The storm grew in intensity as the temperature became bone-chilling. Snuggled between the wolf’s fur and the blanket, Joe didn’t feel the cold. But he knew it was frigid and he was worried about Chrissy. The jacket she was wearing wasn’t warm enough for this.
Joe felt the growl before he heard it. The wolf stopped and crouched. Peeking from beneath the blanket, Joe could see a dim light ahead.
“Shh, my giant friend, shh,” he calmed the wolf. “I don’t want them to know we’re here, yet.” Sliding from under the blanket, he dropped to the ground. Wrapping the blanket, he wedged it between the branches of a dead tree.
Studying the area, he could see a small ridge running along the edge of the light. Behind it was the Blackstone River, raging from all the rain and snow over the past few days.
He could use the high ground and the noise to cover his approach. He had an idea but needed the wolf’s cooperation. From the deep, rumbling noises coming from the huge beast, Joe knew the wolf wanted to attack.
“Listen to me. I need to get to Chrissy before they know we’re here. You’ll get your chance, but we need to use the element of surprise. They outnumber us but, if we’re smart about it, we can catch them off guard. Do you understand?”
Joe wasn’t sure. At this moment, he was unsure of everything,. But he thought the wolf nodded.
“Move around to the other side. Give me a couple of minutes to get closer. Then move in fast and draw their attention. I’m hoping it gives me time to get to her before they know I’m there.
“Once I have her, we can meet back where we hid the blanket. They’ll expect us to run right toward the barn, not to hide nearby. Okay?”
The wolf nuzzled against him one more time, then ran off into the woods.
I hope this works, Joe thought, as he headed off in the opposite direction.
“So, my little friend,” the creature said, “looks like they won’t be coming to save you. He values the things his grandfather gave him more than he does you.”
Joe peered into the cave: a small fire lit the interior. The creature stood over Chrissy, holding her envelope.
“Might as well burn this.” The creature dangled the envelope over the fire, his knobby fingers edging closer and closer.
“No,” Chrissy yelled, and snatched it from his hand.
“You have some spirit in you, I see. Pity it won’t matter as your time grows short—.”
His words were interrupted by the baleful sound of a wolf’s howl.
“Excellent. It would seem your friends have decided to join us.” The creature turned to leave the cave. Chrissy struggled against the tree roots holding her legs. “Relax, my dear. In a moment you’ll have company,” he said, and ran from the cave.
Joe could hear the wolf, gnarling and yelping as it fought the others. It’s now or never, he thought, running from his hiding spot. He took a few steps into the cave, then stopped to listen. Chrissy was right ahead of him but couldn’t see him in the flickering shadow of the fire.
Moving into the light, he ran toward his friend.
“Nice of you to show up, he almost burned my envelope.”
“Hi, nice to see you too.” He looked around, then grabbed a sharp rock laying on the floor of the cave. Hacking at the branches around Chrissy’s legs, he freed her.
“Time to go,” he said, and led the way out of the cave.
The cry of the wolf, a cry of pain and agony, echoed in the night. “I have to go help him,” Joe said. “You get back to the barn.”
Chrissy grabbed his arm. “I don’t think so, Joe. We’re in this together. We’ll both go.” She took his hand and they ran off toward the sound of the wounded wolf.
As they made their way to the edge of the river, they could see the wolf on the ground, surrounded by trees. Joe took the last glow stick out of his pocket and chased the trees away, backing them up to the edge of the forest.
As they helped the wolf to stand, Chrissy let out a scream. Joe turned and saw the creature holding Chrissy over the edge of the waterfall.
“Let her go,” Joe yelled, moving closer to the creature.
The creature held Chrissy further out over the falls. “One more move, and she goes swimming. And in this cold, with that current, she won’t last long. But there is a solution.”
The wolf limped over to stand next to Joe.
“What do you want?”
“What I’ve always wanted, the envelope Nicholas gave you. Give it to me and she will go free. Keep it, and she’s an iceberg. Your choice.”
Joe knew whatever was inside the envelope was the secret to Christmas. It was the only thing that made sense. Without it, Christmas might never happen again.
But this was his friend. He couldn’t let anything happen to her. Pulling the envelope out of his pocket, he held it out.
“No, Joe. Don’t give it to him. Think of all the kids in the world who won’t have Christmas. I’m just one kid, think of how important this is.”
“That’s what I am doing, Chrissy.” He handed the envelope to the creature. Tossing Chrissy aside, the creature moved further up the riverbank, turning the envelope repeatedly in his hands.
“At last, after a thousand years, the last Christmas has come to pass.”
A swirling dark shadow moved around the creature. Words hissed from within the specter.
“Aaaaat laaaaaastt, nooooooww Chirsssssstmaaasss issssss nooooo mooooore.”
The snarling growl of the wolf surprised them all. With one great leap, the wolf was on the creature and the specter, sending them all tumbling into the raging river.
“No,” Joe yelled, “Noooo…” His voice lost in the thundering water crashing over the rocks below.
Standing at the door of the barn, Chrissy put her hand on Joe’s shoulder. “We can do this, Joe. As long as we don’t doubt ourselves, we can do this.”
“But I don’t have the envelope. It had the secret of Christmas in it. How can we do this?”
“Joe, if there is one thing I’ve learned from this it’s there is always hope. Maybe we won’t succeed but we definitely won’t if we don’t try.” Tearing open her envelope, she read down the long list.
“Listen to me, everything we need to do to prepare for Christmas Eve is on this list. I say we do it and see what happens.” She led him inside.
The elves gathered around, listening to Chrissy dole out the tasks. Joe leaned against the wall, unsure of what to do.
“Joe,” Chrissy called, “Joe, listen to me.”
Joe looked up as Chrissy handed him the instruction book. “Go over everything to make sure it’s done right. Think about this, what would you grandfather want you to do?”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know.” Joe shrugged.
“Yes, you do, Joe. He’d want you to never give up. Now get to work, Christmas is two days away and we have a lot to do.”
Believe, Joe, believe. His grandfather’s words came back to him once again.
“I’m trying to, Grandpa. I’m trying.”
On Christmas Eve, the final chapter. Please share the story with friends and family