The Last Christmas Part IV: Gathering the Herd

Did you bring them?”  Joe called out as he stood on the bike path

“Yes,” Chrissy answered, running over to him. “Seems a little crazy since you don’t have a dog.” A smile crossed her face. “Unless they’re for you, boys can be weird like that.”

“NO! they’re not for me, but my grandfather said we would need them.”

“Need them for what?”

“The wolves.” Joe turned and headed down the path. “Now c’mon, we have to be quick about this and back before dark.”

“Wolves? Did you say wolves? We’re gonna give dog biscuits to wolves?”

Joe didn’t answer, and she ran to catch up with him.

“There are no wolves around here anyway,” Chrissy said, falling into step with him as he headed down the old dirt path. She looked around the dark, grey woods.  “This is another one of your tricks.”

“Shh,” Joe said. “Listen.”

Chrissy stopped and looked around. The cold wind swirled the snow from the evergreens and shook the branches. She heard nothing but the sounds of the wood.

“Joe, this is crazy. There haven’t been wolves in New England since—.”

The plaintive cry of the wolf, echoing off the valley wall of the Blackstone River, sent a chill up her spine.

“What was that?” she said, moving to stand next to Joe.

“A wolf. C’mon, let’s go. And put a dog biscuit in your hands so they can see them.”

Joe left the path and headed down the slope toward the river. Chrissy, holding onto a handful of biscuits, clung close behind.

“Was that a real wolf?” she asked.

“Sort of,” Joe said. “My grandfather said they’re special wolves. They guard the reindeer during the year until Christmas comes around. We need to let the wolves know we are friendly and that my grandpa sent us.”

“What happens if they don’t believe us?”

“Then they eat us, and someone else will have to do this.” Joe smiled. “But don’t worry, my grandpa is very smart. He knows if something happened to me, my mom would kill him.  He’s brilliant like that.”

“Somehow, that does not make me feel better.”

The wolf’s call echoed one more, closer this time. The trees began to thin out, and a field appeared through the branches.

Chrissy ran in front of Joe, backpedaling along as she faced him. “What do we do after we find the wolves?”

“We feed them, and they lead us to the reindeer,” Joe said, stopping dead in his tracks.

A soft crunching of snow and the crack of several branches caused Chrissy to turn around. Emerging from the shadows, a lone wolf stood staring at them. A low growl reverberated from deep within his throat.

“Give him a biscuit,” Joe said.

“You give him a biscuit,” Chrissy answered, frozen with fear.

“O, o, okay, I will.”

Joe held out the biscuit, and the wolf raised his snout sniffing the air. In one leap, he was next to Joe, towering over him. Joe barely held onto the biscuit because of his hand shaking. The wolf leaned down, gently took the biscuit, and swallowed it whole.

Chrissy stood transfixed at the sight of this giant animal just feet away. The wolf turned to her.

“Here, here you go, boy, or girl, or whatever you are.” Holding out several biscuits.

Once again, the wolf gently took the biscuits. After finishing them off, he rolled onto his back right in front of Chrissy.

“I think he wants his belly scratched,” Joe said, kneeling next to the wolf.

Chrissy bent down, hand still trembling, and ran her hand down the warm fur. The wolf wiggled with delight.

“Why he’s just a big baby,” Chrissy said, rubbing the wolf’s belly as the giant creature nuzzled against her. “So now what do we do?”

“Now, we let the wolf decide.”

“Decide what?”

“To help us or eat us.” Joe laughed. “Just kidding, Grandpa said we had to pass this test first, meaning not get eaten, and then the wolf will lead us to the reindeer when we’re ready.”

“Ready? How do we get ready?”

“We build the sleigh and prepare the barn to hold the reindeer until Christmas.”

Chrissy shook her head, still rubbing the wolf’s belly. “I wonder about all this, Joe. I still think it’s one of your—.”

The snap of a twig brought the wolf to his feet. He sniffed the air and moved between the two kids. His head swung back and forth, searching the woods for the source of the sound.

A dark shadow emerged from the wood. A swirling mass of nothing and something all at the same moment. The wolf’s growl grew deeper and louder.

A voice, raspy and chilling, rose from the apparition.

“I see this year’s assistants are very young. Nicholas must be desperate for his last time. It will make it all the easier to end this Christmas nonsense.”

The wolf leaped at the apparition, which dissolved away.  Off in the distance, fading in the rising wind, the voice reached them once more.

“Mark my words, Joe and Chrissy, you’ll regret helping that old man. If I were you, I’d run as fast as I could and leave this place.”

The voice faded, and the wolf nudged Joe toward the path.

“Time to go, Chrissy, We’ll come back tomorrow and start gathering the herd.”

“Come back? Come back? Are you crazy? Did you hear that thing? I’m not coming back.” At the sound of her words, the wolf snuggled against her. The warmth and strength calmed her.

“You have to come back, Chrissy. We’re in this together. Come on. Look, with that wolf next to you and me, no one’s gonna do anything to us.”

Chrissy leaned into the wolf, whispering in his ear. “You’ll take care of us?” To her surprise, the wolf turned to look in her eyes. She could swear his head nodded, and he smiled. Her mind raced with both fear and wonder.

“I’ll think about it.”

The wolf licked her face and then bounded away into the woods. The wolf call now different, almost like a song, echoing in the forest as if spreading the good news.

Part V Care and Feeding of Reindeer

Please follow along with the adventure.

P.S. If you’re interested in the previous one from Christmas Past, here’s a link. Please share this and this new story with all your family and friends.

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