rom the tower, he watches their approach. Two meaningless black specks. He’s been alone for so long. Nothing but the echoes of ghosts to keep him company. He reaches down inside, blindly fumbling around the pit of his stomach. And there it is. Still, after all these years. A hot marble. Anger.
It rises from his belly, like bile or hot coals, rattling up his ribcage, clawing up his throat, filling his mouth, his nasal passages, running through his antlers like an electrical current, and finally, boiling down into his nose.
They walk. They walk some more. They walk and walk and walk. And they stop.
“How far have we come?” asks the Dentist.
“A ways,” answers the Prospector.
“How far to go?”
“A ways away.”
And then they stop stopping to walk. And they walk some more.
As they walk, they sink. Deeper with each step. The temperature is rising, vapour wafting off the snow, clinging to them in grey strands. It’s like pressing through television static. They sink and the snow begins to tower over them on either side, slush sucking at their feet.
A red light burns through the mist ahead of them. The air clears, pulling back like curtains to show walls and gabled roofs, gaping windows, a turret with a red light glowing in its window. A castle cut from the ice. It had been magnificent, full of colour and light. Now, streams of water run down the eaves, as the whole thing sinks. The two travelers stands in its shadow.
High above them, the red light in the turret goes out.
They climb the stairs. The Dentist can’t reach the knocker, so his old friend boosts him, grunting with the effort. “You got fat.”
“You got old.”
Boom, boom, boom. The sound echoes through the structure. It takes minutes to fade, but no one comes. The Prospector leans against the doors, and they swing inwards, drooping on their hinges.
As they enter the yawning halls, there’s the whiff of gingerbread and nutmeg. Then the rush of mold underneath. Tinkers and tailors, whittlers and cobblers: the place should be a buzzing hive as the crafters make the last push before the big day. But the workbenches sit empty, stools overturned. Holly and ivy hang like corpses from the rafters.
Their footsteps echo, the Prospector loping and the Dentist scurrying to keep up. They pass one hall after the other, a straight line like a throat, heading deeper and deeper toward the belly of the place.
They finally reach the end. A little light from the window hits a chair in the centre of the room. A throne. Built from antlers. The Dentist counts: One, two, three…
A red glow lights up the rest of the scene. The Dentist sees more: Four, five, six, seven…
The Reindeer is seated on the throne. Sprawled unnaturally, like a man. His nose glows red. A darker, more crimson red than they remember.
Eight, the Dentist finishes. Eight pairs of antlers.
The Reindeer slides from the throne and finds his hooves. The shreds of a blue vest hangs from his shoulders: the remnants of the Walmart takeover. He paces a wide circle around the others, as they spread out to meet him.
The Prospector spins his pickaxe, the metal glinting in the half-light.
The Reindeer paws the ground and snorts.
The Dentist tries to remember anything from the Brazilian jujitsu class he took last year in Tarzana.
Everything goes still and silent like a thread pulled tight. The Reindeer’s nose glows brighter than ever. A supernova. It lights up all their faces. The lines and scars.
They’re not friends anymore, thinks the Dentist. Friends are people who spend time together. Who know each other. Who can hurt you the most, but don’t.
But these are not my enemies, thinks the Reindeer.
Their only enemy is time. The time that was stolen. The time they’ve wasted.
Another year, thinks the Prospector. Another year almost gone.
The red light in the room fades. The Reindeer’s nose dies out to black and he drops his head. The Prospector lets his pickaxe fall to the floor. The Dentist relaxes his stance.
“I want to go back,” he says.
But no one is listening. The others sit on the floor, dejected. The Dentist reaches into his parka and brings out the wad of papers. He crumples them up and lights them with a pack of matches. The flames curl the ends of the paper: “Agreement for the sale of Christmas T…” The final word already burned away.
As he searches for scraps of wood to pile on top, his foot hits something.
He leans down and picks up a wooden soldier. Only half-carved.
He finds his scalpel and gets to whittling. It comes out cleanly and quickly from the wood. Old habits. He makes the lines softer and cuts out the rifle.
“What’re you doing?” The Prospector leans over him.
“Making a gift.” He carves a smile onto the face. Something kind.
He doesn’t answer, because he doesn’t know yet. There are other wooden blocks scattered across the floor. So much left to carve.
The Prospector goes to the cupboard and pulls out the old things. He gets dressed. Fur pants and suspenders, red wool and wooden buttons. He sits on the throne to pull on the black boots.
The Reindeer returns, dragging the sleigh out of storage. The Prospector eases him into the harness, gently placing the bridle between his teeth. The Dentist runs his hand along the tarnished brass rail where the reins are still looped. The oak boards have been eaten by rot and worms. It would fall apart, tomorrow or next year. But for now it would hold together.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.