Jody tapped her finger against the steering wheel and turned on the wiper blades against the fat snow flakes melting on the wind shield. The snow was coming down thick enough to slow down traffic on the high way, the salted roads still safe but it was hard to see the other cars around them. Christmas carols played mercilessly on loop on the radio. Jody liked the holidays, she did, but there was only so much a sane person could tolerate. Unfortunately, she sometimes had to question Donna’s sanity. But Jody could never say no to her smile, and Donna loved listening to the carols.
It was only supposed to be a two hour drive West to a ‘Winter Wonder Land’ where they might find a hunt, but in the snow Jody guessed they’d have to tack on another hour of driving. Frustrated, she tapped her fingers faster against the wheel as she drove slower. She only wanted to be gone one night ideally, two at the most. Even if their friend, Judith, was checking in on the girls, well, those three girls could get in to a lot of trouble.
“They’ll be fine Jodes.”
Donna’s hand settled reassuringly on her thigh.
“I’m pissed off at the weather.”
“You’re worrying about the girls.”
“They’ll be fine. They’re smart cookies and they’ve come a long way to getting some more sense in their heads. The house’ll still be there when we get back.”
“I’m worried for Judith.”
“Oh, well, ya, that’s definitely a concern worth having.”
Jody rolled her eyes and side glanced at Donna to see that chipper smile lighting up her face.
It was winter break so the girls didn’t have to go to school. They had books and tv and video games to keep them busy, and there was an ice skating rink a fifteen minute walk from the house. They all looked out for each other. But they’d raised such a fuss trying to convince Jody to bring them on the hunt, she was half worried she’d open up the trunk and find all three of them crammed in there.
The girls had not stowed away. It was just Jody and Donna. And currently one very cranky dwarf dressed as Santa’s helper elf.
The bells on his curl toed boots chimed as he kicked his short feet dangling off the edge of the chair, red striped hat like a candy cane and green and red felt outfit very cheerful while he scowled at her and crossed his arms over his chest. Jody sat opposite him in an uncomfortable plastic chair in the dingy poorly lit room inside one of the trailers at the Winter Wonder Land. Donna was investigating the grounds while Jody interviewed the workers.
“Come on lady, just cause a few kids that came here for pictures with Santa go missing, doesn’t mean we got nothing to do with it.”
“We’re just being thorough. The children disappeared within three days of visiting here, so you understand if we have to ask a few questions.”
The dwarf rolled his eyes and flicked his hand at her, “Yeah yeah, make it quick, we’re busy this time of year.”
Jody did her best to be polite as she questioned him about his co-workers habits, visitors to the place, suspicious activities, the usual sorts of questions. She knew he wasn’t being entirely forthcoming, but it wasn’t his answers Jody was interested in. It was the seriously suspicious vibe he was throwing off.
Through the rest of the interviews, with Santa, another few dwarves, a couple of teenagers working concessions and a few gruff guys who dealt with set up and maintenance, Jody was growing increasingly irritated with their closed off uncooperative attitudes.
The Winter Wonder Land was the only thing in common between the missing children, at least from what they’d seen so far. And although the case could easily be a creeper working for or just visiting the Winter Wonder Land to find kids to nab - just a plain despicable human – it was still just kids being taken and Jody figured a weekend, a few hours drive, wasn’t hardly anything to have a look around. There was something about the case that didn’t sit right and she’d learned long ago to trust her instincts.
Evil, mean little elves. Turns out, it wasn’t a pedophile, it was actually elves taking the children. Jody had no idea what the elves were planning on doing with them. Donna had found a stuffed bear in the trash behind one of the prop trailers and recognized it from a kid’s photo. With some after dark snooping around, they had found a small path through the woods behind the Winter Wonder Land that led to a little cabin. Full of evil dwarf elves. With the missing children locked in the basement.
They weren’t well enough prepared and bullets barely slowed down the elves - their eyes glowed red, what kind of creepy monsters actually had red eyes - but a lot of things will go down when you cut off their head so that’s what she and Donna started doing.
