Rudolf’s Merry Heavy Christmas
Rudolph © St Nicholas, I guess. Maybe Corporate America. What a shame.
Wait! Hah, caught you, didn’t I? I’ll bet that, even if you’ve never even seen snow, let alone on Dec. 25, what you’ve got sitting in your head, frozen like the insides of a paperweight, is a White Christmas. Almost certainly Christmas Eve. It’s night time. Everything is peaceful, and everyone loves his or her fellow animals. Little angelic kiddy-winks (whom normally you can’t stand, unless its them up against a wall in front of a firing squad, are tucked up quietly in their beds. (The only night of the year they’ll go to bed early, even if they do get up and start Christmas a mere two hours later). Snow is falling heavily outside, muffling the entire world in a magical silence. Thick flakes drift down in front of glowing windows, swirl around expectant chimneys, and settle like icing on the Christmas cake. The night is crisp, the sky full of stars, each one symmetrical and utterly unique, drifting down onto the earth below. Even though you might not have seen it before, your mind’s eye has. There’s something truly beautiful about a time like this. Something expectant. And then, in the depths of the glittering blue darkness above the sleeping, peaceful world, there comes a sound from the North, carried on the wind…
“Bah!” he snarled at the world in general, in case it was listening. He swilled his in-flight humbugs from one cheek to the other, yelped as his tongue got pinched in a groove his sucking had worn, then very, very carefully, stuck his tongue out and watched the two half-sucked death-traps drop into the night. He hoped that they hit someone.
He suddenly realised that he’d overshot his next destination. Muttering imprecations to himself, the reindeer banked hard into the wind to cut his velocity, and let the naturally un-aerodynamic shape of a reindeer kill his altitude. Making it a leisurely descent, he took the time to examine destination 378,526A. The same as most other destinations by the look of it: 4 walls (stone by the looks of it), a roof (composition indeterminable), a chimney (smoking: this was going to make his eyes smart), lots of snow making everything nice and blurry, and slippery at the same time. Mind you, the place was a little more isolated than most- not another house within view. Well, that might be nice for Mr. Privacy down there, but it only made his job more onerous. Wonderful. Ah well, at least the glow from the lit windows on the snow outside was pretty. And provided good landing lights, too.
Now just gliding on air the reindeer made his final descent and trotted onto the ridge of the sloped roof, perfectly balanced and light as a feather. He grinned smugly. There, nothing to it. He took a step towards the chimney. A hoof slipped out from under him, and he went sprawling down one side, feeling as though he made the building shake. Slate, he noted groggily in the streaks cleared of snow by his body. Ok, so maybe it did need a little respect…
The building carried on shaking, and there was a groaning noise from directly under him. The patch of roof he was lying on gave way. Rudolf did what any flying reindeer would have done in that situation. Screaming “AARGH!” very loudly, he plummeted like a boulder into the room below, hitting the ground very hard.
With a heartfelt groan, Rudolph opened his eyes. It ached even to do that. Luckily, the rubble from the ceiling had partly broken his fall, although it looked as if the landing would have been softer without it: the crushed remains of a sofa were poking out from the cataclysm. Dazedly checking that his antlers were still intact, he sat up and scanned vaguely around the room. Weird: things looked so different from when you came down the chimney (especially if you got stuck- now THAT was embarrassing). When you weren’t in a rush (or trying to extricate your antlers), you really got to notice things. It was quite a big room, even with the rubble taking up a good fraction of it. Warm, too. The walls were plain white, and the floor was made of flagstones, mostly covered by a thick wool rug. A massive fireplace in the wall gave everything a rosy glow. No stocking over the mantle-piece, but there was a very impressive fir-tree in the corner, spritzed with all kinds of spangly things. There were still a couple of big, cushy armchairs knocking around, and some massive cushions on the floor, ideal for sprawling on. Just his luck that he’d missed them. There were even a couple of large, patterned hanging rugs splashing colour on the walls.
There was also a large wolf standing there gaping at him. The reindeer jumped where he sat, nearly falling over again. Whilst he was trying to get his heart rate under critical levels, he stared back. The wolf was VERY large. It had the thickest fur-coat that Rudolph had ever seen. And it was black. A deep coal black, so dark that it was quite hard to make out details, almost like a living silhouette. But once your eyes adjusted, you could begin to make out different tones of black within it: slightly paler guard hairs overlaid the dense, inky undercoat. The massive ruff around the canine’s neck was almost like a layered necklace of different blacks, a headdress of midnight peacock feathers. The reindeer dragged his gaze onto the wolf’s features, registering a chiselled muzzle, quite small ears, and a lambent pair of eyes so golden they nearly glowed. They were the colour of honey, the kind of honey you’d get if the bees used rum as nectar. Tracking quickly over the rest of the wolf again, Rudolph noticed powerful hindlegs tapering to long paws, broad shoulders connecting bulky arms and a large barrel-like torso. He blinked, and did a double take. Hang on… it wasn’t the wolf’s chest that made it look barrel-like. It was his STOMACH. This wolf had a belly bigger than his! It swelled smoothly out from his chest, which had surprisingly little definition, curved out like a water balloon, then dived back in again at his groin. The lower edges of it rubbed against his upper thighs, giving the impression of added plumpness. In fact, forearmed with this knowledge, Rudolph could spot the subtle signs of excess poundage all over the wolf, well disguised beneath that soot-coloured pelt.
It was still staring at him. Rudolph really hoped that wasn’t a hungry stare. He watched it give him a similar treatment, the wolf’s eyes rapidly sweeping up the slightly podgy reindeer. He definitely didn’t carry weight as well as the wolf, even though he was almost exactly the same height. Too much tummy spilling out into his lap. Tough, chewy hind-legs (a good, solid rump though), and gamey arms attached to quite skinny shoulders for a reindeer. Definitely pear-shaped. The eyes reached his face, and stopped abruptly. For a few seconds the wolf stared fixedly at the reindeer’s face. Then his jaw dropped open.
“R-Rudolph?” Scrambling upright on the pile of debris, the reindeer gave a slightly waxy smile. He was developing acute claustrophobia, and preparing to make a rapid departure (preferably, but not necessarily, via an exit).
“Umm… yes, that’s me.” The wolf shook himself to his senses, and the dazed look in his eyes evaporated and hardened into incredulity. He relaxed, and his demeanour became far less threatening. His voice lost the distant tone, becoming deeper and a lot more personable.
“Hang on a minute. Are you telling me that you’re Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” He tapped his own nasal equipment for emphasis, a glistening black coal on jet velvet. Rudolph guilty rubbed his own scarlet conk.
“Uhh… yeah, I guess that’s- Hey! How do you know who I am?” Rudolph scowled, and the wolf gave a small start of surprise. Wordlessly, he looked up at the gaping entry hole in his ceiling through which thick, fat flakes of white were falling.
Rudolph’s face shaded to match his nose. “Uhh… sorry about that” he mumbled almost inaudibly. The wolf transferred his gaze from the ceiling to Rudolph, up at the ceiling again, then back. Then he gave a helpless kind of half-shrug, which suggested that his brain had given up looking for logical explanations.
“Don’t worry about it.” He seemed to have something on his mind. Coughing, the wolf shuffled his paws and smiled sheepishly. “Uhh… you’re a little larger than I thought-”
“That’s it!” Rudolph’s temper snapped. “Ok, so I’m fat!” He bellowed at the night sky, wobbling his stomach for emphasis. “I’m unfit! I’m a porker! I take the hint! I need to go on a diet! Are you satisfied now? Just stop reminding me of it every 5 minutes!!” The wolf blinked.
“I don’t think you need to diet.” Rudolph stared at him, mouth open in mid-rant, feeling the steam leaking out of his tirade.
“Oh. Well, anyway, you’re not exactly Mr. Trim yourself…” was the only thing that he could think of to say, sullenly.
A slightly embarrassed silence fell. Uncomfortably, Rudolph harped back to his original unanswered question. “How do you know who I am?” The wolf, who’d been smiling quietly to himself, blinked again and looked genuinely bemused.
“Are you serious?”
“Do you only answer questions with more questions?” Rudolph snapped, narked. The wolf suddenly grinned and leaned forwards.
“What do you think?” Rudolph held up his hands in exasperated defeat, and the wolf continued. “In answer to your question: who doesn’t know about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?” The aforementioned moved forwards, about to commit murder with his bare hands, before the wolf realised what he’d done. “I mean, c’mon, you’re famous!” he explained hurriedly.
That stopped the reindeer dead in his tracks.
“Famous?” He looked thoroughly shocked at the idea. “Me?” And then, because it needed to be asked, “Why?” The wolf stared at him for a couple of minutes. With a slightly unreal feeling about the whole thing he passed over a bunch of Christmas cards. The reindeer took them and scrutinised them hard. “What’re these? Those looks like- Hey, that’s not me! That’s just some badly drawn reindeer up in the sky with a- HUH?” He stared at the wolf over the cards, confusion mingling with paranoia. “Is this some kind of weird paparazzi stunt?” Bewilderment was also blossoming on the wolf’s face as an important observation began to sink in.
“You mean you didn’t KNOW?”
“Know WHAT?” Rudolf almost wailed.
