This Story is a Christmas Story for the holiday challenge going on

Santa Claus And His Elf!

By JeanneZ84

"Hey, McCormick, get a move on will ya! It's Christmas! We've gotta get to the U.C.L.A. Children's Hospital to play Santa for the kids. I can't be late!" Hardcastle's voice bellowed through the building.

"Yah, Judge! I'm coming!" Mark called out as he walked down the stairs from the gatehouse's loft. He was dressed in an Elf Suit that was green with just a touch of red through it. He wore a red bow tie and a green Elf hat sat rakishly on his curly hair.

"'Bout time, McCormick!" Hardcastle wore a Santa Claus suit with big shiny, black boots and carried a huge green sack full of toys and things for the kids to do while they were in the hospital. Practicing his "Ho, Ho, Ho's", he led the way out to the pick up truck, stopping to throw the sack into the back and tie it down securely so that it wouldn't slide around.

Meanwhile, Mark hopped in the driver's side of the truck, fastened his seat belt, and waited for the judge to climb in the passenger side.

It took a moment for the Judge to stretch the seat belt long enough to fit around the extra Santa padding and close the passenger door.

Mark grinned as he watched the Judge, then asked, "You all set, Mr. Santa?" He gave Santa's belly a pat, "Gotta watch those cookies, Santa!"

"Just get going, McCormick! And keep your mitts to yourself!"

Smiling, Mark put the key in the ignition and turned it on. Seconds later they were off to try and make the day brighter for all the kids who were stuck in the hospital for the holidays.

As Mark guided the truck down the Pacific Coast Highway, Milt said that he had asked Mattie, Frank and Claudia to gather up some friends to do some Christmas caroling for the kids. Songs always brightened up Christmas. These kids needed all the brightness they could get.

Mark glanced over at the judge in the passenger seat, "You know, Judge, it's a wonderful thing you're doing for these kids. I'm sure they will all love it."

The judge gave a sideways look at Mark, "I sure hope so. It's not much fun bein' in the hospital for the holidays."

Forty minutes later, they finally arrived at U.C.L.'s Hospital. Christmas traffic had slowed them down, but Mark had expertly avoided any major delays. Stretching, they both got out of the truck. Milt headed to the back of the truck to grab his green sack of toys and other goodies.

"Ok, McCormick, let's go on in. We'll start at the second floor, then make our way up."

"Okey dokey, Santa, I'm right behind you. I've got Rudolph and the team bedded down," Mark patted the truck.

The judge looked at Mark, rolled his eyes and continued inside without saying a word.

An elevator with the sign, Santa's Chimney, was waiting in the lobby. Stepping in, Mark held his finger over the number 2. "Aren't you going to 'lay your finger aside your nose', Santa? Or say 'up, up and away'?"

Hardcastle growled, "Knock it off, McCormick, or all you're getting in your stocking is a lump of coal."

Mark smiled at him, "Aw, Judge, you are so thoughtful. I always wanted one of those. Just think, in a million years or so, it'll be a diamond!"

Milt looked at him. "Elves should be seen, not heard. Tone down the wise-cracks for the kids, or I'll send you out to sit in the 'sleigh'.''

Mark smirked, but stayed quiet for the ride to the second floor.

The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened onto a hallway decorated with handmade paper chains and snowflakes. Crayoned drawings of Santa, reindeer, elves and Christmas trees were taped beside room doorways. The nurse at the desk waved as Santa Claus his helper Elf stepped out. She pointed at the waiting area to the left.

Milt and Mark turned to see Mattie Groves, smiling widely, as she walked towards them. "I like your hat, Mark."

"Hiya, Doll." Mark pulled her into a hug and dipped her to the floor.

Frank and Claudia Harper moved toward Milt. "Hey, Milt! Sorry, I mean, Santa. We brought Sarah and managed to talk Teddy Hollins into adding his voice to the group. We're all set to cheer up these kids."

Milt smiled and whispered, "Come on, then, let's head on down to the activity room. The kids are waitin'."

Mark held his hand up. "Hey, Judge, why not let them go in first and start their thing, then we can go in."

Shaking her head, Mattie said, "No, Mark, you and Milt need to go in first. You're the ones the kids are waiting for."

Mark bowed to her. "Yah. The Honorable Judge Mattie is right, as always. We'll go in first."

"Finally, you admit that Judges are always right," Hardcastle clapped his hands in victory.

