The Anamnesis Before Christmas

Submitted into Contest #229 in response to: Write a story in which a cynical character gets amnesia on Christmas Eve.... view prompt

30 comments

Fantasy Christmas Friendship

“Hey, can we call it a night after Europe?” said one of the two who could speak in the party of ten, as they bumped and rocked and skittered across the sky. “That’s like 70% of the world and I’ve been reading about this 70-30 rule, which advocates allocating 70% of your time to taking action and leaving 30% aside for having fun. I’m really into this. I say we’ve worked hard enough and deserve a break. The Bahamas would be nice. It’s a straight run when we drop this load, what do you say?”

“I say the same thing I always say when you make this suggestion,” said the other vocally-enabled traveller, as he flung gift-wrapped, star-coded packages from the red-and-green sleigh being dragged through the night by cloud-treading reindeer. “Absolutely not! Now keep your eyes–and nose–on the airways and concentrate on the task at hand. It’s getting choppy back here!”

Rangifer Tarandus,” blasphemed the tundra bull reindeer with the glowing, red nose, the frustrated exhalation from his nostrils creating rivulets of steam in the super-warmed air. “Those American-Canadians have enough toys and trinkets in their lives, they won’t miss us, they don’t even care. Not that Europeans, Africans or Asians do much either, nobody does. Christmas cheer and ‘ho-ho-holy fuckballs some weird guy came in our house again and left shit under the tree nobody wants’. They’ve got apps for that, Nick. We don’t have to do this anymore. Aren’t you tired of it, man?”

“Of course not, Rudolph!” the burly man with the frost-bitten cheeks laughed, continuing to despatch self-guiding presents, well used to his lead buck’s cynical moans. “This is our vocation. If we stop doing this, what else is there? And as long as we are doing this, a smattering of magic is kept alive and that makes all the difference to the youth of this world. They are not as self-sufficient as they make out, that’s just the influence of peer-pressure and a vapid, attention-obsessed society. If we let the magic wither and die…Christmas forbid! The last vestige of wonder will drain from young souls.”  

“Yada yada yada, you lost me at ‘vocation’,” said the deer, with a shake of his antlers. “When I agreed to help you with this ridiculous task you prep for and run every year, I didn’t expect we’d still be doing it a century later. Enough with vocation, I want vacation, as in Christmas vacation, in warmer climes, like Guam, or Hawaii or…”

“Watch out!” the bearded man in the airborne sled four pairs of caribou behind abruptly yelled, yanking on the reins attached to the bit in Rudolph’s mouth and making him grimace and gag. “Plane!”

“I…” Rudolph grunted, ducking his head and kicking his hairy legs back, taking himself out of the thermal he was travelling through and indicating for his non-speaking fellow sled-tuggers to follow suit. “...know! Jingle frikkin’ bells, ease up on the leathers will ya, if I want some kinky deer-turd, I’ll let ya know!” 

If the sleigh-master heard what the head of the pack called over the roar of the engines of the Boeing-777 that cut through the dark night above them, he didn’t let on, more concerned with the fact a whole bunch of presents had been dragged from his sack by the suction of air from the plane, which made the sled almost capsize. 

“Rudolph! Be careful, please! That was almost the end of us!”

“Rudolph, Rudolph, Rudolph, it’s always frikkin’ Rudolph,” the lead deer grumbled, navigating into a fresh air current several hundred feet closer to the patchwork quilt of countryside that was flashing past below. “Why can’t one of the mouth-breathers behind me ever show some initiative and give a heads up about possible plane-shaped disasters? They’d sooner go splat on its windscreen than get out of the way. I swear, I say it every year, but this is it. I’m too old for this shit, this is the last time I’m leading a bunch of meat cabbages around the world so a senile old fart who still thinks its 1984 can deliver outdated toys nobody cares about to a generation of self-obsessed, ungrateful dickwads, who already have all they want in those ‘phones’ they have grafted to their hands. Seriously, Nick. When are you going to get with the times and realise we are redundant, redacted, long past retirement and…”

“Rudolph!”

“What?”

“Duck!”

“Duck? See, that’s what I’m sayin’, senile, you can’t even remember I’m a…oh dear.”

