Christmas Comet

Every year, we post a personalized Christmas story here on Tellest.  You can see all the ones from the past several years by going to the DeAngelo Christmas Archive.  Or you can just jump to the latest story, Christmas Comet, below (although you will benefit from reading the older stories first).

 

Christmas Comet

A Tale by Michael and Rhianna DeAngelo

 

 

The young pup ran from one member of her family to the next, harassing them until they grumbled or groaned or growled at her.  The only one who narrowly escaped her rampant acts of noodgery was the old cat who sat atop the stairs, glaring down in silent judgment.

“Do you remember being that young?” Michael asked, having become one with the couch.

“You mean running around excited for no good reason?” Rhianna asked.

“I mean being able to run around,” Michael replied.  “About being physically able to do…anything.”

“Yeah, that was just last year,” Rhianna said.  “And then we fought against frost giants and yetis.”

“Well, we can pretend that it was through glorious battle that we sustained these grievous injuries,” Michael said, leaning back with a groan, “but I know that I was bested by a heavy pile of snow and a non-ergonomic snowshovel.”

Rhianna nodded, demonstrating a bit more melancholy than usual for that festive time of year.  “I think all my suffering can be traced back to a stubbed toe a couple of years ago.”

The husband and wife were drawn from their thoughts when Luna, the newest member of their family, nipped at Zelda, their oldest pup.  Though it was a playful bite, Zelda was having none of it, and turned from the beautiful, sweet thing she was into a grumbly, grouchy thing who snarled like a beast and chased Luna away.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already,” Michael said.

Rhianna nodded, but then she pinched her eyebrows together and tilted her head.  “Actually, for Luna, it feels like it’s been a few years.  Do you remember when she was just that little thing who looked like a mix between Zelda and Maisie, and we thought she’d be their size?”

“Just another of Loki’s box of tricks,” Michael said.  “We thought he’d turned over a new leaf, only to find that he gave us a whole tree!”

Passing a glance to the back door of the house, Rhianna folded her arms across her chest.  “I’m still not so sure the neighbors didn’t really get tricked into bringing Loki in as a spy, to always keep an eye on us.  I mean, it’s right there in the name.”

“Right, that’s what he wants you to think,” Michael said.  “That he’s just a dog.”

“We know your tricks, Loki!” Rhianna yelled, though Michael patted her on the shoulder, reminding her that it was nearly midnight.

Michael wasn’t the only one to react to the sudden increase in Rhianna’s volume.  Luna leapt onto the couch, and then stepped onto the cushions, only to lean forward and drape her arms over Rhianna’s shoulders a moment later.

“She’s backpacking!” Rhianna said, chuckling as Luna rested her head on Rhianna’s like she was trying to be some sort of furry hat.  While Michael and Rhianna gave her abundant pets, Luna began to pant excitedly.  “I wonder if she’s aware that something is going on.  The other animals are usually so tired around this time.”

“If they’re awake, something’s got to be going on, right Luna?” Michael asked, prompting the dog to tilt her head sideways.

That also seemed to be the only confirmation that the other dogs and the cat needed.  Zelda sat up on her hind legs then, getting into “treat-begging” position.  Though Maisie was burrowed underneath a blanket—her favorite place to be—her tail was already wagging in anticipation.  And Peanut… Well, Peanut was sitting atop her perch, at the halfway mark of the stairs, staring at Michael, Rhianna, and Luna, unblinking.

“It won’t be long now,” Rhianna said.  “Before you know it, the portal will be opened, and we’ll be headed back to see Santa.”

“And headed to see what apocalypses we have in store for us this year,” Michael joked.

Rhianna blew out a little sigh.  “Whatever it is, I hope it’s not another battle.  My knees can’t take another one!”

“Neither can my back,” Michael said, taking that opportunity to stretch into a better position.  “Hey, maybe that’s what we can put on our Christmas lists this year for Santa.”

“No thanks,” Rhianna said in a teasing voice.  “I already had too much meniscus.”

“Yeah, but with a little holiday magic, he could get you a brand-new knee.  Ooh, or maybe one of those hoverchairs from—”

Zelda squealed with excitement, begging as though there were leftover fries on the table. She whined, and whined, until Maisie joined into the silly chorus from underneath the covers, lending it a low, almost solemn howl.  Luna, never quite learning how to howl properly, eagerly joined in, adding her high-pitched, discordant yowls into the air.  They sounded more like the sound a toy laser gun would make than that of a distinguished canine.

“Pew, pew, pew,” Michael said, mocking the largest of their dogs.

Peanut descended the steps too, feeling the calling of the howl as well, though she never lent any sound to the pack.  But she climbed atop the ottoman at the end of the couch, passing a glance from one member of the chorus to the next.

“Oh, don’t be so judgmental,” Michael said, leaning forward to plant a kiss atop the cat’s head.

All the rest of the family could feel the Christmas magic beginning to arrive, but Luna, as excited as ever, kept up her noises.

“I wonder what she’s going to sound like,” Rhianna mused.  “Oh, good evening chaps.  I was just having some tea in my garden,” came her stately lady impression.

“You guys need to know you can never stop feeding meeee!” Michael replied with a faux squeaky voice.

But as the youngest dog’s fractured howls continued, they morphed into a different sound altogether, an almost singsong verse of “I.  Am.  The.  Best.  At.  Howls!  I.  Am.  The…the…”  There was an abrupt stop to her discordant music, and she tilted her head, her little eyebrows raising in surprise. “Wait… I sound funny.”

“Luna!” Rhianna said, squeezing their pup into a tight embrace.  “It’s so nice to hear you speak!”

The dog’s eyes went wide, and she forced out a sound.  “Bark!” she cried in the woman’s face, though she could no longer make the noise, and instead said the word as a person would have said it.

Rhianna closed her eyes and recoiled back from the loud noise.

When Luna realized she’d deafened her, she bowed her head, and pulled her ears back.  “Sorry, you told me to speak!”

“It’s okay, little one,” Michael said, tousling her fur between her ears.  “Little big one.  She doesn’t use those ears that much to listen to us these days anyway,” he teased his wife.

Rhianna looked pointedly at her husband and arched an eyebrow.  “Hmm?”

Together, the two nuzzled into each other, laughing at the playful insult.

But a list of real grievances needed to be aired, and Zelda, usually so refrained, rushed to the couch, and batted at Luna with her paw.  “You there!  You listen good!  You might be twice my size, but you’ll catch twice my vengeance because of it.  You ate all my toys!  And you don’t even have the decency to hide the fluff—oh dear, the fluff.  And…and…you try to steal my food, but I know!  I know every bite that’s missing.  It’s bad enough that Peanut does it!”  She cast a sideways glance at the cat.

“Stolen food simply tastes more satisfying,” Peanut purred with a feline smirk appearing on her face.  She almost seemed surprised to hear her Christmas voice, and she quickly set aside to grooming as a distraction, licking at the underside of one her paws as though it were more interesting than the conversations being held in the living room.

While Michael and Rhianna were more than happy to hear the newest member of their family talk—and receive a hilarious scolding from her older sister—they knew that they could not linger there indefinitely.  Maisie, quiet before then, hopped up from her spot on the couch, freeing herself from the warm embrace of the blanket.

She didn’t get far, though, before Luna was there beside her, cobbing the fur on the back of her neck.  “Wait,” Luna said between nibbles.  “You can’t leave me, okay?  We have to stay together.”

“I know,” Maisie replied with an exasperated sigh.

“Her first Tellest Christmas,” Rhianna said.  “And she already knows that something is up.”

“There something in the air,” Michael replied.  “Even if we didn’t keep all the fluffies awake well past their bedtime, she might have sensed something.”

As Rhianna swept the sliding door to the side, she could not see anything, even though she felt the change in the atmosphere that her husband had described.  It was almost as though a storm was coming, but the sky was clear, a canvas of stars twinkling down upon the family.

Rhianna turned to Michael, who stared across the way, and gestured with his chin to the fence that separated their house from one of their neighbors.  There, barely visible in the darkness, their white dog sat, looking up at the sky.

“Loki,” Michael whispered.

Luna ran outside to greet her friend through the fence, but before she took too many steps, she too realized that something was different about the world outside their house, and she stopped to sniff at the air.  The rest of the family joined her there, even Peanut, though she took a bit of time to saunter onto a comfy spot of grass before she chose to sit.

Michael closed the sliding door behind them.  “It is after midnight, if we go by them being able to speak,” he said to his wife.

“I hope it’s not going to be another situation where it’s late,” Rhianna replied.

Almost as soon as the words left her mouth, a bright, swirling light appeared above them, and almost instantaneously along with it, a thick fog joined it.

“Oh no!” Zelda cried.  “Aliums!”

A little less concerned, Michael kept his gaze focused on the light above, until it expanded, and he realized that it was in fact the portal—though not quite where they’d often seen it in years past.

“Well, this is different,” he said.

The portal expanded, swirling like a disc in the air, and it hovered higher than the roof.  As the glow around its edges grew, extending for the length of its circumference, it set the ground below awash in an almost blindingly bright light.

“That is the portal though,” Rhianna said.

“What do they expect us to do?” Peanut said with a scoff.  “Jump?”

“I can do it!” Luna said, excitedly.  With a determined bark, she crouched low, wagging her tail.  Then, with all the strength she could muster, she leapt into the air, her ears flapping from the motion.

To everyone’s surprise, she didn’t come back down, instead remaining there in the air.  Those big, floppy ears never settled back on her head either, and neither did her jowls.  She kicked as best she could and began alternating glances at her family members in confusion as she panted with nervous energy.

“Luna!” Michael yelled, running forward, and reaching up for the pup.

But as soon as he stretched far enough, he too began to drift upward toward the portal.

“There we go,” Rhianna said.  “That’s how we get to see Santa this year.  Everyone, lift up your paws!”

