No hint of the fiery roar was heard in the quiet night of the wharf on the sea. The tearful parents stared hard into the blackness willing each starry point of light to be the sled in the distance. The Chief of Police was calling out the time. The five hours Santa had in the best of conditions had come, and gone.
The Chief counted off the minutes past, then the seconds, out loud with tears in his eyes. His tired worried mind was wondering when he should stop, because when he stopped he knew he would have to face the horror of the loss of the children, and Santa, and the dwarves, and the reindeer, and yes his old crony Lenny. It would be a tragedy from which they would never recover. People’s heads were bowed, some had begun to cry. The Mayor sadly walked toward the front of the crowd to begin an address he did not want to give…
Suddenly a great cracking boom rang out. A hot concussion blast knocked all present to the ground and shattered windows along the waterfront. They looked up in shock as a pinpoint of light exploded into a fiery funnel that crashed outward then spiraled open with the sound of thunder rolling and lightning striking the sea, and suddenly it closed- but there there there- sailing in a crazed way through the moonlit sky, was the Sleigh!
It careened in the distance from side to side falling closer to them from the darkness and a shrill cheer went up as the fastest to recover jumped to their feet. They could make out Reindeer legs pumping furiously and Santa, or a man in black in Santa's place cracked a whip and a voice boomed and filled the darkness. It soon became clear it was a warning call - the sled was coming in fast- rocking back and forth in a crazed speeding flight and many people ran or jumped into the water to clear the way. The sleigh crash landed and slid and skidded in a mass of smoke and acrid burning scent. Sparks were flying, the wharf ignited in places and people rushed to put out the flames along blackened skid marks. The heat was intense the smoke was blinding but no one cared- they ran to the massive sled. It WAS Santa at the helm but he was almost unrecognizable- he was blackened and burnt- his clothing dark smoking rags, his beard singed almost all the way off, his skin gray and black, his hair almost burned to his scalp. The reindeer were no better off, stumbling and falling over. People were dousing them with cool water and covering them with blankets. There were cries of pain from all around as joyful parents and onlookers were climbing the sleigh and burning their hands rushing to carry out limp but moving bodies. Lenny was carried out still tightly clutching the tiny child he covered. They were gently laid on the wharf. When Lenny and the boy sputtered to life under a stream of water a cheer went up.
The children and dwarves were dirty and singed but alive alive alive! Best of all- they were ALL there. As every parent screamed a name out, shouts of joy soon followed.
Lenny took off his glasses and the skin around his eyes shone white against his smoky face and a small giggle went up in the recovering children, and then adults joined in, and there was a sudden rush of hysterical laughing relief.
All laughed, cried, hugged, and even as the reindeer were stumbling around trying to stand as people clung to them and cried and laughed petting and brushing them, the animal snorts sounded like chuckles. Even tough Ruedov was affectionately bumping noses and battle scarred antlers with his teammates.
Santa's voice suddenly rang out over everyone, the deep and almost frightening HOHOHO! silenced everyone, and all turned to look. The dwarves were helping carry two very frail very very old people out of the sleigh. Another followed that was a man of about 60 years old. The children whispered, the adults present stared. Santa pushed through the crowd.
"So this is why you didn't want to come with us."
They were Celeste and Oliver. The man of 60 was Bennett. These had been the three children on the strange pocket’s fake lawn. Bennett spoke for them.
"We knew what would happen. I was taken much later than these two, as you can tell, but now the years are catching up. They are about 150 years old."
The dwarves laid them gently down on blankets and coats. Celeste and Oliver were smiling. A Doctor came forward and checked them- he looked up and his face made it clear things were not good.
“They are fading fast.” He said quietly to Bennett and Santa, “ I don’t know how long they’ll have, they keep aging- there is nothing I can do.”
Bennett stroked their white hair and said, "I think its okay, it’s truly okay." “Take us home”
“Take us home”Celeste whispered. Bennett promised he would.
Oliver reached up to Bennett and whispered thank you. Lenny had heard these voices on the sled. They must have seen what was happening to their bodies. The voices he had heard were not sad though. How he heard those whispers he would never know.
"We are free." Oliver whispered.
Bennett explained to the Police and Santa, that in that strange pocket of time where time itself was altered, they used kidnapped children from all over, as fuel to keep that pocket alive. A child's essence and youth were drained from them to fuel the villains and their wretched eternal youth too. Huk thought the three of them were innocent and cheerful looking and they were forced to “play” endlessly under a spell on the fake lawn. This way any passing time traveler would think they were looking into a simple yard, a simple house, with children playing- and not be curious.
Lenny had seen the terrible place go up in smoke. He saw Huk burn in the fire. No one would ever know what was still there or how many children had been taken throughout time. At least it was over now.
The rescued children led them to a hidden room in the mansion, revealed now that any spells that were cast to hide things were now gone. The officers found the villains had a chest stored there. The children had been brought there before setting off from the wharf in the flying boat. They saw things being put into it. There the police found documents and other proof that the Boogey Man was disguising himself as the Sandman. He was eventually found in a dark closet and his arrest led to the exposing of other villains who kidnapped children under cover of fairytale disguise to sell to Huk. Losing much of the FGT was making it hard for these criminals to collect children like they had without suspicion. Being able to do things like sneak into homes at night gave them the perfect cover. It’s why Huk got the Piper to help him. The world was purged of many terrible folk because of this investigation.
People would hear later that Celeste and Oliver made it to their hometown and saw its tree covered hills for a full day before they quietly passed away. They were buried together in the town where they had been born over 150 years ago. Lenny wondered if in the world of good ghosts Lavender Mary would run into them, celebrating somewhere.
Most of the world missed the news blurb, but a certain town will never forget the day a man arrived and a wheelchair bound old woman suddenly jumped up and ran off her porch like a young girl and flung herself into his arms. Bennett was able to see his mother for one full week before she peacefully passed away. She died happy knowing he had finally come home safe.