Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sault’s Christmas Fable

 Poto, the Missing Elf

            “Randel, Randel . . . where did Santa go?” Guido, one of Santa’s toy makers, asked as he walked past rows of baby dolls and bicycles being assembled for Christmas.

            “I think he’s in the reindeer shed with Sasha,” Randel replied. “Is something wrong?”

            “Poto is missing. We can’t find her anywhere in the toy building,” Guido said.

            “She’s probably over in the new book-wrapping shack. You know how much she loves those new picture books,” Randel replied and continued to comb the hair on a fashion doll.

            “No, I’ve checked everywhere. She’s not in any of the toy making or wrapping rooms. I even looked in the lunch hall.”

            “Did you try the ‘Dear Santa’ Letter-reading office? She enjoys reading letters to Santa from children.”

            “That was the last place anyone saw her. She’s disappeared. I need to report this to Santa.”

            Guido donned a thick winter coat and wrapped a long scarf several times around his head and neck before opening the outer door, leading to the reindeer barn. Freezing wind howled around him as he trudged through deep snow drifts that crossed his pathway. The elf tucked his face deep into the warm folds of a scarf he received from Santa’s wife on his last birthday. It was difficult for him to see the path. Guido worried that if Poto went outside during this storm, she might have gotten lost. Even the big red reindeer barn was barely visible through this storm.

            Guido pulled the heavy barn door open, but it wouldn’t close as it became stuck in the snow.

            “Close that door!” Santa shouted from the far side of the barn. “We’ve got a baby in here.”

            “I’m trying, sir, but it’s stuck,” Guido replied.

            “Stand aside,” Santa ordered.

            All the elves knew his powers, and they scrambled to get out of the way when he used them. Guido let go of the door handle and dove to one side just as a powerful stream of sparkling energy passed over his head. It came from Santa’s finger tips and easily slammed the door closed.

            “Guido, what brings you out here on such a cold night?” Santa helped his little friend to his feet. “Did you come to see Sasha’s baby?”

            All the members of Santa’s village knew that the reindeer mother, Sasha, would have her baby soon. Santa had been sleeping in the barn for nearly two weeks so he could help her when the time came.

            “Is the baby here?” Guido asked with excitement.

            “Come see her. She hasn’t even gotten to her feet, yet.”

            Santa put his hand on Guido’s shoulder and guided him into the farthest stall on the opposite wall. There, lying on a thick mat of dry hay, a tiny reindeer lifted her head to see her very first visitor. Her short tail wagged when she saw Santa, and she looked curiously at Guido. The mother reindeer, Sasha, used her nose to nudge the baby, encouraging her to stand.

            As Guido and Santa watched, the baby tested her long legs. She pushed against her mother’s hoof on one side and shoved a foot deep into the hay on her other side. Slowly, and with support from her mother’s nose, the baby struggled to her feet, her legs wobbling as she learned to balance.

            “Welcome to the world,” Santa said to the baby. “Good job, Sasha. Your daughter looks as strong and beautiful as you. What do you think, Guido?”

            Guido noticed that both animals reacted to Santa’s comments as if they completely understood what he had said. Sasha stepped away from her fawn for a moment to nuzzle Santa’s chest while he scratched behind her ears.

            “She’s adorable, Santa. Have you picked a name for her yet?” Guido asked.

            “No, my friend, I never pick names for baby reindeer. I leave that as a special Christmas gift for only one child. The hard part is deciding which child will get that honor.”

            Sasha’s baby stumbled awkwardly over to join Santa. The chubby icon of Christmas gently rubbed the baby’s forehead. “Here Guido, let her smell your hand. Baby reindeer learn to identify their family by scent.”

            Santa’s helper extended a hand below the little reindeer’s nose, but instead of sniffing it, she pressed her nose against his palm and licked it.

            “Guido! She likes you already,” Santa bellowed. “That was a reindeer kiss. You are now a very special person to her. She will be your friend for life.”

            As a toy builder, Guido never spent time around the reindeer, so this experience fascinated him almost to the point of forgetting why he originally weathered the storm to find Santa. He suddenly recalled the important mission that brought him to the barn.

            “Santa...Poto is missing. We can’t find her anywhere. Have you seen her?”

            Santa thought a moment. “I’ve been out here for two weeks waiting for Sasha’s baby. I haven’t seen her during this time . . . wait . . . I returned to the dining hall yesterday for dinner, and I thought I heard someone crying. It was Poto. When I asked her why she was upset, she said she read a child’s wish letter that upset her. She said she would be okay.”

            Guido followed Santa as they hurried back to the Christmas toy center. With a wave of his hand, Santa made the door open an instant before they approached it. He called out to his toy center supervisor.

