“Bu--Bu--But Nanny...” Tommy was covered in dust from head to toe. Along with two young elves who were on punishment, he had finished cleaning and rearranging crates in the basement of Ruven’s Cogs and Gears Shop. They were being supervised under the watchful eyes of the eldest female elf, Soliania, who the other elves, young and old, affectionately called ‘Nanny’.
She lifted her spectacles from her brow and waggled them at Tommy. “I’m sorry, dear.” Nanny said, “But I’m afraid this doesn’t count as a good deed. A good job, yes. Good deed, no.”
Tommy was slowly losing heart. It had already been two days since he had been put under Claus’ protection and he felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere. He had been put on chore duty since day one. He didn’t protest against it. He wanted to rescue Zoe and get both of them back home.
Along with a list of chores, Nanny had sheets of papers with lines. For each good deed done, she would write it down. He completed all of his chores on the first day, but his work weren’t filed under good deeds. He told himself he would work harder the next day. The day was halfway over and Nanny still says he has yet to do a good deed.
Tommy nearly jumped out of his skin when the clock tower from outside rang loudly, twelve bongs after each second. “Lunch!” One of young elves hollered.
They dropped their crates, tools and machinery equipment clattering to the floor, knocking Tommy down as they bolted out the room and up the stairs.
As old as Nanny was, she ran after the two young elves like a gold-medalist sprinter, “That’s two more write-ups for the both of you! Lunch break doesn’t give you two the right to make a bigger mess and knock people over!”
Her threats fell on deaf ears as the elves burst through the shop doorway. Nanny put her hands on her hips and shook her head. Tommy scooted past her heading for the open door until she pulled him by the back of his shirt, “And just where are you going?” She asked.
“To lunch?” Tommy was at the height of the grandmotherly elf but the look in her soft eyes was always intimidating.
She pulled a dust ball out of his hair and showed it to him, “Not looking like this you’re not! You need a bath, Tommy.”
Tommy groaned, “But Nanny, lunch’ll be over by the time I get finished.”
She waved her spectacles again at him, “No excuse, young man. I’d rather you clean and hungry rather than stuffed and dusty. Head back home and clean up, Tommy. I’ll add an extra ten minutes to your break.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tommy sulked off.
Nanny reminded him, “Remember, no sulking, pouting, or crying. Claus can see you even better now that you’re here.”
Tommy gulped. He instantly stood up straight and marched in an orderly fashion out the door of the shop.
The village was still crowded as elves hurried to and from shops and houses. Thankfully it wasn’t as blustery as the day he arrived. Nanny’s house, a two-story wooden cottage with a finely carved double doors and a large octagon shaped window with multicolored stained glass panes, was just across from the shop. Nanny and half of her family worked in the area so it was natural for them to live close enough it. Tommy dodged and shuffled through crowds of elves as he made his way to the front door.
“Hi Tommy!” He was tackled by Lo and La before he could grab the doorknob. The strong smell of diesel oil burned in his nostrils and the girls’ left small, smeared oily-black handprints on his shirt.
“We got off early for lunch. And I guess so did everyone else; the traffic from the castle was awful.” Lo said as she and her sister got up and helped Tommy to his feet, “How’s your good deed list going?”
Tommy lowered his head, “Not so good. Nanny says I haven’t done one good deed yet.”
The elf twins’ mouth dropped. “With all the cleaning and helping you’ve been doing?” La crossed her arms, “I think Nanny’s just being hard-nosed. She can be like that sometimes; you do a good job but she won’t tell you until the end.”
“You think so?” There was a tiny bit of hope in Tommy’s question.
“She does that to us all the time. She said that when we were about your age, we’d slack off every time she’d tells us that we’re doing a good job,” replied Lo.
Tommy said, “With my sister in that terrible place, I wouldn’t even think of slacking off.”
“If it makes you feel any better, Tommy, we think you’re doing a great job. Just keep at it. We’re sure you’ll get a good check sooner or later.” Lo said, “Sooner, we hope.”
“Me too.” He saw that the twins were covered from the tip of their hats to their shoes in black oil, “What happened to you two?”
“One of the toy manufacturing machines broke down in the middle of busy hour. We were the only ones who could fit into the machine and get it up and running again,” La grinned proudly as she boasted, “Granddaddy was so proud of me.”
Lo glared, “You mean he was proud of me.”
“I’m the one who found the problem!” La shouted.
“And I’m the one who got the right tools!” Lo argued.
The twins got in each other’s face, glaring at each other and gritting their teeth as they growled.
“Don’t you mean you both did a good job?” Tommy chimed in. He flinched when they turned toward him suddenly. “You two were the only ones who could fit in the machine. You both got in with the right tools and got it working again. If it weren’t for you guys, the machine would still be down and present making would’ve taken a lot longer.”
