Until now I have never done a Christmas story. I haven’t really had a decent idea. I’m not really sure this classifies. This is my version of a Voyage Christmas tale. It’s a little different than my usual work. One of these days I’ll figure out where these random acts of fiction spring. Although I think Diane might be to blame, at least partially.
Asking for Directions
“No, we’re not.”
A sigh sounded loudly before the next sentence followed. “If we’re not lost, then where are we?”
An equally frustrated sigh followed the question. “In the woods.”
“Oh, geez, that’s brilliant. You know, this is exactly why you never lead the team.”
The first speaker stomped at the ground with a cloven hoof and snorted, steam exploding from his wide fur-covered nose. “I’m the muscle of the group.”
“Muscle-bound maybe,” the second creature declared. “Damn it, Dasher, every time I get roped into one of your schemes, we end up in trouble.”
“If you’re so smart, Donner, then let’s see you get us out of here,”
“Oh no. This was your idea, remember? You wanted to the ride the jet stream as it dipped into Florida. I told you it was a bad idea but you never listen to me!”
Dasher, a magnificent twelve-point reindeer buck continued to paw at the snow-covered ground, impatience in every movement. This was the last time he let Blitzen talk him into anything. Ride the jet stream, dude, it’s like totally awesome. It’s the negative oscillation of the Arctic Jet Stream, there’s nothing like it, the daredevil of the team bragged. Now they were lost and he had no idea where to get directions. If this got back, the rest of the team would laugh till Christmas. Dasher, lead reindeer of the Sleigh team, lost in the woods…they’d been fine until they hit that fog bank. Dasher had completely lost all sense of direction and in his confusion the two had nearly been hit by passing jet. Their only hope had been to land and pray they could sort out their location on the ground.
“Well?” Donner urged. He was a smaller buck than his friend Dasher but he was still an impressive animal with a ten-point rack and enough muscle to give any creature in the forest a run for their money. As if any animal would dare attack a member of the Sleigh team.
“Maybe if we take off, we can get enough altitude to get a better view of where we are,” Dasher suggested.
“Not a good idea. I’m pretty sure that was an F-16 that nearly cooked our tails.”
Dasher jerked his head up, brown eyes bright with an idea. “Hey, maybe we’re close to a military base. Last time I checked we were still over the States.”
Donner glanced around. “Well, it looks like the Northwest. Oregon maybe?”
“I think we passed up Oregon. Try Washington.”
Donner snorted. “Gad. Washington. That’s damn near Canada.”
“What’s wrong with Canada?” Dasher asked. Cautiously he headed deeper into the forest with Donner a few paces behind.
Donner snorted. “Nothing’s wrong with Canada. I just gotta cousin in Canada. She finds out I’m this close and I’ll never hear the end of it. She’s always pestering me to visit,” the buck explained.
Dasher swung his massive head around, a gleam in his brown eyes. “Is she cute?”
“I’m not hooking you up with my cousin. You can’t even get us back home in one piece. Getting shot at by the United States Air Force!”
“Ah, come on, we were not shot at!”
“Whatever. Did you figure out where we are yet?”
Another snort. “Working on it. If you’d keep your yap shut, maybe I could think.”
“This I gotta see,” the smaller buck muttered but refrained from any further outbursts.
Suddenly Dasher threw his head high, nostrils sniffing the air. The wild musky scent was hard for a grazer to ignore. The perpetual scent of blood always seemed to hang in the air whenever they were around. “Smell that?” Dasher asked.
Donner flared his nostrils, taking in a deep draw of forest air. There…feint. They’d been this way at some point. “Wolves,” he said quietly.
“Close by. Something else…I can’t quite place it.”
Donner stepped forward into the wind, placing himself beside his friend. “Humans. Two, from the smell of things.”
“What the hell are two humans doing up here?” Dasher demanded.
Donner stomped a hind foot in irritation. “Dash, we don’t even know where ‘here’ is. Maybe they belong here. We sure as hell don’t.”
The argument was enough to quiet the larger deer. He took a few more steps, uncertainly in every twitch of muscle. Once more he lifted his head to the wind. “They’re hunting,” he whispered, turning an eye toward his best friend. Donner didn’t ask. He knew Dasher meant the wolves.
“Holy Tundra. They’re not after us are they?” Donner rolled his eyes around, glancing behind him and expecting to see one of the large canine predators. The forest behind him remained still and quiet.
Dasher shook his head, the great white ruff around his neck swinging with the motion. “No. I think they’re hunting the humans.”
