To All A Good Night by MaryB.

Word Count 1,389

“…and to all a good night!” Scott finished the book and closed it dramatically.

There was a hushed silence in the great room broken only by the crackling fire.  Until Charles turned his trusting eyes to his father. “Are reindeers real, Papa?”

“Reindeer,” Scott automatically corrected. “And, yes, they are real.”

Johnny stared at his brother for a moment. Then, as casually as he could, he said, “Let me see that book, Boston.” He took it from Scott’s hand and looked at the cover. “That explains it,” he mumbled to himself.

Murdoch cocked his head in question. “Explains what, son?”

But the youngsters still had their own questions. “Have you ever seen one?” Catey asked.

“No,” Scott admitted. “They live pretty far from here.”

“Have you, Papi?” Grady asked a still distracted Johnny.

Johnny nodded slowly. “I have.”

All eyes turned to him.

Scott’s eyebrows raised. “You’ve seen a reindeer. In Mexico?”

“Wasn’t in Mexico. I was travelin’ in the mountains…”

.

Johnny’s faithful horse pushed through the snow, lifting his legs high with each step. Johnny pulled him to a stop and squinted at the brightness all around him, trying to see a place to bed down for the night. Or two, if Trevor didn’t show up tomorrow. He reached down and petted the pinto’s neck. “This is the area he told us about, Chico. We’d best tuck in right here and wait.”

He rode a little closer to the trees and dismounted. Tall, sturdy pines, they would break the wind if it kicked up during the night. Over the next couple of hours, he constructed a small lean to from branches, clearing out the snow from the ground inside it, and packing it over the pine boughs. He built another smaller one facing his, and put a fire ring between them. Not warm, but the heat should reflect into his shelter and keep him from freezing.

He boiled some snow to drink, and dug out his jerky and hardtack to make a meal. Of sorts. He also dug a handful of oats from his saddlebags and took it over to where Chico stood tied amongst the trees. He patted his friend fondly.

“Well, it ain’t the best we’ve ever had, but it ain’t the worst either. I reckon we’ll do okay.” Despite his words, he shivered a little in his fleece coat. “I wouldn’t say no to a pound of coffee and another blanket though.” He smiled a little, gave Chico’s rump another pat and went to settle into his lean to.

A sound woke him about midnight. At first, he thought it was Chico, but it wasn’t a normal horse sound. More like a bleating…there it was again. He sat up and put another log on his fire. He sat, listening. Nothing. With a shrug he started to lay back down.

The unusual sound came again. This time he stood up and stepped out of his shelter. Yes, he would have to call it bleating. But not like a goat or a deer. What in tarnation…?

Curious, but cautious, he took his rifle and headed towards the sound. In the moonlight he could see an animal up ahead. It seemed to be caught in some bushes. As it sensed him, the creature froze. Even from where he stood, Johnny could see a rack of antlers on its head. He whistled softly. A ten point buck! Now that would be a better dinner than hardtack!

He raised his rifle, moving carefully around to the front of the animal for a clean, kill shot. As he came even with its head, it turned to the extent of its mobility and looked at him.

“What the…?!” Johnny’s eyes and mouth opened wide. This was like no deer he’d ever seen. Its muzzle more closely resembled a cow, but its body was lean, with longer hair on its shoulders.

They stood, looking each other in the eye.

Help.

What? Help the beast? Why? He raised the rifle again.

Help.

Johnny shook his head. And lowered his weapon. Oh, what the hell. It would be a lot of trouble to clean the thing out here anyway. But how could he help it?  He inched closer, trying to see what had it tangled. Keeping a close eye on those menacing antlers, he finally got close enough to pull some of the plant matter away. The animal didn’t even twitch. Slowly, and being ready to sprint away at any second, Johnny got the vines untangled.

As the beast broke free at last, they both leapt back away from each other.

And continued staring.

After a few seconds, the animal gave a slow blink.

“I, ah, guess you’re good now,” he said, softly. “Best get on back to wherever cow-deer live.”

Another couple of seconds of staring, and he started backing away. The creature didn’t seem interested in chasing or ramming him, so after a few steps he turned and made his way back to camp.

As he passed Chico, the horse gave him a curious little snuffle. Johnny patted his neck. “Yeah, it was a weird one, amigo. Never saw nothing like it before.” Another pat and Johnny headed for his bedroll.  He set his rifle down and was reaching for his blanket when a sound behind him made him spin around, right had going to his empty hip.

The cow-deer stood looking at him.

Johnny blew out his breath and relaxed. Shaking his head a little, he waved an arm its direction. “Go on. Get out of here.”

It stood still, giving him another slow blink.

Johnny put his hands on his hips. “What do you want from me?”

Johnny looked the animal over a little closer. The fur around its shoulders and neck were pressed down in neat lines. ” You’ve had a harness on. No wonder you’re used to people.” He looked at the woods surrounding his camp. “Well, I don’t know where your people are. There’s no one here but us. I reckon you can stay if you want, but I’m going to sleep. Go talk to Chico or something.”

Coincidentally, the cow-deer, or whatever the hell it was, looked over its shoulder to where the paint was tied for the night. It gave another of its little bleats and looked back at Johnny.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Johnny assured it. “Eats better than me on these trips.” Making a quick decision, he reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a handful of oats. “Here. I don’t reckon he’ll mind.”

The animal took a small step his direction.

“It’s okay. It’s just oats.” He held out his hand with the grain until step by slow step, his guest came and lipped it off his palm. “There you go. Untangled and fed. Guess it’s a good night for you. Now,” he brushed crumbs and spittle off his hand, “I’m turning in. Good night.”

Shaking his head and smiling a little, Johnny stoked up his fire, wrapped up in his blanket and eventually, fell back to sleep.

In his dreams he heard shuffling, and a pleasant low voice, some jingles and creaking. It didn’t make any sense, but he couldn’t shake himself awake. Then he settled, turned over and slept more soundly than he had in a long time.

Come morning, his cow-deer guest was gone. Funny how he had hoped to see it again. Oh, well, he shook himself more fully awake, stood up and stretched and reached for his saddlebags…. He blinked, and then stared in astonishment at….

“At what, Uncle Johnny?”

Charles voice broke through his thoughts. “What?”

Grady was looking at him with wide eyes. “What was there, Papi?”

Johnny looked down at the familiar looking animal on the cover of Scott’s book. And smiled. “A bag of oats, a pound of coffee, and a new warm blanket.”

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11 thoughts on “To All A Good Night by MaryB.

  1. Love it, such a special story. I remember the first reindeer I saw. I was at the Santa House in North Pole, Alaska. I’m from Florida so it was a memorable trip. Imagine my surprise I learned only females have antlers in the winter. All of Santa’s reindeer were girls with boy names.

    Like

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