The sisters were content, though not pleased, with Tommy’s reasoning. “I guess,” Lo replied.
“Yeah, we did a good job. But I call dibs on the shower!” La raced to the double doors.
Lo reacted in time to run with her and the sisters found themselves wedged in the doorway, arguing with each other again as they struggled to get free.
“At least you tried, Tommy,” A female voice chuckled to his right. Iris stood beside him giggling as she watched the twins squeeze through the doorway and stomp up the stairs.
She smiled at Tommy, “Haven’t seen ya in a couple of days.”
Tommy sighed, “Yeah, two days of work and none of them count as a good deed.”
“Does fighting with a giant dust bunny in the tar pits count? ‘Cause it looks like what you’ve been doing.” Iris giggled a bit, “If you want, I can take you up to the Pinnacle and you can use our shower.”
“Are you sure that’s okay?” He asked.
“It’s fine. And from the look of things, the bathroom’s not gonna be free for hours,” Iris clutched her pendant and her clear, glittering fairy wings sprouted from her back.
The ground disappeared under Tommy’s feet as soon as she grabbed under his arms. Her wings flittered rapidly as she ascended over the villages and flapped toward the mountain top castle. Wind whistled and whipped as they flew through and over the white clouds, blowing most of the dirt and dust out of Tommy’s hair.
A loud horn blared to their right as they flew alongside the APM with the elves inside cheering and waving at Iris. She dipped, doing a courteous aerial bow, before catching up speed flying past the train and up to the mountain peak.
Iris landed with Tommy on the balcony, which was adorned with brand new patio furniture. “Just go upstairs, go past the two doors, and you’ll see the bathroom.” Iris said as she headed to the door.
Tommy didn’t know what possessed him to turn around and stare at the faraway mountain in the middle of the purple wasteland. Seeing it made him tremble and he quickly followed Iris through the sliding doors.
After getting the towels Iris handed to him and heading upstairs, Iris dialed a number on her cell phone. While freeing himself of dust and grease under a spray of warm water, a memory played in Tommy’s head. The smell of mud and grass, cheering crowds, and running with all his might along a white line to a pentagon shaped-slab being guarded by someone wearing a mask and large brown glove.
He could hear Iris from downstairs. “Have you guys ordered yet?. . .Oh good, glad I caught ya! I got Tommy here wit’ me. Mind gettin’ a li’l sumthin’ for him? I’ll pay ya back, I promise. A’ight, see ya.”
Tommy walked out the bathroom, dressed in a clean set of clothes and drying his hair with a towel. All he heard through out the apartment were Iris’ footsteps. “Where are the rest of the Angels?” He asked.
“Konani went back home for the day and Renard’s ‘round here somewhere,” Iris plopped down on the white sofa. “And I just got off the phone with Jake and Fara. They should be back any moment now.”
He took a seat next to her, “Do you all live here? At the North Pole with Santa?”
“If Claus had met me at ten years old, I’d would’ve ask to live here. But as much as I love Claus and the elves and all the other crazy beings here, it’s much too cold for my taste,” Iris replied. “I come from Waterford, Ireland. Renard’s from France, Konani’s from Brazil, and Jake and Fara are from the United States.”
Tommy gawked, “Whoa, that must be one crazy carpool for Santa to handle.”
Iris laughed, “We fly here ourselves, Tommy. It’s a bit of a long flight to the Burzee plane, but it’s better than flying coach.”
“Burzee Plane?” Tommy arched an eye brow.
Iris thought for a second, then sucked air between her teeth, “That’s right, we haven’t told you about that yet.”
“But I thought you said we’re at the North Pole,” Tommy said.
“We are, in a sense.” Iris answered.
“ ‘In a sense’ ?” He tilted his head slightly. “What does that mean?”
“Uhhh...” Iris thought for a moment, “The Burzee Plane is sorta like a world within a world. A different side of Earth within the Earth.”
“So we’re inside the planet’s core.” Tommy said.
“No, no, we’re not in the core. Uh...okay, okay, okay. Instead of that, think of the Burzee Plane like a whole different planet,” Iris said.
“So we’re in outer space?!” Tommy cried.
“No, not that either,” Iris stopped him before he could ask another question, “Hold on, hold on Tommy. I’m tryin’ to see how to explain it without making your brain explode.”
She leaned back on the couch with the little boy waiting eagerly. Her head jolted back up when an idea popped in her head. She held up a hand, telling Tommy to wait, as she ran upstairs into one of the bedrooms, “This might make it a li’l easier to explain.”
