Cries of "It's Santa! " echoed in the chilly air as the red-hooded figure zipped across the snow-covered meadow. But Meghan, Nicole, Jack...

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Cries of “It’s Santa!” echoed in the chilly air as the red-hooded figure zipped across the snow-covered meadow. But Meghan, Nicole, Jack and Brian knew the truth. They had flushed out the mystery hacker.

“Come on!” Brian called. He and Meghan climbed onto a sleigh-cart. She held on tight as Brian raced at full speed. Jack and Nicole followed close behind. Counselors and campers on skis, snowboards and snowmobiles joined the chase, hoping to meet Santa.

In the sky, with no reindeer to guide them, sleighs crashed in mid-flight, falling in pieces to the snowy ground. Brian switched on the cart’s speaker: “Stay back!”

Campers panicked and split away to seek shelter in the trees. Skiers and snowboarders collided. A snowmobile tipped over, campers tumbled to the ground.

The red-hooded stranger sped even faster on a path aimed straight for the glass-fronted building where the RoboElves toiled around the clock. Brian slowed down. Jack made an end run to shut off any exit. The interloper stopped. Everything went quiet.

“We’ve got him now,” Brian said.

Just then the mysterious outsider revved the sleigh-cart and swung around Brian’s. Thinking the race was on again, Brian and Jack turned to follow. The intruder abruptly swerved left and, before Brian and Jack could recover, charged straight for a mound of recently cleared snow and hit it dead on. The sleigh-cart went airborne, crashing through the glass wall.

By the time the four teens made it into the assembly plant, the hooded figure had vanished. They separated, each walking down a different assembly line.

Meghan spotted the intruder lying dazed on the bicycle assembly line’s conveyor belt. A RoboElf’s arms stretched out over the still body. It held a seat, wrench, and nuts and bolts. Just as it lowered the seat, the trespasser rolled out of the way, caught sight of Meghan and took off.

“Over here,” Meghan yelled. The four kids gave chase, running down assembly lines, dodging RoboElves and the toys they were creating: Big Wheels, pogo sticks, and “Dance, Dance Revolution” floor pads.

The cloaked figure bee-lined for the catwalk and started climbing up the ladder. Jack was close behind and gaining as they reached the top rung. The interloper stopped and waited. When Jack reached the top, the intruder karate-kicked him off the steps. Jack grabbed a railing and held on, dangling 20 feet above ground.

The intruder’s hood slipped and Meghan glimpsed dirty blond hair. She hurried to where Jack clung to the railing.

“Don’t stop!” Jack yelled. Meghan hesitated.

“I’m OK,” Jack insisted. “Go!”

Brian called from below, “I’ll help Jack. Don’t let him get away!”

Meghan bolted after the intruder, and tackled the shrouded figure just before they reached the door at the end of the catwalk.

In the poor light Meghan could only see a dark shape, but she had recognized the hair color.

“Give it up, Courtney,” Meghan said, gasping for air.

Nicole, followed by Brian and Jack, loomed over them. The intruder sat up, turned around and brushed away a strand of long dirty blond hair.

“Dylan!” Meghan and Brian cried out simultaneously.

A crescent-shaped gash gave Dylan an extra eyebrow.

After his wound was cleaned and bandaged in the infirmary, Dylan was escorted to the administration building lobby. The group stood in front of the wall of stockings surrounded by gawking counselors and campers.

“Dylan, how could you do this to Elf Camp and to Christmas?” Brian demanded.

“Because I wanted to show you.”

“Show me what?”

“That I was as good,” said Dylan, “even better with computers than you, Courtney and Gary. You wouldn’t let me at school or when I was here. You kept telling me, ‘Get lost. Go hang out with the little kids.’ I programmed circles around you guys. But you stuck me in the dove aviary, watching over a bunch of stinking birds. So I started hacking into the network.”

“What about Gary and Courtney?” Brian asked.

“They were always trying to fix my messes. You caught them doing damage control, covering for me. You never figured it out because you didn’t think I could be that smart. So you blamed them and kicked them out. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t squeal. Nobody’s going to believe that Elf Camp exists.”

“We do,” a deep voice said.

Everyone turned. Jack’s father, Meghan’s mother and Nicole’s parents stood there clutching Christmas stockings with their names on them.

Saturday: A return invitation