CHAPTER 1 – Something is different.
Naomi shivered as the rain massaged her slumped shoulders.
Her eyes were cast down as she wound her way through the familiar dark forest on her normal route home from school. It was the last day of classes before the holidays, but she wasn’t feeling excited and she wasn’t in a hurry to get home. There was something strange about the day and Naomi struggled to understand why. She frowned at something ahead of her and she cocked her head to one side. Something suddenly caught her eye. She squinted into the wet and miserable day. She noticed a glowing light ahead of her. She narrowed her eyes towards the strange light. It was coming from a very special tree that she’d never seen before.
“This is my forest! How, in the world have I never seen this tree before?” Naomi wondered in amazement. It was a crooked tree, leaning slightly towards her, with a tangle of splayed roots that met just above her head. It created a perfect cave. She walked hesitantly up to the tree. She could almost walk right through it. As she explored it a little closer, Naomi noticed that it was more like a tunnel then a cave.
“Wow” Naomi said aloud as she marveled at the tree. Her hands explored the rough bark and she slowly shuffled forward into the tree tunnel. There was sunlight beaming through the other side. If Naomi thought long enough, she would have realized that there was no bright sunlight on this miserable dark day, but she was spellbound, and she found herself moving towards the sunlight. She walked into the tunnel of roots…
CHAPTER 2 – Meeting Pickle Sweet.
Naomi suddenly felt her world slipping away from her as she was thrust forward. She bowled head first into the bright sunlight with her breath held. She went twisted and turned and, in a flash, it was all over.
She landed on something cold but incredibly soft, as if landing on a soft pillow of whipped cream. On the other side of the tree she squinted as her eyes got used to the light. She brought her hand up to her face to protect her eyes from the brightness. The sky was a vibrant shade of turquoise and the ground shimmered white. Naomi stood up and stepped slowly into this snowy cold, world and she involuntarily wrapped her arms around her body tightly.
As her eyes adjusted to the brightness she realized that she stood on a snowy ledge above a village of miniature houses. She frowned as she watched a tangle of green and red moving objects far below her. She was unsure what they could be. She felt a pull towards them and knew with certainty that she was going to find out.
Naomi had to get closer, she turned around and faced her strange tree, that stood strangely firm in this white dusted land.
“Now, don’t you dare go anywhere” she instructed the tree.
A branch shook with a sudden burst of wind and it seemed that it had a sled hanging from its branches.
“Amazing” She breathed “This will be awesome!” Naomi grabbed at the sled and threw it on the ground. She had always been known as a bit of a daredevil and today was no different. She threw herself headfirst onto the sled and hurtled down the mountainside at top speed towards the strange little village below.
Naomi screamed as she came to an abrupt halt. She opened her eyes to see the shoe of a particularly large elf. No, it couldn’t be. Could it? An elf?!
Her eyes slowly lifted upwards, as she took in the elf’s
stripy green and red tights,
his big black buckle,
his green shirt and,
his big friendly eyes.
On his head stood the crooked and green hat of an elf. Now Naomi knew it was true. She was in the heart of Santa’s Christmas village.
Elves stood everywhere staring in disbelief at this strange girl lying in the snow. Naomi rose unsteadily to her feet and she looked down at the elf. She was a whole head taller than the elf. She slumped down and held her hand out.
“How do you do?” She said politely. “My name is Naomi.” Her voice shook with uncertainty. The elf rose an eyebrow but didn’t say a word.
“There was this beautiful tree that…” Naomi was suddenly cut short.
“Well, why didn’t you tell us!” The little elf shrieked, as if a tree explained everything. Suddenly elves chattered away happily and busied themselves around her. In a haze of red, they chatted quickly and loudly to each other, racing here and there and everywhere. Naomi’s chin dropped open as she took in this unbelievable scene in front of her.
