Author’s Note: This piece has been edited and now appears in “Angel Songs, 20 Christmas Short Stories and Poems, plus Recipes” by Dona Watson. Click here for more info.
by D.L. Watson
Brianna tugged on the hem of her green vest and straightened her pointed hat, jingling the little bell on the tip. She grinned in anticipation of playing elf handing out Christmas presents to Mr. Belvedere’s third grade class. As homeroom mom, it had been her idea and the parents had approved, gladly chipping in a few dollars each for twenty-two Beanie Buddies stuffed animals. When Mr. Belvedere agreed to the plan, her creative mind had gone into overdrive and, while she admitted that perhaps she had gone a bit overboard, it’d be worth it to see the kids’ faces.
She opened the back of her SUV and scratched the neck of Diesel, the Great Dane she had borrowed from a good friend for the festive occasion. She clipped a leash on his collar, then coaxed him out of the vehicle and tied the leash to the bumper. She strapped the doggy costume antlers on the animal’s massive head and stepped back to admire the instant reindeer, congratulating herself on her brilliant idea.
Turning back to the SUV, she grabbed the handle of a high-sided red wagon she’d borrowed from the next-door neighbor and eased it out, gently lowering the front two wheels to the ground, then with a grunt, the back two. She pulled out the makeshift harness she’d created from webbed tie-down straps nabbed out of her husband’s pickup truck, and settled it on Diesel’s shoulders, buckling it securely around his chest and ribs and then fastening the straps to the wagon. Now for the giant red bag she’d made and filled with Beanie Buddy plushies. She wrested it out and plopped it into the wagon with an oof! then slammed shut the back of the vehicle.
Deciding it wouldn’t look right to lead the reindeer on a leash, and since Diesel always had been pretty calm, she unclipped the strap from the dog’s collar and dropped it into the wagon. With a firm grip, she latched onto the collar big enough to serve as a suitcase handle. One last look-over and she started across the parking lot toward the school buildings, the jingle bells on her hat and ankles ringing with each step.
Halfway across the lot, an orange tomcat stepped out from behind a car and froze. Diesel immediately came to attention, feet planted, head up, ears forward.
“Hey there, Diesel. It’s okay buddy.”
She pulled on the dog’s collar to guide him the other direction, but the enormous dog decided he’d rather stay where he was, gaze glued on the motionless cat. Brianna grabbed his collar with both hands and tugged.
“Come on, Diesel, this way,” she coaxed but when the dog growled, the cat bolted. The sight of the fleeing cat proved to be too much temptation and the Great Dane lunged after it, jerking its collar right out of Brianna’s hands. She stumbled a few steps after the dog, grabbing at the wagon as it whizzed by just out of reach.
With a whimper and slumped shoulders, Brianna helplessly watched the Great Dane bounding away, red wagon and presents bouncing merrily along behind. Puffing air through her bangs, she gathered herself and sprinted after the dog.
“Diesel! Wait!” Ding ding ding! Her jingle bells rang, announcing her pursuit and she grabbed at the hat as it slid off. Minus the bells, the hat was part of her daughter’s Legend of Zelda Link costume and if Brianna lost or damaged it, she’d be toast.
Up ahead, the orange blur of the tabby streaked across the parking lot and over the curb, the Great Dane in hot pursuit, following up onto the grass, the wagon lurching over the concrete barrier. With the dog’s strides swallowing footage with every step, the gap between the two animals was closing at a rapid pace. In desperation, the cat veered out into the road, crossing to the other side in a ball of orange fluff. Antlers flopping, Diesel ran down the middle of the street, pacing the speeding cat.
And then, horror of horrors, Brianna saw a car turn onto the street and head straight toward them. She followed the makeshift reindeer and wagon-sled out into the road, hat in one hand, arms waving wildly to attract the driver’s attention.
Jingle jingle jingle. The bells on her ankles chimed gaily, spurring the animals on. A thought flashed through Brianna’s mind that perhaps the bells may not have been the best idea.
The woman driving the car stopped, looked first at the speeding dog and then the panic-striken Brianna, and hopped out to help. As she witnessed the elf’s musical approach, a somewhat suppressed grin crossed her face.
Thankfully, the cat finally reached a thick hedge of privets and dove in. Still in pursuit, Diesel jumped the curb again. The wagon careened to one side, launching two Beanie Buddy frogs out the top of the bag. The Great Dane thundered up to the hedge, skidded to a stop and jammed his head into the bushes, snuffling after the cat. Several frantic strides later, Brianna caught up to the dog and seized his collar.
The driver trotted over and tucked the errant frogs back into the bag of presents.
“Are you okay?”
Brianna nodded, gasping for air. “Thanks.” She shoved the elf’s hat back on her head, its jingle bells mocking her every move.
“Glad to help,” the woman replied and returned to her car, chuckling all the way.
Now thoroughly humiliated, Brianna retrieved the leash from inside the wagon and hooked it onto Diesel’s collar. Tongue lolling out one side of his mouth, the dog looked up at her with the biggest doggy grin possible, eyes sparkling. She straightened his lopsided antlers and tugged gently on the leash. Now properly secured, the dog responded readily.
“Come on, boy,” she gasped. “Let’s get going. We have presents to deliver.”
They returned to the school with no further incident and having previously obtained approval to bring the dog in, they paraded past the cheerful receptionist at the front desk and made their way to Mr. Belvedere’s classroom. When they stopped just outside the windows looking onto the hallway, twenty-two little faces turned her way, eyes round and bright. The teacher rushed over and opened the door. Still gulping for air, Brianna could feel her face flushed red with the exertion of the chase.
“Is everything okay?” the teacher asked quietly.
Brianna nodded and dry-swallowed, wishing she had a big glass of water.
With one assessing look and then a quick nod, he turned to the class. “Look, children! There’s someone here to see us!”
A murmur of young voices and excited “Look at the doggie” whispers filled the air. Still panting happily, Diesel pulled the wagon in and stood dutifully calm, now on his best behavior.
A couple of other moms putting out bags of cookies for the party that was to follow, paused and took in the sight. Brianna could hear one say to the other, “She always comes up with the best ideas.”
The other woman nodded in appreciation. “I know. I don’t know how she does it.”
Little did they know. Brianna took a deep breath, just glad she had made it in one piece. Calling the kids up one at a time, she began handing out the plush animals. Each child petted Diesel as they walked by, their beaming smiles priceless, their new treasures held tight. Maybe the makeshift reindeer wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
This story is part of a Writing Challenge I have undertaken to write something every day in the month of December on a pre-selected list of topics. Photographer Jacqueline Ashford is keeping pace with me on the same list of topics, her with a camera and me with a keyboard. You can see Jacqueline’s gorgeous photos here. We’re having way too much fun with this mutual challenge. (You can see the list of topics here.)
Tomorrow’s Topic: Stockings
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