Stories of Rudolph, three of three

It took Aslak a few minutes before the magnitude of his error sank in.

He shouldered his rifle a happy man; he was content when his skis rasped down the hill; he was trembling when he knelt by the reindeer-shaped thing he had shot.

He could almost hear the booming laughter of the northern demon as he beheld that damnable thing always associated with the demon in all the tales of his folk. There was nothing left for doubt as he beheld its bestial features: mostly animal, but with a terrible humanity, self-awareness, intelligence in them, quickly fading to death.

He closed the thing’s eyes, and for a while contemplated running away, hiding, denying his kill.

That would have been useless; the northern demon and his diminutive helpers were everywhere and saw everything.

There was nothing to be done save the atonement told of in the darkest tales of his folk: and so he took a hold of the glowing thing at the tip of the thing’s face, and tore it away.

It was cold when he placed it over his own nose; and it felt like a piece of iron when one touches careless skin on it; and he knew it would be much more impossible to remove. Its glow was the rippling cold red of aurorae, the evil glow of the last embers of an abandoned campfire; and he knew it would not be long before he would throw all his clothes aside along with his memory, and gallop the northern fells wild and untamed save by one hand, branching horns erupting from his head, his body covered by fur, an animal on all fours, but with his features still retaining a hint of their former humanity, just as he would retain speech and intelligence to better do the foul work of the northern demon in leading his flock of beasts forth that one night every December.

Just as the red-nosed reihdeer he had shot had retained enough of its humanity to whisper its thanks… and its apologies.

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