Winter rips open the wrapping paper. It’s the last Santa present under the tree, and everyone knows that the last Santa present is the best one, so it has to be new slocks. It just has to be!
She’s been helpful and kind and caring and honest, (most of the time) so she couldn’t possibly be on the Naughty List. And she asked for new slocks, it was top spot on her wish list, so surely she’ll get them.
Under the wrapping paper is a box. A slock box! It has to be! She lifts the lid and sure enough, folded neatly inside is a brand new pair of slocks!
“They’re perfect!” Winter squeals, pulling them out. “And they’re candy-cane striped. So fashion. Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome, Winter Bear,” Santa replies, sipping his hot chocolate.
“You have to start at a beginner slock spot, Ok?” Joy says. “We don’t want any broken bones.”
“I know, Mom,” Winter replies, rolling her eyes. She holds the slocks up to her legs. They are so soft and fuzzy, knee high and perfect. She flips them over and runs her hand along the smooth bottom.
“I can show you a few tricks,” Nick winks at Winter.
“No Nick! No tricks,” Joy says, looking frightened. “Winter’s an inexperienced slocker.”
“Besides, aren’t you shoveled?” Holly asks, trying on her new dangly earrings.
“Not on Christmas Day!” Nick exclaims, looking to his mom and dad.
“Oh yes, on Christmas Day,” Santa says to Nick. “And every day after until the middle of January after that stunt you pulled last night.”
Nick slouches in his seat.
“Freeze sled! Now!” Freeze says, climbing into his new sled in the middle of the living room.
“I still can’t believe you got him a sled,” Joy says to Santa. “He’s barely Youngster. What if he gets hurt?”
Santa smiles at Freeze sitting in the sled. “Nah,” he says, shaking his head. “Start them young. That’s what we did with Nick. And he holds the title for top speed sledder, Kid Division.”
“Can I try these now? Please?” Winter asks, hugging her slocks tightly to her chest.
“Whoa, whoa, ho-ho,” Santa replies. “Christmas breakfast first.”
“I’ll start it,” Winter says, jumping up from her seat. Because the sooner she starts breakfast, the sooner they can eat it and the sooner she can meet William and Mia in the Town Star and go slocking!
Winter runs into the kitchen and places her slocks down on the table. She sees a small green box.
It looks very familiar.
It’s the green box from last night!
During the Santa Clausification Ceremony last night, when Winter accidentally stopped time, Joy had given Santa the box, rolled her eyes, and told him not to forget it.
Winter had asked Holly what was in the box, but all Holly had said was that it was a secret, and a good one.
Winter wants to look in the box, but she’s a little worried that something strange and magical might happen if she does, and she’s had enough strange and magical things for awhile.
It all started a few days ago when her toast grew a candy cane. Then she accidentally hit her best friend in the head with an ornament and from there, things really started to snowball. She overheard her brother, Nick, talking to a reindeer, even though everyone knows that reindeer don’t speak people. Then she saw a sky full of talking squiggles that no one else could see. She even took one home as a pet. It doesn’t do much, though, just says: “I want a pair of skates and a sled” over and over. After that she accidentally chased a stinky sprite into the What If Woods and saw a girl growing candy cane trees. And later, when she picked out her ceremony scarf for her first ever Santa Clausification Ceremony, her scarf talked to her. But the worst part of it all was when she accidentally stopped time and froze the entire town.
She honestly thought her bulb has busted, and that she was going completely nutcrackers.
Her family found her, though, and explained to her that strange and magical things were supposed to be happening, because everyone in the Claus family has something called Christmas Magic. Nick can talk to reindeer, Holly can grow candy canes, and her dad, well, he can do lots of stuff (she’s still learning exactly what, though.) And all of these strange and magical things they can do, they all help Christmas be Christmas. Turns out, Winter can stop time, like her dad, who’s a present-deliverer. He delivers presents not just to North Polington, but to another place, too, called the Whole Wide World, and he has to stop time to do it because, apparently, it’s really big.
