What’s funny is that he didn’t seem all that bright when we first met him.
It was eons ago by now, but I can still remember when he was the new kid in The Pole. Droopy-eared, pointy-nosed and chicken-legged, he cautiously approached our circle and introduced himself. So self-conscious it made us uncomfortable, his name slipped through his lips like melting water, quick to escape with as little notice as possible.
“So your name’s Rue?” I asked.
He nodded, barely.
“You’re gonna get killed out there,” I said over my shoulder.
Dash, Dan, and Don snickered, their typical reply for most anything.
“I don’t even know why The Fat Man would’ve picked a pipsqueak like you anyways. You got some kinda special ability? Can your stick legs leap midget squirrels in a single bound? Does your Pinnochio nose always point north? Are you so quiet that no one even knows you exist?”
In hindsight that might have been a bit much. He was just a kid then.
“I’m just me,” he whispered. “Nothing special.”
“You got that right, and you better remember it when The Reindeer Games begin. Hope you get a good mentor.”
“Reindeer Games? What are the Reindeer Games?”
Dash, Dan, and Don responded in chorus: “As if we’d just let you join in any of our Reindeer Games!”
Feeling generous after bullying him, I gave Rue the lowdown on our most wonderful time of the year. “The Reindeer Games is a yearly event where The Fat Man tests our mettle, our fitness to keep doing the important jobs we were hired to do. If you don’t pass his games, you don’t fly. If you don’t fly, you die.”
The Triple D’s, always happy to haze, echoed me in force, “YOU DIE!”
Rue’s ears nearly touched the snow, his face sinking further than I thought possible.
“You … you … you … die?”
I didn’t have the heart then to tell him I was lying. It was a rite of passage. Every newbie got the same story, no matter how frail they seemed when first joining our ranks. The Fat Man thought it best to play the ruse straight, a first test among many to come.
I nodded, a sly smile crossing my face.
“When do The Reindeer Games begin?”
“Tomorrow. You better go find a mentor. Quick.”
Rue turned around and tried to run, but his already shaky legs gave way. He fell to the ground, a clatter of hooves, snot, tears, and embarrassment.
The Triple D’s lost it, snorting laughter while purposefully tripping over each other in a pretty spot-on impersonation of what had just transpired.
Claus help me, I laughed too.
“Get up you idiots. We have to get prepared too.”
“You got it Blitz,” said Dash, the lead idiot. “This Reindeer Games is gonna be a whole lot different than last year’s.”
He didn’t know how incredibly right he would be.