“Dash, we have to do something.”
The larger buck swung his head around to stare at his friend. “Are you crazy? We’re reindeer. We can’t take on a pack of wolves!”
“Those wolves will tear them apart.”
“We can’t take on a pack of wolves,” Dasher repeated with feeling.
That’s when a scream cut through the forest and the hair stood up on Donner’s neck, raising a ridge along his spine all the way down to this tail. It was a human scream, full of pain and rage and terror. The sound reverberated through the forest and Donner felt his heart racing as he tried to ignore the flight or fight response that clawed at his most basic of instincts. He might be an enchanted animal but he was at heart, still a deer. He was prey for any meat eater bigger than him. Not that there were many animals who would dare take on a full grown reindeer buck but a pack of wolves would certainly make life difficult. Still, humans against a wolf pack…just didn’t seem fair in Donner’s mind.
Another scream cut though the air. A horrified cry of ‘NO’ echoed through the trees and Donner reacted, rearing up on his hind legs and striking out with his forelegs, clawing at the air with wickedly sharp cloven hooves. “I’m going!” he shouted and dropped to the ground. His powerful hindquarters kicked up clods of frozen soil and snow as he launched himself in the direction of the last scream.
“Donny! Wait! Think about this!” Dasher shouted at his friend but Donner was already almost out of range. Dasher, one of the strongest bucks on the team, had to stretch his stride to catch up to Donner.
“I’m not gonna let those overgrown fur balls win!” Donner declared. Dasher kept his opinions to himself, having enough trouble keeping up. Not that Dash was out of shape; Donner was just that fast. When he found his stride there were very few on the team who could keep up with Donner in a flat race. Fortunately, Dasher was one of the few.
The two bucks burst into a clearing ringed by five large gray wolves. Each animal stood somewhere around three feet high at the shoulder and weighed roughly ninety pounds a piece. Their prey, two human males, was trapped against a high rock cliff face, one on the ground—wounded and bleeding—the other doing his best to protect the wounded one.
“Back off, you stupid mutt!” Donner shouted as he lowered his head and thrust forward, catching one animal in his antlers. He lifted his head high, giving the canine a toss. The wolf yelped as he hit the ground and rolled. It managed to get up but it was limping.
Donner eyed his next target. He lowered his head only barely registering that Dasher was charging his own target. The wolf howled its displeasure when three hundred pounds of angry reindeer buck collided with the ninety-pound predator.
Within minutes it was over. The pack slunk back into the woods, vanishing like gray wisps in the forest. Donner stood in the clearing, his heart racing and every muscle trembling but feeling triumphant.
“Damn, but the does are never going to believe this! Wait till I tell Vixen!” Dasher exclaimed, kicking up a cloud of snow and dirt as he stepped high in a circle.
At the sound of Dasher’s voice, the two humans stared. “Oh my gawd, he can talk,” one human, a broad-shouldered, blond specimen exclaimed.
Dasher and Donner stopped and stared at each other. Oops. They weren’t supposed to reveal their true mature to humans. It was all part of the mystery and magic of being on the Sleigh team; the question of whether or not they were real. Well, the damage was done. But being an enchanted animal wasn’t without its perks.
Donner swung his head back toward the humans. “Yeah we can talk. Some of us talk a little too much,” he said, rolling an eye at his friend.
“Says you,” Dasher shot back.
“Yeah says me,” Donner defended himself, forgetting briefly that they had an audience.
“Hold it!” the human said. He glanced down at his friend, sitting on the ground. “Lee, I think I hit my head,” he said.
“That makes both of us,” the dark haired human said, staring at the two bucks.
Dasher stepped forward to make the best of a rapidly worsening situation. “I’m Dasher, that’s my herd mate, err, my friend, Donner.”
“Dasher and Donner. Like the story,” the one named Lee said slowly.
“Definitely hit my head,” the other echoed.
Donner shook his head, the muscles in his powerful chest bunching as he moved. “We’re real. It’s a really long story and we don’t have a lot of time. Those wolves might come back. They know you’re wounded and they don’t give up easily,” he said. “Can you walk?”
The blond suddenly turned defensive of the wounded one. “Lee was attacked. His leg’s mangled pretty bad.”
Dasher walked over and lowered his head, eyeing the wound on the dark haired human. The blond human keep a weary eye on him the whole time. “Nasty work. Who are you two and what are you doing up here?” the buck asked curiously.
“I can’t believe I’m talking to a deer,” said the broad-shouldered human.
