The next morning, Snowmanster and Woody were able to talk in private for the first time while Wheeler went back to Cloudmont to check out a forest oddity I’ll get to in a minute.
Woody spoke frankly. “Why would you bring such a person to this sacred realm, Snowmanster? You must feel the (bad) vibrations surrounding her.”
“I do, I do,” admitted the white being. “She’s been dwelling in a nasty place. You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
“I’ve been to college, Snowmanster,” declared the toy avatar proudly, tenor voice piping up. “Second in my class.”
“Of *five.*” Snowmanster then backtracked on his putdown, feeling the hurt. “Yes, yes it *was* a great accomplishment, Woody. I’m proud of you.”
“And I have a key because of it. I never let it go, not in sleep, not in travel, not in any circumstance. I am the first toy avatar of my clan to earn one.” He clutched the gleaming gold object even harder.
“Very proud indeed,” Snowmanster reinforced. He looked down into the vast Purden woods, containing perhaps five times the amount of trees as the Rubi Forest. He spotted the appropriate, sticky-outy tree from his perch.
“I suppose we’ll have to visit Alena next.”
“Of course,” replied the wooden man, also looking down. “And Core.”
Woody Woodmanson didn’t learn a lot about the current situation from surprisingly tight lipped Snowmanster. He was disappointed. He and Snowy went back a long ways now, all the way to the North Pole when Woody was still a twinkle in Old Kringle’s ancient eye. The first sound he remembers was cowbell. Woody would be different — a living toy to aid the elves’ arduous task of preparing for Christmas 11 3/4 months out of the year. After the event was over they’d get a week’s break until New Years Day. That was it as far as vacation, sick days, anything. There was a dark side to Old Kringle indeed. If you became unable to accomplish your tasks for any significant time (minus during the aforementioned break) you were sent away and replaced by another. Like numerous others before and after, this would be the fate of Woody at the age of 8 when he contracted elm disease. Rudolph the Reindeer, shiny red nose dulled with age, led him to the borders of the North Pole to say goodbye. Newly hewed Woody2, as they originally dubbed him, was already at work soldering together toy parts in the work shed behind them.
Snowmanster awaited beyond the boundary. He helped take care of those cast aside — helped them heal up if needed and then channeled them into different lives, better lives in some instances. Woody was very lucky. Master Luke Purden’s elf servant at the castle, another North Pole refuge, had just been destroyed by a rouge Yeti. Snowmanster put in a good word. He was there watching from the woods the day Woody’s limbs were attached to his body and the magic powder of life borrowed from Mid Rhonda over in Meribel was sprinkled over him head to foot. It was the first time Old Kringle involved himself with the dark arts, but certainly not the last. Woody Woodmanson knew well the feeling of evil and dread.
So Purden Castle, perched between eastward green Purden and westward white Cloudmont, became his home. Luke Purden died on March 17, 1968, the exact day the trees began to die over in the Rubi Woods far to the north. Woody’s inheritance enabled him to attend Meribel College and receive a degree in psychics. There was some overlap in his studies with the tiny witch “college within a college”, a separate entity from Meribel but paradoxically joined with it at the same time. This was the same internal college that produced Mid Hazel in 1972, one of two graduates that year. Snowmanster didn’t yet know this fact. Wheeler had slaughtered Plain Wayne too soon to find out.
Woody’s key vibrated abberantly as Wheeler walked back into the castle ruins from the west. “Even Whiter Walt, pheh,” she said, plopping her Bowie body down on the stone block next to them. “How many woods *does* he inhabit?”
“A lot,” answers Snowmanster. “I would even dare to venture: every one of ’em.”
What she’d been studying.