Here are the first two chapters of the book. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 1 – Kaelar
Kaelar picked his way through the snow, his hooves falling gently on the white ground with each step. He was glad he’d decided to come into town as a reindeer. His hooves were much better equipped to deal with the white, powdery substance than his feet in his humanoid form.
The reindeer standing next to him gave him a funny look. It was a regular Earth reindeer, and it could sense that Kaelar wasn’t one of its kind. It sniffed and snorted at him as if trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with him.
Kaelar took a step away from the reindeer, wanting to put some distance between them before it caused a scene. He looked around the busy town square and was immediately reminded why he was there.
Market stalls filled the area and people were shopping and laughing. A human male dressed up as Santa Claus sat on a high chair in the middle of the square, surrounded by wrapped gift boxes, life-sized candy canes, and a few men and women who were dressed as elves. Children stood in a queue with their parents and guardians, waiting to sit on his lap and whisper their requests for Christmas presents.
Joy surrounded the gathering in a warm red haze.
Humans couldn’t see it, but the excess joy emanating from people was plentiful in this season. It sparkled everywhere in the air and it was absolutely beautiful. The surrounding joy filled Kaelar with warmth inside, making him cheery as well.
This was exactly why he loved Christmas. There was plenty of joy to go around.
He carefully walked up to a giggling two-year-old, his hooves leaving soft impressions in the snow, and started drawing on the joy around her. The child started laughing even more upon his approach. His disguise as a reindeer was a useful one at this time of year. Children loved animals, and he could increase their joy simply by being in close proximity.
He saw the red haze thicken around the girl, and he pulled on the warm feeling. He didn’t take the child’s joy, he simply siphoned the excess that was emanating from her. This did not hurt anyone and he could redistribute the joy to those who needed it most.
It was all a part of his job, but Kaelar knew he would have done it even if it hadn’t been. He loved seeing people happy.
A young boy approached him and patted him on the head. His parents stood nervously behind him, ready to yank him away should the reindeer become spooked. But Kaelar would never hurt a child. He loved children. That’s why he worked for Santa.
For reilendeer like him, Santa was an ideal employer. The whole organization had been created by his kind and reindeer had been inserted into human Christmas tradition just for this cause–to spread joy around the world.
Humans had both a lot of joy and a lot of pain. Redistributing the joy to keep everyone happy was a difficult but rewarding job.
Kaelar sucked in some more joy, this time emanating from a couple who was out Christmas shopping, their shopping bags pulling on their arms as they walked closely and chatted. He felt it fill him, the happiness seeping into him. If a reindeer could smile, he would be smiling now. He carefully tucked the joy into his internal storage pouch, ready to be put to use where it was needed.
The Earth reindeer came up to him again, looking agitated. It didn’t like that Kaelar looked and smelled like one of his kind when he clearly wasn’t. It snorted angrily at him, and Kaelar resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Reindeer didn’t roll their eyes. He might give himself away.
Instead, he took a small portion of the joy he had stored up and wafted it over to the reindeer.
It only took a small amount. The reindeer immediately lost its aggression toward him and practically pranced around, licking children enthusiastically and receiving giggles in return.
Kaelar suffused his laughter. That would have definitely given him away, but the sudden change in the reindeer’s demeanor was almost comical.
He loved the effect a little bit of joy had on people, animals, and creatures alike.
When Kaelar had first come to Earth, he’d spent most of his time in his reindeer form, learning about the planet and how to fit in. Although the animals could always tell he wasn’t one of them, he’d eventually figured out a way to pass for one. Only when he was confident that he could mingle among the animals, had he started trying to mix with humans.
Humans were more complicated. They confused him quite often.
Appearance-wise, Kaelar was almost indistinguishable from humans when in his humanoid form. Six and a half feet tall with dark brown skin, he could have been any man walking down the street. Only his antlers gave him away as something other, but Kaelar refused to get rid of them.
His friends at Santa’s estate had learned over the years to keep the antlers as part of their reindeer form only, and not carry them over when they shifted to their humanoid form. But Kaelar was proud of who he was. He didn’t like hiding his true nature any more than he had to.
