I came up spitting white fur. The neck and snow beneath me were smeared with blood. Hey, you try feeding from a polar bear. Even weak with hibernation it had put up a good fight. Best time I'd had in quite a while, to tell the truth.
It was down but not completely dead yet. "Dru," I called over. She turned from the top of a rise, snowflakes glistening against her hair under the night sky. "Come get something to eat."
"I don't want to spoil my appetite."
I tried for exasperated, I really did, but I'd long suspected this wasn't a normal journey, and it had worn me down. First clue? We had to leave through the Lincoln Tunnel, which meant driving halfway across the bloody country before we could even start. Unusual rules tended to be a bad sign. I'd managed to convince her that we didn't need to walk, at least. Walk. Through the Lincoln Tunnel.
We'd driven until we'd run out of road and then picked up a couple of snowmobiles from some guys who turned out to be the last food we'd seen until I'd picked up the polar bear's heartbeat. Of course, we'd run out of gas long before that, no way of telling how long that far up north, where the sun didn't rise. Plus that, but about the only good thing we'd run across since the journey had started.
Well, for me at least. Dru didn't need to eat because she was off on some magical fairy-tale quest, not that I was admitting that to myself yet. She had no trouble with her snowshoes while I ended up floundering behind her, sinking into the snow. If she wasn't going to eat, I decided I might as well finish the bear off myself. No need for both of us to starve.
Not that she was starving. I've never figured out what sustained her on those journeys but it wasn't blood.
* * *
"You can't be cold, Spike. You're dead."
"Undead, thank you very much, and I've been cold before, since you turned me that it. Been warm as well."
"Easy for you to say, you can actually walk on the snow without breaking through."
"If you were nicer to the snow, it would hold you up as well."
Nicer. To the snow. I shook my head and struggled along behind her.
* * *
I looked up to see what Dru was going on about. We'd long ago left the deep snow behind, so walking had become easier, but I was exhausted, barely able to watch my feet as they endlessly followed each other across the frozen tundra.
Dru was fresh as a daisy but I was still ignoring that, hoping against hope that this would actually turn out to be a normal journey. Course that was before I noticed she'd found something to eat. Looking down to the ground, I saw a chip, red swirls against the white snow. Blood? I picked it up and looked it over. Didn't smell like blood but I gave it a lick anyway. Peppermint was right but where'd it come from? I looked up towards the horizon. Snow flurries swept off the ground, obscuring my view for a moment but then I saw it clearly. Candy canes. Tree-sized candy canes.
"Damn." No more lying to myself. Wherever we were going, it wasn't a normal place.
"Pet," I asked in a strained voice. "How come you've never taken Angelus or Darla on one of these little treks?" Why is it the weird stuff only happens to me?
"Don't be silly, Spike. Grandmama is dead and Daddy isn't Daddy anymore." I didn't argue with her. She'd never taken anyone but me on those odd little trips. I was the only one who ever ended up in Narnia, or Wonderland, or Oz.
At least that made me special, I guess.
I picked up a couple of peppermint chips, hoping the sugar would help with my energy, while thinking that the candy canes might be a good sign. It likely meant we were close to wherever Dru was heading. Turns out I was wrong about that. Seven levels. The forest had seven different levels, each with its own type of trees: pure white; red and white; red, white, and green... You get the picture. Thought we'd never get through. I amused myself by chasing the local animals, which looked to be made out of marzipan, but they were too quick to catch.
When we finally came out of the forest, we found ourselves at a sea shore. Looked like there were fish darting about in the waters but Dru said they were twirly, swirly gumdrops. I never could tell if she was right or not because I couldn't catch them either. Didn't bother me though. Gave me something to do, at least until Dru pointed out our destination.
"Over there," she said, her eyes alight as she pointed across the sea.
"Dru," I asked cautiously. "How are we supposed to cross?"
With the smile of a child, she held her hand out to mine. Once our hands were clasped tightly, she shouted out joyfully, "Jump." We leaped onto the last of the ice, at the edge of the land, and it broke off, floating us across the sea.
It wasn't too bad: beat the hell out of floundering through the deep snow; the darting gumdrop fish were pretty to look at; and the Aurora Borealis lit the sky with colors. Dru liked it too, which made it especially nice. "The stars are welcoming us, my love."
Was even better when we finally made it across the sea. I reached out my hand to her so we were holding hands again as we jumped off the ice floe. There were pine trees covered in Christmas decorations: some with candles like they'd done when I was a lad and others with electric lights, although I couldn't see any power source; some done up all in blue and silver while others were all red and gold. They were pretty and told me it must still be before Christmas. Not that I really needed to know the date but made me feel better when I did.
We wandered through the trees a bit before finding the pole. It was carved wood, with a bunch of scroll-like decorative effects, and had been painted red. A beam hung out and from that a little sign, also red, with the words both carved and painted gold: The North Pole.
"We're visiting Santa?" Have to confess I must have seen too many holiday specials at some point because I started getting worried that there was some present, something special she wanted. Something I hadn't gotten for her.
She took my hands and dispelled my gloom. "Have you ever had elf blood? It's oh so sweet."
"I've had sweet blood before, Dru."
"Not like this."
I thought about that for a moment. "Better than marmalade kittens?" Marmalade – that's what she called those orange tabbies.
Really? I flashed into vamp face. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's have a taste then."
She was right. I hadn't thought there could be anything sweeter than marmalade kittens but I've never tasted anything like elf blood, before or since.
* * *
Getting home was a lot more fun. Dru drove us back in Santa's sleigh. I wanted to keep it, myself, given how bloody wonderful flying was but Dru said that, with Santa dead, the reindeer would lose their powers and not be able to fly. So we left then behind and drove down to South America. The North Pole had been a right bit of fun but I wanted to be warm for a while.