By the time he saw the snowball-sized rock slicing through the night directly towards him it was too late to do anything other than twist his neck and flick his head, hoping to use his antlers as a bat and knock the approaching projectile away. In fact, all he did was create an opening for the rock to strike his skull behind one ear, sending pulsating waves of staggering blackness washing over him and knocking him out of the sky.

“Ru…olph…up…pull…up…”

He could just about make out the words being shouted but shake his head as he might, he couldn’t clear the smog from his sight. His nose glow faded, coppery liquid filled his mouth, his head spun as he felt himself falling, hurtling at impossible speed, the black curtain before his eyes concealing the fast approaching earth, the fields and the hills, the snow-covered hay bales and trees.   

A horrible cacophony of panic-stricken grunts, bawls and bellows filled his ears, like the cries of tortured souls flooding from the gates of Hell as they opened to greet him, and then…

Pain.

Stinging, lancing, limb-twisting, stomach-churning pain. And cold. A deathly cold that swept through his veins, penetrated his lungs, his bones, his memories, piercing them and chilling them, freezing them to a halt and turning them back as they raced to escape. 

“...olph…”

Bells or chimes or buzzsaws assaulted his brain, making it quiver and throb, making his head hurt from the nape of his neck to the tip of his muzzle. He felt his eyelids flutter as he tried to open them and when they finally snapped apart he was met not by darkness but by white.

“Ru…olph…”

The icy weight that held him was not the tight embrace of death but a blanket of snow, and when he realised this he moved his head, jerking it up and out of the frost, emitting an agonised moan.

“Rudolph!”

He heard the word clearly now, but he didn’t recognise its meaning. Was it a warning, a threat, a command? From friend or family or…foe?

Blood.

He smelled and then saw blood. Speckled across the chewed-up lawn of thickly packed snow that surrounded his protruding head and chest. Blood he at first thought was his own, a result of whatever had led to him being here like this, body prone and buried in snow, a result of having fallen or been hit or…shot?...but which he then somehow knew had come from…

The recollection hit him like the bullet he’d started to fear might have taken him down, no, not fear, feel, because he remembered now how one of those projectiles had grazed him, dug a trench through the flesh at the base of an antler, centimetres shy of boring into his skull and stopping him dead. 

Like the salvo had done to the others.

His heart lurched as the memory returned and then he was pulling himself up, out of the compacted snow that clung to his legs, desperately trying to hold him, to keep him a prisoner and prevent him from witnessing destruction.

Devastation.

Death.

As he tore himself free of what threatened to be an icy grave; as he got his hooves beneath him and rose; as he turned to face a scene of utter carnage, the wind punched from his lungs by the sight of the bodies…a dreadful keening wail rolled from his gut, a spirit-shredding sound that was as unmerciful as the murder of his siblings, targeted and shot as they pranced in the meadow, enjoying the fresh-fallen snow under the watchful eye of Father and Mother, who’d also had their flanks filled full of bullets and lay, twisted and slumped, at the rear of the paddock.

“Rudolph!”

He heard the shout again as he backed away, from his brothers and sisters, his mother and father, his world, young knees buckling beneath him, wanting to bring him back under the blanket, so he could hide from it all and go to sleep. Hide from the loss and the horror, the pain and grief, the hateful, angered cries that were zipping past his ears like spitting bullets, cries that brought his attention to the firs at the edge of the meadow and the group of bipedal beasts crunching out through the snow.

They weren’t finished. Six fawns lay dead with their parents but still the vicious hunters wanted more. They glared at him with hunger in their hearts, inserting fresh projectiles into weapons, moving awkwardly, stumbling and tripping through the frost. 

Clack, their death-dealing boomsticks snapped and shut. “Shoot!”, their guttural voices cursed and called. Boom, the deer-killing bullets fired from their weapons, somehow, again, missing their mark. 

Because the sole, surviving fawn was now moving, pronking through the blood-stained field, past the lifeless corpses of his siblings and the bullets that punched into the snow.

Murderers.

Maniacs.

Monsters.

Destroyers of fauna and forest. Killers of creatures big and small. Enemies of nature. Of him. And this time they’d pay for what they’d done. This time, he had no stoic father to stay his wrath, no elder brothers to hold him back, no kind mother to caution him against resorting to base instinct, becoming as brutal as the beasts who bastardised all.