“That you’re a holiday celebrity! You’re synonymous with Christmas! People even sing songs about you.” The reindeer carried on staring at him. The wolf sighed and, risking utter humiliation and a sore throat, demonstrated:
“‘Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shin-ey nose-’”
“‘And if you ev-er saw it, you would even say it glows-’”
“WHAT!?” The cards went flying. “For God’s sake, it’s NOT MY FAULT! I can’t help it! It’s a genetic condition, ok? I was BORN with the darn thing! You wouldn’t laugh at dwarfs because they were short, would you? You wouldn’t sing little songs about Down syndrome!”
The wolf’s eyes bulged in mortification. Rudolph began pacing, breathing hard. “You want to know WHY it’s so red?” -the pause wasn’t even long enough for the stunned wolf to draw breath- “It’s sensitive to cold! And in Lapland it’s always FREEZING!” It was true: even in the mild remaining warmth of the room, Rudolph’s nose had dimmed considerably, out of the fluorescent, but was still a delightful cherry colour. “And it’s a virus magnet! If you want any little sniffle or sneeze that’s around, just look me up! I have one of the world’s biggest collections!”
Unable to stop himself, the wolf carried on with the next line of the ghastly litany, although he was just reciting words now, a look of horror on his face.
“‘All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names-’” the reindeer let out a strangled gurgle, eyes bulging.
“Oh, well of course they’d remember to put THAT in, wouldn’t they?” His face screwed up into a thunderous scowl. “Oh yes, my schooldays were a barrel of laughs: ‘Neon-nose’, ‘Street-lamp-shcnozz’, ‘Strobe-snout’… why’d they even bother mentioning my name at all? They could have just stuck with ‘'Ole Lightbulb’!” By now, Rudolph unconsciously had a hand pressed over the offending olfactory equipment. The wolf also had his paws over his muzzle, clamped there in a desperate effort to shut up before the next line made the guy suicidal. Who knows what he wasn’t allowed to play? ‘Traffic-lights’ in particular must have been very dull. Well, at least the wolf definitely didn’t have any doubt that this WAS the famed Reindeer of so- the famed Reindeer. No one could get that incensed about it otherwise.
When he could trust his tongue to heel, he risked putting a paw on the traumatised reindeer’s shoulder.
“I… I don’t think anyone realised…” His visitor didn’t respond, still staring into the past. Abruptly he surfaced from the dark, seedy alley that was memory lane, lit only by the glow from his own nose, and looked around for something to change the subject. He found it.
“What’s your name?” The wolf smiled laconically and held out a large, meaty paw. After a slight hesitation, Rudolph gingerly shook hands with the predator who’s roof he’d knocked a hole in.
“I’m Charcoal.” Rudolph coughed, and Charcoal’s smile took on an ironic twist. Rudolph didn’t have the copyright on embarrassments. He obviously knew the signs as well as Rudolph. “I come from a family with an uncomplicated sense of humour.”
“Oh no, it’s… it’s a good name. Weir- I mean unusual. Unique, even. Appropriate. Suits you.”
“Nice tree, by the way. Very… glitzy.” Rudolph turned and looked at the wolf with sudden interest. “Hey, maybe you’ll be able to tell me. I’ve always wondered: just why does everyone have one of these things in their homes? Is it for good luck or something?” Charcoal’s smile dropped, convinced this time that the reindeer was yanking his choke chain. Rudolph carried on looking at him for a few minutes. “I’m serious!”
“Oh come on! You MUST have these back in Lapland!” Charcoal was beginning to feel severely rattled: certain comfortably assumed facts were turning out to be about as solid as snowflakes.
“Oh yeah, we have lots of trees. It’s just back there we keep them outside and don’t string… stuff… on them. We call them ‘for-ests’. Why do you keep yours indoors? I mean, do you build the houses around them, or do you just commit genocide so you can stuff pretty boxes under them once a year? I thought is was just something we didn’t do in Lapland.”
“It…” the wolf stopped and thought frantically. Rudolph blinked.
“Well?” Charcoal was still thinking fast, but it wasn’t doing him any good.
“They’re… traditional.” He finished lamely. “Like the cards, and the song. It’s just… part of the Christmas Spirit.” Rudolf snorted.
“Well, whatever that is, make mine a triple. Don’t talk to ME about Christmas. The one night a year where you most certainly AREN’T allowed time off. And it seems to be one of the only nights of the year when EVERYONE ELSE seems to go to out and party.”
The wolf flinched as, too late, a couple of insignificant tumblers clicked in his mind and produced a nasty suspicion. If, to you, the whole point of Christmas meant being a high-speed world-wide delivery service, would you necessarily bother to find out about all the stuff that’s meant to happen afterwards? And would someone think to tell you?
“Don’t you… get presents too, then?” Rudolph blinked.
“Why should I get presents? I just deliver them. And who’d send me presents?” Who indeed?
“Ah…” No tree, no presents. Charcoal searched desperately around for other Yuletide typicalities. “What about dinner?” Now Rudolph looked at his as though he were mad.
“Well of course we have dinner. Du-uh.”
“All you can eat pizza-and-Chinese-takeaway, for 20 Krone a head at the ‘Sleigh’n Bear’.”
Charcoal cringed, but Rudolf wasn’t paying much attention. He was scowling bitterly down at his hooves, which his ample stomach was successfully trying to get in the way of. “Not that I’ll be having that this year.”
He gave a small start as a black paw appeared in his field of vision and lightly patted his protruding belly, making it quiver gently. He looked up to see the wolf grinning at him.
“Like I said, I don’t think you need to diet. Like you said, neither of us is exactly svelte. Besides, no-one can diet at Christmas.” He’d just had an idea. Well, the true meaning of Christmas was giving, wasn’t it? He shivered, shaking flakes of snow off his fur like particularly crisp dandruff. He started ushering the reindeer out of the now-icy room. “How would you like to stay and try a real Christmas dinner, Rudolph?” Both winced a little at the cumbersome-sounding name.
“Eh, just call me Rudy. All my friends do.” He thought things through for a second, weighing up spending a few more hours in a warm house with an apparently friendly wolf and getting a decent meal, or battling through sub-zero hurricanes to deliver shiny boxes to hundreds of grotty-nosed kids on a couple of humbugs. It was literally a second. He shrugged. “Fine by me, Charcoal.” He winced again and glanced at the wolf, who gave him a wry smile as he shepherded them both out into the hall.
“I defy you to come up with a corruption of my name that doesn’t sound worse than the original…”
* * *
The door to the kitchen opened, and Charcoal ushered Rudy inside. The reindeer blinked, as the kitchen was almost as large as the living room had been. And far, far warmer. Heat radiated off a huge old farmhouse range, the kind that was once used to heat all the hot water in the home, as well as to do all the cooking on. Rudy could almost feel his fur fizzling as water evaporated off him. He looked again, and saw that in fact it had been modified, so that the size was the same but the ovens now ran on electricity. It seemed to be jammed full of stuff. There were large working surfaces all around the inside of the walls, as well as one of the biggest sinks he’d ever seen, along with a nearly-walk in fridge (brr!). All were currently in use. But what really drew the eye was the kitchen table, a great wooden rectangular edifice that filled about half the floor-space by itself. It was currently bare except for a snowy linen tablecloth. Two immense benches, which wouldn’t have been out of place in a castle’s Great Hall (or possibly as part of its Walls), were on either side of it. There was no doubt that this was the heart of the home. It was so… inviting.
The wolf chuckled.
“You’re in luck. I always prepare my Christmas Dinner early, so as to be fully ready on the day.” He stepped aside and took a deep sniff, swelling his chest so much that he nearly left the floor. “Mmm… it smells like things are almost ready, too…” Rudy stood in the doorway, his celebrated nose twitching as enticing smells curled around him, hanging in the warm air like a nasal film. He barely recognised a one of them, but his mouth was watering all the same. It must be something like hypnosis the reindeer decided as the scents almost physically dragged him in, his nose bypassing his brain and heading straight for his legs. He had to duck to get his antlers through the door, but it was amazingly wide: wide enough to get his large set of horns through without even having to turn his head. Grinning, Charcoal motioned to one of the benches, whilst padding energetically over to the range. Rudy was quite surprised at the transformation: his up-until-now incredibly laid-back companion seemed far more animated and enthusiastic when it came to food. Another little detail caught his eye as he gingerly sat down at the massive table: the way Charcoal moved. The wolf had a smooth rolling gait to his step, each one flowing into the next with rapid grace, apparently without him thinking about it. But the interesting part was the swaying motion involved, to compensate for the sizeable tummy sitting atop his lower limbs, which bounced and jugged firmly as he moved. It was as though he were on the deck of an invisible sailing ship (Rudy had seen enough old films to recognise it) which was slowly pitching and rolling underfoot.