She returned holding a T-shirt with in front of her. A large sticker of Earth was in front of it, “Okay so, imagine there being two parts of the world: the Mortal Plane and the Burzee Plane. The Mortal Plane is where mortals, you, me, and the rest of the Angels, are from,” Iris then flipped the shirt, turning it inside-out and revealing a large sticker of Santa Claus in his sleigh being pulled by his flying reindeer, “And this is the Burzee Plane. It’s where Claus, the elves, Krampus, and just about every magical creature you can think of live. Do you get it now?”
Tommy, now even more confused, shook his head. “Eh, no worry. It’s kinda hard to explain. EVERYTHING here is hard to explain. We jus’ kinda go wit’ the flow, ya know?” Iris shrugged then threw the shirt over her head.
“Well okay.” Tommy still tried to piece together the puzzling information in his head, “But if the Burzee Plane is a different place than where I live, how do you and the Angels get back home?”
“Portals.” replied Iris, “Portals open and close open at certain times of the day and connect to certain parts of the world.”
She had Tommy follow her to the window overlooking the balcony. He pulled himself up on the windowsill peering up at the sky and saw a wide, nearly invisible funnel-shaped cloud spinning in a slow circle. Iris said, “This portal here connects to San Francisco, Jay and Fara’s home town. But since they’ve been grounded for a time, they have to use portals closer to the ground.”
“Can anyone use the portals?” Tommy asked.
“Not everyone,” Iris answered. “We have a special border patrol keeping an eye on them so that bad Burzeens can’t go through and to keep some random person from the Mortal plane from popping up through one.”
“We’re baaaaaack!” Jaiklyn announced herself playfully as she and Fara walked in. Jaiklyn held up four brown bags, two in each hand, with logos of cartoon crickets on them, “And we got Cricket’s!”
Iris joined the sisters as they set their lunches on the table. She rubbed her hands together, “Alright! Been wantin’ to try this famous Cricket burger since you keep raggin’ on about it.”
Jaiklyn tossed a bag to Iris, “Classic Cricket Burger, hold the tomatoes and double the pickles and onions, with a double helping of Cricket Legs. Enjoy.”
“And we got you sumthin’ too, Tommy. A Mini Crickie meal.” Jaiklyn held up and tossed a smaller bag to him.
Fara patted the empty spot next to her, smiling warmly, “Come join us.”
Tommy didn’t hesitate. He hopped on the couch and nearly bit into the burger while it was still it its aluminum foil wrap.
Jaiklyn handed him a couple of napkins, “ ‘Ey, ‘ey slow down. Last thing we need is for you to puke up what you just chugged down.”
Tommy slurped his soda until it was nearly empty, gasping for air, “I can’t help it. I haven’t had a cheeseburger in a long, long time, and it tastes so good!”
Fara laughed as he leaned back on the couch, very content with a full tummy. “So how are you adjusting to life in the Burzee plane?” She asked.
“Oh crud that’s right! We forgot to explain the place to him,” Jaiklyn said biting down hard on her straw.
“It’s okay. Iris explained it to me,” Tommy said after finishing his meal, “Well, sorta.”
“She used a T-shirt?” Jaiklyn watched him nod. “Do you get it?” When he shook his head, she laughed, “We don’t either but it makes sense to us.”
“How big is the Burzee Plane?” Tommy asked.
Jaiklyn stopped in mid-slurp of her milkshake, “As big as the Earth, and it seems to be gettin’ bigger every year.”
“Do only Santa and his elves live here? And that. . .that thing on the other side of the mountain?” Tommy trembled when Krampus popped in his head again.
“No, not just Nic and Krampus. All sorts of beings live here.” Fara said, “Some you know and heard of.”
“Like who?” Tommy asked.
Iris said, “There’s a large island where a bunch of bunnies live and wait to be the next crowned rabbit to take baskets with eggs and treats to good children.”
“An island of Easter bunnies?”
Jaiklyn nodded, “And there’s Cupid’s Isle. His place is a’ight, if you’re into the whole unicorns and mermaids thing. His mom is so stuck-up though, we don’t stick around too long when she show up.”
“And the Isle of the Seasons,” Fara spoke next. “Mother Nature lives there with her four children: Laverna, Sorley, Akiko, and Olwen. They’re the ones who keep the seasons in check.”
“And there are many more places with many other people and animals that’d you never see in the Mortal Plane,” Jaiklyn said.
The girls smiled and chuckled seeing Tommy’s eyes stay wide opened as he imagined the wonderful places.
“If Nic and Nanny loosen your leash, we could show you some of the places ‘round here,” Jaiklyn said, “Especially the Forest of Burzee.”
“That’s that forest you tried to take me to when Krampus found me,” Tommy said thinking back to the events a couple of days ago.