            “Randel, I’ve just been told that Poto cannot be found. Stop the Christmas production schedule. I want every member of our village to join the search for her.”

            Randel jumped up from his workbench and pulled an emergency cord hanging above his table. Warning bells sounded. Conveyor belts stopped. Helpers in every department of Santa’s Village ceased what they were doing and waited for an announcement. As the senior-most elf, Randel used the intercom to announce the missing Poto and initiate a Village-wide search. Each department reported back within minutes. She was nowhere inside any of the buildings. Santa immediately expanded the search.

            “She must have gone outside for some reason,” Santa said. “The blizzard could have disoriented her so we must find her quickly. Randel, organize ten search teams to go outside. Use the rope system that we’ve practiced in the past so we do not lose anyone else in this storm.”

            Soon, search teams pushed through powerful winds and ever-deepening snow drifts, each hoping that they would find the young she-elf alive. Santa led a team back to the reindeer barn where they checked every stall and both hay lofts, looking for her.

            Something nagged Santa's mind, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. Then, it came to him.

            “Where is Gannon?” Santa shouted his question out to his helpers from inside an empty reindeer stall.

            Several barn workers scurried from stall to stall, looking for Gannon. The young reindeer was also missing.

            “He’s not with any of the other reindeer, sir,” said Santa’s stable aide.

            The storm’s intensity raged outside and Santa knew his search parties were in danger.

            “Recall everyone to the village. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

            As Santa’s helpers left the barn, he approached the stall of his famous reindeer, Rudolf. “What do you think, old friend? Your son and my helper are missing. Is there a connection?”

            Rudolf walked past Santa to a wall displaying reindeer harnesses. Most of the tack consisted of magic sleigh rigging that responded only to Santa while pulling his sleigh full of presents around the world on Christmas Eve. But, there were also a few saddles and bridles specially made to fit reindeer for a single person to ride. Rudolf’s nose glowed brighter than normal when he nudged the rack of single-rider harnesses. Usually, six sets hung there. Now, there were only five.

            Santa rushed back to the main complex. He burst through the entryway, walked right past the toy assembly tables and his shivering searchers. He vanished through the doorway to the “Dear Santa” Letter Reading Office.

            “Where did Poto sit last night?” he asked. The head clerk led Santa to the desk where she screened mail and logged wish-lists.

            Every child’s Christmas Wish letter receives special attention. First, it gets copied and logged into the World Book of Christmas Wishes so it will never be lost or overlooked. Then, depending on the type of wish, it gets routed to the right department to be filled. The job of letter-reader was very important, but sometimes wishes come in that even Santa can’t make happen, but Santa never gives up. Those difficult Christmas wishes go into a special file called “Maybe it can happen”.

            “She processed quite a few letters last night,” Santa said as he reviewed her work and notes. “Looks like she did a good job . . . wait, what’s this?”

            Santa read the letter out loud:

            “Dear Santa,

            Last year, I got real sick and my mommy took me to the hospital. They hurt me with a bunch of needles and said I had cancer. I asked you to make the cancer go away for Christmas. That’s all I wanted. Thank you, Santa, because it’s gone now, and I just know you answered my Christmas wish.

            This year I need another big wish. It’s for my mommy. She’s got cancer, but it’s not like mine. The doctor is talking about something called hospice, and my daddy said they can’t fix her. I don’t believe them. They don’t know that you fixed me last year. So, that’s my only Christmas wish this year. Can you please fix my mommy?

            Love, Camelia

            p.s.  I love the dolls you got me last year, even though I didn’t ask for them. Thank you.”

            Santa put down the letter and checked the letter registry. Poto logged it less than twelve hours ago. He now understood why his she-elf cried in the cafeteria last night.

            Santa memorized the little girl’s address and ran from the building to the barn.

            “Rudolf, we must find Poto and Gannon. They lack experience to fly in such a storm. Gather the team.”

            Soon Rudolf and the Christmas sleigh team stood in proper order waiting for Santa to hook them to his sleigh. The jolly old man wrinkled his brow and waived a hand toward the sleigh at the back of the barn. It rose into the air and floated past the reindeer until it could drop into place with all the harnesses resting on the backs of the magic deer. Straps and buckles slipped around each one like living vines until all were connected and ready to go. Santa stepped into the sleigh and called out, “Rise my steeds, run like the wind. We must find Poto, we must save Ganon. And bring them home again.”

            The barn doors parted and Santa’s sleigh charged into the bitter cold night.

            “Rudolf, lead us to your son,” Santa called out.

            His lead reindeer did not need any encouragement. He already picked up Gannon’s scent and was pulling harder than ever before. His fellow reindeer understood the urgency and they, too, snorted great clouds of vapor from their nostrils as they pulled faster and faster.

