected support emerged.
Hairdressers and stylists arrived with bags of curlers and combs and hairpieces and would call to him at his windows. He let them in one day and when they emerged he was a changed man. He had so many beautiful wigs and hairpieces and also had the skill to style and dye his own hair things. Eugene never forgot the kindness shown him and now proposed the new holiday- "Wig Day". He believed any child or adult who wanted a wig should be able to have one. Then every year on the appointed day they could leave their wigs out for repair or restyling. Eugene himself would do the work and have help from some of the stylists who thought it would be fun.
The Pied Piper was amazed. It was crazy to him- all this about a guy with wigs! He flipped through the signature notebook seeing the addresses one after another. It seemed that almost the entire Town By the Sea had signed his petition to create "Wig Day"!
The Town by the Sea was just across the valley from where the Piper lived and worked. He thought, maybe, he should move to this town, and see if he could get work and support too.
When the Piper handed the heavy notebooks back, the city worker threw them back into a massive box that was just one of literally hundreds of boxes of applications and proposals filling the office.
The beginning of the end
The Pied Piper was always tired from his long work hours crawling around basements and attics, playing his flute to charm out bugs and creatures, but he decided one day he would walk across the valley to the Town By The Sea. He had not been able to afford gas in the van for a long time. He didn't really want to be by the sea, it was too sad to him, but if it would help, he would go.
The Piper had an idea that he planned to act on and perfected it in his head as he walked. The town was bigger and darker than he expected and he got lost looking for the address he had written down for Eugene, yes Eugene, the "Wig Day" man. He thought maybe the guy would help him.
When he did find the street after dark he noticed the Wig Man's neighborhood was one of the nicer ones. The Piper knew he looked somewhat ragged, he had not been able to buy any new clothes for a long time, but he thought the neighborhood would be friendly since they supported Eugene and his wild idea. This was not true.
The Piper was feeling insecure because people laughed and stared at him, so he stopped about a block away from the Wig Man's address to practice one of the songs he had written for the Clean Day Holiday. He thought that it would be very impressive that he had written his own song. The Piper thought he could also offer to write a song for Wig Day in thanks for the help Eugene would (hopefully) give him.
While the Piper played, a man walked by and without pausing threw change into the open flute case. The Pied Piper stopped playing, in shock. The man spoke quickly looking back over his shoulder as he walked away. A worm emerging from the dirt heard all of this.
"Be safe friend, but you'll be arrested if you beg in this area. You should go before the neighborhood security force sees you."
It was Eugene, the Wig Man. The Piper recognized him from all the photos in his proposal at the office. Eugene kept walking quickly away. He wasn't even wearing a wig and he said in his proposal he wore one, and dressed up, all the time. Of course Eugene The Wig Man didn't know The Piper was there to see him. The Piper's spirits plummeted. He wondered at the truth of the proposal story now, but he also felt that man would never help someone he thought was a beggar.
The Piper wandered after that. Sad thoughts coming in waves made him tired. Too tired to cross the valley he thought he should sleep in a park or in an alley for the night. If people thought he was a beggar now no one would think it was strange to see him sleeping on a park bench.
He ended up in the waterfront area and it was a slum. He would blend in. The sound of waves lapping was depressing. He thought of his wife and child and he felt like crying. That’s when he heard a voice going "pssst pssst"...
When you feel that you have a crumb of hope for the future you don't take chances, so at first The Pied Piper walked quickly away from the hissing voice. But the events of the evening played over and over in his mind and he began to see how foolish it was to think he could count on the FGT paying him anything. He began to feel numb and it wasn't the cold weather. The voice followed him through the streets and he was getting scared.
As it got darker he had no idea where he was going. He stopped by a building to look at its address and suddenly heard a "PSSST!" that seemed to be right in his ear.
The Piper spun around in fear and was relieved when he saw an elegant gentleman in the alleyway behind him. He had a hook for a hand, and it was golden.
The Pied Piper should have run. There are other folks in the world with the power to charm, but they aren’t concerned with making people happy. Take a person of that kind and add the gift of enchantment to their natural abilities for evil and it's a lethal combination. This man the Piper saw in the shadows looked rich and happy. Everything the Piper wasn't.... The man even called to him saying-
"You are the Pied Piper. I so admire your talents. I was a friend of one of your ancestors, you know the one." The voice was smooth and soothing. Even mention of the horrible first Pied Piper sounded like friendly pleasantries. Only the roaches on the wall thought his slickness was slime.
The Piper was very curious and flattered, and he stepped into the alley.
Some people can comfort and fill the emptiness in a person's soul, but if they don't really want to help, but actually harm, they will use the foulest talents to warp someone to their will. Pretty words poured into sweet sounds saying horrible things can create images that could lead even the Pied Piper astray.
There was a song, long lost, the one the first Pied Piper had used, that was banned in all the world- except that this man had an ancient parchment with notes that bore the whole evil tune. He held it up with the golden hook that in the dirty light was not a hook on a stub of arm, but an ugly flattened mesh of fingers dipped in gold to preserve its shape. Its edges were sharpened like a knife. As the elegant words flowed, the Piper listened carefully to the things he heard and found, surprisingly, that he wasn't offended by any of the requests the man made. He said his name was Huk, and the Piper felt he had a new friend.
By the end of that talk an unfortunate series of events unfolded that changed the world forever. Sound dramatic? There isn't any other way to put it. You never know when something will turn out that way even when it starts as small as a whisper.
The nightmare begins
The Sun rose as usual, but everything had changed.
Back across the valley in the Piper's town, the morning dawned. Even though they were no longer asleep, a nightmare began for one set of parents, then another, and another, and another. The police had never seen anything like it. The children of their town were gone. It looked like they had all gotten up, dressed and left sometime early in the morning to go play. But they had disappeared without a trace. ALL of them.
A traveling salesman gave the Police their lead later that horrible day when he wandered, dazed, into town. He said he had been sleeping in his car while on a sales trip. He had been heading for the Town By The Sea by one of the back roads across the valley, and wanted to save on the motel costs, so he pulled slightly off the road into some trees to nap.
He heard a strange flute music playing at dawn and coming closer and closer. It wasn't a strong enough magic to make him follow but he certainly felt that it was magic. Bad magic. He had gotten out of his car almost against his will but his curiosity also pulled him out. He watched transfixed from the trees as a man walked by leading a large group of children dancing and laughing. When they were well past him he felt like he woke out of a dream and realized he had followed them a little ways at a distance and had become disoriented.
He noticed a small child with a crutch tried to keep up with the group and had fallen behind. The enchanted music left him unable to help the limping boy and seemed to keep him away from the group. All he could do was turn and stumble back to get help.
It wasn't long afterward that the Piper was found in his van in the park. Who else could lead things away with a flute? He had been packing to leave and was trying to pour gasoline into his van from a can with a tube. He also had a massive sum of money in the form of old gold coins. When the officers grabbed him he appeared dazed. The dazed state of mind never seemed to clear.
Back at the station the detective leading the investigation was Lenny. Lenny was famous for being the best detective in the area. His life was like an adventure book of highs and lows that hadn't ended yet. He may have been an old man but he could be intimidating if he needed, and now he needed to be very intimidating.
Another Fly on the wall heard everything that went on.
"What happened to the children?" Lenny yelled, but almost felt bad since the Piper was so thin and haggard, well he almost felt bad.
The Piper’s voice was quiet and strange. "You mean the children of the people who live in my town where they never pay me what they owe and make fun of me...? From where my own wife and child left me because of my lowered circumstances? That town? Those children?"
"WHERE are the CHILDREN?"
"I led them away and handed them over to a nice man in a mansion where he will put them to work as servants.. I think."
"Servants? What kind of servants? Did he say servants or SLAVES?"
"He didn't say."
"Then how do you know he wanted them as servants? What exact words did he use?"
Silence was the response.
"What did he say he wanted the children for?"
"He said he was having trouble collecting help, he said HELP.. yes collecting help in the numbers like he was used to, and wanted to give me a LARGE amount of money to bring him children. As many as I could. Whoever was doing it for him before wasn't doing a good job I suppose."
“You suppose?? What did he say he needed a large amount of children for?"
"I brought him the children. At least the ones that would follow me- which was more than I thought. He paid in GOLD for each one."
"Let me say something to this criminal, Lenny.” The Mayor had come for the interrogation.
“Hey you- I am the Mayor here and I used to be a cop and you are the sickest person I have ever met! Why would you just kidnap children and hand them over to someone you don't know for reasons you don't know- and cause such suffering? We hired you to do all of our office buildings! That’s a lot of work! This is how you repay us?"
Silence again for a long while, then quiet words from the Piper.
"I'll show you the mansion where I took them, if you show me the proof that you were going to pay me for that job."
Silence for awhile, again. (I am sure you could guess already there was no proof he was going to be paid. They couldn't have even faked it, because no one knew where the submitted bills were...)
Then the Mayor exploded.
"There is NO WAY that paying you, or showing proof you were going to be paid- is worth you keeping from us where THESE CHILDREN ARE! Its not equal, its not the same!"
"I lost my home. I lost my wife- she left me because we ended up living in the bug van. She took our child and told me this was no life for them. I understood. She left. I eat the bugs, you know, because I can't afford food. All of you owe me and say you'll pay and then the money never comes. Why don't YOU tell ME what suffering is and isn't?"
The silence that fell for a bit was probably because everyone was envisioning him eating bugs.
He spoke again, "Then I tried to get signatures for the gift tax payment. I needed you people to sign the petition and you laughed in my face. One day a year, bringing gifts to good children for staying clean. Clean Day.. I was going to think of a better name but... I also tried to join the town orchestra but those people didn't want the BUG MAN playing flute- a LOT of those people owed me money too- you didn't KNOW that did you? I tried so many ways..... That last winter that came, with all the snow and wind- I suffered. I hallucinated that my ancestor came to me and tried to make me do bloody things like he did and I said no. I went in the spring to get paid and got physically thrown out of Town Hall."
Lenny spoke, "I remember that day. It was unfortunate- they didn't know who you were- they thought you were a bum. But its still innocent kids- you had no right, its not their fault their parents are schmucks."
"Then it would have been okay to lead away adults? I would have if someone was paying for them." The Piper laughed a scratchy creepy little laugh. "Why would you expect me to take care of your little beasts? After what this town did to me. Those same children threw rocks at me, and their parents laughed. I delivered the children whole and unharmed to a PAYING client and what he does after is no concern of mine. He paid his bill. You people never did for honest hard work- for a LOT of hard work- YEARS OF IT! You expected me to keep working, keep taking your verbal and physical abuse. I am not a monster, I just couldn’t take anymore. I wanted OUT of here.”