“It’s an enchanted forest that’s been around for thousands of years and it’s where Nic used to live,” Fara explained.
She told Tommy the brief story of Claus, of how Great Ak, the Master Woodsman, found him as a baby abandoned at the edge of the woods, how he was raised by Necile the Wood Nymph and Shiegra the lioness, his adoptive mothers, and how the mysterious beings that lived in the Burzee Forest taught him everything as he grew.
“Yeah, not everyone knows that story of Claus,” Jaiklyn said. “It gets crazier after that.”
“It’s crazy enough already, but an awesome crazy!” The girls laughed seeing the heightened look of amazement in Tommy’s face.
The feeling died down, the sparkle in the boy’s eyes disappearing, when he looked out the window again, shivering when he saw that distant mountain.
“It’d be more awesome if Krampus wasn’t here.” Tommy scooted close to Fara, “I’m scared he’ll try and take me back when I’m sleeping at night.”
Jaiklyn snorted glaring in the same direction, “Like I told you before, Tommy, don’t let Krampus scare you. He’s a bastard but he ain’t stupid. If he did try to come and get you, he’d be goin’ against the contract and if he did that, then he’d have no choice but to let you go home.”
Everyone heard a faint loud ringing of a bell from outside. “Already?!” Jaiklyn looked at the clock on the wall behind them, “I could swear our lunch breaks are getting shorter and shorter.”
“Yeah, such a conspiracy.” Iris giggled, “I’ll be up here if ya need me, you two.”
After throwing away what was left of their lunch, Jaiklyn, Fara, and Tommy rode the elevator down.
Jaiklyn exhaled heavily, “What’s our next task, Fara Ciara?”
“Well, Jaiklyn Aaliyah,” Fara smiled at her twin. “We have to re-paint the sleigh and have it all ready before the Christmas take-off.”
Hearing their sisters speak their middle names to each other sparked another memory. The longer Tommy stared at Jaiklyn and Fara, the more louder a certain, repetitive song echoed in his head. A song he always heard playing full blast from behind his sister’s room door.
Fara noticed his stare, “Jaiklyn, I think you got some choco-berry shake on your face,”
Jaiklyn shrugged, “It’s an after-lunch snack.”
“I feel like I’ve seen you guys before.” Tommy asked.
“You might’ve in the Mortal Planes. We were much, much shorter then. Two li’l bits on TV either being carried around with our dads or singing on stage,” Jaiklyn replied. “Any of that ring bells?”
Tommy shook his head.
“You said you’re 9, right? Back then, anyone that age just wanted to hear us sing.” Fara said, “ Ever heard of the ‘Home Girls’?”
The song suddenly got a little louder and more audible. He could hear his sister jumping around her bedroom, doing more yelling than singing with the chorus, behind her room door:
Play your heart out!
Dance your heart out!
Scream your heart out!
It’s the most fun a girl can have!
“My sister played that song over and over during our last summer break,” Tommy held his head. “She played it so much it made my head hurt.”
“It was all you ever heard on the radio, even when summer was over.” Jaiklyn rolled her eyes and shook her head, “I was gettin’ sick of it too.”
Tommy continued, “The HomeGirls were my sister’s favorite band. She’d have pretend concerts in her room.”
Fara smiled, “Glad to hear we have a fan.”
“ ‘We’ ?” Tommy gawked remembering the poster that hung on his sister’s room wall over her bed with the two young singers, and the young ladies walking with him looked like the future versions of them, “YOU’RE the HomeGirls?!”
“We were the HomeGirls,” Jaiklyn said.
“Jaiklyn wanted out the pop scene and converted to the dark side of music, much to the disappointment to our fans,” Fara explained.
Jaiklyn nodded proudly, “We’ve gotta couple of hits out already. Just wait, Headstrong Hazard will be one of the top metal bands in the world!”
“Are you in a band too, Fara?” Tommy asked.
“Nah, it’s just me,” Fara replied.
“Why not make a band like Jaiklyn?” He asked.
Jaiklyn spoke loudly, “Because the other pop ‘princesses’ are nothing but up-tight, squawky, spoiled bitches.”
“Jay.” Fara frowned, slowly shaking her head, “Don’t mind her, Tommy, but I just prefer going solo. Just plain Fara Ciara.”
A bright smile glowed on Tommy’s face, “My sister would be so psyched if she knew who I was hanging out with.”
“I don’t think she’ll be too happy hear about our split up,” Fara said. “But I’d like to meet her once we get her out of Krampus’ claws.”
A warm, comforting breeze greeted them as they opened doors that took them to the castle’s rear courtyard. Tommy saw fields of different fruits, vegetables, grains, and orchard trees on the right and cows, goats, sheep, alpacas, llamas, pigs, and chickens made their respective noises from their stables, coops, and pens on the left.
