“It’s time for you to go down in history Rue,” I whispered to myself.
I happened upon him in the deepest part of the forest, his glowing red nose a dead giveaway beneath the mound of snow he was trying to hide beneath, even amidst the dense fog that had rolled in since the massacre. Tiny puffs of nervous breathing intermittently rose above his rather pathetic hideout.
I felt sorry for the kid, but I knew what had to be done.This was the way we’d always done things, and this was the way that the new recruits learned their hard lessons.
I laid my bow and arrows, tent, and food supplies on the ground to prevent the noise of shifting weight from giving away my position. The kid was small and afraid, so I knew I could overpower him if I could surprise him. I crept to his position, as quiet as any rooftop reindeer on Christmas Eve.
I raised my hooves over his hidden body, a little sad about what I was about to do, but nonetheless determined to win The Reindeer Games once again.
My hooves landed with surprising force, the snow beneath splaying about all around me, momentarily blinding me. A sharp pain entered my back left leg. I fell to the ground. From that vantage point, I saw a small fire beneath a makeshift canopy, barely covered by snow now.
Though my pain increased, I had to give it to the kid. He’d outsmarted me, and that hadn’t happened in ages. He’d built the fire beneath a dome of leaves and twigs. The leaves provided the smoke and the fire provided the glow.
I turned to look behind me and saw Rue standing with the bow and arrow I’d just dropped.
How stupid of me. How arrogant. I started to laugh, then stood up on my three good legs.
“Congrats kid. Well played, but you have to finish the job if you want to win.”
“I don’t want to win Blitz. I just want to be part of the team.”
“If I let you live, you’ll probably lead this team. The Fat Man likes a smart reindeer, and I’m thinking that red nose of yours will come in handy on every Christmas Eve’s flight. I’m not sure I can stand that.”
I lunged toward him with all my might.
The Fat Man’s voice boomed around us, seemingly from everywhere and nowhere at the same time: “STOP! The Reindeer Games are over. You both win, but Rue … you’ve proved yourself, far beyond what any of us could have imagined. You’ll guide my sleigh this year, but you’ll have to win the right to do so again next year. You see, each year you’ll have to prove yourself in The Reindeer Games. That’s how I pick my leaders. That’s how it’s always been done.”
Rue’s face beamed at the thought of leading the group, then became crest-fallen at the fact that he’d have to endure yet another Reindeer Games in a year’s time.
Then I vanished into digital bits.
From my monitor indoors, I saw Rue’s face fill with consternation, his thoughts the same as mine during my first Reindeer Games: What just happened? Did he just … disappear?
“Walk back to the starting point Rue and we’ll explain everything,” The Fat Man said.
Once Rue returned to the central starting point, he became even more confused. All of the other reindeer, who used to laugh and call him names, greeted him. Even Steve was there.
“How is this even possible?” he wondered aloud.
As the most experienced reindeer in the group, I told him the truth.
“Rue, this has all been a simulation. Well, mostly. All of us professional reindeer were digital re-creations of ourselves. Realistic holograms, if you will. The newbies are the only ones who are real.”
“What about Steve?”
“He was a hologram in this game, but he was real enough in his own game. He didn’t explode himself in that one, but he didn’t fare much better. We only had room for one new reindeer anyways, so it’s probably good that he didn’t fare too well.”
“So you don’t hate me? You don’t really want to kill me?”
“No Rue, we don’t. It’s just what we do to the new guys. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s what we’ve always done. Now that you’re no longer a newbie, the next Reindeer Games might be a bit less harrowing for you.”
“I guess. The Reindeer Games seem awfully … mean.”
“The Fat Man gets bored with only working one day of the year. Plus, being one of his reindeer comes with a lot of responsibility, and we have to make sure that you’re tough enough and smart enough to make the right decisions when the time comes. You’ve proved that now. Welcome to the team Rue.”
I extended my hoof and we shook as reindeer awkwardly do. All of the other reindeer stamped their hooves in approval.
As Steve ran off to chase snowflakes, Rue’s red nose beamed in delight.