Charcoal reached the oven and pulled the door open. A great cloud of savoury steam engulfed the wolf, who appeared more silhouette-like than ever. Now Rudy was dribbling in anticipation. Whatever this was, it smelt GOOD! The wolf emerged from the steam, carrying- the reindeer had to double take. It was either a roast pterodactyl or the largest turkey that Rudy had ever seen in his life. Charcoal was straining under the weight! Staggering over, the wolf set it down on the centre of the table with a grunt of effort, a bottle tucked under his arm. Rudy just stared at the culinary marvel. The turkey was about 2 foot across and 3 long, packed full of meat by the looks of it. Layered on top like a second skin were thick, salty rashers of bacon, which had cracked open, fat bubbling and oozing over the surface. Around the base, swimming in the lost fat and juices sweated out of the turkey during cooking were tens upon tens of chipolattas, stacked around it like a beaver’s dam of logs. Their skins were crispy and a dark, winey red. Chunks of onion and garlic also drifted like small icebergs through the bubbling, steaming broth that filled the base of the pan. There was a delicious, caramel-tinted heat haze coming off the thing, permeating the air around it. The reindeer couldn’t tear his eyes away. With a nod of satisfaction, the wolf pulled the cork out of the bottle he was carrying, and upended it onto the turkey. Rudy jumped back a little as red wine gushed all over. It hissed on the surface of the meat, creating another dense, heady cloud of steam. Rudy closed his eyes and swayed on the bench, noticing for the first time that he was sitting in a slight dent, as though worn into the wood by an extremely large bottom. His ears heard the wine flow into the pan and mix with the juices already there. It sizzled as the heat of the pan evaporated it, and reduced into gravy with the turkey in situ. The wolf grinned at the reindeer over this little piece of theatre, and took another deep sniff himself. His stomach emitted the loudest and hungriest-sounding growl that Rudy had ever heard. More than a growl, it was a shout. A deep, subterranean gurgle that sounded like a chasm had opened in the wolf.
“Oh, excuse me!” Rudy grinned and waved it off amicably as the wolf grinned sheepishly. His insides were seriously considering doing the same thing. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was until the food was on the table. Now this was what he’d call a meal.
To his surprise, the wolf padded back over to the range, detouring via the fridge. He returned bearing a vast, shallow tray entirely crammed with vegetables of different sorts. In his other paw was clutched what looked like a whole leg of ham, larger than the wolf’s thigh, with a bite taken out of it. Down came the tray onto the table, and again a great waft of savoury smell enveloped the reindeer. Oh… he had to lick his lips and swallow or drown in drool. In the tray lay a small field of potatoes, cut roughly in halves, and another small field of…
“Parsnips.” Charcoal grinned even more as he whipped one up and crunched it in his jaws. Both had been roasted to perfection: their outsides were crisp and flavoursome, charred brown or black in some patches (which only adds to the flavour), whilst the insides were moist and filling. A layer of juice swilled in the pan, along with the remaining hint of oil.
Rudy gaped up at the wolf. This was more than a meal, it was a feast. They were looking at serious leftovers here. He blinked, noticing that there was now a second gash missing from the ham. Even as he watched, Charcoal almost absently lifted the meat up to his jaws and took another, almost dainty bite, which nevertheless amply filled his muzzle. He smiled over at the reindeer and gestured with the ham, swallowing his mouthful.
“Just something from the fridge to stop the rumbling.” Rudy blinked again in naked astonishment. Good grief. The canine didn’t seriously plan to eat that entire ham as a snack before this huge meal, did he?
But under the reindeer’s widening eyes, that was exactly what he did do. But what was more incredible still was the sheer size of the meal being put before him. The soot black wolf made trip after trip to the range: the food just didn’t seem to stop coming. Next to appear was a whole cooked goose if you please! Drenched in white-whine gravy, the giant bird was packed around with smaller wings and legs, mixed with generous chunks of fruits, such as apple, pear and plum. Its skin was glazed dark brown with sugar and vinegar, and this time the smell managed to make both stomachs rumble. Another trip revealed two massive pans of winter vegetables, which the wolf decanted into two big earthenware bowls before setting on the table. The base of each circular bowl was bigger than both Rudy’s hands held side by side, and each was like a hemisphere. The vegetables piled up over the rim of both, like mountains. One was a glistening pile of sliced carrots, fried in garlic butter. The pungent, enticing smell went straight to Rudy’s taste-buds. The mountain’s twin was dark green. Brussels sprouts piled high, radiating warmth. They definitely weren’t Rudy’s favourite vegetable, but then he didn’t have much experience past easy-to-prepare cooking or easy-to-buy junk-food. Out of curiosity, he pinched the top one off the pile and tried it. It practically melted on the tongue, all of the detestable crunch cooked away. He sucked at it and felt it dissolve, spilling a quite passable flavour into his mouth. He savoured it a moment before swallowing, then opened his eyes to find another dish on the table! The smell made his nose twitch, and he had to sit on his hands. It was a fish. Maybe several. Smoked salmon, chilled in the fridge! It was accompanied by a bowl of cream cheese, so thick that the spoon stood upright in it.
The reindeer switched his attention between the heaped dishes colonising the table and the amazing creature that kept conjuring them up. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. The wolf seemed to delight and luxuriate in every dish, leaning over and savouring the smell, carrying them close to his body as though to capture the heat it was losing (and whenever possible pinching bits as he set it down), all with an incorrigible grin on his muzzle. And on top of this, with every trip more and more of the ham disappeared! What was more, with every bite the wolf seemed to become more and more involved with what he was eating. Quite quickly the dainty ‘nibbles’ turned into eager, hungry lunges for massive mouthfuls, each bite with more abandon than the last. He seemed to entirely forget Rudy’s presence, his thick shadowy tail wagging nine to the dozen as he swaggered from one end of the kitchen to the other, transporting food. His cheeks bulged heavily, and the reindeer could see grease glistening at the corners of his mouth. The wolf’s eyes seemed to glow with delight as they remained fixed on the food.
As he neared the bone of the ham, Rudy’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets: Charcoal’s stomach was growing bigger with every fliptop-jawed mouthful he took! The wolf’s middle bulged as the great hunks of meat reached and filled it, swelling and widening into a true ball before the reindeer’s very eyes. The wolf’s progress had slowed now, as though distracted by his growing belly. The last things he brought to the table were the condiments: salt, pepper, mustard, a jug of cranberry sauce, white sauce, a large crusty loaf of bread with butter, along with plates and utensils. He vaguely set the armful down, and returned to the subject that was really on his mind. Rolling the bone in his paw, he expertly scraped every last remaining scrap of meat off of it and into his jaws. With an exaggerated motion, he chewed the huge mouthful with deep, lusty grunts of pleasure, casually licking the bone and letting it fall to the ground. He leaned back against the worktop, eyes shut, with both paws cradling his swollen gut. Then, before Rudy could pick his jaw off the table, he groped sideways and grabbed a pitcher of cream. Lifting it to his lips, still with his eyes closed, Charcoal proceeded to chug the entire thing. His belly stretched even further. Too far, surely- he was going to burst! He must do! Rudy sat, transfixed with horrified fascination at the sight. A soft moan escaped the wolf’s cream-filled muzzle as he drank, and a little trickle ran down the side of his jaw. Rudy flinched, ready to duck.
Miraculously, Charcoal reached the end of the pitcher. He bonked it down on the worktop and, uttering a groan of half-ecstasy half-agony, leaned backwards, panting and holding his belly. Saucer-eyes riveted on the wolf, Rudy eventually scraped the bench back, and crept over to him. He hardly dared to breathe in case it proved too much. The wolf seemed utterly oblivious, even when Rudy was standing in front of him as though hypnotised. With absolutely no idea as to why he was doing it, the reindeer skittishly placed a hand on the underside of the gut bulging before him. Charcoal gave an inaudible moan. The skin was smooth and taut, but stretched over great depths of softness beneath. And it was warm. Rudy pressed up a little, taking some of its weight. His hand dented into the flab, which quivered. The wolf sucked in a breath, making Rudy flinch and drop the tummy. It bounced sluggishly, like a sack of mash. The wolf sighed quiescently, and his paws began to rub that swollen tummy. Dazedly and with shaky hands Rudy joined in, gingerly exploring the dense, fuzzy under-fur covering it. It sagged and rolled under the impetus, as though it were being kneaded. Charcoal let out a deep, throaty rolling noise, a continuous growl of delight, and his own hands dropped to his sides. The sluggishly wagging tail sprang to life again, and he swayed on his paws. The reindeer’s hands worked up his belly, and the wolf arched his back further, poofing his stuffed stomach out as far as it would go.
Abruptly, Rudy came to his senses. His hands stilled. Slowly, the wolf seemed to come down off whatever reinforced cloud had been supporting him. His eyes flickered open, and saw Rudy gaping at him, hands on his stomach. He looked as though he were caught in a pair of headlights. There was a long pause, in which time seemed to stretch like an elasticated waistband, becoming a tourniquet of white-hot embarrassment. . A blush crept over Charcoal’s cheeks like a nova. His black fur turned it a deep burgundy. No one could have looked more mortified if they’d tried. Amazingly, Rudy thought light-headedly, he wasn’t blushing, even in this truly surreal situation. This encounter had exposed him to all kinds of weirdness; this seemed practically normal. Yesterday he’d have already been out of the door and halfway to Japan. He slowly looked the exceedingly sheepish wolf up and down, then laughed nervously. He patted the protruding gut, which bounced.
“I’ve never seen anyone enjoy their food so much before.” The ice broke, and Charcoal giggled. He gave the reindeer a wobbly smile.