Strange creatures tended to the crops and animals; gnarled, bipedal dragons with small pointy ears, slit pupil eyes, snub noses, and small wings on their backs and small human beings with green or blue hair, long pointy ears, dragonfly wings and antennae on top of their heads and the clothes wore were made out of large leaves, vines, and flower petals. Some of the creatures smiled seeing the sisters and waved and they responded by waving back.
Tommy whispered to Fara, “Who are they?”
“Immortals.” answered Fara, “A few of them anyway. The ones watering crops are Nymphs. They’re responsible for every plant and tree that grows in the world. And those are the Knooks, keeper of all the animals. They come and help run Claus’ little farm during the Yuletide madness.”
They headed for a large, cabin log stable at the back corner of the farm. Tommy heard honks and grunts coming from behind the large double doors. Jaiklyn pulled the left door open, “Come meet Claus’ famous team, Tommy.”
Two Knooks were inside pouring buckets of grains in the stall feeders of eight reindeer, four on the left and four on the right in their own respective stable. Tommy saw decorative name plates designed like wreaths speckled with holly berries and a big red bow with a small bell in the middle at the bottom. The reindeer’s names carved in the middle of the plates.
“You know the song, don’t you Tommy?” Fara said and sang, “You know, Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen.”
“Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.” Jaiklyn chimed in, a bit lower pitched than her sister.
Tommy peered over the wooden bars watching the tall, long-antlered beast greedily nibbling at their food. One of them curiously sniffed at him and snorted before going back to his meal. Tommy looked around while following the sisters to the back of the stable, “Where’s Rudolph?”
“Ain’t no Rudolph,” Jaiklyn said. “That’s a completely different story, but we’ve had some Burzee creatures as stand-ins before.”
The rear of the stable was a wide, octagon room with the shelves on the wall that held feeding and medical equipment. Tommy’s nose wrinkled when paint fumes hit his nose. Something else familiar to him stood on a wide, circular pedestal where a large sleigh was set in the the middle of the room.
“Is that-?” Tommy stopped. He didn’t have to ask. Why was he even asking after seeing the reindeer and Claus himself?
“Claus’ Air Force One. Looks huge up close, don’t it?” Jaiklyn tossed Fara a paint-smeared smock before strapping into her own.
“It needs a fresh coat of paint on it once in awhile since Claus only drives it once a year,” Fara said. “I hope we get finished with it before Christmas, but the way things are around here, that’s unlikely.”
Tommy observed the sleigh as the girls began painting its left side. It was mostly red with thin white lines on the edges. Fara taped protective sheets over the holly branches made out of hard, colored glass on the high outer walls of the sleigh. The dull gold paint still gleamed even while peeling off the runners.
“There you are!” Nanny waddled in, huffing and puffing, “Tommy, I’ve been looking all over for you. Didn’t you hear the bell ending lunch session?”
Fara waved to her, “Hi Nanny! How are you?”
The elderly elf flicked her pen back and forth between her and Jaiklyn, “Don’t you ‘Hi Nanny’ me! Breaking the rules like that, you two know better! I’m still shocked Krampus hasn’t hauled your fannies into the mines yet.”
“Aww Nanny, it ain’t even that serious,” Jaiklyn slouched and pouted playfully.
“Hmph!” Nanny headed to the door, nose in the air, “Come along, Tommy. I don’t want you to get any awful influences from these naughty girls.”
“Actually Nanny, we was wonderin’ if we could borrow Tommy for a moment,” Jaiklyn said.
“Borrow?” Nanny arched her eyebrow.
“We haven’t seen Tommy for awhile. I bet there’s still a lot of things he wants to ask.” Fara replied, “We’ll bring him back soon, without rubbing our ‘bad’ influence on him.”
Nanny leered at Fara and Jaiklyn, who wore their best smiles, “Alright, but only for a moment.”
The sisters fell over like deflated balloons after Nanny left. “Same ol’ Nanny. You’d think she’d mellow out after a few years,” Jaiklyn sighed.
“She said a ‘moment’. And to Nanny, that’s not long. Ask away, Tommy,” Fara said as she and Jaiklyn painted fresh coats of red paint on the left side of the sleigh.
“Before I ask anything, why was Nanny so mad at you?” Tommy asked as he took a seat on a short stack of reindeer feed, “Is it the same thing that made Claus take your wings?”
“Yeah, but it’s not as serious as everyone makes it out to be,” Fara replied.
Tommy held his tilted head in his hand, “What’d you two do that was so bad?”
Jaiklyn answered, “We used our wings when we weren’t suppose to.”