"You’ll get that I guarantee it” Lenny spoke severely, “and now you really have nothing. You can help yourself a little Piper by helping us. Save your soul. You say you didn't hurt the kids, that you aren't a monster- I want to believe you. You can show us where you took them- tell us who paid you, show us so we can get the children back."
"I told you. Make the Mayor show me proof they were EVER going to pay me for just THAT ONE job. Just the ONE, never mind all the others. Show me. Then I'll take you there myself."
Silence. Then the Piper began to laugh again.
Lenny knew they would have to find the kids on their own. Someone else had to have seen a large group of children crossing the valley. He told the officers to take The Piper away. As the Police began to lead him away, he started to sing in a strange sad voice.
He was taken to the prison section below that they jokingly dubbed "The Dungeon". It was in the basement carved from earth and rock, a tomb-like room with a small barred window at ground level.
No one saw the Piper pick up his flute that had been lying on the table. The simple enchantment of distraction, he could do with his voice.
Lenny, in his many years on the force had seen some terrible things and even the Piper's sad personal situation did not justify him just handing over innocent children to some stranger. He said grimly to the Mayor he would have respected the guy more if he had taken them hostage to get the bill paid. At least The Piper could have given the children back unharmed for food or something. He could have gotten counseling. Now, who knows what happened to the kids? The mood in the room was grim.
The alarm was sounded too late. The Piper in the basement cell had summoned up with his flute all kinds of creatures to dig- and a massive hole in the wall, was all that was left. The dazed officer assigned to watch him said he saw the whole thing happen but couldn't do anything about it. By the time he could call out the Piper had been gone for a long time. Everyone who saw this believed that he would certainly warn the person who paid him. If things had been grim before, they were terrible now.
Lenny and his team worked long into the night with the other police across the valley. At first they thought the kids had to be in walking distance, maybe somewhere in the valley itself. But then the salesman said the Piper's music made him feel light, like he was floating- so maybe the kids walked farther than they usually would have while under his spell. They could still be under a spell somewhere. People were everywhere calling out names and banging on doors.
Evening came and still no leads. It seemed no one saw a thing! Lenny was feeling low and suffering from lack of sleep and hunger. He was an older man, okay fine an OLD man but, he told himself, he could still do this kind of work because it meant something. He was the best and if anyone could find the kids he could. He wondered if his fellow detectives had lost the confidence in him though. He felt useless, how could they feel more for him if he couldn’t feel it for himself.
He walked to the main entrance of the precinct and looked out to see if the local diner was open. They made a good prune danish. He hated to leave in case they got a phone call, some word on the children. He felt a chill, then a small draft- like a little breeze and looked up the stairs. It was dark up there, maybe a window was left open. It was well past office hours and the civilian employees had gone home or were on the search teams going door to door asking questions. He heard a strange noise. Lenny thought he was dreaming, but a tinkling sound of bells floated down the stairs and even carried to the desks in the other room and officers filtered out staring up and around and at Lenny. Maybe it was a message, maybe the kids were found?
"Lenny you rang?" they laughed, but still listened as the bells in the air grew more distinct. Some looked around out the door thinking they'd see a nocturnal ice cream truck drive by and suddenly the bells stopped. If they had known what to expect they would have been prepared but many simultaneously dropped their coffee and ruined multiple pant legs and shoes.
Lavender Mary had arrived.
She floated at the top of the main staircase, lighting the darkened area with an ethereal glow. Lenny's trusted team were not people who attended proms and wedding dances now- but somewhere in the misty past several recalled her. They thought they must have danced with her a long time ago as boys or swept past her and a partner on a dance floor somewhere in time.
As she came down the stairs she went back and forth in form. A skeleton in floating rags, then a melancholy young woman in a lavender tinged party dress, styled like the bittersweet past, long since faded. She came down the remaining stairs, the room filling with orchid milky light and sparkles. A smell filled the air- a mixture of sweet incense and.. soda pop? No one could place it and when they looked back on the memory, it always made them remember their youth both happy and sad.
Lenny chuckled. He remembered Lavender Mary. In fact he had never fallen out of love with her. Lenny wondered sometimes if she was the reason he had never been able to stay in a relationship. Her face never stopped haunting him. Under the rough detective exterior, he was a romantic.
Lenny had not only danced with her as a young man, but that night they sat on the veranda of his college ballroom and talked and laughed. They found they had a lot in common. Their likes and dislikes matched perfectly or in funny contradictions. While he was laughing he realized she was "the one" and looked forward to more nights like that one perfect night. He had driven Lavender Mary to her gate and dropped her off. She kissed him on his cheek and turned and walked away into the pitch black. He had lent her his jacket that night because it was chilly. When he returned the next day to get it back (a lame excuse to see her again he knew) he saw in the light of day where he was. Her black iron gate led to a small old overgrown graveyard. He wandered but seemed to be led right to her grave. His neatly folded jacket was lying on top. The grave marker had faded with time and acid rain, but he could make out the name Mary in beautiful carved script.
Now he smiled as she drifted close to him. Back then, at her grave he didn't smile, he wept, but now it was just a memory from long ago. He choose to remember her with the love he felt on that one perfect night although he never danced since. Lenny cherished the memory of dancing with her even though he knew he shared it with many men who danced with her. But in all the stories of her, no one said they talked with her- no one said they made her laugh.
In the fading light her bones shone through but as she came close it was the young girl again, who got her lavender dress from a charity barrel, and danced until it was rags. She died on the road walking home- that was the legend. Even if she had to walk for miles alone she wanted to come to dance. No one had known who she was, just a girl named Mary.
"Mary, pretty Mary, its been so long."
He smiled again because she smiled at him. It amazed him because she really looked alive, well somewhat alive. She was still floating and glowing. Her hair looked as though she was in water it seemed to be moving to its own unreal currents.
A mouse in a dark corner gazed at the twinkling lights and heard everything.
"My goodness Mary."
"Lenny, my prince."
"Some Prince- you ditched me remember? But I don't care, seriously it would have never worked. Me a man- you a ghost, what would we tell the real estate agent to look for? A nice little place with one foot in the grave?"
Everyone watching laughed.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
"You know that I've watched you, and helped you, you just may not have known it." Mary’s voice seemed to trigger the tinkling of faint bells.
"I think I did know, I could tell when I got some help from above or below or wherever you live- no offense about the "below" comment- I just don't know about that kind of thing."
"I'll show you everything one day."
"I'd love that, I really would, but not too soon I hope, I'm still figuring stuff out here."
"I came to tell you something. It's actually hard for me to be here where there is no music and dancing- it tires me. I don't know when I'll be able to come back now- but you mean so much to me- and that feeling brought me here. Something strange and frightening, something lovely for me to feel for you, to help you find what you have lost."
"Mary you just gave me a creepy chill up my spine- what’s going on?"
She spoke slowly but clearly, bells tinkling softly, "I went to what I thought was a party. The energy of people gathered together drew me out, but when I arrived I sensed something was wrong. It was fear that lit them at the core - lots of adults, happy, but not with happiness- it was wrong. Twisted music, frenzied dancing. They surrounded children, captive children I realized. I heard in the air that you were searching. I thought these might be the children you seek."
As beautiful as a floating young lady spirit is, people had begun to walk back to their desks or think about other things. The moment Lavender Mary spoke of what she saw the precinct froze. People appeared from every room and listened in a still yet frenzied state. Ghosts are naturally poetic and she did not speak fast enough to keep some from crying out 'WHERE?!'
Lenny knew she would go at her own pace and probably did not hear the cries of his fellow officers. Behind his back he gestured with his hand a 'hold on for a moment' signal. He could sense what she was sacrificing, something huge, to come to him. He imagined her using up her entire ghostly credit card on this visit and afterward she may never be able to come back. He let her speak at her own pace but she was soon forthcoming.
"In a derelict mansion near the wharf, once beautiful, now ugly, across the valley in Town By The Sea, I saw them. The mansion stands in a dark place, surrounded by crumbling buildings. There is a basement- they were preparing to leave for somewhere and the children were frozen in a trance their eyes moving, their mouths open but unable to move or cry. I saw all of this, and many voices came to me over the winds and I heard you. I had to come."
Every officer knew where this mansion was- but it wasn't lived in it was a wreck from a former era of past glory. The Town By The Sea police informed them on the phone they had shined flashlights into it a few hours ago but it appeared to have not been disturbed in years. It's next door lot was a vacant salt storehouse. The other side an abandoned spice market. The windows were broken or boarded up and they had already searched around it and there were no signs of life. That information didn't matter now. They obviously missed something. Calls went out, the alarms were triggered- off duty officers were summoned to help from towns all over the area. The Town By The Sea officers were called and told to be prepared for an assault. Everywhere in this circle of life the people became ready for what was their war to win their children back.
Lenny's team suited up in riot gear and trucks were called and on the way. Lenny himself thanked Lavender Mary from the depths of his soul- people were calling to him...
She reached out to Lenny, her face sad, her light fading.
"After all this time, can't you take a moment?"
She reached out and he wasn't quite sure what she meant but suddenly she was "real" and actually felt warm to the touch. He felt a strange twinge of memory and youth. They began to dance.
As they took a turn around the main entrance the officers readied for a battle with an unknown enemy. Mary and Lenny swung ‘round- the bells that followed her were enough music and out of the corner of his eye Lenny saw crews rushing out doors in helmets and armored gear with guns and red flashing lights arriving outside. As the last of them ran through the doors Mary twirled once more and let Lenny go. As she raised her hand good-bye, she faded.
Pretty girl to skeleton, then darkness.
The noise and reality came crashing back and swept Lenny away with the people and gear that roared over the valley to the sea like a flashing river of red. He wiped away a tear that gathered in his eye.
The townspeople saw a red glittering line of lights snaking along the valley road a long time before they even arrived.
The mansion did have floors and rooms purposely hidden but they were empty. The bad news was delivered to them by the Town By The Sea's officers who had broken in and searched from top to bottom after being called with Mary’s news. But the children HAD been there. Ropes and dropped toys the parents identified were strewn around completely covered in dust. They set up a headquarters right there under the faded gilt ceilings. Lenny never realized what a dark and gloomy place the town was at night. The teams started to go door to door again. Even what looked like abandoned buildings they went into and searched.
