As with "Turning Point," this is the second story of mine to use Bernard Doove's chakats, a race of furry cat-taurs he created. Cat-taurs are like centaurs, but using a feline build for both the upper and lower body structures.
The chakats are also hermaphrodites, and in keeping with Bernard's universe setting, I've adopted his usage of combined-gender pronouns such as "shi" and "hir" for this story. Since they are hermaphrodites, it's possible within a family for the parents to play the roles of both mother and father to their different cubs. This might seem confusing to us, but it makes sense to them, and each cub will refer to their parents as mother and sire, depending on which parent gave birth to them and which parent fathered them.
"Okay you two," Chakat Broadstripe said as shi finished tucking hir two cubs into bed. "Now that you're all ready for Santa to come, which story would you like for tonight?"
"'Greytiger Saves Christmas'" Quickpounce answered almost immediately.
"Yeah, I want that one too," hir younger sister Whitepaw added enthusiastically.
Broadstripe smiled at hir cubs as shi sat between their two beds and looked at the expectant smiles on their muzzles. Ever since shi'd made up that story a couple of years ago, it'd been one of their favorites for the holiday season. Now that it was Christmas Eve, it didn't come as too big of a surprise that they chose it for their bedtime story.
"Okay," shi replied, smiling at hir cubs, "Greytiger it is." Shi saw the bright gleams in their eyes as they looked up at hir, waited for hir to start. Shi paused just briefly to enjoy the warmth of the sight, and then began to recite the now-familiar tale.
* * *
It was Christmas Eve and while all the other cubs were sleeping, Greytiger struggled to stay awake; the young chakat knew shi just had to wait up for Santa. It was very important that shi see him this year, for shi had a very special request for him. It wasn't a special toy that Greytiger was going to ask Santa for, no it was something more important than that.
You see, hir mother was very sick, and shi needed medicine very badly. Their town was a small outpost far away from any other towns and cities of the colony world they lived on, and they didn't have the medicine that Greytiger's mother needed in their infirmary. Instead, they needed to get the medicine from one of the larger towns which were far away. As luck would have it though, their transport was down and there was no one who could get across the desert to get the medicine to them.
Things looked very bleak indeed, but Greytiger had a plan. Shi knew that if anyone could get across the desert to get hir mother the medicine shi so desperately needed, that it would be Santa who could help hir. Shi'd waited up long after hir bedtime, trying to keep awake as shi watched out the window for signs of his sleigh. Several times shi caught hirself nodding off as hir eyes grew heavier, but shi continued to fight to stay awake. Shi knew shi just had to wait up for Santa and that when shi did meet him, he'd make everything alright, so shi continued to sit their, watching out the window for his arrival.
Shi'd shut hir eyes for only a minute when the sound of sleighbells caught hir attention. Shi opened hir eyes with a start and was at once wide awake. Pressing hir nose against the window to look outside, shi saw a big sleigh out there on the lawn with nine reindeer hitched in front of it. On top of the sleigh, which carried large bags filled with all sorts of presents, sat Santa himself.
Greytiger was so excited that shi ran outside to meet him just as fast as hir four legs could carry hir. He'd gotten down off the sleigh and was there to greet hir as shi ran to him, hir striped tail bouncing happily behind hir.
"Well hello there Greytiger" he said as he smiled down at hir.
"Hello Santa," shi replied eagerly. "I'm so glad to see you."
"I know," he answered with a warm laugh, "and I'm glad to see you too."
"You're glad to see me, Santa?" shi asked as shi looked up at the jolly old human with surprise.
"Yes, my cub, you see, I've got a problem and I need some help?"
"You need some help, from me?" the little chakat asked, hir eyes growing wider.
"Yes Greytiger. You see, coming from a cold climate my reindeer aren't used to such warm weather as you have here. Every year when I get ready to leave the snowy lands of my home to make my trip around the planet, I make magic snowballs to hang around each of the reindeer's necks to keep them cool even in warm weather." As he spoke, Santa pointed to the nearest reindeer and Greytiger could see the golden chain of a necklace holding a snowball there.
