Fantasy Fiction posted March 19, 2023

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The beginning...

Santa's Christmas Carol

by Terry Broxson

Snow begins to fall on a cold Christmas Eve in the year 1839, covering the city of Boston, Massachusetts. The shelves in the toy shop known as ST&N are most empty, signifying the end of another successful Christmas season.

 The popular toys made and sold at ST&N are well-known and highly regarded.

There are soldiers, cannons, dolls, horses, houses, boats, trains, carriages, ships, and even buildings that look like cities to entertain and cause wonderment for the life-like quality of the workmanship. Adults want these treasures for their children—and themselves.

A young boy proudly says to a mate, "This wagon is made in Boston at ST&N. That is why it works perfectly." 

A young girl marvels at the detail found in the doll house. She dreams: This is the home I want to live in when I marry. 


The toy shop began when Rudolph Stern left Vienna, Austria, in 1805 and relocated to Boston. Rudolph had a reputation as a highly trained toy maker like his father before him, as the last of his family. He saw no future as Europe had been left in turmoil from the Napoleonic wars.


The Hanover Home for Boys operated as an orphanage established and managed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.  Two boys, Benjamin Timmons and John Nicholas had arrived at the orphanage on the same day when they were six years old. Adoptions during this time were mostly for people who wanted older kids who could be put to work. No one wanted six-year-olds.   

Benjamin and John were precocious chaps with a talent for making things with their hands. On a lark, Headmaster Father Sullivan gave each boy a pocketknife and suggested they could carve something using the timber in the wood pile used to keep the orphanage warm.

It turned out they could carve figures from any piece of wood. The boys competed with each other to see who made the best figurine. The competition always ended in a draw. 

These carvings were given to the other boys, who were delighted by the resemblance to teachers at the orphanage. The figures were often the only possessions a boy had if adopted or left the home because he aged out at sixteen and had to leave. A few of the figurines made their way to others outside of the orphanage.


One day in 1820, when the boys were twelve, an old man, Rudolph Stern, came to the Hanover Home for Boys. He inquires about adopting both Ben and John. 

Father Sullivan asks Mr. Stern, "What are your intentions for these lads?" 

"Sir, I plan to teach them a trade. I am a toy maker. I have seen some of the carvings these young men have made. I think they have some ability. They need to be educated, and their skill needs to be developed. I think I can teach them how to be valued craftsmen." 

"Mr. Stern, this is exactly the type of environment we want for our boys. I will arrange the paperwork and approve the adoption forthwith."


Rudolph Stern introduced Benjamin Timmons and John Nickolas to the world of toy making.  They would become toymakers extraordinaire.   


Rudolph made the boys his apprentices, a role they served for seven years. During that time, he taught them all he knew about toy making. The boys soaked up every word of his extensive knowledge.

Ben and John found their accommodations to be much different than the orphanage. Rudolph's living quarters were divided into a sitting area with a fireplace, kitchen, dining table, and two bedrooms. The workshop had a glow about it with well-worn and cared-for tools along with long workbenches. The front of the shop served as a store for customers.

Life at the toy shop centered on work during the day and studying for the boys at night. Mr. Stern made sure the boys learned math, reading, and especially geography. Mr. Stern wanted his apprentices to be knowledgeable of the world. 

One thing that puzzled young Ben and John concerned how Mr. Stern priced his toys.

“Mr. Stern, I don’t understand why you sold the same wagon for different prices. That's confusing.”  Ben inquired. 

John added, “Yes, and those ships we made for the last two weeks were exactly the same, except for the color, and yet you charged one man twice what you charged a woman today.”

Mr. Stern laughed and replied, “It's pretty simple. I look at my customers and charge what I think they can pay. You see, I want our toys to go to homes where they will be cherished. Rich or poor, I don’t let money stand in the way.”

Christmas always signaled the end of another year of hard work making and selling toys.

The old man and the boys celebrated Christmas with a fabulous dinner of turkey, dressing, baked beans, sweet potatoes, and apple cobbler.  

At Christmas, Rudolph gave the boys a small cash bonus for themselves. But he told them, "I am also awarding each of you a larger savings account at the Bank of Boston. Someday, I will not be around, and that money will be for you to carry on the business."


After seven years of apprenticeship, the boys became journeymen. Ben and John were now considered skilled laborers. A journeyman could expect to work for ten more years at his craft and hopefully become a Master Craftsman. 

However, it did not take Ben and John ten years.

