silent night

the lady normally held court at the pole, but once a year – during the busiest time – she left her station for a night. 

people thought she was just a figure, a counterpart. most thought her most important role was to make sure the man in red (partner in business, life, love) ate. (her best business venture had been when she hired the cook. she hated cooking and everyone agreed that her food was bland. she never understood how she had been tasked with that to begin with.) she was much better at keeping the books and overseeing the network of seers. and by the 20th, her work was mostly done.

so once a year, she left the pole, the work, the hectic scene, to embrace the dark. 

it was always cold the night before the light ritual, and she always took the head reindeer. the past couple years it was blitz. after the herd had been destroyed by the vampire, she had a hard time coming to terms with the new crew, but she thought this year she could fully trust blitz. 

the lady slipped through the heavy front doors, spilling a beam of yellow-gold light onto the white snow, and hurried down the stone steps to the outbuildings where she knew blitz was waiting. 

her long leather skirts swished as she quickly opened the door to the herd’s housing, and blitz was there. they stepped into the night, where the lady rummaged in her pocket for the chocolate nut balls she shoved in there, pushing aside the peppermints and silver dagger she carried with her these days. the vampires were rampant this year for some reason, and after the episode mariah had with the other, she wasn’t taking any chances. 

fittingly, the sky was cloudy, shrouding them from the stars and moon that might provide some light. blitz’s hooves were silent in the snow, occasionally catching purchase on a stone. while blitz didn’t talk, she did understand what the lady was saying, and her eyes always seemed to convey whatever it was she wanted the lady to know. the lady, used to being behind the scenes, was ok with little conversation. 

tonight they walked in complete silence. 

tonight they walked far.

but it was never enough time to prepare. 

blitz snorted puffy white breaths and stopped mid-stride. the lady felt it too. he was here. 

the wind briefly whipped around her, and suddenly he showed himself. arawn, master of underworld, sleep, the night god. it was so cold that the lady had to blink hard to keep tears from leaking down her cheeks and freezing. she put her mittened hand over her mouth and caught her breath. 

“maire.”

of the three people who knew her name, he was the only one who ever said it out loud. she breathed and let him in. 

*****

after, blitz knelt beside her lady and patiently waited until she rested her hand on her back and pulled herself to standing. together they walked back, slowly, carefully. the lady’s hand never left blitz’s  back until they reached the tall doors of the house at the pole. even now, in the dark, early hours of the morning, the lights were still ablaze and everyone hard at work. no one knew the lady left this night every year.

the lady stroked blitz’s nose and smiled a satisfied smile. she knew blitz wouldn’t tell a soul. it was a necessary darkness, the start of the ritual to bring back the light.

krampennacht

silver bullets clinked against each other as mariah searched her pockets for a piece of peppermint. her throat was hurting after yesterday, a long day out in the cold prepping the deer for the trip. too much happened at this time of year. there was the annual light-bringing, then she needed to make sure the deer were ready for the trip. 

but first there was the first visit. 

sure, the man in red had his part under control, but the other, well…he was a different matter. he didn’t seem to think there was a line. red got the good; he got the bad. but he wanted both and someone needed to remind him every year. 

turns out that in addition to deer herder, mariah was deemed lead communicator at the pole. the elves were too busy, red was prepping, and the lady was too busy maintaining the massive database. thank gods they got that cook a while back; no one was eating, and red had an image to uphold.

sighing, mariah sucked on her peppermint, donned her snow gear, and headed out to talk to the other. he made her uncomfortable and was hard to get to, but he listened to her for some reason. 

whistling softly, she headed out into the woods toward where she thought he lived. he moved every year, but there were signs throughout the year – mostly dead plantlife and lack of songbirds – that let her know where he shacked up for the warmer months. (not that it got that much warmer here, but the other liked it cold.)

it wasn’t long before she got to the upheaval in the earth where a small opening indicated a cave. he generally didn’t stray too far from the man in red. they worked together, despite what the other thought. 

she crouched down and looked at the small crevice that led into his lair, scrunching her nose. it smelled of dirt and rot. she dropped the small pack she brought onto the ground outside the entrance, pulled a flare from one of its outer pockets, and stuck it into the ground. she’d learned early on to set one so she could easily find her way out. she grabbed another flare and got on her belly to crawl inside cave. 

this one was tight for a few feet, then opened up so she could at least stand on her feet and crouch. then the descent began.

every year it was the same, and mariah began to dread the conversation she’d have to have. but the man in red counted on her, and so did thousands of the littles who were too good to be taken by the other. so she picked up her pace. the sooner she got there, the sooner she could leave. if only the other were as easy to deal with as vampire deer.

soon, too soon, the floor evened out and there was his door – a golden-handled, wooden monstrosity that had carvings of wood switches hashed over it. she had no idea how he transported these between his different dwellings. 

mariah knocked twice, once, three times, then grabbed the handle. it glowed briefly, warming her hand. she dropped her flare and pulled the door open. 

he sat low on the ground on a wooden stump, his cloven and human feet stretched out, a small fire in the middle of the room. he never talked, just stared at her with his tongue hanging out, glistening. 

she found that if she walked with confidence and got her part over with, he generally didn’t object.

