Globs of white gently touched down on a cabin and its many surrounding trees, decorating all in a serene blanket of snow and nearly drowning out the visibility of the smoke that billowed from the chimney. Although no lights adorned the outside of the small cabin, a beautifully lit and decorated Christmas Tree stood proudly across the fireplace and near a window. An adequate number of presents sat beneath the tree, two empty stockings hung on the fireplace, presents awaited both these things; the scene was perfectly set and the end hours of Christmas Eve heralded Santa's arrival.
The two occupants of the cabin were female, a mother and daughter pairing. The single mother was twenty-eight years-old, recently divorced, and dressed as cliché as possible for the occasion. A green, Rudolph decorated sweater with a red, three-dimensional nose and black sweatpants were her garments of choice for the evening. Audrey's seven year-old daughter, Johnnie, was dressed not for the festivities, but rather for bed in poorly color coordinated pajamas. Although her shirt did happen to be red, her pajama pants were a mishmash of yellow and blue stripes.
Audrey brought her coffee-filled Christmas mug to her lips one last time, placing it on the end table to her side after the mud water hit the back of her throat, and stood from her reclining chair.
“Johnnie, it's time for bed,” she said to her cross-legged daughter who was seated on the floor watching The Grinch.
The girl stood, looking her mother dead in the eye with the most hope-filled look she could muster. “Mom, can I open a present first?”
The woman chuckled as she walked over to the tree and pulled a present out from underneath. “Just this one, then you have to go to bed or else Santa Claus won't come.” She handed her daughter the wrapped gift and watched with bated breath. Would she like it?
Johnnie finished tearing through the wrappings and shot her mom the biggest smile she could muster. It was Mega Bloks. She absolutely hated it. Most adults just don't understand the difference between Legos and Mega Bloks; nobody wants Mega Bloks. Still, young Johnnie did her best to make her mom think that she had done good (she was raised to be polite) by hugging her and telling her thank you.
After hugs were exchanged, Audrey followed her daughter into her bedroom and waited for her to crawl under her Cars themed covers. She lovingly tucked her in, gave her a delicate kiss on the forehead, bid her “good night”, flipped the light switch, and shut the door behind herself.
A mixture of excitement and caution took Audrey as she quietly rummaged through her closet for the presents that 'Santa' would leave for Johnnie. While grabbing the presents and stocking stuffers, the single mother heard crunching snow on the roof. Someone was on top of the cabin! The various goodies fell from her hands and she bolted for her daughter's room. At least, that was what she had intended.
Audrey's bedroom was only accessible from the living room, which was likewise the case for Johnnie's. The sound of footfalls on the roof came to an abrupt end, and upon her entering the living room, loud, repetitive thuds against the bricks in the chimney took their place. Nearly all sense of urgency left the woman as she realized that someone was stuck in her chimney. Were there any observers of this incident, they might be inclined to think of Audrey as foolish. However, most chimneys slant and slope various times, a design which carried over to this particular chimney and that the cabin owner had knowledge of.
Free of all trepidation, the gal edged toward the chimney, ever so carefully maneuvered her head out of reach from the fireplace's burning lick, and gazed up into the secretive flue. The discovery of a pair of hooves and deer legs left her marveled. A flurry of thoughts surged through her mind as she moved her head out from under the chimney. She chewed perplexedly on her thumbnail as they came.
This is impossible! It just has to be. Santa isn't real.
But what if he is?
Have I been so naughty that he never visited me?
No, that can't be. But... If so, then Santa needs help.
Maybe an everyday deer jumped on the roof and fell in the chimney?
A snort, one that couldn't help remind her of a horse, echoed from within the hearth, bringing an end to her think session. Her first instinct was to call the fire department and have them remove the deer. Worry and doubt beset her. She worried that they'd think her drunk or stupid and doubted that they'd send someone on Christmas Eve. In the end, the Christmas celebrator decided she ought to at least check things out for herself before making such a ludicrous sounding call.
