Iron Wood: Chapter 12: Winter’s Eve

Seconds after Mr. Bear announced that the food was ready to be served, a warren of excited bunnies hopped in through the partially open front door.  Soon twelve baby bunnies were hopping around exploring the bear’s cabin, while their exasperated parents hopped in behind them and waved.  Grandpa Bear started to laugh, and wave at the excited bunnies hopping around.  The assembled gathering of animals bounced and waved happily at the new arrivals as well.  Now that everyone had finally gathered, the party could truly get started now.  One by one the animals formed a line, and were served by Mr. Bear and Grandpa Bear.  Xylenia giggled, when she was served a plate full of all sorts of yummy things.  The dragon carefully maneuvered to a spot to sit down, and set her stainless-steel plate onto the wooden floorboards.  Pudgy soon joined her, and was nibbling on kernels of Indian corn from his plate.

Mr. Bear had put out many different foods: pan fried fish of varying kinds, rehydrated preserved beef strips, boiled Indian corn, roasted wild mushrooms, fried wild onions, fluffy rolls with whippy butter, and a huge pumpkin pie.  The animals arranged themselves around the room, so that they could see each other.  And as the room grew quiet while everyone was eating, the hurricane lanterns cast a soft pale white light throughout the room.  The logs in the hearth crackled as the flames danced upon them.  Cobalt Eagle was pecking at his plate, munching on fish, while looking around the room as well.  “You have a wonderful home, Mr. Bear.  Thank you for inviting me to your gathering,” the eagle said while waving his left-wing tip at their host.  The large brown bear nodded, but did not respond, as he had just placed a fish into his mouth and was still chewing.  The hedgehog bounced, nodding in agreement, while nibbling on a warm fluffy roll.  “Yes, thank you Mr. Bear,” Pudgy exclaimed.  This resulted in many offerings of thanks for the animals around the room. 

There was enough food for everyone to eat a wonderful plate, and soon it was time for pie.  Grandpa Bear scientifically figured out a way to ensure every animal was able to get a piece of pie.  Having so many smaller animals in attendance, meant that the pie could serve all.  One by the room was served, and once more silence fell over the room, as the pie was devoured.  Everyone made pie differently, and the spice blend was much stronger in Mr. Bear’s pies.  The sugar content was weak, but the sources of natural sweetening foods were in short supply.  Angeliki Raven chirped, “marvelous pie Mr. Bear.”  The large brown bear nodded, “yes, it is.  Thankfully that one garden had enough pumpkins left for me to make another pie.”  Comix Hawk nodded and chirped, “I think that was the last human garden in the area.  I wonder if any food will grow back next year?”

Pudgy bounced, “Pudgy saved seeds from all the gathered foods we collected for Thanksoween.  When winter is over, Pudgy will start planting in the clearing by Argente’s cottage.”  The baby bunnies spoke in unison, “we want to help Pudgy too!”  As their parents laughed with tired smiles, they nodded while Mr. Bunny spoke. “By that time, you will be big enough to help Pudgy.  We just have to remember not to nibble on the growing plants.”  Argente giggled, “that is right.  Hopefully this coming year is free from adventures,” the silver fox said while looking at the hedgehog.  Pudgy was still munching on a tiny sliver of pie, that was more than suitable for him.  Cobalt chirped, “I hope so too.  But if the wolves appear, we may be forced to act once again.”

Xylenia looked over at the eagle, “wolves?”  Mr. Bear nodded, “yes.  The wolves are up to something.  They attacked Kodiak Island when the Mother of All Bears called upon us to witness her renewal.  Pudgy said they were tracking him in Alaska, on the return trip back home.  With the way he travels through the ground, I hope that meant the wolves lost him.”  Angeliki chirped, “I agree.”  Mary the artic fox looked up, “hey …stop this serious talk.  We are at a Christmas … err…. Winter’s Eve party.”  Grandpa Bear nodded, “yes, we can talk of serious topics later.  We will enjoy ourselves, and each other’s company, while we play a game.”