So, on the one strand of tinsel, Winter’s a little nervous to see what’s actually inside the box, in case it is something strange and magical. But on the other strand of tinsel, she’s really curious, and in Winter’s world, curiosity trumps caution every single time.
Winter lifts up the box and removes the lid. She waits for a few seconds, to see if something strange and magical is going to happen, but when nothing happens, she looks inside.
It’s just a key. A small key, heavy and silver, but just a key none-the-less. She takes it out and turns it over. The letters CF are engraved on it, but other than the letters, it looks pretty ordinary.
“Surprise!” a voice yells from under the table, startling Winter. She drops the key.
“Freeze!” Winter scolds. “You scared me. You shouldn’t be hiding under the tables.”
“Winter Bear, I’ll come help you with breakfast in a minute. Just picking up all this wrapping paper,” Santa calls from the living room.
“Uh, Ok, Dad,” Winter hollers back. She gets down on her knees and looks for the key. She crawls forward and backwards, patting the ground with her hands. But where’s the key? She looks under the table.
“Key?” Freeze asks. He’s standing at the doorway to the kitchen, holding the key.
“Freeze,” Winter says, standing up slowly, “give that back.” She takes a few steps towards him, her hands reached out in front of her. Freeze looks at her, tilts his head to the side, giggles, and runs down the hallway.
Winter chases after him. He turns into the bathroom, but by the time she gets to the bathroom door, he is standing at the toilet, holding the key over the toilet bowl.
“Freeze flush key?” he asks her, still giggling.
Winter’s stomach turns. “No, no, no,” she says, “Freeze no flush. No flush Freeze. No flush.”
She lunges towards him, but before she can get to him, he drops the key in the toilet and flushes. He claps and giggles.
“Bye bye key!” he squeals. “Freeze flush.”
Winter looks into the swirling water. The key is gone. Freeze just flushed her dad’s key down the toilet. She puts her hands up to her face.
‘Ok,’ her Head Voice says. “Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe the key isn’t that important.’
Her family calls her to the kitchen. She walks in, her eyes on the green box in the middle of the table.
“Hey, dad,” she says, trying to sound casual. “Is that your green box there?”
Santa looks to the table. “That’s where I left it. Thanks Winter.”
“Santa,” Joy says sternly. “You shouldn’t just leave stuff like that lying around. What if you lost it? What would you do without it?”
Winter gulps. So maybe the key is important. At least Santa doesn’t look in the box, so he doesn’t know the key is gone. Yet.
“Well I guess I wouldn’t get very far,” Santa smiles. He kisses Joy on the cheek. “I’ll go put it away.”
Winter tries to enjoy Christmas breakfast with her family, but she is very distracted. She’s trying to figure out what the key could be for.
She thinks back to the Santa Clausification Ceremony. Her mom passed the box to her dad, he put it in his pocket, and then he hopped into his sleigh.
Of course! The sleigh! Santa just said he can’t get very far without it. It must be a key to his sleigh! Well, that’s not so bad, Winter reasons. All she has to do is make another one.
Except that she doesn’t know how to make keys. She knows how to make sugar cookies and popcorn strings, sure. But keys?
‘Think Winter,’ her Head Voice says. ‘Who in North Polington can make keys?’
The Elves! The Elves can make anything. She’ll just go to the Elves Workshop and ask them to make her a new key. Easy peesy shortbread squeezy. Then she’ll run back home, put the key in the box and meet Mia and William for some serious slocking fun.
Right after breakfast, Winter runs to her bedroom. She whips on her green leggings, green sweater, and green toque. She grabs a green mitten from her dresser. Where did she put the other one? She opens a drawer.
“I want a pair of skates, and a sled,” her pet squiggle says from inside the drawer. She slams it shut.
“Yeah? Well, I want a key and my other mitten,” Winter sighs, “but I guess I’ll just have to settle for a key because I can’t find that other mitten anywhere.”
She grabs her coat and a handful of candy canes for the trail. Then she pulls on her boots and runs out the door. She’s not exactly sure what she’s going to do when she gets to the Workshop, it’s not like you can just knock on the door, it is the Elves’ Workshop after all, but Winter has the whole way there to figure it out.