There was always a huge debate going on as to whether reilendeer should reveal themselves to humans. While there were other aliens here, Kaelar’s kind was by far the most common and many of them were tired of hiding.
Personally, Kaelar thought they should do it, but he was often silenced by the more cautious aliens. Humans could be violent and cruel, they pointed out. It was true, but Kaelar saw more compassion and kindness in the species than cruelty.
Maybe it was simply his line of work. Santa focused mostly on children, and children were much simpler than adults. They didn’t scheme or try to hurt others the way their parents did.
That was something about humans that he didn’t understand. While human customs could easily be learned, the human mind was a complex one. He still didn’t understand it completely after nearly two decades on Earth.
Still, he loved his job.
He’d been assigned to a small town this season, and he’d done his research. There was a kindergarten, two schools, and a children’s hospital in the area. He would be delivering the gathered-up joy to those places as often as he could. There was also an elderly home, and although it technically wasn’t along his route, he’d make sure to make rounds there as well if he could.
And most likely he could. Christmas was the best time of the year to collect joy. Kaelar only wished that humans were this joyful all year round.
At other times, he’d have to search for hours to collect the joy he needed. Humans had joy, yes. But there were months when it was so small that it stayed within them, not bubbling out around them like it was now, red and warm. Those months were also a lot harder due to the fact that Kaelar had a difficult job disguising himself.
During the Christmas season, if humans caught a random reindeer wandering around, people would assume it was part of one Christmas group or another. In any other season, someone would call animal control. Of course, he could always fly from the clutches of whatever human had captured him, but it was always a hassle to do so without being detected by the human.
And then there were his antlers in his humanoid form… It was easy enough to pass them off as part of a costume during Christmas, but people didn’t wear reindeer antlers all year round.
Kaelar sighed. Life would be much easier if his kind would let the humans know of their existence, but that was not to be.
Pushing the thought from his mind, Kaelar wandered around the town square with a spring in his step. He moved to places where the joy was the most concentrated and carefully siphoned off the excess.
Suddenly, a man dressed as Santa’s elf stepped before him.
“Hey, Bart! What is this?” the male called to another elf. “We left the shelter with one reindeer, why am I seeing two? They’re not going to be happy if we accidentally turn up with a stray.”
The man pointed directly at the real reindeer, probably thinking that Kaelar was their original. Great. Could humans really not tell the difference between them? They seemed able to distinguish between their pet cats and dogs just fine, but reindeer apparently all looked the same.
This was his cue to leave. His internal pouch was nearly full anyway.
Kaelar started pushing through the throngs of people in the square, but he had to go carefully, mindful that he was a lot bigger than the humans, and a lot of them had children with them. He didn’t want to hurt anyone.
“Oi! Someone stop that reindeer!” the human-elf yelled after him.
Kaelar rolled his eyes now, hoping no one noticed.
No, you idiot, you’re going to cause a panic. Just let me go.
Fortunately, Kaelar had done this a number of times. He never went anywhere without an escape route in mind. The promenade they were on right now was fully paved, but there was a small clutch of trees not far from here.
He could get out of sight and shift to his humanoid form. No one would suspect he was actually the escaped reindeer, even with the antlers as part of a “costume.”
Kaelar managed to keep ahead of his pursuers and made it to the trees. He kept a tight grip on his internal pouch, not wanting to lose a drop of the joy he’d accumulated. It took only a second to shift into his human form and pull on the clothes he’d stacked underneath the trees for situations such as this. And he managed it all without spilling any of the joy.
Moments later, two harried elves burst through the trees, scanning the area with their eyes. When they clearly didn’t see a reindeer anywhere, one of them turned to Kaelar.
“Have you seen a reindeer?” he panted.
Kaelar pointed back to the group of children around Santa. “Just the one you brought with you.”
The man glanced back to the square. “That’s the one we brought with us? I thought it was the stray.”
“Who cares, Bart?” the other elf said. “A reindeer is a reindeer. No one at the shelter is going to care.”
