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#103

The Owner's Favor



 
               Wet snow fell on the snow-covered woods from a flat-gray, late-morning sky. Paige and her father, in snowmobile suits, boots, gloves, hats, and scarves, trudged calf-deep through the snow as the wind rattled through the tops of the tall, bare trees all around them. Paige’s father carried a black and orange chainsaw and Paige pulled a long toboggan over the snow behind her. There was a coil of twine tucked inside the inward curve at the front of the toboggan.

                “I don’t see any Christmas trees,” said Paige. She was hot, sweating inside of her layers despite the falling temperature. “All I see are Oaks and Elms and stuff.”

                Paige’s father stopped for a moment, breathing hard, his scarf icy where the condensation had frozen over his mouth. “Paige, I specifically brought you instead of your brother because I expected you to complain less. Don’t prove me wrong, OK? We just have to keep our eyes open.”

                “But we’ve been walking for so long,” said Paige, her voice a hairsbreadth from a whine. “And the further we walk, the further we’ll have to drag the tree back to the truck.”

                Paige’s father hefted the chainsaw up to his shoulder. “On the way back, I’ll tie the chainsaw to the toboggan with the tree so you don’t have to carry or pull anything.” He turned and began to make his way up a long, low rise, leaning forward into each heavy step. It wasn’t until he was almost to the top that Paige started after him with the toboggan.

Paige was a poor student, overweight, ungainly, and twelve years old. In her previous eleven Christmases, Paige and her father had always gotten their Christmas trees from a lumpy, slack-jawed man who wore sweatpants and a tank top whatever the weather, never seemed to age, and ran his operation out of a tiny camper in the Diamond Foods parking lot from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. But this year, when Paige’s father had told her that they were going to cut down their own tree, Paige had been thrilled. It seemed like something people in Christmas movies did. She had been less thrilled when her father explained that they were only cutting their own tree because they couldn’t afford to buy one this year, and then she hadn’t known quite how to feel when her father told her they would be sneaking onto private property to get the tree and that it would need to be a stealth mission in order to avoid trouble with whoever owned the property or the law. Paige was proud to be her father’s chosen accomplice, but she was also scared of getting caught, and knowing that her father was consciously choosing to do something illegal made her feel weird.  But so far the mission hadn’t been frightening or exciting or even a bonding experience. Just tiring and frustrating .

“Hurry up,” said Paige’s father from the top of the rise. “There’s a perfect tree just down the slope.”

“You go start cutting it down,” said Paige, the cold air making her lungs ache. “I’ll catch up.”

Paige’s father nodded once and disappeared down the other side of the rise. As soon as he was out of sight, Paige turned around and sat down in the snow, her feet pointed downhill. She wrapped the rope attached to the toboggan around her wrist and laid back, closing her eyes and feeling the falling snowflakes melt on her face.

A minute passed. Paige heard her pulse thumping in her ears, heard it slowing as her breathing steadied. Then, from over the rise, she heard a loud, metallic snap and a cry of pain that she couldn’t imagine coming from her father, but who else could it be? Paige scrambled to her feet and untangled her wrist from the rope, letting the toboggan slide backwards down the hill as her father shouted in anguish. “Paige! Paige, where are you? I need you!”

Paige bent at the waist and hurried the rest of the way up the rise on all fours. When she got to the top, she saw her father lying on his back at the bottom of the slope, one arm thrown over his face, the chainsaw stuck in the snow next to him with its blade sticking straight up in the air. His right leg was caught in a metal trap, enormous and rusted, clamped halfway between his ankle and his knee. Ten yards away from Paige’s father, there was a healthy little pine tree, around six feet tall, its boughs evenly laden with a picturesque layer of snow.

“Paige!” her father shouted again.

“I’m coming!” said Paige, and she stumbled down the slope, running up next to her father and dropping to her knees by his side. “I’m here,” she said, breathless.

“How does it look?” asked her father.

Paige didn’t want to inspect his leg, but she took a deep breath and looked. The trap was still mostly buried in the snow where it had been hidden. Its jagged teeth were buried in the fabric of Paige’s father’s snowmobile suit. She couldn’t tell how deeply they were embedded in his leg. She didn’t see any blood but she suspected there was plenty inside the suit.

“It’s broken,” said Paige’s father. “My leg. I heard it break. I felt it.”

“What are we going to do?” asked Paige.

“Give me a second,” said her father. “We’ll try to pry the trap open.”

Paige was skeptical. “Do you think we can?

