it was the doldrums of earth’s axial tilt, and mariah had to find it that night, or the light wouldn’t come back. she tromped through knee-deep snow, dodging an occasional shrub or short tree, winding through the tall trees, looking for a glimpse of light, of anything, in the darkness. 

she’d been searching for a couple hours already, but she knew that she wouldn’t find it until the last minute, and while panic hadn’t quite set in, she was starting to get a little antsy. her snowpants caught on a stump, and she stumbled, landing softly on top of the snow. slowly, she gathered herself back up and started onward, patting her pocket to make sure she had everything. snacks: check. matches and backup tinderbox: check. dagger: check. 

every year she did this, and every year it was in a different spot, and there was no way to dupe the system. for some reason, it had to be work to get there. and she had to go on foot. no help from anyone or anything. she’d tried that one year and she’d been locked out. the people never forgave her for that year; mid-june and the sun was setting at 5 p.m. sighing, she leaned against a tree before heading on. 

the goblins would be there first. they were generally a resourceful bunch and seemed to have an instinct for finding it. there were clues given over the year, and they were especially clever. then the elves, who seemed to be almost as clever as the goblins, but not quite. after, that it was anybody’s game really, but mariah was usually one of the last ones to show up. just once she’d like to get there third. maybe fourth, after the yeti. she was good friends with him and he was nice to snuggle up to after being cold all day.

she pulled back her coat sleeve and held her watch up so she could read the hands in the moonlight. she had 20 minutes; she was cutting it close this year. it always seemed to work out, though. even if she knew she should be late, at the last minute, she seemed to find what she was looking for. sure, her surroundings got a little fuzzy, and she got light-headed, as if she was moved through time and space to get to where she needed to be. 

a little bit farther, she knew, and she’d be there. there was always a weird sort of tingling when she got close, and she could feel little sparks in her fingertips. sure enough, through the trees ahead, she saw a muted light. she picked up her pace as best she could, and there it was in front of her. a tall, shimmering pane. the veil to the other world. she took a deep breath, ready to slip through. her mittened hand reached inside her pocket and gripped the dagger. 

it was never fun, slipping through, and she stepped up and down at the same time, then tumbled to the ground. no one was ever graceful when slipping. she got up and walked to the high, roaring fire, smiling at the others, and started stripping off her snow gear, grateful to be near the warm fire. she glanced around. as per usual, she was the last to show up. the goblins, elves, yeti were there. so was the rabbit, the cat, the turkey, and the man in red. 

“thank gods,” the cat said. “we don’t need a repeat of 300 years ago.” mariah rolled her eyes; he said that every year. the yeti smiled at her and held out its arms. mariah huddled into the yeti, warming up before the task at hand. 

then there was a crashing sound in the woods around them, and mariah went to her jacket and found her dagger. she flicked the edge – sharp as ever. she turned and watched as a couple goblins and elves pulled in a deer, tethered to ropes and a muzzle over its mouth.

“he had one early this year,” said a goblin, nodding toward the man in red, “but decided to kill it right then instead of saving it for this. which would have been logical.”

“he ate my entire herd. i wasn’t going to let him go after that.”

mariah nodded. 

“i was there. it was the best thing to do. that deer was completely out of line,” she said. “if we get more like that, i might have to start carrying silver bullets myself.” she spun her dagger in her hands. 

“and i had to rebuild the herd after that. do you know how difficult it is to find one reindeer who’s willing to take that job, let alone eight?” she grimaced, then beckoned them forward. “let’s do this before we lose the time.”

they brought the deer forward, and mariah could see his glistening fangs through the muzzle. not a deer any longer. just a blood-sucking vampire whose death would bring back the sun. the others started chanting, and the fire spit sparks and popped and cracked. she wiped her dagger on her buckskin pants and got to work.

the next day, the sun stayed in the sky a little longer. 

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