“Weren’t suppose to?” In his young mind, Tommy couldn’t see any wrong way to use wings that were given to you.
“Last month, we made it official to our HomeGirls fans that we were going our separate ways, but we decided to do one last concert together. We had planned to do something very special for as a closer. The last song we sang was ‘HomeGirls’ Power’, a song we made for our large fan base. We were lifted up on these platform in the middle of the stage, standing back to back while singing, then we activated our wings.” A big smile curved on Jaiklyn’s face, “And the crowd. Went. Nuts.”
Fara sneezed when a strong rush of fumes whisked past her mask, “We didn’t think we were breaking the rules by just showing them. As far as the audience knows, our wings were something a costume designer made.”
“Next thing we know, Claus calls us into his office, shows us the recording of our concert on TV, and asked for our wings.” Jaiklyn sighed, “He said the only way for us to get them back was to help out during the Yuletide Madness.”
Tommy propped his head on his hand again, “Did Santa say when he’ll give them back?”
“No, but sumthin’ tells me we’ll get them back AFTER Christmas, which would suck if he does,” Jaiklyn grumbled, rapidly pushing the roller brush back and forth.
“Why would it be bad to get them after Christmas?” Tommy asked.
Fara explained, “When Santa goes to the Mortal Plane on Christmas Eve, the Angels fly with him along the way. Angels before us have done it since Claus first started appointing them. It’s a fun, exciting tradition.”
“So that’s why Santa needs Angels?” Tommy asked, “To protect him?”
Jaiklyn picked up a smaller brush and dipped it in a bucket of white paint, carefully brushing thin lines along the edges, “No, to protect kids from Krampus. He’s more worried about the safety of the children and his friends, but we still look out for him and help him out whenever we can. ”
“I don’t see the point, since you can’t save kids from Krampus once they’re in the mountains,” Tommy said, a little anger in his tone.
Jaiklyn stopped painting and frowned at him, “We can’t be everywhere at once, and it ain’t exactly easy tryin’ to rescue half a billion kids livin’ in the world. We have many friends ourselves that are stuck in Grump-ass’s mines when we were little, a couple we’ve seen got taken away in person. Are we mad about it? Yes, and even more mad that we can’t do shit about it. The best we can do is to keep more kids out of Krampus’ clutches.”
“The only chance we’re given to stop Krampus is on his ‘holiday’.” Fara said solemnly, “December 21st is day he calls ‘Krampusfliege’. That’s his collection day. If we catch him or his Kramplings while we’re in the Mortal Plane, we can stop him and give a kid on his naughty list a second chance.”
Tommy’s thought about Zoe. He tried to picture her how she looked before, but her pale skin, white hair, and blank purple stare still remained in his head. Knowing she was in Krampus’ castle probably doing kitchen work or something much worse and him being back to normal in Claus’ castle with her favorite role models ate at him a little. “Can anyone be an Angel?” Tommy asked.
Fara and Jaiklyn stopped in mid-painting. Jaiklyn snickered and Fara smiled behind her mask. “That sounds familiar,” Jaiklyn said to Fara.
“You want to be an Angel, Tommy?” Fara asked.
Tommy jumped off the stool, standing straight with his hands clenched into fist, “Yeah! I wanna be an Angel. Maybe if Claus gives me wings, I can go save Zoe.”
Jaiklyn shook her head. “It don’t work like that, Tommy,” She said. “And didn’t you forget us tellin’ you that your parents’ memories of you and Zoe have been wiped? Even if you did somehow get back home, your parents wouldn’t have a clue of who you two were.”
Tommy slumped back, “Then I guess it’s hopeless. Me and Zoe will never get home.” His thoughts wandered into a depressing place in his mind; Zoe was locked down with heavy chains and Krampus stood over her laughing menacingly.
He jumped when someone grabbed his shoulders and looked up at Fara’s face.
“You have a thousands deeds to do, a sister to rescue and a home to get back to. Doesn't sound impossible at all. Sounds like something within your abilities, as long as you have faith in them.,” Fara said.
Jaiklyn chimed in, “And don’t forget you got us here too, Tommy. And if something happens, I’ll take of it. Don’t worry.”
The support he felt from the sisters slightly lifted up his spirits. The goal of rescuing Zoe and getting home looked so faint in his mind. It was still there, just very fuzzy.
Tommy started to say something until he saw Fara, and Jaiklyn suddenly stop in mid-painting. The girls glared out the corner of their eyes to the stable door. The Knooks gasped loudly and the reindeers honked in a panic when the big, wide doors blew open. A sky-blue blur whisked past the stables and crashed on the ground, skidding to a stop at back of the stable near Fara and Jaiklyn. A blue-haired Nymph struggled to sit up, holding a hand to her chest as she gasped for air, “Angels...assistance...needed.”
