Excerpt: The Working Elf Blues

It occurred to Garnet Evergreen, as he plummeted toward Earth, that perhaps fleeing the North Pole in his father’s untested, fir-sap-fueled sleigh might not have been the best of ideas.

Wind and snow battered at his face, blinding him despite his ice-proof goggles. Even if his vision had been clear, he’d still have no idea where he was in relation to his destination. The navigation system was the first thing to go when fuel started running scarce. That was miles ago, and while he’d continued in what he assumed was the same direction, he had no way of knowing just how far off course the wind gusts might have driven him.

“By Santa’s beard, I’ve done it this time!” Garnet shouted as the runners of the sleigh connected with the tops of a few towering trees. This would definitely be the greatest of all his screw-ups. He pulled hard on the yoke, hoping for one last surge of power to help ease his landing.

Nothing happened.

Garnet’s heart raced with fear. He swallowed hard, but the lump in his throat didn’t budge. Elf or not, he wasn’t indestructible. These last few seconds might be his last. Pressing back against his seat, he tried to brace himself.

Wes… I’m sorry…

Impact. Pain in his chest, ringing in his ears, endless, swirling white. Then, finally, black.

*~*~*

Wes jerked awake as a distant boom sent his huskies into a barking frenzy. Bleary-eyed, he looked around, realizing he’d fallen asleep with his mug of cocoa half full, his TV dinner still in the microwave, and the DVD of Miracle on 34th Street frozen on the menu screen. He blinked and rubbed his hands over his face as Misha and Micah, two of his huskies, whined and pawed at the front door. Mordecai, another husky, sat alert by the fire, and Mabel, his only malamute, trampled his legs in her excitement.

From the windows nearby, he could see it was fully dark and light flurries had turned into a blizzard, the wind whipping hard through the trees. For a moment, he couldn’t remember what had his dogs so unsettled.

Oh, right. The noise. He should probably go investigate. The remoteness of his cabin meant he rarely encountered anyone up here once winter settled in, but the occasional traveler wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. In this weather, a car crash and lack of shelter would mean certain death for anyone left stranded. He couldn’t ignore the sound on the off-chance that lives might be at stake.

Wes dragged himself off the couch, and still feeling groggy, made quick work of bundling up. Sweater, jacket, hat, boots, scarf. He’d already been wearing thermal underwear to ward off the chill that permeated the cabin despite the heat coming from the fireplace.

Next came his flashlight, tucked into his pocket for the time being, and the backpack he normally kept in the front closet. It contained a blanket, rope, a knife, heat packs, a flint striker, and a variety of other gear, including a few first-aid items. Last, he harnessed the dogs and then pulled on his gloves. The four of them were plenty strong enough to pull the sled with Wes and another person on board. This way, he could navigate the narrower trails through the trees. If needed, he could come back for his SUV later.

The door flew open as soon as he turned the knob, letting in a gust of bitterly cold wind and about a foot of snow. He swept as much of it back outside as he could while yanking the door shut behind him.

Once he’d rigged up the sled, he clicked his tongue and started the dogs in the direction of the road with a firm “Hike!” The noise from earlier might not have come from that way, but it seemed like the most logical place to start.

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