Christmas Eve, Tracy Island…
Large glass of his father's special recipe eggnog in hand, Scott Tracy sat back on the sofa, listening to his brother Virgil play Christmas tunes on the piano.
As the winner of last Christmas' Scrabble tournament, he was sitting out the first round. Over at the game table, his father, grandmother, and brother Gordon were seated at the games table. The fourth seat was taken by a piece of typing paper with a scrawled stick picture meant to represent John, who was playing from his station on Thunderbird Five.
The game was considerably slowed by the fact that virtually every word that Gordon put down on the board was challenged by one or another of the other players. Scott listened in, smiling, as his grandma tsked, "Gordon David Tracy, 'sumulous' is not a word in Engish or any other language that I'm aware of."
"Sure it is, Grandma. It was a sumulous day on Tracy Island."
"Nice try, Squirt. Now take it back," John said from the video screen.
With a sigh, Gordon took back the letters, replacing his word with the much less interesting word, 'sums.' "We need a better dictionary."
"What's the score, son?" Jeff asked.
John looked down at a screen. "You've got 190. Grandma has 213. I have 197, and Gordon has minus 314."
There were chuckles all around the room and Scott shook his head. Gordon had a competitive streak that was the match for anyone in the family, but for whatever reason, it didn't extend to Scrabble or any other board game. He seemed to prefer to clown around just enough to keep the games from becoming death matches.
Scott would never admit it out loud, but he really appreciated his younger brother's easy way of making everybody more relaxed. He looked over at Virgil, who'd been listening in to, and they shared an eye roll, and a wry grin.
The house was full of Christmas cheer. The tree, despite being untraditional, was really quite beautiful. Scott'd had his doubts about it. To him, only a spruce or pine would do for a Christmas tree. But the press of work had kept them from having the time for a trip to the mainland. When Alan and Gordon had insisted on bringing in a tree from far side of the island, Scott had looked at it with a gimlet eye.
Virgil, however, had insisted that it could work, and with his artist's eye, directed his brothers in decorating it. Much to Scott's surprise, it was as beautiful as any they had had as kids in Kansas. The rest of the lounge had been decorated to match the tree, and the end result was a room full of memories of Christmas past.
"So, it is my turn yet?" Alan came striding in from wherever he'd been. He looked at the board, where it was Gordon's turn again. "Hey, figimint is not a word!"
"Is too. It's what you get if you put peppermint candies in a Christmas pudding."
Alan shook his head. "That word's a figimint of your imaginarration."
"No, you mean imagerry. Imaginarration is what storytellers do."
"Imagerry? I thought that was where you keep heffalumps and woozels."
"Actually, I think you're right. It's just as well, I don't like Christmas pudding anyway."
The two brothers nodded solemnly. After a beat, Alan perked up. "So, is it my turn yet?"
"One more round, and I'll be out, son. Just hang on."
Alan nodded and looking around, came and flopped down on the sofa next to Scott. "So, what'dya get me?"
Scott glanced at his chronometer. "It's only eleven o'clock. You're going to have to…"
Scott sat up very straight, looking around wide-eyed. An alarm bell was going off. Everyone else in the room was just as surprised. Virgil and Gordon had both jumped up, and everyone else was startled by the loud ringing. After a moment, Scott frowned. "Dad, what alarm is that? I don't recognize it."
Jeff was shaking his head, his own frown deep, as he strode to his desk. "I don't know, son."
"Oh! OH! Oh, my God! It's my reindeer trap! It's caught something!" Gordon went striding from the room. Everyone else froze. Scott looked over at Virgil, and saw the same suspicion forming in his eyes.
Alan was still frowning, apparently not in on whatever gag Gordon was pulling. "I didn't even know he'd finished it. I thought he'd show it to us when it was done."
Alan took a few steps in the direction that Gordon had taken, then looked around at the rest of the family. Seeing no one else was moving, he stopped and stood undecided. Scott stood up, shaking his head. "Well, we might as well go see. He's obviously planned this out."
With a look of resignation, Virgil joined Scott and Alan and headed down the hallway. "Hey, somebody take a handycam. I want to see too." John said from the video screen.
Jeff nodded, and reached into a drawer of his desk to pull out a miniature camera which he flicked on as he followed his sons. "Come on, Mom, this should be good."
Scott led the way to the end of the hallway, where the elevator stood open, beckoning them on. Used mainly to deliver the Tracys to the workshops buried beneath the mountain, it also could take them to the roof, where Kyrano had an herb garden.
The entire family crowded onto the elevator, and taking a deep breath, Scott pushed the button to take them to the roof. When the door slid open, Scott felt an immediate concern. His brother Gordon was a few steps out of the elevator. He'd fallen to his knees and was staring at something off to the left. His skin was pale, and his jaw hung open, telling Scott that whatever had happened, it wasn't what Gordon had planned.