Zelda excitedly stood on her hind legs, having had much practice in her begging position for almost a decade.  Peanut was a little hesitant to do anything she was told, but with a sigh, she did spring up into the air, showing that she was still spry after more than twice as long in the world as her next oldest sister.

Maisie had a bit of a hard time hopping up on her hind legs, prompting Michael to tell Rhianna to hold up before she hopped into the air.

“You don’t need to warn me,” Rhianna said.  “Our poor girl is just like me.  We both have bum legs.”  She took a knee next to Maisie, who bowed her head a little and sighed as she stepped upon the woman’s leg.  “It’s okay, little one.  You’re doing great.  And once we’re in the air, we’ll let the Christmas magic do all the work.”

That seemed to inspire the dog to make one last attempt at a little hop.  Shortly after, Rhianna joined her, stepping off the ground until she felt the pull from the portal.

With all the DeAngelo family floating in the air, they heard a whimper from the other side of the fence and watched as the neighbor’s dog fled to the door of its house, scratching desperately to get inside.

“Alright then,” Michael said.  “Not our Loki.”

“Unless it’s a trick,” Rhianna said, arching her eyebrow.

Before they could ponder it much more, they could hear the sounds of change above them.  Luna looked up, her eyes growing wide as she grew fearful.  The fog surrounding the portal was swept inside, and the light refracted, almost looking as though it was bending toward the stars high above.

“Don’t worry Luna,” Michael said, still trying to reach out to her.  “This happens every year.  It’s nothing to be—”

The man, high enough in the air, and floating at the center of the portal’s reach, was flung into the vortex, disappearing from everyone’s view.  Luna screamed, but was the next to be drawn across realms, her cry echoing out in a strange fleeting sound.

“All right, everyone,” Rhianna said, trying her best to soothe everyone who had yet to find transport through the portal.  “You know the drill.  See you at the North Pole!”

Peanut and Zelda, the next highest up flew up through the portal then, apathetic, and excited, respectively.  Rhianna managed to reach down and scoop Maisie closer to her, kissing her on the head just before they were thrown through the vortex as well.

Then, with the DeAngelo family all snagged from their home, the magic that pulled them away disappeared, leaving silence in its wake.

The dog next door howled, begging to be let inside.

 

*          *          *

 

Though they had taken the journey many times by then, it felt far different than any other time.  Inside the portal, it was tremendously dark, in stark contrast to the bright light that surrounded the entryway.  Michael always felt as though he were falling endlessly, but in that moment, he felt instead like he was being stretched like a rubber band that was ready to snap.

Michael crashed into a sturdy metal floor then, somehow remaining on his feet.  He felt as though his body compressed from the landing, and he sucked in a painful breath of air through gnashed teeth.

Luna’s cry still echoed as she flew through the tunnel, and Michael looked up to try and see if he could see her.  The surroundings, he realized, were as bright as the portal’s light had been.  It looked as though he was standing in a white void.  Still, he refused to let the strange surroundings distract him.  He reached out to try and catch the pup, but when she landed in his arms, her weight threw him off balance, and he somersaulted forward, slamming onto his back, while Luna smushed down onto his chest.  Happy to have had a comfortable landing, Luna began smooching Michael’s face, the poor man groaning as he contended with his pain.

“I keep forgetting how big you got,” he said, though his speaking did nothing to convince her to stop licking his face.

As excited as she was to continue, when Michael heard the excited squeal of another of his family members, he gave Luna a light little shove, to make sure no one crashed into her.

“Wee!” Michael heard Zelda yell.

But it wasn’t Zelda who came through first.  Farther along, Peanut emerged from the light above, bouncing off of Michael’s abdomen like it was a small trampoline.  The man let loose a quick, sharp groan, and tried to catch his breath.

“That’s okay,” he struggled.  “I didn’t need that spleen.”

Just as soon as he recovered, Zelda landed on his chest, somehow finding a softer landing than the cat did.  She wagged her tail, but looked up, realizing that she was not the last one through the portal.  The second auburn-haired dog skittered from Michael’s chest, scratching him as she went along.

Maisie was there next an instant later, letting out a little sigh as she pressed her head against Michael’s chest.

“It’s okay, little one,” he said, scratching behind her neck.

But they both winced when they heard a loud slam around them, and when they dared to open their eyes and look up, they realized that Rhianna had arrived as well, setting herself in a wide stance as she landed on the metal floor.

“Phew,” she said.  “I almost killed you.”

“Thank you for not doing that,” Michael said.

Maisie slowly slinked away, closer to the other animals, who still looked about in the white void, trying to figure out what was going on.

Rhianna, meanwhile, blew out a steadying sigh as she shifted her weight off of one of her legs.  “I am definitely going to feel that later.”  She reached down and offered her hand to her husband, though she could tell he was careful in climbing to his feet.

Michael’s eyes had adjusted to the room better than anyone’s, and as he looked around, he could see the subtle shift in the white tones.  Wherever they were, it seemed they were encased in a metal box, and not outside in the cold and the snow of the North Pole.

“Were we hijacked by someone else again?” Rhianna wondered.

Maisie sniffed at the air, a look of distrust in her eyes.  She seemed to sulk a moment later, bowing her head and slumping her shoulders.  “Where are we?  It doesn’t smell like Christmas.”

Almost as though something had heard her words, beeps and chirps filled the room, and columns of red and green lights appeared here and there, leaving the otherwise white room awash in festive colors.  Still, the platform they stood upon seemed cold and uninviting.

Zelda turned to look at Michael and Rhianna, panting as she tried to make sense of where they were.  “You told us we were coming to see the elves and the reindeer.  This feels suspiciously like the vet!”

Her people did not have time to give her any assurances before they heard more pointed beeping behind one of the walls.  Michael realized that there were vague seams there and noted that it was actually a well-crafted door.  He stepped in front of his family, even sweeping Luna back.

But his worries were somewhat abated when he understood that the tones the beeping played sounded out the tune of Jingle Bells.

The door slid open with a pneumatic hiss, and fog rolled into the room.  The older members of the DeAngelo family had an immediate sense of who was waiting for them on the other side, for a pair of black boots gave way to a red and white outfit.  When they spotted the fellow’s beard, they were sure they were in the company of a friend once again.

“Welcome, DeAngelos!” Santa boomed in his warm but thunderous voice.  As he stepped into the room, the automatic door shut behind him.  “I hope your travels were—” He grunted as Luna crashed into him, jumping up and down against his broad chest as she tried to reach his face to give him greeting licks.

“Hi new friend!” she said between jumps.  “You smell like cookies.  I love you so much.  Give me cookies please!”

“Luna!” Rhianna reprimanded.  It became apparent, though, that her warnings went unheard or ignored.

“Ho ho, it’s all right, little one,” Santa said, but as soon as he was able to get a good look at the newest member of the DeAngelo household, he hummed to himself.  “Or should I say big one.  My brother must have… Well, you know how he is,” he said with a laugh.

“I think all brothers have a bit of a mischievous side,” Michael said.  “But yours definitely holds the record for level of deception, and the amount of them.”

Everyone took a few moments to catch up with Santa, or to introduce them to the newest animal in the DeAngelo menagerie.  But it didn’t take long for Rhianna to realize that their visit was not quite as urgent as it was in years past.  That, together with the strange room they arrived in, as well as the appearance of Santa’s suit, had her questioning things.

Santa wore the usual colors, but his suit seemed sleeker, and more modern, with some embellishments on the boots and gloves, which made them seem to be attached to the suit—one piece instead of many.

“Santa?” Rhianna asked, looking around again at their surroundings.  “Where are we?”

Though his brother was known for mischief, Santa wore a visage that showed that it possibly ran in the family, the very spirit of Christmas displaying a smirk.  “Why, you’re in my workshop, of course.  One of them, that is, and not any of the ones you’re used to.  But why don’t I show you so that you better understand?”

He didn’t wait to hear if anyone had any objections, and he turned to exit the room.  That time, the door opened on its own, without any holiday tunes necessary in order to activate.  Santa led the DeAngelo family down the long corridor, still retaining a sort of pristine, neutral color, although it wasn’t as light as the room that they had arrived in.

Maisie sniffed at the air again, and Zelda noticed it and joined in.  Even the humans visiting could tell that the atmosphere felt different.  The air felt odd and artificial, like the scent on an airplane after it pressurized.  Everything around them seemed odd as well, for it was silent beyond the sound of their footsteps and the odd beeps and chirps here and there.

The corridor terminated at another door, and Santa reached forth toward the wall beside it.  A panel popped open, revealing a keypad, and as Father Christmas set his fingers to work enacting the code, Michael and Rhianna recognized it playing the tune of Deck the Halls.

Just as before, the door opened with a hiss, but that one didn’t spill any fog into the room.

“We had to ensure that when you arrived, we didn’t detect any dangerous foreign objects on you.  Even the smallest things could have catastrophic results here at this station,” Santa said.  “Luckily, you passed the tests, and are free to move about the whole facility, although I don’t imagine we’ll be spending a long time here.”

As the door opened fully, Michael and Rhianna sorely wished they were.  Inside the building was a bustling workshop, just as Santa had said.  Similar in appearance to the ones they had seen at the North Pole whenever they visited, it had a sleeker, shinier appearance.  A blend of science intersected with the typical Christmas magic, elves and gnomes looking up from their tables to ponder glittering, glowing schematics that hovered in the air above their workstations.

“Now, this is a more…remote base of operations, but it serves us just as well,” Santa said as he led the family through the workshop.  “You see, this gives us the perfect means to verify that nothing is wrong with any of our stops, and that very little can interfere with us.  Both my sleigh and my reindeer are outfitted with technology that allows them—and me—to travel through space and time.  Can you imagine how challenging and inconvenient it would be getting around the worlds if I could only travel within the planet’s atmosphere?”

