Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 3 - Into the deer shed

A wave of warmth hit the two elves as they stepped into the gloom of the barn. Velvety darkness, with just dull grey outlines hinting where the stalls were, hid its inhabitants. Every other sense, however, betrayed their presence.  Snorts and grunts greeted them, and as they moved towards the sounds Elvis felt the huff of hot breath on his cheek. Entynne’s hand sought his and he grasped it gratefully, hoping his eagerness wouldn’t come across as too needy or melodramatic.

They stepped slowly into the cocktail of scents. Warm flesh and hay mingled with a sharp acrid undertone. And when they opened their mouths, they could taste the inevitable evidence of a group of large animals shut inside a shed for hours on end.

“Eee-uw!” groaned Entynne, as her boot slipped into something slimy on the floor, sending up an unmistakable stench that answered the question of what is was. “Reindeer are so gross.”

A harsh hur-umph of indignation came from the far corner.

As their eyes adjusted, shapes floated out of the blackness. Dim glints of light shining through the slats of the walls bounced off antlers and gleaming eyes, and other details slowly drifted up. To his right, Elvis spied a lantern hanging low on the wall. He dropped Entynne’s hand and patted his tunic pocket for his tinderbox, then reached for the lantern and whispered a little prayer that it held enough candle and wick to light once he got a spark.

His first strike produced nothing. The side of the box was damp and reluctant to produce a spark. After trying five more times and adding a few choice elven curses, a flame finally blossomed and lit the stubby lump of wax. He closed the lantern and lifted it to shoulder height.

Nine sets of reindeer eyes stared silently at the elves, like Members of the Board in a meeting interrupted by a pair of over-eager office cleaners. Some slowly chewed the cud, one coughed decorously, another let out a whining fart that sounded like a complaint.  At the far end, a radiant red nose lit a final set of eyes, making their owner look like a thing possessed.

Entynne bent down and pulled the lid off a wooden barrel in the corner. It was half-full with the specially-enriched lichen pellets Klaus fed the beasts. She took a large scoopful of the greenish-gold lumps and poured them into the trough at the nearest stall. The two animals inside pranced in delight and thrust their muzzles into the mix, setting off sparkles as they crunched the contents. Elvis swore that the hind legs of one of them seemed to levitate ever so slightly as she gobbled greedily.

One by one, they filled the feeding troughs and the reindeer greedily tucked into their evening meal. But as the approached the last stall, the first animal they’d fed raised its head and said it a clipped Scandinavian accent “Don’t bother with him, my friends. He wouldn’t touch high fibre with an antler.”

Knocked on his backside by shock into a soft sludge of something unmentionable, Elvis shook his head in disbelief. He goggled at the reindeer and stuttered “Excuse m-me. Wh –wh-what did you say?”

With a huff of warm breath through its nostrils, the animal sighed. “Don’t waste the lichen on him. He won’t eat it. It’s sugar he wants. A real junkie. Why do you think his nose is red?
“By the way, Comet’s the name. Thank you so much for stepping in after you-know-who drunk himself silly. Terribly decent. Much obliged, I’m sure.” 

He finished his sentence with a sharp Teutonic click of his back heels, and bent back down to his trough.

Entynne took a step back, stumbling against the plank in front of the last stall. A hot, dry muzzle pressed against her hand and sniffed greedily. With a suppressed sneeze, it pulled back and nuzzled her tunic pocket. Soft lips found the spare candy cane she’d been saving for later and pulled it out in a flash. Before she could shout in protest, the striped stick had been dropped to the ground and stamped to a fine powder under the reindeer’s hooves. The animal then bent its head and proceeded to snort the crushed candy up. With every snort, its red nose glowed brighter.

“Bloody riff-raff,” Comet spat, and turned back to his food.

Past his first frenzy, Rudolph (if had to be him, didn’t it?) looked up at Entynne with doleful eyes and a pathetic hopeful smile playing on his snout.

“I needed that, I really did. Thank you,” came a voice that spoke of a thousand sleepness nights and years of self-abuse. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any more, have you, darlin'?”

The elf shook her dark curls and offered the scoopful of pellets “No, sorry. Why don’t I give you some of these instead.”

“Nah, can’t take ‘em. Food intolerance, innit? Anyway, I got special needs, seeing as how I’ve got a special job to do.”

“Pah!” came a disgusted snort from a female reindeer – Comet’s stall-mate – with a face reminiscent of the ascetic schoolma’am who had punished Entynne for laughing too much as Elf School. 

Warming to the red-nosed outcast at the thought her schooldays tormentor, she signaled to Elvis to empty his pockets. The first produced a disappointing haul - his tinderbox, a couple of acorns and small golden key he always carried but had no idea what it unlocked. The other, however, was better. Two handfuls of jelly babies, the red ones with their heads bitten off. His eyes beseeched Entynne not to take them, but to no avail. She grabbed them and held them out to Rudolph who gobbled them up in a hurry, before Elvis had the chance to change his mind.

The elves sat on a bale of hay and waited. Silence fell in stages as, one by one, the reindeer lay down in their stalls and settled for the night after their feed. All except Rudolph who was busy chasing the reflection of his now positively phosphorescent nose around his stall. A sugar rush can have that effect.

A nod between the elves agreed it was time to get back. Steeling themselves against the winds and unknown horrors outside, they pulled their robes tight around them and slipped out of the door, across the yard and back into the elf shed just in time to see Wilbur The Ancient scratch his crotch and furtively steal a blanket from the young elf lying asleep at his feet.

….stay tuned for the next episode, coming soon.

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