Then on one sad lonely street, Lenny’s team was met by a man who wanted to lead them to the waterfront wharf. He was shy, he had an accordion and a little monkey- he didn't seem to be able to speak but gestured like he wanted to go to sleep- his folded hands placed on the side of his face. His little monkey did the same movement. They did this movement over and over while alternately waving, paw and hand, for them to follow. The team followed the man suspiciously, ready for anything.
The man and monkey led them to the wharf and gestured under it pointing and smiling, but before anyone could climb under- something climbed up at the end. Lenny saw something that sent a chill up and down his spine even worse than the one Lavender Mary had given him. He began to run. It was one of the missing children, the one with the injured leg.
The tiny boy was at the edge of the wharf wet covered in mud. He pointed out into the sky in silence.
Lenny yelled back over his shoulder "He's pointing UP."
He called on his walkie talkie for the force to come to the wharf and they gathered quickly.
The child had one foot encased in a heavy cast now caked in mud. He had obviously slept or fallen under the wharf. It was never clear if he had been left behind on purpose down there. He also could not, or would not, speak. The fish in the darkness of the water observed all of it while the spiders in the darkness listened.
Lenny leaned down.
"Hey kid, what are you pointing at? You like stars? Clouds? The Moon?"
The little boy shook his head no slowly, still pointing up.
"That’s what I was afraid of. Is this where they disappeared, all the kids?"
The boy slowly nodded his head.
"Did they go across the water?" No
"Did they go up into the sky?" Yes
"That’s what I was afraid of."
The child was recovering in the hospital while the assembled mass of officers, rescue workers, parents and town officials converged on the old Mansion. Rats lived there in the walls and listened as Lenny spoke to the Chief of Police who was also his dear old friend, and sometimes adversary.
"From what the kid drew for us this is not a "regular" so-to speak abduction. Look at this picture- what does that look like?"
"Small circles in the sky?" The Chief said.
"Who do you know that makes that kind of thing in the sky?"
"I don’t know.. maybe Jack Frost?"
"He makes one small circle I think- these are much bigger."
"Wait a minute, I read something a long time ago. Santa...?"
Gasps came from everyone.
Lenny calmed everyone down. "I have seen this too, but as big as these look- this is a smaller version of what Santa does I’m sure- its like a smaller Fold in the sky. Santa is NOT our abductor here but we have called him in. This is similar to what he does- he may know what to do. I also want you to locate Jack Frost- he might be able to help us once we clear up where he has been recently."
"I've never met him you know, Santa, in person." The Police Chief said somewhat nervously
Lenny managed a small laugh, "Well, get ready because he's not what you expect."
The real Santa Clawz
People didn't just go about meeting Santa everyday. He stayed up North working and creating and living with his wife. No one was like him. He was not just zoned in the FGT in one country but zoned almost all over the world and was in his own bracket shared with no one. The Fairytale Gift Tax was created for him long ago so people could always have him come on Christmas Eve and bring gifts.
Santa invented the “holiday” model. The one night/day a year, the slip into the house at night, the gift (or service) left behind. Santa was also magical in a very deep and old way. Many of the holiday folk were magical- usually able to bend gravity in some form to be able to climb walls or leap high up or jump way down, but nothing compared to Santa.
He was from a long-lived race of wildmen rumored to be descended from grizzly bears. He could speak to animals like they were human, some said he even hibernated, but the main thing he possessed was the ability to create what he called The Fold. It was how he moved the long distances in a short time. The few non-magical people who had seen it happen on Christmas Eve had never forgotten it. You didn't just see it but you heard it and felt it.
Lenny had seen it as a child when he and several other children ran away. They snuck onto the Northern Cargo Train and thought they would be in the sleigh on the way back warm and having fun. Santa was kind and let them watch him take off on Christmas Eve but they had to take the Northern Cargo Train back and it was rattly and cold. Santa was stern that they should not run away like that again. Once there Lenny and the other kids realized they could not stay but he had never forgotten it and never regretted sneaking up there. Now he was an old man, and when Santa arrived by helicopter later that night he looked exactly the same. He recognized Lenny even though he was old and he laughed out loud and called to him.
The other detectives were shocked. Santa was not a jolly, red cheeked, red nosed, elf-man. He was well over 6 feet tall, very wide and was more like a pro-wrestler with a huge deep booming voice. Santa was scary.
Unfortunately there was no time for fun or introductions. Santa quickly discerned from the reports the only hope was to go into the Fold and search for a trail. This soon after he would be able to see something faint. It would lead to an exit or to something hidden he had never seen before. He made a call.
Santa then explained to them the consequences of opening the fold now to save the children, it could only be opened like this once a year. Everyone nodded and said it was fine and let’s get on with this.
Santa strode outside and everyone followed him. He moved so fast they had to run or jog to keep up. He looked at one lot of buildings after another grunting and thinking. Then he swept his hands wide. The mice and rats listened in shock to what was going on so this is all true.
“Everything has to go. All of these warehouses here- I am warning you now you better move fast because they are on their way.”
“Warn us? Who?” Lenny asked getting very worried.
Santa gestured to all the derelict buildings directly behind the wharf and next to the Mansion and pointed along the street going out to the main road.
“We need to clear this out, we will need to take off from the wharf and shoot directly for the spot that had opened - I can still see its point of entry but it won’t be there for long. I need a clear shot from the Train Station you have here too, the Northern Cargo Train is coming and another cargo is coming in the from the airport- call the Highway Patrol tell them to block off all roads.”
People didn’t even wait for the officials who had gathered to give the okay, they just ran. It didn’t look like anyone would oppose the plan because secretly they were amazed at what they were hearing. ‘Take off from the wharf’? Santa was bringing his sleigh? His reindeer?
Santa had secrets of speed no one could ever understand and that he for many reasons would never explain but Lenny knew Santa never joked and NEVER exaggerated- if he needed the town and roads around cleared away it HAD to happen. And it did. Old buildings crumbled, and machines carried away debris. It also brought in hundreds of onlookers from miles around. Eventually the armed forces came to help with crowd control. Nearby rooftops were being overrun- every window had people in them watching. Parents of missing children seemed to gain celebrity status as they were let through barricades with tear stained faces and people called out who they were and many even clapped to show support.
The buildings were torn down and the highways and roads cleared in time for a dramatic arrival. From the direction of the airport where a huge cargo plane had landed came eight massive black trailer trucks, double wide and rumbling everything around. Night had fallen and the lights glared and made people shade their eyes as they arrived. They looked even bigger as their edges blended into the darkness.
They pulled into the cleared spaces all at once, right as a call went up that the Northern Cargo Train had arrived and another black truck was waiting to bring the contents of the train to the site. People could not believe what they were seeing. It was nothing like the Santa/Holiday greeting cards at all.
There were dwarves at the wheels of these trucks- they got out and even though they were smaller in height, their width and obvious strength was another shock. They had long beards and hair tucked into tool belts. Their eyes were glittering from beneath large tasseled hats. No one smiled at them and people quickly cleared paths as they prepared to open the trailers.
Then out of the last truck Mz Clawz appeared. People could not remain silent this time- oohh and ahhs came from the crowds. She was lovely and wild looking in her ornate dark red gown and stormy looking black hair. She had a whip coiled at her waist. This was not the jolly faced cookie baker of their storybooks. She was like a warrior fairy princess from a magic kingdom.
There was no hesitation, she snapped her fingers and all the trailer doors opened at once. Steam rolled out from the backs of the trucks and wooden planks slammed to the ground. It was the Reindeer. People gasped and backed up- frightened of the looks on these fierce faces that appeared- especially Ruedov. He was the obvious head of the pack- his eyes really did glow red deep inside the pupils. Their antlers looked deadly. These weren’t cute fluffy animals.
The only relief from this growing fear of what everyone thought was supposed to be cute and sweet was the arrival of the Sleigh. The last truck arrived from the train station and when it was unloaded people burst into cheers and applause and didn’t quite know why. Maybe because finally one thing looked the way they expected.
The Sleigh, and its massive secondary sled trailer were strong and heavy looking- but festive! Red and gold and exactly what people expected but just larger and lined with colorful blankets and straps. These were later revealed to be concealing many sharp bag hooks and poles. This put people at ease somewhat and the organizing of the sled launch began in earnest.
That we stop here to tell of Santa and his history will not delay the preparations for the rescue so do not be alarmed. Remember what you are reading happened a long time ago.
The origins of "Christmas"
Everyone knew the fabricated, tame, version of Christmas. The Jolly Elfman, the cuddly reindeer and a cheery cookie baking Mrs Claus leading a team of toymakers were the things of happy dreams. It’s a cute story but not even close to the truth.
As you have seen – the elves were not elves, they were mountain dwarves who lived in the cold wastes to keep a solitary existence. What no one knew was where and when they met Santa, and it really did not matter.
Mz Clawz was a continuing mystery to Lenny and to the world. She was also a long-lived person rumored to have either been the daughter of Kublai Khan or maybe she drank from the fountain of youth... but that was just a story. She was also the reindeer connection to Santa but again the details were shrouded in mystery. One thing was sure though, they came at her beckoning, not Santa's.
She fed and protected the reindeer when they needed it and in one legendary incident, even took revenge on evil human hunters. She came like a black-as-a-bat whirlwind out of the white wastes and with a cracking whip drove out all the offenders who had captured the entire herd. These were considered HER reindeer tribe, very different than others although they welcomed escaped tamed reindeer who found them. They lived in a cavern somewhere, and like all involved with Santa, the details were as hard to decipher as the ancient pathways through the snows.
There was a way to the rest of world in recent years, The Northern Cargo Train, but Mz Clawz was not so thrilled with the outside world and had built her own life she adored.
The Northern Cargo Train had to be dug out all the time- so the train would run periodically to clear the tracks, usually once a month. It was to bring in outside toy supplies and send runaway children back who always showed up one way or another. In the end when they saw that Santa’s “village” was not what the stories said it was like, most wanted to go home anyway.
Santa’s home was beautiful though, just not what they expected. It and all the homes and workshops of the “village” were carved inside a mountain and its foothills. All the rooms had huge raging fireplaces but these did not have chimneys, they had holes that led into the mountain itself. This is why the "village" was visible. All Santa had to do when they wanted to “disappear” was extinguish all the fires but ones needed for life and food and the mountain and smaller hills would eventually be completely covered in snow and ice. It was the many vast fires heating the rocks from within that kept them visible.
Santa’s position in the world came as a result of what founded so many other things- because of war.
One of the reasons they remained at the North Pole was because it was hard to get to- and easy for them to fend off the people who kept coming for very unfriendly reasons. No one mentions the dark days before holiday seasons when there was a war on the North Pole. Even after the holidays began some still tried. For many decades the warlords and machines that ran the world made appearances there and every time froze in the mire in the wasteland.