“you know why i’m here. tonight is the night, and the man in red has sent me to make sure you’re on the same page.” she wished she had another peppermint. her throat was still hoarse.

“tonight you and he will go visit the littles. he’s got the really good ones, the somewhat good ones, and the okay ones. you get the bad ones. and you know which ones they are; you should’ve gotten a list from the lady the other day.” how the lady sent this list, mariah didn’t know. she was just glad she didn’t have to haul that with her during her visit. 

“the man wants to remind you, again, that you just. get. the. bad. ones. no others.” mariah dug around in her pocket searching for a peppermint. the other still stared at her. his cloven foot jiggled slightly but that was the only movement from him. “and you can use your switches, put them in your bag, and hang them from the tall tree, but you CANNOT eat them. we’ve been over this.” he used to eat the bad ones on the solstice, but the committee had put a stop to that when they realized that it was interfering with the ritual. 

“then the next morning, you let them go. that should scare them. any repeat offenders, you can hold two nights.” ah! she found her peppermint. she popped it into her mouth. sweet relief. 

“do we have an understanding?”

the other stared, blinked slowly, and then nodded once. mariah nodded. 

“then we’ll see you tonight. sundown sharp – the man in red will be ready. and don’t forget your list.” 

the other nodded again. then again and again, much too quickly for a beast like him to be able to do, and mariah stepped back in alarm. she had never seen this before. she glanced behind her for the door, then back toward the fire, and he was right in front of her. she could smell his rotted breath, see the strands of fur on his face, the saliva on his tongue. she scrunched her nose and did the only thing she could think of – she spat her peppermint out of her mouth directly onto his slimy tongue. 

he screamed and jumped back. his tongue seemed to be smoking. mariah widened her eyes, then took her chance. she leaped backward to the door, got out, and slammed the door shut. her flare was still there, so she grabbed it and ran. she didn’t think he would follow. 

the trip out seemed much quicker, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the matching flare sparking at the narrow exit. she crawled out of the cave and stood up, brushing dirt and leaves off before putting her pack on and heading back to the pole. she took the knife from her boot and held it, just in case. 

this would need to be reported to the man. and she needed to add peppermints to her list of essentials. 

prior

and prior

solstice

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. 

shiny

[i am not choosing the scary monster and animal, but i saw a combo that i wanted to write about.]

rudy roamed the woods on a regular basis, searching for something to eat. his thirst for blood never stopped; as soon as he stopped feeding, he felt sated for short amount of time, then it was off to look for new blood.

the days were short this time of year, which meant more time for hunting for rudy. he didn’t like being outside when the sun shone bright, and he spent most days curled in a cave, waiting for sunset. 

time to hunt.

rudy stretched out his legs and trotted out of his cave, sniffing the air to catch a scent of a rabbit, a raccoon; even a squirrel would do well about now. smelling nothing on the crisp air, he set out across the icy ground and started his daily ritual for food. 

it wasn’t too long until he found his first victim: a small, white rabbit hopped across the corner of his vision, and rudy was there in a flash, his fangs popping out and sinking into the quivering animal’s flesh. he felt warmth course down his throat, felt his stomach contract after feeding for the first time that night. after the rabbit was drained, it dropped from rudy’s mouth, and he pushed around the corpse, trying to get every last lick of blood off the fur. he had to find more.

he wove in and out of trees, shrubs, and across mounds of snow, stepping lightly across frozen streams and ponds. he found many squirrels, a couple raccoons, a few rabbits, and a fox who put up a fight. he saw a bear in the distance at one point, but he hadn’t tried to take down anything larger than he was, let alone something that big that could fight back, so he steered clear. that was a fight for another day. 

it was a good night so far: he had eaten enough that he didn’t feel stomach pains from hunger, and his rush to find more to eat had slowed.

he was about to turn around, when he caught a whiff of something on the air; something he hadn’t smelled before. it smelled of crispness, of fresh apples, of snow. it smelled alive. slowly, rudy followed the smell through the woods, wondering what this animal could be, and if he would be able to take it down. it smelled delicious.

the trees started to thin, finally giving way so all rudy could see was an expanse of snow.  just past the last few trees stood a tall pole. the smell was strong and seemed to be wafting from the pole, so rudy trotted over, his fangs popping out. he investigated the pole, wondering what the smell could be and where it was coming from. 

suddenly, a rush of air, the pole disappeared, and a group of deer appeared in its place. at first, rudy was confused, but the smell was overpowering, making him crazy with hunger. his instincts took over and he felt his own consciousness slipping away as he went from one deer to the next, first bringing them all down, then doubling back and draining the blood from their bodies, getting as much of the blood as possible into his mouth. 

when finished, he stepped back and looked at the bodies lying in the snow, blood specks surrounding them. his consciousness flooded back to him as he focused on what he had done. it was a lot, and finally, he was sated. whatever these deer were, they had done what he had been searching for since his change.

he heard a rustling behind him. he had smelled nothing on the air, which was odd. rudy whipped his head around to see what animal was there to witness his doings.

it was a man with a large, white beard in a leather jacket trimmed with fur, standing in the snow and pointing an uzi at him. 

“rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. we meet again.”

the last thing rudy saw were silver bullets coming his way. his reindeer games were over.