John Farmer smiled as he walked past the two sleeping girls on opposite ends of the sofa. Their granddaughters always managed to tire themselves out when came to visit, and today was no exception. He reached over the back of the sofa and touched the off button on the remote, and the now blue TV screen went dark. The girls must have dozed off before the movie ended. He walked into the kitchen where Erin, his wife was still preparing the ingredients for the family’s Christmas dinner. “Sleeping?” she mouthed silently. He nodded. “I’m headed out to feed the dogs,” he said softly. “Why don’t you get some rest before church. That stuff can wait until tomorrow. Jean is here to help you.” Erin nodded but kept right on doing whatever it was that she was doing.
He went on into the laundry and entry room, and was taking his coat down off the hook when something brushed his arm and reached past for the coat next to his. He looked down at the bright eyes of Natasha, his oldest grandchild. She smiled at him, “Didn’t think you were going to feed the dogs without me, did you? John shook his head, and the two headed out to the kennel yard.
“I thought you were going to sleep the evening away. Santa will be coming before you know it.” John chided her.
Natasha’s blue eyes flashed at her grandfather.” Grandpa, I am old enough to know that there is no real Santa Claus.”
“What do you mean, there’s no Santa Claus?” John asked her. “There most certainly is Santa Claus in everything that happens at this time of year.”
“I mean that I know there is no fat jolly old elf coming down the chimney to put presents around the tree.” Natasha looked at her grandfather,” I am old enough now to know that that is a story to cover-up for what you and grandma and mom and dad do every Christmas.”
“And just where did this little bit of knowledge come from?” John queried her.
“All the kids in my school grade know that, Grandpa. We are almost adults now you know.”
John suppressed a chuckle looking very seriously at his 12-year-old grandchild, and said, “What you think you know now may be changed in a heartbeat, in a flash, before you’re even aware of it.” They walked into the barn and were greeted with a clamoring of hungry sled dogs anxious for their evening meal. Quickly, they went about mixing warm water, broth and the high protein food that the Chinook dogs needed to keep their energy level up while pulling the heavy cargo sleds into the backcountry.
“What do you mean?” Natasha asked.
“You know, in your entire 12 years, you’ve asked more questions than most people five times your age.” Her grandfather smiled. "I mean oftentimes what we think we know is different than what is actually going on around us. Let’s go get some dinner for ourselves, and then we can take these buggers for a little jaunt.”
“But we have to get ready for church.” Natasha asserted.
“Wouldn’t they just be surprised if we pulled up to St. John’s Lutheran, on a couple of dog sleds?”
“Are you serious?” The girl’s eyes widened.
“We shall see, dear one. We shall see.” Her grandfather answered.
Inside the house, Natasha’s sister Sophie had woken up and was buzzing around the kitchen at her usual high rate of speed. Natasha and John made a couple of quick sandwiches and some turkey soup that came from the broth for tomorrow’s turkey dinner, and started to head back out.” Where are you going?” Sophie asked.
“Grandpa says we can take the dogs for a quick run before we have to be at church.” Natasha countered.
“You’ll get in trouble! You’re going to be late!” Her little sister replied. Erin looked up from her preparations and moved over to Sophie. She put her hand on the younger girl’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry Sophie, your grandfather does this whenever somebody in this family hits the marvelous age of 12.” Her grandmother looked at her,” Your mother took this Christmas Eve ride when she was Natasha’s age. In a couple of years, it will be your turn.” As she spoke their daughter Jean, the girls’ mother, came into the kitchen.
“Is it that time already?” Looking from her father to Natasha to her mother, and then ask the older woman, “Is it ready?”
“Oh yes. It’s been ready for a few weeks now.” Erin answered.
“Yes, it’s time. We’ll be out in the barn harnessing up the dogs.” John replied, as he pulled on his big red, wool duster coat and pulled the hood up over his ears.
“Maybe you’re right Grandpa,” Natasha observed. “Maybe there is a Santa Claus. You certainly look the part in that coat.”
Her grandfather smiled and looked at his reflection in the laundry room window. “Perhaps you’re right, dear one. Perhaps you’re right.”
The eight Chinook dogs were strangely quiet as John and Natasha put them into their harnesses and put them to the guy line of the big cargo sled. Only Thunder, the lead dog, made a noise as Erin and Jean came into the barn. Erin held the bundle in her arms out to her granddaughter. “You’re going to need this tonight,” she said. “It will keep you warm no matter how cold it gets. They say it was made by elves.”