Her father sat up, his teeth gritted and bared. “I don’t know,” he said. With his legs straight out in front of him, he bent forward and grabbed the two sides of the trap. “Help me, Paige.”

Paige put her hands next to her father’s on the trap. “Here we go,” he said. They pulled together, straining to pry the jaws of the trap apart, but it wouldn’t budge. “Enough,” said Paige’s father. “Enough, enough.” He laid back on his elbows, panting.

“Sorry,” said Paige, sitting back on her heels.

“Not your fault,” said her father. “I can’t get any leverage.”

“What’s this?” asked Paige, crawling around to the other side of the trap. She fingered a short length of chain emerging from the snow and attached to the base of the trap. She took hold of the chain and stood up.

“Careful,” said her father.

“I’m being careful,” said Paige. “I just want to see where the chain goes.” Trying not to jostle the trap, Paige pulled up on the chain. A few more feet slid up out of the snow. Holding the chain tightly with her left hand to keep slack between her and her father, Paige pulled the chain up from the snow with her right hand as she walked along, following it in a straight line to the pine tree. There she found the chain’s other end wrapped three times around the base of the trunk and secured with a giant padlock.

“What if we used the chainsaw to cut the tree down and took the chain off?” asked Paige. “Could you make it back to the truck with the trap on your leg?”

“No way,” said her father. “I can’t even stand up.”

“What if you leaned on me?”

Paige’s father flashed a brief smile. “No, honey, there’s just no way. I’m too heavy. We wouldn’t even make it up this hill.”

“So what can we do?” asked Paige. This was a perfect example of why she should have a phone too, or why her dad should at least upgrade to a monthly cell phone plan instead of buying prepaid minutes when he happened to remember, which was always after a situation in which they needed the minutes but didn’t have them. But Paige decided it would be a bad idea to mention all that now.

“You have to go back to the truck,” said her father. “You know the basics of how to drive, right? It’s just like when I let you drive in the school parking lot last summer. Go as slow as you want down the road we came in on until you get to the Wardroll’s place. Tell them what happened and they’ll know what to do. Don’t let them call the cops, though. OK, Paige?”

“But, I don’t-”

“Just follow our footprints back,” said Paige’s father. “It isn’t as far as you think. I’ll be fine, but you need to hurry. I don’t want to scare you, but this is a serious injury and it’s cold. So be safe, but go as fast as you can.” He unzipped one of the chest pockets on his snowmobile suit and took out the keys to the truck. “Zip these up in your pocket, Paige. Don’t take them out until you need them.”

As she took the keys from her father, Paige felt herself tearing up, not because she was scared or because her father was hurt, but at the overall weight of the moment. She’d never played such a vital role in anything so important before. “I’ll do it,” said Paige, wondering if she really would. “I’ll do everything you said.”

 

After she had followed her and her father’s footprints back for only a short time, Paige noticed that they were already filling in under the steady snowfall. That meant that the older prints would be filled in even more. She wondered how long it would be until there was no sign of their passing at all. Then how would she find her way?

She tried to pick up her pace, but her weary legs could only move so fast through the deepening snow. She hated being alone. She hated having no one to encourage her or commiserate with or scold her for not lifting her feet high enough. Paige looked down at her boots as she walked, concentrating on stepping into the prints she’d left on the way in, hearing nothing but the crunch of her footsteps and the sound of the wind scraping branches together overhead. Her scarf was wet against her nose and mouth and it smelled like the old wardrobe where the winter accessories were kept at home.

Paige was mentally reviewing the basics of driving the truck when something made her stop and look up. There, standing a short way ahead, a man stood utterly still, staring at her with one bare hand resting on a tree and the other clutching a crooked walking stick. He was clad in thick black and brown furs, but his head was uncovered. He was clean shaven, which seemed somehow incorrect. There was a dusting of snow on his shaggy, graying hair. He had at least a dozen gold chains around his neck.

Paige was scared but she tried not to show it. “Hello,” she said. “Do you…do you own these woods?”

                “No,” said the man. “Come closer. But don’t stray from the footprints. There are traps.” Paige decided that if the man didn’t own the woods, then he probably wouldn’t call the cops and he might even be willing to help her father. If he meant her harm, why would he warn her about the traps? She walked towards the man and stopped a few feet away. He was much bigger than Paige had first thought, although she wondered how much of his bulk was him and how much was furs. His eyes were gray and cloudy, but not in the way her father’s got when he drank too much. In addition to the gold chains, the man also had gold earrings dangling from each ear and a gold ring through his nose.

