The loud voice startled Sam so much he jumped behind Digger's lynx. Peeking out between the big cat's legs, he saw a little girl sitting astride an enormous polar bear who seemed to be the one speaking (the polar bear, not the little girl.) There were also a group of penguins pulling presents on a sled and a fox in a bright red scarf.
"Where are we?" asked Digger, although he had a pretty good idea already.
"The North Pole" said the little girl. "We are the guardians of the tunnel but no one has used it for many many years."
"That's because a giant tree grew over the entrance" piped in Henry. Then he added "If we're at the North Pole, does that mean that Santa is here too?" He was quickly trying to remember how many times he had gotten in trouble in the past month and whether Santa would know about them.
"Yes" said the little girl. "He's very busy at the workshop since it's December and his big day is coming up. But we can take you to see him. He's going to be very interested that you used that particular tunnel."
"Why?" asked Sam.
"Oh, he'll fill you in" she answered. "Come on, it's not far."
And she and the polar bear started walking away. The group from The Hollow hurried to follow her because they didn't want to get lost in the snow.
They stopped at a big brown building that had a wreath made out of candy canes on the door. "He's a sucker for peppermint" whispered the polar bear but his voice was so big, it came out almost as a shout. Suddenly the door popped open and there stood Santa Claus in his red work coat that was embroidered with all different colored flowers.
"Did someone say peppermint?" he laughed as he grabbed a candy cane. "Now you've made me hungry!"
"See?!" said the polar bear in his whisper/shout.
"Oh, Drufus! You really need to work on your indoor voice" chuckled Santa. "Off you go - I think Torton is looking for you."
"Now where did this group come from?" he asked the little girl.
"The Hollow tunnel" she said.
"Oh," he answered. "We haven't had anyone from that tunnel in a very long time. You better come in - I bet you have lots of questions".
So everyone trooped in and found someplace to sit. Santa settled into his comfortable chair and started talking. "Long ago, I had friends and helpers all over the world that would visit me every now and again. But slowly, the visits have died off and no one knows to come anymore."
"A great big tree grew over the door to the tunnel" said Henry. "Nobody even knew the tunnel was there."
At the same time, Sam asked "What did your helpers do?"
Santa said "Well, that would explain it. And, young Sam, my helpers spread Christmas Cheer for me."
Everyone wanted to know what Christmas Cheer was so Santa continued. "Spreading Christmas Cheer is spreading kindness. It's wanting your friend to be happy more than wanting it for yourself. It's laughing and having a good time with your friends where everyone goes home with a warm feeling inside. Then you know you've spread Christmas Cheer."
"We do that all the time" said Sam. "We just didn't know it had a name. When Mrs. Wight has a party and everyone laughs and dances, that leaves you with a warm feeling."
"And when the gnomes come to help us out" said Henry. "That makes us feel the same way."
"I'm glad the old ways haven't been forgotten" said Santa. "And now, you youngsters know to keep them growing and spreading. And maybe you'll be able to come back and fill me in on the outside world. But we need to get you back home and I'm afraid you can't use the tunnel. That only works one way. You'll have to find my brother, the North Wind, to get you back home.
Then he gave Sam a lantern (“so you don’t get lost” he said with a wink) and gave the gnomes explicit directions on how to find the North Wind. Along the way, the friends picked winter flowers and holly boughs to share with their families back home.
After a short walk, they noticed the breezes picking up and then, there was a man standing before them surrounded by beautiful arctic animals. Sam was just in awe - he couldn’t find anything to say.
“I recognize that lantern” said the North Wind. “You’ve been to see my brother. Is it time to go home?”
Henry just nodded and suddenly there was a brief, heavy wind, and then they were back in the middle of The Hollow, as if they had never left. Only Sam had remembered to hold onto the lantern which he hoped would help him find his way back to the North Pole again soon.
All our inspiration pictures were found on Pinterest - we are not the artists of any of them (sadly.)
The End of the Journey mini skein set can be found here