“Well, I can’t believe you don’t know how to answer a simple question,” Dasher snapped sourly.
“Pay no attention to him. He outranks me by two points* and sometimes it goes to his head,” Donner apologized.
“I know how that goes,” the blond human muttered, earning an elbow in the ribs from the darker haired one.
Humans are so strange, Donner thought watching the two. The blond male seemed to accept the ribbing and switched his attention back to the deer. “My name’s Chip. This is my friend Lee. We’re on vacation. We came up here on a snowmobile but the thing broke down. We were hiking back when that pack of wolves picked up our trail,” Chip explained. Somehow it was getting easier to talk to the two.
“Ah-ha, progress. Good. Now. Lee, how bad is that wound?” Donner asked.
Dasher took a step backward, curling his upper lip up in disgust. “You can’t smell that? Holy Tundra, the smell of blood makes me sick.”
Lee ignored the gabby deer. “It’s not so bad,” he said.
That’s when Dasher tilted his massive head sideways, taking a good look at Lee. The human was pale, his eyes were glassy with shock and pain and he looked like it was taking every bit of strength to keep his head up. He was never going to make it back to civilization if he didn’t get help.
“He can’t walk. I don’t know how far it is back to the lodge,” Chip interjected.
“Lodge?” Donner and Dasher asked in unison.
“A friend of our boss has this lodge in the mountains. We’re on vacation. Lee, the admiral and Jamie are going to be worried,”
“This admiral, he’s your boss?” Dasher asked. Thank goodness he knew as much about humans as he did! “Someone will miss you if you’re gone?”
Chip nodded, dropping down by Lee’s side. “Yeah. It was his idea that we come up here for a few days. To get away from it all, he said. Another friend, Jamie, he came along.”
“That was Jamie’s idea. He kicked us off base, remember?”
“How can I forget?” Chip grumbled. He unbuckled his belt, wrapping it around Lee’s leg, just below the knee. “Gotta do something to stop the blood loss,” he explained. Lee nodded, wincing as Chip tightened the belt.
Donner shot his friend a curious look. “Just where is ‘here” anyhow?”
Lee and Chip exchanged looks of disbelief. “You mean you don’t know where you are?” Chip asked.
“We ran into a fog bank. We got turned around and had to make an emergency landing.” Dasher explained.
Donner just snorted, the sarcasm thick and audible in the explosion of air. “The word is ‘lost’.”
“We’re not lost!” Dasher defended himself loudly.
“Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park,” Chip answered, ignoring the pair’s banter. “Just on the other side of Soda Butte Creek.”
“Yellowstone!” Donner exclaimed. “Holy Tundra, not even close to Washington!” he snorted and stomped a hoof into the ground.
“Would you stop? We have to help these two,” Dasher ordered.
Donner rolled his eyes and stood still. “You have an idea?”
The larger buck nodded. “Can you ride?” Dasher asked the two humans.
Lee and Chip glanced back to one another. “Lee?” Chip asked, the concern in his voice thick. Donner unconsciously glanced at his friend, the friend he would follow anywhere. He knew how Chip felt. And he knew Dasher was right. It was his idea to attack the pack and now they had to follow through. They couldn’t just leave these two here. They’d never make it if the pack came back.
“I can try,” Lee answered.
“Chip, if you can get him onto my back, I promise he won’t fall,” Dasher directed.
Chip eyed the buck with suspicion. “Can you carry the weight of a human?”
Donner snorted while Dasher answered albeit smugly, “We’re enchanted. You’d be surprised at what we can do.”
“I don’t see any other way out of this mess,” Chip grumbled as he scrambled to his feet. With an arm around Lee, he helped the other man to his feet. Lee swayed dangerously and Chip tightened his grip. “Easy pal.”
“I’m alright.” Lee tried to reassure his friend but Dasher could hear the pain in his voice. This human was by far unlike any other he had known. Being an enchanted and thereby immortal creature, Dasher had, over the last few hundred years, met a lot of humans. To make things a little easier for Lee, Dasher dropped to his knees, folding his longs legs under him. With Lee settled on his back, Dasher rose gracefully to his feet. He felt Lee’s fingers tighten on handfuls of his thick coat.
Meanwhile, Donner was prancing impatiently. “Hop on, Chip,” he directed.
Chip paused then threw his leg over Donner’s back. It took a minute to find his balance but Chip was surprised to find it felt similar to riding a horse.
Donner dipped his great head, the enormous antlers bobbing with the motion. “Ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Chip replied.
