Kyle and Wheat jumped at the strange sound. Heyes had sent them out hunting turkeys for Christmas dinner the next week, mainly to get them out from underfoot while he was planning a job. They pushed through some tangled underbrush looking for the source of the noise.
They heard it again, louder this time. It was kind of a cross between an injured cow and a lamb. A rustling in the brush drew their attention. Rifles at the ready, they advanced cautiously.
“Well, heck, it ain’t nothin’ but a deer.” Wheat lowered his rifle and hitched up his pants.
“I ain’t never heard a deer make that kind of noise. It’s kind of a funny-lookin’ deer anyway.” Kyle peered closely at the frightened animal. It was the eyes that held his attention though; they were almost human.
“Let’s just shoot it, even though it’s on the small side, maybe Heyes would take a deer instead of a turkey.” Wheat raised his rifle.
“No!” Kyle yelled, surprising himself as much as Wheat. “Uh I mean, it’s hurt, just not right to go shooting a helpless animal like that.” He bent down and gently started untangling the deer, noticing a cut on its leg. The deer didn’t struggle, seeming to know that Kyle meant it no harm. Kyle picked the deer up and carried it to his horse. He carefully balanced the deer over the saddle and lead the horse back to the hideout. Wheat just watched him go, shaking his head.
“Heyes ain’t gonna’ like this. You go on; I’m gonna’ find a turkey.” Wheat walked off, mumbling to himself.
Kyle made it back to the hideout, skirting around the leader’s cabin trying to avoid Heyes. He didn’t understand Kyle’s fascination with animals and yelled at Kyle every time he brought a wounded or lost animal in, but he always let Kyle keep the animal in the end. Kyle wasn’t too sure about the deer though; this was the biggest animal he had ever snuck into the hideout.
He had made the deer a soft, warm place in the hay at the back of the barn and was in the process of sneaking out to find something to bandage the deer’s leg when he came face-to-face with Kid, who was feeding his horse.
“Whatcha doin’ Kyle? You have a guilty look on your face.” Kid gave him an amused look.
“Uh nothin’ Kid, nothin’ at all.” He nervously tried to steer Kid away from the back of the barn.
“I don’t know Kyle, seems like you’re hiding something to me.” He easily pushed past Kyle, stopping when he saw the deer resting on the hay. “What do we have here? Why did you bring a deer in here Kyle?”
“Well, his leg is cut and I wanted to help him.” Kyle shuffled his feet, a sheepish expression on his face.”
“You know Heyes won’t like this.”
“Oh please Kid, don’t tell him. I’ll have the deer well and out of here before he knows it.” Kyle pleaded with him.
Kid rolled his eyes. “Ok Kyle. Let’s see what we can do.” Kid kneeled in the hay next to the deer. “Cut doesn’t look too bad. Go get some water to wash it and we’ll bind it up.” He took off his bandanna and patted the deer’s leg around the cut, wiping off some of the blood. Just like Kyle, he was struck by the almost human expression in the deer’s eyes.
“Thanks Kid.” Kyle gave a sigh of relief. “I’ll go get the stuff right now.” Kyle ran out of the barn.
Kid sat with the deer for a few minutes until he heard the barn door open again. “Bring that stuff right away Kyle. I think I’ve stopped the bleeding.” He heard footsteps behind him.”
“Kid, I…What the heck is that?” Heyes stood there, a puzzled look on his face. “Is that a deer.”
Kid cringed at being caught helping another one of Kyle’s animals. He slowly turned to face Heyes. “Uh yeah, it seems Kyle found him in the woods.”
Heyes shook his head. “He can’t keep taking in these animals. It’s starting to look like a zoo here already! What kind of image is that for the Devil’s Hole Gang? Nope, this one just has to go.”
“Aw Heyes, c’mon, it’s not hurting anything, besides, the wolves would kill him right away, injured like he is.” Kid looked over Heyes’ shoulder where Kyle had silently entered the barn, bandages and water in his hands.
“Geez Kid, I have enough trouble with the men thinking I’m soft where you’re concerned anyway, don’t ask me this.” Heyes looked torn. He did feel sorry for the deer, but he had to keep order too.