January 1 had been designated as Ben and John’s birthday as it coincided with their arrival at the Hanover Home for Boys.  On that day in 1831,  Rudolph held a dinner to honor his two proteges. His guests included his banker, lawyer, accountant, and Father Sullivan from the orphanage.

“Gentlemen, I’m pleased you are all here for a special announcement. Tonight it is my honor to recognize Benjamin Timmons and John Nicholas. As you all know, I adopted them eleven years ago. I watched with awe as they turned into amazing young men. Tonight, it is my pleasure to bestow the new title of Master Craftsman upon them.

“This is a time-honored tradition that I received from my father many years ago. Ben and John are true artists in the craft of toy making.  I also want to announce that I’m making both of them my new partners in the toy shop.

“From this day forward, the business will be Stern, Timmons, and Nicholas. But I do think that’s too many names for a toy shop. So, we will simply call it ST&N Toys.”

Everyone in attendance applauded and slapped Ben and John on the back, congratulating them. For their part, the newly crowned Master Craftsmen and business owners were speechless.  


In the spring of 1835, while working on a fire wagon, Rudolph Stern slumped over his workbench and closed his eyes for the last time. While uncertain of his exact age, the boys believed he might have been sixty-five; they knew he had been a toy maker for over fifty years.

At Rudolph's memorial service, Ben turned to John and said, “Did we tell him how much we owed him for his kindness.”

“Ben, we did; he knew we loved him. Everything we have, we learned from him.”

“We need to keep this shop going. His life’s blood is now ours.“

“We will have to work harder to cover the void he leaves. There is no one who could fill his place.”

“You are right. We may need to think about taking on an apprentice ourselves.”    

“Do you think we could find someone at the orphanage?”

“It’s worth checking.”


The next four years passed by quickly as time did not exist to build all the toys the toymakers wanted. No one inquired about an apprentice.

In the spring of 1839, a cholera epidemic spread across the city of Boston. Over a thousand people died. No one knew for sure where it came from or why some perished and others were spared.

Cholera had a devastating impact on the toy shop. Benjamin died, and somehow, John did not.

John felt as sad as anyone has ever been sad. When he closed the shop on that snowy Christmas Eve, the loneliness of quiet surrounded him as he ate dinner.

John thought about his life without his mentor and his best friend. He had no one else close to him in his life. He talked to young ladies at various times. He had even taken a few out to dinner and a concert. But work always got in the way.

Christmas Eve night, John settled in front of his warm fire and drank freely from a bottle of brandy, which Ben had given him the year before. Before long, he fell asleep in his chair.


“John, wake up, John. We need to talk.”

Startled by the voice and a bit groggy from the brandy, John slowly opened his eyes. Sitting in the chair across from him is Benjamin Timmons.

“Ben, is that you? I don’t understand. Is it really you?”

“Yes, John, it is me.”

“But you died eight months ago!”

“Yes, but tonight think of me as an angel who comes to discuss some matters of real importance.”

“Ben, you are an angel?”

“Well, I do like angel better than a ghost, spirit, apparition, or some other term people like to use. So, yes, I'm an angel.”

“Wow, this is amazing!”

“John, you have not seen anything yet. Wait until you hear why I'm here.”

“Okay, why are you here?”

“I'm here tonight to show you Christmas in the future and the wonder it will bring for all children. John, you have been chosen to carry out a very special mission.”

“Wait a minute Ben, what kind of mission? The toy shop does fine. I do need a couple of apprentices I can instruct in ways to help me. I don’t have any time for a new mission.”

“John, we want you to run the biggest toy shop the world could possibly conceive. As for apprentices, you will have hundreds to teach and supervise. The toys you and your crew build will bring joy to the whole world, not just Boston.”

“I must have drunk too much brandy. This makes no sense.”

“Yes, you did drink too much brandy, but we will overlook it this time.”

“Who is this we you’re talking about? And what’s this mission?”

“John, I will introduce you to my boss. He will tell you all about the new adventure. But first, I'm going to take you to a special place.”


“The North Pole.”


“Ben, that looks like a castle. And how are we able to float in the air?”

Ben and John are hovering a couple of hundred yards above a rather imposing but beautiful structure in a small valley between snow-covered mountains.

“It's a castle, alright. It will be your castle. But hold the questions; here comes my boss; he will explain more.”

A bright light from above illuminates a figure slowly descending toward Ben and John.

John exclaims, “That looks like Rudolph Stern. Is he the boss?”

With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, Ben says, “Let’s just say he's my boss.”

“Hello, John, it's so good to see you, and I'm delighted you are here to learn of the plan Ben and I developed.”