                “You know about the trap?” asked Paige.

                “The traps,” said the man, emphasizing the plural. “There are many of them all through this wood. That is why I carry this staff. I prod the snow ahead of me as I walk so that if a trap lies in wait, the staff will take the bite and not mine leg.”

                “My dad is trapped in one right now,” said Paige. “Just back there. It isn’t far. I’m not big enough to help him, but I know you could.”

                “I dare not,” said the man, shaking his head. “The Owner, lurking in his mansion and plotting wickedness, sends his evil servant The Trapper to roam this wood during the daylight hours, killing all that he finds in the traps, whether man or beast.”

                Paige put her hands over her mouth, a sudden pain in her chest, her eyes filling with hot tears. “He wouldn’t kill my dad, would he?”

                The man nodded. “He would, girl. Just as he would kill you or me.”

                “Then we have to get him free as soon as we can,” said Paige. “You have to help me!” She took two faltering steps towards the man, pleading with her eyes.

                “Nay,” said the man. “I must be on my way. But I will tell this unto you: The Trapper is a crafty wretch and he looks not much like a trapper at all. He wears a green plaid coat and carries a songbook.”

                “A songbook?” Paige thought that sounded weird, but not that crafty.

                “Indeed, girl,” said the man. “But hear me now. There is a way, known only to me, to keep The Trapper at bay.”

                “Tell me!” said Paige. “Please, I have to tell my dad so The Trapper doesn’t kill him.”

                The man stepped closer to Paige, bending his broad face to hers and lowering his voice. “The Trapper fears disease more than all else, girl. Most especially disease that leads to madness. If you have the great misfortune to encounter The Trapper in this wood, feign madness, girl, and if your performance is convincing, he will give you a wide berth.” Then the man turned and began to walk away into the woods, perpendicular to Paige’s and her father’s disappearing footprints, jabbing his staff into the snow ahead of him with each step. “Don’t stray from the footprints,” called the man, but Paige was already running back to her father, driven by a desperate worry, fearing what she might find.

 

                When Paige finally topped the rise and saw her father still lying in the snow with his leg in the trap, she was so winded she wobbled on her feet and almost toppled headfirst down the slope.

                “Paige?” said her father. “Why are you back so soon? What happened?”

                “Trapper,” said Paige as she slid and skidded down to her father, her legs feeling like Styrofoam. “He wants to kill you. Or The Owner wants him to kill you, but The Trapper does whatever The Owner tells him.” Paige knelt by her father and shook his shoulder as he looked up at her with concerned, uncomprehending eyes.

                “Paige, what are you talking about?”

                “There’s a trapper,” said Paige. “The Trapper. He’s got a green plaid coat and a songbook. I know that doesn’t sound scary, but he’ll kill you when he finds you in this trap, dad!” She started to cry, throwing herself across her father’s chest and hugging him.

                “Paige,” said her father. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but no one’s going to kill me. We’re all alone out here.”

                “No,” said Paige, her face pressed against the slick, wet shoulder of her father’s snowmobile suit. “I met someone. A man. He told me about The Trapper. He wouldn’t come help you because he’s scared of him! But he told me what to do, dad. You have to pretend to be crazy. If you act crazy, The Trapper will get scared and leave you alone.”

                “Paige,” said her father, his voice stern. “Let go of me, Paige. Get up. Whether there are people out here with us or not, I need you to go to the truck and get help. That’s the only way this is going to get better. If someone finds me and wants to hurt me, I’ve got a knife and the chainsaw, OK? But my leg is killing me and I’m very, very cold. So go to the truck, drive to the Wordrell’s, and get help.”

                Paige let go of her father and stood, wiping her eyes with her gloved thumbs. “OK, dad. I will, I’ll do it. But just promise me you’ll act crazy if you see a man in a green plaid coat and carrying a songbook.”

Her father made a noise that started as a sigh but ended as a groan. He clenched his eyes shut for a moment and then opened them wide, rubbing the thigh of his trapped leg with his hand. “Green plaid coat,” he said. “Songbook. Act crazy. Got it.”

 

This time as she made her way through the snow, Paige kept her head up, her eyes scanning the trees ahead and on each side of her. This tactic caused her to trip and fall down several times, but she didn’t want The Trapper to catch her by surprise. Shortly after leaving her father the second time, Paige had realized that she didn’t know how to act crazy. If she tried, she was sure The Trapper would see right through her ruse, so she decided that acting crazy would only be used as a last resort. If she caught sight of The Trapper, Paige’s plan was to duck behind a tree. That was the entirety of the plan, which frustrated her, but she couldn’t think of anything to add except for running if The Trapper came after her, but that hardly seemed like an element of a plan.

