Bill pulled his sled through the darkness, his cleats clicking and crunching on the ice as he made his way across the frozen lake. Above, high cloud cover blocked out the starry sky. Up ahead, a small fire was a bright spot in the night, it's light an unexpected beacon on Bill's destination.
Well, thought Bill, I guess I'll have some company out here. And maybe I won't even have to make my own fire!
He aimed his headlamp at the distant bright spot and clicked his way through the gloom.
When he arrived at the fire he could see the other man's set-up. There was a small folding camp-stool in front of the cheery little fire, with a pile of collected firewood lying on the ice next to it. There was a big, antique looking sled, the kind with runners, with the man's equipment box attached on top of it. Lying on the ice in front of the sled was a gas-powered auger, and spread out across the ice in an X pattern were the man's traps, each about 20' apart from each other. Each one had a small light attached to it so that he could see when they went off in the dark.
Sitting on the camp-stool in front of the fire was a big man. Ok, Bill thought, he's a fat man, but big is the PC term nowadays...
“Hello there, neighbor!” Bill called as he approached.
“Greetings and salutations, fellow fisherman!” the man called back, in a deep, jolly voice.
“Mind if I set up near you? This is one of my favorite spots.”
“Not at all!” came the booming reply. “There's plenty of lake left, and if you pull up a chair I think you'll find that even I can't use all this fire by myself!”
The man rose ponderously to his feet, tall as well as wide, and came a few steps closer, his own cleats crunching on the ice. As he leaned forward to direct his gaze toward Bill's equipment, his face came within the circle of light thrown by Bill's headlamp. Bill could see that the man had a ruddy face framed by thick white hair and a matching bushy beard, and that while his body was clad in a red suit of state-of-the-art 'Arctic Armor', he had an old fashioned stocking cap on his head complete with a tassel!
“It's getting late, friend,” the fellow said. “Why don't you use my auger to punch some holes? It'll be faster than your hand auger, and the faster you get those traps in, the faster we can settle in by that fire to swap fish stories. If you like, you just tell me where you want the holes, and I'll punch 'em while you start setting up traps.”
Bill looked out at the dark ice where he intended to set his holes.
“Deal!” he said. He stripped off one glove and held out a hand.
“My name's Bill, and thanks for the help.”
The big man in red also stripped off a glove, engulfing Bill's hand in a paw the size of a catcher's mitt.
“My name's Chris, and I'm just thankful for the company.”
Working as a team they had Bill's five traps in the water in about fifteen minutes, each with it's own glow-stick waiting to pop into the air to announce that the trap had been sprung. They were sitting by the fire, Chris on his stool and Bill on the lid of his bait-bucket.
“Well! Thank you again!” said Bill “That was much faster!”
“Don't mention it! Glad to help.”
Bill squinted at the power auger as it lay on the ice again.
“I do have to say, I'd love to have one of those augers. My hand auger is good, but once the ice is a foot or more thick it is a little slow... I'll get one someday, but I just can't afford it right now.”
He looked at Chris.
“...And, I have to say that I didn't expect to have any company out here tonight, especially with it being Christmas Eve and all. I haven't got any family around here, and I had nothing to do, so I decided to get some night fishing in out here at my favorite spot. What's your excuse?”
Chris's smile looked odd, lit from above by his headlamp like that, but it was undeniably broad.
“Oh, this is my busy time of year, so I try to take my breaks when I can get them. I had a few hours where I really didn't need to be doing anything, so I snuck out here for some fishing. This is also one of my favorite spots, but I don't get to come out here much at all.”
“Well, you must get out somewhere,” Bill said. “You have some of the nicest gear for ice-fishing that I've ever seen. And you sure handled that auger like a pro.”
Chris smiled even more broadly.
“Oh, I love to fish. And where I come from, if you want to fish you learn to ice-fish!”
“Ah!” said Bill, raising one gloved finger in the air, “you must hail from up North, in Canada!”
“I come from up North, yes. But, tell me, you say you fish here often?”
Now it was Bill's turn to nod.
“Well, let me just break out this thermos of coffee for us and you can tell me about the biggest fish you've taken out of here. Like I said, I don't get out here often, and I'd like to hear how the place is doing.”
The evening passed, with Chris asking the questions and Bill supplying the fishing stories. They kept the fire going, passed the coffee thermos back and forth, and even caught some bass. Chris caught three while Bill only landed two, but one of Bill's two was the biggest of the night. Each time they released their catch and returned to the fire. Eventually, Chris looked at his wrist, found that there was no watch, and asked Bill if he knew the time.
“Yep. It's just going on 10:00.”
Chris's eyes widened.
“10:00? Oh no! I was having such a good time I never realized that it was so late!I have to go!”
He jumped up and started folding his stool.
“Is something wrong?” Bill asked, worried by his new friend's sudden alarm.
“Well, I... uh... I have some people waiting for me. I'm supposed to meet them, and didn't know I was running late!”
He thrust the stool and his bait-box in to his sled, muttering “My wife's gonna kill me if I keep the whole crew waiting...”
“Let me help,” said Bill. “I'll pull the sled while you take out your traps, we'll see if we can get you out of here quicker.”
“Thanks Bill!” said Chris, and he took off toward his first trap at a run, cleats crunching and clicking. Bill grabbed the pull rope on the big red sled and followed along behind. Chris got all five traps out in record time, pulled off a glove and shook Bill's hand again.
“Thanks. I have to run, but it was great meeting you, Bill. We'll have to do this again sometime!”
Without waiting for a response, he took off across the ice at a trot, clicking along at a good clip. Soon he was just a point of light in the distance, moving toward the boat ramp. Bill wondered about that, since he knew that he was the only one parked at the boat ramp.
But, he thought, who's to say he's not on a cell phone right now calling for a ride?
He watched the light get to the parking lot, and then it hung about for a couple of minutes. Suddenly, the light took off down the road paralleling the lake, moving at a really good clip. It was like Chris had been picked up by a car after all, but there were no headlights, just that one light from Chris's headlamp. Just as Bill was wondering about this, the light flew up off the road and took off across the sky! It looped around and flew right over the lake! With the dark and distance Bill couldn't make out anything but that light, but it was definitely flying as it disappeared in the distance... heading... north?
Shaken, Bill put out the fire and pulled out his own traps. He made his way along the same route Chris had used, eventually getting to the boat ramp and his pick-up truck, parked alone in the lot. As he pulled his sled along-side of his truck, he noticed a shape in the cab, on the seat. He beeped the door-locks off and opened the passenger-side door. And he stared.
On the seat, inside his locked truck, was a brand-new, still-in-the-box, Strikemaster Lazer-Mag power auger with an 8” bore. There was a bow stuck to the box with a note tucked under it. Bill pulled the note out from under the bow.
“Bill – Sorry I had to run out on you like that, but I REALLY have a lot to do tonight! Thanks for the company and the stories. Merry Christmas! - Kriss K.”
Bill swallowed hard, and looked at the bottom of the note.
“P.S. - Same time next year?”
Critique: You’ve got a few grammar and sentence structure issues, but not much. We need just a little more backstory for Bill. But otherwise, AWESOME!
What I liked best: I love that it is the Santa Incognito tale, but it’s not sappy or manipulative. Great story.
Publication ready: Yes! With a few minor fixes, it could be a great fit for the next Christmas collection.