“Mr. Stern, this seems so unreal, but a great dream nonetheless just to see you and Ben.”

“John, it's not a dream. It’s real.” 

Suddenly all three men find themselves in a large room. They are sitting in three leather chairs in front of a roaring fire facing each other.

Mr. Stern explains, “I thought we would be more comfortable in the castle.”

John asks, “How did you do that?”

Mr. Stern laughs and replies, “Just hold your reindeer.”

“My what?”

“Sorry, a little inside joke. Let me say that travel time, distance, and speed are going to be different from anything you have known before.”

John gazes at Ben and says, “I guess that explains how we got from Boston to the North Pole in a blink of an eye.”

“Yes, it does.”

John looks at Mr. Stern and asks, “I suppose you are an angel too?”

“Yes, I'm an angel. I'm part of a large team of angels who are responsible for children.  Ben is on the team and helps oversee the construction of this castle which also houses a large—very large toy shop. We want you on that team as well.”

John sits in silence for a moment and says, “So, you want me to become an angel too?”

Mr. Stern laughs, “Not exactly. We have a different title and job description for you.”

“Umm, what exactly is it?”

“In a nutshell, we want you to build enough toys for every child in the world and deliver the toys to their homes all on Christmas Eve.”

John sighs, “I should never have drunk the brandy. I hope my head doesn’t hurt too much when I wake up.”


John finds himself looking over a very large workshop. There are tools, tables, stools, and several types of workbenches. It is a toy maker’s dream room. But he notices the furniture is shorter than any other workspace he has seen.

Mr. Stern spreads his arms out and says, “Behold the toy shop for the world’s children. John, you are not dreaming, but your head still might hurt with all you have to do.”

“This is an amazing workshop, but it is so big, it will take a lot of master craftsmen to work here. Where will we find so many, and aren’t those workstations a little short?”

 Ben offers, “The answers to your questions are yes. It will take a lot of workers. A community of workers, in fact. The workstations are shorter than you are used to using, so we can accommodate a community of toy makers, both men and women.” 

“So, you have a community of toy makers, and they are short?”

Mr. Stern replies, “Indeed we do, my boy, and they are a wonder to behold. The world has never encountered them before, but they are assigned the job of helping you with the mission. They are known as elves. I will introduce you in a few minutes.”

“Umm, elves?”


John found himself floating in the air again, but this time it is above a large kitchen. A lovely young woman is diligently attending to several cooking pots.

“Such a beautiful lady; who is she?”

Mr. Stern explains, “Her name is Jessica. She manages the castle.”

Ben adds, “John, you will find her kind and extremely smart. Jessica grew up in a castle in England under the care of an aunt of Queen Victoria’s.”

“So, she lives here?”

“Yes, she will play an important part in your mission. Mr. Stern, can I tell him?”

“I don’t see why not. He won’t remember it.”

“John, in the future, Jessica will become Mrs. Claus.”

“Really? Well, who is Mr. Claus?”

Ben says, “That would be you. What do you think of that?”

“Think of what?”

Mr. Stern winks at Ben, “Told you he wouldn’t remember.”

John has a funny look, “Remember what?”

Mr. Stern waves his hand, and the group is suddenly in a study sitting in chairs around a table desk. “You see, John, there is going to be a lot to do. We know you will need some help, and we will see that you get it.”

“Let me get this straight; I will live in this castle at the North Pole.”

Ben interjects, “Technically, it's in a valley at the North Pole. That's a big plus.”

“Okay, but still the North Pole. I live in a castle. You want me to manage a toy workshop which is staffed by short people called elves. Make enough toys for all the kids in the world and deliver them all on the night of Christmas Eve?” 

“By Jove, Ben, I think he’s got it.”

“This is impossible.”

Mr. Stern looks at John like he is still his apprentice so many years ago. “No, John, it’s not. You're going to get a lot of help and some very special abilities.”

“What kind of abilities?”

“For one thing, you will not age like normal people. You and your workshop full of elves will be around for a long time. You will also have something you will later refer to as Santa’s magic.

“This magic will allow you to move at speeds unknown to man. It will allow you the ability to be in more than one place at a time. It will allow you to talk to animals; and for them to talk to you.”

“Talk with animals?”

“Yes, John, your method of choice to deliver the toys around the world is in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. I know what you are thinking, but have you ever known me to tell you a lie?”

“No, Mr. Stern, but this is a lot to take in.”

“Of course, it is. But that is the reason we brought you here tonight. There is a lot to do and only a few days short of a year to do it.”