This time…he could fight. And he did. Ducking his head low and charging, issuing a blood-curdling groan, legs clicking as he ran, fast across the paddock to the trees. There, behind three weapon-wielders who were trying to lock on for another shot, stood two more hate-filled demons, picking through his mother and father’s corpses, scooping up handfuls of organs.

The young buck grunted, leapt into the air as long guns blasted, hopped over bullets that kicked up snow, soared through the wind towards the shooters, landed with a short distance to close.

“Kill it!” 

“Put it down!”

“It’s gone wild!”

The red-faced humans roared, swinging their weapons, tightening fingers on triggers. Before they could fire again the reindeer was there, bellowing his rage, hot steam flooding from mouth and nostrils, teeth clamping down on nearest arm.

A scream, a cry of agony. A hunter dropping to his knees in the snow, the deer towering over him, twisting his arm. Two more hunters circling around, bringing weapons to bear, targeting his sides. No. He twisted and bucked, flung the man he held into a frost-covered bole, knocked another to the ground with boney antlers, kicked the last in the chest with hairy hooves. 

Three hunters down, three weapons discarded, two scavenging vultures trying to run. With armfuls of his parents’ meat and guts.

Again he spat and snorted, muscles rippling as he set off in pursuit, of the humans fleeing back towards the woods, escaping with the spoils of their hunt.

He wouldn’t let them. His parents weren’t their food, they were his hope, his love, his inspiration and he would bury them with all their guts and organs and leave the organs of their killers out to rot. He would bear down on them, before they reached the treeline, trample them into the ground, crush their skulls, expose their innards. He would hurt them. He would avenge his family. He would…

“Rudolph!”

Again, that word, that…name?...from a speaker unknown, a speaker who had been lying there, concealed, in the snowfield ahead but who now was rising up, shrugging off slab-like chunks of whiteness, pushing himself to standing like a yeti, flakes of snow shedding from hair and fur.

“Stop, Rudolph!” the yeti shouted, lurching into the charging reindeer’s path, cutting him off from his prey, who had stopped at the edge of the forest and turned to watch, grins on their twisted faces, glints of evil dancing in their eyes.

“Don’t hurt them! They’re not what you…”

The deer (was he Rudolph?) ducked his head and bleated as he stopped, flicked his head forward in frustration, made contact with the yeti’s midriff and plunged in a horn.

The yeti moaned and grabbed the reindeer’s antlers, planted his legs firmly in the snow, pushed the animal back.

“Ru…Rudolph, stop. It’s me. Remember. It’s Nick and we’ve been through this before.”

Rudolph?

Nick?

Remember?   

The furious reindeer’s grunt caught in his throat and he watched the yeti’s feet turn into…boots?

“That’s it, Roo, come back to me now, you’re safe.”

“N-Nick?”

Blood was running down his antler. He drew back his head, tugged his horn from the yeti’s stomach, allowed his knees to buckle and went down.

The yeti standing before him wore a red hoody. The yeti clutching his stomach had a bushy beard and a woolly glove dangled from his mouth. The hand it had been removed from was glowing over his wound as drops of crimson blood dripped to the snow.

“What…happened?” Rudolph gasped, looking towards the sound of commotion, expecting to see his siblings rise from the dead. It wasn’t his siblings. His brothers and sisters weren’t there. Nor were his father and mother. They’d been taken from him long ago. Cruelly. By monsters. He would give anything to see them again, alive and standing, but instead who he found there were…

“Meat cabbages. Mouth-breathers. Of course they’re not dearly departed. Chance would be a fine thing. And what about…”

He turned his head to look the other way, to seek out the hunters he’d toppled, found himself staring at three…

“Kids?”

“We…we’re sorry,” one of them sobbed, a floppy-haired boy that was clutching his arm, hand over the tear in his coat. “D…don’t hurt us….”

“What?”

Behind the kid, two other boys were stumbling to their feet, one crying as he rubbed at his chest, the other caressing a gash on his cheek while he stooped to retrieve a half-buried catapult. The three of them stared in awe at Rudolph. Rudolph stared in disbelief at them.

“Rangifer Tarandus,” he muttered, pushing himself to standing and shaking his antlers. “What the fuck? Firing rocks at Santa, are you kidding me? See what I mean, Nick, kids these days, they’re ungrateful, spiteful little…”

“Run!” a female voice shouted, and Rudolph jerked his head to look past Nick, eyes coming to rest on the two teen girls who were casting armfuls of presents to the ground before spinning and racing into the woods. 

