The snow drifted over the windscreen and the rusty windscreen wipers stuttered to clear it from the old mans vision as he peered hard ahead.
“Are we nearly there Grandad?” the boy asked, and Harry turned and smiled at his eager face, “Almost there Freddie.”
Freddie sat back in his seat and clasped his fingerless gloved hands together and blew on them. The car was old and the heating only worked occasionally. His mother had made him wear the gloves, hat and scarf and he recalled her insistence now with gratitude as the temperature in the cab began to drop.
It was an old ritual. Ever since he was a very little boy his grandad had taken him up the mountain to get a Christmas tree on the day before Christmas Eve. It was one of his favourite parts of Christmas. Grandad would pull up in his big dusty truck in the afternoon and they would make the journey up the mountain to the Everglade Seasons Christmas Tree Farm. They would take their time inspecting each and every tree until they found just the right one. Then, whilst it was cut and wrapped and packed into the truck, they would have a hot chocolate with marshmallows in the little wooden shack that doubled as a café, where the owner, Sheila, would fuss over Grandad and make him blush and grin.
“It’s really coming down,” Freddie said, wiping his gloved hand on the passenger window, clearing a little circle in the glass to watch the snowfall, the arms of sugar dusted trees flashing by.
Harry grunted and frowned a little, concentrating on the road ahead which was becoming increasingly opaque.
Suddenly Freddie spotted something humped at the side of the road, “Grandad stop! Stop! Theres something there! Look…there…see?” he pointed, eyes wide with alarm.
Harry slowed the truck to a stop and pressed his hazard lights, the yellow flash illuminating the thick flakes as they flurried worriedly around the slumped figure. “ Stay there,” he instructed Freddie and hauled himself out of the truck. The cold cut straight through his fleece, making his eyes water. Head down against the onslaught he quickly made his way over to the side of the road and looked down. There lay a small deer, hardly more than a fawn he reckoned, he almost assumed it was dead, until a slight flume of breath frosted from its nostrils and its eyes flickered.
“What is it Grandad?” Freddie called, frantically craning his head out of the window to get a better look.
“Freddie, close the window it’s freezing. There’s a blanket on the back seat, get it for me will you?” he instructed. As he straightened up and made his way to the passenger window Freddie slid over to the backseat and quickly found the tartan travelling rug his grandad used for fishing trips. Grasping it tightly he opened the window again and thrust it through.
Harry took the blanket and made his way carefully back to the deer, wrapping the frozen animal gently in the soft tartan he grasped it close to him and steadied his way back to the truck. Freddie opened his door, eyes wide, as Harry gently placed the small deer on his knee.
“Now hold tight, here,” he showed him,’ and here.” Placing Freddies arms in the right places to keep the deer secure.
Freddie gazed down at the deer in fearful wonderment, “Is it dead?” he said.
Harry shook his head and closed the door, retracing his steps and climbing back into the truck. “Are you ok Freddie?” he turned, “We need to get him to a vets. Can you hold him tight like that until we get there?”
Freddie nodded uncertainly.
“Good boy,” Harry nodded in approval and began to turn the truck around, heading them back down the mountain slowly and steadily.
The snow was now swirling furiously, huge flakes covering the windscreen before being swept away by the wipers, only to be covered again seconds later. The old truck groaned and shuddered against the onslaught, but kept its course, and soon they were nearing the foot of the mountain and the red and yellow lights of the gas station at the intersection.
They pulled onto the forecourt and Harry parked as closely to the door as he could before clambering out, pulling his cap over his ears and ducking his head, the wind whipped his large, bulky frame as he headed inside to talk to the attendant. Freddie could see them talking through the glass and the attendant nodded and offered his grandad the telephone.
The deer moved slightly in his arms and it made him gasp. Heart thudding so hard that it pounded in his ears Freddie looked down at the poor animal and saw that it was shaking. Alarm fading, warm compassion flooded his heart as he gently began to stroke the deer’s head “Shh, it’s ok, shh, you’re going to be alright,”
The deer opened one glassy eyes and looked wearily at Freddie then closed it again in exhaustion, its head flopping back onto his knees. He swallowed hard. Now that the truck had stopped moving he could feel its little heartbeat, strumming and fluttering against his leg.
What would he do if it died? He wondered in alarm. It couldn’t die…could it? He wished his grandad would hurry up and come back. Everything would be alright then. He looked back to the window and saw his grandad making his way back through the doors to the truck. As he opened the driver’s door a gust of wind caught hold of it and yanked it suddenly backwards. Freddie saw a tornado of old papers and receipts from the dashboard swirl up into the air and flurry around the cab. Freddie cried out and went to grab the papers but the deer bleated in alarm. Harry reached forward to grasp the door but slipped, losing his footing and banging his shoulder hard against the truck.
“Grandad!” shouted Freddie, sliding across the seat towards the door “Are you alright?! Here, grab my hand!”
Harry pulled himself upright with a groan and swung himself quickly inside, banging the door shut behind him.
“It’s alright Freddie,” he panted, grimacing as he moved his shoulder to start the engine, “We just need to get home now. Hold on Freddie, we’ll be safe inside before you know it,” and so they set off slowly, Harry gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder and the old truck began to bump and slide down the treacherous road back to their house.
(to be continued)