The snowball looked awfully small though, only a centimeter or two in diameter. Shi didn't think it looked big enough to keep the reindeer cool in the hot weather of the desert region where hir town was. Shi also noticed that Santa had taken off his heavy red coat to beat the heat and had left it on his seat in the sleigh. He stood before hir in a light shirt that better fit the climate he was in now.
As shi looked at the snowball and wondered about it, Santa continued. "I can see from the puzzled look on your face, that you've guessed the nature of my problem. You see, I didn't make the snowballs big enough this year to account for the hot spell you've been having down here. The snowballs are magic, but even they'll eventually melt, and the extra warm weather is melting them before I've gotten all of my deliveries made."
He caught hir mouth hanging open, and answered hir wordless question with a slightly-embarrassed chuckle. "Yes little Chakat, even I can make mistakes. I'm still getting used to the weather on this planet, just like everyone else in the colony is. I was rushed tonight trying to make preparations for a really-important delivery and I didn't think to bring any extra snowballs along... So you see Greytiger, that's why I need your help."
"My help? But what can I do to help you Santa?" shi asked.
"Well, we all know how strong you chakats are," he said smiling down at hir. "If anyone can help me out it will be one of you. My reindeer are tired and hot from the weather and they need help pulling my sleigh."
Greytiger looked at the reindeer more closely, and it did look as if they were all exhausted from the heat. Their eyes were half closed as they stood there on wobbly legs and panted heavily with open mouths.
"Will they be okay?" shi asked him worriedly.
"Oh yes, they'll be fine, just as soon as I can get them back to my house down at the polar ice caps and make them some more magic snowballs. That's where you come in, I need you to help me pull my sleigh tonight."
"But Santa, I'm too small to pull your sleigh," the chakat cub protested.
"Oh no you're not, Greytiger" Santa answered hir. "You're becoming quite a big cub now and I know you're strong enough to help me out. You don't need to pull my sleigh alone, the reindeer just need an extra push to help them get going."
"Besides," he added after a pause, "all of the other people in town are asleep. You've shown you have great determination by waiting up so late to meet me. I know you'll be perfect for the job... So what do you say, will you help me?"
Shi hesitated a moment or two as shi thought about it, but then hir answer was quick in coming. "Okay, I'll help," shi said, as the smile spreading across hir muzzle met the one he had on his face.
"Very good then," Santa said as he beamed down at hir. "I've got to make a quick delivery here, can you stay by my sleigh and wait for me?" Seeing hir nod eagerly he added "could you get my reindeer some water to help cool them down as well?" Shi nodded again and he was off.
Shi watched him walking quickly toward hir house with his sack of presents slung over his back. Shi briefly wondered what presents he might be bringing hir, but hir mind was more occupied with the thought of helping Santa out and the important task at hand of tending to his reindeer.
Shi trotted happily over to the faucet at the side of the house, and turning the water on, shi brought the watering hose back to the reindeer. Looking at them, they did look very hot and tired, but shi petted them gently and coaxed them to drink from the hose. Shi was smaller than the reindeer, and hir body was lower to the ground than theirs, but with the added height of hir upper back, shi could easily reach their heads.
Shi went to each reindeer in turn, holding the hose out for them so they could drink from fountain of water splashing out of it. As each of the reindeer drank, they cooled off and became less weary. They still looked a little weak, but were in much better shape than they'd been before. The cool water they eagerly slurped down was having a good effect on them, and Greytiger felt very happy at how shi was helping them out.
Shi'd just finished watering the last of the reindeer when Santa returned. He too noticed their improvement, and was sure to comment on it. "My my, Greytiger, you've certainly done a great job helping my reindeer. I think that water you've given them has done the trick."
Shi swelled with pride at his praise, hir tail twitching happily behind hir. "Now, are you ready to help pull my sleigh?" he asked. "Now that my reindeer are feeling better, and with your help, we'll easily get back home." Shi nodded eagerly and ran back to put the hose in its proper place, also shutting the water from the faucet off.
