To fully enjoy “The Battle Royale Begins,” read “The Reindeer Games” and “The Reindeer Games: Catching Ire” first.

“Let the 74th annual Reindeer Games begin!”

With those words, all ten of us rose onto the playing grounds in a perfectly formed circle. A 30-second countdown began. Once finished, we could choose to run into the snowy forest behind us or fight each other for the helpful plunder laying before us.

“Twenty.”

The Triple D’s—Dash, Don, and Dan—were dumb but strong, a fearful combination. Their plans usually devolved into ramming their collective heads into whatever problem was before them. This triumvirate of idiocy stood directly across from me, a song wafting across the snow-laden meadow. It was the same song they sang every year: He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or dead.

That was the only line of the song.[ref]The fact that the melody never resolved itself was more annoying than their lack of creativity.[/ref]

“Fifteen.”

Comet and Vixen were the smart but pretty ones. They knew how to use their attractiveness to their advantage. They’d gotten out of more work and received more food from Mrs. The Fat Man than any of us because of their wily ways.

Prancer and Cupid were quick, faster than anyone else in The Pole, even the Elf speed skaters.

“Ten.”

Me? I was The Fat Man’s favorite, and for good reason. I was strong enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, and fast enough to have been the lead reindeer for the last dozen years. No one had ever come close to challenging my authority.

And then there was Steve.

He was another newbie like Rue, but … odder. You couldn’t ever tell if he was looking at you, and snowflakes constantly distracted him, like the one he was trying to capture on the tip of his tongue right now, leaning dangerously far over his starting plate. Didn’t he know about the deathly penalty if you left too soon?

“Five.”

Lastly, there was Rue, a poor, gangly kid with a weird nose rash, or so it seemed. When he rose onto the grounds, everyone could see his legs trembling. A twinge of compassion coursed through my veins until I remembered that I was here for one reason: to maintain control of the most coveted spot on The Fat Man’s team.

“One.”

BLAM!

Something exploded. I quickly looked to my right to see that Steve had jumped the gun.

Death by snowflake.

Well, that’s one less reindeer to worry about, although I was never really worried about him in the first place.

I saw Rue’s legs give way when Steve exploded right next to him, but he managed to stay on his plate until the alarm sounded. As all of the other reindeer ran toward the center of the meadow, Rue followed his mentor’s advice and scrambled into the forest, his nose lighting up ever so slightly as he made his way deeper into the trees.

At least I knew I’d be able to find him later.

Now, to take care of the rest of these reindeer.

… continued in The Reindeer Games: Stalking Day.

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