Bart looked hesitant. “I guess,” he grumbled. “But we could be held liable if a reindeer that was with our group goes around trampling people.”
“No one is getting trampled,” Kaelar assured them. “Reindeer aren’t vicious toward humans by nature. They will only act out if threatened.”
“Yeah…” Bart and the other elf looked around once more, their eyes lingering on Kaelar’s antlers.
“Nice costume, man. Really realistic.”
“Thank you.” Kaelar smiled to himself. Humans really weren’t all that hard to fool. They didn’t want to believe in aliens and would go to any lengths to justify what they saw.
The two men left and he put the matter from his mind.
He had joy to distribute.
Chapter 2 – Chloe
“Dr. Wilson? Chloe?” Sadie made an apologetic face. “He’s crying again.”
Sadie had her arms full of bandages. She was one of the nurses covering the night shift with Chloe, and she’d been in the middle of changing Hannah’s wound.
“Coming,” Chloe said, setting aside the charts she had been reading. She immediately knew who Sadie meant, and she hurried over to Brad’s room.
Most of the children in her ward were asleep, but little Brad had been crying all night and had resisted all attempts to put him to sleep. The nurses had been taking turns trying to rock him to sleep, but they really didn’t have enough staff to have someone stay with him all night.
Chloe knew it was always scary for children to spend the night alone in the hospital. Brad’s mother had been with him the previous nights, but she couldn’t stay out of work forever.
Knocking on Brad’s open door, Chloe stepped into his room. The young boy immediately held out his arms to her as she walked toward him. His eyes were red and puffy from tears, and he looked thoroughly miserable.
Chloe pulled him into a gentle embrace. “What’s wrong, honey? Are you in any pain?”
“I want to go home,” Brad whined. “When can I go home?”
“Just as soon as you’re better, sweetie. Do you hurt anywhere? I can give you something to help if you do.”
Brad shook his head. “I want my mom.”
“Your mom will be here tomorrow. For now, I want you to try to rest, okay?”
“Will you stay with me?”
Chloe had a dozen other kids she needed to check on, but she couldn’t say no. “For a little bit.”
Brad nodded. He immediately relaxed against her and she started to hum under her breath, hoping to soothe him to sleep. She reached over the bed and got out his chart, flicking through it so that she could become abreast of his progress. He’d started his chemo for leukemia just two days ago. It was no wonder he was miserable. At least he wasn’t throwing up anymore.
Slowly, Brad’s breathing started to even out. Before Chloe could ensure that he was asleep though, Sadie emerged at the door, gesturing for Chloe to meet her in the hallway.
Carefully, so as not to disturb Brad just as he was about to fall into a deep sleep, Chloe tucked him in and snuck out of the room.
“It’s Hannah,” Sadie whispered as soon as she was outside. “Her wound is really inflamed.”
“Has she torn her stitches again?” Chloe asked, suddenly feeling way more tired than just a moment ago. It would be the third time now, but the girl couldn’t stop scratching her wound.
“Yes… They’ll need to be re-done, but I’m worried about the swelling.”
Chloe nodded as they walked down the hallway toward Hannah’s room.
“Hi, Hannah.” She smiled at the girl. “How are you doing?”
Tears welled in the young girl’s eyes. “I won’t scratch anymore, I swear!”
“That’s alright, Hannah. Can I just take a look at your stomach and see how the wound is doing?”
The girl nodded, trying to keep her tears in. Chloe lifted her shirt up and examined the surgical cut in her stomach. The cut was neat, but a few of the stitches were missing on the right side, and the skin around the wound was red and slightly swollen.
“We’re going to put some anti-bacterial ointment on it and redo the stitches, okay? I know it’ll pinch a little, but we want you to get better as soon as you can, and this will help it heal faster.”
Hannah nodded, though she looked ready to cry. “Okay…”
“Good girl. It’ll just take a minute. You should try to get some rest once it’s done.”
“But it’s itchy…” she whined.