“I g-guess I owe you an explanation.” Rudy surprised himself.
“Hey, it’s your house, and I gate-crashed. I don’t have the right to comment on your table-manners.” Charcoal burst out laughing, and the atmosphere relaxed perceptibly. He straightened up, and Rudy had to dodge the resurgent stomach, his antlers whipping round in a dangerous arc of their own that made Charcoal flinch himself. “Whoah! But I’m starting to see why you’re so… metabolically challenged.” He risked another pat on the wolf’s belly, who’s blush briefly returned. But only briefly.
“I’m a gainer,” he announced as he went back over to the table and set it properly, “I’m into being fat, and deliberately fattening myself up.” His pudgy guest, who was just settling back down opposite, stared at him.
“…?” Even after his most recent experiences, the concept was a little hard to swallow. He’d never heard of anything like it. Hell, he’d never even considered such a thing. The wolf nodded in assurance, his self-assurance returning. Rudy puzzled about things for a bit, marvelling at this truly alien idea. “Are there a lot of people who-?”
“Who have the same slightly bizarre interests as me?” Charcoal grinned humourously. “More than you might think.”
“But why?” The reindeer tried to articulate his confused response. “I mean, you end up FAT.” The wolf just chuckled.
“So? The eating’s good. No going on diets. And you must have noticed some of the benefits…” He leaned back a little on the bench and stretched. His chunky arms reached up and supported his head, while the bulk of his torso rose, belly pushing his chest upwards and expand. Rudy watched the gut lift ponderously off the wolf’s lap, changing shape and jiggling softly as it did so. The small rolls on the seated wolf’s sides seemed to swell and jog in consensus with the rest of his form. It was the most indolent motion that Rudy had ever seen. He found himself smiling at the reference to his own plumptitude.
“Heh, if only. But I can’t compare to you.” Charcoal’s laughing grin widened even more, and this time Rudy did blush slightly under his fur. “I’m just out of shape.”
Rudy found his attention dragged irresistibly back to the table, which was groaning under the weight of its contents. Good grief. It was almost more food than he’d ever seen in all the rest of his life combined. His stomach rumbled, but he suddenly felt incongruous, and more than a little self-conscious.
“I… really shouldn’t stay,” he forced out reluctantly, “I mean, I can’t eat a dinner you made for the rest of your family. It’d be wrong.” Charcoal looked at him, scratching his belly and smiling. He waved a paw soothingly.
“No need to worry pal: no family’s coming round. I’d cooked this all for me.” He grinned as Rudy goggled. “Heh, all part of being a gainer, I’m afraid. Christmas is one of my major poundage-packing times. But I’m more than happy to share this time around. In fact, I want you to share this with me. It’s almost a crime not to have ever had a traditional Christmas dinner!” Rudy stared at the spread again, and admitted grudging respect and awe at this wolf’s complete, unashamedly gluttonous intentions. Wow- hang on…
“Did you just say ‘traditional’, Charcoal? As in, everyone has a meal like this at Christmas?” he grinned disingenuously, disbelief on his face. “You’ve got to be kidding. It’s huge!”
“Well…” Charcoal scratched his nose, “it’s a little bigger than usually eaten, admittedly, but not by much, and most people have all these ingredients in it. It’s one of the major pigging-out seasons of the year.” Rudy stared at it all again. The turkey, the vegetables, the sausages, the stuffing… The expression on his muzzle solidified.
“Right then…” He deliberately hitched the bench closer, and picked up his cutlery. His face eloquently stated that, in his opinion, not having had Christmas dinner wasn’t a crime; but having Christmas dinner whilst certain other hardworking reindeer had subsisted on measly humbugs and cold takeaway most definitely was. It was time for seconds. Charcoal grinned sympathetically and picked up the carving knife.
“Would you like leg or breast?”
It was the most incredible meal that Rudy had ever had. He heaped his plate as high as possible, from every dish he could lay his hands on, until he couldn’t fit anything else onto it or even lift it. Large helpings of turkey and goose, with extra stuffing and chipolattas, competed with mounds of potatoes, parsnips and carrots. He larded it all with hot gravy, his stomach practically aching with anticipation. He schooled himself to patience as Charcoal helped himself to a similar, possibly even slightly more modest plateful, and then pour both of them a large glass of fruit juice. The wolf clinked his glass against Rudy's.
“Bottom’s up!” He swigged about half of it down and then, his palette whetted, set to with gusto. The first mouthful made him moan out loud, as the taste of turkey filled his mouth, and the tangy gravy smell filled his nostrils from the inside. Oh, WOW… The meat was moist to perfection, breaking up as his tongue explored both the taste and the texture. Then he blushed as Charcoal smiled at him, but refilled his fork, loading it as full as possible this time. Potato, gravy and bacon. The salt stung the inside of his mouth, and he could taste the pork-fat dribbling down his throat. Now he knew exactly why Charcoal had lost himself in that ham earlier. The only people who wouldn’t have were those without taste-buds. He mashed the potato with his teeth, the crispy skin crunching wonderfully. He felt it mix in with the gravy into a hot, delicious mash that rolled itself into a ball and sped down his throat, leaving his tongue almost weeping with delight. He sat still for a second, savouring the tantalising memory of the mouthful, preserving it, drawing out the seconds before he had another one, like savouring between sips of a rare and fine wine. His eyes absently scanned the mounded dishes on the table, not even dented by his onslaught, and he suddenly realised the deep, warming pleasure that comes from knowing that you’ll always be able to have another mouthful.
The next was as gorgeous as the last, the taste and feel of parsnip embodying all that winter food should be: rich, tasty, warming and filling. This time the fork didn’t stop moving, and he was cramming the next mouthful in practically before he’d swallowed the last. Echoes of the old clanged and merged with the tastes from the new. The reindeer rolled his eyes, taking another glug of juice to wash it down, and felt an almost carnal desire for more. Rudy’s eyes met Charcoal’s, and in an unspoken agreement both began eating faster. The reindeer felt like he couldn’t stop himself, and then decided that he didn’t want to: he had a mountain of food before him, more plentiful and delicious than he’d ever had before in his life. He could have it all. He wanted to glut! He began shovelling in forkful after forkful, chewing methodically, wallowing in the experience. His insides, which had felt almost perpetually cold for his entire life, at Christmas more so than usual, finally began to warm up as the meal began to fill his belly. The first plateful emptied with almost dizzying speed. Without hesitation he reached for seconds and saw the wolf opposite- wiping his plate clean with a hunk of bread- grin at him. Rudolph grinned back and cut a whole leg off the goose.
His second plateful took longer, but with the first a good, warming load of ballast in his stomach, Rudy really felt capable of enjoying this one. He worked through it stolidly, enjoying being able to eat at his own pace, without having to gobble before the meagre supply vanished or because someone wanted him to do something. Even so, almost before he realised it the second plateful was gone, so he fixed himself another. And another, and another. The reindeer ate and ate and ate and ate, with plenty of everything and more besides! His glass was kept topped up by Charcoal, who was watching Rudy with something like fascination in between his own gluttonous exploits. This reindeer ate almost as well as he did!
As the meal progressed, they both became a lot easier in each other’s presence. Absorbed in the meal, they barely spoke a word, but they didn’t feel the need to, either. Plates, dishes and jugs migrated between them almost continually, one supplying what the other needed. The niceties of table manners became a mere formality and, impeding the progress of food to stomach, were dispensed with, replaced by comradeship and affability. Food began to travel faster, directly from serving dish to muzzle. A warm glow of satisfaction enveloped both eaters as they continued to stuff their faces, the kind that comes from a marvellously full belly, hunger totally satiated by excellent food. Almost unconsciously, Rudy stopped eating because he was hungry and started to eat for the sheer pleasure of it. There was plenty more food on the table, so why leave any? He spread himself a little wider and went back for 7ths…
Eventually, Rudy reached for the cream cheese bowl, armed with a lump of bread, and came up short as his stomach bumped solidly against the edge of the table. Grunting in surprise, he scraped the bench back to give himself more room, and reached again. He was successful, but felt his gut roll heavily across his thighs up to just above his knees. Whilst scraping the dish out, he leaned back and inspected himself in surprise. Charcoal inspected him too from across the table, surrounded by the picked clean remains of the turkey and the parsnips: Rudy had just finished up the goose. He could hardly believe it. Where had the reindeer put it all? Well that was a silly question, because he could see where: a huge, swollen belly now amply filled the reindeer’s expanded lap. Not only that, he had grown substantially wider, filling the dent on the bench with his broad posterior. His sides were padded out to match it, dipping in at the top of his torso under his armpits, where a small roll of added fat was forming, as well as a warm muffler around his neck. His arms were chunkier too, but his legs especially seemed to have expanded to accommodate more stomach on top of them. And with grease-stained cheeks still stuffed with bread, his features looked far fatter than before, too: that impressive pair of antlers, set above each ear, was starting to have a run for its money. His snout seemed plump too: it made his nose look smaller, and in the heat of the room the infamous honker was now merely red. In short, he looked very full. The swollen, equally greasy canine leaned back and rubbed his even larger, more bloated-than-his-companion’s body. The bench creaked under his weight, and Rudy chortled, swallowing his mouthful and looking over at a now downright fat wolf, who’s every feature was blatantly plump and chubby-looking. Then he turned his attention to the massacred remains of the feast. He actually looked surprised at the devastation! And yet he’d eaten so much, making it look so natural too, weighing in on the eating stakes like a real pro. Charcoal smiled at the childlike, astonished look on the reindeer’s muzzle, who then stared back down at his bulging belly as though seeing it for the first time. Admittedly, it was incredible how easily weight had taken to Rudy: almost like his body had been designed to be ‘larger-framed’ all along. Rudy returned equally large eyes to the table.