Jaiklyn hurried over to help the Nymph stand, “You’re Crissy, right?”
“Chryseis, Jake.” Fara corrected her, “What’s the matter?”
“Pixies have set fire to my sisters’ trees.” Chryseis panted, “And they’re continuing to head up north causing more damage.”
“Pixies, fuckin’ Burzee roaches. Good for nuttin’ but causin’ trouble.” Jaiklyn smiled at Fara, “Looks like your specialty is needed, sis.”
“I’m gonna need your help too. I’ll only be able to get out a lawn hose trickle, not a fire hose blast with only Reindeer’s Gift,” Fara said.
“And my lightnin’ is only a static.” Jaiklyn shrugged, “Follow Chrissy. I’ll grab some buckets and get Iris and Renard, and we’ll be right behind you.”
The Water Nymph quickly refused Fara’s offer for a chance to rest. She was breathing regularly again after a couple gulps of air. The Knooks quickly moved to the side as she and Fara whisked themselves out the stable. Jaiklyn hurried by Tommy, hooking as wooden buckets as she could in each arm, and bolted out.
Tommy jumped when something clattered behind him and saw a bucket rolling along the floor. He grabbed its handle and ran as fast as he could to the door. He looked around to see if he could catch trace of the sisters but they were long gone. He remembered what Jaiklyn and ran into the castle rushing by worker elves to the elevator.
He paced around the rising elevator and bolted out as soon as the doors opened. He could hear Jaiklyn, Iris, and Renard talking quickly when he ran inside and saw the sliding door to the balcony open. Rushing out, he saw Renard flying off in the sky, fluttering his furry butterfly wings. The glow around Iris faded when her fairy wings sprouted from her back and she jumped up in the air.
Tommy opened his mouth to yell out to her as he came running through the door. He tripped over the door rail and faceplanted on the deck, the bucket clattering in front of him. “Tommy?” Iris landed and hurried up to him, “You okay, boyo?”
He grabbed ahold of the bucket, panting heavily, “Brought...extra bucket.”
Iris knelt down, taking the bucket aside and helping Tommy sit up.
“Iris!” Renard hadn’t flown too far from the Pinnacle, “We must hurry.”
“I’m right behind ya!” Iris waved her arm, telling him to go on. Tommy watched him fly westward to a pillar of black smoke in the far distance.
“Thanks Tommy. You gonna be al’right?” Iris watched amazed as Tommy was breathing normally after a few seconds, “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.”
“Wait!” Tommy grabbed her hand, “Let me come with you. I can help you put out the fires.”
“I can’t, Tommy. It’s too dangerous. Just stay here until we get back. Thanks again for the bucket.” Iris leaped off the balcony, bucket in hand, and zipped toward the smoke before Tommy could say anymore.
He watched over the railing as she disappeared the further away she flew. With no sight of the Angels, he kept his eyes on the smoke spiraling in the evening Burzee sky.
He could hear the faraway commotion; the enchanted forest was filled with with screams and panic. He could hear Konani and Jaiklyn’s voices, which were the loudest out of the noise, as they gave instructions and commands. The smoke shrank little by little, hovering just over the tree tops after a few minutes. Tommy relaxed seeing things were under control, until he saw a bright flash left of the disappearing smoke. He gasped softly watching another black cloud rising from the trees and the distressed cries got louder.
“I’d thought I’d find you up here.” Nanny stood in the doorway behind Tommy. His gaze stayed focused on the far-off forest.
Nanny joined his side. “Worried about the Angels?” She saw where the first smoke was disappearing and another one rising. She slowly shook her head, “Pixies, the Fairies’ wily cousins. Most of them are mischievous and are harmless but then there are those that are just wicked, like the ones causing these fires ‘for fun’.”
“I wish I could be there helping them,” Tommy said staring down at his shoes.
“You’re helping them, by staying here where it’s safe.” Nanny gently patted his shoulder, “They’ve been doing this for a long time, Tommy. They can take care of it.”
As the first fire died down and the second one was disappearing, a third, fourth, and fifth fire announced their start with more smoke. Tommy and Nanny heard Konani’s distant roaring and rapid cycle of what sounded like sonic booms rhythmically blaring through the forest, quaking the air and the limbs of the woods.
“It may be hours before they return. Hopefully Konani’s ‘fish bass’ attack sent the Pixies running.” Nanny headed for the door, “I’ve been asked to help with some things around the castle. Do you remember how to get back?”
Tommy replied, “Aldenburgh Station, right?”
“Right. Make sure you get home before it gets too dark.” Tommy nodded and let out a soft, affirmative sound, still looking at the forest fires as Nanny headed inside.
