Christmas Eve day was hectic as Santa and the elves, with what help their newfound friends could give them, got all the gifts ready to go.
It was usually a scramble every year, but because of the delay caused by Miranda, things were even more chaotic as it all came down to the wire.
Finally, the time came for Santa to set out, and this time he asked Capri to swell the sleigh so she and Bez and guests could ride with him on what was to be the most magical night of their lives.
There were exclamations and wide-eyed stares of excitement and disbelief from several of the guests, especially Sigma, Indy and NT.
Pippi and Capri could only stare in wonder, and Gretel kept opening and shutting her eyes, and pinching herself, unable to believe this was really happening to her.
"Who'd have thought…?" Ameh trailed off.
"Oh, man, I'd've been a nicer person all my life if I'd known I'd get to be part of this." Carma sighed blissfully.
"I think even Pirlipat would be impressed." said Nutcracker.
"Who?" said Carma.
"I just wish we could've shared this with Clara Marie." Nutcracker continued wistfully.
"That may happen, after all, this journey is just beginning." Santa assured.
There was much chatter and laughter among Santa's guests as they rode with him into the glisteny, snowy night sky.
Santa's bit of magic kicked in for them, so they were not aware of all the stops he made, but every so often some of the crew would look back at the load of gifts, to see that it had changed in composition and was getting smaller.
It was as if time and space stood still while the sleigh flew on through the night with its full moon, unusually bright and twinkling stars, skies that were sometimes clear, sometimes filled with swirling snow clouds and mists of glistening frost.
Looking down was like watching a rapidly moving toy landscape covered in glowing snow, and occasionally the occupants of the sleigh could only just make out the odd building as they flew by. Some of these buildings were still lit up as were the streets. Then quick as a wink, the city vanished beneath them to give way to farms and forests.
"Excuse me, but when's the first stop?" Gretel asked.
"Ho, ho, ho! That was a couple of hours ago and six time zones back." Santa explained.
"What? But I thought - we just seem to keep going without a stop." Gretel observed.
"That's part of the magic. Even though you are with me, you are not aware of all the stops I make, just as the good slumbering people below are unaware. The time/space continuum has worked this way for me ever since I started with my Christmas rounds."
Bez chuckled. "Hear that, Matrix? Santa can control space and time."
Matrix sighed somewhat wistfully. "Now wouldn't that ability have saved us some serious aggravation!"
"Indeed it would have, my Mechanical friend. But," She added, peering over the edge of the enchanted sleigh. "we're not magic-savvy. B'sides, I'll take the no-magic hassle for some nice bits andpieceslike this."
Matrix smiled dryly and shook his head.
Santa chuckled, and asked "Would you like to see, or help me make a few stops later on?"
"Yes!" exclaimed several passengers.
Santa laughed. "Good! We will do that later on, when we stop at the houses of some other people I think you may know."
On they went, and after several hours, everyone had become quiet. No one knew when the hush had come over them, it was one of those times when you are enjoying yourself, then suddenly start awake, wondering how long you were asleep.
It was Capri who broke the silence. "Huh?" She started awake with a shiver, and instinctively grabbed hold of the back of the seat in front of her, startling Nutcracker awake in turn.
"What - where am I?" He sat up straight.
"Oh wow, I think I dozed off." said Carma.
"You all did, I think," Santa chuckled.
"What time is it?" Ameh said through a yawn.
"It is time to drop in on some of our friends now that I have only their timezones left to work in."
Away they continued, until they made a stop at Misery Chastain's.
Heidi's car was there, and a severe snow storm made it unsafe for Her to leave.
Misery and Heidi were curled up on chairs in the front room, Christmas tree lit up and sparkling, and an old favourite movie was on TV.
This time, the passengers saw the house coming into view, and felt the sleigh touch down on the roof.
"What's that?" Heidi started.
"Maybe it was that tree coming down - " but Misery paused, and shook her head. "No, that's on the other side of the house." she went to the window and peered out, but saw nothing.
More disturbances came from the roof of the house.
Misery opened the window and called out, "Who's there?"
"It's us!" Indy called back. "we're in Santa's sleigh! Wanna join us?"
"It's me, Indy! I'm up here, on the roof!"
"I'm here too!" Pippi said. "We're safe now!"
"What's going on?" Heidi joined Misery at the window.
"Ho, ho, ho! Will you join us!?"
"Oh, my!" Misery shrilled in excitement.
"Yes, just give us a minute to get ready!" Heidi added, just as excited.
Misery shut the window, drew the curtains, turned off the tree, the TV, and the other lights.
She and Heidi got themselves ready and then soon came out the front door.
"Now, how do we get up there?" Heidi asked.
"Pippi," said Santa, "Will you help Heidi up here, and Thande, could you help Misery?"
Both agreed, and soon there were two more very chatty, excited passengers in the sleigh. They never saw Santa slip down the chimney to deposit their gifts before they were off again.
Heidi and Misery were introduced to Diane, Nutcracker and Carma, and Santa said these would not be the last introductions on this journey.
"Next, let's go pick up Madonna Gale, then Ariel and Rebekah, and Clara Marie." Santa announced.