Michael and Rhianna paused, and their furry animals stopped behind them.

“Wait a minute,” Rhianna said.  “What are you saying?”

Santa clapped his gloved hands together and gestured toward the far wall of the building.  Whether it was because of some Christmas magic that he had at the ready, or if one of his workers had quick, discreet access to a button somewhere, the wall there rose.  It wasn’t as quick as the pneumatic doors they had seen thus far, instead opening slowly, like an old garage door.

Because of that slow reveal, the family was able to see things in a bit more of a grand fashion.  They noticed what looked like a snow-white landscape at first, but they soon realized that it was an uneven grey.  And the sky was completely unmarred by any sort of clouds or light pollution, with stars twinkling in the distance.  But as the door rose higher, they realized the truth of the special workshop they stood within.  A bright blue sphere glowed in the night, far, far away.

“We’re on the moon?” Rhianna and Michael said in unison.

 

*          *          *

 

They sat at a table in another room, looking out the long window that had been fashioned in the room, still gazing out at the planet before them every few moments.  Santa had explained that it was Tellest, not Earth, but Michael pointed out that it was not that simple.

“Of course,” Santa had said.  “It’s not necessarily about where you are, but when you are.  That’s what I’d like to task you with this year, in fact.”

“Well, we’re always excited to help to save Christmas,” Rhianna insisted.

“That is a wonderful sentiment, dear,” Santa said.  “But it’s a little bigger than that.  If you’re successful in tonight’s mission, you’ll do more than save Christmas.  You’ll save the world—perhaps twice.”

“Oh, is that all?” Michael said, blowing out an anxious sigh.

“This workshop is equipped with an intergalactic scanner, which has picked up a strange signal that we cannot quite explain.  Something has been coming this way, fast, and it looks like it may be on an intercept course for Tellest.  But,” he said, raising a finger, “it also somehow seems to be in a sort of time flux.  We’ve caught it in the same trajectory during your time as well, and it seems to be threatening Earth as well.  As best we can tell it originates here, in this time, which is why we’ve brought you here, instead of coming to visit you.”

“Wait, what is this?” Rhianna asked.  “Are you asking us to stop an asteroid from destroying the planet?”

“No, it’s not quite that bad,” Santa said.  “It’s merely a small comet.”

“Ahh, much more our speed, and worthy of our expertise,” Michael joked.

“So, what do you need us to do?” Rhianna asked.

“Are we helping you and the reindeer catch it in your bag of toys?” Zelda wondered.

Santa let fly one of his big belly laughs but shook his head.  “No, my friends, I have to prepare for tomorrow evening’s deliveries, so this mission will fall to you.  I simply need you to track the object, and to divert it if we are able to determine it will, in fact, hit Tellest or Earth if it is left to its current trajectory.”

He slapped his legs then and rose from his seat.  “Well, we could sit here for a good long while talking about it, but then our window will have closed, and we would have missed the comet.  So, let’s head into this next room and make sure you’re ready to go before I leave.”

The DeAngelo family followed Santa into an adjacent room, where they spotted a few pristine white suits hanging from a bar, as well as a strange vehicle that looked like a cross between a UFO and a space rover.

“What’s all this?” Rhianna wondered.

“Well, we had to prepare you for your journey a bit differently this year,” Santa said.  “You’ll have to stay warm, yes, but this year, ensuring you could all breathe in the cold vacuum of space was our first priority.”

“Yeah, that’s for thinking of us,” Peanut snarked.

“Let’s start with the three little ones,” Santa said, arching his eyebrow.  “The three of them will share the rover, which will help them get around as they follow you.  We didn’t expect Luna to keep growing, so we made some adjustments, as I don’t believe she’ll fit in the rover with the others.  She’s had a special space suit made, just for her.

“And as for you two lovebirds,” he said, pointing to Michael and Rhianna, “You two also each have a suit, and you’ll see that there are some special attachments.”  He walked over to the suits, and spun one of them around, revealing the red sack that was attached to the back.

“It looks like one of your toy sacks!” Zelda said.

“It uses much of the same technology,” Santa said with a laugh.  “But instead of carrying toys, they have an endless amount of oxygen.  So long as you don’t get separated from it, you’d be able to survive until the sun blinks out of existence.”

Michael’s eyes went wide as his brow furrowed.  He lifted a finger in question.  “Uh, do you expect that to happen any time soon?”

“Not in your lifetimes, hopefully!”

Santa urged his guests to prepare then, and Michael, Rhianna and Luna donned their space suits—though they hadn’t quite put on their bulbous, round helmets.  The rover for the smaller animals opened up as well, the top sliding back and down, receding into a section of the vehicle that had been left for just such a reason.  A ramp appeared then as well, sliding down from the main unit, ensuring that none of the animals had to make any awkward jumps.  Maisie waited until Zelda and Peanut climbed into position, and then she followed in their footsteps.  She sat down along the right side of the machine, looking up at Santa with moisture in her eyes.

“What’s wrong, little one?” the jolly fellow asked.

Maisie fought off an excessive sniffle.  “It’s just that…we always have a feast, and it doesn’t seem like we’re going to have one this year.”

Santa tousled her fur behind her ears and offered up a hearty laugh.  “Fear not, Maisie.  Before the end of all this, we’ll be celebrating your success, and we’ll have plenty of delicious food to fill our bellies.”

“Yay!” she said, sitting a bit steadier then.  “You heard him.  Let’s get on with the mission!”

Santa pulled Michael and Rhianna off to the side a bit, pointing out the window.  Luna, not to be excluded from the conversation, jumped up and leaned against the window as well, though in her suit as she was, her paws were covered, almost giving them the appearance of little hooves.

“Just past that crater, we’ve got a vehicle that will take all of you across the galaxy as quick as you like.  It’ll look very similar to my sleigh, in fact.

“Ooh, does it have reindeer?” Zelda asked from the rover.

“Well, not exactly,” Santa said.  “I know you like to see Svetlana every year, but this mission called for something a little quicker, and I didn’t think my team of reindeer would be up for the task.  You’ll understand when you see it.”  He tapped both of the human guests on their backs then and urged them toward another door.  “Now, you’ll be in touch with some of my workers who will ensure you know how to operate the sleigh, and that you don’t get yourself into any trouble.  Are you ready?”

“Not one bit,” Michael said.  “But that’s never stopped us before.”

“That’s the spirit,” Santa said with a laugh.

As the six members of the DeAngelo family moved toward the door to another corridor—three walking while another three sat atop the strange, walking rover—they heard a bit of commotion in the adjacent room where Santa’s helpers were stationed.

The pneumatic door popped open, and Father Christmas passed a worried glance in that direction.  “What is it?” he asked one of his elves.  “Is there some sort of emergency?”

Brushing herself off, the elf stood a little taller, going rigid once she realized all eyes were on her.  “It’s, uh…it’s not that, sir.  We just heard the little one say that she was hungry and wanted to make sure none of them left on an empty stomach.”  She presented a few treats to the family—some sort of jerky for the dogs, and a non-descript plastic tube for Peanut.

“What do you expect me to do with that?” the cat asked.

The elf placed it in the rover, smiling at the finnicky feline.  “It’s liquid fiskeblugen.  It’s safer and cleaner to travel with.”

Peanut’s eyes went wide with anticipation, and she froze, unable to look at the treat that had just been delivered to her.  The elf chuckled and scratched the cat’s ears before taking her leave once more.

Zelda leaned over.  “You’re not going to cry, are you?”

“Silence!” Peanut grumbled.  “What I do with my face is none of your business.”

Zelda snapped straight again, sitting quietly before she started to chew at her piece of jerky.

Peanut wasn’t left to her own devices for long, as Luna stepped in front of the rover and sniffed at the fiskeblugen tube.

“You’re gonna share, right?” Luna said.  “Best friend?”

Staring at the dog with what looked like a cross between grumpiness and disgust, she pushed herself up on her front paws.  “You have good taste, and I knew I liked you for a reason.”  She paused then, letting the sound of her compliment wash over the big dog.  “But no,” she insisted a moment later.

Luna grumbled and turned away, heading back to the other members of her family.

“All right,” Santa said.  “Let’s try not to have any further distractions before this unidentified object hurtles toward our planet.

He walked to the other door in the room, prompting another keypad to display.  Oh Christmas Tree seemed to sound as he pushed the buttons on that pad, and the pneumatic door there opened with a hiss.

“Once you head into this corridor, the door will shut behind you, and the atmospheric unit will pressurize the room,” Santa said.  “You’ll hear a bit of a loud noise, but it should be over quickly, and then the other door will open.  Remember, all you need to do is head up over that ridge, where your ride will be waiting for you.”

“That shouldn’t be too tough,” Rhianna said.

Michael looked at her and arched an eyebrow.  “Says the lady who still has to say ‘car-side’ and ‘kitchen-side’ instead of ‘right’ and ‘left’.”

She stuck out her tongue at her husband.  “It’s one of my many wonderful quirks!”

A hearty laugh erupted from Santa, who used it almost as a way to silence his guests then.  “All right, you can battle each other once you have your helmets on.  And don’t forget to make sure they’re snug.  Ah, come here Luna, I’ll help you while they prepare their suits.”

“Thanks Santa!” the excitable young pup said.

After a few more moments, everyone was ready.  The glass top of the rover closed, ensuring the smaller animals were safe on their travels, and they were slowly on their way.

The door closed behind them, and from within their glass bubbles, it resounded with a bit of a deeper sound.  Each of the family members in suits turned to regard the closed door, but before they could give it much thought, the atmospheric regulator activated as well.  They could feel the pressure change in the room, the very gravity feeling like it had escaped into the rest of the workshop.  Then, when the opposite door opened, they knew their latest adventure had begun.  All the air was sucked out of the room, and they felt a bit of a pull toward the grey rock outside.