Though Nanny, Lo, and La and their families were very kind to him, he felt more at home being around the Angels. Possibly because they were the only humans he had seen in the enchanted world he was trapped in.
He wished he was there helping them out despite the danger. They risked their necks to save him and he wanted to return the favor somehow. He sighed heavily drumming his fingers on the railing as his thoughts stirred. He remembered the fire escape chute when Lo and La helped him get away from Krampus and thought about using that to get out and head to the fires. He closed his eyes and past voices echoed in his head.
It’s too dangerous, Tommy...
You’re helping them, by staying here where it’s safe...
But sumthin’ tells me we’ll get them back AFTER Christmas...
I hope we get finished with it before Christmas, but the way things are around here, that’s unlikely....
Tommy stopped tapping his fingers when his thoughts landed on the sleigh in the stable.
He nearly got lost in the castle corridors after heading downstairs until he recognized the Knooks passing by him. They pointed him the way to the farm and scratched their heads as Tommy excitedly ran back outside.
He carefully pushed opened one of the stable doors, being careful not to stir the slumbering reindeer. A couple of them greeted him with a curious gaze or a soft honk before laying back down in the hay. He walked around the sleigh and noticed the right side was dull and faded. He grabbed a plastic paint tray under his arm and dragged a paint can half-full of red paint over to the sleigh.
It was nearing midnight by the time the Angels returned after completely dousing the forest fires and driving the Pixies out of the Forest of Burzee. While the three returned to the Pinnacle to get some rest, Jaiklyn and Fara bounced down the mountain landing back in the middle of Claus’ farm. Fara’s fingers fumbled as she pulled her buzzing phone out her back pocket. “That’s the twenty-fourth message from Papá,” Fara told Jaiklyn as she rapidly typed a response on her phone.
“Let’s hustle with this sleigh before our dads have the SFPD huntin’ us down,” Jaiklyn and Fara trotted straight for the stable, then came to a halt when they noticed the one of the doors was ajar.
Fara whispered, “That’s not like the Knooks to forget to close the door.”
They tiptoed to the door and their eyes flicked around as they entered, looking for anyone or anything suspicious. Their danger senses turned down when they saw the reindeer sleeping soundly in their stables.
“The wind maybe?” Fara thought.
Jaiklyn shook her head, “Door’s too damn heavy for a breeze.”
Among the sounds of the slumbering reindeer, they heard a snore that sounded out of place. It was high-pitched, slightly wheezy, and coming from the rear of the stable. They followed the sound and stopped again seeing the sleigh, the left side still brightened with dried paint and the right glistening with a new coat of it.
They slowly walked around it, eyes wide and mouth opened. Jaiklyn stuttered, “I thought--wait--did we do--huh?!”
The snoring got louder as Fara walked behind the sleigh. She crept up quietly and smiled seeing Tommy fast asleep, his clothes covered in paint smears and spatters, sprawled over a square bale of hay in the dark corner, “I think I found our culprit.”
“He did all this that quick?! There ain’t no way--” Jaiklyn softened her tone when Fara put a finger to her lips.
“Iris told me Tommy wanted to help us with the forest fire.” Fara said, “I guess he wanted to help us this way.”
Jaiklyn lowered her head scratching through her hair, “Not that I ain’t glad that this is done, but Nanny’s gonna think we told him to finish for us. What do we tell her?”
Fara replied as she scooped Tommy up in her arms, “Tell her to list it as his first good deed.”
“You’d think she’d believe us?” Jaiklyn watched Fara pick the boy, who stayed asleep even as he was moved, and stumble a bit as she walked, “You got him?”
“I think that Mini Crickie meal added a few pounds him.” Fara felt unbalanced trying to take a step forward and stayed in her spot.
Jaiklyn walked up and carefully carried Tommy in her arms, “You head home, so Dad and Papá can calm down. I’ll right behind you.”
“Alright, see you at home Sis.” The girls exited the barn waving to the curious reindeer before closing the stable door behind them. The gold jingle bells hanging around their necks gleamed. Fara rapidly leaped up to the Pinnacle while Jaiklyn run up the castle walls and headed down the mountain holding on tightly to Tommy.
Tommy stayed asleep during the entire, bouncy trip. Jaiklyn heled onto him tightly as she surfed down the down the mountainside and leaped over great heights before landing in Aldenburgh Square.
Jaiklyn smiled down at Tommy as walked up to Nanny’s house and whispered, “Kid, you’d better have done these deeds in time ‘cause if you don’t, I’m gonna be madder than all hell.”
(The Forest of Burzee, Laughing Valley of Ho-Ha-Ho and the Immortals are © L. Frank Baum. All other characters are © Rai Pager.)