© 2015-2019 by Robert M. Brantner

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From

Claus:

 The Untold Story of Kris Kringle

Kris left late the next day after a hearty breakfast and a warm sendoff.  It was three days before he reached the next major town.  He expected his arrival to be much like the previous year: quiet and anonymous.  To his great surprise, he seemed to be expected. He was enveloped at once by a rush of people hungry to buy Kringle toys.

      Two days later, he arrived at the next town to find more of the same. When he set out for the third stop on his route, his sleigh was quite a bit lighter than he’d expected.  He was growing concerned, since he’d started off with far fewer toys than he had the previous year.  Before, he’d had years of stockpiled Kringle toys.  Though the Kringles had been steadily building toys all year, there wasn’t any urgency in their approach.  With so many toys on the market from his last trip, the family was sure that this year would yield less of a demand.  But as Kris made his way through the towns, he found the opposite to be true.  The demand was greater than ever before.

      By the time Kris left the sixth town on his route, his supply was depleted save for the single bag he had set aside for Düsterstadt.  As he looked at the bag, he was tempted to dip into it and stretch his profits. But when he thought of the children in Düsterstadt—the complete absence of toys—he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

      Kris’s first impulse was to head straight back Klein, via Düsterstadt. He reconsidered, thinking of last year’s promises to return to the remaining towns with more toys.  As much as it pained him, he continued on his original route to explain why he was returning empty-handed.

       To Kris’s surprise, the townsfolk seemed to be quite understanding … if a little disappointed.

       “My family and I had no idea how popular our toys are.  But please have patience with us.  Next year we’ll redouble our efforts.  And to ensure you get your toys next year, I’ll reverse my route. Your town will be my first stop.”

      Kris took his time going from town to town, explaining the situation. When he finally arrived back in Düsterstadt, it was December 24th.

      “Kris!” Hannes greeted him with a big hug.  “How was your trip?”

      “Heartbreaking.”

      “Really?”

      “I ran out of toys half way through.  The people were kind and understanding, but you could see the disappointment in their eyes.  And the look on the children’s faces!  Heartbreaking.”

Hannes shook his head.  “Well, I understand.  But I’d be lying if I said the kids here aren’t going to be disappointed as well.”

      “Why’s that?”

      Hanns studied Kris. “Because they were looking forward to a bag full of Kringle toys.”

Kris said plainly, “I have toys for them.”

      “You do?”

      “Of course.”

      “But you said that you ran out.  How is it you have leftovers?”

      Kris leveled a serious look at his friend. “Hannes, you, and every citizen of Düsterstadt should know, you are never leftovers.  In fact, you and your fellow citizens are my first priority.”

      “But what about all of the money you’re losing to bring us toys? You can’t sell them here.  Not with the Burgermeister’s law.  They would’ve fetched a great price in one of the other towns.”

      Kris finally verbalized what he’d slowly come to realize over the past year. “Hannes, selling toys in the other towns is just a way to finance my trip to Düsterstadt each year.  All my life, nothing has brought me the joy that I felt last year distributing that bag of toys.”

      Hannes smiled.  “You up for a little more joy?”

      Kris returned the expression.  “You have no idea.”

 

†          †          †

 

They arrived in the same alley as the previous year, bag slung over Kris’s shoulder.  Already there was a crush of kids.  Kris and Hannes looked at each other with wide grins as Kris readjusted the heavy load.  They moved into the mass of children, who parted to allow the two boys to weave to the center of the crowd.

      Kris dug into his bag and removed the first toy.  It was a small, wooden soldier riding on a horse.  He looked into the crowd and saw a little boy. Instinctively, he knew this was where the toy belonged.  He pointed at the lad who stepped forward to accept the gift, a look of wonder on his face.

      The next toy was a small dollhouse.  Again, looking into the crowd, there was no doubt in his mind to whom the toy belonged: a little girl with long golden curls.  When Kris pointed to her, she rushed forward and accepted the gift with delight.  She started to walk away, but turned suddenly to give Kris a quick peck on the cheek. Kris turned red as he dug into the bag and produced the next toy.

 

†          †          †

 

“How do you decide who gets what toy?” Hannes asked.

The boys were leaving the alley with a depleted bag now slung over Kris’ shoulder.  The gathering of children had long since dispersed, only a mass of half eaten food and footprints betraying the fact that anyone had been there at all.

      “What do you mean?  I just hand them out to the kids around me.”

      Hannes shook his head.  “Don’t give me that.  I was watching you, and all of the kids around you.  You may have been pulling the toys out at random, but once you had the toy, you looked out to the crowd and chose a specific kid to give it to.”

      “Well, what would you have me do?”

      “Nothing.  Well, nothing different than what you did.  It’s just … there’s such precision in the way you find the kids.  Somehow you seem to find the perfect toy for each child.”

      “No, I don’t,” Kris protested.

      “I was watching.”

      “But you weren’t observing.  I didn’t find the perfect toy for the kid.  I found the perfect kid for the toy.”

      Hannes snorted.  “What’s the difference?”

      “There’s a big difference.  I don’t know the children of Düsterstadt.  I don’t live here.  But I know each toy.  The little sled that went to the redheaded boy, my uncle Emmerich made it.  I know Emmerich’s toys better than any of the others. He was my master when I started working in the family shop.  I know the thought and love that went into the crafting of that toy.  And when I saw that little boy, I saw the toy reflected in his face.  I don’t know why, but once I’m holding a toy in my hands, I know where it belongs.”

      “Kris, you’re one weird kid.”

      Kris laughed.  “I know. I hang out with you.”

      Hannes playfully shoved Kris, then took off running down the street. Kris dropped the empty bag and took off after him.  Just as Kris was about to catch his friend, Hannes turned the corner abruptly and disappeared.  Kris followed and dramatically switched course, turning the corner as well.  He expected to put on a burst of speed and catch his friend, but instead he smacked hard into a soldier, knocking him down. He stopped to help the man up, apologizing for hitting him.  He quickly realized the soldier was not alone.  Before he could move, two other soldiers grabbed him.  Looking around, he saw that Hannes was also being restrained by the soldiers.

      The man on the ground slowly pulled himself to his feet. “We were sent in the name of the Burgermeister,” he said.  “You’re under arrest for distributing illegal contraband to the children of Düsterstadt.”