The elf that had met Naomi first, pulled her close to him and he guided her as he spoke to her in a high-pitched squeak,
“Nice to meet you Naomi, I’m Pickle Sweet. Well, it is a surprise to see you! Today of all days! It’s almost as if that tree knows! What am I saying, it always knows! I don’t know how it does, but it always does. You mark my words that tree will be fixing our problems forever.”
“Sorry,” Naomi shook her head “problems? You mean I’m here to fix a problem?”
“Well it’s Santa you see, something quite peculiar has happened.”
“Something peculiar? to Santa?” Naomi said uncertainly, slowly calculating the days until Christmas. “But there is only five days until Christmas”
“That’s right. But you know what to do.”
“I do?” Naomi shook her head. “I’m just an ordinary kid that walked through a cool tree. I must’ve bumped my head” She pinched her arm and the elf looked at her quizzically. She sighed “What do I know?”
“Oh, that tree knows all right. It’s no coincidence” Naomi ducked as they walked into a little coffee shop. They ordered a marshmallow sandwich and some chocolate honey tea.
“So…” She took a deep breath and leaned forward with baited breath. “What is the problem?”
“Well, there was a tickle fight in the factory. Santa was there, of course, he always starts the tickle fights. But there was some liquid laughter that was spilt on the floor, and some candy canes and a little icicle dust and…” Pickle Sweet fiddled with his napkin silently.
“Go on…” Naomi encouraged.
“Oh Naomi!” He exclaimed in a piercing squeal ” He fell and bonked his head and at first we thought he was ok, but now he’s bouncing everywhere and hiding all the presents for the girls and boys!”
Naomi took a moment to process what Pickle Sweet had said.
“I don’t understand” Naomi said slowly.
“He thinks he’s the Easter Bunny!!” Pickle Sweet whispered wildly.
CHAPTER 3 – The Bang!
“The Easter Bunny!” Naomi exclaimed. She shook her head sadly as she pondered the dilemma. Santa hopping around hiding presents instead of delivering them. Well that was one mighty big problem. But how could she fix it?
Naomi grabbed Pickle Sweet by his shoulders as an idea popped into her head.
“First things first, we must gather up all those toys he has hidden. Shall we try to convince him that we’ve hidden the presents and he needs to find them?”
“Like a confused Easter bunny?” Pickle Sweet made a funny face. “It’s a crazy idea, but Santa is crazy right now and it just might work!”
Pickle Sweet grabbed Naomi by the hand, as pixie dust exploded behind Pickle Sweet and they gathered speed.
And then there they were… Standing in front of an enormous factory. The walls were made of marbled maple and were carved with beautiful pictures of happy children, gazing up at Santa’s sleigh and all his reindeer. The building shimmered like it was alive. Naomi’s mouth dropped open wide as she took in the sight. It was beautiful.
Suddenly there was a loud BANG from inside the factory and hundreds of screaming elves came racing out of the factory, almost bowling over Naomi and Pickle Sweet.
“What happened?” Naomi shouted to no one in particular.
“What IS going on?” Pickle Sweet pulled the nearest elf towards him and demanded to know.
“Eek!” The elf shrieked, looking over his shoulder at the factory. His voice shook as he told his story. “We were super doooopper busy making all the tiny playmobile characters and tiny hatchimal animals for all the boys and girls and suddenly, suddenly…” tears started forming in his eyes.
“Yes” Naomi encouraged gently.
“Santa came out of nowhere and scared us all with a loud BANG!
We all started to run because, as everyone knows, elves are easily scared. But I looked over my shoulder and I saw Santa gathering up all the finished toys and running all over the place hiding them.
“Right” said Pickle Sweet “That does it. It is time for Operation Confused Bunny!
CHAPTER 4 – Operation Confused Bunny.
Naomi slowly pushed open the giant factory doors, which were strangely lighter than a candy cane. Santa appeared out of nowhere and Naomi stood eye to eye with him.
“Hi Easter Bunny” Naomi said cautiously, as Pickle Sweet hid nervously behind her legs.
“That’s me!” Santa said bouncing up and down. “I’ve hidden toys for you! They are everywhere. Over here and over there and everywhere” Santa was breathlessly pointing wildly in all directions.