When shi returned, shi looked up excitedly at Santa and then asked. "But how can I pull your sleigh through the sky? I can't fly like your reindeer can."
"Oh, but with this you can," he laughed, and proceeded to pull out another reindeer harness from one of the sacks of toys upon the sleigh. "With this magic harness, you'll be able to fly just like my reindeer."
Shi let him put the harness on hir, placing it on hir lower back. As he put it on hir, shi felt a tingle of magic rush up and down hir spine, spreading out across hir body. It tickled a little and shi giggled at it. Santa smiled at that, and he reached up to stroke hir head gently as he looked at hir.
"You're a very special cub to help me like this, Greytiger. Thank you so very much" he said to hir warmly.
Once again shi beamed with pride. Shi became very excited as Santa led hir to the front of the line of reindeer, and hitched hir right beside Rudolph himself. Shi couldn't believe how important shi felt.
"Okay now, we're all set. Are you ready Greytiger?" Shi nodded eagerly and he continued. "Flying is very simple, you just get up a running start and then jump up into the air. From there the magic takes over and it's just like running, but in the sky. I can tell you'll be a natural at it."
Giving hir one more pat on the head, Santa turned and walked quickly back to his sleigh to climb aboard it. As shi waited for them to take off, Greytiger's happiness was broken by a nervous thought. In all the excitement of taking care of the reindeer and getting ready to help pull Santa's sleigh, shi'd momentarily forgotten about hir mother and how sick shi was. All of a sudden shi didn't know if shi should be leaving home and whether or not shi should stay with hir mother.
Shi turned hir head back, and saw Santa sitting on his sleigh looking warmly down at hir. Shi realized that he did really need hir help and that it was a very important job he'd asked hir to do. Shi couldn't let him down as there were so many cubs and boys and girls depending on him. Shi knew what shi had to do, and shi felt strengthened in hir resolve. Shi was still worried about hir mother, but shi trusted that Santa could help hir when they returned. Right then they needed to get the reindeer back to Santa's home before they got too tired to fly.
When Santa gave the word, they started off and shi pulled hard against the reins of the sleigh. It was very tough at first, because the sleigh was very heavy with all of Santa's toys and presents in it, but as the other reindeer started pulling as well, shi felt the sleigh inch forward. Spurred on by that little encouragement, shi pulled hard again.
Shi turned to glance at Rudolph quickly. He still looked a little tired, but his nose was still glowing brightly and he too was pulling against the reins to get the sleigh in motion. "Come on Rudolph," shi said. "We can do it." The head reindeer flashed hir a determined little smile and they stepped forward together, pulling the sleigh in unison.
It was still hard work, but with all the help from the other reindeer, Greytiger felt encouraged. Shi also noticed that by hir being there to help them, shi was encouraging the reindeer too. They were still a little weary from the warm weather, but the water shi'd given them had helped them a lot; also, seeing the brave chakat cub helping them pull the sleigh, they felt hir determination spreading over them.
They all took a step forward, then another one and as they moved ahead, Greytiger noticed the weight of the sleigh seemed to diminish. They were moving it, slow at first, but as they quickened their pace, trotting across the lawn, they picked up speed.
Moving faster and faster, they pulled the sleigh across the lawn. As they picked up more speed, shi gave a gasp of surprise when Rudolph leapt up into the air. He was followed by the other reindeer, and shi had to go along with them. Shi closed hir eyes and leapt up, half jumping and half being pulled up by the reins connecting hir with the other reindeer.
Shi only kept hir eyes closed for a couple of moments though, for it felt as if shi was still running along the ground. Opening hir eyes, shi gasped again, but that time it was a gasp of amazement, not fear, as shi realized it was just like Santa had told hir it would be. Shi was indeed running in the air. They were all flying through the sky, going higher and higher as their feet seemed to touch down on magic currents running through the ether.
