Happily Ever Over- Part 13

The final run

Ruedov was not red nosed- he was a fierce red-eyed reindeer. But misspelling his name and saying it was a shiny red nose made him less scary to children in a song written somewhat about him. He in fact never had any trouble fitting in. When he grew to full size he became the reindeer team leader. He was in fact smarter and scarier and stronger than any reindeer who had come along to join Santa for decades. With his skill and the team’s speed they were suddenly right behind Huk’s escaping boat.

The smaller boat, built to be used in a lesser version of the Fold, sailed fast in the better version. They could keep up but not over-take it. Huk’s boat let off a white vapor cloud that temporarily blinded the reindeer and the sleigh swayed crazily but Ruedov snorted and yanked the sled ahead so hard the people in the sleigh fell backward onto each other again.

Suddenly his head and shoulders clear of the cloud he found himself right behind Huk's boat. He kicked his iron-shod hooves forward and nicked the wooden hull. His lead partner Danzer saw what he was doing and jerked further ahead too- his head clearing the white cloud, jolting the sled again, and causing more falls. His hooves kicked at the hull in a ferocious way too. Huk's boat would edge ahead of them as they kicked momentarily losing their momentum. In their grunts they communicated to the rest of the reindeer behind them- and all of the team, even though they were buried in the vapor cloud still blinded, to force themselves to leap with a jerk even farther forward at the grunted signals of Ruedov. They would give Ruedov and Danzer the push forward they needed and not lose speed

Lenny wondered to himself, holding tightly to the sled (built for quantity not for comfort), what was wrong with them- but Santa knew something was up because the reindeer were skilled at smooth flying in any condition. He felt the signal vibrations on the voluntary reins and with the next one even he thrust his body forward to give the sled the jerk and leap the reindeer were doing for some reason.

Ahead in the clear the hooves of Ruedov and Danzer were wearing a hole away and when it was splitting the hull open, Huk at his wheel turned and saw it, his evil grin disappearing. He grabbed a sword and dove for the back, but it was too late. The hole was big enough now and Ruedov turned his head hard sideways. In the next jerk forward he inserted his antlers into it- his red glowing eyes met Huk's for just one hateful moment before he suddenly jerked his head back upright... his fearsome antlers acting like a can opener cracked the boat apart. Huk’s sword slashed right in front of Ruedov’s non-red nose. Huk desperately held on to the cracking hull screaming as the boat lost its stability and fell downward in pieces.

The boat’s momentum stopped and as the sleigh passed over, the reindeer team shattered the pieces further as it came under their sharp hooves. Santa's whip finished off Huk as it stung the villain’s hands and he lost his grip.

Lenny peered over the sleigh's edge and saw Huk fall.. and then burn up in the fiery boundary of the Fold. The boat pieces went up in flames too. As good as it felt to see that, his mind was overcome by just how close those fiery boundaries were getting to the Sleigh. He could feel its heat on his face. He looked up toward Santa and saw that he had seen this disturbing development too.

The search of the massive Fold and fight at the strange pocket house had delayed them longer than they should have been. But no one had known what to expect. At least they were now rocketing in the right direction.. OUT. Lenny more than hoped it would be fast enough. He had lost track of the time, he did not know how much time they had left. If he had known he would have truly been afraid- because right at that second, the maximum safe time, ran out.

The children were scared but so brave in their actions. He thought they'd be a messy crying bunch but their faces were sober and wide-eyed peeking out from under the colorful blankets. One small boy in the back sled trailer was holding a pole. Lenny had to suppress a smile. The child was still ready to fight with whatever might come up behind them. Kids weren't so bad after all. He had only seen them crying and spoiled in parks or selfish and screaming in stores.. that such little humans could be so brave impressed him almost against his will.

He saw the smallest boy of all looking right up at him and when their eyes met the child moved next to him. This was the little boy he had unhooked from the terrible machine. He crawled onto Lenny’s lap and looked up into his eyes. He ducked low to hear what the child was saying. Below the rim of the sleigh the wind was a duller roar.

"Are you scared Mister?" he called up with a tremble in his voice. "You can hold on to me if you are."

In a sudden unexpected rush of affection Lenny put his arm around the boy. Luckily the rushing air dried his tears quickly.

"Yeah kid I'm scared, but here, we'll be okay." They sat together grasping hands, the child's tiny hand in Lenny's big gnarled mitt.

The whip cracked and the snap and sting rang like thousands of electric wires shorting out while thunder rolled overhead. The flames that had been seen swirling in the distance in all directions were no longer distant. The flames were terrible and beautiful all at once. The heat was intense, the air was quickly becoming un-breathable and the sled's speed that seemed amazing at the start was feeling slow and sluggish in the heat.

The Reindeer were covered in ash and blackening specks. Their fur was beginning to smoke, their muscles were strained, and their grunts and yowls echoed in the ever-decreasing tunnel of fire. Their iron-shod hooves were hitting the boundaries of the Fold and shot out sparks that in any other place would have looked like pretty showers of stars.

The Sleigh's once gleaming rudders were scarred and shot out the same starry sparks. The flaming walls were drowning out Santa’s deep “HO-HO”, the crackling of the whip, and suddenly it seemed, to all still aware, that everything had become slow motion. In the heat everything looked like it was melting, the fiery walls leapt into each other and the tiny point of starlit darkness just ahead..... closed.

As the fire descended on top them, Lenny covered the little boy with his coat bowing down low over the child.

He said "Don't look baby, don't look."

He thought he must be delirious- he heard voices whispering. Whispering happy voices?

The Reindeer bellowed in an unearthly scream and Santa looked up one last time at the fiery falls and let the whip crack with a force he could have never mustered unless it was death itself standing in front of him- with one final HHOOOOOOO! he willed his sleigh to fly, the reindeer's legs to churn the heat fractured air, and then the tunnel collapsed, in a roar on top of them.

The last thing Lenny felt before he blacked out was a tiny hand squeezing his own and then.. a bone numbing jolt.. and nothing.

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