“You mentioned something called Santa’s magic. What is Santa?”

Mr. Stern laughs, “Sorry about that. I am getting a little bit ahead of myself. Santa is not a what. Santa is a who, and Santa is you. You will no longer be referred to as John Nicholas.”

Ben interrupts and says, “Rudolph and I thought you need some sort of regal name. So, we thought ST. Nicholas would be a good moniker. S for Stern and T for Timmons and Nicholas; it reunites the three of us making toys.”

Mr. Stern advises, “Over time, you will be called several names in different parts of the world: Father Christmas, Santa Claus, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Papa Noel, Sinterklaas, Babbo Natale, among others. Santa’s magic is your magic.”

“I suppose you think there are enough elves to make all the toys, and they are good enough craft makers to do it right.”

“Yes, but you will still have to guide them and do most of the design work.”

Ben says, “Let’s go meet a couple of elves.”


Rudolph, Ben, and John are now sitting in a different part of the castle. It is a large drawing room with small couches and chairs. Fortunately, the three men have larger chairs.

The door opens, and a small man and an enchanting-looking woman, both about three feet tall with irregularly shaped pointed ears, join the group.

Mr. Stern stands and says, “Welcome, Regina and Pinnacle; it is so good to see you again. I would like for you to meet St. Nicholas. John, this is Pinnacle Niche and Regina Gayla. Regina is the Director General of the women elves. Pinnacle is the Director General of men.”

Pinnacle asks, “This fellow will be the head toy maker?”

Mr. Stern replies, “Yes, but he will be known as St. Nicholas.”

John extends his hand to Pinnacle and Regina as he says, “It is a pleasure to meet you. Do you live in the castle?”

Pinnacle answers, “Oh no, we live in the village behind the castle. But we use the castle for meetings, parties, and special gatherings like weddings. There are a little over three hundred families in our village. We are all toy makers.”

Regina gives John the once over, and glances at Pinnacle, saying, “Well, he is cute.”

Pinnacle turns red and exclaims, “Regina, he is not an elf!”

“Settle down; all I am saying is, my ladies, will like him.”

“He is pretty tall, but can he make toys?”

Mr. Stern smiles and says, “My dear friends, he is a remarkable toy maker, designer, and human being. He would not be here if that were not true.”

Pinnacle replies, “Well, in that case, when do we start?”

Everyone looks at John. “I must move all my things from Boston and close my shop. I don’t know how long that will take.”

“St. Nicholas,” Mr. Stern says, "Your tools are already in your office. Your old shop and its bank account are now owned by the Hanover Home for Boys. Your belongings are in your living quarters in the castle. Let’s go meet Jessica. She will show you around."


 “Jessica, I would like to meet St. Nicholas. The man I have mentioned to you in our previous discussions.” Mr. Stern feels like a conductor as he steps aside, and St. Nicholas steps forward to shake hands with Jessica.

“It is my pleasure to meet you.” John wonders if he sounds as nervous as he feels.

Jessica replies, “I have heard a great deal about you from your friend Ben. He said you all met as young boys in an orphanage.”

“Yes, we did. We were thicker than brothers. I understand you grew up in a castle."

“Yes, my mother died giving me birth. My father was the stable manager for Princess Augusta of the Royal family in England. Unfortunately, he died in an accident when I was nine. I became a ward of Princess Augusta. Her niece, Victoria, became Queen of England in 1837. I worked for the Master of the Household at Buckingham Palace.”

John grins and observes, “And now look at us orphans in a grand castle at the North Pole! Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen these events.”

Jessica agrees, “Nor did I.”

Mr. Stern interrupts, “I’m sorry to say Ben and I have someplace we need to be.”

“We do.”

“Yes, Ben, we do. Jessica, please show St. Nicholas the ins and outs of the castle. Ben and I will see you all tomorrow.”

Jessica answers, “It will be happy to show St. Nicholas the castle.”

 “I think you should call me John.”

“And you should call me Jessi. Would you like some hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies?”

“Would I ever. I haven’t eaten since—I don’t know when.”

“Let’s go to the kitchen. I can’t have the Lord of the Manor hungry.”

“I’m not a Lord.”

“Sorry, old habit, I need to change that.”

“Jessie, let me ask you. What do you think about all of this? Elves, flying reindeer, toys for all the kids in the world on one night—Christmas Eve.”

“John, the elves are wonderful. Regina has become my best friend. The reindeer are magical. You will love them. And delivering toys to the children of the world in one night will bring great joy everywhere. What an adventure, and to think we are a part of it.”


And so, it began.



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