"Hurry and shut it before Penguin Pete gets out!" was a phrase often heard in our house, because even though Dad invented it, the rest of us used it too!
So imagine my surprise when a penguin really did come out of our freezer. I had been staring into the freezer, looking for something good to warm up for snack after school when a penguin popped out. He introduced himself as Pete. I almost fell over. First, a penguin popped out of my freezer. Second, he can talk and third, his name is actually Pete. This was too much to take in. I sat down, right there on the kitchen floor.
Pete kept talking to me but I was dazed. Finally, I shook myself and listened to what he was saying.
The first thing I heard Pete say was, "Santa needs you in the North Pole!"
I just about went back into my dazed state. I must be dreaming.
Pete flapped his wings in front of me. "Are you hearing anything I am saying to you?"
"I don't know. You'd better start again."
"Get a drink of milk first and a cookie because I think your blood sugar is low," said Pete and looked at me expectantly.
I don't know what a penguin knows about blood sugar but I needed a drink of something. My mouth was dry and my head was cloudy. I needed something. I knew where Mom kept her secret stash of Oreos so I went and got two (she wouldn't miss only two) and poured myself a glass of milk. I kept my eyes averted from Penguin Pete, hoping he might disappear once I had had something to drink and eat. I drank my milk, ate one cookie and looked intently at the other cookie. I didn't move and didn't hear anything. I thought I was in the clear until I heard a flapping of wings. When I looked up, Penguin Pete was still there.
"Do you feel better? At least you look better. We have to get down to business. Now, as I was saying, Santa Claus sent me to fetch you. He needs you in the North Pole. He actually wants your whole family to come, but you're the first one home so I'm here for you. I'll come get the rest later. Are you ready to go?"
"NO! I'm not going anywhere with a talking penguin. Even in Mary Poppins the penguins don't talk, they just dance. I'm confused," I said.
"Not one of my favorite movies, but we won't go there right now. I find it very interesting that the very reason I was sent to you is the reason you won't come with me. Santa thought since your family already believed in Penguin Pete and, quite frankly, you're one of the only ones who do, that you'd be more than willing to come with me. You are constantly talking about me. Santa thought you would jump at the chance to actually meet me. Would you have come if he'd sent Rudolph? That reindeer is just too darn cocky already what with that shiny nose and a beloved children's song about him," said Pete.
"Huh," I said, eloquent as always.
"You would have, wouldn't you? I'm never going to live this down. Well, you'll just have to come with the penguin because I'm not about to go back empty handed. Get your coat and let's go," said Pete.
"Get my coat? I'm not going anywhere," I replied.
"Yes you are, and it's much too cold to travel by freezer without a coat. Hop to it. Get a coat and let's get going. We need you back at headquarters," said Pete as he fluttered his wings at me.
"I'm very confused," I responded.
"I know but I don't have time to dilly dally. We have Christmas to save," said Pete. He waddled over to where I'd dropped my coat by the front door and retrieved it for me. He handed it to me but I just looked at it held up by a penguin fin. Pete continued, "You know all those fabulous moves the Penguins make in Madagascar, well I'm the one who taught them those moves so Get The Coat On."
I put my coat on. What else is a guy to do when you have a talking, ninja penguin in your house about to kidnap you? Pete held out his fin and I took hold of it. It wasn't slimy at all but firm like one big triangle hand. He opened the freezer door and jumped in dragging me behind him. My foot caught the door on the way in and closed it behind us. It was cold in here. There were swirling pieces of ice and I could see each breath I took. I was glad I had my coat. Penguin Pete was at least a considerate kidnapper.
It must have only taken a moment or two. I have no idea how I became small enough to fit in the freezer in the first place, but when the swirling pieces of ice stopped, I was standing in a big meat locker, the kind I had seen only in movies. I didn't have much time to look around because Pete was pulling me out of the locker, through a kitchen, and into Santa's workshop. It was full of elves working at machines, like a factory. The elves were taller than I expected, more in line with Lord of the Rings elves than traditional, midget elves.
Penguin Pete quickly dragged me past everything so I didn't have much time to look at what was around me but I saw machines, elves, workbenches, penguins, stacks of toys and tables full of cookies and milk. It looked like a kid's paradise. We exited that room and entered a hallway full of doors. Each of the doors we passed was another room full of elves, penguins, machines, and toys. This was a toy making factory run by Santa and his elves. There wasn't one workshop that Santa worked at every day. There were hundreds of workshops within this factory. There were also lots of penguins, lots and lots of penguins. Everything surprised me but the amount of penguins walking around the workshop surprised me the most. How come we didn't know about the penguins?
We came to the last door on the right. It had a homemade sign that said SANTA'S WORKSHOP. Penguin Pete knocked on the door and then pointed to the sign. "This sign was made for Santa 150 years ago by his sister Sandy. She's the reason you're here," said Pete before he turned the knob and entered. I followed. I wanted to meet Santa.
Santa turned around from his workbench. He looked just like you might expect but still different than any of the pictures I had seen of him. His beard seemed whiter and his clothes were a shade of red I'd never seen in my life. He wasn't wearing his big Christmas suit with the black buckle but something comfortable, almost like a track suit. He seemed more alive and more exciting than I'd ever imagined and there was something else to him. Something that made me believe in him. Something that made me want to help him and I decided right then and there that whatever he needed me to do, I would do it for him. I would help save Christmas!
"Ah, Ethan, just the person I needed to see," said Santa.
To be continued......tomorrow! Don't forget to come back for the next installment!