The icy wind swirled and cut at them like a knife that could slice a tomato paper-thin. Stars shown above as sparkling jewels, just as they might have back home, but the two, weather-beaten half to death, staggered over the dark ice fields, oblivious to the beauty above them. Driven with a single focus, they knew their mission must be accomplished at all cost.
No one had chosen them for this task; they had volunteered.
“You take with you all our hopes for success,” were the last human words they’d heard.
Now, their clothing tattered by the polar blasts, the two intrepid men sensed they were near their goal. The had been no communication for two years now. The situation was dire and inexplicably mysterious.
Coming to the top of a long, rising face of solid, slippery ice, their gloves tattered nearly to ribbons as they dragged their way up, the two gasped at what they saw not far ahead now.
“That must be it,” said Jeremy, shouting above the wind.
“Yeah,” shouted Thomas, “let’s do this.”
The two slid down the ice face, staggered to their feet, and trudged toward the building. All of a sudden, Jeremy slapped Thomas on the arm.
“Look!” he shouted, pointing excitedly. “The light. See it? Second floor window.”
So someone might still be alive. Could it be?
The two moved as quickly as they could though the powerful Polar gusts that swirled around the darkened building.
Jeremy grabbed Thomas’s arm. Pointing to the lighted window, he yelled, “There’s someone near the window.”
They ran now, as best they could, searching for the front entrance. At last they came to a pair of huge double doors. A large sign sagged above them. They could only make out the word “shop,” but they both sensed they’d arrived at the right place.
Pushing through the creaking doors with some effort, and slamming them shut quickly behind them to keep out the wind, they found themselves in what looked like a large hall. Both switched on their flashlights, playing the piercing beams over long tables, bare except for the dust and grime that smeared over their surfaces, cobwebs floating above them.
“Stairs over there,” said Jeremy.
The two, thankful to be out of the howling, freezing wind, made their way to the bottom landing. Looking up, they could see the faint glow of the light they’d observed from outside. Their hearts were beating wildly as they clambered up the stairs.
“Down here,” said Thomas, as they rushed through the hallway.
The two burst through the doorway then stopped. They could see by the small table lamp, the figure of an older person, long gray hair, cascading down over the back of the chair.
“Hello?” said Jeremy.
There was no reaction.
The two tiptoed around toward the figure.
“Excuse us,” said Thomas, as the face came into view.
It was an old man. He looked toward them. Tears streamed down his cheeks, disappearing into his long white beard.
“Who are you?” the old man asked
“We were sent to find you,” said Jeremy. “No one had heard from or seen you. We needed to know what had happened up here.”
The old man nodded. “Well, this is it. I’m the last of them. They’re all gone. Even my wife.”
Jeremy and Thomas glanced at each other.
“What happened?” asked Thomas.
The old man said, “Humankind and the pandemic took a huge toll up here.”
“So everyone one died?”
“Oh no,” said the old man. “We were all vaccinated early on as essential workers.”
“So where did they all go?” asked Jeremy.
“To find work down south. There was nothing more for them here.”
“But there’s always been work here,” said Thomas. “from what we know about this place, it used to be a year-round manufacturing giant.”
“Those were the days,” said the old man. “But we work on faith up here, on hope, on love, on charity. Most of that dried up over the past few years. Worst of all, the children gave up believing in us. In me.”
“Santa,” said Jeremy. “We’re so sorry we did this to you. Is there nothing that can be done?”
“It’s the way of the world,” said the once jolly old man. “Failing health and politics have destroyed the meaning of Christmas. But there is one chance for the world.”
“What is that, Santa,” said Thomas, “please tell us, and we’ll take your message back to the people.”
“Find my wife,” said Santa. “She was the true backbone of our mission here. She headed for the South Pole. The Easter Bunny called to say they were in trouble down there, too. Since we were already done-in up here, Missus Claus went to see what she could do to help. That was always her way. A helper. A giver. She was my hero.”
“If we can,” said Jeremy, “we will find her. But how will bringing her back here bring back Christmas?”
“I can’t promise it will,” said Santa, “but it will be a start, I think, the two of us reuniting. We may have given up too easily. I have been sitting here, night after night, month after month, year after year, wondering if it’s possible to bring back love and compassion. I think it might be. The human race is a resilient breed.”
“Why wouldn’t she get in touch with you, let you know what was happening?” asked Thomas.
“That,” said Santa, “is a mystery. I know she and the Easter Bunny were very close before she married me. Perhaps, working side by side together down there, well, who knows? Please see what can be done.”
“We will,” said the two together. “The world needs Christmas again.”
And with that, Thomas and Jeremy set off in the wild night to bring back the news that Christmas might again be the joyful celebration it had once been.