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WELCOME TO NORTH POLE HEADQUARTERS!

As the unusual parade of Elves ventures forth into this remarkable domain, Claus and Anya can still hardly believe that they're both alive --- and here! But miracles are meant to be treasured, not questioned; thus, our friends decide to make the most of this particular miracle. And a very good decision that is, too, for once they enter the doorways.......

.....another world manifests itself. But what a world!

Its vast rooms stretch in all directions, or else rise level upon level --- and everything is lovingly, painstakingly constructed from the finest wood imaginable, and the walls are completely decorated with handcrafted sculptures, each and every one made to look like..... well, a toy! Centerpiece of this giant fortress: a huge, rainbow-colored clock, inscribed not with the hours of the day, but rather, with four designations, one for each of the Four Seasons --- Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Off to one side, there's a huge bronze cauldron in a 2-story hearth; looking toward another direction, there are workbenches, racks of tools, shelves of strange wooden parts, cloth, and colored yarn.

In short, North Pole Headquarters is literally an actual living village, its every nook and cranny complete with a place for all the necessities of everyday life and work. And the inhabitants?

Hundreds upon hundreds of Elves, young and old, bearded and clean-shaven, all of them wearing the most unusual mind-boggling outfits you could ever hope to see --- stripes, polka dots, all sorts of combinations real and imagined..... Claus is overwhelmed by the very scope of it all. He cannot for the life of him comprehend what it all means!

The next Elf to greet the new residents of North Pole HQ has rumpled hair and bright, somewhat protruding eyes. To Claus, he sort of resembles a good-natured pigeon. "I'm the one called Puffy," says he as he greets Claus and Anya. "We've been expecting you."

"Not now, Puffy," Patch whispers in the pigeonesque Elf's (Anthony O'Donnell) ear. "The man wants to see the sights."

"Isn't this something?" Claus finds himself murmuring, more to Anya than to himself. And indeed, North Pole HQ is more than something --- it's far, far beyond anything any mere mortal has ever comprehended! Before long, virtually all the Elves are congratulating one another on their successful efforts, and, indeed, on Claus and Anya's apparent approval thereof.

"Did you hear that? He said it's something," one Elf whispers.

"Oh, my!" sighs a breathless Anya; she too is overwhelmed by the sheer power of the size and scope of North Pole Headquarters.

"She said, 'Oh, my'! She likes it, she likes it!" another Elf mutters happily.

"She does, she does!" proclaims a third, and immediately the two companions shake hands in a show of hearty congratulations.

As they head towards the cauldron, our friends find that this is the nerve center for the Elves' Dining Room, lorded over by the resident Principal Chef of North Pole HQ, Groot (Don Estelle). "Here, missus," says he, "you must be pretty cold and hungry." Anya, who no doubt knows a thing or four about home cooking, clearly approves of Groot's efforts; Patch, on the other hand, has always thought that Groot made the most "bland" stew at the Top of the World.

CLAUS BEHOLDS HIS DESTINY: THE TOY TUNNEL

Up to this point, North Pole Headquarters has been, in Claus' honest opinion, a marvel of remarkable scope far beyond the comprehension of mere Mortals. But nothing could prepare him for what he's about to witness next..... as two teams of Elves, summoning their incredible strength, slowly haul open two massive wooden doors...... doors that are so incredibly heavy that it takes just 9 or even 10 Elves to simply swing them outwards. And beyond those doors, the ultimate marvel awaits.

It is a huge tunnel, stretching for an eternity of miles, its far end unseen by neither Elf nor man! And from its vast walls and ceilings hang toys of every known description..... fantastic, brightly-painted, each and every one made with a loving heart by the Elves. Dolls, wagons, musical instruments, balls, wooden animals, puppets, hoops --- the list, like the Tunnel itself, is endless! EVERY toy Claus or Anya has ever seen, and far more besides. You can dive into this visual pool of wonder and never hit bottom!

"My goodness," says Claus, shaking his head in wonder. "What is all this?"

"They're Christmas toys," Dooley explains. "And they're waiting for you."

"For me? But... what have I got to do with them?"

"You're going to give them. To your children."