“But it’s not Easter, Mister Bunny” Santa looked deeply into Naomi’s eyes and a big tear slowly rolled down his face.
“Nope, Siree…” Pickle Sweet piped up nervously, peeking out from behind Naomi.
“In fact, it’s almost Christmas” Naomi said “and I’ve hidden toys all over the factory for you! Now it’s up to you to find them all and pop them into this magical sack” Pickle Sweet ran to the end of one of the big machines and picked up a relatively small looking bag. Naomi took it from him “This sack needs to contain all the toys I’ve hidden for you.”
Naomi was as amazed as Pickle Sweet, when Santa reluctantly started to find the toys and slowly filled the magical sack. Santa was sad as he put toy after toy into the sack. He had had so much more fun hiding them. Music drifted in through an open window high in the factory. It was “Jingle Bell Rock” and it was Santa’s favourite Christmas song. Santa began to climb the colourful jelly bean staircase, slowly at first and then faster and faster. Naomi didn’t realize that Santa had picked up his pace and was now bouncing effortlessly straight for the open window.
When Pickle Sweet figured it out, it was too late, Santa was a bounce away from jumping out the window.
CHAPTER 5 – Phew!
Naomi and Pickle Sweet screamed together as they watched as Santa disappeared out the window. They took one look at each and other and raced back out the factory door and around the corner.
They stared up in amazement as Santa snoozed happily on the back of Dancer – one of Santa’s reindeers.
“I was just out here, minding me own business, learning a new dance routine, when I saw Mister Santa here jump out the window!”
Naomi and Pickle Sweet let out a sigh of relief. “PHEW!”
Dancer gracefully landed on the silver floor beside them.
“Thank you, Dancer. If you weren’t out here dancing, we would’ve had a serious problem”
“Lucky I was there. Well, let’s get Santa over to his bed. I’m not used to carrying him on my back and he’s sure getting heavy”
Dancer, Pickle Sweet and Naomi walked together silently over the soft white snow. Each of them had their heads bent and were deep in their own thoughts, trying to figure out what to try next.
CHAPTER 6 – The elves grow worried.
The three of them made a funny looking team as they pushed and pulled at Santa, moving him from Dancers back and onto his giant bed of marshmallow puffs.
As they shut the door to Santa’s bedroom they turned and faced a sea of red suits and worried eyes.
Naomi stepped forward and hushed them.
“Everything will be ok. Santa thinks he is the Easter bunny, but I think we can trick him into being Santa. We just need you to keep working hard and finish all the toys on his list.”
The floor in front of her was a mass of nodding red hats. Pickle Sweet suddenly jumped forward eager to distract the worried elves.
“Dancer, you were learning a new dance routine to Jingle Bell Rock weren’t you?”
“Sure was Pickle Sweet! You wanna see?”
Hoots and hollers encouraged Dancer into center stage. Someone clicked on the music and Dancer began his spray of hoof shaking and tail swirling. Glitter fell magically from the ceiling and a disco ball flashed in time with the music. The elves were singing along merrily, and nobody noticed when Santa’s door creaked open…
CHAPTER 7 – Attack of the Hiccups.
Elves were grooving everywhere. Feet tapped, heads bopped, and bodies shook and swayed. The rest of the reindeers had arrived, and Santa’s house was throbbing with the sound of Jingle Bell Rock on repeat. Smiles radiated from everyone’s faces as their problems were forgotten and the dancing began. Cups were filled from sugar juice fountains that magically poured overflowing colourful concoctions. Naomi was the only one not dancing. She needed to come up with a plan, although it was hard not to enjoy the general excitement. She grabbed a cup of colourful sugar juice, hoping it would help.