Shi couldn't believe how wonderful it was, and shi moved hir legs faster in excitement. The reindeer followed hir cue and they all sped up a little. Shi looked down and could see the lights of hir town quickly retreating. Within minutes it was gone and they were speeding above the sands of the desert.
Greytiger had a wonderful time as shi flew with the other reindeer. Now that they were up to speed, the sleigh seemed to have almost no weight at all, and it was quite an easy job. All shi had to do was keep pace with the other reindeer, and with the energy of hir excitement, that was an easy job.
Shi watched, looking down and around in amazement as they flew over the desert sands and passed over several other towns on their way to the polar region of Santa's home. It was a wonderful clear night out, so shi could see the stars twinkling brightly overhead, as well as the lights of the towns below them.
To Greytiger, it seemed as if the trip went very quickly. Shi was so engrossed in the flying that shi couldn't believe it when they approached the snowy lands of the South. It seemed like only moments later when Santa's castle came in to view and they were landing in front of it.
They touched down quickly, reversing the process of the takeoff. Gliding down through the sky, they ran towards the ground and soon met it. Slowing their pace as they ran along the snow, they soon brought the sleigh to a stop right outside Santa's home.
Greytiger looked around excitedly, taking in the wonder of Santa's castle, which was all lit up with bright lights and looked so splendid and magic against the starry sky and amidst the light swirls of snow blowing in the wind. Even as hir mind was occupied with the wonder of it all, shi noticed how cold it was, and felt a chill at the sudden change in climate.
Santa was at hir side though, and just a quickly as the chill had overtaken hir, it was whisked away as he unhitched from the sleigh and wrapped a heavy red coat around hir. It was a coat just like his, but smaller, so it fit around hir snugly. It only covered hir upper back, leaving hir lower back, legs and haunches bare, but even so, it's magic surrounded hir with warmth; even with hir bare feet touching the snow, shi wasn't cold.
"You did very well for your first flight, my dear," Santa said as he smiled down at hir. "In fact you flew better than some of my reindeer on their first times" he added with a warm chuckle. One of the reindeer gave a snort at that, but when they turned and looked at him, they could see the sparkle in his eyes. It was easy to see that he was only kidding, making a joke at being offended. Santa and Greytiger both got a little laugh at that, and shi reached out to pet the reindeer who nuzzled against hir arm affectionately.
All of the reindeer looked happy now that they were back to the comfortably cool weather they were used to. "You guys can get some rest," Santa said to them. "We've still got a good deal of work ahead of us tonight, but we'll be ready for it." He called to a couple of his elves, who came running from the stables, bringing oats and straw for the reindeer to eat and build up their strength.
Santa introduced Greytiger to the two elves as the chakat who'd been such a big help to him, and hir proud smile covered hir whole muzzle as shi eagerly shook their hands. The elves were very interested in hir as they'd never seen a chakat before, and shi was equally as interested in them. They were both very happy and playful, and to Greytiger, who was used to always having to look up at adults, it was neat to see some people who came face to face with hir.
After that, Santa gave hir a tour of his castle. It was a quick tour, as he said they needed to get going shortly. He needed to get hir home and to continue delivering his presents so he could finish the job before the night was over. At mention of hir home, shi thought of hir mother once again. Shi was worried for hir mother, but didn't want to interrupt Santa as he was telling hir all about everything in his castle. Shi decided to wait and ask him for help when they got back home. Shi knew he'd be able help hir mother, so keeping hir mother in hir thoughts, shi was able to enjoy the tour Santa gave hir.
The tour of his castle was very interesting, and shi especially liked seeing the large workshops he had where the elves made toys year round for all of the children of the world. Shi saw several more elves, who were all jolly and happy to meet hir, and then shi even met Mrs. Claus herself. Mrs. Claus fawned all over hir, telling hir what a wonderful job shi'd done in helping Santa. She even offered hir some Christmas cookies she'd just made, and they shared them over a couple cups of nice warm cocoa.
