I hadn’t been foolhardy. No sane person approaches that sort of undertaking without checking the weather. The forecast had predicted partly cloudy skies and that’s exactly how the morning dawned. By noon, though, an unwelcoming, gunmetal gray expanse loomed overhead. After that, its mood quickly deteriorated from tetchy, to threatening, to thunderous.
By then I was too invested to cut and run.
By two, it was as if I’d been dropped into a war zone. The wind had whipped itself into a shrieking frenzy. It made its fury felt even beneath the hard carapace of my helmet. Icy fingers lifted my layered scarf and wormed beneath my woolen balaclava. I was uncomfortable, but I figured I could ignore that. That was when the freezing rain began.
Visibility went to hell quickly after that; my visor crusted over within minutes. I abandoned its protection out of necessity, not desire. My snowmachine also started crusting over, but even then — even at that point—I couldn’t stop. Wouldn’t stop. Wouldn’t slow.
You see, before the weather went to hell, I’d checked the watch I’d strapped to my instrument panel. I was making phenomenal time. I could still do it. I could beat the record if I just soldiered through the discomfort.
About an hour later, I crossed a large, frozen, lake. That long expanse of straight-going helped make up the time I knew I had lost to poor conditions. When I got to the shoreline, my snowmachine bucked as I hit an uneven, uphill stretch. It jerked and lunged, trying to unseat me, but failed. Inside my gloves, my fingers felt like claws. The protracted, vise grip I’d been keeping on the handlebars was beginning to take its toll.
Abby stopped and flexed her fingers. Writing longhand always made her arthritic knuckles cantankerous. She stretched her neck, cranked the dial up higher on the space heater beneath her desk, and turned back to the legal pad.
Up ahead, the corner of a fence marked the edge of someone’s property and the need for me to turn between it and a stand of trees. I eased back on the machine’s throttle slightly and took the curve as wide as possible to maintain speed. Hidden below the snow’s surface was a boulder and I clipped its edge. The speed coupled with the force of contact created the perfect cocktail for disaster. It threw my machine sideways and me with it.
Abby didn’t lift her hand from the pad, but stopped writing. She stared out the nearby window, transfixed as fat, white flakes latched themselves against the frosted windowpane.
“Grandma!” The shout preceded Tommy and startled Abby out of her reverie. Her grandson’s footsteps pounded up the stairs. “Grandma!” he repeated as he swung in the doorway on the gate of his arm. “Mom’s been calling you! She said everything’s ready for the Christmas story! Come on!”
* * *
Everything was ready in the family room, as promised. Her daughter, Lize, had set out the cookies. Cocoa was steaming in thick mugs. Her son-in-law had stoked the fire. Tommy circled the perimeter of the room, his Iron Man action figure taking a dip at his older sister Avery’s head as she entered.
Avery dropped into the nearest chair. “Do I really have to sit through this?” At her grandmother’s snorting laugh, she quickly added. “No offense, Grandma, but I’m twelve now. And I was in the middle of a really good chapter in my book.”
Lize interjected, “It’s a Christmas Eve tradition. You’ll survive. Sit down.”
With everyone seated, Abby settled in and began as she always did.
“I used to have two hands, like most people, until the year I saved Christmas.”
All eyes settled on the metal curve of Abby’s prosthetic hand where it rested in her lap. The Christmas lights danced along its surface and reflected in Tommy’s eyes as he raised his head. “Santa’s sleigh broke down. You delivered toys in your snowmachine!”
“Who’s telling this story?” Abby screwed the prosthetic gently into her grandson’s belly and enjoyed his laughter before continuing. “This was when I was even younger than your mommy is now. I drove my snowmachine to the North Pole. Not this North Pole,” she said, gesturing outside, “in Alaska, but the real North Pole in the heart of the Arctic Ocean. It was a dark Christmas Eve just like tonight. My snowmachine was flying back to camp, barely touching the ground. I almost didn’t see them.”
“Rudolph and Santa’s reindeer!” Tommy inserted, heady with foreknowledge and the ability to give prompts. “And Santa, lying in the snow.” The last was delivered with studied horror.
