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ALL ABOARD FOR AN EX­HIL­A­RAT­ING RIDE TO THE NORTH POLE!

- BY CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG Good News · Tom Hanks · North Pole, AK · Chris Van Allsburg

THE PO­LAR EX­PRESS, writ­ten and il­lus­trated by Chris Van Allsburg, first pub­lished in 1985, soon es­tab­lished it­self as a Christ­mas clas­sic about the power of be­lief in Fa­ther Christ­mas. It was made into a 2004 film star­ring Tom Hanks, who played six parts us­ing live-ac­tion mo­tion cap­ture an­i­ma­tion.

On Christ­mas Eve, many years ago, i lay qui­etly in my bed. i did not rus­tle the sheets. i breathed slowly and silently. i was lis­ten­ing for a sound — a sound a friend had told me i’d never hear — the ring­ing bells of santa’s sleigh.

‘there is no santa,’ my friend in­sisted, but i knew he was wrong. Late that night i did hear sounds, though not of ring­ing bells.

From out­side came the sounds of hiss­ing steam and squeak­ing metal. i looked through my win­dow and saw a train stand per­fectly still in front of my house.

it was wrapped in an apron of steam. snowflakes fell lightly around it. a con­duc­tor stood at the open door of one of the cars. he took a large pocket watch from his vest, then looked up at my win­dow. i put on my slippers and robe. i tip­toed down­stairs and out the door.

‘all aboard,’ the con­duc­tor cried out. i ran up to him. ‘Well, he said, ‘are you com­ing?’ ‘Where?’ i asked. ‘Why, to the north Pole of course,’ was his an­swer. ‘this is a Po­lar Ex­press.’

i took his out­stretched hand and he pulled me aboard.

the train was filled with other chil­dren, all in their py­ja­mas and night­gowns. We sang Christ­mas car­ols and ate candies with nougat cen­tres as white as snow. We drank hot co­coa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.

Out­side, the lights of the towns and vil­lages flick­ered in the dis­tance as the Po­lar Ex­press raced north­ward.

soon there were no more lights to be seen. We trav­elled through cold, dark forests, where lean wolves roamed and white- tailed rab­bits hid from our train as it thun­dered through the quiet wilder­ness.

WE CLimbEd moun­tains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon. but the Po­lar Ex­press never slowed down. Faster and faster we ran along, rolling over peaks and through val­leys like a car on a roller coaster.

the moun­tains turned into hills, the hills to snow-cov­ered plains. We crossed a bar­ren desert of ice — the Great Po­lar ice Cap. Lights ap­peared in the dis­tance. they looked like the light of a strange ocean liner sail­ing on a frozen sea.

‘there,’ said the con­duc­tor, ‘ is the north Pole.’

the north Pole. it was a huge city stand­ing alone at the top of the world, filled with fac­to­ries where ev­ery Christ­mas toy was made. at first we saw no elves.

‘they are gath­er­ing at the cen­tre of the city,’ the con­duc­tor told us. ‘that is where santa will give the first gift of Christ­mas.’

‘ Who re­ceives the first gift?’ we all asked. the con­duc­tor an­swered, ‘He will choose one of you.’

‘Look,’ shouted one of the chil­dren, ‘the elves.’

Out­side we saw hun­dreds of elves. As our train drew closer to the cen­tre of the north Pole we slowed to a crawl, so crowded were the streets with Santa’s helpers. When the Po­lar Ex­press could go no far­ther, we stopped and the con­duc­tor led us out­side.

We pressed through the crowd to the edge of a large, open cir­cle. in front of us stood santa’s sleigh. the rein­deer were ex­cited. they pranced and paced ring­ing the sil­ver sleigh bells that hung from their har­nesses. it was a mag­i­cal sound, like noth­ing i’d ever heard.

across the cir­cle, the elves moved apart and santa Claus ap­peared. The elves cheered wildly. he marched over to us

and, point­ing to me, said, ‘Let’s have this fel­low here.’

He jumped up into his sleigh. The con­duc­tor handed me up. I sat on Santa’s knee and he asked, ‘Now what would you like for Christ­mas?’

I knew that I could have any gift I could imag­ine. But the thing I wanted most for Christ­mas was not in­side Santa’s giant bag. What I wanted more than any­thing was one sil­ver bell from Santa’s sleigh.

When I asked, Santa smiled. Then he gave me a hug and told an elf to cut a bell from a rein­deer’s har­ness. The elf tossed it up to Santa. He stood, hold­ing the bell high above him, and called out, ‘The first gift of Christ­mas!’ A clock struck mid­night as the elves roared their ap­proval. Santa handed the bell to me, and I put it in my pocket. The con­duc­tor helped me down from the sleigh. Santa shouted out the rein­deer’s names and cracked his whip. His team charged for­ward and climbed into the air. Santa cir­cled once above us, then dis­ap­peared into the cold, dark, po­lar sky. As soon as we were back in­side the Po­lar Ex­press, the other chil­dren asked to see the bell. I reached into my pocket, but the only thing I felt was a hole. I had lost the sil­ver bell from Santa Claus’s sleigh. ‘Let’s hurry out­side and look for it,’ one of the chil­dren said. But the train gave a sud­den lurch and started mov­ing. We were on our way home.

It broke my heart to lose the bell. When the train reached my house, I sadly left the other chil­dren. I stood at my door­way and waved good­bye. The con­duc­tor said some­thing from the mov­ing train, but I couldn’t hear him. ‘What?’ I yelled out. He cupped his hands around his mouth.

‘MERRY CHRIST­MAS,’ he shouted. The Po­lar Ex­press let out a loud blast from its whis­tle and sped away.

On Christ­mas morn­ing my lit­tle sis­ter Sarah and I opened our presents. When it looked as if ev­ery­thing had been un­wrapped, Sarah found one last small box be­hind the tree. It had my name on it. In­side was the sil­ver bell!

There was a note: ‘Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket.’ Signed ‘Mr C’.

I shook the bell. It made the most beau­ti­ful sound my sis­ter and I had ever heard. But my mother said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’ ‘Yes,’ said my fa­ther, ‘it’s bro­ken,’ When I’d shaken the bell my par­ents had not heard a sound.

At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell si­lent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christ­mas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly be­lieve.

The Po­lar ex­press by Chris Van Allsburg is pub­lished by Andersen Press at £6.99. Text and il­lus­tra­tions © Chris Van Alls­busrg 1985. To or­der a copy for £5.59 (20 per cent dis­count) visit www.mail­shop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on or­ders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FRee pre­mium de­liv­ery. Of­fer valid un­til De­cem­ber 17, 2018.

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