She was almost to the place where she had encountered the big man in the furs when she heard a voice say, “Excuse me, miss. Stop where you are, please, miss.”

Paige’s heart went cold. She stopped. She tried to remember her plan, but she couldn’t. It had flown from her as soon as she heard the voice.

“Miss, please tell me where you are going, miss, please?”

Paige realized that the voice was coming from behind her. She turned around. There she saw a man standing half-concealed by the thick trunk of a tree that looked even more dormant than the rest. Only the man’s left side was visible, but that was enough for Paige to see that he was wearing a long, green, plaid coat, black rubber boots, and thin black gloves. He had a white stocking cap pulled down over his ears and a simple but elegant cane in his left hand. The half of his face that Paige could see looked long and solemn.

“Please don’t kill me,” said Paige, surprised at how sad she sounded.

“Kill you, miss?” The man seemed wounded by the suggestion. “Please, miss, I would never kill you nor any other miss or Mrs. or mister.” He stepped out from behind the tree. He had a book in his right hand.

Paige took a step backwards. This man was far less imposing than the man in the furs had been, but he fit the description of The Trapper perfectly and Paige wasn’t about to fall for any tricks.

“Please, miss,” said the man. “Why are you afraid of me?”

“You’re The Trapper,” said Paige. “I heard about you. You work for The Owner. You set traps at night and kill whatever you find in them during the day.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he crossed his arms over his chest. “Please, miss, I? I, work for the cruel and sinister Owner? I, The Trapper? No, never, miss, please. I am but a humble caroler, separated from my party, with only my songbook for company.”

“But you look just like The Trapper,” said Paige. “You have a green plaid coat and a songbook.”

“Please, miss, who told you such falsehoods? Who filled your head with this slander?”

“Another man,” said Paige. “A big man wearing furs and jewelry. He warned me about the traps and The Owner and The Trapper.”

The man fell to one knee in front of Paige and spread his arms wide. “But, miss, please, don’t you see? He himself was The Trapper! Surely, miss, the furs should have been a clue? And the jewelry, a gift from The Owner, bestowed upon him as thanks for his murderous work in these woods?”

Paige felt like an idiot. Of course The Trapper would be wearing furs, not carrying a songbook. “But if he’s The Trapper, why would he warn me?”

“A scheme,” said the man. “What else did he tell you?”

“He told me how to scare The Trapper away,” said Paige.

“Please, miss, how did he say to frighten The Trapper?”

“He said The Trapper was afraid of getting sick and going crazy so if I or my dad saw him, we should act crazy and he’d be scared of catching it.”

 “Please, miss, your father?” The man tapped the underside of his chin with his songbook.

“Yes,” said Paige. “My dad’s leg is caught in a trap not far from here. I’m on my way to our truck to try to get help. But since you’re not The Trapper, you could help him, right?”

The man stood and bent over, using the songbook to brush snow off of his knee. “Please, miss, no, I cannot help. The Trapper told you to warn your father so he could follow and spy, I’m certain. Miss, please, he deceived you. He does not fear madness, for if he did, miss, how could he devote himself to The Owner, who was swallowed utterly by madness years ago? No, miss, please, he gave you false hope for the safety of yourself and your father in order to render you unprepared for his attack. The Trapper is brave enough when there are helpless animals in his traps, but when there are men, he is very cautious. He fears their weapons, miss. Does your father have any weapons?”

“Only a knife,” said Paige. “And the chainsaw, if that counts.”

“But please, miss, no ranged weapons?”

“No,” said Paige, her stomach twisting. “Is that bad?”

“Please, miss, it could be. The Trapper is cowardly but strong. If he knows your father has no ranged weapons, he will hurl large rocks at him from a distance until he is unconscious or dead.”

“No!” said Paige. “Oh, no, no, what can I do?”

The man held his songbook in front of him, opened it, and began to flip the pages without taking his eyes from Paige. “Please, miss, there is one thing else that The Trapper fears beyond the ranged weapons of men. And that, miss, is the displeasure of The Owner.” The man smiled and, tucking the songbook under his left arm, he used his left hand to pull off his right glove, extending his exposed palm to Paige. “Please, miss, do you see the mark there on my hand?”