"There must be some mistake," Anya replies, in the usual perfectly logical explanation kind of manner. "We have no children."

"You do now," replies Dooley. "You have all the children in the world."

"But how can I deliver all these toys?" Claus wonders. "I don't think I'll live long enough to do all that."

And here, Dooley gets to the bottom line: "Both of you will live forever. Like us."

PATCH AND THE REINDEER

Later that night, with the rest of the Elven community fast asleep, Claus and Anya settle in comfortably in their new bedroom..... the first honest-to-goodness bedroom in the first honest-to-goodness house they've ever had in any of their memories! Claus, still haunted somewhat by Dooley's declaration of a few hours ago --- namely, that not only would he and his wife live here forever, but also that he, Claus, will spend that same forever delivering the Elves' toys to the children of the world --- has trouble sleeping. Anya, on the other hand, would prefer not to sleep, explaining: "This mattress is so comfortable, I don't want to miss a moment of it." Anya's probably got the right idea: if you're gonna have insomnia, you might as well enjoy it.

But what of Donner and Blitzen? Are they being well taken care of? Slipping out from under the covers, Claus decides to investigate the matter. Before long, he has found the entrance to the stable. Slowly approaching it, he hears a familiar voice speaking gently from within. It is Patch.

As Claus ventures further within the stable, he sees no fewer than 6 additional reindeer, staring at something. Or, more accurately, someone. Donner. Trembling with fright, the little reindeer is being offered Patch's hand to sniff. The Elves' Chief Stablehand, dressed in a blue-and-white-striped nightshirt and cap, is apparently trying to reassure the fearful Donner. "I know how you feel, boy," Patch says with a gentle demeanor in his voice. "Strange place, strange companions --- but we're all friends here. Take a look at old Blitzen now: does he look worried?"

Blitzen, for his part, is happily munching on some reindeer feed, no doubt oblivious to his partner's apparent misgivings about this place. Patch even munches on the feed himself, to further encourage Donner, even going so far as to express his own liking of the stuff.

"He's like me, I guess," says Claus, joining in the conversation. "A little confused." It's obvious to Claus that this young elf cares as much for these deer as he would himself for his two beloved animals.

"He'll be just fine, sir, as soon as he gets used to the place. He just needs a little elf-control," grins Patch.

"You certainly seem to know your reindeer. These are fine specimens," Claus replies admiringly.

"Hear that, boys? You made a good impression," Patch tells the deer. Then the Elf makes the formal introductions:

"Those two are twins: Prancer and Dancer. The way you can tell 'em apart is by their 'snooty monocles.' Prancer's is on his left eye, and Dancer's is on his right. Ol' spotted-nose there, that's Comet; and over there, that's ol' Cupid. The spotty-eared one there --- that's ol' Dasher. Loves to run, he does. He'd rather run than eat. And the one with the floppy jowls here, that's Vixen. Keeps me up half the night with his snorts and whinnies, whinnies and snorts."

"And you sleep here?"

"Oh yes," says Patch. "And this is where I do my other work, as well." Assembled at the Elf's desk is a remarkable assortment of blueprints, storyboards, half-finished toy mockups, and random pieces of wood and leather. "Sometimes," he continues, "I get so many ideas I don't know where to keep 'em in my head!"

Two of his possible concepts include the plans for the first 'alarm clock,' and an idea for a plate that whistles when food is too hot! This Elf is aquiver with imagination and determination.

"But what do I need all these reindeer for?" Claus wonders.

"You'll see," Patch replies, his eyebrows exhibiting the same sly mannerism as that of old Dooley..... strangely enough.

"This is a curious kind of place," Claus suggests.

"Oh, this is nothing now," says Patch. "Wait'll you see how it gets during Season's Greetings."

"'Season's Greetings'? What's that?"

"You'll see..... Oh, look, sir! Now he's having a bite!" Claus follows Patch's gaze, and sees Donner, finally munching on mixed moss and hay. Clearly, all that Donner really needed to get him calmed up, so to speak, was the reassuring presence of his master; consequently, he has somehow managed to relax and eat..... Everything a smart team of reindeer would like, eh? Maybe this place won't be so bad after all. I wonder........

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