Alan pushed his way past Scott, wanting to see whatever it was that Gordon was staring at. He took only a few steps before he froze, and with his own jaw hanging, said, "Oh, my G… is that? Oh my God!"
The rest of the family moved forward in a group. When Scott saw what his brothers were staring at, he felt his own jaw drop. To one side of the roof, was a large wooden contraption that bore some slight resemblance to the plans of a reindeer trap that Gordon had shown the family earlier in the month. Squarely in the middle of the trap stood an honest-to-God reindeer, head low, panting in the warmth of the tropical evening.
"It looks real." Virgil said in a whisper.
The comment explained everything to Scott. It was a hologram. It had to be. He looked carefully at the feet of the image, looking for the projector that he knew had to be there.
He frowned when he couldn't spot it. Throwing a glance at his red-haired brother, who was still looking stunned, he strode over to the trap, and reached through the plastic mesh 'bars' and took a swipe. Fully expecting his hand to go through the image, Scott jumped when his hand connected with solid flesh.
The reindeer grunted at the contact, and moved away. Scott blinked. "It's a real reindeer." Looking back at his family, he repeated, "It's a live reindeer."
Jeff moved up to the bars of the cage and looked over the captive. "Dasher," he said in a tone of bemusement.
Scott cocked an eyebrow, then examined the reindeer a bit closer. He saw a well-worn harness on the animal, with a small nameplate attached. It did indeed say Dasher.
Jeff turned back to his fourth son. "Gordon, where did you get this animal? Why would you bring a live reindeer to the island?"
At the accusation, Gordon came out of his daze. "I wouldn't, Dad. I wouldn't bring a live reindeer here. It's an arctic species. It's too hot here for them. I mean, look at it, it's sweating like nobody's business."
Gordon looked around at his family. His eye fell on his younger brother. "Oh, very funny, Al."
"Me? I didn't do it. Where would I have gotten a reindeer? When would I have gotten a reindeer? I haven't been off the island in weeks!"
"Well, neither have I!"
"Yeah, but it's your reindeer trap."
Gordon looked around at his family. He shook his head. "I never expected to catch a live reindeer in that trap. It was just a joke. I was going to catch toys and things in it. I have no idea who would bring a live reindeer down here."
Ruth, ever practical, shook her head. "Regardless of who brought it here, the poor thing is suffering. Gordon, go get a bucket of water. Scott, we'll need to build a pen or something in the hangar. You and Virgil can start on that. John, if you'll do some research on what these animals eat, Alan will try to gather it up. Jeff, do we have anything that will do for a lead rope?"
"We're not keeping it." Jeff said, emphatically.
"Well, of course not. Gordon will find a zoo or preserve that will take it in, if he hasn't already. Well? What are you all standing around for?"
Scott looked over at Virgil, and shrugged. Together they entered the elevator, and headed for the hangar. Scott noticed that Virgil had been very quiet. "You okay, there, Virg?"
Virgil shook his head. "Scott, think about it. Where could he have gotten that animal? For that fact, when could he have gotten it? Alan was right, nobody's been off the island in weeks, except for rescues, and when you went over to Moyla with Grandma."
Scott heard a touch of speculation in Virgil's tone. "Virg, we went in Tracy One. Even if I could have hidden it somehow from Grandma, there's no way it would have fit in that little jet."
"Okay, so if you didn't bring it over, then he had to have brought it over sometime in November. How did he hide it for so long?"
"The island is small, but it's not that small. He could have had a pen over on the other side of the mountain, and we would never have known."
Virgil shook his head. "No, that doesn't work. If he had it over on the other side of the island, he'd have to go out there every day to feed and water it. And what about that rescue in Thailand? We were gone for three days. You know Gordon would never let an animal go without food for three days."
Scott looked askance at his brother. "Virgil, what's the alternative? The same arguments that apply to Gordon, apply to everyone else. Either Gordon, or someone else managed to hide a reindeer on the island, or Santa is running on seven cylinders tonight. I prefer to think it's one of Gordon's better pranks. Otherwise, we'll all have coal in our stockings tomorrow morning. Now come on, let's get this pen built."
With a worried frown, Virgil nodded, and the two brothers got to work. Within an hour, they had a credible pen built, complete with gate and watering and feed troughs. The brothers stood back and admired their handiwork for a moment. "Looks good, Virg. And it's cool enough down here that it should be comfortable."
"Yeah. I vote Gordon has permanent pooper scooper duty."
"Goes without saying."