Winter isn’t sure what to expect as she approaches the Elves’ Workshop. Will the elves be there? Do they work on Christmas? She’s nervous as she looks up at the massive building. She’s never knocked on the door before. She’s tried to sneak in, sure, every Kid and Kidlet in North Polington has, but she’s never actually knocked on the door. She really has no other choice, though.
It’s a lot noisier inside than she expected. She hears voices, music, and laughter. If she didn’t know better, she’d think the Elves were having a Blast. But everyone knows that Elves don’t Blast, especially not in the workshop. The workshop is for working, not blasting. Everyone knows that Jingle Bell Hall is where you Blast.
She knocks on the door but no one comes. She knocks louder. The door opens and an elf peeks out.
“Winter,” the elf says, smiling. “Come on in!”
Did she just get invited into the Workshop? Is this really happening? No Kid or Kidlet has ever been in the Workshop. For all the years of sneaking and peeking and elaborate planning, all they had to do was knock?
Winter steps inside. Oh, the Elves are having a Blast, all right. Winter can’t believe her eyes. She’s standing in a very large room, with rectangular tables set up everywhere. Some elves are off to the side, dancing in their weird elfy way. Others are dancing on top of the tables! Why would anyone dance on a table?
She smells food. Delicious food and a lot of it. And there’s music, too! A band of some sort is playing across the room on what looks like a stage. Winter looks closer. Some of the elves are wearing red clothes, some are wearing yellow. There are even some in blue and purple.
Winter’s only ever seen the elves wear green clothes. She had no idea their clothes came in any other color. Or that they knew how to Blast.
Past the large room are halls, many, many halls, leading to what Winter can only guess are many, many rooms. And in those rooms are toys. Many, many toys.
“Oh no no no no!” a different elf says, rushing towards them. He grabs Winter’s hips and pushes her towards the door. “No kids allowed in the Workshop.”
“But it’s Winter,” the little elf that let her in says.
“She’s a Kidlet,” the second elf says. “Not allowed in. Go outside. Now.”
“But it’s Santa’s daughter. I thought-”
“No!” the second elf says sternly, as he pushes Winter back through the door.
“Sorry,” the pushy elf says to Winter. “He’s a newbie. He shouldn’t have let you in.” The pushy elf points for the little elf to go back inside. The little elf hangs his head and walks away, mumbling “but it’s Winter.”
Winter is outside now, and the pushy elf is squeezing his head out a crack in the door, blocking Winter’s view.
“No kids allowed in the Workshop!” he says.
“I know. That’s what all the Elves say, but-” Winter tries.
“No kids allowed in the workshop. Kids in the workshop? No way!”
The Elf goes to slam the door but Winter holds out her hand and stops him. “I don’t want in the Workshop. That’s not why I’m here. That elf invited me in, I didn’t even ask. I swear on Cupid’s hooves.”
The elf looks Winter up and down. Then he says: “Go onnnnnnnn.”
“I have a problem, and I was hoping you could help me?” Winter asks.
The elf raises his eyebrow. “Go onnnnnnnn,” he says again.
Winter tells him about the green box and the key, and about how Freeze flushed it down the toilet. “It was my dad’s key to his sleigh,” Winter explains, but the elf interrupts her.
“A little naughty,” the elf nods. “But mostly just curious. Nope. Won’t get you on the List.”
Winter is confused. What list? But then she realizes that the elf thinks Winter is asking about whether or not she’ll be put on the Naughty list. She quickly shakes her head.
“No, no, no,” she says. “That’s not why I’m here. I don’t care about the Naughty List.”
The elf looks shocked. “What chu say? You don’t care about the Naughty List?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Winter sighs.
“You’ll care when you get no presents,” the elf says, shaking his finger at her.
“I need you to make me a key!” Winter blurts out. “Can you make me a new key?”
The elf’s eyes light up. “Oh! A key? Of course!” he says, clapping his hands together. “We can make a key. Easy.”
Suddenly another elf swings open the door. He starts singing, “I whip my garland back and forth. I whip my garland back and forth.”
