At least, you’re pretty sure the man standing before you is Santa.
He’s dressed quite differently than in all the fairy tales and legends.
Looks a bit different, too.
He has maintained the basic facial features of the myths. You know, the jolly red cheeks that are round as apples and pink-tipped nose. He has piercing, clear blue eyes that sparkle with an inner light.
This is when he starts really differing from the Santa of stories. His eyes sit beneath a pair of extremely thick black eyebrows that are accented with a lighter grey here and there, the hair becoming longer at the curve, flaring up and out like the flames of a fire, giving the illusion that his eyes are opened wider than they really are.
Blond and dark grey highlights streak his otherwise white beard and whiskers, which stretch down to the end of his chest. The tips of the hair brush the top of a thick sash-like belt that has a pattern that matches the ones on the stained glass windows and found all around the room, with bright silver thread reaching from top to bottom in diagonal lines all around it. It holds up a pair of big, baggy, faded black pants that start at the top of his large belly under the belt, the ends tucked into and slightly folding over powerful jet-black boots.
The long sleeves of his red shirt are rolled up to just below his elbows, exposing his tattooed forearms. The word “Nice” sprawls across his left arm, bordered by different-facing triangles and what seems to be a stylized compass. Surrounding the word and tattooing around the rest of the arm are boxes with different images in them, reminding you slightly of the day slots in an Advent calendar. Something similar is on his right arm, but this time, the word “Naughty” is tattooed on the front.
Since when does Santa have tattoos?? you ponder as you take it all in.
He holds his hands out to his side, nearly hitting the creature standing behind him. It’s the same one that brought you inside.
“Velcome to thee North Pole!” he booms, indicating the entire room. He puts his arms back down. “I hope the yeti treated you nicely?”
You nod. You’re still dumbfounded, unable to utter a single sound. You’re at the North Pole, you’re in Santa’s Workshop!
“And ze elves…zey did not bother too much, no?”
You shake your head vigorously. You look down at the little elf that is clutching your pants, the one that you had frightened earlier and brought you the hot cocoa. You smile. “No, really. They’ve been quite helpful,” you say, finally finding words.
He raises his eyebrow questioningly, as if the idea of elves being helpful was something he had never heard of before.
You look back at Santa. “So…you’re really…?”
He chuckles merrily. He holds out a strong, lumberjack-like hand. “Santa Claus, at your service. But they call me North.”
You take his hand. He shakes it so hard that you fear your arm is about to be broken, making you stumble a little.
Rubbing your arm and slightly wincing, you ask him another question. “‘They’? Who’s ‘they’?”
He puts his fists on his waist. “Why, other Guardians, of course! You know, Easter Bunny, Sandman, Tooth Fairy,” he says, waving his hand with each name. “And Man in Moon. I call him Manny for chort.”
You remember Jack mentioning the Man in the Moon when he told you how he came into existence.
“Easter Bunny is Bunnymund, Bunny for chort,” North continues. “And Sandman is Sandy, and Tooth Fairy—Toothiana—is Tooth. Nicholas St. North is real name, so, North,” he says, pointing his thumb at his chest to denote that he is speaking about himself.
As you absorb all of this information, North scratches his beard, a thoughtful expression spreading across his jovial countenance. His lips twist into a half-smile as an idea dawns upon him.
“Ringle!” He calls out. An elf in yellow underclothes steps forward excitedly. “Bring (your name) new clothes.” Ringle salutes his commander and scurries off. “Cringle, Jingle, and Dingle”—four elves step up, but one in bright blue shoves one in brown aside, pushing it over—“show to room so can change. Quickly!”
He turns to the yeti behind him. “Phil, make preparations. I am inviting people over. It is not every day ve get someone like zis.”
Phil leaves the room, walking out and to the right down a hallway. North walks up to what seems to be a large control panel and twists, then presses something down. He then follows after Phil.
You feel something tugging at your feet. The elf in blue underclothes is tugging at the front of your pants, the other two—one in pink, one in green—standing in front of you, making beckoning motions with their hands. You bid your friend in teal goodbye and follow the other three. They waddle slightly as they walk, their hats jingling with each step.
You are led down a couple of hallways and soon stand in front of a gorgeous wooden door. The elf in green—who you assume to be Dingle—points up at the doorknob, jingling to tell you to open it. Which you do.
You walk into a room with ice covering the walls. A large window with red, velvet drapery spans across the far wall, looking out upon the peaceful snowy hills. A queen-sized bed with a golden, intricate frame stands against the wall to your right, covered with a thick green comforter. Fluffy white pillows that look like snow themselves sit at the head. A proud redwood dresser is placed against the icy wall to your left. A green, rectangular rug covers the floor—which has sky-blue tile—a familiar green diamond with orange circle design within it.
You hear an attention-grabbing jingle behind you.
You turn to a folded pair of black pants, red long-sleeve cotton shirt, and thick socks hovering a few inches off the ground.
Ah, wait. There are little fingers curled around the edges.
“Thank you, Ringle,” you say, taking the fresh change of clothes.
The elves stand in a line, staring at you.
You cough. You would like a little privacy as you change.
The elves seem to get the picture, jumping in shock at their own stupidity. They scurry about, bumping into each other as each one makes a beeline for the door. The one in pink gets knocked over. You help it up. It smiles at you, then runs out the door after its comrades.
Laughing slightly, you close the door behind them.
You admire the view from the window for a bit before shutting the curtains for complete privacy.
A heavy knock comes at your door just as you finish putting on the new clothes.
“Come in!” you call.
A grey yeti with blue eyes swings open the door.
“Warta glab ta nu gard fta,” it says in its garbled language. It turns and leaves.
Must want me to follow it, you figure. You rush out of the room and catch up to the yeti, who leads you back into the fireplace room. A few colorful elves join the two of you, sometimes tripping over themselves as they struggle to keep up.
The yeti moves aside just as you’re about to enter the room, standing at the side.
North is standing just beyond the entrance of the big room, fists resting on his hips once again, beaming at you. From your perspective, his large body blocks the rest of the room.
“There are a few people I want you to meet,” he informs you. “(your name), meet ze Guardians of Childhood.”
And he steps aside, waving his hand to the side like a butler welcoming a guest of honor into a home.
You smile wide.
You’re a kid again.