Without warning Santa came bounding into the middle of the dance party and started dancing with his reindeers. Juice sloshed, and toes turned blue as Santa boogied on down to his favourite song. He wasn’t bouncing, but he still didn’t look himself. Naomi wondered if the sugar juice might help. She grabbed a cup and began walking towards Santa. Suddenly she felt strange. She tried to keep her feet walking in a straight line, but her body began to sway from side to side. Her toes began to tingle and then her legs, then her tummy, then her hands. The strange tingling sensation worked its way up her body until she thought she might burst. And then, suddenly she did.
“Hic” Naomi began “Hic-cup” Her hand rushed to cover her mouth, as if understanding what was about to come. Somehow the music quietened and the elves all raced for cover. “HIC… HIC… HICCUP… HICCUP!!”
“ATTACK OF THE HICCUP” the elves screamed as they raced for cover! Naomi couldn’t control herself as the hiccups pushed their way out of her body and wildly swung her body this way and that way, careening across the dance floor. She knocked into the disco ball, which swung wildly overhead, she sprayed sugar juice onto Pickle Sweet and she flipped over Dancer and landed on his back. Dancer, was not expecting another visitor to his back and reared up in protest. Santa, who was standing behind Dancer watching the fiasco, fell backwards and banged his head on the dance floor.
CHAPTER 8 – Naomi saves Christmas.
Suddenly silent, everyone turned and looked at Santa lying uncomfortably on the floor.
“Look what you did!” a little elf screamed and pointed at Naomi.
“I… I… I didn’t mean to” Naomi said on the verge of tears.
Santa began to groan. “Ughhh” he said “my head.”
Everyone held their breath. There were no bunny squeaks, no nose twitching and there was a rosiness in his cheeks that hadn’t been there before.
Santa propped himself up onto his elbows. He gave a hearty chuckle. “Ho Ho Ho! What do we have here then?” He looked directly at Naomi.
“Hi, I… uh…” Naomi was lost for words. Here was the real Santa standing right in front of her and she didn’t know what to say.
“I just had an awful dream and I think you saved the day. Is that right, young Naomi?”
The elves all danced around Santa, nodding their whole bodies in unison.
“Well Naomi, Thank you for your help. ” Santa jumped to his feet and started to sway a little backwards and forwards. Naomi, worried about Santa, reached for his gloved hand to help steady him. He tightly squeezed her hand back. Santa leaned gently towards her and whispered, “You’ve saved Christmas.”
Naomi blushed, and the elves roared happily as they lifted her into the air.
“HIP HIP HORRAY” they cried! Naomi squealed happily and Pickle Sweet hugged her tightly.
“Come on,” he whispered urgently in her ear “the day is almost done and it’s time to get you home” Naomi sighed deeply and looked around at the excitement. She would never forget this moment in a million years.
Chapter 9 – Homeward Bound.
Naomi breathed deeply as she and Pickle Sweet walked up the mountain in big fur coats and large snow shoes. The snow had begun to drift down, as if dancing their way to the ground. The silence rebounded off every rock and snowdrift. Naomi squinted in the near darkness. She could make out a faint glow in the trees ahead and she pointed it out to Pickle Sweet who gave her a small smile. Together they walked at a snail’s pace towards the tree. Naomi felt relieved that her tree was still there, but she was also very sad to say goodbye to her new and very special friend.
“I’m going to miss you Pickle Sweet” Naomi said as they neared the tree.
“I’ll miss you too Naomi” He chuckled “At least I get to see you once a year.” He grinned happily.
“What do you mean?”
“I help Santa deliver his presents!”
“You do?! You must be the luckiest elf there is!”
“I am! And I am lucky to have a friend like you.” He chuckled. Naomi and Pickle Sweet hugged firmly, both with tears in their eyes.
Naomi smiled “I’m the lucky one Pickle Sweet.” She turned towards the tree.
She felt the familiar rough bark under the palms of her hands. She inched closer to the tree tunnel and the darkness behind it. With one last look over her shoulder, and into her dear friends’ eyes, she took a deep breath and turned back to the tree. She felt that familiar feeling as her world slipped away and she was thrust forward. She bowled head-first into the darkness letting the tree take her home.