Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 7: Northern Lights
After spending the day cooling her leg with water, Mymla was ready to walk again. She, Chiss, and Rustle moved north once more, until they came to a forest that extended to their right and left as far as they could see -- but all anybody was thinking about was Rustle's new powers. He amazed them first by sprouting holly leaves all over his pine branches, then by sprouting holly berries, so that he actually looked a little like a holly tree (the shape was wrong; he was narrow at the top and hollies aren't). So he dropped all the holly paraphernalia and grew a dozen new pine cones. The elves laughed harder and harder with each transformation.
The forest they were in seemed to have no ending. Some of the hollies grew so high they blotted out the sky, and what sky there was was growing darker. Night was falling again.
Whenever they came to a clearing, they watched the stars appearing, one by shiny one, and soon fell witness to something else: the Northern Lights. At first, Rustle thought the Coalman was attacking them again, because the vast, sweeping curtains of green-glowing flame (for so they seemed) looked like the workings of a magician. Chiss and Mymla, however, had seen these lights during the six-month periods of darkness at the North Pole, and comforted the frightened tree. Mymla, in fact, confessed that she had been just as frightened when she first saw them, and her placid approach to them now completely dispelled Rustle's fear. After that, he bent his bough backward to see the aerial display even better.
The Northern Lights, if you've never seen them, appear only in the far north (there are Southern Lights just like them at the other end of the world). A ghostly, shimmering cloud hovers high in the indigo sky, waving and folding in upon itself like a phantom flag. The color is usually a yellowish-green, though reds and blues can appear at any time. The display our friends were watching started almost directly over their heads and stretched out to disappear over the far horizon, hundreds of miles away. They watched it with untiring admiration, until their path led them out of the clearing and back into the woods.
"It must be fun, living at the North Pole," Rustle offered.
"It is if you live with Nick," said Chiss, lifting a flame from his forefinger to light their way through the darkness.
"If you were up there by yourself brrr!" said Mymla, shivering at the thought. "Nothing but endless hunks of jumbled ice. No free-flowing water, at all!"
Rustle started to ask, "Then why does Nick live -- " but stopped when Chiss abruptly flicked his finger, dousing its flame and plunging them back into shadow. "What's the matter, Chiss?"
Rustle listened -- and heard. Somewhere behind them, among the trees -- something else was walking.
And as soon as they stopped -- it stopped.
"We're being followed," whispered Mymla.
"Maybe it's the wolves again," murmured Rustle.
"If so, we can't fight them with flame again," said Chiss in a low buzz. "We'd set the whole forest on fire."
"The same trick the Coalman used with his coal storm!" blurted Mymla indignantly. "And I'll be hard put to wash them away, with so many trees for them to hide behind."
"We'd better run," said Rustle.
"Can you run?" asked Mymla.
"I don't know, but I can surely try!"
So Chiss flipped a flame back onto his finger, and the three friends started to move as fast as they could among the trees. It couldn't be called "running" exactly, since Rustle, for all his skill, still didn't have the flexibility of a person, and the elves, for all their flexibility, couldn't cover much ground with legs only a foot long. But they didn't waste their time.
On the other hand, neither did their unseen pursuer.
Almost as soon as they got going, they heard the crackling in the trees begin to match them. Even though Chiss was certain there was no path through this forest besides the one he and his friends were on, their pursuer seemed to be gaining on them. Louder and louder the crackling became, turning into full-fledged rending and tearing that reminded Rustle very unpleasantly of his branch breaking off before. Once, thrown momentarily off balance so he was turned toward the rear, he caught a glimpse of something huge behind them. He called a halt.
"We can't outrun this monster," he gasped. "There's only one chance for us!" And he began to change himself again. "Chiss, put out the light!" he whispered, spreading his branches around the elves to enclose them completely. Then, on the outsides of the branches, he began to sprout more pine needles -- but pine needles that were longer, thicker, stronger, and sharper than the real things. It seemed to be taking a long time, though it probably was amazingly quick -- it was just that the thing in the woods was approaching so fast. Rustle had just finished, in fact, when a huge shape came crashing out from among the trees. It was huffing and snorting as it bore down upon them, and then it crashed right into Rustle, nearly knocking him branch over root.
"Oww-wch!!" roared the thing with a voice like thunder. It jumped backward, nearly falling down, and Rustle felt several sharp needles yanked from his branches as it did.
"Turn on your light!" he shouted to Chiss, who obliged (but carefully, so as not to set Rustle on fire).
Filtered through the branches, the light fell on something that looked like the Northern Lights made solid. There were the heavenly curtains, floating around the thing's head. Or -- were those antlers?
Rustle recognized the thing, at last. It was nothing but a moose!
"Yu've hurd my node," said the moose in an aggrieved tone. "An' I odely wanned du offer yu my helb!"