            Swirling snow cut off visibility. Only Rudolf’s special senses guided them through the darkness. Hours passed. Santa’s steeds never slowed, deep resolve driving their mission.

            The horizon soon became bright as they flew out of the storm and into a new day. Blue ocean passed below and thin, wispy clouds whizzed by. The coastline of a large continent showed in the distance. Rudolf and his team pulled even harder, sensing Gannon not far ahead. The sleigh began to circle around a rundown house at the edge of a small town. There, on the roof, was Gannon, waiting by himself, but where was Poto?

            Santa’s sleigh set down without making a sound. Rudolf touched Gannon’s nose to make sure the young one understood his unauthorized flight was not acceptable. Voices rose from a nearby chimney.

            “I knew you’d come,” a little girl’s voice said. “Where’s Santa? Momma needs him to fix her.”

            “He’s at the North Pole. He couldn’t come so I came instead.”

            “Can you fix my momma?”

            Poto suddenly realized her journey was in haste. She didn’t give any thought to what she would do once she got there. She just wanted to hug the little girl who was so upset.

            “I...I don’t know.” Poto struggled for words.

            “No, little one,” Santa’s booming voice startled both girls. “She doesn’t have power to cure cancer. Neither do I. Only your doctors possess knowledge and skill to beat cancer.”

            “We’re poor. Momma doesn’t have a real cancer doctor. The village medic told us there is nothing he can do. But...but you saved me last year. I know you did.” The child’s voice wavered between hope and desperation. “Why can’t you save my momma?”

            Santa rubbed his beard for a moment.

            “I cannot cure cancer,” he said, “but I can do the next best thing. I will be back soon. Poto, you may stay here with her until I return.”

            Santa touched a finger to the side of his nose and vanished in a puff of dust.

            “Rudolf, do you remember Anthony Kinder?”

            The lead reindeer nodded yes.

            “Take us to him. We haven’t much time.”

            Again, Santa’s flying steeds roared into the sky on a course, known only to Rudolf. They flew over mountains, followed rivers and passed small towns until they soared above a giant city where they landed on top of a large building. Santa vanished is a ball of sparkles.

            “Hello, Anthony. How have you been?”

            An elderly man stood up to face Santa. He smiled.

            “It’s been a long time Saint Nick. You were there for me in my darkest hour. I will always appreciate the hope you gave me. What brings you here?”

            “A woman, a poor woman, is dying from cancer and needs your skill.”

            “Is there someone else who can take care of her? My skills are getting outdated. Even my hands shake a bit. She’d be much better with care from one of the young docs.”

            “Anthony, it is not your skills I need. It is the message of hope you bring. If your knowledge and skills save this woman, wonderful, but it is equally important if you achieve nothing more than providing hope...for a child.”

            Instead of touching down on the roof where Gannon waited, Santa brought his sleigh to a stop on the front lawn near the little girl’s entry door. Doctor Kinder jumped from the sleigh and rang the doorbell. Camelia answered and he asked if he could visit the little girl’s ailing mother.

            “Momma, this is Doctor Kinder. He’s here to help you.”

            The weak woman said, “I’m afraid we can’t pay for your services, doctor. We went broke paying for our daughter’s treatment last year.”

            Dr. Kinder, patted the woman’s hand and replied, “My fees have already been settled. In fact, I’ve arranged for nurses and housekeeping staff to help care for you during your recovery.”

            “I’m afraid my village doctor says its terminal.”

            “I’m afraid we’re all terminal, my dear,” the doctor joked and patted her hand. “Let’s start your treatment by changing your attitude. I expect the best results, and I insist my patients do the same.”

            The little girl’s mother leaned on one elbow. “Who really sent you? Who’s paying for my care?”

            “Santa.” He winked, knowing the mother did not believe in Santa.

            She frowned. “Really. Who sent you?”

            “Momma, look! Santa’s leaving. Bye, Poto!”

            A sound of tinkling bells rang through the window and the bottom of Santa’s sleigh flashed by the mother’s window as her jaw dropped in surprise.

            Many years later, Poto was reading letters to Santa in preparation for another Christmas. Then, she saw it--the letter from Camelia. It read,

            “I hope this letter finds Poto. I want to thank her for all she did. I’m married now, and Dr. Kinder gave me the greatest gift of my life. With his care, momma lived long enough to be at my wedding and to hold my first baby. I miss momma with all my heart, but I am eternally grateful for the extra time you made possible by bringing Dr. Kinder, and hope, into our lives. Thank you, Poto.

            I love you,


           p.s. I named my baby girl, Poto. I hope that’s okay.”