They wanted Santa, they wanted to dissect the reindeer that also lived much longer than humans, they wanted these things to build armies. Then as a taunt Santa and his crew would ride forth on what was to become Christmas Eve and instead of dropping bombs would leave toys. Instead of engaging the enemy they'd engage the enemy's children in play- coming with stealth into the general's homes and showing them that if they chose they could do more harm than any armed force. Horrible thoughts to scare horrible men, but it worked. He knew where they lived. He knew whether they were bad or good. He saw into their hearts and knew what he had would be used to destroy.
The governments backed down but some people asked for the unique toys again- because they realized how happy their children's smiles made them. A pleasant shock for the families of those who only wanted to tear things down.
As time went by, others heard and passed the word along, the requests grew and the letters were sent and you know the rest. People went back and re-wrote the stories to be happy and friendly and kind so all the aspects of the new Holiday were gentle. Plus they wanted to cover up what some evil people had tried to do.
There was a rare text, a fragment of what had been a large report, that had the only account so far of a person who was allowed to accompany Santa and stay with them for some time. Some think maybe it was a mysterious time traveler named Egeria, but no one knew for sure. You had been able to check it out of any library but of course now it’s gone.
Here are excerpts… stored forever in the collective memories of the bookworms who ingested so much of history.
At home with Santa
There is a lovely idea called 'folding space'. If space only had two dimensions: length and width, but no height, you could draw space onto a single piece of paper. Now fold this paper in half. Now the top and bottom are next to each other! If you could travel with a vehicle through space like this you could be next to any point at any time. This is a wonderous thing! What Santa does expands on this right here in our skies- he folds space, but gently around not sharply edged. What you see is more like a flattening spiral. But he still calls it the Fold. In this way he has many many destinations very close by to choose from- not just one next to another.
Santa comes out on the darkness of Christmas Eve, climbs into his Sleigh and hums deep and low and points to the stars with one hand. You feel a numbing in your ears as the very air begins to vibrate! He throws his other hand forward and the sky explodes open into a fiery spiral! It becomes like all the colors of blue and green you could ever imagine swirling and then you realize- its your own Planet Earth arranging itself for him. Its colors grow brighter and it becomes massive filling the skies over the North Pole.
Santa's very own hohoho sound vibrates, and moves the rounded corners and slightly alters the Fold's points of destination as they finally settle to his satisfaction like a rounded carpet of human lights, the starry sky rounded above.
The reindeer don't actually fly like birds as you have been told. When the Fold opens they rise up with the Sleigh as a whole into the vacuum that leads to the sky.
As they rise, they reach a certain height before Santa roars out a decidedly NOT jolly HOHOHO. Then the reindeer stop rising and at Santa’s whip crack into the air their legs begin to move. Santa will call out their names: Slasher, Danzer, Prankster, Blitz, Fireball, Archer and Styx, and the lead- Ruedov. They are tied to the sleigh with harnesses to keep them evenly spaced but the bits in their mouths are for grunted commands to be sent to all the reindeer team by Ruedov himself. They hold these voluntarily. I was allowed to touch and feel these commands myself, although I did not know what they meant.
Hovering in the air the reindeer actually seem to grow in size- but I was told it’s really their internal fats and muscle flexing, expanding, filling with blood and oxygen. Their legs begin to pump the air like turbines and impressively in unison. Slowly at first, then faster and faster and the sound becomes deafening- a roaring WHROOOSH WHROOSH WHROOOSHHH and you feel the air rush past you, hot and cold, hot and cold! You observe their muscles ripple and bulge and the snorts are very loud! Santa holds them back until they are ready with the power for the momentum to cross into the Fold.
When they shoot off you better be strapped down because the jolt will throw you back so hard you crash into your seat and your restraints are the only thing to hold you in. The sleigh doesn't just take off into the Fold, it rockets into it! You feel like your face will peel off, you can’t breathe well, and into the colors and darkness you fly! Then suddenly the suffocating feeling ends and you are not being crushed back anymore but are in a smooth flight, the world crazily arranged around you and almost on top of you as it sails by.
The whip is not for the reindeer of course- the crack of the whip sends a lighting like bolt through the spiraling shape of the Fold and shows Santa again how wide the tunnel is by circling in sparks of light in the distance. The HOHOHO and the whip cracks’ lightning-like bolts seem to enhance and strengthen the Fold's tunnel.
Since its a natural occurrence Santa can never trust it to stay the same all the time like a tunnel built on a highway. So he is always calling out and cracking the whip to watch its size and fluctuations. If you are not ready for it the Fold is frightening because red flames still swirl in a distant circling haze like the aurora borealis and you can hardly take your eyes off such a lovely and terrible thing.
You see almost everything all at once like terraces on a mountainside. It's like being in a high altitude because you can't breathe normally like high up but here you feel currents of heat and cold fly by your face that are a little shocking. It can be disorienting but you look up at Santa and the dwarf who comes along that night and they do not even seem to notice it.
They travel from place to place at a seemingly normal speed. Up and down one rooftop and building and hut to another. On rare Christmas Eves throughout time Santa told me he has hitched baby reindeer behind the sleigh to ride the tunnel of the Fold and adjust their bodies for future pulling duty. The last reindeer to be hitched like this is the only story anyone outside this private world tells even though they have none of it right. When Santa once found himself speeding past a house he meant to stop for, he looked behind the sled and a young and already fierce Ruedov was PUSHING it onward!
When it’s over Santa and the reindeer have covered the world’s Christmas subscribers in 5 quick hours. Even that amount of time isn't needed I’m told, it’s just the measured safe time to be inside the Fold. It’s a very dizzying process for the uninitiated.
This is why the Northern Cargo train carries the runaway children home. The very few who sneak away into the sleigh are not very happy. Usually they pass out and wake up on the train back and don't remember much other than feeling very sick.
After the usual period of time the flaming barrier of the Fold heats up and will collapse upon itself. This is why the best way to travel the Fold is with non-fuel vehicles. The Fold is born of fire, so do not bring anything explosive into it! You see the Fold is at odds with the atmosphere and eventually it’s burned up. Since it’s like a tunnel none of the world is ever damaged- but if you are inside when it collapses, you will burn up with it. If you explode something in it- it will close upon you too.
Coming out of the Fold is also very dramatic. As the team soars back into "real" space and plummets through the air back at the Pole, they land on an icy runway- pushing their legs slightly forward like a water-skier and they slide. The reindeer and the sleigh create a storm of flying ice and melting snow. Like a hurricane the white clouds swirl and when they come to a stop they are steaming and quickly freeze again. They are then pure white and sparkling for a brief moment before the sleigh crews arrive to unload and unhook and smash the ice off. Santa roars out of his ice covering, always a scary sound, like a battle cry, and then gives out a hearty laugh. Even passengers get covered in an icy crust, so you spend a few moments peeling and shaking it off. It is now over. The reindeer turn and snort at Santa and he lifts his hand in salute.
An elegant black sleigh with tiny white lights arrives and speeds off into the snowy wastes and the reindeer race after it. This is Mz Clawz. She doesn't need to help Ruedov and the team find their way back to the cave of the herd but she does it anyway. She sees that they have food and care- her healing skills are superb. She will also disappear to be with them for births and deaths. She is their watcher and protector.
Santa will retire to his great room by the fire for a large delicious stein of stout. After this moment's rest he will sometimes dip into the bags of mail not Christmas related. Some children just write him nice letters all year ‘round and he chuckles over these long into the next day and night. When Mz Clawz arrives later, sometimes days later- they Tango!
To unknown battle
Back at the wharf Santa kissed Mz Clawz goodbye and she in turn gazed hard at Ruedov who snorted at her obviously responding to some kind of message. Then she and the dwarves who were driving got back into the trucks. The memory of such an elegant lady like Mz Clawz in her dark red gown effortlessly jumping behind the wheel of a massive truck and handling it like an old pro stayed in the minds of many of the officers fondly for a long time. She and the dwarves had been approached by a taskforce to hunt for the Piper and they were going to join them.
Staying on the creaking wharf an organized effort of solders, police, dwarves, regular people who had sneaked in, and the looming figure of Santa made a wild mix.
People practically fell forward preparing the sleigh and all along no one was really quite sure exactly WHAT was going to happen.
Suddenly, Jack Frost arrived, seemingly from out of nowhere. Santa had called him in. The reason he arrived so late was the officers back at the derelict mansion HQ had been questioning him. Jack Frost uses a tiny version of the fold to travel- so small only one person can fit and goes so fast you see nothing most of the time until you get to the arrival point. He goes from one hemisphere to another for winters on either side of the planet and sometimes comes back for cold springs and cold-snap summer nights and spends time on mountaintops studying and creating new kinds of frost and snow. They knew the criminals were using this same method of travel. Checking weather reports the officers were able to clear him of wrongdoing.
Jack Frost and Santa conferred quickly on large and small Folds and how they would find and follow a trail within. He gave Santa a fine crystal mist to spread inside where any trails that were once hot would show up but not for long. Jack Frost also came up with something very strange. He seemed to think they should look for something odd- a hole or a strange pocket of time that can be seen in the Fold. He thinks that these criminals probably go to the same place every time and it could probably be seen once inside if they knew what to look for.
Jack Frost turned to Lenny and said many things ending with, “Look for a wobble.”
Lenny looked down and said "You mean the one not in my knees?" He laughed until he saw that Jack Frost thought he, Lenny, was going with Santa.
A place that did not exist in real time would look different from other places that are viewable inside the fold. It would not appear to be in focus all the time, Jack continued to explain.
The fish under the wharf heard it all so you know this is true…
“Hey pal, you’re better at this than I am- you are going with him correct?”
Jack Frost explained to a distressed group of officers that he could not go because Santa’s Fold was too hot and Frost really was a Being born of frost and cold. He would die. Then suddenly he announced he had to leave!
"Excuse me I have to go see to a sudden frost on an apple orchard tonight."
Lenny asked, "Isn't that a bad thing?"
"Not this- I have word from a bookworm that this batch has been poisoned by a hag. Better economic hardship for a season than the alternative." Lenny had to agree.
"Hey is it in my precinct?"
"I'll check that out for you."
"Call me- I wanna get this hag- call me even if it isn't because I know a lot of guys who might want to know someone is poisoning apples!"
"Sure thing- and Lenny, you will be alright."
Lenny thought to himself that Frost guy was certainly a warm person for someone of his profession, but he didn’t like the idea of going with Santa on this. There were younger guys.. who of course would jump at the chance.. they would agree he was also too old.. so in a matter of seconds Lenny had talked himself into going.
