As I head back down from Canada, please enjoy this thematically appropriate short story from Joe McGee. He’s been a busy guy, working on his paranormal Western novel Witchslinger, dabbling in children’s picture books and pursuing his Master’s of Arts in Writing at Rowan University. You can find his web page at here, his blog here or follow him on Twitter – @witchslinger – but in any event, enjoy the story!

Courtesy Greenpeace
(A Story About Giving in Ontario’s Forested Expanse)
by Joseph McGee

Nicholas paused to catch a breath and tighten his suspenders. Damn that Weight Watchers. There was just no point system accounting for the Missis and her constant cookie baking. Sure, it kept the elves working, but dammit, he was not getting any smaller. A few more trays of cookies and Ontario might find its toy allotment replaced with his alLOTment of bulk next year.

Focus, Nick, he thought. Remember why you’re here and not enjoying your box seats where the Maple Leafs were undoubtedly knocking the crap out of Crosby and the Penguins. All you need is one good reindeer.

Teaching it to fly? That was the easy part. Teaching it not to drink and fly? That was the hard part. Thanks, Blitzen. I’ll be sure to choose your replacement’s name with a little more foresight.

He followed the trail he had picked up that morning. There were two of them. When he came upon their droppings around midday, he knew for sure they were reindeer. Nicholas prided himself on knowing more than just who was naughty and who was nice.

He caught up to them with a couple of hours of sunlight remaining. The reindeer had stopped to forage in a small clearing. Nicholas settled into a spot far enough from detection, yet close enough to keep tabs on them. He needed a few moments to unpack the rifle from the cloth case, fix the scope and ready the dart. He was as quiet as quiet could be. He’d had plenty of practice at remaining undetected.

They were still grazing when he took the rifle in his hands.

Nicholas raised it to his shoulder. He pressed his cheek against the steel and stared through the scope. Natural breaths, he thought. Don’t hold it in. His fingertip tensed on the trigger, dancing a fine line between squeezing and laying off. He’d have one shot. One chance to bag his reindeer. If he missed, they’d be off and he would be dragging his ass through this spruce and wolf riddled expanse of forest for another few days. The Easter Bunny doesn’t have these problems, he thought.

He trained the crosshairs on the smaller of the two. Smaller, but not by much. And slender. If he went for bulk over grace, he would never hear the end from Donner (who, incidentally could go without some cookies himself, hmm? He’ll be getting a mirror this year, Nicholas thought). Besides, he would be the one dragging it back to the camp site. With 4 cc tranquilizer darts, the deer would be out for a while.

Nicholas counted down from ten, in his head.
The reindeer looked up, staring toward his cover. Its muscles tensed. Its eyes narrowed and it stopped chewing.
3 … 2 …
It winked at him. Looked right through the undergrowth and log cover and winked.
… 1 …
Nicholas squeezed the trigger on his exhale. Something crashed across the back of his head. The gun fired. His body slumped. The world went dark.

When Nicholas awoke, he found himself chained to a tree. His rifle was gone, his head throbbed and every time he blinked, a zing of pain like a dentist’s drill pierced the back of his skull.

The metal cuff on his wrist was squeezed so tight that it was rending his flesh. He had dirt in his mouth and leaves in his beard. Maple leaves, he chuckled, inwardly, and then groaned. No sudden movements, he thought. But even thinking hurt.

“What the hell happened?” he said. It was a whisper. A whisper was all he could stand. “Hello?”

Silent, grey shapes padded out of the forest. Wolves. Easily a dozen, with ears pinned back and teeth bared. They fanned out, circling him like a toothy wagon train.

“Oh, I get it,” said Nicholas, tugging at the chain and biting down the painful cry that almost gurgled up from his throat. “Send a message to the poacher. Hohoho, good one. You got me.”

The wolves did not make a sound. Drool collected at the corners of their mouths and glistened on the sharp points of their teeth. Their eyes were searing blue points of hunger and intensity.

“Look, I understand,” Nicholas said. “You’re activists. You got me. You have my rifle, you saved the reindeer. I don’t know how these wolves are listening to you, but I won’t do it again. Just…just come out and let me go.”

He tugged harder on the chain gaining only a rattle and fresh blood as the cuff further tore the skin.

“But I’m Santa, dammit. I’m Santa. You can’t harm Santa!”

The two reindeer he’d been tracking appeared at the edge of the wolf ring. Nicholas watched as they strode into the center of the clearing, unmolested by the predators around them. They stopped a few feet from him.

“You … but …”

Words refused to form on his tongue. When the slender deer he’d had in his sights transformed before him, all thoughts froze.

Where two reindeer had stood, there was only one. Its partner was now a pale girl whose nakedness was only partially concealed by her long, auburn hair.

“What, in Jack Frost?” said Nicholas.

She smiled down at him. “It seems Christmas comes early for us.”

Nicholas laid his finger aside of his nose.

“Your magic won’t work here,” she said. “This is our home and native land.” She turned to address the largest of the wolves, the one whose mouth seemed large enough to swallow Nicholas’s own in one gulp. “As agreed, Bearkiller, we give you a gift of tribute. We give you a sacrifice in exchange for your wolves letting our people live unharmed.”

The massive wolf pressed its icy, wet nose up against Nicholas’s own ruddy one. Bearkiller’s breath reeked like putrid meat and soured milk.

“And what better gift to give other than the world’s largest exporter, Nicholas Claus?” said the naked, nubile girl. “A poacher who has built his empire on the backs of lies, slaves and extortion.” She spit in her palm and held out her hand. “Seal the deal, Bearkiller. Santa is yours. My people live without fear for another year.”

Bearkiller licked the spittle from her palm.

Nicholas watched as the girl turned, twisted violently and fell to the ground, writhing. In seconds, her body had transformed, becoming once again the reindeer he’d had in his sights.

It was the last thing he saw before the wolves set upon him.

– Footnotes –

Some fun facts**:

The Migratory Woodland Caribou (or woodland reindeer) have become threatened in their habitats, with the exception of those living in the Northern Canadian forests.

Santa’s reindeer must be female (or castrated males, which makes Santa’s fate even more deserved, heehee) because male reindeer lose their horns during the winter.

Canada’s boreal forest covers about 60% of the country’s land area, ranging from sparsely treed areas to regions with 80-100% forested cover. These forests are home to many species of plant, insect and animal, to include caribou and the Gray Wolf (the most effective natural predator of the adult reindeer).

Tranquilizer dosages vary with the drugs used, but on the average, it takes 2 CC’s to tranq a deer and 5 or 6 CC’s to tranq a grizzly bear.

**Facts researched via Wikipedia