Virgil shook his head. "I have to tell you, Scott, he never ceases to amaze me. How did he even come up with the idea of catching a reindeer? He's just so warped, you know?"
Scott grinned, "I know, I know. Still, you have to hand it to him. He really knows how to get us going."
"That he does." Virgil threw his arm across Scott's shoulders. "Well, let's go get Dasher and show him his new home."
"Sounds like a plan. You don't suppose it bites, do you? I don't have a lot of North Pole livestock experience."
Virgil laughed as they boarded the elevator. As they rode up to the roof, Virgil looked around the small space and frowned. "How the hell did he get that thing up there? And how are we going to get it down? I don't think those antlers will fit in here."
Scott looked thoughtful. "Well, he had to use the elevator, and that's all there is to it. There must be a trick to it."
The elevator came to a stop, and Scott glanced at the buttons. It was the main floor, and the door slid open showing Gordon and Alan, their arms filled with buckets of water and greenery. "Hey guys! Did you get the pen built?" Gordon asked, his eyes twinkling.
"Yes, we did. How'd you get that thing up on the roof, anyway?" Virgil asked.
The twinkle died, and with irritation, Gordon said, "I didn't. Why don't you ask Alan?"
"Hey! I didn't do this!"
"All right, guys, we'll figure it out." Scott interrupted before the fight could start.
The door of the elevator opened, and the four brothers piled out. One glance at the trap, and Gordon dropped his bucket and ran over. "Oh, no!"
"Where did it go?" Alan asked.
"The real question is, how did it get out?" Virgil asked, scratching his head.
The trap was built like a cage, and all of the brothers' eyes were suddenly drawn to where the mesh at the top had been peeled back. The hole was just about reindeer sized, but it would have had to jump almost straight up to escape.
"Oh, ho, ho, ho, Gordon. Very funny." Scott scoffed.
Alan and Gordon looked at each other, then at their big brother. "Scott, I was with Gordon the whole time. There's no way he could have gotten up here to open that trap and get that reindeer out."
Gordon got a suspicious look to his face. "You know, Al, I want to apologize for doubting you. It seems pretty obvious who's responsible."
Scott raised an eyebrow at the pointed glare. "Be careful who you accuse, Squirt. Virgil and I were together too, and the security cameras were on us the whole time."
Alan blinked. "Well if it wasn't us, and it wasn't you guys, who was it?"
"Dad?" Gordon asked doubtfully.
Scott shook his head. "No way. And before you even say it, not Grandma either. Now that I think of it, it's just the kind of thing that John would pull, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how."
Gordon moved and sat down on one of Kyrano's polystyrene crates and leaned back against the wall of the elevator. "So what do we do about it?"
"We never admit we were fooled. That's what we do." Virgil said firmly.
"Where is it?" Alan asked. "I mean, it was real, right? You touched it, didn't you Scott? It was a real animal, right?"
Scott shrugged. It had felt alive under his momentary contact. "As far as I could tell. Yeah, it was real."
"So, unless he beamed it up to Five, it has to be here somewhere. We have to find it."
Gordon shook his head. "You can find it. I'm going to bed."
The red haired young man went over to the elevator and pressed the call button. He looked around the roof as if half expecting the reindeer to appear. His eye landed up on his trap. As the elevator door opened, he said softly, "He wrecked my trap."
Scott and Virgil rolled their eyes and followed their brother onto the elevator. After a moment, Alan joined them, and together they headed into the house. Scott spotted his grandma and dad at the games table, playing a hand of gin. He headed over to them, but Alan beat him to the punch. "The reindeer got away."
"Got away? What do you mean, got away?" Jeff frowned.
"There was a hole in the top of the trap. Apparently, it flew away," Scott said, dryly.
Both Jeff and Ruth frowned. Virgil spoke up. "I was with Scott, and Gordon was with Alan. We're not sure how John pulled it off."
Ruth started to smile. "So, it wasn't a real reindeer?"
Jeff shook his head. "That animal was real. I could smell the barn on it. And it was breathing, I could feel its breath."
"Maybe he figured out a way to spike the eggnog with a hallucinogenic. Anyway, I gotta admit, it was a great prank. I'm going to head to bed. Merry Christmas, everyone."
"Merry Christmas, son."
Gordon waved wearily as he headed to his room. Scott watched him go, then stretched his back. "I think Gordon's got the right idea. Good night, everyone."
To the sounds of good night from his family, Scott followed his brother down the hall. He could hear Alan and Virgil behind him, planning a search of the island for the morning. Scott suspected that search would come up empty. As he climbed into his bed, pulling up the crisp sheets, he spared a thought for Santa, and hoped the wayward reindeer could catch up with the sleigh without any trouble.