Patches the house cat meowed happily, and then scampered out of the door.  She climbed up until the wagon to retrieve her contribution to the party.  Dragging back a cloth bag full of something, the white tail of the cat swished back and forth while the other animals watched.  Pudgy was helping clean up, by collecting plates and pushing them across the floor to where Mr. Bear was sitting.  Xylenia giggled, and handed her plate across to the large brown bear with a smile.  The cat untied her bag’s loose knot, and the contents spilled out.  There was a couple strangle shaped dice.  They had a thin cylinder on top, of a square base, which was rounded down to a point at their bottoms.  The dice were much bigger than human sized, due to the animals having paws instead of fingers.  The dice were painted bright colors: red with white symbols, and blue with white symbols.

The house cat meowed, “I made a game for us to play.  I used to play this at Brenda’s house.  Whomever wins, will get a special cat prize.”  The announcement resulted in a mob of bunnies hopping up and bouncing around the cat. “I want to play, I want to play, what’s the prize, what’s a cat prize, I want to play, hey he cheated, no I didn’t, we haven’t started playing yet,” and a chorus of other questions ensued.  The house cat started to laugh, and petted each bunny on their head gently.  “Now, let me explain how to play,” Patches said with a soft meow.  She explained what the symbols meant, and how one could win the game.  There were strange words spoken: gimmel, hey, and shin.  Once everyone sorts of knew what they were doing, the game began.  Each took turns spinning the dice, except for Mr. Bear and his father.  They designated a bunny to spin on their behalf, due to the fact that the dice were too small for their large paws. 

The game started to become competitive as players were eliminated one by one.  The bunnies started to try to cheat, as the idea of a cat prize had taken over their imaginations.  Patches put a stop to that, and invalidated the scores with a stern meow.  Cobalt bounced over, and took the dreidel in his beak, and spun it.  He scored the lowest, but did not care, since he too was having fun playing with the dice.  Angeliki somehow was winning, which confused the raven, and made the bunnies more competitive.  After many rounds, the game was won by Mr. Drew, their red panda friend.  Patches meowed, “Drew is the winner!”  The bunnies started to pout, with the little legs folded across their bellies. “He cheated!  We want the special cat prize!”  The red panda stuck out his tongue, and wiggled his nose. “I won fair and square.”

The house cat padded outside of the cabin once more, through the partially open oak door.  The cat was gone for several minutes, and then returned carrying a paw red painted wooden sign that said welcome.  She scampered up to the red panda, and placed the sign in front of him.  Mr. Drew grinned, “thank you Patches!  This will look wonderful in my home.”  Patches meowed happily, and hugged the red panda.  The baby bunnies looked deflated, “that’s it?”  Their imagination had inflated the prize to be something much grander.  But such was reality in the forest now.  The availability of supplies was extremely limited.  The cat had taken what she had collected for her tree house repairs, and instead chose to make the dreidel and the prize.  In the end, that was a better use of materials anyway.  The bunnies kept playing with the dice, having decided to determine which bunny was best.  This resulted in much laughter to echo around the room. 

Mr. Bear pulled out a beige clay jug from underneath the table, and pulled the cork out of its opening at the top.  Picking up the jug, he took a long sip, before handing the jug over to his father.  As the elderly gray bear took a draw from the jug, Xylenia started to giggle.  “Whatever that stuff is, I can smell it all the way over here.”  The large brown bear grinned, “apple jack brandy.  Would you like some?”  The dragon rubbed her chin with a clawed paw, “hmm … I should abstain.  I do not know what tonight will bring.”  A voice called out from behind the dragon, “oh go on Xylenia, live a little!”  The animals watched as a strange ball of white light illuminated behind the dragon.  Pudgy recognized the ornament, and then started to wave. “Hi Glitter, merry Winter’s Eve!” 