In the middle of the man’s palm was a drawing of a misshapen circle bisected by a squiggly line. It looked as if someone had drawn it in blue pen. “I see it,” said Paige.

“Please, miss,” said the man. “This is the Mark of The Owner’s Favor. He puts this mark on anything that he does not want The Trapper to harm in any way. Miss, please, do you think he put this mark on me? He did not. I, miss, after learning the truth of this mark’s meaning through mere chance, put the mark upon myself. But if The Trapper threatens my life, miss, I will show him this mark and he will not touch me for fear of awakening The Owner’s awful wrath.”

“I need that mark,” said Paige. “And so does my dad.”

The man broke into a grin. “Please, miss, it just so happens that I have an extra pen.”

 

When Paige topped the rise for the third time, her trapped and wounded father was not pleased to see her. As she made her way wearily down the slope, Paige’s father shouted at her, his voice raw with pain and outrage.

“Paige! Paige! Why are you back already? Why, why? What’s wrong with you? Do you not understand how critical this is? I’m bleeding, Paige! I’m bleeding a lot! We are on a very tight schedule here! I understand that you’re scared, but you are my only hope!”

Paige plodded up next to her father and flopped down in the snow, gasping for breath. “Gimme your hand,” she said, holding the man’s pen in her fist like a toddler holding a crayon.

“No!” shouted Paige’s father. “You’ve wasted enough time, Paige!”

“Dad, please!” said Paige. “You have to let me draw The Mark of the Owner’s Favor on your hand!”

Paige’s father covered his face with his hands and let out a stifled cry of aggravation.

“Dad! It’ll only take a second and then you’ll be safe! Oh, and The Trapper isn’t wearing a green plaid coat. He’s big and he’s got furs and gold chains. Just give me your hand and if he comes to kill you, show him The Mark of the Owner’s Favor and he’ll leave you alone.”

“Paige,” said her father, cupping her cheek and giving her a long, searching look. “Paige, what are you saying? I know this is stressful, but you need to keep it together, OK?”

“I know,” said Paige. “Just let me draw this on your hand and then I’ll go straight to the truck and get help. I swear.”

Paige’s father started to say something and then stopped.  He pulled the glove off of his right hand and extended it to Paige. “Hurry. But the next time I see you, you’d better have real help for me. I mean it. You’re really making me mad, Paige. I can’t even tell you how mad. You’ve been very disappointing today.”

Paige’s face burned with the injustice of her father’s words. She couldn’t make him understand, but keeping him safe was more important than keeping him happy. She said nothing as she studied the mark the man had made on her palm. Then she took her father’s hand and began to draw.

 

The third hike back through the woods was an absolute slog. Paige was worn down to almost nothing. Her shoulders drooped, her legs and lungs burned, her feet were sore, she felt light-headed and unsteady. Every step was a labor requiring a monumental feat of her will to complete. Paige tried to stay on alert for The Trapper, but it wasn’t long before her world shrunk to the back-and-forth tracks she’d left in the snow and the grim, self-pitying thoughts in her head. She had no idea what time it was. She tried to count her steps out loud to take her mind off of her exhaustion, but she gave up after eleven. She felt better knowing that her father had The Mark of the Owner’s Favor on his palm, but what if he didn’t show it to The Trapper in time? Or what if she had drawn it incorrectly in some small, subtle way that would allow The Trapper to recognize it as a forgery? And she still didn’t know if she’d be able to drive the truck or if the Wordrell’s would be home or if they’d be willing to help. There was a lot that could go wrong.

Paige passed the place where she’d talked with the man with the songbook. She wanted to stop and take a breather but she couldn’t. She had to keep moving. An indeterminate amount of time later, Paige passed the place where she’d talked to The Trapper. She shivered as she thought back to how close she had been to him without realizing the danger, the way he’d tricked her into trusting him.

She walked on. The snowfall continued unabated. The prints Paige and her father had left when they first came through the woods were now little more than soft concavities in the smooth, white surface of the snow, each one fractionally shallower than the one that preceded it until, at last, they were gone and there was no trail for Paige to follow. She stopped and everything was still and silent and white and black. If she kept walking straight ahead, she might make it to the truck, but she also might step in a trap. If she went back to her dad, he would never get help and he would die thinking Paige had let him die. His life depended on her perseverance and ability to solve problems under pressure.