Michael led the way, realizing at once how much slower his gait had become.  “Well, this wasn’t how I expected to spend the day before Christmas Eve, but I’ll take it!”  He turned around—much slower than he planned—and lifted his hands.  “As long as we stop the planet from being destroyed, that is.”

When he arrived outside, he realized how grand and open the environment was.  Without a tree in sight, the only thing present were the great stone dunes, and the craters that gave the moon an eerie and strange appearance.

“Hey, I don’t have to worry about my leg since I’m not walking,” Rhianna said with a chuckle.  “And I there’s nothing to bump into either.”

“Give it time,” Michael teased.  “You’ll find something.  And even if you were someone who turned before you started walking in another direction, you wouldn’t be patient enough for how slow we turn here.”

“What do we always say?” Rhianna asked.

Michael smiled as he laboriously turned toward his family again.  “We don’t like the truth in this house.”  While he was turned around, he saw the slow, methodical way that their largest dog walked in her suit, and he pointed at her.

“This is probably the only place we’ll ever be where she’s weightless,” Rhianna said.  She whistled then, drawing Luna’s attention away from her paws, and to the spot a few feet away, where Rhianna kicked a moon rock.  Rhianna was absolutely spot on with her assumption that Luna would attempt to fetch.

Despite the lack of gravity, Luna moved quickly, and caught up with the floating rock, opening her mouth as she drew near.  Of course, it merely bounced off of her large round helmet, reporting with a loud thunk.

“I meant to do that!” the pup insisted.

While she had moved quite far from Santa’s moon base, the three animals in the rover had barely made it a few feet.  The vehicle they operated moved forward in awkward little hops, tilting this way and that.  Zelda and Peanut grumbled at each other, arguing about who should pilot the vehicle.  The cat claimed that seniority afforded her the right to move the rover, while Zelda scoffed.  “You’re too old to drive.”

Peanut’s eyes grew wide, and she slowly brought up her hand to expose her claws.  Zelda’s muzzle wrinkled as she took an uncharacteristic stand for herself.

As the two older animals bickered, Maisie lowered her head, and cleared her throat.  “Um, excuse me,” she said, but her timid voice was drowned out by the arguing between the other two.  Maisie pointed at a big button in the center of the craft, with the word “automatic” written above it.  “Hey!” she cried then.

As Zelda and Peanut grew quiet, Maisie lunged forward, and smacked the button.  The rover seemed to instantly stabilize, gently drifting along then.  It seemed to follow the humans as they made their way, and Maisie sat back, smiling at her success.

After having a bit more fun in the lower gravity of the moon, Michael and Rhianna ushered the rest of the family toward the hill in the distance.

Before they had even reached the bottom of that hill, a nasal voice seemed to whisper across the landscape.

“DeAngelo family, do you copy?  Over.”

Everyone looked at one another, trying to get a sense of where the sound had come from, although Luna froze, except to tilt her head in confusion.  When she heard a bit of static then, she jumped into the air, trying to spin about and catch her tail, as though the sound had come from her own behind.

“Uh, who is this?” Michael asked.  When enough time had passed, he hummed to himself.  “Do you need me to say ‘over’?”

After another crackle of static, they heard the voice again.  “This is Mervius.  I’m one of Santa’s elves.  I’m going to be on your communicators, helping you to navigate.  Now listen, the celestial object isn’t in our vicinity yet, but it’s moving fast.  You’ve got to get to the sleigh.”

“You heard him!” Rhianna said.  “Double time!”

“Well, we’re at like half time right now,” Michael said.  “Strive for normal, everyone.”

While the two humans and Luna half ran and half swam through the weightlessness of the moon’s gravity, the rover seemed to be moving about with considerably more ease.  The rover climbed the hill with ease, surmounting the ridge quicker than the others could.

“Ooh, I see the sleigh!” Zelda said.  “Come on slowpokes!”

“Easy for you to say,” Luna grumbled, still struggling to climb the hill.  “Your little car is doing all the work.”

“You’re just mad you can’t fit in it,” Maisie teased, giggling at the thought.

Not to be dismayed, Luna pushed, showing her tenacity and determination.  She hoisted herself over the ridge, flying up into the air, and coming to a landing just beside the rover.

“Eek!” Zelda cried out.

Peanut sighed then, bowing her head.  “Why did I have to be stuck with you,” she grumbled.  “And in a vehicle named after a dog, to add insult to injury.”

Michael and Rhianna were a bit behind everyone else then, but they finally drew near to the sleigh as well, noting how modern and sleek it looked.  A festive green paint job could be seen, thanks to the atmospheric light coming from Santa’s workshop, and they could also see that it had been designed for an aerodynamic ride, the front honed into a point.  Most things had been planned to account for the members of the DeAngelo family, with a small, round groove in the sleigh’s back area—a perfect fit for the rover, they realized.  In the front seat, there were two velvety ribbons fashioned there, looking like seatbelts of some sort.

“Uh, Mervius?” Rhianna asked, fighting to remember his name.  “Are these ribbons here up to code?  They seem a little unsafe if we’re chasing after an asteroid hurtling through space.”

Static crackled for a moment before they heard the elf’s voice again.  “Well of course,” Mervius said.  “They’re not really ribbons.  They’re made from the finest material that we give to the elven warriors for armor, almost the same material as your oxygen sacks.”  Static fizzed for a moment, but they could hear his nasal tone come through again.  “By the way, when we realized how big Luna was getting, we crafted another one of them into the seat.  You’ll see it at about the halfway mark, and you can attach it to her spacesuit.”

Rhianna was able to locate the attachment after a few moments, and she clipped it against a small metal hoop on the chest of Luna’s suit.

“DeAngelos,” they heard in their helmets again.  “You’re going to want to move soon.  I just heard a bloop.”

“Ooh, what’s a bloop?” Luna asked.  “Is it tasty?”

Mervius must have spoken before hitting the button on his end, because they heard his response already in mid-sentence.  “…on the radar every few moments.  Whatever it is, it’ll be passing you soon if you don’t hurry.”

Michael grumbled, quickening his pace.  “You know, everything here feels like it takes longer.”

He and Rhianna found more of the ribbon-like fabric in the back of the sleigh, and they worked to cross it over top of the rover.  There were some leftover ribbons back there as well, and they tied them over Luna, too, the large pup almost looking like a Christmas present herself then.

“We don’t want you jumping up in excitement and flying off into space,” Rhianna said with a laugh.  But as the words resonated in her helmet, she realized there might have been some truth to the statement, and she pulled the knots a little tighter on Luna’s ribbons.

Finally, Michael and Rhianna hopped into the front seat, grabbing hold of the strands of ribbons where they could, and tying them around themselves.

“Are you almost ready?” Mervius asked.  “I still need to explain how to fly the sleigh.”

“We’re getting there, Merv,” Michael said, as he and Rhianna tied the remainders of their ribbons off into bows in their laps.  “Alright, I’ve got the reins.  What do we do to get this ship into orbit?”

“Ooh, I hope I don’t get motion sick in space,” Rhianna muttered.  “I should have asked for some Dramamine as an early Christmas present.”

The static hissed for a time, and then the family heard some papers rustling in the background.  “All right, so, the steering should be the same as any other sleigh…”

“Mervius?  Buddy?” Michael called out.  “Are you learning this stuff at the same time we are?”

“Well, I didn’t build the thing!” the elf said.  “I’m just communications.  I’m communicating with you how to use it!”  He cleared his throat then, and settled down, just a bloop sounding in the background of wherever he was as he prepared to continue.  “Moving forward and slowing down should be the same, too.  You’ll snap the reins to get going, and you’ll give them a tug to come to a halt.”

The sound of whatever manual he was reading from was heard again then, prompting Michael and Rhianna to look at each other with a bit of concern.

“There are also three buttons to be aware of.  Do you see them?  They should be blue, yellow, and black.”

“They’re here,” Rhianna said.

“Okay, that’s good,” Mervius said.  “So the bright blue button is…your bash button.  You’ll use that to collide with the object.”

“Uh, did you say collide?” Rhianna asked in astonishment then.  “Like, on purpose?  I knew we were supposed to divert the object, but Santa did mention this.”

“It’s fine,” Mervius said.  “Don’t worry.  All the simulations showed a ninety-nine percent success rate.”

For a moment, there was silence from Michael and Rhianna, until Michael brought his finger up as though to rest it on his chin, only for it to bounce off of the round helmet there.

“Hey Mervius?  What happened in the other one percent of the simulations?”

There was only silence from the other side of the communications system, except for the sound of a bloop on the radar, which came few and far between.

“Moving on,” Mervius said, finally.  “You’ll see a yellow button, too.  That will activate a tractor beam, which you can use to haul whatever the object is back to the workshop.  Now this is imperative: don’t use the tractor beam on the object while it’s racing through space.  You’ll tear the sleigh to pieces.”

“Shouldn’t these buttons have come with warnings, or glass casing or something?” Rhianna asked her husband.

“And then we have the black button…” the elf said.

“Oh no,” Luna said, peering up over the seat.  “What does the black button do?”

Before anyone could say anything further, those in the sleigh could hear the bloops a little more rapidly then.  They heard Mervius gasp then as well.

“It’s here!” the elf cried.  “You need to get moving now, DeAngelo family!”

Luna began shouting then, and they realized by the intonation that it would have appeared to be her strange howls if it had been any other time than Christmas.

“Look.  There.  It is!” she cried, and the family looked to their right, to see the celestial object blazing across the black velvet canvas of space.  It looked like a sphere that burned blue as it passed.  “Get after it!” Luna cried.  “Fetch!”

Michael leaned on the seat and shouted.  “All right everyone, hold on!”  He snapped the reins, the magical leather straps snapping against the front of the sleigh.