The pushy elf shoves him away and closes the door again around his head again.
Winter raises her eyebrows.
“Elf business,” the elf says quickly. “All of this. Elf business.”
“Right,” Winter says, “Well, I’m sorry I interrupted your, uh, elf business. I’ll let you get back to it now. Just let me know when I can pick up the key and-”
“Pick it up? No, we give it to Santa. He gives it to you.”
Winter shakes her head and asks, “what?”
“You put it on your wish list. You stay Nice. We make it, give it to Santa. He gives it to you.”
“Wish list?” Winter asks. “No. No. I need the key now. Not next Christmas.”
“Have to ask Santa,” the elf shrugs.
This elf is being very frustrating.
“I can’t ask Santa,” Winter says. “It’s his key. I can’t ask him for his own key. And I can’t wait until next Christmas. I need it now.”
“Was it on your Wish List?” the elf asks, confused. “Was there a mistake?”
“No,” Winter says, sighing. “I found the key this morning.”
“I thought you lost the key this morning.”
“I did,” Winter replies, rolling her eyes.
“Well, which one is it?” the elf asks.
“Both,” Winter says, stomping her foot. “I found the key and then I lost it. And now I need a new one.”
The elf tilts his head to the side. “Ok. So put it on your Wish List.”
“You are tobogganing me right down crazy street,” Winter snaps at the elf. She takes a deep breath. “I. Need. A new key. Today.’
“Ohhhhhhh,” the elf sighs. “You want a new key today.” Winter nods enthusiastically. “Sorry, we can’t” the elf shrugs. “It doesn’t work like that. We can’t just make things.”
“But you make all sorts of things,” Winter pleads.
“Only things that kids and kidlets ask for.”
“I’m asking,” Winter says.
“For Christmas,” the elf states. “We can only make Christmas gifts.”
Winter is silent for a moment. “What if I trade you something that I got this morning? Slocks? Huh? I’ll trade you my slocks for a new key.”
“No tradesies. I’m sorry, Winter, but there’s really nothing we can do. If you want a new key, you need to put it on your Wish List for next year.”
“But next year will be too late,” Winter sighs. “What am I going to do?”
The elf looks from side to side, and then leans in closer. “Do you want some advice?” the elf asks.
“As long as it’s not to tell my dad,” Winter sighs.
The elf smiles and shakes his head. “The key came from somewhere, Winter. Not from here, but from somewhere. Maybe if you can find out where the key came from, you can find a new key there.”
Winter thinks about that for a minute. It actually makes sense. The key did have letters on it. CF. Maybe if she can figure out what those letters mean, she can figure out how to get a new key.
“Thanks,” Winter says, feeling a little better. “You should get back to your elf business now.”
The elf pats her on the arm and nods. He opens the door, but before he closes it, he peeks his head out and says:
“Merry Christmastime, Winter.”
“Merry Christmastime elf,” Winter responds.
“I have a name,” the elf calls after her, but she is already running away through the snow.
‘Think,Winter,’ Winter’s Head Voice says. ‘What could CF mean?’
Winter thinks hard. She thinks of the job buildings on the Jingle Bell Boulevard: Reindeer Caregivers, Present Wrappers, Hot Chocolate Fountain Engineers, Ornament Specialists, Decorators, Christmas Light Stringers, but none of those jobs have anything to do with the letters CF.
She thinks of the stores in Mistletoe Mall: the Scarf Store, the hot apple Cider Store, the Slock Shop, Mittens-Mittens-Mittens, Sleds and Toboggans, but none of them make sense either.
She thinks about places in North Polington: the Town Star, Candy Cane Lane, Ornament Ave, Reindeer Road, the Snowflake Stage, Jingle Bell Hall, Poinsettia Park, the Sledding Slopes, but nope, no connection there, either.
And then she has a thought. What if the key didn’t come from North Polington? What if the key came from else? Somewhere in the What-If Woods?
It’s likely a strange and magical key, so maybe it came from a strange and magical creature, because although North Polington is a busy little town where the Christmas trees are never taken down and people eat candy canes all year round……
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