The old man shuffled toward the barn through newly fallen snow. The full moon was perched in the now cloudless sky, lighting the way for him. He held the front of his tattered overcoat closed with one hand, the other was buried in a side pocket. The vapour from his breath fogged his round spectacles but it did little to hinder his advance.
The old man stopped in front of the barn door and fumbled with the latch. He strained to push the door on it’s slide. It stopped with a dull clunk as it locked open. The old man paused then, and turned to look back at the main house. There was only one light on that he could see. A single frosted window let forth a gentle glow. The chimney above released a thin wisp of rising smoke.
It hadn’t been an easy conversation. The old man’s wife, who had been so supportive for so many years, was less than thrilled with the news that he was planning on heading out that night. He promised her it would be the last time. She pointed out that the promise had been made before. This time was different he had said. She gave no response. He knew that she understood what was to come, but that she did not want to believe it.
The old man turned back to the barn. Sitting in the light of a moon beam was the cutter. It had been his first. That was a long time ago though. Now it was an antique, held together with little more than a few stray nails and faith. He walked past empty stable stalls, six in all, and layed a shaking hand on the simple curved dash of the sleigh. So many years, so many memories. He looked to his frail hand, pail and arthritic, and wondered where the time had gone. A lot had changed since the old girl had been out last. In fact, he had a hard time remembering much that was the same. For better or worse, the world wasn’t what it used to be.
The old man was distracted from his train of thought by the scraping of hooves beside him. He turned and moved slowly toward the last of the stalls. Standing near each of the stable gates were two great caribou. Sinewy muscles flexed beneath glossy coats, their large ornate antlers bobbed slightly with the motion of their heads. The old man spread his hands out, gently scratching each of their chins. They were the last, the only who had stayed.
No words were spoken. None were needed. This was it, the last trip, whether he liked it or not. Come what may, it had to be done.