All too soon though it was time for them to be going, and saying good-bye to Mrs. Claus and the elves, Greytiger followed Santa back outside to the sleigh once again. Before they could take off, they needed to make more magic snowballs for the reindeer. Shi helped him roll the snow into balls, delighting at how fun it was. Shi'd never seen snow before, so the whole experience was quite new to hir.
Placing a newly-formed snowball on the chains around each reindeer's neck, and storing several extra ones in the sleigh, they were soon ready to set off. Shi took hir place alongside of Rudolph and was quite happy to have another chance of flying. Within moments, they were off, and flying through the night sky once more.
The return trip was just as quick, and finally, they were once again back at Greytiger's town. It'd been a long night and shi'd seen quite a lot. Even with all of the excitement, shi was beginning to feel a little sleepy.
"You've had quite a night haven't you?" Santa asked as he unhitched hir from the sleigh and took the harness off hir lower back. Shi nodded and also answered him with a small yawn. He laughed once more and tousled hir hair gently.
"You've done a great job tonight, my brave little cub, and you helped me out a great deal... I don't know what I would've done without you." Once again shi beamed with pride at his words. "So Greytiger, is there anything you'd like, something extra special that I can give you for helping me out so much this Christmas?"
Hir thoughts turning towards hir home once again, shi immediately knew what to ask for. "Oh Santa, my mother is so sick, and they can't get hir the medicine shi needs to get better. Could you please get hir the medicine so shi can be well soon?"
He laughed warmly and reached out to pet hir once again. "Oh my dear cub, I've already taken care of that. Your mother's medicine was the special delivery I had to make tonight. There was no way I was going to forget that. When you were watering the reindeer I popped in to give the doctor watching your mother the medication so shi could take care of hir."
Greytiger's ears perked right up at hearing that, and with hir tail swishing excitedly, shi bounded over to the window to look into hir parent's room. There shi saw hir mother sleeping peacefully, with hir sire sitting next to the bed, wearing a relieved smile as shi watched hir mate. The chakat doctor, hir job for the evening now done, lay asleep on a make-shift sleeping pad on the other side of the bed.
Shi ran back to give Santa a strong hug. "Oh thank you so much, Santa," shi said, and then turning, shi trotted back to hir house. Before going inside, shi turned and waved to him, then quickly went inside.
"But what about your special present?" he called out after hir, but shi didn't hear him. He laughed to himself, knowing that being with hir family was very important to hir. A twinkle then came to his eye as he knew just what to give to hir in thanks for all the help shi'd given him.
The next morning, Greytiger was quite happy. Hir mother had made a significant recovery during the night, thanks to the medicine which had mysteriously appeared in the doctor's medical kit. A note had been attached to the bottle, saying it was Santa himself, and while the doctor was quite surprised, shi wasn't going to question a Christmas miracle.
Greytiger's mother was still weak, but the sickness was leaving hir very quickly. Shi was able to sit up with hir mate and Greytiger as the three of them opened some presents the next morning. There was another surprise waiting for them too, for underneath the Christmas tree they found a special gift marked to Greytiger from Santa. When shi opened it, shi let out a delighted squeal of surprise; inside the box was the flying harness shi'd worn the night before. It was a special present to be treasured dearly, not only for its powers, but because it held the memories of hir magical adventure with Santa that Christmas as well.
* * *
Broadstripe finished the tale even though the cubs were both fast asleep. To tell the truth, shi loved the story just as much as they did, and shi liked telling it to them again and again. Shi paused, to look upon the cubs as they slept soundly in their beds, and a moment later shi heard the soft padding of hir mate's footsteps as shi walked quietly in the room.
"Is everything all set?" Broadstripe asked softly?
"Yes, the stockings are all filled and the special presents are underneath the tree too" hir mate replied.
"That's good, it looks like it'll be a quiet night then."
Hir mate nodded, then reached out to put an arm around hir. "I know it's a little early. There's still a few hours to go, but Merry Christmas, love."
Broadstripe returned the gesture and held hir mate warmly in embrace. The two of them held each other closely and watched their cubs sleeping peacefully, perhaps dreaming of their own magical Christmas adventures.
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