At once, the enchanted vehicle lifted from the ground, hovering and rumbling.  They could hear a mechanical noise report from beneath, and then they heard the deep thrum of some sort of engine.  Just as they had seen with the projectile soaring across space, blue flames appeared behind the sleigh, launching them forward.

As they moved, a new celestial being seemed to form, as though they were collecting stars in their race forth.  An immense reindeer with mighty antlers appeared before the sleigh, a sort of living constellation, and it pulled them forward.

“Oh, Zelda’s going to be upset if she doesn’t get to see this at some point,” Rhianna said.

Though there were noises all about them, the family could just hear the sound of the communicator static.

“You’re on your way,” Mervius said.  “And it looks like you’ve met your hyper speed assistant, Dasher.  Are you ready to see how fast the sleigh can go?”

“No,” Rhianna said.

“Yes!” Michael challenged, unable to rein in his own excitement.

“All right!” Mervius shouted.  “Preparing for a reindeer rush!”

The family heard a klaxon reporting from wherever Mervius was stationed, but they could see that it affected them across whatever distance, as Dasher, the celestial reindeer reared up, and then lunged forward, jolting them forward with a speed that rivaled the pull of the portals that brought them to Tellest every year.

They followed in the object’s wake, but they moved too quickly to be able to identify what it was.  To Rhianna’s relief, none of the scatterings of space particles or other debris damaged their sleigh.  It was as though Dasher created an invisible forcefield that surrounded them.  Iridescent flashes of light could be seen every now and then as it protected them, making it feel as though they were in a bubble caught in a raging tide.

“Can you read me?” Mervius asked then, his voice cutting in and out.  “You’re going to have to go faster so that you can bash—er divert it away from the planet.  You don’t have much time now!”

Michael growled and snapped the reins again, worrying that he wouldn’t be able to make the artificial reindeer move any faster.  But it seemed that the ethereal creature noted his sense of urgency, for a moment later, they sped up.  The constellation’s legs moved rapidly, as though it were comprised of shooting stars.  Even a strange, deer-like grunt resounded as it worked hard at catching up to the object.

Michael was able to bring the sleigh closer toward the strange astrological phenomenon, and he looked to his wife for support.

“Are you ready Rhianna?” he shouted.  “When I say ‘now’, I’m going to need you to hit the blue button.”

His wife grew nervous, hovering her hand over the blue button to ready herself.

As they drew nearer, they realized just how large the ball of earth was.  It seemed to grow larger and larger, subverting their expectations with every foot they cut across.

Giving one last fierce snap of the reins, Michael was able to pull the sleigh up alongside the object.

“Now!” he cried.

Rhianna hit the button, and at once, the celestial reindeer reacted.  It bowed its head, and turned to the side, driving forth with its massive rack of antlers.  With one mighty hit, it struck the ball of rock, sending it flying off course.  It spiraled out of control, drifting off into space.

“Come on,” Rhianna said, pointing to the dislodged object.  “We have to go after it.  Santa no doubt wants to know what we’ve discovered.”

Nodding in agreement, Michael pulled the reins to the side, and then gave them a mighty shake again, urging Dasher onward.  At once, they gave chase.

Behind the front seat, Luna’s excessive panting could be heard, even through the thick glass of their space suits.  When Michael and Rhianna turned, they saw that a bit of fog presented across the glass helmet on Luna’s suit.  She pushed up against the seat, putting her helmet into place, before she licked a long line of slobber onto the glass, granting her sight again.

“That was so much fun!” she yelled to the rest of her family.

Rhianna reached back and tried to scratch the dog’s head but realized as her hand bounced off of the helmet that she would not be able to do much.  She moved it farther back then, scratching Luna’s spine through the spacesuit.

“Are you okay back there?” she asked as she leaned over the seat and spotted the three smaller animals in their bubble along the floor.

Zelda and Maisie said nothing, pressed up against the persnickety puss, whose eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“Mervius,” she said, a cold air seeming to run about the sleigh.

“Uh… Yes?” he asked in reply.

“You,” she said, sounding wicked despite saying little.  “You almost made me lose my…fiskablugen!”  She yelled loud enough for feedback from the headsets to come through and cause a rise of static.

Mervius grumbled then.  “Yeah, sorry about that,” he said.  “I didn’t think that Dasher would be so…destructive.  I’m sorry, Peanut.  It was all a mistake, I assure you.”

“It’s all right,” Michael said.  “It’s just that her and the other animals expected a preliminary feast ahead of time.  But Santa did say that we would be reporting back to him and would be getting some grub then.”

“A feast made for a king,” the elf said.  “But that largely depends on whether or not you figure out what happened to that object.  You’ve saved the planet, and we’re incredibly grateful for that, but there’s still more work to be done!”

“Alright, we’ll head after the thing,” Rhianna said.  “It’s still going pretty fast.”

“That might even be faster,” Michael mentioned.  “Did we just veer it off course, or did we give it an extra little bump?”

“Well don’t just sit there talking about it,” Mervius said.  “Get after it!”

Michael snapped the reins again, and Dasher was off.  The planet they rescued seemed to slide backward in space, and Michael and Rhianna knew that they were going impossibly fast—quicker than any human on their planet had ever gone before.

“You know,” Michael said, “if we weren’t wearing helmets right now, Luna’s jowls would be flying around like crazy.”

Rhianna giggled at the thought of it as she slowly turned about to glance at the panting pup.  “You know,” she replied.  “If we weren’t wearing helmets right now, I’m pretty sure our heads would explode.”

“That’s quite possible too,” Michael said.

As time passed, they eventually caught up with the object, and though it had been quite a while that they gave chase, reaching it seemed easier than the first time.  They realized that when they hit it, they had sent it spinning, and while it had given it a noticeable boost, it couldn’t maintain that speed for quite as long.  Still, the blue planet was but a tiny dot in the great void of space behind them, and another planet was before them.  Orange and brown, it looked a bit like it was covered in flames.

“Uh, Mervius,” Rhianna called out.  “Mervius can you still hear us even after all this way?”

“Mervius, we have a problem,” Michael said.

After a brief silence, they heard the telltale static of a communications attempt.  “What is it?”  They heard the elf’s voice come through, though indeed, it sounded somehow distant, even though his voice resonated through their helmets.

“It looks like the object is going to strike Venus!” Rhianna said.

“What?” Mervius asked.  “Well, we can’t let that happen either!  It could have dire effects on the whole solar system—the galaxy even!”

“All right, then we have to think of a plan,” Michael said.

His eyes flashed, and he tried to snap his fingers, but the suit made it difficult.

After a few more attempts, Rhianna nudged him with the back of her hand.  “Use your words.”

“Dasher seems like it has a mind of its own,” Michael explained.  “But is there a way that we can just have him do exactly what we want it to do?”

“Well, we could try and put him into manual mode,” Mervius said.  “What did you have in mind?”

“Duck his head like he’s going to swipe up with those big antlers,” Michael replied.

“What are we doing?” Rhianna asked.

“Something I used to do in my racing video games all the time,” he said.  “Let’s see if it works with celestial reindeer just as well.”

“Oh no…” Rhianna said, looking from side to side along her lap.  “I need more ribbons.”

Michael watched as Dasher moved into position, adjusting in an almost mechanical way, as though beneath the swirl of starlight and cerulean there may have been some metal rods and gears.  When he was sure the reindeer was ready, he swiped to the right with the reins, just brushing against the other object, and sending it spinning the opposite way.

That seemed to send it off course again, slowing it considerably as it wobbled its way toward the other planet.

“That helped a little,” Rhianna said, “but I think it’ll still hit the planet if we can’t stop it!”

“You said Venus, right?” Mervius asked.  “If it gets too far into the atmosphere, even if you did slow it enough where it didn’t split the planet in two, you’d never be able to recover it.  Venus will melt you from inside your suits!”

“Then we need to figure out something else,” Michael said.  “What about the yellow button?”

“The tractor beam?” Rhianna asked, her voice dripping with incredulity.

“Yeah, if we use the tractor beam while moving at the same speed as the object, and then gradually slow down, we should be able to stop it before it moves into orbit.”

“That’ll never work!” Rhianna cried.  “The sleigh will be torn to pieces.”

“It will work,” Michael insisted.  “If you just believe.”

She stared at him, clenching her teeth together, when a crackle of static resonated in their communication systems.

“In theory, he’s right.”

“Santa’s counting on us,” Michael said.  “Yellow button?”

Rhianna blew out a sigh that fogged up her helmet a bit.  “Yellow button,” she said with a nervous shudder.

“Yellow button!” Luna added.

Rhianna leaned forward and hit the button, and Michael’s eyes went wide.

“We’re not ready yet!” he shouted, as he hurried to snap the reins and move Dasher into position once more.  “Mervius, Dasher’s not moving!  You have to take it out of manual mode!”  Although he panicked, he could tell that the sleigh still sped up.

A golden ray of light cast out from the vehicle, just beneath the celestial reindeer’s body, and as it stretched its way toward the object, Michael snapped the reins again and again.

“We had a moment, and I thought we were saying we were ready!” Rhianna cried.

“You believed too hard!” Michael teased.  He was able to match speed with the object before the tractor beam enveloped it, but just as soon as it did, they could feel the juddering affecting their vehicle.

“Ooh, massage,” Zelda’s tiny voice said from the back of the sleigh, her voice trembling as she said it.

“Alright, hang on,” Michael said.  “Mervius, any way you can help us decelerate at an even pace?  I don’t think I’ll be able to pull back the reins in a way that will be safe.”

“On it!” the elf said.

Sure enough, they could see as their rapid pace began to diminish, Venus not quite growing across their view of space as much as it had.

“We’re going to make it!” Rhianna cried out with glee.

While the object continued to spin, its forward momentum was nearly gone.  They had grown close enough to Venus that they could feel its warmth through their spacesuits, and Michael even had a few blades of sweat visible on his brow from the reflection of the sunlight on the planet.