Natasha took the bundle from her grandmother and allowed it to open in her hands. The warm soft fabric almost felt radiant in her fingers. As it cascaded down, she realized that it was a long dark green cape with white fur along the edges, and ornately styled clasps to hold it closed. She started to say something but then realized that both her mother and grandmother were wearing identical cloaks. Jean spoke, “This is something every girl in our family has received on the Christmas after their 12th birthday. It’s very special, and someday you will get to pass the tradition on to your own daughter.”
Natasha swung the cape over her shoulders slid her arms through the sleeves and snapped the clasps together. “It’s beautiful and so warm. Thank you, Grandma.”
“As grandma just said it will keep you warm. They say it was made by elves.” Her mother replied. Natasha looked at her grandmother, and in the half-light of the barn through her grandmother’s silver hair, it almost appeared that she had pointed, Elvish ears. The girl shook her head and looked again, but her grandmother had pulled up her own hood to keep her head warm. She looked over at her grandfather to ask, but he just smiled at her.
“Ready to take the team out?” He asked her.
“I’m driving?” Her eyes wide with excitement.
“Absolutely. This is your night. Take them out!”
Natasha and John stood on the rear of the big sled. “We have one stop we need to make. Thunder and Lightning know where we're going.”
“HIKE!” The girl yelled in her best command voice, and the sled almost ripped out from under them like a rocket sled on rails. They headed out across the snow-covered field, snow blowing up in the wake of the eight dogs and the sled itself as the team kept going faster and faster. And then an amazing thing happened. Through the snow, Natasha could see a change in the dogs ahead of her. In fact, they didn’t look like dogs anymore, they looked like… reindeer. She started to look at her grandfather, but then, with a jolt, the sled leaped into the air.
“Grandpa?” Natasha glanced at her grandfather and was surprised to see that his grizzled beard had taken on a much whiter appearance. “Grandpa, what’s happening?”
“Just what I cautioned you about before we ate dinner.” John smiled at her, “There’s a reason I take every 12-year-old in our family for this ride and have done so for many years, as my predecessors have done for centuries before me. I have been telling you for years that I am Father Christmas. I think you’re finally realizing what I meant by that.”
“So…You really are St. Nick?” An incredulous note creeping into the question.
“No, dear one. Saint Nicholas was an actual person who lived many years ago in a place called Moira. Father Christmas has had many names over the years, including Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Connor Clark, and now his real name just happens to be John Farmer. But regardless of the name, the mission is always the same, spread goodness throughout the whole world.”
“The whole world?” Natasha looked at her grandfather, “Connor Clark, isn’t that Grandma Erin’s father’s name? You mean he was Santa before you?”
“How do you think I got the job? The Clark’s only had daughters, and everyone knows that Santa Claus is a, how do you say it, a dude?” John smiled at her, but only paused for a second and pointed ahead of them. “Look! We’re already here!”
“As the conductor said, why the North Pole of course!” He smiled warmly as the sled descended into the mists and a city ablaze with light emerged from the fog.
Natasha could not hide her incredulousness. “Next thing you’re going to tell me is that the Polar Express is a real train.”
“Why would you think it isn’t,” her grandfather said pointing off to the horizon where a single headlight showed from a train crossing the snowy tundra. “Welcome to a place where everything is possible, and even the impossible is real. Think about it; you are driving a sleigh that started out as a dog sled. It’s being pulled by eight reindeer that started out as Chinook dogs. In your wildest imagination, your wildest dreams would you ever have thought that your 12th Christmas Eve would be spent this way?”
“I’m not even sure it is being spent this way.” Natasha shook her head. “This could just be some really bizarre dream, Grandpa.”
Well, we’ll see about that.” He looked at the girl. “Think about everything that’s happened just so far tonight. Think about where you got that cloak you’re wearing. Think about feeding the dogs and eating a bowl of soup. Think about the fact that I let you drive the dogs and all of a sudden you are driving reindeer.”
“I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I think Gramma Erin has pointed ears.”
“Here, let me take those reins. As I said to you before, the Clarks only had daughters. But that’s another story for another time.” Deftly he guided the sled into a wide-open area in the center of town. It touched down gently and was immediately surrounded by a sea of elves.
“Welcome home sir!” Said one of the elves who was obviously a leader of the throng. “Is this the latest 12-year-old from the line of Clarks? She looks like she can handle herself.” John nodded.
“Grandpa, these are all elves…” Natasha kept swinging her head back and forth.
“Well… They all look a lot more like Legolas than they do like Hermey.”
Her grandfather smiled at her. “I suppose they do at that. The elves have always been among us dear one, but as the world of man dismissed the presence of the Deep Magic, they could no longer see the elves. Many of the elf-kind sailed beyond the Western sea, and many of them that were left came here.”
“Won’t Lady Erindyl be joining us this year?” The lead elf asked.
