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Mrs. Claus smiled, as she tied a blue sash on the dress of a life-size doll. “Rifkin! Mifkin!” she called.

Two elves came running.

“I’ve just finished this one,” Mrs. Claus told them. “Her name is Tia Lynn, a special order for a little girl in Kansas. Could you pack her up and take her to the sleigh? Careful now!”

The doll’s eyes closed when Rifkin placed her in a satin-lined box. He fitted the clear plastic lid, and Mifkin pasted a label on top: “For Payton.”

They carried Tia Lynn to the loading dock, where more elves were buckling reindeer harnesses, with much jingling and jangling of silver bells.

Rifkin and Mifkin eased the box into the last empty spot, right up front by the driver’s seat. Dancer and Prancer stamped their hooves, eager to start their flight around the world.

“Ho, ho, ho! Time to go!” Santa boomed.

He kissed Mrs. Claus goodbye. He tested the lamp on Rudolph’s nose. Then he swung his jolly, red-suited self into the sleigh, and with a flick of the reins the journey began.

Tia Lynn felt snug and safe in her corner next to Santa’s boot. But she couldn’t help wondering how long this ride might last. And who was this little girl called Payton, in Kansas? What was she like?

Turning south, away from the North Pole toward Greenland, the sleigh soared high in the night sky. Every time they came to a town, and found a house where one or more children lived, Santa commanded the reindeer to dip down, down, until they landed on the roof.

Tia Lynn could not tell what countries they visited. No one had taught her any languages yet, apart from Elfish. But at one rooftop, she heard children’s voices from a bedroom below. They spoke a kind of English, so Polly Ann guessed they were in Britain. Here the sun would rise six hours earlier than in the Central Zone of the United Sates, where Payton lived.

Santa checked his list once, twice. As he slid down the chimney with his sack, Tia Lynn hoped the kids would stop talking, and pretend to be asleep—or they might end up with coal instead of presents.

Up, up, and away! The silver bells jingled, as the sleigh streaked over the Atlantic Ocean. Tia Lynn’s eyes stayed shut throughout the trip—until a sudden jolt flipped her box upright, and they sprang open.

Through the clear plastic lid, she saw a full moon, and millions of stars. What a spectacular sight! What a magical night!

Santa Claus chuckled. “Ho, ho, ho! We just missed a meteor!”

He steered the reindeer on a steady course, until the Rocky Mountains loomed alarmingly close. The sleigh wobbled, making the doll fall on her back. Again, she could see nothing.

She must have dozed off, because the next thing Tia Lynn knew, Santa was whistling, “Home, home on the Range, where the deer and the antelope play.”

Kansas! Finally!

By now, the British kids would be opening their presents, but out here on the prairie it was only midnight.

Tia Lynn felt the sleigh plummet down to the roof of a two-story farmhouse. Santa checked his list once more and filled his sack with toys, setting her at the very top. He dropped into the wide, brick chimney.

Inside the house, he stood Tia Lynn under a sparkling Christmas tree. He gobbled up two cookies, slurped a glass of milk, pocketed a carrot for Rudolph, and disappeared into the night.

All Tia Lynn could do now was stand wide-eyed in her plastic box, and wait. And wait.
A rooster crowed. Sunlight spilled between the curtains. Feet pattered down the stairs. Then a girl with polka-dot pajamas and curly hair appeared in the doorway. Was this Payton?

The girl stared at the doll through the plastic lid. A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Oh, Tia Lynn,” she whispered. “You’re just what I asked for!” She went on talking, as she removed the lid and hugged the doll. “I didn’t know if Santa would find my house. Besides, I didn’t think I’d been good enough this year.”

Payton smoothed the blue dress. Then she tried out all the moving parts—arms, legs, neck, and eyes. Tia Lynn could walk, or she could sit, whatever Payton wanted her to do. They were going to have so much fun together.

Readers, the rest of the story is up you. What adventures can you imagine for Tia Lynn and Payton?

[This story placed 2nd in the Kansas Authors Club Region 3 writing contest 2017.] Read More 
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GREEN (Prairie Writers March Assignment)

I love you, green, in all your varied hues!
You are paint squeezed on an artist’s palette
from Hooker’s green to hunter green,
viridian to verdigris, aqua, teal, eau-de-Nil,
sea-green, sap green, bottle green, and Phthalo.
You shimmer in Monet’s lily pond reflections,
flash through Rousseau’s lush jungle,
glimmer in emeralds, glow in my cat’s opal eyes.

You smell of spearmint, cedar, limes, turnip greens.
You are cool as a cucumber, crunchy as coleslaw,
tastier than fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.
You are ripe avocados, open-smile pistachios,
Brussels sprouts and kiwi fruit, spinach for Popeye,
Bramley apples for Mother’s pies, green eggs and ham
for Sam-I-am, and lettuce that tempted Peter Rabbit.

You’re the theme of song and legend, Erin’s Isle,
a roaring pair of bagpipes made of the green willow.
Green Grow the Rushes-o! How Green Was My Valley!
You are the green hill far away outside a city wall
that we sang about at school and church each Easter.
You tickle children’s bare toes in summer meadows
and whisper through the fresh foliage of pin oaks.

You are greenery brought indoors to stave off winter,
O Tannenbaum, the spruce and fir of Christmas,
holly that stabs, ivy that clings to red brick walls,
yew trees planted in cemeteries for everlasting life.
You are Wimbledon’s courts, croquet lawns,
a golf course fairway, smooth felt on a snooker table.
You are England’s patchwork landscape and the woods
to Grandmother’s house. We leave home for greener
pastures, then yearn for the green, green grass of home.

It’s not easy being green. Kermit was right, for you
are mold on bread and cheese, moss and lichen on
forgotten tombstones. You are naïve, seasick, bilious,
green-about-the-gills nausea, snot, a snake in the grass
and the green-eyed monster, envy. You are the color
of money, but the love of it is the root of all evil.

You are the wool dress I wore as a fledgling teacher,
Black Watch tartan trousers I bought from a catalog,
Sleeves on a lady serenaded by Henry the Eighth.
You are the garb of Robin Hood and his merrie men,
leprechauns, fairy folk, and crazy Americans who
dye the Chicago river green, who decide they are Irish
at least for one day and don't wish to be pinched. Read More 
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