Audrey quietly opened Johnnie's bedroom door and peered in. Little Johnnie slumbered, stirring in her sleep. Much excitement for Christmas radiated from that one, even in sleep. Seeing that all was well, Audrey shut the bedroom door, grabbed a flashlight seated on top of a cabinet in the living room, threw on a winter coat from a nearby coat rack, and trekked outside into the great white beyond.
Try as she might from the ground, she could not make out what was stuck in the chimney due to the rapid snowfall. Although she was uncertain, she thought she made out a deer head. Not deterred and still as curious as ever, the answer seeker ventured into the sole shed on the property and retrieved a ladder. Its placement against the house complete, she ascended while praising herself for going with wooden instead of metal for she did not have to worry about slipping.
The near blizzard conditions had seen to covering most of the prints on the roof and ensuring that there was nothing close to a path for her to take. Every step toward the chimney was earned as the deep snow resisted against her every move. The brave woman's resilience was rewarded with a few intact hoofprints... and then a view of that which occupied her home's smoke escape.
The culprit caught in the chimney did possess antlers, but it was no deer. The creature was a moose. It angled and bucked its elongated snout toward Audrey, snapping its jaws and gnashing its sharp teeth at her as it did so. Pity for the moose filled her heart, causing her to try to come up with something reassuring to say to it, despite believing the odds of it not understanding to be high. The beast unleashed a guttural, screechy (not unlike nails on a chalkboard) scream before she got such an opportunity. She recoiled backward in fright, perilously close to the roof's edge, from the noise.
All sense of pity departed and was replaced by an acute fear of the unknown as the creature tore the chimney apart, sending bricks flying in every direction, with the body that was contained within. A bulky, furry, brown torso with leathery, black as night wings protruding from it was revealed. It was no moose. The additional fear caused Audrey to reflexively step back and off the roof. She hit the ground with her back.
The creature landed on top of her chest hoof first; snow splashed upward as it came into contact. Air escaped her lungs to the point that she thought she would blackout, although she was uncertain as to whether she would do so from lack of oxygen or the pain she felt. She partially wished that there hadn't been snow on the ground so that she might have died instead of being at the mercy of the thing, not to mention the burning cold she felt against her skin.
The monster shot open its jaws and quickly lowered them around her face. Audrey scrunched her eyes shut anticipating unbearable pain and imminent death, both which did not come. Hesitantly, she opened her eyes to see what the delay was about and surprisingly unsatisfied with the delay was she. The behemoth's head was now facing the nearest window, Johnnie's bedroom window, and standing there looking out with a smile on her face was Johnnie.
The mother willed her hands to move and wrapped them around one of the beast's legs, “N-No,” she managed in a winded tone.
The threat paid her no heed and effortlessly removed its leg from her grasp. Its wings began to beat as the woman desperately latched her hands around a leg again. A back kick greeted the woman's face and she unwillingly released the beast upon being knocked backwards and face first into the snow. The sound of shattering glass rung in her ears. All she could do was look up from the snow as her freshly cut, broken nose dripped crimson onto the white ground.
Johnnie smiled and jumped up and down enthusiastically before the beast. She did not understand the gravity of her situation - how could anyone – for she was so short that she had been unable to see her mom on the ground, only the thing of large stature had been watchable. Had the thud of her mom hitting the ground not awoke her, then things might have turned out differently.
“Reindeer,” she happily shouted into the unwelcome visitor's grasping tail.
The rhythmic sounds of beating wings filled the air as Audrey watched the creature fly off with her daughter wrapped in its pointed-tail. They headed into the forest, the Pine Barrens. Her exhausted brain recollected a folktale about a legendary creature that was said to have been birthed in the nearby town of Leeds Point, New Jersey. She buried her face into the red snow all the while muttering its name, Jersey Devil.
Written by Doom Vroom