“Good. When we get airborne, I’ll circle and you see if you can get your bearings to find this lodge of yours.”
Chip felt his stomach drop. “Airborne? You mean you’re going to…fly?”
“Of course! We’re enchanted reindeer! You didn’t think we were going to swim, did you?” Donner said merrily. He trotted to the far side of the clearing and whirled around, his powerful hindquarters bunching as he exploded across the clearing. In three great strides, Donner leapt into the air and began to climb, wide hooves cleaving through the air as he rose higher and higher over the treetops.
Behind them, Dasher’s voice rang out. “Donny, this a good idea?”
“We’ll have to chance it! Chip, do you see anything?” Donner asked, pitching his voice above the roar of the wind in Chip’s ears.
Chip glanced around, getting a feel for the sensation of flying and finally noticed the thin line of wood smoke in the distance. “There! Off to the west,” he directed, pointing to the smoke rising into the winter air.
The buck swung his whole body in an arch, pointing his nose in the direction of the smoke. “Ho, Dasher! I got a bearing!”
Behind them, careful of his none-to-steady charge, Dasher heaved forward, long legs slicing through the air as he plowed on.
“Last one there hauls the muck out of the stables!” Dasher shouted as he blew past the smaller buck.
“Good thing you’re the muscle of the outfit!” Donner tossed and he stretched his neck out, putting power into his stride. Within a few breaths he was running along side Dasher, the two bucks in perfect stride with each other, dancing over the tops of trees and cliffs. The smoke and the lodge grew closer. The lodge sat nestled in a small valley, on a rise over looking a wide creek.
“We’re going to set down at the bottom of the hill,” Donner said.
“Sounds fine,” Chip replied in the deer’s ear.
Soon it was over. The two reindeer slowed their stride and began to descend. Lee, woozy from the pain and blood loss, was reminded of taking a flight of steps down. Lower and lower they dropped until they touched the ground with hardly a bump. Trotting slowly to cool off heated muscles, the pair headed along the creek until they were in seeing distance of the lodge.
“Aye aye,” came Chip’s flippant response, getting a chuckle from humans and deer alike. Chip hopped off Dasher’s back and hurried to help Lee dismount. Lee slumped into Chip’s arms, breathing raggedly.
“Lee? Come on pal, not now,” Chip pleaded softly. Lee’s eyes fluttered.
“Jamie…can’t complain…there’s nothing to do…now,” he managed before completely passing out.
“Donny?” Dasher threw his head up but Donner was already halfway up the hill, heading for the cabin.
“How long have the two of them been gone?” Will Jamieson asked from his chair. He had been reading but for the last ten minutes he’d been uneasy. Like he was waiting for something.
Standing in the door leading to the kitchen with a cup of coffee in one hand, his employer and friend, Harriman Nelson, glanced at his watch. “Couple of hours. I should think they’d be heading back soon.”
Jamie couldn’t sit still any longer. “I’m not sure it was a good idea to let them take the snowmobile out.”
Nelson laughed. “You’d rather have them inside, all that energy penned up with nowhere to go? No, it’s better they get out for a few hours. It was your idea they take a vacation to begin with, remember that.”
“It was my idea that you three take a vacation. I tagged along to make sure you actually left,” Jamieson snorted.
Nelson chucked again but walked through the living room to the windows that ringed the front of the lodge. The place had a spectacular view of the creek below and the snowy forest beyond. As Nelson drew closer he began to feel…uneasy. That was the only word he could use to describe the feeling. He should be doing something. He shouldn’t be standing here. He should be doing something. But what?
A flash of something outside the window caught Nelson’s attention. The retired admiral frowned, setting the coffee cup down on a table. He stared outside, noting that it was starting to snow.
“Jamie,” Nelson called out as he focused on something at the bottom of the hill. Two figures. Two achingly familiar figures.
“Something’s happened…” Jamie’s voice trailed off as he darted for the coat rack by the door, snatching his coat off the hook and shrugging into it. Nelson followed suit. Jamieson hit the door and fairly flew off the deck surrounding the lodge, kicking up snow as he ran down the hill.
Neither man noticed the lone reindeer trotting around the side of the lodge. When the two humans were far enough away, the deer picked up his pace and trotted up into the valley, heading upstream. With a leap of supernatural proportions he cleared the creek and landed softly on the other side. A second deer waited.
“Well?” Dasher asked, pawing at the ground impatiently.
“I got their attention. They saw Lee and Chip and are heading down to help. They should be there by now. They never saw me. You?”