“Good thing we didn’t let it get any farther,” he said.  “So, what have we got there?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Rhianna said, narrowing her eyes.  “Dasher and the tractor beam are sort of making it hard to see.  But it looks oblong, like an egg.”  She leaned out of the side of the sleigh and confirmed that it did indeed look like a large egg, though it was colored an iridescent silver and gold.

“Egg?” Mervius asked.  “Did you say egg?”

“I love eggs!” Luna cried.

“Us too!” Maisie shouted from below.  “Don’t leave us in here.  Let us eat some eggs too!”

Michael turned to his wife then and began uncinching the ribbons.  “Shall we get a closer look?”

“What?” Mervius echoed in their communications modules.  “No, you have to get back to the station.”

“We don’t take orders from other people when there are omelets on the line!” Peanut said.

“Relax Mervius,” Michael said.  “It’s a good idea for us to check this out before we bring it back to the moon.  We don’t want to cause more danger if we can identify it here.”

Though the elf didn’t say anything, the DeAngelo family could hear him sigh, a bit farther away than the communicator.

Rhianna pulled her ribbon apart then as well, but she didn’t realize as she floated up and out of the seat that Luna grabbed hold of hers with her teeth.  In only a few moments, the big dog was able to leap into the absence of gravity as well.

“Wait for us!” Zelda cried.

Michael and Rhianna drifted close to the egg, and they could feel its warmth.  Even from a few feet away, they could feel the thing beating, and they looked at each other with nervousness etched into their faces.  The egg was, after all, nearly as big as the sleigh.

It wasn’t until they heard a frightening crack that somehow resonated throughout the sound of space that they looked down, and realized that their youngest, largest dog was present.

“Luna, what are you doing there?” Rhianna asked.

The pup didn’t respond as she floated toward the underside of the egg.  She tilted her head, her nose twitching as though she could smell something through the round helmet she wore.

Her eyes widened though as the egg began to open.

A silver and gold head poked out of the bottom of the egg.  Sleepy eyes spotted the auburn-furred pup and looked at her from an inverted position.  Seeing the first leaving thing, the creature cooed, and opened its eyes further in excitement, beautiful emerald orbs landing on Luna’s excited face.

Michael and Rhianna drifted down then as well, realizing at once that the creature from the egg wasn’t some unspeakable or altogether unfamiliar alien.

It was a baby dragon.

That baby dragon spotted the two humans and let fly a little gasp that barely resonated through the vacuum of space.  It floated from the egg, and once its body had cleared it, the shells collapsed on themselves, bursting out of existence altogether.  The dragon lunged forward with a clawed hand, but it was its long tail that wrapped around Luna, pulling each closer to one another.  With an almost draconic smile, it placed its head on the top of the dog’s helmet and closed its eyes.

Everything seemed to freeze in time then.  In a flicker of light, the dragon and Luna appeared to shrink into nothingness, and were immediately gone from sight.

Though they floated in the void of space, Michael and Rhianna felt as though at any moment their legs would shudder, and they would somehow fall further.

“Luna!” Rhianna finally found the will to cry out.  “What’s happened to her?  Where is she?”

For another moment, everything seemed to stay frozen, but then they heard the static preceding Mervius’s communications.

“Don’t worry, I’m still reading her signal,” the elf said.  “And you’re not going to believe this: they’re on Tellest!”

Michael and Rhianna didn’t say anything to each other as they hurried to swim back through space toward the sleigh.

Finally, feeling like it was taking too long to arrive there, Michael broke the silence.

“We should have never got out of the sleigh,” he said.  “Mervius, why didn’t you try to stop us?”

“What?” the elf demanded.

They could tell that he was about to go on a tirade, but static reported, and they realized he must have let go of the button on his end.

The humans arrived back at the sleigh and noted the worried looks on the faces of the animals still stuck in the rover.

“Did something happen?” Maisie asked, her voice sounding quiet and pitiful.  “Something bad?”

Rhianna’s face contorted from a look of despair into one of stoic hope.  “No, little one,” she said.  “We’re just going on a little detour.  Just one more stop on our adventure.”  She looked to her husband then, who could see her swallow away the emotion building up in her throat even from within her space suit.

Michael climbed into the sleigh and began to tie the ribbons around his waist again.

“Mervius,” he said, a new weariness in his voice, “when we get going, I want you to help me get Dasher up to speed.  I want to head back to Tellest faster than we came out here.”

“Just make sure you’re safe,” the elf said.  “I’ll handle everything else.”

A few moments later, Michael helped to pull Rhianna into her seat, before slowly turning the vessel around.  Tellest was so far away then that they could barely see it.  He looked to his wife again, who was so distracted by her worries that she didn’t begin to fasten her ribbons together again.  He rubbed her leg and handed her the strand that was closest to him.

“Come on,” he said.  “We’ll find her.  But I don’t want to find her and then have to come back out here to find you because you went for your own little flight.”

Rhianna blew out a sigh and set to work, tying the ribbon with her fumbling hands.

With a little flick of the reins, Michael began moving the sleigh forward, but once he was certain his wife was cinched in, he snapped them a little harder.

“Mervius, get us to Tellest.”

“All right.  Hold on.”

The sleigh burst ahead, hard and quick enough that Michael and Rhianna had to fight against potential whiplash.  But whatever magic protected the sleigh seemed to give them enough pushback on their suits to keep them from any danger.

With Mervius pushing the sleigh to its limits, and the family lost in thoughts of worry, they seemed to blink their eyes once before arriving before the planet, and it looked as though Dasher skidded to a stop just before they entered Tellest’s atmosphere.

“We’re here,” Mervius said.  “There’s something strange I have to tell you about, by the way.  The signal has remained on Tellest since Luna and the dragon disappeared, but it’s been moving around on the planet.  And you’re not going to believe this, but it looks like they’re in the North Pole region.”

“Can we land the sleigh on the planet, Mervius?” Rhianna asked.

“Yes, of course,” the elf said.  “I’ll bring you in to where the signal last reported.  Just sit back and relax.”

Michael turned to look at the animals who were stuck in the rover, each of them looking as melancholy as the either.  “It’s going to be okay,” he said.  “We’ll find her.”

Before long, they entered the atmosphere of the planet, and they could see the frosted plains of the north pole between the clouds that swirled above it.  Dasher looked even more majestic against the fields of white, and when the family landed upon the ground in a clearing beside some trees, they felt as though it was the celestial reindeer’s hooves that thumped against the ground first.  The sleigh slid to a stop, and Michael and Rhianna untied their ribbons.

“All right, before you go anywhere, give me a minute to see if I can make some adjustments to your sleigh,” Mervius said.  The family could hear beeps and chirps in the background, but finally the elf returned.  “I just made some changes to the frequency array.  If I’m right, it should stop the dragon from being able to teleport again in the vicinity of the sleigh.”

“Good thinking,” Rhianna said.  “We can’t be flying all over the galaxy.”

Michael took off his helmet then, breathing in the fresh, crisp air of the frozen north.  He set it on the seat, and then climbed out of the sleigh, walking around to the back of the vessel to release the trio of animals from the rover.

“Hurry up,” Maisie pleaded.  “My leg popped out somewhere in space and I need someone to put it back in!”

“And Peanut’s threatening to eat her fiskeblugen, and I’m too young to die!” Zelda cried.

As Michael pulled the last remaining ribbons off of the rover, the glass top descended into the rest of the smaller vehicle, and the animals stretched and climbed from their seats.

Michael bent low, and massaged Maisie’s leg, and the pitiful little pup gave a look of appreciation as she stepped up from the rover.  Zelda and Peanut already ran about, sniffing at the air as though they were somewhat familiar with where they were.

“Let’s get going, everyone,” Michael said.  “We don’t want to…”

His words trailed off, for he could see from afar that Rhianna wore a look of disdain as she looked upon the ground in the trees beyond the clearing.  Michael ran to her so quickly that he didn’t even realize he had started moving.  But when he arrived there, he felt his legs buckle, and it was only his desire to support her that kept him standing tall.

There, on the ground, was Luna’s space suit, but no sign of the newest member of the DeAngelo family member was present.  Her helmet was cracked, and the oxygen sack was in tatters.

“The dragon,” Rhianna whispered, a tear falling from her eye, “it was too strong for her.”  Though the suit kept the cold at bay, the teardrop froze on her face.

Zelda and Maisie arrived there as well then, sniffing at the discarded space suit in an attempt to cover up the sound of their sniffling.  But when they looked up at Rhianna, it was clear they couldn’t hide the moisture on the rims of their eyes.

“I’m going to miss all the times she would ask me to play, even when I was too sleepy to want to,” Zelda lamented.

“She did some annoying things,” Maisie said then.  “But they were annoying things that we loved about her.  I don’t want to not have her staring at me when I’m eating my food or have to worry not having a snuggle buddy.”

“Are you all right, Peanut?” Zelda asked.  “Are you going to miss anything about Luna?”

“No,” the cat said.  Though her words seemed cold, she looked at them with a furrowed brow before looking farther into the trees.  “They’re right over there.”

Sure enough, the rest of the family could hear growling, and the unfamiliar sounds of the baby dragon.  They rushed to stand next to Peanut, wondering if there was a battle unfolding, and if Luna was fighting for her life.

But as they spotted the ginger dog, they saw that it was anything but a fight brewing between the two.  The baby dragon was on its back, playfully kicking at Luna, who grumbled and growled in jest, jumping on the creature’s scaled belly a few times before running away from it and circling it in the snow.

Her family stepped forward, and the crunch of the icy snow beneath them echoed out in the area.  The dragon cooed and rolled to its side, but Luna perked up at once, her ears drawing back and her eyes widening.