"Oh, Madonna's going to freak, she'll be so excited." Indy giggled.
"and you're not?" Capri kidded.
"Hah! What about you? Saying nothing, but I see that entranced look on your face." Indy retorted. "You're as excited as everyone else."
Capri grinned and allowed herself a chuckle.
"Here we are." said Santa.
Madonna was in the kitchen, getting a late-night snack when she heard sounds on the roof. By the time she entered the living room to look out the window, she caught sight of Santa, who had just come down the chimney.
Madonna, not knowing it was the real Santa, thinking it was a criminal, became horribly frightened.
Her eyes went very wide, and she backed away, taking a defensive pose.
"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, Madonna!"
"Huh?" She demanded. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"
"Why, don't you know me? I'm Santa Claus!"
"Likely," Madonna said, "If you come any closer I'll - " she retreated into the kitchen and was heard roughly fumbling in a cupboard drawer. "I'll call for help! And I'm armed!" she warned.
Wait, Madonna!" Santa called back, "Your friends are here with me!"
Oh yeah? Who?"
"Where is she?" Pippi wondered, puzzled.
Santa bobbed back up the chimney. "I'm afraid that didn't go as planned. She is scared. Could one of you come down with me and coax her out of hiding?"
"Down the chimney?" Capri asked. "I don't think I'd fit."
"That's where more of my magic comes in. You go before me, and I'll come down and wait to bring her up with me once you get her calmed down." said Santa.
"Okay, here I go."
Capri got out of the sleigh, and walked over to the chimney entrance. "Here goes nothing." she sat down and let her legs dangle into the chimney.
"ack!" Before she knew it, she was sliding down it, and then scrambling out of the fire place.
"Wow." she muttered in amazement. "Madonna! It's me, Capri!"
"what?" came a bewildered call.
"Come out, Madonna, it's Capri, and Bez and Pippi and Indy, we're all here with Santa! And we thought you might like to join us on his Christmas Eve journey!"
After a few moments, Madonna came warily into the front room. She still looked like she had a bad fright, but her expression turned to surprised relief when she recognized her friend standing by the fire place.
"How did you get - "
"It's all part of the magic, Madonna. Now do you believe? He didn't mean to scare you, you know."
Madonna let out a sheepish giggle. "Sorry about that."
"Okay, Santa," Capri turned to call up at him, "You can come get her now!"
"You mean, go up the chimney and going along with - Santa?" Madonna's fear vanished quickly, to be replaced by excitement.
Just then, Santa came back down the chimney once more, and re-introduced himself.
This time, Madonna welcomed him with a hearty hand-shake and an apology.
"It was partly my fault too, so let's call it a misunderstanding and start over. How would you like to ride in my sleigh?"
"Like it? I'd love it!" she spluttered, beaming with excitement.
"Ho, ho, ho! Capri, wait here," said Santa, "I'll take Madonna up to the sleigh, and then come back for you."
So, he took Madonna by the hand and flew up the chimney with her, then went back for Capri.
Now, more introductions were made, and when they set off again, Madonna got them started on a carol-sing.
"C'mon, Bez, join in!" Matrix prodded playfully.
Bez scoffed. "Easy for you to say! You can make your voice sound like anyone ya dang want. Even your normal voice is pitch-perfect. I sound like a cat with indigestion."
"She's not exaggerating." Sigma said with a shudder.
A few others chuckled.
"Hey!" Bez exclaimed incredulously. "Well I never! Yeesh, all you guys and your not suckish voices...pickin' on the quiet one...you want me to sing, I'll sing- but I guarantee, ya won't enjoy it."
Matrix laughed, giving her a lighthearted slap on the back. "Easy, Cap'n! You and Thande can have a silent sing-along."
Bez stuck her tongue out. "You kiddin'? Thande has one of the coolest voices I've ever heard. He just hardly ever sings."
"I was unaware my voice was missed." Thande commented. "Nor was I aware you were so fond of it."
"Yeah, well...don't let it go to your head." She looked at the mostly silent warrior for a few thoughtful moments before ambushing him with a comically ill-knit scarf. She wrapped it around his snout, stopping only once he was sufficiently gagged. "There. Now you HAVE to be quiet with me."
Thande merely cocked his head in slight confusion.
"Don't let me spoil the fun," Bez said dryly to the others. "We'll mentally harmonize."
The next stop was the Wood Between The Worlds, where Santa got NT's mother, Ariel, and Miranda's mother Rebekah, now with her new daughter, born of the elf, Norma.
They made sure the baby was carefully wrapped so she would not get cold, and NT was particularly touched that these two women who had known so little joy throughout so much of their lives could share in this wonderful experience.
Ariel was in awe of the beauty of the entire scene, and even Rebekah seemed to be at peace now as the sleigh glided on through the night.
Then they came to the Candy and Toy Kingdom.
Santa and Nutcracker both left to get Clara Marie.
They headed out again for the remainder of Santa's mission.
They awoke the next morning, all in their respective rooms, and certain they'd all been dreaming. that is, until they found the newcomers, Clara Marie, Madonna and the others they'd picked up on the sleigh ride really were there at Santa's with them.
Priceless Gifts Of Love
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