“Santa was sprawled on the ground. Thankfully he wasn’t badly hurt, but his sleigh was broken badly and completely out of commission.”
“And Santa asked you—”
“Santa didn’t ask. He told me.” The timbre of Abby’s voice took on a deep authority. “‘Abigail Margaret Yates,’ he said, ‘You have to load those presents onto your snowmachine and deliver them to all the good boys and girls for me.’”
Tommy squirmed with impatience as his grandmother leaned forward and clamped her metal hook around the mug of cocoa. He allowed her one, careful sip of the steaming liquid. “And Santa gave you an elf!”
“You’re jumping ahead,” she scolded and took one more, deft sip. “We harnessed the reindeer to my snowmachine, loaded Santa, and drove back to his workshop. It was then Santa assigned me a helper—an elf named Turna Kett.
“All elves have a particular magic and Turna’s was slowing down the fast flow of time. That’s how all the world’s Christmas gifts are delivered in just one night.
“We had to let the reindeer rest a bit, so Turna and I headed north, on my snowmachine, until we hit open water. Santa had alerted a pod of narwhal we were coming and they whisked us over to Russia so we could get those deliveries over quickly.”
“Narhwals have pointy unicorn horns!”
Abby smiled and nodded. “That’s what we held on to as they swam. As we left shore, they began to sing. Seals and walrus joined them and began to sing, too. When we reached Russia, we realized their song had called all the artic animals. Tens of thousands of them had gathered on the shore to meet us. Foxes and wolves, rabbits and ermine, snow geese and eagles! Each one took a brightly wrapped package to deliver to the homes of the children in Russia, Finland, and beyond.”
“When we distributed the last gift, we had to hurry back to the North Pole. There were still thousands of gifts to deliver and Turna couldn’t slow time forever!
An orca let us hop on his tail and we rode him back like a slippery surfboard. Thankfully, by the time we returned, the reindeer were feeling better. They rocketed us around the world on my snowmachine like it was a jet! That old snowmachine survived the night, but by morning it’d given up the ghost!
“But all the presents were delivered before Christmas morning!” Tommy crowed. Iron Man took a victory turn around their heads.
“Yes, Christmas was saved.”
“And Santa said you could ask for a special present that year for helping him!”
“Yes, he did.”
“And you asked for a pirate hook and a new, black snowmachine!”
“You sold the snowmachine when you had Mommy, but you weren’t sad because you still had your hook and you knew one day I’d be born and would love to play pirates.”
“Exactly. And we’ll play, tomorrow, after you open presents. But, tonight, sleep—or Santa won’t come.”
Tommy pressed a kiss to Abby’s soft cheek, leapt from the couch, and flew Iron Man up the stairs to his bedroom.
“Avery.” Abby patted the cushion beside her. “Come sit beside me. It’s finally time to hear the real adventure. You’re old enough now.”
Abby tucked the quilt around them both and began.
“There once was a girl whose heroes were Admiral Peary and Ralph Plaisted. This girl dreamt of being the first woman to lead an expedition to the North Pole. She grew up, bought a snow machine, and mastered it. Years later, she was trying to beat Plaisted’s long distance record in one day. She didn’t slow into a turn and her snowmachine flipped when it hit a boulder under the snow. Her arm was badly hurt and she had to apply a tourniquet. That tourniquet bought her time. It saved her life, but the surgeons couldn’t save her hand.”
The hook gleamed in the firelight as Abby lifted it for both to consider. “I got this on Christmas Eve when I was twenty-three. I could have chosen anger, but I didn’t. I lost my hand, but I never lost my dream. I did get to the North Pole, just not the one I expected. Sometimes you have to decide what life gives you is a gift.”
Amy is married to her best friend. Together, they live in Delaware with their elderly cat and their two, spoiled mutts. When not busy working her day job, Amy likes to practice calligraphy, various types of art, and word craft. If the creative juices won’t flow, she gulps books, thinks deep thoughts, and spends hours on Pinterest adding projects to her crafts board she knows she’ll never do. You can find Amy blogging here.