When she spotted all her favorite people, her mouth popped open, as close to a canine smile as anyone had ever seen.  She sprang forward, bounding across the snow without any delay.  Michael crouched low, hoping for a warm embrace, but she had already leaped into the air.  She crashed into him, knocking him to the ground, began bathing his face with kisses.  Rhianna was there a moment later, hugging the dog before she wrenched free and licked her as well.  When she’d had enough of that, she bounded around Zelda and Maisie, running figure eights as fast as she could, and eliciting playful cheers from her sisters.

Without missing a beat, she charged toward the dragon then, running up toward her as though she planned on knocking her down.  But at the last second, she juked to the side, and circled around her before running back to her family.  She was so distracted by her zoomies that she didn’t realize that Peanut slowly walked up to the iridescent dragon.

At that time, when Luna reached her loved ones, Michael was prepared.  He wrapped her in a firm embrace—one she couldn’t wriggle out of, despite all her attempts—and he kissed her on her bony head.

“We were so worried about you,” he said to her.

“We saw your torn oxygen sack, and thought the worst,” Rhianna added.

“Oh…that?” Luna asked, sheepishly.  “I did that.  I was nervous when I didn’t see any of you.”

“She does have a deep desire to destroy anything she comes near,” Zelda snarked, clearly a little less compassionate once she learned that her big baby sister was okay.

“And what about the helmet?” Michael asked.  “How did you get out of that and the suit?”

“We were practicing bonks,” Luna said with a smile on her face.

“I think she finally met someone with a harder head than her,” Maisie teased.

They heard cooing and chirping across the way then, and they saw that Peanut and the dragon sat beside each other then, evidently showing that Luna was not the only friend that the iridescent-scaled creature had made.

“Yes, yes, they are a bit tiresome, but they’re good people,” Peanut said.  “We go on these crazy adventures every year, and they always show how much they love us.”

“Peanut?” Rhianna asked.  “Can you understand it?”

“Of course I can,” the cat said.  “You know cats and dragons are distant cousins.  She just wanted to make sure all of us knew each other and that there weren’t any tricks at play.  And despite all her annoyances, she seems to really like the big, dumb dog.”

“Hey!” Luna said.  “I’m not dumb!  Just quirky!”

“Peanut,” Michael said, interrupting the two animals before they could get into any further mischief or arguments.  “What’s the dragon’s name?”

The dragon chirped and purred, and Peanut looked at her and nodded.

“She doesn’t have one yet—or at least, not one she knows.”

Rhianna hummed.  “Well then, we’ll have to give her one.  And I think it’s only fair that Luna is the one to pick the name.”

“Really?” Luna asked.  “That’s the best!  And I think I already know what I would call her.”

“What’s that?” Michael asked.

Luna crouched low, as though she were about to pounce on someone.  Her tail wagged from side to side, and she sprang up as she announced the name.

“Food!”

Zelda and Maisie let their heads tilt to the side, and Luna could see that the other members of her family didn’t quite have the same enthusiasm for the name as she did.

“Food isn’t exactly a name, baby girl,” Rhianna said.

“What?  But it’s my favorite!” Luna cried.  She grumbled and then looked back at the dragon, trying to see if she could get a better idea for it.

The little dragon walked a little closer to the rest of the family, the taller humans sitting down to appear less imposing.

“All right, how about this one,” Luna said.  “Stinky.”

“Stinky?” Michael asked.

“Yeah!  I couldn’t smell her when we were next to that planet that we found her at, but when we got here and I shook my helmet off, she was really, really stinky!”

“Oh honey, that’s not really a nice name for such a pretty dragon,” Rhianna said.  She held out her hand, rubbing the creature’s muzzle as it drew closer, demonstrating courage around its new friends.”

“But you’re always calling me stinky,” Luna grumbled.

“That’s because that’s us teasing you,” Michael said.  “But your real name is really pretty, don’t you think?”

“That’s right,” Rhianna said.  “Luna means moon, which is where we just were when we started this adventure.”

The dog’s eyes went a little wide with excitement then, and she tilted her head to the side.  “I’ve got it then.  I remember what Santa called her when she was flying through space.  We’ll call her Comet!”

Michael and Rhianna prepared to protest further, but when they heard the name that Luna chose, they had to admit that they liked the sound of it.

“Comet,” Rhianna said, and as the word left her lips, it seemed the dragon reacted to it, cooing as it stood up straighter.  “Oh yeah?  You’re a fan of that one?”

As she was petting the dragon along her scaled neck, a noise sounded from the sleigh.  They heard the telltale crackle of static coming through the space helmets.

Michael gasped.  “Mervius,” he said.

The man ran back to the sleigh then, while Rhianna ushered the rest slowly across the snow.

“Yes, we’re all okay, Merv,” Michael said.  “Both Luna and the dragon are safe.  Well, not exactly in one piece though—Luna’s space suit has seen better days.  I hope it didn’t cost you and the other elves an arm and a leg to make it.”

“Nothing a little Christmas magic can’t fix,” Mervius said after he heard the good news.  “But you will have to figure out some way to get everyone back to the moon.  I know Luna is a bit of a giant—is there any way you can squish her into the rover with the other animals?”

Michael hummed as he watched his family approach.  “I think we can figure something out.  But we’ve got no plan for the dragon.  Her egg is gone, so she can’t hide in there anymore.”

“It’s all right,” Mervius said.  “If she’s a space dragon from space, she’s likely got the means to survive in it.  But if she doesn’t have the egg, that means she won’t be able to travel the way she did before.  She’s likely too big for the sleigh too, but you could use the tractor beam.”

“Right,” Michael said.

“Couldn’t she just bloop us all to the moon?” Luna wondered.

“We have the sleigh,” Rhianna said, trying not to alert the dragon that her strange powers had been temporarily deactivated.  “I think we want to make sure we’re being safe, so we’ll do it this way for now.”

“Speaking of being safe,” Michael said.  “Peanut, Zelda, how would you two like to be in a special space suit?”

“Ooh, I would love that,” Zelda said, wagging her tail and spinning around in excitement.

Peanut scoffed at the pup.  “You’re far too old to be this naïve.”

“Look, we’re all going to be a little cramped, one way or another,” Michael said.  “You can either be cramped with us, or you could all cram into the rover and hope that the air doesn’t get sucked out of there with Luna in there, too.”

The cat swallowed away the discomfort in her throat.  “I’ll fly with you if you have room in your spacesuit,” she declared.

“That’s what I thought,” Michael replied.

“You’ll be flying with me, Zelda,” Rhianna said.  “It’ll be like a big snuggle.”

“I love snuggles,” Zelda said.

Though Peanut offered up more protests, once she was safely inside Michael’s suit, she purposely squished up against him, not planning on moving higher, to stick her head through the hole of the helmet, already tightened to the top of the suit.  Zelda was a little more eager to get her head as close to Rhianna’s as possible.  Though there were no means of having to stretch her limbs through the aperture there, she was able to see out through the helmet, and could not hold back her excitement when Michael and Rhianna climbed onto the sleigh, helping Maisie and Luna to settle into the rover.  Maisie only grumbled a little bit while Luna found a comfortable position, curled up next to her.

After they tied the ribbons over the rover there, Michael and Rhianna climbed up and over the lip of the front seat, a bit more difficult of a task with Tellest’s gravity present.  Once they were situated though, they took a deep breath, and Michael grabbed hold of the reins.

Dasher materialized before the sleigh again, and slowly lifted the vessel from the snow as the two humans tied their ribbons into place around their waists, cinching them into bows.

Once they were airborne, Michael looked back and saw Comet gently lifting into the air, though there did seem to be a bit of a struggle to stay aloft.

“It’s probably more difficult on a planet with an atmosphere,” Rhianna said.  “If she’s a space dragon, maybe it’s harder to fly.”

“Well, we’re going to offer her a bit of assistance,” Michael said.  He tapped the yellow button then, and the tractor beam fired, but that time it was directed behind them.  The golden glow encompassed the dragon, helping to lift her off the ground.  “There you go, Comet,” he said.  “You’ll be able to fly the whole time as we head off to the moon again.”

The dragon, finding new ease in moving about, happily glided behind the sleigh as it went higher and higher.  As they left orbit, she practiced doing flips, and barrel rolls, chirping and chittering the whole time.

“All right, Mervius,” Michael said when the only thing before them besides the black void of space was the moon.  “We’re on our way.”

“Understood.  I’ll make some more adjustments to the tractor beam, but you should be able to make it the rest of the way without much manual work.  We’ll see you in a little bit.”

“What adjustments is he talking about?” Rhianna asked.

“Watch,” Michael said with a smile.

They could hear, then, as some mechanical sounds reported below them, and the golden glow of the tractor beam expanded into more of a cloud, allowing the iridescent dragon to move about a bit more.

Rhianna smiled then as well, watching as Comet playfully experimented with more complex maneuvers, all without any worries of her drifting too far from the sleigh.

“Luna, look,” Rhianna said.

The big dog twisted about in the rover, and watched as Comet rose up over the vehicle, sending happy noises toward her new friends.

It did not take long for them to arrive back on the moon, and Michael and Rhianna were still enthralled by how easily they had travelled their little part of the galaxy.  They did not land back on the spot where they had found the sleigh but found themselves in a different tractor beam altogether—one that pulled them into a larger part of the workshop on the opposite side of the complex.

Michael’s suit bulged around the belly, and a little voice rose up from there.

“That’s it, I’ve had enough!  I am the royalty of this family, and I demand to be treated as such!”

“We’re almost there, Peanut,” Michael said.  “Once I’m sure you’ll be able to breathe, I’ll let you out.”

“I can barely breathe now!” she grumbled.

The sleigh landed with a thump, and the dragon flew into the hangar, skidding on the ground as both tractor beams disengaged.  Comet lost her footing and rolled over on her wings and thudded into the back of the vehicle.  Her head popped up over the back of the sleigh then, and Luna panted and smiled while the dragon giggled.