Paige turned around and walked backwards along her fresh set of footprints until she found a fallen tree lying in easy reach. She grabbed onto the end of a long, rotten branch almost as thick as her wrist and stomped on it in the middle, breaking it with a loud crack. The resulting walking stick fit nicely in her hand and came almost to her chin. Then she turned and walked back along her tracks until she came to her final set of footprints. She took a deep breath and drove her staff through the unblemished surface of the snow one step ahead of her. Nothing happened. She took a step.

 

What seemed like a long time later, Paige was lost. The woods around her looked unfamiliar. Or rather, everything looked the same. Tall dark trees, deep white snow. Paige didn’t have even a general idea of which direction she should travel. She didn’t know how far she’d come or how far she had to go. She had been slow before testing every step with her staff, but now she was really creeping along. The cold had finally managed to work its way through all of her layers of clothing and was now burrowing into her body, starting at her fingers and toes. What if it got dark? What if the wind picked up? What if she fainted from hunger and thirst and exhaustion and fell sideways and her head landed in a trap?

Another bout of dizziness overtook Paige and she stopped, leaning on her stick to keep herself upright, waiting for her balance to return. After a minute, her head began to clear. Even if it was as futile as it seemed, there was nothing to do but keep walking. Paige thrust her stick down into the snow ahead of her. Nothing happened. She was about to take yet another step when she heard a new sound, something other than the rasp of her breathing and the deep crunch of her footsteps. It was a smooth, slick sound. An even, whispering, gliding sound, and it was coming up behind her.

Paige turned.

Coming towards her was a man in a rich green robe who seemed to be hovering an inch above the snow, a pole in each hand. It took Paige a moment to realize that the man was cross-country skiing, not flying. “Hello,” called the man as he approached. “I’ve been following your tracks for some time, young lady. Where are you going?” He skied up to Paige and stopped, sticking his poles into the snow and reaching up to adjust the wreath-like hat he wore on his pale, bald head. Or maybe it was just a wreath being worn as a hat. The man’s skis and poles were made of a dark, gleaming wood and his gloves were white leather. He had silver sideburns that nearly touched the corners of his mouth.

“Who are you?” asked Paige.

“I own these woods,” said the man.

“You do?” asked Paige. “You’re The Owner?” She was too tired to be dismayed.

“I am,” said the Owner. “Are you lost? Are you alone?”

“You look different than I thought,” said Paige, and she tightened her grip on her stick, steeling herself for the end.

 

When she dragged herself to the top of the rise for the fourth time, Paige’s father wept with despair when he saw her. Paige slid down the slope on her backside, her limbs limp and useless. When she came to a stop at the bottom of the slope, she rolled onto her stomach and managed to crawl the rest of the way to her father. She heard him whimpering as she laid down with her head on his near shoulder, one arm thrown across his chest, making sure not to bump his trapped leg.

“Dad,” said Paige. “It’s fine now. I got help. The Owner found me in the woods. He sent me to stay here with you while he goes back to his mansion and hooks his team of rams up to his sleigh. He uses rams ‘cause they can smell traps and avoid them. He’s gonna come get you out of this trap and we’re all gonna ride back to his mansion for a feast.”

Paige’s father said nothing. He just kept crying.

“He’s not evil,” said Paige. “Those other guys told me nothing but lies. I think they’re both trappers, I don’t know. But guess what? The Owner has his own charity. He gives free Christmas trees to families that can’t afford one. He says we can have one. He’s not even mad that we came out here to steal one.”

Paige’s father moaned. Then he said, “Stop. Paige. Stop. Talking.”

“All right,” said Paige. “You’ll see soon enough.” Then she squeezed her father tighter, closed her eyes, and waited for the sounds of salvation: the crack of a whip, the jingle of harnesses, the bleating of rams in full stride.




Discussion Questions

  • Who is The Trapper? Free yourself from the constraints of logic if necessary.



  • My grandma Ruth once let me drive when I was 12. Do you think I excelled? Explain without over-explaining.



  • If you ever find yourself in a situation in which your life is in the hands of a preteen girl, do you think you’ll be understanding if at any point it appears as if she’s not going to come through for you? Is that fair? Do you think Paige did a good job at saving her dad’s life? Elaborate.



  • Do you know why Christmas trees are so expensive? It’s because fools will pay that much for one. Are you one of those fools? At my apartment, we are several of those fools.



  • Is Paige’s dad really going to be rescued? And would a ram-drawn sleigh work in real life? Or are rams too prickly to cooperate with each other?



  • How would this story have been different if Paige’s father had just bought a shoddy artificial tree for a few bucks at a garage sale over the summer? Be specific.