“Did we eat the whole thing?” Charcoal chuckled and hauled his frame upright, a sight so impressive it made Rudy lean back a little from across the table.
“Yep. And almost completely 50-50, too.” He watched as an unexpectedly pleased grin spread maniacally on the reindeer’s features.
“That’s impressive!” He leaned back on his bench, gingerly rubbing his stretched stomach as Charcoal slowly and quietly cleared away around him, being careful not to bump into anything or swing too far to one side or the other. Something else seemed to have changed about the reindeer during the meal. He seemed far less defensive. Happier. Jolly, even. Rudy chuckled to himself over something, and the wolf watched his frame shake, big belly bouncing in counterpoint. The bench creaked under Rudy’s behind. Definitely jolly.
He sagged back, stifling a loud belch.
“That,” he announced happily, “was the most fantastic meal that I’ve ever eaten!” Charcoal looked up from foraging in the fridge.
“Not quite.” He corrected.
“Huh?” Rudy craned his head backwards as far as he could to get a glimpse of the wolf. “Whaddya mean?” As his head got back, the upside-down wolf loomed over his vision and swept past.
“Well, you haven’t finished it yet. There’s dessert.” The reindeer heard a heavy tray clonk onto the table.
“Dessert? After that lot?” he asked in disbelief. Then he gave a contemptuous snort, winching his head back up against the counterweight of his antlers. “Hah! Nothing can live to a meal like that, not even…” his eyes fell on the dessert, and his voice trailed away.
It was big. It was dark. It was round. It looked brick-solid and mouth-wateringly moist. It smelt fruity. It smelt rich. It came with a mug of brandy, a bowl of dark-brown buttery-stuff, an ice cream tub and a jug of single cream. Rudy’s jaw stayed hanging open. Charcoal grinned at the reaction.
“Christmas pudding!” he announced proudly. “Home made.” He then proceeded to douse it in brandy, light a match, and promptly set fire to it.
“Ooh…” The reindeer exclaimed, staring dumbfounded at the blazing cannonball in the centre of the table. The puddle of alcohol in the dish beneath it crackled merrily, and bright flames licked around the sides of the pudding, following waves of brandy as it flash-evaporated. The ruddy light briefly illuminated him, picking out his plump cheeks, bright red nose and tree-like antlers before flickering grudgingly and dying.
Rudy carried on staring after the flames had died as though he expected it to explode or blow a party popper.
“What the hell was that all about?” he said in bewilderment.
“Tradition.” Charcoal grinned. “And watch out for the thru’penny bits inside it.” Rudy carried on staring, wondering at what point in the evening one of them had lost their marbles. In the end, he was forced to shrug helplessly as Charcoal produced a knife to cut the extraordinary pudding with. Conscience made him put in a small protest.
“You seriously can’t expect me to eat any more, do you?” He rubbed his swollen gut. “I’ll burst!” Concentrating hard, the wolf sliced through the radius of the hot pudding. He drew the knife out, sultanas and candied peel sticking glutinously to it. The smell drove Rudy’s nose wild.
“Not even served with brandy butter?” the wolf asked. Rudy looked from him to the pudding, in an agony of indecision.
“Oh what the hell!” He nearly shouted after a long, expectant pause. He got a thick slice, with a chunk of fridge-solid brandy butter sitting at its peak, the brown sugar sparkling like a rare mineral in rock strata. As he watched, the heat melted the bottom, and the lump slowly slid down, leaving a glistening, luxurious trail and a smell that wrapped around his nose and tried to stick it in the pudding.
3 minutes later, he was asking for seconds, this time with chilled pouring cream. Another thick slice filled his bowl, infusing the cream that swamped it with a golden brown colour. For those of you who have had the privilege of eating plum duff, you will know, like Rudy now did, that it is the most delicious, heavenly food to ever pass your teeth. Bursting full of juicy fruit, heavy suet and sugar, the whole concept of Peace and Goodwill to all Men was produced after eating Christmas pudding. The 3 ghosts would have found life immeasurably easier if they’d given Scrooge one of these before their spiel. It is satisfaction and Christmas Cheer made solid, improved by mixing with a few spices and a tot of rum. In the end, Rudy had 3 slices (about a quarter of the pudding), the third with vanilla ice cream melting all over it. And (to his uncomprehending delight) he even found 2 of the thru’penny bits.
When his bowl was licked clean, he finally leaned back and groaned slightly, casting a regretful look at the remaining pudding (not very much: Charcoal liked it almost as much as Rudy did). It felt like the cannonball had been transferred from the plate to his stomach: weighing more in his belly and more filling than the entire preceding dinner put together.
“Urgfff…” he half-groaned, half-wheezed, forced to poof his expanded stomach out further and hunch over it. “God… that’s a… good… pudding…” Wordlessly, Charcoal staggered to his feet and went over to the range again. Interestingly, the invisible ship was rocking and rolling a lot more than before, as the wolf had to swing his legs wide to accommodate the bulge of his midsection. His body bounced a whole lot more, too, reminding the reindeer of one of those bouncy balls that just keeps on going and going. Rudy guessed what was coming next, and moaned. “You… you can’t be serious. There’s… more?”
He heard the wolf chuckle breathlessly.
“Just one more thing… chocolate log. An old family tradition.” he came back into view with a plate, on which was a giant Swiss roll. This time Rudy didn’t protest. He sat, easing his hands over the stretched skin of his belly, preparing himself for the last course. He was determined to finish this meal now, no matter what. And good grief that looked worth risking explosion for. Carefully, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, Charcoal sawed the end off. It revealed a light, crumbly chocolate sponge cake rolled into a cylinder and glued together with thick chocolate sauce. The sauce, warmed by its spell on the hob, oozed out from between the leaves like Jamaican tree sap. No one could have resisted a sight like that, least of all Rudy. He had two slices, both thicker than his hoof was tall. He ended up with hot chocolate goo smeared all around his muzzle, almost antler to antler. It was almost tastier cleaning himself up that it had been eating the cake.
Charcoal leaned back on the bench, cradling his imposing belly: the bench was pushed back at least two feet away from the table by now. His paws supported the broad ball that filled his lap, and prevented it from spilling over the sides. He chuckled at the sight of the well-and-truly pogged reindeer sprawling out over the bench opposite.
“I take it you’d rather skip the cheese and biscuits?” Rudy blinked and moaned, leaning back further and trying to balance his gut. Charcoal refilled his glass with the last of the fruit juice, making sure there was a lot of ice. “Would coffee go down well?” Rudy’s ears twitched in decline. “An after-dinner chocolate?” Amazingly, Rudy actually paused and considered, before the lead-heavy feeling in his belly made him shake his muzzle. But it was still quite an effort. The wolf chuckled sympathetically. He’d outdone himself this year, even by his own capacious standards. “Then I guess we’d better move on to the next tradition. Can you reach over behind you, pal?”
Grunting, Rudy blinked and leaned back, trying to twist around to squint behind. He’d had to push the bench so far back for his stomach the sideboard was easily within reach. Sitting on it where there had been nothing before, obviously placed there by this sneaky friend of his, was a large sparkly cylinder, each end pinched off about a 5th of the way down and tied with ribbon.
“Eh?” With a groan of effort he reached over and picked it up, feeling his gut shift grudgingly in his lap as he did so. It was surprisingly heavy, both stomach and the artefact. He examined it curiously. The shape was… familiar. He’d seen them before, but he didn’t have a clue what they were for. All he knew was the name, seen on a box of slightly smaller and cheaper-looking examples: ‘crackers’. He handed it over to Charcoal, but the wolf seemed to want him to keep it. Finally Rudy gave in and, the thing still between them, asked. “What’s it for?”
“You pull it,” explained Charcoal, smiling. “And it goes bang.” Rudy looked alarmed.
“What, like a gun? Or a bomb?”
“No! Like a… cracker.” Charcoal again finished lamely. “And whoever’s left with the biggest piece wins.”
“Whatever’s inside.” Rudy’s ears perked up, and he looked at the cylinder with sudden, interest. He shook his end, but nothing jingled. He tried to peer down the tube, devoured by curiosity. If he’d known that before, people would have come down on Christmas day to find a whole lot of open crackers.
“There’s something in it? You get to keep it?” The wolf grinned and nodded encouragingly.
“Right- 3!” Rudy pulled hard on his end. Laughing, Charcoal responded by heaving back on his end. There was a brief, hilarious see-saw across the table, the unusually tough card straining to hold itself together against the tension. Redoubling their efforts, both furs pulled and leaned backwards, putting their entire bodyweights behind it.