“Ahhhh!” the boys screamed behind him, and Rudolph turned in time to see them disappear into the trees.

“Unbelievable,” he sighed, flicking an ear and wincing at the pain he felt. “Goddamn kids. Seriously, Nick, now can we call it a…”

He cut himself off when his eyes fell on Nick. The wound in his side was sealed, his hand was back in its glove and he was busy scooping gifts up off the ground, stuffing them back in his sack on the spot where he’d seen his slaughtered parents. 

No. Hadn’t seen. Remembered. And now he remembered the rest. How Nick had appeared then, for the first time, and stopped him making a terrible mistake. Just like he’d stopped him again now. And gotten stabbed in the gut like before. 

“Uh, Nick… I’m, uh, sorry. About the, you know, goring and all...”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, I know, immortality, magic healing and all that but still…not cool. Took me decades to get past the guilt of hurting you last time. Even though you forgave me and took me in. Now I gotta do it all again.”

“You don’t. You had an anamnesis after getting hit on the head, relived a traumatic event in your life. It’s understandable. You know, Roo, maybe you’re right. Maybe we are too long in the tooth for this. Maybe the world has moved on from traditions and it’s time you and I just…”

“No.”

Rudolph surprised himself with the forcefulness of his utterance and sighed when he saw the look of hope in not-senile Nick’s eyes. 

“Ah, shit. I’m gonna regret this but…fuck it. Let’s just get this done. Maybe you’re right, maybe we are the last line of defence for magic and wonder. Christmas spirit, holiday cheer. The buck stops here, right?”

“But, Roo, those asshole kids hurt you and tried to rob us, I…”

“Hey, I’m the foul mouth around here,” said Rudolph, nuzzling an errant gift towards Nick. “And maybe there are a lot of assholes, but we can't tar everyone with the same brush. You taught me that. Remember? Now are you gonna pack this shit up or what? Those meat cabbages grazing on snow will turn into ice sculptures if we don’t get airborne, and if we aren’t stopping off in the tropics, I at least want to be home before dawn.” 

He started towards the overturned sleigh and his fellow reindeer, but Nick reached out to grab him before he did, engulfing him in a warm, loving hug. 

“Thanks, Rudolph. I’m sorry you had to relive that experience but I’m glad you’re okay. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Me neither,” Rudolph agreed, shrugging off the hug and striding away. “Probably go splat on an aeroplane's windscreen. But, you know what?” 

He paused. Looked back. Sniffed as his nose began to glow.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you either. So as long as we’re together…let’s vocate.”

And with that, and with a final flick of his snow-dusted antlers, he was ordering the others to right the sled, and getting things in place to complete Christmas.

December 22, 2023 23:58

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30 comments

Trudy Jas
11:29 Dec 24, 2023

I'm beginning to believe that the reason they wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games had nothing to do with his shiny nose. Well done.

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20:09 Dec 24, 2023

Yeah he's a bit of a complainer isn't he 🤣🤣 Thanks so much Trudy!

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Michelle Oliver
23:32 Dec 28, 2023

I thoroughly enjoyed this cynical Rudolph. The way his back story was told was very powerful. The death of Bambi’s mother always made me cry, now poor Rudolph. The dynamic between Santa and his lead reindeer was great, and I loved how you switched their attitude for the ending. Well written and highly entertaining with lots of emotional depth too.

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12:20 Dec 29, 2023

Apologies for adding to you deer-centric traumas!! Aside from that, delighted you enjoyed the read!

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Aeris Walker
02:26 Dec 27, 2023

This was a really creative perspective I would never have thought to explore. I appreciate how Rudolph’s backstory is so serious and dark—how it’s such a tragic contrast to the bright and cheery image we always have of Santa and his reindeer. You did an excellent job shifting into Rudolph’s flashbacks, with vivid, evocative descriptions. Well done.