A fair skinned elf woman appeared with softly glowing blue eyes and pale blonde hair within the ornament.  “Merry Winter’s Eve Pudgy, and friends.  I am to inform you that Santa and his wife are in route to your home as we speak.”  The little hedgehog wiggled his nose, “Pudgy home or Mr. Bear home?”  The elf woman giggled, “Mr. Bear’s cabin … since his clearing is much easier to land in.  The eagle chirped, “I should take flight.”  The elf woman shook her head, “that is not necessary Cobalt.  Santa has been flying at night for hundreds of years.  I wish I could have attended your party, perhaps next year they will let me out of operations.  Santa will go into greater detail with what is going on, and how we have adapted.  Oh …I have another conference call to attend.  Everyone is scheduling mooz calls, now that we have the networking equipment.  Oh joy…a mooz call to determine the status of the next mooz call.  Merry Winter’s Eve everyone!” 

The ornament’s glow faded, and within moments it had disappeared.  Xylenia reached over for clay jug of apple jack, “perhaps one sip.”  The liquid burned in her mouth, but had a sweet taste to it.  Soon the dull feeling of relaxation spread throughout her body, as the liquor was bear strength.  As the dragon set down the jug, she began to giggle.  Mary the snow fox laughed, and with the assistance of Mr. bear, also was able to take a drink. Her left ear folded back, while the right one folded forward.  “Ohhhh …. boy…. that’s the stuff.”  Drew was sitting by the fire, telling the baby bunnies a story about Christmas at his home far to the west.  Stories being told, hugs, and laughter filled the room.  Until a sound of ringing bells could be heard outside, which resulted in the room going silent.  Pudgy bounced happily, and scampered out of the cabin calling out, “SANTA!”

Mr. Bear stood up, and then walked the couple steps over to his oak front door.  Pulling it open fully, he watched as the various animals started to exit the cabin, and head out onto the porch. Grandpa Bear was last to exit, and saw something he never thought he would ever see.  In a cloudless night sky, there were eight reindeer hitched to a red painted sleigh.  The sleigh was flying overhead, and was on a landing approach overhead. The long legs of the reindeer were galloping, though they were not on the ground.  Somehow, they were pulling the sleigh through the air, though on a downward trajectory.  The two leading animals connected to the ground first, which began to pull the rest of the team down to the ground softly.  The sleigh was last to land, and held two human occupants dressed in red and white outfits.  It was quite a sight to see, as the team of animals maneuvered the clearing to point in the direction of the cabin. 

Santa stood up in his sleigh and called out, “thank you boys for getting us here safely!”  As the tall human stepped out of the sleigh, he adjusted his black belt slightly, as he hoisted his pants to proper position.  “Well Alexandra … we made it.  I wonder what we will find here?”  Mrs. Claus giggled, as she stood up, and exited the sleigh on the opposite side.  “I am sure the party is in full swing.  Too bad there was no snow, we could have pulled up closer to the cabin.”  Her husband nodded, “not sure exactly what is going on now a days.  If there is snow, it is too much in areas, or none at all in other.  Winter is changing somehow, perhaps I should assign our weather department to study it?” 

Santa reached into the back of his red sleigh, and pulled out a large red bag lined with white fur.  Hoisting it onto his back, he started to walk forwards beside the left side of his team of reindeer.  His wife walked forward along the right, and joined her husband to walk side by side towards the log cabin.  The stacked stone chimney was puffing with white smoke, as a group of animals were bouncing and waving on the covered front porch.  Alexandra giggled, and adjusted her fine silver glasses at the end of her nose.  While it indeed was dark out, the light from within the cabin illuminated the ground outside of the cabin.  The two humans walked to the steps of the porch, and Santa exclaimed, “Merry Christmas everyone!”  His wife giggled, “Merry Winter’s Eve everyone!” 

Mr. Bear waved his paw, “welcome Santa and Mrs. Claus to my home.  Please come in, are you hungry?”  The husband and wife walked up the porch steps, and through the front door inside the cabin.  Both laughed as a stream of animals padded in around their feet, and took positions along the walls of the cabin.  Maneuvering to a spot out of the way, both bears entered, then moved two human sized wooden chairs forward for them to sit on.  Alexandra smiled warmly, as tuffs of her pale blonde hair fell around her shoulders.  She positioned the chairs, and then both herself and her husband sat down.  Pudgy bounced happily in the center of the floor, “Santa! Santa! Santa, what about the reindeer?  Do they get to come inside too?”  Grandpa Bear laughed, “the cabin is a bit too full Pudgy.  But I will go check on them in a bit.” 

