We stood on the roof of the building, high above everything. Tall buildings, outlined in colored light, surrounded us. The towers stretched and reached up for pinwheels of blue-white stars that were strewn across the dark sky. I caught the warm odor of animals, and saw a line of them silhouetted against the lights.
“Aren’t they beautiful…?” Chloe breathed.
“Reindeer?” I asked, looking at the team of tethered creatures. They were huge, larger than draft horses. Their eyes flashed pale green, lit from within, as they swung their massive heads around to look at us.
“Camel-deer,” Santo the Good said. “Another thing they didn’t get quite right. They’re much bigger and tougher than reindeer. Vicious, too... if you tried to touch one of them, they'd tear you to pieces. There are eight of them in the team… eight elements, each a little different, but from the same place. They are nearly uncontrollable."
"They look mean," I agreed. “I won’t touch them.”
“Camel-deer can fly for eighty-seven days and nights without sleep. They eat hot sand, and drink solid ice… a lot like dragons. They’re closely related, of course.”
“Related to dragons?” I said. “How is that possible?”
“Everyone alive on earth is closely related to everyone else,” Chloe explained, helpfully. “Not knowing that is a big part of the problem.”
I looked at the row of animals. They reminded me of the horses that pulled beer wagons to the Super Bowl, except that those horses didn’t have racks of antlers. They also didn’t have eyes that glowed.
“There’s no such thing as…” I started.
“…dragons,” Santo finished. “Or Santa Claus. We know your theories, thank you.”
Chloe gave me a sharp elbow.
“He’s under a lot of pressure at this time of year,” she whispered. “It isn’t a good time to tease him.”
“You can discuss camel-deer genetics with my wife,” Santo said. “She drives them.”
“Your wife?” I asked.
“She’s the only one who can handle them,” he said. “I certainly can’t.”
I had been a little bit afraid of Santo, and now I was terrified of his wife.
A woman called from the seat of an enormous, rough sled that was positioned at the back of the line of camel-deer. It appeared to have been made by lashing several trees together. She sat up high, holding a set of reins in her lap. The rooftop wind played with her long silver hair and caressed her face with it. In the reflected light, her face was severe and utterly beautiful.
“Magdalena!” Chloe cried, and ran to kiss her.
“My beloved,” Santo explained to me, and led the way over to the sleigh.
The woman smiled at me, and reached a hand down to pat my face. The sensation was odd. Her touch felt like warm water running on very cold hands when you’ve been outside for a long time, playing in the snow.
“You’ve probably seen pictures of me in story books,” she said. “Up at the North Pole, apple-cheeked and baking cookies for a bunch of elves. Wrapping presents.”
“Probably,” I admitted.
“Lies. I’ve never baked a cookie in my life. Couldn’t be bothered. Now I’m too old to learn, even if I wanted to… and I don’t.”
( -A Christmas Song for Chloe)
…to be continued