“I know, honey. But it’s going to be okay. I know it’s tough, but you’ll have to leave it be for just a bit.”
Chloe glanced at Sadie and when she was sure Sadie could handle it, she left her to dress the wound. She had to check on the numbers of three critical patients and potentially prescribe some overnight medication if everything wasn’t as it should be.
As she started walking down the corridor, she heard Brad crying again. Chloe turned automatically, wanting to comfort him, but her rounds really couldn’t wait any longer.
“Sadie?” She called out, loud enough for the other woman to hear but not loud enough to disturb the other children. “It’s Brad again.”
Sadie hurried out of Hannah’s room, looking on the verge of tears herself. They were always short-staffed in this season, and it hit the nurses the hardest. Chloe tried to help where she could, but she was also covering for doctors who were away on holiday.
“I’ll be fine,” Sadie said. “Go do your rounds.”
Chloe gave her a weak smile. Although the holiday season was supposed to be a time of joy, it was the worst time to be working at the hospital.
“Thank you,” she said, leaving Hannah and Brad to Sadie.
* * *
Two hours later, Chloe had navigated her way through a scary patch in Janet’s numbers. She was just about to sit down to a cup of coffee when the baby monitor they’d left in Brad’s room registered that he was crying.
“Please, let that child fall asleep soon.” Sadie looked frazzled as she got up, and Chloe held out a hand to stop her.
“I’ve got this one, Sadie.”
The nurse gave her an exhausted smile. “You’re a saint, Chloe.”
Ignoring her own exhaustion, Chloe made her way back to Brad’s room. The young boy held out his arms pitifully for her as soon as she entered.
Gently, she sat down on the bed next to him and brushed some of the hair from his face.
“What’s it going to take to get you to sleep, huh?”
Lip quivering, Brad said, “I want my mom.”
“I know, sweetie. She’ll be here soon, I promise. She’s coming early, so you probably won’t be awake for long before she gets here. Once you fall asleep, it’ll feel like only a few minutes before you see her again.”
If he ever fell asleep.
“I did sleep, but I had a nightmare.”
If he had slept, it hadn’t been for long. The poor boy was exhausted.
“It’s okay, Brad. I know you’re trying. Here, let me read you a bedtime story.”
She picked up a book from the nightstand beside the bed and was just about to open to the first page when a sudden noise caught her attention. It came from the hall. Was that Sadie? Or one of the other nurses? Had something happened? She returned the book and stood instantly.
“Brad, I’ll be right back. I just need to check on something, okay?”
The boy whined as she left, but Chloe needed to be sure that nothing bad had happened. Some of the kids wandered at night, even though they weren’t supposed to, and she couldn’t have any of them tripping or getting more hurt than they already were.
She stepped out to find Sadie escorting Hannah to the bathroom. Sadie gave her a questioning look. Clearly, she had heard something as well.
Chloe walked over to the adjoining room to check for the source of the noise. Another nurse was sitting with Janet until her new dose of medication kicked in. There was no sign that anything out of the ordinary was happening in her room.
Chloe quickly checked the other rooms as well, ensuring that every child was in bed or being aptly supervised if they were awake for some reason. She wanted to hurry back to Brad. The boy must have been even more afraid because of how suddenly she had left.
She checked all the rooms in the ward, but nothing seemed amiss.
Sighing in relief, Chloe hurriedly returned to Brad’s room. But as she stepped inside, she paused.
It took her a moment to register what she was seeing, but when the sight did register, her eyes widened in shock.
Inside the room, right next to Brad’s bed, stood a huge reindeer!
It loomed over the boy and Chloe squawked in alarm, rushing to put herself between the animal and Brad. She liked reindeer, but a wild animal had no place in a hospital ward. If it panicked, it could seriously hurt Brad.
The reindeer seemed to notice her now, its round, golden-brown eyes meeting hers. The color seemed almost too bright to be real, and in their depths, Chloe could see an intelligence she hadn’t been expecting.
For a moment, time seemed to stand still as they looked at each other. The large antlers of the animal were majestic and its fur glistened in the moonlight that entered the room through the windows.