The stories were true about Santa: he was a tall, heavy-set human, with long white hair and beard.  He was dressed in red from head to toe, with white fur accents.  His red sack was set beside him on the floor, and as Santa sat up properly, he adjusted his round silver glasses.  His eyes were piercing steel gray, though almost glowed a soft blue.  “Sooo … the bunnies were cheating at dreidel I see?”  The baby bunnies’ ears folded down, and remarked in unison, “how did you know?!?!?!?”  Mary and Drew were sitting dumbstruck, as both Santa and his wife were sitting in the cabin across from them.  Pudgy’s stories about the north pole really were true, and that filled them with only happiness.  Although if Santa was real, what about the Easter bunny?

Santa began to speak, “Pudgy … the world really has changed like you said.  We flew from the North Pole to here, and encountered no airplanes in the skies.  The world is dark, since all the cities and towns are gone.  Thank goodness for EPS: Elf Positioning Systems, I was able to navigate here.  There are mountains and lakes in places where they never were before, and the animals have spread all over.  So, in a world without humans, what does Santa do now?”  Alexandra giggled, “I suggested a long vacation.”  The animals around the room started to laugh, and through the mysteries of magic, were able to understand each other.  The man began to speak of great plans, and a retooled operation. 

The elves had completely retrofitted their entire operations in the time since the first communication with Pudgy.  The electronics division was the one department that changed the most.  Since batteries were no longer available, their devices would need to be self-powered.  The toys were disassembled, and rebuilt for a different type of recipient.  Deliveries had already begun, to all the good animals of the world.  Warm clothing, blankets, delicious foods, self-powered lights, and updates to homes were being delivered by teams of elves.  Unlike the old days which they were compressed to one night per year, they were able to deliver during the course of an entire month.  Santa laughed throughout the status report, and petted any animal that scampered close enough with a white glove covered hand. 

Mr. Bear looked up at Santa, “Mr. Claus … I am curious.  What did the Mother of All Bears say when you arrived on Kodiak Island?”  Alexandra giggled, “well she did try to eat him at first.”  Santa laughed, hoo hoo hooo…. Then I told her she would be on the naughty list, which confused her.  When I explained I was friends with Pudgy Hedgehog, and offered her a warm blanket with bears on it, she became more pleasant.  That was a fun day on the island …”  The magical human man trailed off, as he touched his wife on her knee with a smile.  Alexandra nodded, “that lodge was nice, by the coastline.  Many bears had moved into it, and were busy making repairs.  The roof had collapsed, so thankfully out elvish craftsmen could assist with repairs.”  Santa nodded, “and the Russian ones in that other port town were quite pleased when I repaired the brewery.”

Grandpa Bear laughed, “I bet they were.  Those bears drained the island of all vodka in a week.  I hope they are patient enough to wait till it is strong enough.  Speaking of which …Santa … Mrs. Clause, would you like some apple jack?”  The elderly bear reached under a table, and pulled out a full brown jug.  Santa grinned, “yes please.”  Curiosity had got the better of the baby bunnies, and they had crept closer to Mrs. Claus’s feet, and were pawing at her red velvet slippers.  The fair skinned woman smiled, and reached down to gently pick up a couple and place them in her lap.  Petting softly, the bunnies looked happy, while their parents watched as they approached slowly.  The jug was passed over to Santa, who uncorked the top of the jug.  Snipping slowly, he remarked afterwards, “oh my …apple jack.  I have not had a bourbon in a long time.  Ever since 1974, when that guy said he wasn’t a crook …” 