That tore it. Literally. The card failed and ripped asunder, one end of the ‘fuse’ yanking out with it. There was a noisy ‘CRACK!’ and both participants fell over, Rudy accompanied by a crack of his own: the bench snapped under his bottom as it was flipped over, dumping the dumpy reindeer onto his back.
Charcoal, more used to the weight than Rudy, managed to lever himself upright and stagger around the table, supporting himself partly because he was so enlarged from before, and was struggling under the load, and also partly because he was laughing too hard to stabilise himself. But he caught sight of the sprawled reindeer and the laughter died away to anxiety.
“You ok, Rudy?” The reindeer groggily nodded and lifted a hand to wave, only to come up with it clutching the remains of his part of the cracker. Most of the cracker. Something red flopped out of the end. He looked at it, a huge, cheek-aching pumpkin grin spreading unstoppably across his face.
“Heey… I won! I won I won!” He burst into totally delighted laughter, trying to sit up and only flopping back down again, giggling like a child. Charcoal grinned as well, in relief. Abandoning getting up, the reindeer turned his attention to the contents of the cracker. Shaking it, the red something flopped and unfurled, revealing itself to be a plain, holly-berry coloured baseball-style cap, the insides of which were padded. The look of delight that crossed his face would have warmed any mother’s heart. “Wow! My first present ever!” He tried to tug it on over his antlers, an operation which failed miserably, but which sent him off into fits of laughter again. In the end, he compromised by cramming it onto his head between his antlers and grinning broadly. It seemed to want to stay, although it was a little askew as a result. Straightening didn’t have any effect, so the reindeer proudly left it there.
Charcoal laughed and applauded, then offered his chunky paws to help Rudy up, incidentally treating the reindeer to a looming view of his bulging middle. The be-capped reindeer snickered, then had to reach around his own hefty paunch and grab hold. The wolf heaved, amazed at just how heavy his new friend was al of a sudden. Eventually he had to resort to the cracker manoeuvre again: leaning backwards and hauling with all his might before the awkward dead weight on the other end of Rudy’s arms finally got hoisted skywards. Immediately he was vertical, the reindeer teetered, unable to balance on his own two hooves with his belly acting as ballast in front. Fortunately, he toppled against Charcoal, who had quick enough reflexes to save both of them from the floor.
“Oof!” Rudy exclaimed, then chuckled sheepishly. “I think I should’ve skipped that last helping of Log…” The wolf chuckled agreeably. Rudy groaned a little as he felt his belly settle downward, and apparently set like concrete into a wrecking ball at his front. And he just felt so darn heavy all over, like he had a lead lining under his skin. It pressed down through his legs, making his knees ache. He had to stand widely, trying to reduce the pressure a little, and to give his gut the room it was suddenly demanding. His stomach chimed in with a heartfelt little groan of its own, and seemed to expand under his fur. He staggered a little against Charcoal’s supporting bulk, which fortunately had the inertia to resist his own. The wolf looked sympathetic.
“Think you overdid it a bit?” The reindeer nodded, and assayed a stumbling step, only having to hurriedly step back before he fell flat on his nose. His sooty companion carefully wrapped a chunky arm around Rudy’s broad back, gripping him under his far arm. He let out a soft groan of his own as his belly pressed sideways against Rudy’s, and had to rearrange itself. “Erf… I never thought I’d say this again, but I may have done a little too well myself.” He eyed the snapped bench, which had escaped Rudy’s attention. “Feel like sitting down somewhere more comfy?” The reindeer felt instantly grateful, and nodded.
“Comfy, yes. Sit down… oof… lie down!” His belly joggled against Charcoal’s as he pawed at it. The wolf smiled.
“Then walk this way. Literally…” He took a slow step, waiting for Rudy to join in. The reindeer cottoned on quickly, and wrapped his own chunky arm around the wolf’s back. Squeezing the wolf’s side to signify that he was ready, the overstuffed reindeer took a hefty step to match the overblown wolf’s.
Looking like a pair of exceedingly round soft-toys, using each other for mutual support and lurching occasionally, the pair made their slow, lumbering way around the table and out of the kitchen. The doorway presented some problem, and required some stomach sucking, but they managed to slip through without major incident. Rudy banged his antlers, though, even after checking that he could get through. Fortunately, the hall was wide enough to accommodate them both side by side. Breathing quite heavily, Charcoal nodded at a second doorway opposite to the uninhabitable living room.
“The den’ll be nice and soft,” he panted. Rudy was just relieved that it was so close: carrying himself around like this was too much like hard work! They managed to take the four steps necessary on four trembling legs. With Charcoal leading, they barged the door open and staggered in. Spying a sofa like a thirsty camel spies a nice, shady oasis, Rudy gave a groan of relief and collapsed onto it, without bothering to bend his protesting knees. Charcoal sank down next to him. Well, more onto him.
“Erf… move up, pal!” There was a brief period of wriggling as both struggled to fit expansive bottoms between the arms, then a deep, simultaneous sigh of relief as they sank back into its welcoming support. Both bulks expanded, and the sofa creaked as they pressed up against it and one another.
“Groo…” observed Rudy. The sudden exertion had left him winded. Charcoal nodded emphatically, tongue hanging out as far as it would go.
“Y’should… NEVER… try an’ move… so soon after a big meal. Y’need at least… four hours…”
“I… I didn’t think it was possible for someone… someone to eat so much…” Charcoal nodded again, shutting his eyes and very gently massaging his groaning girth with his paws.
“Too much… always do it at Christmas…”
“But… Wow… that was good…” Charcoal’s eyes snapped open again, and he craned his head to look at the other occupant of the overburdened sofa. Rudy was slumped down as far as he could go in it, head crammed on his chest with his antlers pressed up against the back of the sofa. His rotund legs were stuck straight in front of him as his knees cooled off again. A massive, silly grin spread over his muzzle. The wolf nudged him playfully.
“Welcome to another Christmas tradition.” The reindeer grunted enquiringly, unable to scrape the energy together to move his head. “The after-dinner slump.” Rudy chuckled, and wriggled a little in his seat.
They stayed like that for quite a while. Now that they weren’t moving, their bodies had a chance to accommodate the massive volume of food residing in both swollen bellies. The deep, over-stretched ache rapidly faded as both middles relaxed, and was replaced by a wonderful, all-encompassing feeling of lassitude and complete satiation. It was accentuated by the raging body-heat generated by two such large forms in such close confinement, loosening their hides up for greater expansion. The sides of both bulks squished together, distorting around each other like two waterbed-sized hot water bottles. Rudy felt like he could never be hungry again. A distinctly pleasant notion. He couldn’t even remember what it was like to feel cold, either. Almost instinctively, he copied Charcoal’s earlier gesture, and stretched. He felt his body rise and shift with tectonic slowness, rubbing and scraping against the recumbent form of the exceedingly comfortable-looking wolf beside him, who chuckled and leaned out of the way a little. Rudy stretched out as far as he could, shaking loose a wide, jaw creaking yawn in the process. At the same time, his joints popped, and all the tension went out of him. He sank back down. Despite the wolf’s most sincere efforts, Charcoal’s bulk had inevitably swelled into the space vacated by the reindeer, and had to be squeezed out in a war of attrition. Fortunately, Rudy’s body had gravity on its side. He felt his body sink back into the dent in the sofa, moulding into a more comfortable shape. Flesh rolled against flesh, making him chuckle.
Feeling a good deal better, he lifted his chin off his chest, flicked his cap back and looked around him with more interest. The room was small-ish, with a round leaded window at each end. They made it look like a ship’s cabin. Large, round oil-lamps dangling from the beams gave the room a warm glow, illuminating those areas not reached by another immense fireplace. The sofa was set across the room from it, but the reindeer could still feel warmth seeping into his hooves. Another dense rug insulated the floor. Here those immense cushions had bred and multiplied into a large heap in front of the fire. The walls were wood panelled along the bottom half, reflecting the warm tones of the fire, whilst the plain white walls glowed a mellow gold. In a small corner alcove, Rudy could see a round basin and an old-fashioned pump. There was a low table to Charcoal’s left, and on the wall behind them was a bushy, ornamental wreath of fir and holly, as well as greenery covering the mantle-piece. There was a dish on the little table, with things in it. Rudy’s treacherous nose twitched.
“What’re those things?” he reached across the recumbent wolf to point. Charcoal roused himself and peered over. Then a great fat grin split his muzzle, and his glance flicked over the reindeer.
“Mince pies.” He picked up the dish, which was within easy reach, and held it out. “Help yourself.” Each was the size of the round between closed index finger and thumb, and half as deep. The pastry was a light brown colour, with the top of each smothered in sugar. Rudy was about to clutch his stomach and groan in violent protest at the thought of more food when it interrupted with a faint gurgle. The brief pause made Rudy realise that, in fact, he wasn’t stuffed to bursting anymore. Full, yes; content and comfortable, definitely; stretched out big and wide almost ridiculously, but not going green at the sight of another scrap of grub.