People watched in relative silence as the reindeer got harnessed and Lenny crawled into the sled with one other officer, then all the dwarves that were going followed and Santa himself climbed up to get ready. There was a murmur of conversation and some laughter. Even when the parents of the missing children came forward to wish them safety and success, there was still just a murmur. Then the officers cleared the wharf. Everyone filed off to watch the take-off.
Now you read what it was like to see the Fold occur, so imagine the people watching, without a clue. The silence turned to murmurs to raised voices and gasps of shock- and then actual screams. As Santa rose into the air and cracked the whip with the sounds and the lightning and then the explosion of sky into the glittering Fold, it sent people running and yelling, some jumping into the water.
Others stood frozen, the rare few began to cheer. It was mayhem in general. Lenny knew what to expect but had not been through it physically. He turned to the one young officer chosen to go next to him in time to see the man diving over the side of the sled into the water below. It was too late to do anything though, the WHRROOSHing of the hooves had begun and the sled was moving and before he could have any second thoughts about jumping over too, they rocketed forward.
If he could have seen the wharf behind he would have seen the officer wasn’t the only one in the water and the streets were filled with running people.
The only striking difference was among all that motion and crazy action, a large group of people stood on the waterfront road watching still and wide eyed. It was the parents, nothing could scare them since the most frightening thing had already happened to them. They merely watched the amazing Fold open- its beauty lost on them- they only saw a door open, Santa go in and soon after it slammed shut. The sky was dark and silent again. All they could do was wait now. Five hours was the limit, it felt like having to wait for five years.
Into the Fold
Lenny thought he had kept his eyes open the whole time but realized his eyes were tightly shut. When he finally opened his eyes he was amazed. The Fold was hypnotic- like the world in miniature laid out on a slightly curving upward floor of sparkling stars. They could jump from point to point in no time at all- but so many points- so many homes- Lenny thought 5 hours was a lot of time but even here he wondered how it could be enough. How would they find what they were looking for? WHAT were they looking for? There wasn't an obvious hole like he thought there would be. Jack Frost’s mist showed a faint trail only for a small time then it cleared. After that they began to look into the twinkling lights of the scenery the Fold revealed.
Lenny took his restraints off when he saw the dwarves moving around and peering over the side of sled. He got up and balanced himself and made his way up to Santa. He saw the reindeer’s legs pumping up front and Santa cracked the whip and the lightning cracked. He watched the lights twinkle around in a spiral at a great distance around. Lenny knew from listening to Santa on the wharf this was a good sign, the Fold was at its maximum size. He pulled Santa’s sleeve and yelled into the hot and cold wind.
“What do you think we should look for?”
Santa roared back at him, “Something different!”
Lenny stumbled back into the sled and over to the dwarves and looked over the side. He almost threw up and fell back into the sled. The effect of the bent air and the crazily arranged landscape made him dizzy in a way he had never been. He had to beat this though and be of use. They had no idea what they would face so he couldn’t be a failure at simply looking over the side. He tried again and found that if he moved along with the sway of the sled instead of trying to stay perfectly still it helped some. Soon he was a lot better oriented and looked over again.
This is what Santa saw every Christmas Eve. They followed the track he always followed- up and down to some darker patches or anything that he did not remember from his last Christmas Eve run. Anything new that had appeared since last Christmas Eve got looked at and circled with suspicion. Surprisingly that was the wrong thing to look for.
Lenny had never been through this before and didn’t know what was new and what wasn’t. He just knew something was odd when after some time he noticed one particular spot. Jack Frost said to look for the wobble. He pointed out some things to the dwarves who explained what they were- well he thinks they did. In the rushing of the wind he heard very little of what they said. I can’t tell you what they said because the one mouse hidden away in the bags was not listening very closely right at that moment. He did finally climb out right when something very important happened.
Lenny noticed a small green patch. A strange color for any season, more like poisoned neon green- he pointed it out to the dwarves. They yelled it’s probably a reflection from clouds or other lights, or it might be raining there which would make it blur and move. They said they had seen that spot for decades and it never changed. They explained the air is closed on some places- they are not homes but water reflections or some such thing and look odd. It was one of them. But Lenny remembered something Jack Frost said quickly among all the things he said- that Santa has seen the same things over and over and might be looking for some large grand evil sign.
Watch for the wobble, he said, the heat that a hidden independent time pocket would need. He said you have to get right on top of one to see what it is- check out anything weird. Lenny crept forward and convinced Santa to swoop in a little closer.
It was the right move. Lenny’s gut feeling from years as a detective was something even Santa didn’t have. They circled close and saw a home and three children playing in the yard. Strange it was so green in autumn but could have been another temperature zone showing through this section of fallen leaf covered homes. To a passerby nothing odd- but Lenny saw the wobble and looked around at other homes visible not so far away- it was a strange pocket of time. It had to be.
Santa swooped in closer the reindeer moving in one flowing motion without any discernable command to do so. Hide in plain sight, Lenny thought, and he got the creeps seeing the children at play on the yard. They were stiff moving, playing jacks, but looking like they were about to cry. They suddenly looked up. Santa called back to Lenny they never got presents, he never went there but he'd been going by for years assuming they followed another holiday tradition. Santa looked closer and said he'd been seeing this house for more than several decades- and those were the same children he’d always seen. They had not aged a day. Santa said if it wasn't the place they wanted now, it was something that needed to be checked out later if they were wrong. Lenny knew they were right.
They flew in close to view the small cheery but weird house and the quiet unsmiling children on the yard. It was two boys and a girl in dark gray clothing. A strange wave of sickness ran through Lenny but he realized they had passed into this pocket of time.
They sailed in closer and Ruedov kept giving signals, grunts that vibrated through even the sled, a message it was okay to land. He was never wrong, but there was something strange alright. To everyone it looked wavy and soft- not a good landing surface- but now Santa began to wonder what Ruedov was seeing and he let him lead them in. Everyone braced for impact and bumps but nothing happened. It was a smooth landing on a hard surface. It was fake, it was a flat surface painted to look like grass- it was in fact hard as any rooftop. It also rocked in a slight way with their weight suddenly on it and Lenny immediately realized what the reindeer must have- it was an island suspended in air. Smoke and mist surrounded it. Any happiness Lenny felt for picking the right place was replaced very quickly with the fear of what would happen next. Sure he has probably found the place but now what. He didn’t even have his gun. Santa told him to leave it behind because of its danger being discharged in the fiery bordered Fold.
The children looked stunned- Santa called out a cautious greeting and what they said was so sad.
"Santa? Is that you? Can you see us?"
“Yes!" He called back to them in a forced cheery voice.
"It’s been so many years we watched you fly every Christmas Eve and you never came. Its too late now.” The youngest boy of the three looked at his two companions in a troubled way.
"I am sorry to hurry you children but we are looking for many other children that may have been brought here- did you see them? Are they here?"
"Yes- they are inside,” the girl answered quietly, “but do you see the smoke? It is, I think, too late." Lenny with his keen detective eye noticed the children's clothing wasn’t actually dark gray, but clothing saturated in smoke and dust. He could see lace and buttons, but they were all one sooty color. The children were pale white, a hue not from nature.
Maybe it was the altered gravity, maybe the magical aspects in the air, maybe the thought of smoke and children and comment of "too late" but Lenny sprang out of the sled without waiting for anyone else. He thought briefly how he would pay for this eventually- his bones creaked his lungs wheezed but somehow his energy seemed to come back.
He could move with stealth and confidence, well more than usual and he ran to the house with Santa calling after him to stop. He burst the door in, stumbling into the darkness alone.
The time shift was worse inside- he felt like he was drunk. He reeled suddenly down what must have been a flight of stairs- colors swirled in blackness before his eyes and in his head as he rushed from empty room to empty room. He could barely see by the eerie light the shifting colors shed. He called out but his voice bounced right back into his ears. The echoes came seconds after in his own voice of course, but the words had been changed. He would call “Children” and it would come back “Get OUT!”. He had already seen such amazing things that this trick of sound to scare him did not stop him, but it was very disturbing.
Following the main hallway (that he was together enough to know was too long to have fit into the tiny house he entered) he tripped on a sudden wave movement in the floor. He fell and spun around as he dropped. He lay for a moment looking up. His vision seemed slightly clearer down there. He saw something out of the corner of his eye. When he stood back up he still saw it ahead- silhouettes. The floor waved up again, he ducked down to hold on and that time heard something too. Voices in the distance. Very young voices!
The Kids! He heard screams now. He ran forward on the floor that had started bucking like a bronco and then was stopped by a pummeling on his legs. He thought he was being beaten up but realized before he landed a punch- it was the kids- just as confused, just as reeling, clinging to him. They had been sitting, holding on in the hallway in the weird pale light that glowed from under the door at the end.
He pointed back the way out toward the stairs. He was afraid to say anything in case his voice came to them saying something awful. The moaning children started crawling and stumbling. He continued forward and found more children lying still, and thankfully were roused with shaking, and then they clung to him too. With children seemingly everywhere, he went forward and opened the door. Then quickly shut it. He told the kids to run for the stairs. The words must have come to them fine because they did just that. He did not want them to see what he saw. It was a horrible scene- a child strapped to a chair with an IV contraption in him. A dizzy dwarf suddenly appeared in the hallway and was covered in children instantly. He began to lead and carry them out.
Lenny rushed back into the horrible room. He could not stop long enough to figure out the evil machine -he just pushed a switch back that looked like a power switch and something reversed. The whole thing was attached to a massive tube that probably went through to the outside and spewed that horrible smoke because smoke was leaking back in here and there. He thought for a second how the smoke surrounded everything and knew, somehow- that’s what made this strange pocket of time possible. And now it would stop and the pocket might collapse.. they would be trapped or worse..
The child began to regain his color and started to cry. Lenny didn’t wait to try to figure anything out; he ripped the tubes out of the child and detached the straps, picked him up and rushed out with the tiny boy in his arms. It might have been his imagination but he thought he felt a shudder go through everything around him. Soon he and all the rest of the kids and the dwarf were stumbling for the stairs. Suddenly they were outside on the strange yard gasping and dizzy.
"What happened?" Santa roared- "You just went in!"
"Time thing going on in there too- worse" Lenny was out of breath- but the stunned children arranged around laying and standing, were looking fine as could be in the circumstances. “We have to go –NOW!”