Santa took a small sip from the jug, and his cheeks turned rosy.  “Oh my…. 170 proofs, I think.  Alexandra, would you like a sip?”  His wife shook her head, “no …too strong for me.  Besides, I have bunnies to play with.”  She giggled, and was in the process of making sure each bunny was properly petted and hugged.  Cobalt looked over at the two humans, which drew the attention of Mrs. Claus.  “Cobalt, you do not need to fear us.  Please come closer, Xylenia told us your memories are fragmented. I can perhaps help with that.”  The bald eagle nodded, and walked over to the woman.  Standing on the floor, he was about two feet tall, so Alexandra did not need to bend far to place her right hand on top of the eagle’s head.  “Hmm … yes I can tell … the problem here.” Pudgy scampered over to sit beside Cobalt, and look up at Mrs. Claus.  “What is wrong with Cobalt?”  Alexandra’s pale blue eyes softened, “large portions of his memories have been outright erased, while others are fragments.  I can fix this, to an extent.”

Pudgy watched as Alexandra opened a red velvet pouch, on the exterior of her red velvet jacket.   She slipped her hand inside, and retrieved a stainless-steel chain.  The links were fine, with a tight weave, and seemed to go on forever as she raised her hand.  A long prism crystal was tied at the end, which seemed to glow with a soft magenta light.  Alexandra patted the back of Cobalt’s neck and gently ran her hand along his back.  The eagle chirped as it tickled, and watched as the prism dangled in front of his eyes.  Soon, all body movements ceased, and he seemingly was frozen.  Argente stood up and padded over, “Pudgy …come over here.  Let us give Mrs. Claus room to work.”  The silver fox pawed at the hedgehog, and pulled him back away from the magical human woman. 

Mr. Bear was taking another long draw from the apple jack bourbon jug, when he noticed the reindeer outside of the window.  After completing his sip, and swallowing, he corked the jug and looked over at his father.  “Pops, lets go have a word with those reindeer.”  The large brown bear took the jug handle in his mouth, and started to slowly walk out of the cabin.  Grandpa bear chuckled, and took his jug in similar fashion, and followed after his son.  Santa laughed heartily, “don’t give them too much!  I have to be able to leave tonight at some point.  Well, while my wife is busy.  Who here is wondering what is in my large red sack on the floor?”  The baby bunnies were bouncing excitedly around the sack.  Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat had also crept closer, pawing at the bag as well. 

Angeliki and Comix bounced over and looked at Cobalt, whose eyes had turned milk white.  Comix Hawk looked up at Alexandra, “that doesn’t look good.”  She giggled, “no, everything is fine.  It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle back together.  This lens will let me refocus his mind, while not erasing anything else.  But there are limitations to this process, which we will see.  In the meantime, I shall defer to my husband.  If we do not open that sack, the bunnies will chew through it.”  The woman giggled loudly, which made the other animals laugh as well when they saw the bunnies attempting to do just that.  The raven strode over, and started to shoo the bunnies away from the bag, and then chirped at Santa. 

Mr. Claus smiled, and pulled the sack towards him, and started to undo the white tufted cords that tied it shut.  As he opened the bag, Santa looked down at the group.  “Which one of you is Patches?”  The white house cat padded up and waved her paw, “hello …Santa.  You never used to come to my house ….”  The magical man nodded, “well there were rules to which homes I could go to.  I would bend the rules sometimes, and Brenda would get a cat related present.  It would confuse her, but the present was eventually given to you …over seven days.  Anyhow, I overheard you speaking to the others.  Your tree house was blown down during a very bad storm, is that correct?”  The house cat nodded and meowed sadly, then watched in amazement, as a brightly glowing yellow button was placed in front of her.  “Press the button, and your home will be restored.” 

The cat bounced happily, and pushed the button, which immediately disappeared.  A loud racket could be heard coming from outside of the cabin’s door.  “I had my elves work on a replacement tree house for you.  This one …will not come down … unless you have a storm six times as bad as the one that took down your last home.”  Patches started to cry, and meowed while hugging Santa’s leg.  Smiling ear to ear, Santa started to call out the various animals and offered them a gift as well.  Mary and Drew also got improvements to the former dragon cave: with better insulation, a wood stove, and blankets.  The snow fox was given a foot driven fan, for when the temperate climate was too warm for her liking.  The red panda was given a couple of elf comic books, featuring the adventures of Zippy and Blinky.  Both red panda and snow fox bounced and hugged Santa’s legs, thanking him excitedly. 