“Chip’s taking a nap. Lee was already passed out, poor guy. Chip turned out to be a little stubborn but I was finally able to work up enough magic to knock the guy out. When they wake up they won’t remember us.”
Donner nodded his head, the antlers rising up and down. “Nice touch. Being enchanted has its perks. What if they find our tracks?”
Dasher raised his head, looking up into the sky. Fat snowflakes were falling faster and faster. Already the bucks’ coats were looking more and more white then brown and white. “With this coming down, in another few minutes there won’t be any tracks.”
“Then I’d say our business here is done. You ready?”
“Ready and steady. Lets’ move out!” Dasher exclaimed and he took off, bounding up the hill then leaping into the wind. Donner followed and the two friends climbed higher and higher, muscles straining and legs pumping like pistons.
“I hope you know where you’re going,” Donner’s voice rang out.
Dasher laughed, the sound like chimes in the cold frosty air. “Of course I know! Second star on the left!”
The two friends climbed higher and higher, gaining altitude until they were hardly more than dots in the sky. Soon they were gone, vanished into the winter night sky.
Lee Crane awoke feeling warm and more than a little confused. He groaned when he tried to roll over and a sudden thought caused him to snap both eyes open. “Chip…” he breathed, remembering the wolves.
“Easy, lad. Not so fast.” The soothing velvet base of the admiral was like a balm for Lee’s worry. The admiral was here. Everything had to be alright if the admiral was here…
“Sir? How did you find us?” Lee asked focusing on his mentor and friend. He watched the slight shadow of concern wash through Nelson’s blue eyes.
“We didn’t exactly find you. You turned up at the bottom of the hill.”
“I looked outside and there you were. Both of you unconscious. Something tried to rip a chunk out of your leg and you had Chip’s belt for a tourniquet. What happened out there, son?”
Lee frowned. “The snowmobile b-broke down. We were going to hike b-back but we ran into a pack of wolves…they a-attacked…” Lee trailed off as he tried to remember. But there was a curious blank spot after the attack.
”Wolves? How many?” Jamie asked, easing down on he edge of the mattress.
Lee focused on the doctor. “Five. They were h--huge, I’d never seen w-wolves that big. Something drove them off, but I c-can’t seem to remember.” Lee realized he was shivering and he couldn’t seem to get warm.
“Well,” Jamieson began, “whatever it was, I’m grateful. You’re lucky. I was able to bandage things up here. Mostly puncture wounds. Nasty but not fatal. Wolves can break bone, you know.”
“W-here’s Chip?” Lee asked. He must have passed out and Chip had to carry him to safety. That was the only explanation that Lee could come up with.
Nelson planted a hand on Lee’s chest and gently pushed him back into bed. “Chip’s fine. He’s in the other room, in bed, resting. You both were very cold when we found you. Not hypothermic but you’d have been if you’d stayed out much longer.”
“Sti-ll c-c-cold,” Lee stammered as yet another chill coursed up his spine. Jamie pulled the blankets up over Lee’s shivering frame. “C-can’t get w-warm.”
“Admiral, we need some coffee or hot soup,” said the lanky doctor, his blue eyes showing concern for his all too frequent patient.
“I’ll make some.” Nelson rose out of the chair he’d been occupying and headed for the door.
“Adm-miral,” Lee called out. Nelson paused and glanced back to the younger man. Jamie was rummaging around in the closet, searching for more blankets he could layer onto the bed.
“What is it lad?”
“Are t-here any r-reindeer around here?”
Nelson laughed, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Reindeer? No son, we’re entirely too far south for reindeer. What on earth brought that on?”
Lee shook his head and let Jamie fuss, dropping another blanket onto the bed and spreading it out over Lee’s still slightly shivering body. “I don’t know. S-suddenly I have r-reindeer on my mind.”
“Probably just a dream. Now settle down, son. I’ll bring something warm in for you.”
Lee snuggled down under the covers. A dream. Yeah, that had to be it. No other sensible explanation really.
Authors Note: Male reindeer (bucks) are actually referred to as bulls, and the females (does) are referred to as cows. For the simplicity of this story, I stayed with what I and most everyone else is familiar with.
Also I would like to add that this story doesn’t vilify wolves. I happened to love wolves and think they are among nature’s most fascinating creatures. Every story has to have a villain, now doesn’t it?
*Points are the spikes of a deer’s antlers. The larger the number of points, generally the larger and older the buck. The average number of points varies from breed to breed. As I see it and wrote it, Dasher outranks Donner because he’s older and thereby has more points.