The sweet scent of sugar spiralled beguilingly up his nostrils, and his hand hesitated. Well, just trying one wouldn’t hurt, would it? He didn’t have to eat more than one. His hand descended on the dish. The reindeer nibbled gingerly on an edge, then smiled at the sweet, crumbly taste of short-crust pastry. He risked a larger bite, and ‘oohed’ as mincemeat spilled out. The taste was reminiscent of Christmas pudding, yet sharper and more concentrated, the fruit swelled in brandy, and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. The remains were gone in another two quick bites. Rudy felt the morsel slip down his gullet… and according to his stomach, vanish. He didn’t feel it hit. Incredible: good food that didn’t fill you up. He smacked his lips, thinking wistfully of that little taste of Christmas. His hand was still raised. He blinked, realising that Charcoal, with suspiciously good foresight, was still holding the dish under his nose. Grinning sheepishly, the reindeer took another and tucked in. The wolf joined him, downing his in two large ‘unk’s. Then, for luck, Rudy had a third whilst Charcoal cadged a second, playfully licking all the sugar off the top with his long pink tongue before setting too with his teeth. And it was at that point that Rudy began to feel something. It wasn’t the same as getting full: more just… topping up. The mellow sensation spread from his stomach to his hooves and back up to the tip of his antlers. He grinned and gave his bulging belly a little wobble.
“Heh, I never realised how much Christmas revolved around snacks and eating,” he observed. Still with his cheeks bulging, the wolf grinned back and nodded, also mellowed out. Then his eyes sparkled mischievously and, leaning backwards in a luxuriant, lazy motion, snagged the bottom of the wreath and pulled it over the back of the sofa. Rudy saw that it was decorated by more than just ‘sparklies’: there were little red-and-white sticks hooked through it, as well as a couple of bags of suspiciously large and yellow coins. And it was literally festooned with fake fruits that twinkled in the light. Apples, pears, plums… Rudy had seen a lot of that kind of thing before; plastic shells covered in little glass beads or glitter.
“Care for some?” The way the wolf was grinning made Rudy take a second, hard look at the wreath. It was real fir, and- he sucked at a finger- real holly too. There was some other wood mixed in as well: a spruce framework held together with willow twigs. He turned his attention back to the decorations. The canes were made of candy, he knew. The coins he couldn’t begin to guess at. The fruit… looked different from how he remembered seeing it. This stuff was better quality, and life-sized to boot. He could almost smell it… Blinking and adjusting his cap, Rudy reached over and tugged a piece off. A fake pear. The wolf’s grin became gleeful. On impulse the reindeer took a bite at the side. His large flat, teeth cracked through a hard covering layer of sugar, then scythed through juicy flesh until they met up again, and his mouth was suddenly full of pear-taste. It was real!
“Good grief!” Unadulterated sweetness trickled over his tongue. It tasted as though the pear had been saturated with sugar until it had crystallised on the surface along with the natural fruit sugars. Something made him suspect that these were a tradition of the wolf’s own. The reindeer stared at it for a few moments, and then took another large bite. Juice trickled down his chin, and he grinned at the wolf with full cheeks. Charcoal laughed delightedly and helped himself to an apple, which he scrunched noisily down to the core.
Companionably, they began to work their way through the wreath, eventually dragging it off the wall and setting it between them. They finished off the remaining mince pies, too. The coins, to Rudy’s chocoholic delight, turned out to be thick, heavy discs of the Brown Stuff wrapped and stamped with foil. He robbed the bank and swallowed the evidence, then tried to commit forgery by reassembling the empty cases and fobbing them off on his innocent friend, little suspecting that the wolf was as criminally minded as himself. The candy canes were peppermint, which made a nice refreshment after the constant supply of sugar. Speaking of sugar, the wolf had put some serious effort into those fruits: some were white sugar, but some had been marinated in dark, unrefined sugar, giving a treacly tang to whatever bit of fruit it was gracing. And there was one more surprise. On closer inspection, a few definitely looked like fakes, lacking a sugar coating or even authentic colour. But they were apparently edible. The reindeer first encountered a plum of this sort, and caused him no end of perplexity. He sniffed hard at it, and his muzzle lit up in a manic smile. Giant marzipan fruits! He bit it in half, and moaned happily as the sticky, almondy flavour infused his taste-buds. He felt half-drunk on food. The other half was solid marzipan, the vibrant purple food colouring on the surface giving away to that distinctive yellow hue through the inside. He could see his teeth marks in it. Mind you, Rudy also had a big surprise for the wolf, who heard unaccountable crunching and grazing noises from the other side of the wreath.
“Hey, go easy on those candy canes, Rudy. You get the best out of them if you suck them.” There was a pause, and a disembodied chortle.
“… M’m not eatin’ a c’ndy c’ne.” Blinking, Charcoal leaned forwards in his seat, then compromised by pushing the foliage back. It revealed a large gap in the greenery ring with the herbivorous Rudy’s head stuck through the middle, munching happily on a luckless frond of fir. The wolf burst into howling fits of laughter, and was quite incapable of finishing his glacée orange. Rudy finished it up for him.
It finally hit Rudy that he was full. Incredibly full. Stupendously, seam-splittingly gut-burstingly full. He paused in the act of licking his candy-cane, and stared at it, conscious of the fact that it he tried to finish it, something somewhere would rupture. By now, the golden surroundings of the room had taken on a hazy tint, the crackling, dancing flames of the fire reduced to shuffling, hypnotic motes of light. Charcoal was cuddled dreamily in the far corner of the sofa. Rudy was lying back, feet dangling over the side of the sofa, resting his head on the taut, ponderous hillock of wolf paunch, which rose up almost to the recumbent canine’s head height. His own stomach was no less titanic. He gripped the remains of the cane in a pudgy fist, but when a huge yawn overtook him, it slipped from his nerveless fingers and fell onto the few shredded remains of the wreath that lay on the floor.
“Oof… M’m tired…” Rudy mumbled to his chest. Charcoal, who had caught the yawn, blinked sleepily. He felt as though the sandman had hit him over the back of the head with his sack.
“Erf… S’m I. S’late.” He looked down the ‘V’ of the reindeer’s antlers, absently picking a few tangled sprigs of holly out of them. “Are y‘gonna head off, or would y’like to spend the night?” Rudy had clean forgotten about leaving. He decided that getting up was probably now beyond him at this time. He fought to keep his eyes half open.
“G’d. Then you take the sofa, n’ I’ll take th’ cushions.” With a grunt of effort, he manoeuvred the reindeer’s head and shoulders upwards onto his elbows, shuffled across on his bottom, and literally rolled off the sofa onto the waiting pile of cushions. His belly quivered like pudding. He rolled, and lay belly-down in the position he’d fallen in, and stretched all five limbs. He yawned again, a huge, flip-top canine yawn, tongue protruding out ridiculously before curling backward into the black cave of his muzzle. His toes and elbows popped, and his tail curled into a tight knot before relaxing and flopping limply over his legs. It thumped once or twice in a drowsy rhythm. Unable to support himself, meanwhile, Rudy sank down into the warm patch vacated by the wolf’s exceedingly ample bottom. The seat cushions, which had just plumped up again with a sigh of relief, let out a silent groan of air as they were once more crushed by a vast weight. The reindeer’s head was supported by the low, padded arm of the sofa, whilst his belly provided ample heat retention. His cap slipped forwards over his eyes. He left it there. There was a scraping noise, and Rudy swivelled his gaze sideways. Charcoal used a bloated, chubby leg to slide the copper fire-guard into place. Immediately, the room dimmed and cooled pleasantly. Rudy realised that the oil lamps above had almost burned out, now. He felt sleep stealing up over him, creeping out from his very bones and in from the cool, peaceful depths of the dark, snow-bound forest outside. He didn’t care. He was safe in here. In the gathering gloom, his fuddled mind remembered something, something he had to do. Something important… oh, yes…
“M’rry Christmas.” He shuffled down more, and fell asleep. On the cushions, Charcoal stirred and rolled over to face him, a big smile on his sleeping muzzle.
* * *
Rudy woke up, and through his eyelids saw cool white light, the unmistakable kind you see through the curtains on a freshly snown day, and you just know that the world outside your room is full of whiteness and magic. He didn’t open them, but snuggled down deeper into his warm, cosy… bed? Sofa. Delicious, fuzzy-edged memories of last night crept over the reindeer as he dozed, tantalising and lovely. A big, lazy smile washed over his face, and he lay there blissfully until he heard quiet, yet heavy, footsteps padding into and around the room. There was a soft scrape, then a wooden clonking from the fire, pretty soon followed by a renewed crackling. The space beyond his eyelids lightened a little. Arching and stretching onto his back, Rudy surfaced through the final layers of sleep and opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was the wolf standing by his feet. Compared with the first time he’d seen him, Charcoal was now immense. A hog-dog. A whale-woof. Every bit of him bulged with blubber; thick creases in his fur had deepened into midnight abysses, or in some extreme cases disappeared altogether, flattened out by the sheer pressure of fat beneath his skin. His arms and legs were huge, chubby affairs, and by the looks of it he was sporting a rear not out of place on a truck. His coat glossed with health and vitality in the pale, wintry light filtering in through the windows, seeming almost blue in the shadows. Rudy chuckled at the sight. The wolf’s friendly smile, made all the more so by big chubby cheeks surrounding a stubbier muzzle, deepened.