The bunny warren did not require any enhancements since it was already well constructed, and insulated with the front door Cobalt had originally made.  The gift of warm fuzzy blankets, as well as matching winter clothing was a big hit.  There was a color for each bunny, making identification of their twelve children much easier.  Mr. and Mrs. bunny were gifted similar outfits, but also an interior door to their part of the warren, to make their part of the cave much quieter.  The bunnies bounced happily, and excitedly started putting on their outfits to model them.  Their parents waved, and thanked Santa for the wonderful presents. 

Argente was gifted black fuzzy boots for each of her paws, silver hat, and matching scarf.  Her home also received a fireplace upgrade, so she could heat her home.  Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat were given blankets, thermal curtains, to make their home warmer.  Pope was given a pipe, tobacco, and a striker to light it.  Tess was given a sparkly tail ring that would chime like a bell.  While thanking them, both Mr. Bear and his father returned with empty jugs.  The bears grinned, and watched as the bunnies were bouncing around in spiffy outfits.  “Oh boy, Santa brought presents,” Mr. Bear exclaimed.  Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were given lumber, already cut to length and stacked beside their pond, as well as food for their underwater home. 

The field mice were gifted home enhancements as well, a fireplace with chimney, as well as doors that could seal their cave from the winter weather.  Tiny fuzzy blankets, and matching scarves with mittens completed their gift.  Angeliki and Comix were gifted new nests, sheltered in such a way that they were weather shielded.  Both birds bounced happily, and thanked Santa.  In time, all gifts had been given, with the exception of Pudgy.  The little hedgehog was too busy hugging and playing to notice he had not been given anything yet.  It was not until Santa called out for him, that he was snapped back to attention.  “Pudgy, would you come over here please?”

As the little hedgehog scampered up to Santa’s boot, “yes Santa?”  The magical human man grinned, “you are the host to many get togethers.  So, it would only make sense for me to give you something to assist with that purpose.  When you get back to your home, you will find your storehouse and home completely full of supplies.  This should help everyone in the forest, and get you through to the middle of spring at the very least.  I know you can portion it out, so it might even last till next Winter’s eve.  I also had the elves leave you a replacement artic weather outfit, in case if you were to need it.  I certainly hope not though.”  The little hedgehog started to bounce excitedly, and hugged Santa’s leg.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you Santa!”

Mr. Claus nodded, “you are very welcome Pudgy, I know you will put those supplies to good use.  Mr. Bear and Mr. Bear Senior …. I have smoked salmon for you.  As well as a sack of dried corn, barley, and a can of yeast … for your operation out back.”  Santa produced the food gifts, and they appeared on the counters of the kitchen.  Both bears bounced excitedly and spoke in unison, “thank you Santa!”  Pudgy looked over at Cobalt, whose yellow eyes had returned and he was moving again.  Alexandra put the prismatic crystal away, and sighed softly, “I have done all that I can for our eagle friend here.  Cobalt, how are you feeling?”  The eagle chirped, “better …my head feels much clearer now.”  Santa looked over at Cobalt, “this procedure was your present.  Next year, hopefully nothing happens, and I can return to give you something else than your memories back.”  The eagle chirped, “this was present enough, and meeting you as well Mr. and Mrs. Claus.”

Xylenia was sitting quietly, watching the proceedings.  The green dragon was happy, though she knew that it would be soon time to go once more.  Santa spoke once more, “my elves are doing the same throughout the world now.  By the end of the month, all the gifts will be distributed.  I must admit, this sort of operation is much easier on my team.  Perhaps I will take Alexandra up on that suggestion of a full month off?”  Alexandra giggled, “you will be, that was not a suggestion.  It will be interesting though, now that all the human places are gone.  Perhaps we will need to make out own place to vacation in?  Savannah was nice …”      

Suddenly, the ornament started to glow once more in the center of the room.  Glitter’s voice rang out, “Santa … by our estimates, you only have one hour or so left in the world.”  Santa looked up at Glitter’s face, “I understand Glitter.  I was just wrapping up things here.”  The ornament faded once more, and just as suddenly it was gone.  Alexandra turned to Pudgy in front of her, “Pudgy … this world is not hospitable to humans …even we magical ones.  If we stay any longer, then we will run out of time to return home.”  The little hedgehog nodded, “everyone, form a line and start hugging Santa and Mrs. Claus!”  The little critter said, and soon a hugging line had formed.  After a couple minutes had passed, both of the magical humans were hugged and thanked for the wonderful presents. 