Before anyone could look over or count the children the yard started to buck like the inside of the house. The smoke ever so slightly began to clear and then the door burst open. Evil looking henchmen poured out followed by Huk. Lenny recognized him from old most wanted posters. Supposedly a gentleman but anything but. Huk was snarling, certainly not the smooth and fine voiced con man who warped the Piper into this kidnapping, this was a vicious monster. Even his teeth were pointed and at the end of his arm, was a golden razor sharp hook.
"GO” Santa roared pointing Lenny to the sled, and the dwarves took up a battle stance to cover he and the children as they ran for it. Some of the children were trying to see Santa, even in their circumstances they called out Santa's name and smiled. The henchmen charged the dwarves and went for Lenny and the kids- and the battle in the strange pocket began.
At first the henchmen were no match for a man rumored to be descended from grizzlies and dwarves that carved castles out of mountains. Bag hooks and poles flew, Santa’s whip cracked and they backed down and some fell screaming over the side of the island.
But vile sneaky henchmen came up from behind the sled and Lenny was only one man- he didn’t have his gun, so he grabbed bag hooks and tried to fight but a few of the henchmen got some of the children and ran back for the house. The dwarves chased them down and Lenny fought off the others trying to climb into the sled. He was shocked at how well he did. The children regaining some strength kicked and fought them off too. Children out on the yard wriggled away from their captors and went running. Some were climbing on the sleigh and others were being dumped into it by dwarves- there seemed to be children everywhere.
When Lenny finally thought to look for Santa he saw he and Huk locked in a one on one battle. Both seemed equally sized and just as menacing and strange. He thought he should try to get out there to him right when Santa’s whip wrapped around Huk’s middle and seemed to lift him and smash him to the ground. The bucking of the yard was what made it look like he went high up and back down but the effect worked in Santa’s favor and Huk seemed to crumble on the ground. At that moment the yard stopped moving. Huk himself didn’t move for a moment but then began to crawl. He huddled weakly up against the wall of the house. The henchmen froze where they stood, shocked.
Santa turned to everyone and waved his hand to prepare to leave.
Lenny jumped out and ran to Santa’s side as they approached Huk. They had to think of a way to bring him back to be prosecuted. Dwarves approached with ropes.
Lenny could not hide his anger, he stepped up close to Huk, "Are you even human? How could you do something like this?" He spat at the florid man.
"I am a human." Huk spoke and smiled in what was probably a small amount of the charm he used on others.
Trapped and lying in garbage he was almost pitiable. Huk shockingly seemed to think he could explain himself too:
"Not all humans are the same. It's like dolphins and sharks... both live in the water and both looks like a fish. But the dolphin is a warm blooded creature that loves its children and the other...the Shark.." he smiled with pointed teeth gleaming, "the Shark is a killing machine.... I'm just a shark person.” he said sweetly, "It’s my nature."
The dwarves closed in and Santa stopped them with a grim look. “He has to be left here.” Santa said to Lenny, “Your human courts would free him once he turned the charm back on. He would get away. Let the collapse of this place destroy him too.”
Lenny knew it; the place WAS going to collapse. That he felt almost pity for this man was also a sign Santa was right. Huk would get away. They had to get out of there fast- the smoke was almost gone and there was a very real sound of groaning and creaking and the air felt like it was closing in. Everyone backed away as Huk held his arm up in front of his face looking pathetic.
Santa went to search the fake lawn for more children. Henchmen began to run dodging dwarves.
Huk seemed to be severely injured- he could barely move.. but that was a trick of course. The minute the dwarves took one step back to leave, Huk charged them, knocking them down with surprising weight and ferocity. He wasn't legendary for nothing. He whistled a strange sound and from out of nowhere a wooden boat appeared. It had been tethered right near Santa’s sleigh off the island. He took off for his boat, and with unexpected speed it pulled back and shot off into the Fold.
They screamed for Santa, if Huk knew how to open even a lesser Fold he would know how to close it, he might be able to close their Fold if he got out first, and then Santa and everyone else would be trapped. Santa came running in time to see Huk disappear into a cloud of vapor.
It was a run of desperation- all the dwarves alternately carrying and pushing children some twice their size.
The Reindeer watching wanted to fight but knew they would be needed, in formation, ready to go. Their snorts and grunts were so loud they echoed in the strange pocket and added a surreal urgency to already urgent circumstances. Ruedov watched with hatred as the wooden vessel left quickly with Huk on board. His eyes fired red.
Huk's abandoned henchmen now chased the children down again, the dwarves risked their lives to fight them back with poles and bag hooks. Santa made one last daring run around the house and was about to go inside it when the three pale children came around the corner.
"There is nothing in there,” the oldest boy said, “No children. Leave NOW Santa."
Santa couldn't figure out in that second if they were on the side of good or bad, there was something very wrong about the three. But they were still children- he reached his hand out-
"Come back with us."
"Go Santa," the oldest boy said, "Take him with you!" he pushed the younger boy forward and Santa grabbed him.
"We'll slow them down, you have no time."
The boy and girl held hands and turned to the henchmen who were rounding the corner. The boy in Santa's arm began to yell and struggle to get loose.
The henchmen had swords now, the two children would never survive. Santa made a dive for them and got both as he rolled and jumped back to his feet. With one boy under one arm and the other two under the other arm he ran for the sleigh. He felt the sword slashes in the air behind him. The dwarves had already loaded children on, Lenny was pulling them up into the sled's back carrier. Santa saw in that moment how overloaded they were. Nothing they could do now- Huk was already gone. Santa looked up around him at the dark swirling sky and hoped it would not suddenly close in upon them. He loaded the sled and took his seat and Lenny crawled forward and signalled they were ready to go.
Santa heard a yell of terror and looked in time to see Ruedov circled back keeping the abandoned henchmen at bay with his antlers against the swords. The Henchmen's swords shattered. Ruedov's eyes were glowing white hot now.
In a rush of adrenaline, panic, fear and bravery everyone was ready, ducking down, holding on, shouting, crying, - the three children Santa held were deposited next to Lenny who wrapped them in blankets and signaled to put their heads down and hold tight to the straps. There was no time to react to anything.
Lenny always underestimated the power of the reindeer team, and they shot forward with such force he thought he would spill right out of the sled. He tried to hold as many children down as he could and still hold on himself. Then that strange suffocating feeling again. He knew the children might not be ready for it, he didn't know what it had felt like on Huk's boat- they may have been tied up or in bags, he didn't know but couldn't ask them now. He reached about as he could and tried to see if they were okay. He could feel moving children huddled under the blankets. At least they were still moving and none had fallen out.
When they broke back into the Fold, Lenny climbed to the back of the main sled and in spite of his better judgement- climbed across the wobbling hitch and into the back trailing sled. No- he didn't look down. He wanted to look behind them to make sure no other boats were following. The dwarves in back were shocked when Lenny appeared. One even smiled and patted him but suddenly got knocked over. A henchman was climbing up onto the back of the sleigh and was reaching in with a piece of sword in his hand. Without even thinking or pausing Lenny grabbed the packing pole from the knocked down dwarf and swung out...
For a moment a picture flashed in his head- from a long time ago. A movie he had seen of a swashbuckler fighting off some evil person.. for the first time in his life the face on the brave hero was himself. He had been having that dream, that imaginary moment, almost all his life and it was always someone else's face. Not just bravery- not just confidence- but skill. The Henchman disappeared with a scream as Lenny leapt forward and balanced on the edge and hit him off the sled with one fluid motion. All the dwarves nearby smiled and shook their fists in the air. Lenny even dared to lean over the back and swing the pole around to make sure no one else was underneath. They were as safe as they could be at the moment. He jumped back inside.
A horrific crackling sound made him look up and back. There at the end of the ever-decreasing circle of green light that was the strange pocket with the tiny house- he saw the place go up in flames and crash into itself. The whole glowing space disappeared and he felt a wave of heat pass them with the smell of smoke and burning metal. Then a mass of flames shot out and even before he could duck it reached out its fiery fingers and disappeared. It was gone.. the whole island the whole pocket... but it had also collapsed the Fold back there and the tunnel grew darker- the light even eerier, the darkness from behind gaining faster.
Lenny made his way forward to more pats from smiling dwarves and climbed back over the hitch, and this time, looked down. He wasn't afraid anymore, but the view did scare him. The swirling gray was no longer gray- it was red. Now it wasn't swirling smoke patterns anymore, it was swirling flame. None of the houses or scenery could be seen- it was just red and getting closer. He climbed over fast and went right back up to Santa and pulled on his coat hem. The roaring of the Fold was too loud for voices to carry over, and Santa looked back and acknowledged Lenny pointing downward and back, and he looked down for a brief second. When he looked back up Lenny was shocked to see something that might have been worry on Santa's face.
Santa whipped the reins up and down in fury. Lenny sat back down. There was nothing more he could do.
The final run
Ruedov was not red nosed- he was a fierce red-eyed reindeer. But misspelling his name and saying it was a shiny red nose made him less scary to children in a song written somewhat about him. He in fact never had any trouble fitting in. When he grew to full size he became the reindeer team leader. He was in fact smarter and scarier and stronger than any reindeer who had come along to join Santa for decades. With his skill and the team’s speed they were suddenly right behind Huk’s escaping boat.
The smaller boat, built to be used in a lesser version of the Fold, sailed fast in the better version. They could keep up but not over-take it. Huk’s boat let off a white vapor cloud that temporarily blinded the reindeer and the sleigh swayed crazily but Ruedov snorted and yanked the sled ahead so hard the people in the sleigh fell backward onto each other again.
Suddenly his head and shoulders clear of the cloud he found himself right behind Huk's boat. He kicked his iron-shod hooves forward and nicked the wooden hull. His lead partner Danzer saw what he was doing and jerked further ahead too- his head clearing the white cloud, jolting the sled again, and causing more falls. His hooves kicked at the hull in a ferocious way too. Huk's boat would edge ahead of them as they kicked momentarily losing their momentum. In their grunts they communicated to the rest of the reindeer behind them- and all of the team, even though they were buried in the vapor cloud still blinded, to force themselves to leap with a jerk even farther forward at the grunted signals of Ruedov. They would give Ruedov and Danzer the push forward they needed and not lose speed
Lenny wondered to himself, holding tightly to the sled (built for quantity not for comfort), what was wrong with them- but Santa knew something was up because the reindeer were skilled at smooth flying in any condition. He felt the signal vibrations on the voluntary reins and with the next one even he thrust his body forward to give the sled the jerk and leap the reindeer were doing for some reason.