They were a lot faster and a lot more nimble than they looked. A few were still wearing their uniforms, cheerful Christmas get ups that jingled with bells, while the others were in plain brown clothes.
Some had tried running away. After the cabin was cleared, Jody and Donna took off into the woods to track them down. It was slow going through thick snow that had crusted with ice on top, but easy to follow little foot prints. Of course, after they had taken another one out they were ambushed.
Listening to Donna yell ‘Oh Fudge!’ when she was spattered with blood and wielding a machete would never stop being funny to Jody. Even if it was the wrong time to be amused.
Taking down the last one that had jumped on her back and was trying to throttle her, Jody looked around. Breath misting in the cold air, moon shining through the skeletal trees, she caught sight of Donna pushing herself up from her knees on the other side of a clearing and waving a thumbs up at Jody.
Listening for any more elves rustling around, Jody figured they should get back to the cabin and see to the children before dealing with clean up detail. Donna was headed across the clearing, stomping through the snow, when Jody saw her flail wildly and go down with a squeak.
“I can’t believe I killed four elves and got taken out by a patch of ice.”
Donna pouted at her as Jody put a fresh ice pack over her tailbone and moved up the bed to kiss her forehead. They had gone to the ER, just in case, but an X-ray showed that it wasn’t fractured.
“You kicked some ass out there.”
Donna beamed at her, settling comfortably on her belly with a pillow under her folded arms, wearing blue pajamas with sparkly white snow flakes on them. Jody shimmied out of her jeans and settled onto the motel bed in her underwear and a tank top, sitting propped up against the headboard. Donna rolled her head onto Jody’s stomach and resituated herself gingerly.
“I called the girls, let them know we’ll be out another day. They’re doing fine.”
“Busy terrorizing Judith?”
Jody could feel Donna smile against her, “Oh you betcha, they’ll be running a hunter’s ring out of the house by the time we get back.”
They would have gotten home tonight, but after Donna’s fall, she had limped through getting the children taken to safety before Jody insisted on the hospital. It was only a bruised tailbone, nothing too bad, just painful. Jody decided she wouldn’t make Donna sit through the ride home with that straight away. So they settled down for another night. And Jody fetched hot coco from the coffee shop down the street from the motel to cheer Donna up.
Running her fingers through Donna’s loose hair, Jody reached for the paper cups on the nightstand. “That’s our girls.”
Peeling the lid off one, whip cream mounded inside was melting and misshapen but Donna made a little ‘ooooh’ at the sprinkle of candy cane and whipped fluff, reaching out to scoop a finger through it. Half the blob fell on Jody’s stomach. Donna gathered that up with her finger and ate it too.
“Here, I got a straw for you.”
Stirring to cool it down a little, Jody put a straw in the coco and held it where Donna could sip, still comfortably settled on her belly. Donna scooted and squirmed and curled herself up next to Jody, getting a hold on her cup herself to sip through the straw so Jody could reach for her own – plain, undecorated – coco.
She considered reaching for the remote to turn on the tv. There’d probably be some kind of holiday special Donna would love, but the calm almost quiet of breathing, the occasional squeak of the mattress, Donna’s little snuffles, it was peaceful just like that. Outside the window the snow was still falling, the shopping strip across the street from them strung with bright colorful lights that glimmered through the white.
Jody set her cup down and reached for Donna’s when her grip started going slack. It was only half finished but Donna was slumped and falling asleep. The pain meds probably knocked her out early. Setting both cups on the night stand again, Jody took Donna’s ice pack off and put that aside before pulling the sheets up over her. Shuffling a little lower in bed, careful not to jostle Donna, she made sure the alarm on her phone was set before switching off the light.
Of course she was still worried about the girls at home, but Jody knew they’d be okay. With them held safe in the back of her mind and Donna sleeping softly on her chest, Jody was finally starting to believe the gentle feeling enveloping her heart that the world was right again.
She had a family again.