Santa stood up, and folded over his now empty sack, over his arm.  Alexandra nodded, and stood as well, adjusting her red velvet robes.  Her husband spoke first, “Merry Winter’s Eve to one and all, and Merry Christmas as well.”  Alexandra giggled again softly while nodding, “Merry Winter’s Eve!”  As the two humans headed out through the open oak door, they stopped at the end of the porch.  Santa looked back, “Xylenia, will be coming with us as well.  Please say your goodbyes,” the man said while starting to walk off with his wife once more back to their sleigh. 

The dragon looked around the room as sad faces of animals looked in her direction, “well it’s time for me to say good bye as well now.  But I will be back again next year, so please stay safe.  I hope certainly that there are no more adventures, and you have a boring year.”  The room started to laugh, and soon another hugging line had formed.  The dragon was hugged and goodbyes were spoken in short order.  Then it was the dragon’s turn to scamper off the porch, around the cabin, out past the team of reindeer, and up into the red wooden sleigh that Santa and his wife were sitting in.  However, there was a slight problem …. The reindeer were asleep.  The apple jack bourbon worked a little too well. Santa was calling out the names of his team, “WAKE UP Dasher, WAKE UP Dancer, WAKE UP Prancer, WAKE UP Vixen, WAKE UP Comet, WAKE UP Cupid, WAKE UP Donner, AND WAKE UP Blitzen!”

The reindeer were roused awake, and with a crack of the whip, the team started to pull the sleigh forward while drifting to the right.  Everyone on porch started waving and calling out their goodbyes to Santa and Mrs. Claus.  Slowly the sleigh rose into the air, and Santa was having to work much harder this time to get his team of reindeer to fly properly.  As the sleigh passed overhead of the cabin, the dragon peeked out the back of the sleigh and waved goodbye.  The sounds of ringing bells soon faded away, and the area around the cabin was quiet once more.  Everyone’s spirits were uplifted, bellies full, and wonderful gifts being received.  There was only one thing left to do, and everyone headed back inside of Mr. Bear’s cabin.  The door was shut, and the cabin was cleaned up. 

Grandpa Bear said that everyone should spend the night, since it was so late.  The group of animals agreed, and took their spots around the room.  Another log was added to the fireplace hearth, ensuring the warmth of the fire would last until morning.  The lanterns were extinguished, and soon the two bears headed back to their respective bedrooms within the cabin.  Pudgy yawned sleepily, as he nestled against Cobalt, drifting off to sleep.  The eagle was the last to fall asleep, wanting to remember all that he could of this evening.  But soon sleep came for him as well, and the darkness of rest overtook him.  There were no nightmares, no monsters outside, just a peaceful winter evening. 

In the morning, the group of animals woke one by one, and soon were bouncing excitedly.  Santa’s talk of home enhancements had everyone talking excitedly.  A grumpy Grandpa Bear came out, rubbing his forehead.  The elderly bear had a bit too much, and had woken up hung over.  He was quickly hugged by one and all, and opened the door to let out the group of animals.  His son was still out cold, so Grandpa Bear handled the good byes, before shutting the door and going back to bed.  The parade of animals formed, and soon the empty wagon was hitched up to Argente, with the field mice and Pudgy riding inside.  Past the strand of pine trees, down the hill, past the granite boulder, make a left at the creek, up the three water falls, and to the beaver pond they headed. 