Ahead in the clear the hooves of Ruedov and Danzer were wearing a hole away and when it was splitting the hull open, Huk at his wheel turned and saw it, his evil grin disappearing. He grabbed a sword and dove for the back, but it was too late. The hole was big enough now and Ruedov turned his head hard sideways. In the next jerk forward he inserted his antlers into it- his red glowing eyes met Huk's for just one hateful moment before he suddenly jerked his head back upright... his fearsome antlers acting like a can opener cracked the boat apart. Huk’s sword slashed right in front of Ruedov’s non-red nose. Huk desperately held on to the cracking hull screaming as the boat lost its stability and fell downward in pieces.
The boat’s momentum stopped and as the sleigh passed over, the reindeer team shattered the pieces further as it came under their sharp hooves. Santa's whip finished off Huk as it stung the villain’s hands and he lost his grip.
Lenny peered over the sleigh's edge and saw Huk fall.. and then burn up in the fiery boundary of the Fold. The boat pieces went up in flames too. As good as it felt to see that, his mind was overcome by just how close those fiery boundaries were getting to the Sleigh. He could feel its heat on his face. He looked up toward Santa and saw that he had seen this disturbing development too.
The search of the massive Fold and fight at the strange pocket house had delayed them longer than they should have been. But no one had known what to expect. At least they were now rocketing in the right direction.. OUT. Lenny more than hoped it would be fast enough. He had lost track of the time, he did not know how much time they had left. If he had known he would have truly been afraid- because right at that second, the maximum safe time, ran out.
The children were scared but so brave in their actions. He thought they'd be a messy crying bunch but their faces were sober and wide-eyed peeking out from under the colorful blankets. One small boy in the back sled trailer was holding a pole. Lenny had to suppress a smile. The child was still ready to fight with whatever might come up behind them. Kids weren't so bad afterall. He had only seen them crying and spoiled in parks or selfish and screaming in stores.. that such little humans could be so brave impressed him almost against his will.
He saw the smallest boy of all looking right up at him and when their eyes met the child moved next to him. This was the little boy he had unhooked from the terrible machine. He crawled onto Lenny’s lap and looked up into his eyes. He ducked low to hear what the child was saying. Below the rim of the sleigh the wind was a duller roar.
"Are you scared Mister?" he called up with a tremble in his voice. "You can hold on to me if you are."
In a sudden unexpected rush of affection Lenny put his arm around the boy. Luckily the rushing air dried his tears quickly.
"Yeah kid I'm scared, but here, we'll be okay." They sat together grasping hands, the child's tiny hand in Lenny's big gnarled mitt.
The whip cracked and the snap and sting rang like thousands of electric wires shorting out while thunder rolled overhead. The flames that had been seen swirling in the distance in all directions were no longer distant. The flames were terrible and beautiful all at once. The heat was intense, the air was quickly becoming un-breathable and the sled's speed that seemed amazing at the start was feeling slow and sluggish in the heat.
The Reindeer were covered in ash and blackening specks. Their fur was beginning to smoke, their muscles were strained, and their grunts and yowls echoed in the ever-decreasing tunnel of fire. Their iron-shod hooves were hitting the boundaries of the Fold and shot out sparks that in any other place would have looked like pretty showers of stars.
The Sleigh's once gleaming rudders were scarred and shot out the same starry sparks. The flaming walls were drowning out Santa’s deep “HO-HO”, the crackling of the whip, and suddenly it seemed, to all still aware, that everything had become slow motion. In the heat everything looked like it was melting, the fiery walls leapt into each other and the tiny point of starlit darkness just ahead..... closed.
As the fire descended on top them, Lenny covered the little boy with his coat bowing down low over the child.
He said "Don't look baby, don't look."
He thought he must be delirious- he heard voices whispering. Whispering happy voices?
The Reindeer bellowed in an unearthly scream and Santa looked up one last time at the fiery falls and let the whip crack with a force he could have never mustered unless it was death itself standing in front of him- with one final HHOOOOOOO! he willed his sleigh to fly, the reindeer's legs to churn the heat fractured air, and then the tunnel collapsed, in a roar on top of them.
The last thing Lenny felt before he blacked out was a tiny hand squeezing his own and then.. a bone numbing jolt.. and nothing.
Watchers of the sky
No hint of the fiery roar was heard in the quiet night of the wharf on the sea. The tearful parents stared hard into the blackness willing each starry point of light to be the sled in the distance. The Chief of Police was calling out the time. The five hours Santa had in the best of conditions had come, and gone.
The Chief counted off the minutes past, then the seconds, out loud with tears in his eyes. His tired worried mind was wondering when he should stop, because when he stopped he knew he would have to face the horror of the loss of the children, and Santa, and the dwarves, and the reindeer, and yes his old crony Lenny. It would be a tragedy from which they would never recover. People’s heads were bowed, some had begun to cry. The Mayor sadly walked toward the front of the crowd to begin an address he did not want to give…
Suddenly a great cracking boom rang out. A hot concussion blast knocked all present to the ground and shattered windows along the waterfront. They looked up in shock as a pinpoint of light exploded into a fiery funnel that crashed outward then spiraled open with the sound of thunder rolling and lightning striking the sea, and suddenly it closed- but there there there- sailing in a crazed way through the moonlit sky, was the Sleigh!
It careened in the distance from side to side falling closer to them from the darkness and a shrill cheer went up as the fastest to recover jumped to their feet. They could make out Reindeer legs pumping furiously and Santa, or a man in black in Santa's place cracked a whip and a voice boomed and filled the darkness. It soon became clear it was a warning call - the sled was coming in fast- rocking back and forth in a crazed speeding flight and many people ran or jumped into the water to clear the way. The sleigh crash landed and slid and skidded in a mass of smoke and acrid burning scent. Sparks were flying, the wharf ignited in places and people rushed to put out the flames along blackened skid marks. The heat was intense the smoke was blinding but no one cared- they ran to the massive sled. It WAS Santa at the helm but he was almost unrecognizable- he was blackened and burnt- his clothing dark smoking rags, his beard singed almost all the way off, his skin gray and black, his hair almost burned to his scalp. The reindeer were no better off, stumbling and falling over. People were dousing them with cool water and covering them with blankets. There were cries of pain from all around as joyful parents and onlookers were climbing the sleigh and burning their hands rushing to carry out limp but moving bodies. Lenny was carried out still tightly clutching the tiny child he covered. They were gently laid on the wharf. When Lenny and the boy sputtered to life under a stream of water a cheer went up.
The children and dwarves were dirty and singed but alive alive alive! Best of all- they were ALL there. As every parent screamed a name out, shouts of joy soon followed.
Lenny took off his glasses and the skin around his eyes shone white against his smoky face and a small giggle went up in the recovering children, and then adults joined in, and there was a sudden rush of hysterical laughing relief.
All laughed, cried, hugged, and even as the reindeer were stumbling around trying to stand as people clung to them and cried and laughed petting and brushing them, the animal snorts sounded like chuckles. Even tough Ruedov was affectionately bumping noses and battle scarred antlers with his teammates.
Santa's voice suddenly rang out over everyone, the deep and almost frightening HOHOHO! silenced everyone, and all turned to look. The dwarves were helping carry two very frail very very old people out of the sleigh. Another followed that was a man of about 60 years old. The children whispered, the adults present stared. Santa pushed through the crowd.
"So this is why you didn't want to come with us."
They were Celeste and Oliver. The man of 60 was Bennett. These had been the three children on the strange pocket’s fake lawn. Bennett spoke for them.
"We knew what would happen. I was taken much later than these two, as you can tell, but now the years are catching up. They are about 150 years old."
The dwarves laid them gently down on blankets and coats. Celeste and Oliver were smiling. A Doctor came forward and checked them- he looked up and his face made it clear things were not good.
“They are fading fast.” He said quietly to Bennett and Santa, “ I don’t know how long they’ll have, they keep aging- there is nothing I can do.”
Bennett stroked their white hair and said, "I think its okay, it’s truly okay."
“Take us home” Celeste whispered. Bennett promised he would.
Oliver reached up to Bennett and whispered thank you. Lenny had heard these voices on the sled. They must have seen what was happening to their bodies. The voices he had heard were not sad though. How he heard those whispers he would never know.
"We are free." Oliver whispered.
Bennett explained to the Police and Santa, that in that strange pocket of time where time itself was altered, they used kidnapped children from all over, as fuel to keep that pocket alive. A child's essence and youth were drained from them to fuel the villains and their wretched eternal youth too. Huk thought the three of them were innocent and cheerful looking and they were forced to “play” endlessly under a spell on the fake lawn. This way any passing time traveler would think they were looking into a simple yard, a simple house, with children playing- and not be curious.
Lenny had seen the terrible place go up in smoke. He saw Huk burn in the fire. No one would ever know what was still there or how many children had been taken throughout time. At least it was over now.
The rescued children led them to a hidden room in the mansion, revealed now that any spells that were cast to hide things were now gone. The officers found the villains had a chest stored there. The children had been brought there before setting off from the wharf in the flying boat. They saw things being put into it. There the police found documents and other proof that the Boogey Man was disguising himself as the Sandman. He was eventually found in a dark closet and his arrest led to the exposing of other villains who kidnapped children under cover of fairytale disguise to sell to Huk. Losing much of the FGT was making it hard for these criminals to collect children like they had without suspicion. Being able to do things like sneak into homes at night gave them the perfect cover. It’s why Huk got the Piper to help him. The world was purged of many terrible folk because of this investigation.
People would hear later that Celeste and Oliver made it to their hometown and saw its tree covered hills for a full day before they quietly passed away. They were buried together in the town where they had been born over 150 years ago. Lenny wondered if in the world of good ghosts Lavender Mary would run into them, celebrating somewhere.
Most of the world missed the news blurb, but a certain town will never forget the day a man arrived and a wheelchair bound old woman suddenly jumped up and ran off her porch like a young girl and flung herself into his arms. Bennett was able to see his mother for one full week before she peacefully passed away. She died happy knowing he had finally come home safe.
The Sea of Grass
What of the Piper?
Mz Clawz took the trucks to chase after the Piper. Cops at the wharf got a call that he was spotted at a town, not known for much other than it was at the border of the Sea Of Grass. They felt he would try to hide there but Mz Clawz told them no one hides there, in fact no one has ever come out of it once they go in. The Sea of Grass had been there longer than she had been alive. The officers heading there still asked for her help.
They decided to try to race for the town to stop the Piper if they could. The cops said they'd send two cruisers but Mz Claws said she and the dwarves would be faster.
Like a scene from a wild race the multiple massive trucks rumbled and roared and took corners like they were magnetically attached. The roads were cleared ahead of them just barely in time to see the trucks race by. The two police cruisers were also sent out but were soon left far behind.