The animal was…
She didn’t even realize she’d spoken the word out loud, but the word seemed to break whatever spell they had been under. Before Chloe could do anything more, the reindeer leaped out of the window and ran off into the night.
A heavy sigh she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding escaped her lungs.
How had it done that? For an animal that size, having the coordination to jump out of a window that was barely big enough to fit through was highly unlikely. Maybe for trained animals or cats. But last she checked, reindeer weren’t particularly graceful.
Chloe shook her head and hurried over to Brad, surprised that he wasn’t screeching in terror by now. What she saw made her jaw drop.
Brad was asleep.
Not just asleep, but asleep with a smile on his lips. She didn’t think he’d slept a single night without nightmares since being admitted, not even when his mother was around.
Whenever Chloe had been in to see him while he slept, his little face had been scrunched in misery. Some kids dealt with being in the hospital better than others. Brad was one of the kids who really struggled.
Chloe grabbed his chart and started checking the numbers on his monitors. His heart rate and blood pressure had both improved as if the reindeer had brought some… magic with him.
It made no sense.
It seemed too drastic a change to be a coincidence, but magic reindeer weren’t real either… were they?
Chloe glanced toward the window the reindeer had disappeared through. It hadn’t been open when she’d visited Brad before. Had Sadie opened it? She walked up to the window and closed it, taking the opportunity to stare out into the night.
There was no sign of the reindeer.
“Sadie?” Chloe made sure she was out of Brad’s earshot before calling for the nurse, not wanting to wake him now that he was finally asleep.
“Brad again? I brought a teddy bear from the toy basket, maybe that’ll help–”
“No, he’s okay, Sadie. He’s asleep.”
Sadie’s jaw dropped. Her gobsmacked look would have been amusing if Chloe wasn’t still so unsettled from the encounter with the reindeer. Had it been an ordinary reindeer? It didn’t make sense for it to be an ordinary animal, but what else could it have been?
“What did you do?” Sadie asked.
Chloe glanced back at Brad’s room, not sure exactly what had happened either. “He… He fell asleep on his own. Or, I guess on his own. There was a reindeer in his room.”
Sadie’s look of shock instantly turned to one of concern. “A reindeer? Are you sure? Chloe, maybe you need to get some rest too and–”
Chloe shook her head. “No, Sadie. There seriously was a reindeer in the room. Look.” She walked back into the room and pointed at the specks of snow on the floor, right by the window.
A look of alarm entered Sadie’s gaze. “A reindeer? How? Did it hurt him? Is he okay?”
“He’s better than okay. I don’t know what happened there but his vitals are good and… He’s finally asleep.”
“How did a reindeer get in? Should I call animal services?”
Sadie was back to being concerned and perhaps Chloe should have been concerned as well, but she couldn’t bring herself to fear the animal. It hadn’t seemed malicious or even wild to her. Maybe it was someone’s pet… But then what was it doing at a hospital in the middle of the night?
Chloe shook her head. “It jumped in and out through the window. It’s gone now.”
“Who opened the window?”
Chloe frowned. “I assumed you did.”
“It wasn’t me. Maybe Brad. He knows he’s not supposed to, but with how unsettled he’s been, maybe he decided to do it anyway.”
Somehow, Chloe didn’t think so. “I’m going to check on the others again.”
She didn’t know exactly what prompted this sudden round of checks, but Chloe felt justified when she was through with the ward.
Almost all the children were doing better. Those who were asleep were sleeping soundly. The few who were awake for one reason or another were in better spirits than the last time she’d seen them.
Only Hannah, Janet, and one of the boys didn’t seem to have improved. Chloe couldn’t help but note that all three of them had been with a nurse while the reindeer had visited.
How had this happened? Was it really the reindeer?
To her great surprise, the rest of the night passed easily. No one woke up. No one cried. Those who were still awake soon drifted off, leaving Chloe and the nurses with a much-needed break.
If a reindeer really had this kind of effect on the children, Chloe might consider hiring one as part of the staff…