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I’m still looking around for a weapon when two people walk in.
Two small people.
No, they can’t be elves just because they’re small and dainty and wearing red and green outfits. And they have pointy ears. A little bit like Luke’s, actually.
“Good morning, everyone,” the female one says way too cheerfully. “What a lovely day. It’s so nice to meet you all. I am Elf Tinsel, and this is my husband, Elf Navidad.”
“Hello.” Elf Navidad waves enthusiastically. “Remember, there’s no point in closing the stable door if the horse is wearing spectacles.”
“Welcome to North Pole Reform School. Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering what’s going on here, and we have come to tell you. If you’ll just… wait…” She consults a clipboard in her arms. “There’s one missing, Navi. Have any of you seen another one?”
“Another one of what?” Luke asks.
“One of you,” Tinsel says. She counts us with a pen. “Yes, there are only four. There are supposed to be five. Have any of you seen the other one?”
We all shake our heads in bewilderment.
“Go and see if you can rouse him would you, Navi dear?”
Navidad walks over to one of the other doors and goes inside.
“Now, the rest of you, we’ve brought some clothes for you to wear, and we’ll need you to put them on before we can get started, and—”
Navidad comes back out. “Bit of a problem, Tinsel. He appears to think he’s dead.” He says it in what is supposed to be a whisper to his wife but we can all hear him.
“You know we can hear you, right?” Luke asks.
Navidad turns to him. “Then you won’t mind helping. Be a pal and go and convince the little boy in there that he isn’t dead.”
Luke shrugs. “Maybe he is dead. Maybe we all are.”
“You’re not dead,” Tinsel says. “None of you are dead. As I was trying to get to, this is the North Pole Reform School. You’re in Santa’s Village at the North Pole, and you’re all here to learn a very important lesson. But we can’t start without everyone being here.”
Joe lets out a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
Luke rolls his eyes.
“What, Elf Boy? Why’d you have ears like theirs? Why do you have elf ears? Something you want to tell us?” Joe questions Luke.
“No, okay?” Luke frantically tries to smooth his hair over his ears again. “No, I have nothing to tell anyone. Nothing.”
“I think you’re—” Joe starts.
“Please don’t fight,” Tinsel interrupts. “I will explain everything just as soon as I sort the fifth student out. All stay here, please.”
Tinsel walks over and goes into the room Navidad just came out of. We all go over to crowd around the door and look in. Even Duck Lady has got off the sofa and joined us.
The small room looks the same as the one I woke up in. A small window on one wall, a couple of feet of space between that and the bed. In the corner of this room is a boy, cowering on the floor, the sheet from the bed wrapped around himself and clutched to his chest. Tinsel is crouched in front of him, talking gently. We hear her telling him he is safe and nothing bad will happen to him.
He doesn’t look like he believes her.
“Let me help,” Duck Lady says and pushes herself into the room with the boy and the elf.
Even as I think it, I can’t believe I’m taking this seriously. Elves don’t exist. Santa and his village in the North Pole don’t exist. And yet here I am, watching an elf try to cajole a little boy into believing he isn’t dead.
Luke is squashed in the doorway next to me and I can’t help but look up at him. He really does have the same ears as Tinsel and Navidad. He must sense me looking because he glances down and winks at me. I can’t help but smile back.
Now Duck Lady is crouched in front of the boy too, and Tinsel seems to have taken a step back. Maybe Duck Lady has gone to tell him he’s being watched by ducks; no doubt that will make him feel better.
“Don’t crowd around, please.” Tinsel comes over and starts to herd Joe, Luke, and me out of the doorway. “Go and wait on the sofas—we’ll be out in a minute.”
She eventually pushes us back far enough that she can shut the door in our faces.
“Well, that was rude,” Joe says. “I was only trying to help.”
“No, you were all gawking,” Navidad says. “Not everyone copes as well as you apparently have. Never mind; if life gives you lemons, ask the fish for oranges instead.”
“Yeah, well not everyone is sane,” says Luke.
“So, be straight with us, little elf man.” Joe turns to Navidad. “What’s going on here? We in some kind of weird dream or mad scientist’s experiment or what?”
“Nothing like that,” he says. “We’ll explain everything when Tinsel gets back with the boy.”
“Okay, but where are we really?” I ask him. “I mean, I know we’re not in the North Pole, so where are we? Why have you two put so much effort into your elf costumes? We all know you’re not really elves, so why not just stick on a pair of pointy shoes and be done with it?”
“Wrong on both counts,” he says. “We are in the North Pole and we really are elves.”
“That’s impossible,” I say. “Elves don’t exist, and if we were in the North Pole then we would be dead by now. If the temperatures hadn’t killed us then the polar bears would have.”
“We’ll explain everything in a minute,” Navidad says.
“Hey, maybe you can tell me, little elf man,” Joe says to Navidad again, “what’s white and round?”
Luke and I groan simultaneously.
Navidad thinks it over. “A snowball.”
“Wrong,” Joe says happily. “A red cube.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, well not everyone is sane,” Luke repeats.
The door opens and Tinsel comes out, closely followed by Duck Lady and the dead boy.
She goes to stand next to Navidad again. “Now that we’re all here, the most important thing is to get dressed.”
“The most important thing is for you to tell us what the hell is going on here,” Luke says.
“All in good time,” she says. “Navi has arranged some clothes for you. These will be your outfits for the duration of your stay here. Please take them and go back to your rooms to change. Once you have your clothes on, come back out here and we’ll tell you everything.”
“Why not just tell us now?”
“It’s important for you to be dressed in your outfits first.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Not everything has to make sense at first glance,” Navidad says. “A picture is worth two camels on a roundabout.”
Luke rolls his eyes.
“Now, please come and take your outfits from Navi. The sooner you do so, the sooner we can answer all your questions.”
Duck Lady goes up to take her outfit and the little boy follows.
I glance at Luke and he smiles at me. “It can’t be any worse than thermal long johns, right?”
We go and get our outfits too, and I go back to my room to change.
Luke was wrong, though. It can be worse than thermal long johns, and it is. Much worse.
They’ve given me an elf outfit.
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