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23:27 Dec 29, 2023

Thanks Aeris 😊

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Robert Egan
20:56 Dec 26, 2023

Holy Rangifer tarandus, good story! I can see what you mean about it not being quite wholesome, but I thought it was still heartwarming. I liked how we didn't know what was going on at first after Rudolph was brought down and stuck reliving his traumatic origin story. Also, nice detail about how the other reindeer are incapable of speech. You gave me more sympathy for what Santa and his team must have to go through every year for us ungrateful bastards🤣

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22:12 Dec 26, 2023

Thanks Robert! It's an under appreciated job but someone has to do it!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:21 Dec 24, 2023

Why do I love this version of Rudolph? 😅 It seems reasonable to me that he would want a little vacation! I think this was such an original and creative idea and you delivered it with such incredible detail. I loved the backstory that was so nearly snuck in there, regarding Rudolph's family. It made the PTSD that much more intense, like a soldier having a flashback. Gosh, who knew a Christmas reindeer could have such a gnarly past! I thoroughly enjoyed this story but mostly the way your writing brought the whole thing to life. Thanks for shar...

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20:08 Dec 24, 2023

World weary Rudolph. What's not to love about the grumpy old guy lol Thanks Anne Marie!

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Chelsea Therrien
14:18 Jan 16, 2024

great story absolutely loved it and loved his background and how it gave more context keep up the great work i love how you've written all of your stories and love the theme setting storyline and characters even more! i would love to see more great work like this!

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Graham Kinross
17:35 Jan 01, 2024

What a whinger. No wonder Rudolf missed out on the invites. I like how you’ve switched up the way we think they should be. This might be a more accurate depiction of them, given the pressure.

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Alexis Araneta
10:28 Dec 29, 2023

Rudolph with PTSD ! Wow, this was very original. I loved it. And to be honest, it wasn't just Santa and Rudolph that made holiday magic; you did too. Beautiful, sometimes haunting imagery. Amazing job !

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12:19 Dec 29, 2023

Hey Stella. Thank you for this! Really happy you enjoyed! Definitely an alternative Christmas story lol

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Ty Warmbrodt
08:54 Dec 29, 2023

A+

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12:19 Dec 29, 2023

Thanks Ty!

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James Lane
14:41 Dec 27, 2023

Rudolph goes Rambo! Very funny and creative story Derrick. It's amusing that this magical mythical creature is a cynical a-hole, though well explained why in the backstory. Thanks for sharing!

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22:00 Dec 27, 2023

Thanks James. Yea I thought it more interesting to make the sidekick the cynical one rather than the star of the show. Definitely happy with how it turned out

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:38 Dec 27, 2023

Fine work. Easier to follow.

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22:01 Dec 27, 2023

Thanks Philip!

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Ray Murphy
04:01 Dec 27, 2023

Sometimes I get lost in amazement at how well sculpted a writer can be, and it doesn't even matter what they're saying on the first read because the smoothness of syntax is so well laid out. I like the way you write, and it was a good story!

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23:27 Dec 29, 2023

Thanks Ray!

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Michał Przywara
15:37 Dec 26, 2023

The title caught my eye. This starts off quite funny, but quickly takes a dive into darkness. But then, even when Nick and Rudolph's special relationship saves the day, things are still far from peachy. They were mugged by kids. That's… bloody brilliant. Brutal for them, but a fantastic idea. We are a species, after all, that finds ways to game systems. We commoditized plants and animals both. If we *knew* some guy with a boatload of gifts would reliably fly by each year, of course we'd capture that goose and cut it open to get all the g...

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23:27 Dec 29, 2023

Thanks Michal glad you enjoyed my little Christmas tale! :)

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Myranda Marie
18:24 Dec 24, 2023

Even though Rudolph is kind of an ass, {haha} I nearly cried when I thought he was dead! I absolutely loved everything about this story, from the "so over it all" Rudolph to the descriptive amnesia episode. So well done!

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20:06 Dec 24, 2023

Ahh thanks! Glad you enjoyed! This one again surprised me the way it came together. I think thats my favorite thing about short stories. Start off with the most basic idea based off a prompt and then by the time it's complete it's a surprisingly fully formed thing . Like baking a cake...with words. Need exactly the right amount of each ingredient and time to make it come out right. Some come out better than others. Really happy with this one

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Mary Bendickson
22:26 Dec 23, 2023

Saved Christmas. At least St Nick's part.

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08:52 Dec 24, 2023

🎄🎄🎄

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18:15 Dec 23, 2023

I really found this entertaining and fun!! Great job!! Wonderfully imaginative!!!

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08:52 Dec 24, 2023

Thank you Cynthia!

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