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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Inspirational · #2310082
An airforce captain is stranded in the Arctic wilderness.
Arctic Spirit

By Damon Nomad

          Cliff 'woke up' to intense cold and the sensation he was swaying in a dark void. He quickly realized he was strapped into his parachute harness and hung up in a massive tree. Cliff had ejected from a single-seat stealth spy plane over northern Russia near the Finnish border. An engine failure caused him to bail as he put the jet on a course to ditch in the Barents Sea.

          He was safely on the ground an hour later. Lucky to be alive and without injury, other than bruises and scratches. The rest of his luck was all bad. His ejection seat was severely damaged and all the gear stowed inside was lost. The transponder wasn't working, so HQ wouldn't be able to locate him. The only upside was that the Russians wouldn't know he was here.

          Cliff had been through survival training and he knew this was pretty much the worst case. Fifty miles, or more, from the border in the dead of winter. In the middle of rugged arctic wilderness with no way to communicate or navigate on a moonless night. He would be dead of exposure in hours, without some sort of miracle. Cliff didn't really believe in miracles.

          He smirked as the old adage came to mind. No good deed goes unpunished. It wasn't his turn in the rotation. He volunteered for this mission two days before Christmas so comrades with families could be home. The only family he had ever known was his grandmother. She raised him after his parents died in a car accident. He knew what Nanna May would say to him in this situation. 'Pray for what you need and God will provide.' She passed away last Christmas Eve.

          He shivered as he closed his eyes. Nothing to lose. Dear Lord, just a sign of which direction I should walk. He gasped as he opened his eyes. "What the heck." There was a glowing light in the distance and snowflakes sparkled as they reflected the light.

          A brighter yellowish glow towards his left seemed to be the source of the sudden radiant beauty. He wondered aloud, "A hunting hut?" Maybe only a few hundred yards away. Cliff wasn't as strong in his faith as Nana May. An aeronautical engineer by education; he believed in scientific explanations for things. Must have turned the lights on just as I closed my eyes. The glow is from the light diffusing through some winter fog. That was a logical explanation.

          Cliff considered his options as he marched toward the hut. The Russian government would take him prisoner for propaganda and hold him for a few months. It was peacetime so he would get off easy. He could try and avoid that by stealing or improvising a weapon. Use it to threaten whoever was in the hut to get him to the border. I'm not gonna threaten innocent civilians. He shook his head. Communication is gonna be a problem. He didn't speak Russian.

          He was feeling the effects of the cold as a homey cottage came into view. "That's a lot more than a hunting hut." Smoke billowed from the chimney and soft light poured out the windows.What's it doing out here in the middle of nowhere? He studied the preflight intelligence before the mission. There was no farmland or villages in the area.

          He braced himself for an angry confrontation after pounding on the door. He felt a blast of warm air as the door swung open. The rotund man had white hair, a flowing white beard, and a pipe in his mouth. Cliff nearly laughed at the absurdity of stumbling across a Santa Claus look-alike in the far north, and so close to Christmas.

         The man smiled and spoke in English, "Get out of the cold my young friend." He pulled Cliff inside.

          "You speak English?"

          The big man chuckled and tapped on the American flag on Cliff's outer flight suit. "That's your language is it not."

          Cliff had forgotten to strip off his insignia, rank, and flag. Step one after ejecting into a foreign country. "I don't mean you any harm or to cause you any trouble."

          "You need to drink something warm and sit at the fireplace. Then we can talk. There are some warm slippers. I'll be right back."

          Cliff stripped off his outer layer and put on the slippers. The parlor had a festive feel. A decorated Christmas tree, boughs from fir trees decorating the door and window frames, and a large stone fireplace. He sank into a plush easy chair near the crackling fire.

          "Some ham, biscuits, and a bit of fudge for the sweet tooth." The man put the plate and a cup on a side table. "A cup of warm apple cider." He took a seat in a big chair close to Cliff's spot. "I'm Nicholas."

          Cliff suddenly realized how hungry he was. "I'm Cliff, thank you for your kindness." He quickly polished off the ham and biscuits. "Like I said; I don't want to cause you any problem." He gave a brief explanation of his circumstances. "You can contact the authorities."

          "Why should I do that? They will put you in prison, no? I don't even have a phone."

          Cliff took a bite of fudge. "What do you suggest? I can't make it to the border in this temperature."

          "I can take you to a Finnish village near an abandoned border crossing. It's a short trip with my sleigh and reindeer. I'm headed there anyway."

          Cliff resisted the urge to make an obvious wisecrack about Saint Nicholas with a sleigh and reindeer. "Very good, thanks." He finished the last bit of fudge and took a drink of cider. "I hope you don't mind me asking. Why do you have your cottage out here? It's quite remote."

          Nicholas puffed a smoke ring. "It's right where it needs to be; isn't it?"


          Cliff found Nicholas in the kitchen the next morning. The table was covered with platters of bacon, eggs, waffles, and muffins. The smell reminded him of Christmas breakfast with Nana May. "Good morning. Looks and smells great."

