Laughing and joking as they ran along the path, Chrissy beat Joe to the edge of the field. They both stopped dead in their tracks.
The barn was gone.
“Joe, the barn. It’s gone.”
“Like my grandfather always said, you have a gift for stating the obvious. I can see that it’s gone. Now we have to figure out who did this and how do we get it back.”
They walked around the edge of where the barn once stood, looking for something, anything that might help.
Chrissy spotted it first. “Joe, look, there’s a note stuck to that tree over there.” She ran toward it before Joe could stop her.
Joe yelled, “Chrissy wait.” But it was too late. As she neared the woods, the trees surrounded her, lifted her into the air, and shuffled off into the woods. Joe could hear her muffled voice yelling for them to let her go. Soon, the voice faded.
Joe started to run after her, but a wall of trees blocked the path. He tried to force himself through, but the branches pushed him back. He ran as hard as he could at them, yelling and screaming, but all to no avail.
Each time, they forced him back. This last time, they knocked him to the ground. As he stood back up, ready to charge once more, the trees parted, and a tall, thin creature appeared before him.
Not human, not animal. It towered over Joe. “There, there now, Joe. No need to worry. Your little friend is safe with my trees.” The creature bent down, it’s face more like bark than skin, and came eye to eye with Joe.
“As long as you do as I say, she’ll remain that way. But I am not known for my patience. You do what I want, and we’ll return her to you. Fail me, or try to be clever like Nicholas, and she’ll become one of my pet trees.”
Joe jumped to his feet. The creature terrified him, but he would show him no fear. “What do you want? If anything happens to her, I will hunt you down and no tree army will stop me.” He glared at the creature, angered by the sinister smile on its face.
The creature’s haunting laugh echoed in the woods. “I can see why Nicholas chose you. You have his stubbornness. We’ll see if you have his courage and cunning. But no matter, bring me the envelope your grandfather left you, and I’ll release your friend. But you don’t have much time.”
The creature rose to its full height. “Be back here in one hour, with the envelope, and little Chrissy will go free. Fail in this and she’ll be a tree.”
The laughter once again shattered the quiet. The trees parted and the creature slunk back into the woods. Joe started after it, but the trees once again blocked his way.
There was only one choice. He’d bring the envelope and save Chrissy. Nothing was more important than that.
Running toward the path, a thought occurred to him. Something his grandfather said about believing in himself and not letting doubt make choices for him.
He turned back to where the barn once stood, and it all made sense. The creature’s power came from fear and doubt. Somehow, he’d hidden the barn with magic. But the most powerful magic of all is Christmas magic.
Joe walked back, standing where the door of the barn should be. He saw his grandfather’s smile, heard his laugh, and remembered his words. Hold fast to your memories, he’d said, and Joe did just that.
He remembered the barn, the elves, the sleigh and all that they had done so far, he and Chrissy, and the wind kicked up.
Snow swirled up in front of him and the barn reappeared. He was right. Grandpa was right. All I need to do is believe and anything was possible. He ran inside, gathered the elves together and explained what he needed them to do.
Dashing back outside, he ran home to get the envelope. He would save Chrissy no matter what. He knew he would, deep in his heart, he just wasn’t sure how yet.
XIII The Rescue Mission and a Little Unexpected Help.
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