Ahead of the family, a pneumatic door opened with a mechanical whirr, and they saw a wiry elf with white hair appear there.

“Mervius?” Michael ventured.

“Pleased to meet you at last,” the elf said.  He tilted his head back, attempting to help slide his half-circle glasses back up his angular nose.

Michael climbed out of the sleigh and stepped across the room in his clunky space suit, but eventually extended his hand to their communications expert.  Before the gesture could be completed though, Peanut pushed with all her might, and popped the buttons on the suit, pouncing through the material and landing on the ground below.

Mervius’s eyes had gone wide, but Michael finally concluded the greeting, grabbing the elf’s hand and giving it a quick shake.  “Just another day in the DeAngelo family,” he said.

“I was told of all your exploits and hijinks,” the elf said.  “Somehow, I still was not quite prepared.  I’ll have to make sure my calculations are in better order the next time we work together.”

Rhianna popped her helmet off, and pushed Zelda back down into her suit, opening the buttons there so she could hop out too.  When Zelda was on the ground, she hurried back into the sleigh, and climbed onto the seat so that she could watch when Rhianna untied the ribbon from the rover.  Luna hopped out of the secondary vehicle when the glass dome slid away, and she clambered up and over the side of the sleigh, skittering on the floor after she jumped down.

“Stinky!” she cried when she saw the dragon.

The dragon pounced forward with a frisky attitude, but Luna hopped out of the way.  And despite the fact that the dog was only a quarter the size of the dragon, she managed to knock Comet off her feet and to her back, the beautiful creature spinning about as she chirped and cooed.

Michael and Rhianna watched while the other animals—even Peanut—drew close to the dragon and joined in on the fun as well.  Mervius came closer, standing beside the husband and wife and could not hide his excitement in sharing what he found out about Comet.

“It seems she’s a chronodragon,” he explained.  “They’re incredibly rare, and they have the ability to travel across not just great stretches of the universe, but also through time.  She’s too young to have mastered her powers just yet, so it seems she’s only able to teleport for now.  And we’ll fashion something that will make sure she always stays on our radar and doesn’t get into too much trouble.”

“She’s just a baby,” Rhianna said.  “Surely we ought to be able to help her find her way home, right?”

“Well, you’ve already done your part in the beginning of her journey,” Mervius said.  “And while I don’t doubt that you’ll see her again, I think we ought to take it from here.”

“What?” Michael said.  “But we’re the ones who found her.  Shouldn’t we be around for her?”

Mervius draped his hands on each of their shoulders.  “I know you want to aid her, but there’s a bigger problem than you would be able to help with, I’m afraid.”

“Well, what is it?” Rhianna asked.

“Her home planet doesn’t exist yet,” Mervius revealed.  “We can’t exactly get her home if we don’t know where it is—but we do know that she’s been displaced by millions of years.  Until she can master her time travel skills, I’m afraid we may be forced to wait.  But she’ll have a home here in the meantime, and you’ll be able to see her every Christmas.”

Rhianna’s eyebrows curled into a look of sadness.  “Is she going to be okay without her family?”

Michael grabbed his wife around the shoulder and pulled her in tight.  “We know firsthand that a family is whatever you make of it, as long as there is love and laughter, and we all look out for one another.”

Together, they looked at their family, the three dogs and the cat all playing with one another, and their new friend, Comet.

“Thank you for looking out for her, Merv,” Michael said.  “Something makes me feel like she is going to be a handful.”  Luna came over and nearly bowled Michael over then, jumping up and stretching, with a big smile on her face.  “I feel like we have enough experience to give our expert opinion on the matter,” Michael added.

“It seems like it,” the elf said with a laugh.  “Well then, shall we prepare for the festivities?  You’ve accomplished a great feat today, and we celebrate those with great feasts.”

“Feast!” Maisie said, skittering across the metal floor toward the elf, wagging her tail the whole way.

“Ha!” Rhianna enunciated.  “If that tail wagged any faster, you’d learn to fly too, little one!”

The rest of the family laughed at the thought.  While they all remained merry, Michael waved Mervius over to the sleigh.

“I have to know,” Michael said.  “What does the black button do?”

Mervius tilted his head, but as Michael pointed toward the interior with his chin, the elf nodded.  “Oh, that.”  He leaned in and smacked his palm against it.

Michael was ready to hop back, but instead, a door slid away from the center console of the sleigh, just below the buttons, and out popped a steaming mug of hot cocoa.  Marshmallows swirled around it, and a dome not unlike the one that covered the rover was present there.  A festive little pop went off inside the mug’s snow globe, as one of the marshmallows exploded into a sort of tasty confetti that fluttered back down to the hot chocolate.

“And then…” Mervius said, turning toward Michael again.  “Here.”  He flicked a flap on Michael’s suit, revealing a straw that could have been used to sip the hot cocoa while you were out and about in space.  “Sorry we didn’t get to explain that one.  There just wasn’t enough time to—”

“There’s always enough time for hot cocoa!” Michael said, exasperated.

Mervius leaned into the sleigh, and retrieved the beverage for Michael, handing it to him a second later.

“Thank you,” Michael said.

“All right then, to the feasting hall!” Mervius said, while Michael fumbled behind him with the straw in his suit.

Together, the DeAngelo family, and their new dragon friend followed the elf into the workshop, eager to close out their adventure with delicious food, and good discussions about their hopes for the holidays, and the year beyond.

 

  *        *          *

 

When Michael slid the door open then, he knew that everyone who entered the house did so with slightly rounder bellies than when they had last exited it.  The animals made their way in first, from eldest to youngest, and when Rhianna reached the door, she laid her head on her husband’s shoulder, failing to stifle a large yawn that fought its way past her lips.

“Why is it that we’re always so tired when we get back from our times with Santa?”

Michael chortled.  “We didn’t used to.  That’s just what happens when you get older.  And the adventures that Santa sends us on are always insane.  Insanity takes its toll.”

“Maybe that’s why I feel so worn down,” Rhianna said.  “I live with you.”

“That’s right, and that’s what keeps me young!”  He stood there staring at her, with a smile on his face for a moment, but then, by the power of suggestion or otherwise, he had to yawn then as well.

She leaned close and kissed him on the cheek, and then the pair of them followed their fuzzy babies inside.

“So, how did you like your first Tellest Christmas, Luna?” Michael asked.

Luna spun around, excitement still aglow in her eyes.  “It was the best!  I love making new friends, and it was nice to meet one who was bigger than me for a change.”

“That’s right,” Rhianna said.  “And thank you so much for being so kind and sweet and gentle with Comet.  She really needed that, and we’re so proud of you for being such a loving sweetheart.”

“And how about everybody else?” Michael asked.  “Did we all have a good time?”

“I like going on any trip that doesn’t end up at the vet,” Zelda said.

“And I like any occasion that puts me in the same general vicinity as fiskeblugen,” Peanut said.

“And what about you, Maisie?” Rhianna wondered.

She lay on the couch, her head resting on her hands.  “Well… To be honest, I felt sort of underutilized this year.  But I did get to chomp on a big wheel of cheese at Santa’s workshop, so I think it all worked out.”  By that point her head was up again, and her tail was wagging at the thought of the yummy meal in which she had partaken.

“Well, the fun’s not over yet,” Michael said.  “Luna, every year when we come back, whether it’s on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, Santa finds a way to sneak us some very special presents.  And it looks like he already beat us here.  Look under the tree.”

“Presents!” Luna yelled, flinging herself toward the little tree.

“No, wait!” Rhianna yelled.  “You just open your own!”

 

A few minutes later, all of the DeAngelo family members sat content with their Christmas presents.

Peanut sat perched on the stairs with a small tray of tablets that had been described as freeze-dried fiskeblugen—food like astronauts eat!  And it wouldn’t stink up the house as she ate them.

All three dogs received toys that were shaped like dragons, with Zelda receiving a red one, Maisie receiving a blue one, and Luna receiving one that was almost appearing to shine in silver and gold.  The two older dogs squeaked away at their toys, but Luna just cuddled up next to hers.

“That’s very cute that she’s being so protective of her toy,” Rhianna said.

“What are we thinking?” Michael asked.  “Does it last three days before she tears it apart?”

“I was thinking a very conservative two,” Rhianna said.

Michael chuckled, but then he turned his attention back to his present, a brand-new hot cocoa mug, which was filled to the brim with the steaming beverage.  On the table, he had a supply that would last them well into the winter.

Rhianna stood up then, as all the animals had cleared a path to the Christmas tree then.  She held up the gift that had been left for her, a gorgeous ornamental silver and gold dragon that was wrapped around a crystal—perfect for hanging on the Christmas tree.

“There we go,” Rhianna said.  “That’s the perfect place for it.”

As she moved to head back to the couch, she realized that she kicked another small box, that was wrapped a bit differently than the presents that Santa had sent their way.

“Is this one that you wrapped?” Rhianna asked.

Michael shook his head.  “I have a habit of giving you all your Christmas presents early, or buying you presents that aren’t out yet.  I don’t know who that’s from.”

Rhianna bent low and picked up the box, noting that it wasn’t especially heavy.  She tore into it, first noticing the little card that had been included, but soon after spotting the little white discs that sat within the box.

“Well, what is it?” Michael asked.

Rhianna looked at the card then, and finally understood what had been sent their way.  “It’s from Mervius,” she said.  She plucked out one of the discs and held it up for Michael to see.  “They’re little tracking devices so we don’t have to worry about not being able to find our babies, even if a dragon comes along and bloops them across the universe.”

 

A huge thank you to Leo Borazio and Wern Szuen Lee for helping us with our bookmarks this year, just like last year.  Once again they did an awesome job with everything!

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Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.
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