When the officers in the cruisers finally arrived, Mz Clawz and the dwarves were watching someone at the border of the endless green waving mass known as the Sea Of Grass. It was the Piper, and he was also watching them. The cops stepped out of their cars just as he stepped into the long wild prairie grass and was gone. The whip Mz Clawz carried was unfurled. The cops wondered if she tried to stop him with it. They could see something had happened.
She told them they couldn't go in after The Piper. Even to stand too close to the border was dangerous. The officers brought out a megaphone and shouted to him. A helicopter flew over but she said they will never see or find him. They didn't believe her. An officer called out he was going to go in and she told him to hold her whip. She whip cracked it out and the cop took the tip with a humorous look on his face and went in.
There are small furred creatures that can live in places like that without danger but for humans it is different. These little creatures witnessed the whole thing. The second the officer was inside he became disoriented. All sound was muffled to non-existence except for the rubbing of the tall grass shafts that stood taller than he did. The sky was blotted out by their waving and it grew darker as he tried to walk. He tried to turn back around but couldn’t remember which way he came from even though he had a grip of the whip end. He began to twist around and felt like he was being closed in and suffocated. Mz Clawz felt the whip jerking hard and she pulled him back out with a hard yank. The officer was pale and shaken even though he was only a whip length into the grasses.
The officers knew now its true that they will never get the Pied Piper. Mz Clawz told them about snowstorms where you can be inches from your own door and not know it. The Sea Of Grass is like that and in days when people were trapped in prairie grass they were found to have just walked in circles until they died. The Sea Of Grass was worse. The only reason a person goes into it is to never come out again. She did ponder that since the Piper was a magical person he might survive to come out on the other side one day. It was all they could hope for. The officers alerted the border towns. Maybe one day they could bring him to justice.
Mz Clawz heard the wonderful news over the radios that Santa had returned with all the children safe. She and the rest of the dwarves raced back to the wharf.
And now the end
Not long after these dramatic events, a major awards ceremony followed to honor all involved. Everyone including the reindeer received a medal of bravery that had the Mayor’s image on it giving a big thumbs up. A secretary explained they didn’t really have that much time to make them but the sentiment was sincere.
The eventual bad news came as a shock. Santa, his beard and hair growing back, accepted his medal and decorative collars for the brave Reindeer, when the Mayor called out:
"See you soon! Christmas is almost here!" There was a mouse under the Mayor’s chair that heard the whole thing. This might have been the same mouse that had hidden in the sled because he seemed to have heard quite a lot.
In the passion and fever of rescuing the children no one had completely heard Santa properly explain the price for the rescue. It was that there would be no Christmas.
If there was ever a moment that the World stood still, this was it. Lenny shook his head because he knew what Santa meant but no one had listened back at the wharf when he told them the first time. Santa had to explain it again to the stunned crowd.
"The Fold bends distance and alters time and in it I can move at a high rate of speed coming down to one house after another looking to you like real time but in fact I am moving from one place to another in a matter of seconds. Its why children need to be asleep, so I can move quickly, so I don't mistakenly have a child sneak into my bag and go with me. They will be thousands of miles away in a few minutes if they did. The Fold allows Christmas to happen and it can only occur once a year. In December’s cold, it’s easiest and lasts the longest- that’s why Christmas is where it is- in the winter weather where I create the strongest effect. This way it also carries me to the Southern Hemisphere. But the atmosphere will not let me make it happen for another 11 months. I have tried. It will not happen."
"So what does this mean Santa?" The Mayor asked in a trembling voice. He was close to tears. The Mayor's wife spoke up-
"That means dear- we buy our own presents this Christmas."
In the silence that followed, a gradual relief came over everyone. If it was just presents- well THAT they could handle. In the wake of the rescue it seemed like if Santa didn't come on Christmas something terrible would happen. But if it just meant shopping... needless to say everybody ended up hugging and laughing.
Santa left and gave Lenny a last rocking handshake that nearly made him lose his glasses. They both laughed. Little did he know that’s the last time he would ever see Santa again.
Lenny called out one last time before Santa left, “Thank Mz Clawz for me again!”
Right after their return from the rescue, on his desk back at the precinct, Lenny found a box delivered from the North Pole. It was a beautifully woven Whip from Mz Clawz. His name was burned into the handle. He took it out and let it fly and cracked off an awful fake fish in a frame above the door, *whhiip-CRACK* as if he had been doing it all his life.
Christmas went well and no one much minded the extra money they spent on presents. In fact some did the math and realized if they bought their own presents every year it would be cheaper than having to pay the Fairytale Gift Tax. The waivers poured in around late January. The head administrative dwarf got busy and started to cross off names. The cities the furthest away from where the rescue had occurred were the first to eventually be completely deleted from Santa's lists.
Then as the year went on the rest of the world's people who subscribed began to send in waivers. By late summer it was becoming clear that there was something serious happening. A family sending in a waiver didn't think that their neighbors were doing the same but that’s what happened. They learned how to do Christmas on their own. They also tried this on other holidays like Easter and found they could do that too and get away with it, and it was much cheaper. Elegant handcrafted things could be replaced by colorful plastic things just fine in their kid's eyes.
You can see where this is leading. When the town of the rescue heard what was happening, they were the last to be crossed off the list right around Thanksgiving. With the rest of the world opting out they didn't feel so guilty. The other holidays were easy but that final step to sign off on Santa wasn’t easy.
The Mayor promised Santa in a memo it would only be that year and he'd talk to the President about it, so as a "further reward"- Santa should take the holiday off.. again. The Presidential talk never happened. It just ended like that. A tearful phone call from the Mayor the next spring and all the funds from the Fairytale Gift Tax stopped forever.
Not everyone realized it at first that Santa would never fly for them again. People dressed up like Santa that first year to fool their kids but eventually people began to see what had happened. It was over. Instead of having their children send letters that could possibly be returned, they set up fake Santas to listen to children's requests so their parents could eavesdrop and know what to buy. Alternate addresses were set up for children who still wanted to write so that parents could read their gift lists.
Fathers were risking their lives trying to squeeze down chimneys in tacky red outfits and fake beards. Toy companies went into overdrive to make toys for the holidays- and even though the workloads increased people actually were saving money and many were making money.. there was no way Santa himself was ever going to be asked to come back.
Was Santa mad at them? Several of the families who had their children rescued by Santa made the trip on the Northern Cargo Train to see him. They arrived and thought he'd be sad or mad or who knows, but they found he and Mz Clawz in relatively good spirits.
They were expecting their first child! Santa had never done Christmas for the money. He had a talent and made it into something that made children happy rather than let the governments of the world use it for war (like they had tried way back when). Sure he made money but he also saved and invested it. Santa and family were fine. He was thoughtful though, that it happened the very first year after he had saved the children and stopped the villains. He knew it might eventually happen but not right after. Mz Clawz was not as polite on the subject.
She was shouting in another room and throwing things, house mice ducking for cover, but when she came out to greet the families the children's faces made her smile and she rubbed her own big belly.
When the families apologized for the waiver situation she said- "He still would have gone, even if Santa knew this would happen afterward, so really, there is nothing to apologize for. You can't say you are sorry for asking for your children back."
The families left and waved goodbye as the Northern Cargo Train pulled out.
Mz Clawz eventually had a baby boy who grew to be a fabulous Sumo wrestler. He is probably still somewhere living happily ever after. He was never much of a media darling.
The end was complete. The Easter Bunny was no longer needed, neither was the Tooth Fairy or any other fairytale service. Parents dressed up in silly outfits and pretended to be these things themselves. Most of the magical folk turned out okay, well almost. The Easter Bunny disappeared one year and was never seen again. Some think he may have gone north to live with family and some said he went south and was finally caught by the goblin hillfolk who had wanted to make him into stew for years. No one ever knew what happened. The Golden Goose blended in with the other geese of the countryside and is probably living quietly in a farmyard. The shoe making Pixies, as it turned out, never cashed their checks from the FGT- they were fairy tale workers from so far back they never understood the concept of the zoning and funding. They eventually did cash their collected checks and used the money to buy a cookie and cracker company where they hired a clan of tiny elves to work in bakeries. They only did shoes for charity now... or fun.
The Sandman became a world reknown anesthesiologist. His wife The Tooth Fairy donated all the collected teeth to a pediatric tooth study foundation. They were thrilled. The teeth represented all different forms of perfection and decay in so many stages- it was the biggest collection in the world and dental scholars traveled from all over the world to view it. For awhile she also raised funds for them and chaired committees. Eventually they both retired to a remote area where towns still drowsed in a sleepy limbo and the resident’s teeth didn't bore the Tooth Fairy to tears.
The Fairy Godmother still sews and Jack Frost still paints windows with frost and makes lovely snowy landscapes. Someone thought they saw Lavender Mary at a bonfire dance, so maybe she has come back. Lenny stayed a detective until he retired and then he began to go to a lot of dances to meet new friends and maybe maybe.. see Lavender Mary again.
Santa still watches us. He may still take the reindeer out for a fly on Christmas Eve- he did it a lot when his boy was small. If you think you saw Santa once it might have been him. He likes that no one forgot him and hates the tacky costumes but thinks the sentiment is nice. The Northern Cargo Train has been snowed over so deep it will never be dug out again. The factory and estate at the North Pole has also been buried forever, and only the dwarves and Santa’s family knows the subterranean entrance. They don't use it much anymore opting for warmer places after so many years of howling icy winds.
Once some of the dwarves appeared in a big movie- you know the one. Most of the dwarves though, retreated back into the mountains and let the snow cover them. Down under the earth, under even the seas near the earth's core, are other lakes and oceans and islands and land masses and cathedrals of rock forests and mountains where the dwarves live and tend to the earth’s internal landscapes. There they still create wondrous things for themselves and other dwarves.
The world is, as you know, do it yourself on the holidays with lots of fancy tales woven in that were once, maybe, partly true. It's not your fault people have to spend all the money and dress up in costumes if they have kids, but that’s what it is now and you can't change it back. Santa saved the children and lost his place in the Holiday world. Confused? Not really? How often have you done something good and your reward was ingratitude or nothing at all? It's life, it’s the way it is. You learn from it and move along. Mainly you don’t do good things to be rewarded. You do them because you are good.
Don't be mad at your parents, this happened long ago. In fact it was probably your grandparent's or great grandparents that signed the waivers- you might have done the same thing in their place so try to understand okay? Oh and.. Happy Holidays!
Dedicated to Jerry Orbach, the greatest Lenny of all. :)