Santa's Little Helpers
December 24, 1993
Dad landed the plane on the strip as though white-out conditions and icy asphalt were the norm. With a duffel looped around both shoulders, he gathered the boys up: four year-old Adam still sleepy and confused in Scott's arms, Remy pulling two duffels and Alex pulling one. Alex had never felt this kind of cold before. It bit through all his layers. His cheeks, nose the tips of his ears stung in the short walk from the tarmac to the one-storey building that passed for an airport.
His dad went up to a man behind a counter. "Major Chris Summers. I reserved a room for yesterday but they wouldn't let the plane out of Utah."
The man thumbed through a large notebook. "We're full up. The storm took everyone by surprise and we've been loaning out the lodge to people who are stranded."
Chris frowned. "That's irregular."
"The all thirty-two rooms in the hotel are booked. People are bunking on couches. The one reason there's a room available is because someone found a date for a Christmas party." The man's smile made Alex stick out his tongue.
"I guess we'll take it," said Chris with a sigh. "I'm not going to make my mom drive out here in the middle of this. Come on, boys."
Alex didn't mind the military lodges. There were always plenty of people around to talk to. This lodge was especially festive as the inhabitants did everything they could to celebrate Christmas. While their dad hunted out food, Scott put their things away and Adam wailed on the bed.
"Remy, get back in here and make him stop," said Scott.
Remy trudged back inside the room. "How?"
"I don't know. Just... do a card trick or something."
But Adam was too little and upset to pay attention. His wails reached high frequency decibels. Alex was sure a sergeant would enter any minute and make them do push ups. He clambered on the bed. "Stop it. If you don't stop crying, Santa won't give you presents."
Adam hiccupped, stared then shrieked all over again. "Saaaaantaaaa!"
Glaring, Remy said, "Nice going, dufus. Now he's never going to stop. Shhh, Adam. Hey, look, I can bend pennies! Wanna see?"
Scott grabbed Remy's sleeve. "You do this. Alex, close the door." He scooped Adam up, patting his back. "Alex was just kidding. Santa's going to leave you presents. You've been really good."
But Adam shook his head. "I not home!"
"I not hooome! I want hoooome!"
A light went off in Alex's head. "He thinks Santa won't find him because he's not at home, right, Adam?"
The little boy nodded, snuffling a little softer.
"Is that all?" Scott grinned and rubbed Adam's back. "Santa knows where everyone lives even if they move."
"How?" Adam wanted to know.
"Well, he just... um... he..."
"He's got elves that track you down," Remy put in. "It's all part of the list-making. Every kid has an elf who follows you around and reports on you all through the year."
"How?" Adam asked again.
Alex joined in. "With magic. Like... like crystal balls. They have those instead of computers. When you're born, the doctors send a letter to the North Pole. That's when Santa assigns an elf to you."
He could see the gears grinding in Adam's head. "Oh. My elf follow me here?"
"Uh-huh," all his brothers chorused.
"He was onna plane?"
"He flew," said Remy, "on big chunks of snowflakes."
"Or on leaves when it's hot," Scott hurried to add. "If you look closely on the ground, sometimes you'll see the wind go in swirls. That's your elf disappearing back to the North Pole to report on you."
Finally, Adam cracked a smile. He pointed to the window. "Lots and lots of elves!"
Outside, the wind whipped the snow into tiny cyclones. They danced around buildings and vehicles, piling snowdrifts against them.
"Lots of elves," said Scott softly. "It's Christmas Eve. They're doing last minute checking. We should get into our pjs now to make sure we're on the Nice List."
Bedtime took all of ten minutes, a record for Adam. He insisted they all finish quickly too, to make sure everyone had their presents. There were two twin beds for five people. Scott pushed them together and spread the pillows lengthwise to make more room. His and Remy's feet hung over the edge, Adam between them while Alex had his back to the wall. They slept like a pile of puppies.