          "Let's eat while everything is hot. Did you sleep well?"

          Cliff sat down. "Slept like a rock. Your home is bigger than it appears from the outside." He glanced around the roomy yet cozy kitchen.

          "A comfortable sanctuary." Nicholas poured them each a cup of coffee before taking his seat. "I have a Christmas Eve tradition. I deliver gifts to children of struggling families. I planned to go to the Finnish village across the border this year. So, it works out nicely. You can help me and we get you to a safe place."

          "Sounds good; presents for children on Christmas Eve." Delivered by Saint Nick with reindeer pulling a sleigh. Cliff took a drink of coffee. A full-blown Santa complex going on here. That was fine, he was lucky he hadn't come across someone with a dark fantasy persona.


          Hours later, they finished packing the gifts and Cliff carried the large bag to the sleigh parked outside the shed-workshop. The bag contained a diverse assortment of finely crafted handmade games, puzzles, and toys. A name on a tag of every gift-wrapped box. "All set." Cliff felt a warm surge of Christmas spirit. "You're a gifted craftsman Nicholas. How did you get the names of all of these children?"

          Nicholas finished hanging two lanterns on the sleigh. It was late afternoon, but twenty-four hours of darkness this time of year, near the Arctic Circle. "The mayor of the village gave me the list. Help me with the harness for the two reindeer and we will be on our way."


          They came to a slight clearing in the woods in less than thirty minutes. The lanterns illuminated two small border guard shacks and the border gate that lay broken on the ground. They raced through without slowing down. Cliff shook his head in amazement. "How did we get here so fast?" Must have been closer to the border. He never would have found this spot along this narrow path.

          Soon the lights of the village came into view. Nicholas pulled on the reins bringing the reindeer to a slow walk. "The whole village is in the church for Christmas Eve worship." He brought the sleigh to a stop just outside the small chapel. "Take the bag inside and here is the list. There is a barn in the back for the reindeer. I'll join you."

          Cliff strained a bit with the large bag as he crept up the stairs. He burst through the door of the small church. The congregation went silent as they spun around in their seats. Every eye was on him as he gently lowered the bag to the floor. "I'm a friend of Nicholas. Looking for the mayor." Then he realized that none of them might understand English.

          The minister crept toward Cliff. "We don't have a mayor. Who is Nicholas?"

          Cliff gestured to the doors. "He'll be right here. He's putting the reindeer in the barn out back."

          "The church has no barn." The minister didn't come any closer. "What do you want? We are a poor village. There is nothing to steal."

          Hurry up Nicholas. "The bag has Christmas gifts for the children." Cliff handed the minister the list and reached into the bag. He pulled out a gift-wrapped box and announced the name on the label. "Tapio Aho."

          The minister scanned the list of fifty-two names. "Every child in the village is on this list." He waved a hand. "They are all here with their families." He stared at the package. His voice quivered, "What's in the box?"

          Cliff saw the fear in the minister's eyes. He unwrapped the present and took out the elegant hand-made chess board and pieces. A teenage boy bolted from his seat and ran toward Cliff. "Kiitos! Kiitos!" He held out his hands.

          The minister gasped with a sigh of relief. "Tapio Aho. He loves chess. He says thank you."

          Cliff headed for the door. "Keep handing out the gifts. I'll find my friend."

          He wandered outside the small church for nearly fifteen minutes. There was no sign of Nicholas or the sleigh. Cliff was confused as he lumbered back inside. He helped hand out the last of the presents.

          The minister's eyes danced as he looked at Cliff. "A perfect gift for every child during these difficult times. How did you do this?"

          Cliff explained who he was and everything that had happened; ending with the sleigh ride through the nearby border crossing.

          The minister stroked his chin. "I believe you are an honest man. But the nearest border crossing is nearly a hundred kilometers away. I have lived here for twenty-five years and know every square meter of the local wilderness. The border has a high fence with razor wire all through the forest. Not even a trail leading to Russia from our village."

          Cliff was unable to speak for a moment. "I'm not crazy. It was real."

          The minister smiled. "Miracles are real. Can't you see it?"

          Cliff shrugged with uncertainty.

          The minister put a hand on Cliff's shoulder. "God sent the spirit of Saint Nicholas and a sanctuary to save you." He looked around the room. "Nicholas brought you to us with a Christmas miracle for our village." He squeezed Cliff's shoulder. "Join us for holiday dinner in the celebration hall. I will contact the government in the morning and get you on your way home."


          The next day, Cliff strapped himself into the rear seat of an American military helicopter. "I'm ready." He waved at the villagers surrounding the spot.

          The copilot turned to look at Cliff. "Two days in the arctic wilderness without gear. How did you survive Captain?"

          "A little bit of faith." He paused a moment as the chopper lifted off the ground. "Either of you believe in miracles?"

Word Count: 1995
Prompt: A picture of magical light in the winter.

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