“Maybe later, after the deliveries are done, Potar. Right now, she’s preparing a great big dinner at home for when this girl gets back from her journey.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha mouth the words, “Lady Erindyl?”
“Potar, let’s get the sled loaded up. Natasha before we take off I have somebody I would like you to meet.” They want to a large red double door and John knocked before opening it. Natasha found herself looking at the most beautiful woman she had ever seen including both her mother and her grandmother, and she realized that they both bore a striking resemblance to the woman in front of her except for her raven-black hair and the most amazing green eyes Natasha had ever seen.
“Natasha, I would like you to meet Iolena, your great grandmother.” The girl’s mouth dropped to the floor and her eyes got big as saucers. “You, you’re, you’re an elf!” She paused. “That means Grandma Erin is an elf too.”
“Actually, Erindyl is half-elf, and half Terran. Her father, my husband, Connor, is from your world.” The girl looked confused. Iolena continued, “Your grandmother’s given name is Erindyl, but the only place she uses that name is here in Christmastown.” Iolena glanced at John, who nodded toward the door. “We have so much more to talk about, dear one. But the night is short, and you have far to go. Travel well, and if you get hungry you can chew sparingly on this.” She handed Natasha a small package and kissed her on the forehead. She took John’s hand, “Travel well and stay safe.”
“We will. I promise.” He released his mother-in-law’s hand, and the door opened before them. Natasha could not believe the transformation of the sled. In one aspect it looked exactly the same as before and in another, it was as full as it could be with gifts of every description.
“So, what do I do now?” The girl looked longingly over her shoulder at the red door.
“You will have plenty of time to get to know your great-grandmother. Right now, you are about to witness some of the greatest of the Deep Magic, celebrating the birth of Christ the Savior of the world and the gifts of the Wise Men.”
“Natasha.” She looked at her grandfather. “You must remember that you cannot mention any of this to your sister, to your friends, to anyone except your mother, your grandmother, and me. Sophie will come into her own when she is 12. Until then the secret is kept.” Natasha nodded, “I understand.”
“We must be going but first I must give the first gift of Christmas to one of the children from the train.” He looked at the group of children in their pajamas assembled in front of them. Looking at one small girl who seemed to be hiding behind the others, John held out his hand to her. Young lady, you have nothing to be afraid of.” The children parted, and the girl stood there, eyes on the ground. When she looked up, she saw Santa Claus and his granddaughter. He knelt down until his eyes were even with hers. “What would you like for the first gift of Christmas?” Her eyes immediately went back to the ground. Natasha nudged her grandfather. “May I?” John nodded.
Natasha knelt down by the little girl and whispered in her ear. The girl smiled a little bit, and looked at Natasha and then whispered back in her ear. Natasha nodded, smiled and stood up. She went to her grandfather pulled his ear down and whispered into it. John smiled. He looked at the girl, “You have chosen well, and your gift has been granted to you and to your family. When you go home what you asked for will have already happened.”
John surveyed the elves, looked at the sled helped his granddaughter up onto it, climbed on board. He handed her the reins. “You did a good job for your first time. Let’s keep going.” Natasha clicked her tongue three times, and commanded, “Hike!” The reindeer bounded forward and headed into the sky.
Natasha shook her head, as if to get the cobwebs out of it and looked around her. She was on the sofa in her grandparent’s living room and marvelous smells of Christmas dinner were coming from the kitchen. There were presents under the tree, and her mother, father, and sister were sitting in chairs talking quietly.
“Mom?” Her mother looked at her. “About time you woke up, sleepyhead.”
“Mom… I think I had the most amazing dream. It can’t be real, but I dreamt I met my great-grandmother.” She looked around, “Where’s Grandpa?”
“I think he’s out feeding the dogs, then we’re going to open our presents. Santa has been very good to us this year.”
“Yeah, about that…” Natasha said and then jumped off the sofa. “He’s feeding the dogs without me!” She bolted out the living room door to the coatroom, to meet her grandfather coming through the door.
“Slowdown there, TJ. I was going to let you sleep but put your coat on and we’ll go feed the dogs before we open the presents. They had quite a workout last night.” He smiled at her.
“Okay,” she said and reached for her coat, then realized there was now a green cloak hanging on the hook where her barn coat should be. Pulling it on, she looked over at her grandmother who was standing in the doorway. “It’s very warm,” Natasha said.
Her grandmother smiled at her. “They say it was made by elves.” Natasha nodded. “By the way, Natasha, you might want to take that lembas bread out of your pocket before the dogs get a whiff of it” When she looked back at her grandmother, for just a second Natasha thought she could just make out the slightly pointed ears of Lady Erindyl. Then she turned and followed her grandfather into the barn.