"Nooo, Hardcase. I said that Mattie is always right, not judges in general." Mark winked at her.

Santa Claus and his helper, Elf Mark, moved toward the activity room, the big sack dragging slightly on the floor. As they entered, Santa Claus called out, "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!"

Calls of 'Santa, Santa' filled the room; the children were so excited to see Santa Claus.

Santa stopped to talk to each child as he handed him or her a present. Excited hands ripped open the wrappings to reveal coloring books and crayons or connect-the-dots and even color by numbers and paint by numbers books. A stuffed animal of some kind or other rounded out the present.

When each child had a present, they heard the sound of singing. Santa's Singers walked in singing Christmas carols. Santa Claus and his elf added their voices, and soon the kids joined in on the songs they knew. Smiles filled the room.

A short while later, Santa told the kids that he had more children to see. "Merry Christmas and be good!"

The kids all yelled, "Bye, Santa!"

Suddenly the Elf stopped and said, "Uh, Santa Claus, sorry but I forgot to do something here."

Santa Claus gave him a serious look, "What might that be? Did we forget to give someone a present?"

Mark said, "No, Santa Claus. It just came to me that I never took pictures with you and each of the kids."

In his very best Santa voice, Milt said, "We can't have that now, can we? The kids all look forward to it."

Mark reached into Santa's Sack for the Polaroid camera and began taking the pictures of each child and Santa together.

Waving good-bye, they left the room and headed for the elevator and the third floor. There they met another group of excited children.

They saw lots of burnt children on this floor and lots of other children with other problems as well.

The fourth floor was Orthopedics. The children here were not as mobile as the others, with many confined to their beds. Santa visited these children in their rooms.

The first room had a little girl who looked about 9 yrs old. She had blonde hair pulled back into a very long braid. She also had tears rolling down her face.

Santa Claus asked her in his most caring voice. "What's the matter, honey?"

She gazed up at him and finally smiled. "I thought I wouldn't get to see you, Santa Claus, and I wouldn't get anything for Christmas this year. I can't go home for a few more weeks."

The smile made Hardcastle catch his breath for a moment. She looked just like Nancy in her childhood pictures. Bright blue eyes, dimple on her chin, freckles across her nose.

"What is your name, honey?" Asked Santa.

"My name is Emily."

Santa Claus looked over at Mark, "Will you take some pictures of Emily and Santa?"

Mark smiled, and shook Emily's hand. "I'm Elf Mark, Santa Claus's helper. Nice to meet you Emily."

Emily smiled up at Mark. "Thank-you, you too."

The pictures were taken, a present given and Santa's Singers sang Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph for Emily.

Santa talked to her a while and then with a hug, he said "Merry Christmas, Emily. Be a good girl and I'll see you next year."

Santa decided that he wanted to find out about Emily's family. The little girl had managed to grab a hold of his heart.

The head nurse, Beth, considered her words before answering Hardcastle's request. "I know the family. I've known them for years. The Delaneys love Emily and the other three children. They have done everything they could to make her healthy." She paused, "Emily's father lost his job a few weeks ago. With the medical bills, they barely have enough left over to put food on the table let alone buy Christmas gifts for the kids. They are a proud family and very hesitant to ask for help. I've asked them to apply for help from the Children's Foundation, but they think it should be for people who truly have no other options. They don't want to deprive another family of help by asking for help for themselves."

The Judge stood there in silence a few minutes, thinking. "Sounds like Santa needs to make an anonymous donation to the Emily Delaney Fund. I can set it up so that the hospital bills are paid. The Delaney's wouldn't be able to refuse, because it would be a done deal before they even knew. Can't give money back when you don't know who to give it to."

The nurse smiled. Judge Hardcastle always had an answer, the harder the problem the more creative the answer.

Santa, his Elf and Santa's Singers spent the rest of the day visiting each child on each floor. The smiles, hugs and shouted Merry Christmas's brightened their hearts and etched wonderful images in their memories. Santa ho-ho-ho'ed even louder each time he thought of Emily.

They finished the day with an in-costume visit to Burger Man. Double cheeseburgers with the works, large order of French Fries and large cokes disappeared quickly; it took a lot of energy to be Santa and his merry helpers.

Late Christmas day, they settled down in the den to watch Big Jake and True Grit, only to fall asleep before True Grit was over. Santa Hardcastle had a smile on his face, one that matched the smile on a little girl named Emily, miles away at the Children's Hospital. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.