“Good morning and Merry Christmas. I thought you were going to sleep all day. And you can’t talk!” He reached down. Rudy’s eyes followed the movement, then had to stop as it fell behind the curvature of his body. He then felt it plant flat on his gut. Literally flat: it was lying horizontally, presumably on his ‘summit’. Rudy couldn’t even see the fingers. It made his bellybutton into a covered well, a deep column of air surrounded by the warmth from the wolf’s fat paw. Instinctively he squirmed. Even that gentle motion made his gut bounce and wobble like a giant ball of jelly. He felt it bulge and push against his thighs, filling his entire lap even when lying flat out. He filled almost the entire seat space of the sofa. Obviously his digestion had been on overdrive whilst he’d been asleep. Rudy squinted sleepily at his new real-estate. Charcoal removed his paw and watched him, not sure how he would react. The reindeer chuckled.
“You know how you were talking about wanting to be fat last night? I see where you’re coming from.” He reached down and jiggled his underbelly with his chunky hands, revelling in the sudden bulk and inertia it contained. He made a deep, happy sound in his chest, a rumble of contentment. Then, with a bit of effort, he got his legs off the seat and swung himself upright under the wolf’s grinning gaze. His belly bounced and spread, forcing his knees wide. Rudy rubbed his eyes, then slapped his gut experimentally, and smacked the taste of sleep from his muzzle. He looked down at his lap-full of reindeer-rotundity, and laughed.
“Boy, that’s the first party where I’ve woken up with an overhang.” Charcoal cracked up along with him.
Then Rudy hauled himself upright with a grunt of effort. He had to brace his legs to remain in an upright position. Fortunately, he felt far lighter than he had just after dinner. Well, maybe not that much lighter, but the weight was a lot less noticeable, now more evenly distributed. With a little effort he stretched loudly and slapped the underside of his new gut a couple more times. He looked pleasantly surprised as it swayed and wobbled heavily, as though still half asleep. Warmth still radiated off it, and a sense of heaviness inside suggested that digestion hadn’t quite finished. .
“Mmm…that feels good!” Charcoal just smiled. He’d had exactly the same experience when he’d woken up, although he’d done it more quietly and in a different room to his guest. An even better moment had been seeing the huge, chubby reindeer still on the sofa. Now that he was standing up, gravity made his excess weight look even more impressive. The weight had settled differently on Rudy than they had on Charcoal, and he was busily inspecting himself. The ripples from his belly-slap carried on past his stomach, and made a juicy set of love handles quiver ripely along his sides. At their base, the doughy handles and hefty tummy both rolled smoothly into the reindeer’s much expanded hips. His behind had plumped enormously, now a massive, broad fuzzy pair of buttocks that could probably fill two or more airline seats with ease. His tail was a small flick of paler brown, half-swallowed up by the surrounding blubber. These themselves ruckled and rolled into huge, ham-like legs at least twice as chunky as they’d originally been. The added weight pushed them wide apart, even then rubbing together a little way down his thighs. His legs tapered down bulkily, past chubby knees, down to normal looking hooves, although they might have themselves widened: it was impossible to tell. His upper half was also very heftily plump, but not quite to the same scale: heavy rolls had grown under and around his arms, which were equally broad. His shoulders were made bigger by adipose, too, nearly swallowing his neck save for a warm, swaddling roll of fur underneath round cheeks. The reindeer was most definitely bottom heavy. But he didn’t seem to give a damn in the slightest. The reindeer suddenly noticed that his cap had fallen to the floor during the night. Automatically, he crouched down to scoop it up. He suddenly felt the extra weight hit him like over 500lbs of lard, and he sat down very heavily. The log fire collapsed in a brief shower of sparks. Fortunately, his landing was very well padded. After a few moments bobbing on his plump bottom in surprised, the reindeer laughed and flicked his cap between his antlers. Then he patted his caboose.
“Barely felt a thing!” he announced. “And if I’d done that yesterday I’d have been bruised up to my shoulders.” Grinning, the roly-poly reindeer patted his belly again. It gave a small rumble, which greatly surprised its owner. “I don’t believe it: I can’t be hungry again!” he laughed, and accepted Charcoal’s grinning offer of help upright.
After he’d cleaned himself up and shared a surprisingly light breakfast with his new-found friend, Rudy reluctantly decided that he’d have to go. Even when viewed in the most generous light, he’d got a little delayed. The front door swung open, building up a pile of snow on the outside. The reindeer strode out into the bright, chill Christmas morning. His hooves kicked up little showers of snow, and his body bounced a little as he walked. He was learning quickly, though, and his new waddling gait was actually starting to pick up a touch of swagger. He shivered briskly as the cold prickled his skin (a sight that he could have charged for furs to see it again, just because they wouldn’t have believed it), but it didn’t penetrate any further than that. Insulated with inches of Christmas corpulence, his insides stayed as warm and toasty as if he were still in front of the fire. Charcoal followed, wrapping a thick, pale scarf around his neck and watching the reindeer with interest.
“How’re you going to get back, then?” Rudy looked at him and chuckled.
“Aren’t you forgetting? I’m a celebrity! I can fly!” Charcoal looked at him sceptically. His expression said that he was prepared to believe a lot of things, but he drew the line right there. Rudy raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Don’t believe me, huh? I’ll show you!” Charcoal smiled boldly.
“A fiver says you don’t.”
“Alright then.” Rudy grinned smugly, then warmly shook hands with the wolf. “Thanks again for dinner. I’ll drop by again sometime soon to pick up my fiver. That’s about… 12.43 Krone. Have it changed for me.” Charcoal said nothing. Rudy turned, waved over his shoulder, then set off at a trot. He rapidly built up speed across the clearing until he hit a canter, huffing and puffing heavily. Then there was a sudden burst of power and the reindeer launched himself into the sky…
… Ending up face first in a snowdrift, ploughing a wide furrow behind him as he did so. Charcoal padded up and grinned smugly at the broad backside sticking out of it.
“Told you so. And that’s about 12.43 Krone you owe me. Have it changed into Sterling.” The obese, too-fat-to-fly reindeer surfaced from drift, caked chin to antler in snow, spluttering and laughing hard.
“Ok! Ok! You win that one…” he got up and brushed himself down (there was a lot of him to brush down), then looked ruefully up at the sky. “Guess I’m a little over the believability limit.” He placed both hands on either side of his gut and squeezed, making his belly bloop out between them. “Methinks I’m grounded for a while. I’d better call home. Do you have a phone I could use please, Charcoal?” The wolf obligingly pulled out a mobile, seemingly from nowhere. When Rudy looked surprised, he grinned.
“Hey, I may be out here all by myself pretty much, but I’m not stupid.” It was his turn to look curious. “So what’ll happen when you call in? They’ll send out someone to pick you up?” Rudy snorted.
“More as not they’ll tell me to hitchhike home. They’ll say it’s my own fault.” He paused in the act of dialling, looking very thoughtful. “Tell you what, I’ve had a better idea…”
Five minutes later he completed dialling the number.
“Hello? Flight control? Is that you, Sidney? Hi Sid, it’s me, Rudy. Yes, haha, long time no see on your little tracking screen. I got… umm… grounded… last night. No, my nose didn’t go out. And my belly didn’t stop me taking off!” He snorted, and rolled his eyes. “It was in the storm. Yeah, I got shook up quite a bit. So you know how I’ve got some leave saved up? Don’t argue, just say yes. Good, because I’m taking it. That’s right, I’m having a holiday at Christmas. Novel idea, isn’t it? Tell all the lads that I’ll be back in a couple of weeks or so. By bus. Yeah, thanks for the sympathies, Sid. Give them my best, and I’ll see you then. Oh, and Merry Christmas!” He rang off with an evil grin. “He’ll think I have concussion.” Rudy turned to Charcoal, smiling sheepishly. “Thanks for letting me stay. I haven’t had a holiday in ages. But are you sure you don’t mind? After all, I’m a reindeer that’s too fat to fly! And besides, I can’t pay you that fiver yet.” The big fat wolf next to him just smiled and put a paw on the reindeer’s chunky shoulder, taking the proffered phone back.
“It’s my pleasure, pal. And hey, I’ve got a new friend staying over for Christmas.” Grinning, he reached over and lightly poked the reindeer in his pot-belly, who chuckled. “Plus, I finally have a holiday idol that I can look up to. And,” he added impishly, “someone to help me fix the hole your dramatic entrance left. You’re at home on a roof, aren’t you?” Rudy burst out into a deep belly laugh, and started to follow the wolf back inside. He prodded his belly himself.
“Only if you want the whole thing to be demolished.” A few moments later, he slowed thoughtfully and said, “You know Charcoal, there’s still one Christmas tradition that I’m dying to try.” The round black wolf stopped and crouched down to pick something up, looking quizzically over his shoulder at his friend. He was completely out of traditions.
“What’s that, Rudy?”
“Boxing Day leftovers!” Rudy guffawed loudly, then went sprawling as he was hit by a large, and perfectly aimed, snowball. As he picked himself up, Charcoal tore back across the snow, laughing evilly. The reindeer hollered and chased after him as fast as he could, whooping and pelting him with handfuls of snow the whole time. His big fat gut bounced and leapt like a salmon as he ran, and his snow-chapped cheeks were glowing as red as his incandescent nose.
It was shaping up to be a very Merry Christmas indeed.