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Santa’s Penance, part two

December 8, 2010

        Next to the factory was a building that reminded him of a huge ski lodge.  Not one of the newer ones, but like the old ones at Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks or perhaps the old Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. 
        The build had massive timbers, a huge sloped roof, stone fireplaces and doors that a tank could be driven through.  There wasn’t any light coming from inside and it was hard to tell in the deepening twilight, but there didn’t seem to be any smoke coming from the chimneys.
        He didn’t have much hope that there would be anyone there to help him. The place looked abandoned.  There were large places where the shingles had fallen away.  What he did hope for was a place out of the cold.  He knew he wasn’t going to make it to the camp tonight and it would be difficult, if not impossible for any searchers to find him at night in the snowstorm.   Maxwell stopped the sled in front of the huge massive doors at the front of the lodge.  There was a huge misshapen lump near the doors partially covered in snow.  It took him a moment to recognize the twisted remains of an old fashioned sleigh.  Bells, crusted over with rust clung to the rotted remains of old leather.
        The massive doors were so perfectly made that it looked like they were formed out of one solid slab of oak.  Despite the weather and the obvious years, they still had a lustrous sheen.  There were carvings all along the arch of the door that had not held up as well to the scouring wind and snow, but still conveyed a sense of people gathered together in celebration.
        Pushing on the door, he was pleasantly surprised when it swung easily inward.
       “Hello?”  Maxwell called out into the gloom of the building.  No one answered.  Walking back to the sled, he led the dogs into the lodge.  If someone was inside, he’d apologize later.  He closed the door once the sled was inside.  It wasn’t much warmer inside, but the door stopped the wind and the snow.
        A fire would be nice, but he knew he had to take care of the dogs first. Unhitching them didn’t take too long.  When he was done, he opened up dog food and set it out for them.  The animals tore into the food.  They were ravenous.  He grabbed a couple pieces of dried salmon and looked around.
        The room he was in was large, and except for a little debris, was devoid of any furniture except for a very large chair that looked like a throne.  Holly and poinsettias were carved into the dark wood of the chair.  The only other feature in the room was the giant stone fireplace that caught Maxwell’s interest.
        There were hallways and doors leading out of the room, but he wasn’t interested in exploring.  Maybe later, he told himself.  Checking out the fireplace, he found a huge chain that apparently opened the flue.  He was surprised that it seemed to work.  There wasn’t anything in the fireplace except for ashes.
        Upon closer inspection of the debris littered around the room and piled in several of the corners, Maxwell discovered that almost all of it was the remains of toys.  They weren’t modern either, but old wood trains and cars, pieces of dollhouses, half carved figures, even the head of an old rocking horse.  It was weird, but it would make a decent fire.
        Maxwell built a fire out of some of the discarded toys, using the old straw in several broken dolls as kindling.  The stuff lit surprisingly easily and produced a nice cheerful flame that occasionally changed from yellow to greens or reds as the paint or varnish on some of the baubles burned off.
        The Malamutes curled up together near the hearth and went to sleep.  Maxwell knew sleep wasn’t a luxury he was going to have that night; he was going to have to keep the fire going to stay warm.  He busied himself by gathering more of the broken playthings and piled them up near the sleeping mass of dogs; that looked like a very lumpy fur carpet.
        He was on his second pile when he was startled by a deep voice behind him.
       “What are you doing here?”
        Maxwell spun around in alarm. “Building a fire.”  It was a dumb thing to say, but he was so flustered that he just said the first thing that came to mind.  He wasn’t helped by the man’s appearance.
        The man was old.  The hair of his head and beard was a tangled mass of white and gray, although he wasn’t sure if the grey was the man’s actual hair color, or just dirt and grease.  There were twigs and other bits of stuff tangled in the thick mass of curls. 
        His face was almost completely overshadowed by his hair.  The most noticeable feature was his blue eyes.  They did not sparkle.  They were cold, like the bluish tint that ice sometimes has if the light hits it right.
        The man took a step towards him and Maxwell couldn’t help stepping backwards as he realized how immense the guy was.  He was tall and, well, fat wasn’t the word, he was beyond fat, he was huge.
        Maxwell was starting to think he should have braved the cold and the dark.
        “What are you doing in my house?”  As the man got closer, Maxwell realized that man’s suit was stained and soiled to a deep burgundy color; it was impossible to tell what it originally looked like.
       “I’m sorry.  I got lost and I was afraid that I would get caught in the storm.  I thought the place was abandoned . . .”
       That was answered with a grunt, “It is abandoned, except for me.” 
       “Do you mind if I stay the night?”  Maxwell asked hopefully, “I’ll leave in the morning.”
       The man sighed with resignation.  “You can stay the night, Maxwell.”
       “Thanks . . .” Maxwell was so tired that it took him a moment to realize that he hadn’t given the man his name.  “Hey, how do you know my name?”
       The blue eyes didn’t look menacing anymore, just tired.  “It’s what I do Maxwell.  I keep track of things.”
       “What’s that supposed to mean?”
       Sitting down on the hearth, the old man pulled out a pipe and lit it, before answering.  “You have no idea who I am, do you?”
       “Am I supposed to know you?”
       “Red suit, white beard, up north.  It’s not very likely because they’re wild now, but I don’t suppose you saw any tiny reindeer on the way here did you?”
       Maxwell’s jaw dropped, “You’re joking.”
       “Do I look like I’m joking?”  The smoke from his pipe had formed a hazy cloud around his head.
       “You can’t be serious.”  Maxwell started to laugh but stopped when he saw the angry look on the old man’s face. “You’re Santa Claus?”
       “I prefer to be called Kringel. It was my first name, but yes I’m Santa Claus.”
       “Prove it.”
       Kringel scowled, “I’ll prove it, but you’ll have to do something for me in return if I convince you.  Is it a deal?”
       “Deal.”  Maxwell said.  There was no way this nut job was going to convince him that he was Santa Claus.

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