Just as Santa had promised, a stack of lumber was sitting next to the beaver pond.  It was green wood, and cut into various lengths and configurations.  Both beavers started to excitedly sim across their pond, to inspect the lumber.  Patches was meowing excitedly, pointing up into the trees.  Her tree house had been restored, and was much more enhanced than the last time.  It appeared to be weather tight, with large glass viewing panels which offered a 360-degree view.  There was also a chimney pipe sticking out of the one part, which appeared to be a way to heat the tree house as well.  There was a serious metal ring and support structure underneath the tree house that went around the tree trunk, as well as formed a sturdy bridge to the cross.  Patches meowed excitedly, and took off through the frost covered leaves.  Up the hill, and across the bridge to her new treehouse she went. 

The bunnies said their goodbyes, and then all 14 of them hopped excitedly towards their warren.  Mr. and Mrs. Bobcat meowed happily, hugged Pudgy, and then headed back to their home further up the creek.  Argente took Pudgy back to his home, and then let out the field mice with him, before heading back to her place with Mary and Drew.  Similar scenes played out, with the animals eventually reaching their homes, and finding all manner of wonderful things.  There were no toys, but plenty of things take make one comfortable.   The red-tailed hawk and raven chirped happily as they discovered their new nests high up in the trees.  Santa was true to his word, and what was promised, had been delivered during the party while they were all away. 

Pudgy headed to his front door after waving with his field mice friends, as the larger animals had wandered off.  After unlocking his door, Pudgy headed inside.  Boxes were piled up along each side of the room, and on the counter tops.  As the hedgehog slowly walked, Mr. and Mrs. Field mouse followed beyond with wonder filled wide eyes.  Jars, cans, bags, boxes of food were everywhere.  They were portioned out into hedgehog sized containers, making it very easy for Pudgy to cook.  Heading into the storehouse, Pudgy pushed the button to light up the interior.  Every single stall was packed with food.  Preserved meats, cheeses, grains of all sorts, salt, pepper, brown and white sugar, molasses, vegetables of all manner … every single stall and shelf was full.  The little hedgehog started to whimper, “thank you Santa!”

The field mice started to cry also, as they realized that this bounty of food, really could last all year as the magical human said.  After many thanks were spoken, and the whole of the storehouse explored, Pudgy hugged his mice friends before they scampered back up the tunnel to their home.  After securing the tunnel door, and locking the various cages, the bounty of supplies was secured.  The hedgehog scampered back to his home, and then started to unpack the boxes.  He put away all manner of things: jams, jellies, peanut butter, powdered milk, and proper tea flakes.  One whole box was full of tea: black tea, green tea, ginseng tea, and all sorts of herbal ones.  There was also a tiny can of coffee, with an elf bouncing on the can.  A note was tied to the top of it, “white hat Pudgy, hope you never need to use the coffee.  All your friends at fulfillment unit 47.”

The hedgehog bounced happily, and was very busy moving the wooden crates and boxes into the storehouse one at a time.  Eventually his home returned to normal, with the exception of one brightly wrapped red bag on his kitchen table.  After undoing the white ribbon tie, the little hedgehog found his arctic weather gear.  Wiggling his nose, and running his paws across the soft white fabric, “Pudgy thank Santa for everything!”  The light of day faded, as this time of year the daylight hours were much shorter.  The woodstove was lit, and Pudgy started to make supper.  Before tapping into the newly provided supplies, he would use up the gathered supplies.  So, dinner was wild onion jam, and hardtack biscuits.  He did open one thing: a tiny metal can of black tea. The hedgehog added the leave sparingly to his tea kettle on the stove.  Once the tea was ready, he took a sip, “ohhh…that tastes so good ….”  The hedgehog sighed happily, and watched as the first flakes of snow started to fall outside his round windows.  “Merry Winter’s Eve …and Day to everyone.”

By Cobalt

Cobalt is a normal guy that goes to work. Pudgy is his hedgehog friend who lives in a hobbit style home nearby, and goes on epic adventures. All Pudgy stories are copyrighted to Cobalt. Doomcock, Harvey Cthulhu, and Xanadoom is copyrighted to Overlord DVD.

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