The Last Christmas Part XII: How Can a Barn Disappear?

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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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

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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.

The Last Christmas Part III (Some Assembly Required)

Joe ran in the house, dropped his backpack on the floor, and dashed up the stairs. As he jiggled the mouse to wake the computer, he paused. Running back down the stairs, he went into the living room where his mother was working at her desk.

“Hi, Mom.”

“That’s better,” she smiled, “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

“Nope, never. Can I use the computer for a bit?  I have to do some research.”

“What about your homework?”

“I did it on the bus.  Just math, a piece of cake.”

His mother put out her hand. Joe ran to his backpack, grabbed his homework, and ran back, handing her the paper.

She ran down the list, checking his work. “Hmm, not bad. You have the mind of a mathematician like your grandfather. Maybe you will grow up and be a pilot like him.”

“I might. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’ll let you know.”

She handed back the paper. “Not to worry, lots of time before you have to pick a career.”

“So, I am good?”

“You are.  What’s this research, anyway? Is it a school project?”

“Nope,” Joe yelled over his shoulder as he ran to the stairs. “Just something Grandpa and I are working on.”

Ten minutes later, armed with the information he needed, he dressed in warm clothes and headed back downstairs. The package he got from Kringle’s safe in his pocket.

“Where are you off to?”

“I’m, ah, going to meet Chrissy. Just hang out for a while before supper. You know.”

His mother smiled. “I do Joe, I do. Okay, be home before your father gets here.”

Joe turned to leave.

“And Joe…”

“Yeah, Ma?”

“If this little meeting involves something your grandfather put you up to, please be careful. Your grandfather is a wonderful man, but a little, ah, a little—”

“Crazy, insane, off-his-rocker, whack-a-ding-hoy?” Joe interrupted.

Laughing, his mother nodded. “I see he’s been filling in your vocabulary. But, yes, he can be unusual. Just be careful.”

Joe ran outside and down the street. Chrissy Snow waited in front of the bike path entrance.

“So, what is this big mystery?” she said.

“I’m not sure, but my grandfather said I needed to get you to help me.”

Chrissy’s eyes narrowed. “This isn’t one of your practical jokes, is it? Because if it is, I will pound you into the ground.” She made a fist and shook it in his face.

“C’mon, Chrissy. You have to admit that the fake snake was funny. I didn’t think your mother could climb a tree that quickly.”

Chrissy chuckled. “Yeah, that part was funny. Still, this better not be one.”

“Oh, it’s not.” Joe led the way down the bike path, then veered off onto the old trail leading to the abandoned barn.

“What are we doing here?” Chrissy said.

“Not sure yet.” Joe took out his mother’s cellphone, pushing a few buttons.

“Does your mother know you took that?”

“Not exactly, but she is always losing it. She won’t notice—.” He held up his hand for her to be quiet. “Yes, could you connect me to room 1225, please? Thanks.”  He tilted the phone away. “I have to talk to my grandfather. He said to call when we got here.” Turning his attention back to the phone as a voice came on the line.

“Hi, Grandpa. Yup, we’re here. Me and Chrissy. Un-huh, un-huh, okay got it.  See ya.” He ended the call and put the phone away.

Joe reached into his pocket and pulled out the small box.

“What’s that?” Chrissy asked.

“Something we have to build?”

“Build? That small? And it takes two of us?”

Joe shrugged and led the way into the old barn.

“You sure this is safe?”

“Grandpa said we needed to open this inside here, so I think it is.”

“You think so?”

Joe smiled. “Here we go.” He placed the package on the ground and stepped back, pulling Chrissy with him.

“What are you doing?”

“Following instructions. Now please be quiet for a minute, I need to focus.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the crumpled note.

“What once was hidden, let it now be shown, and share the magic we have known.”

Nothing happened.

“Is this some kind of joke, Joe, cuz I will not be happy if it—.”

The blinding light and sound knocked them back. Smoke filled the room, then swirled out the roof.

Joe stood, staring at the scene. Chrissy held his hand. “Wha, wha, what is that?”

Piled before them were parts of a colossal machine. Red velvet covered some pieces; others were shiny metal. Gold tinsel peeked from its wrapping, and leather straps with bells hung from the rafters.

A book, thick with pages, floated to the ground in front of them. Joe bent down to pick it up.

“What’s that?” Chrissy said, leaning over his shoulder.

Joe held the book up for her to read the cover.

“Operating Santa’s Sleigh: Some Assembly Required.”

“You’re gonna build this thing?” Chrissy asked.

“Nope,” Joe shook his head. “We are both gonna build this.”

(Part IV: Gathering the Herd)

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.