Kyle saw his chance. “Please Heyes, I’ll take care of him. Just for a couple of days to let him heal. Maybe just until Christmas?”
Heyes sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily. “Ok Kyle, just until Christmas, but keep it out of sight, will ya’? I don’t want everyone to know I let you keep ANOTHER animal.” Heyes walked out of the barn, leaving a happy Kyle and a bemused Kid to take care of the deer.
Over the next couple days the deer recovered enough to follow Kyle around devotedly like a dog. It was a gentle, good-natured and intelligent animal, and even thought the other gang members teased Kyle about it, they were all secretly slipping little tidbits and scratching him around the antlers when no one was looking. Everyone but Heyes, that is. He wasn’t happy that Kyle hadn’t kept the deer hidden, and it seemed to him that the deer was taking delight in making Heyes look foolish every chance he got. Kyle tried to keep the deer as far away from Heyes as possible.
On Christmas Eve morning, the usual stillness was broken by yelling and crashing noises coming from the leader’s cabin. The men came running out of the bunkhouse just in time to see Kyle’s deer run out the door, followed by Heyes who was covered head to toe in flour. The deer ran and hid behind Kyle. Heyes skidded to a stop, fury written all over his face, flour flying up in small clouds as he shook his finger in Kyle’s face.
“I want it gone now Kyle! I mean it, I see it again and it’s going to be Christmas dinner!!”
Kid was trying very hard to stifle a laugh. “What happened Heyes?” He managed to choke out.
“I came out of my bedroom to see that…that…he was chewing on my plans!” Heyes sputtered with rage. “I tried to chase him out the door, but he ran into the kitchen and made a mess of everything!” Heyes looked down at himself and seemed to notice the flour for the first time. “Kyle, I mean it!! Gone!! If I see it again, it’s going to be dinner!” He backed away from Kyle and started to turn to go back into the cabin. What he didn’t see was that the deer had gotten behind him and he fell over the deer backwards, right into the horse trough. Kyle wisely grabbed the deer and rushed him off to the barn before Heyes got his head above water.
Kid walked over to the trough and looked down at the furious Heyes. “Well, at least you washed the flour off.” He bit back his laughter, knowing Heyes was mad enough to probably shoot him if he so much as giggled.
“The least you could do is help me out of here Kid. This water is freezing.” Kid offered Heyes his hand and pulled him out, not saying a word. “Ya know Kid, I swear that deer was laughing at me.” Heyes shook his head and went back into his cabin slamming the door hard as he went.
Kyle and the deer kept a low profile the rest of the day. He brought the deer into the bunkhouse after all the other gang members had gone to bed.
“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to go before Heyes gets up in the morning.” Kyle sniffed back a tear. He had gotten really attached to the deer. “I’m afraid he means it about shooting you.” The deer looked up at him with sympathetic eyes, and Kyle would have sworn he understood every word. He rubbed Kyle’s hand with his head as if to say it was ok, and Kyle fell asleep that way, hand on the deer’s head.
Later that night, Kyle was awakened by a bright light and he saw the deer silhouetted in the window. He got up and opened the door to see the pine tree outside the bunkhouse decorated with ribbon and hundreds of tiny candles. There were brightly wrapped presents piled high under the tree, each one with a gang member’s name on it. The deer, who had been standing next to Kyle, made a happy sound and bounded away.
“Hey, where you goin’?” Kyle ran after him and stopped short at the sight of a sleigh with seven deer hitched up to it. His deer was enthusiastically greeting a jolly-looking man in a red suit.
“Dasher, you naughty boy. Where have you been?” The man affectionately scratched the deer behind the ears.
“Who in the heck are you?” Kyle didn’t know what to make of all this.
“Kyle, it’s good to see you. I hope Dasher hasn’t caused you too much trouble. He gets to wandering sometimes and then I have to go find him. He’s got work to do tonight though. Thank you for taking such good care of him.”
“Dasher’s his name huh? Well, he hasn’t been that much trouble, except maybe to Heyes. I don’t think he cares much for Dasher.” He proceeded to relate some of the run-ins between Dasher and Heyes.
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
Kyle watched amazed as the sleigh rose up into the air and flew away. He turned and walked slowly back to the bunkhouse.
“Just wait until I tell the guys about the crazy dream I had.” He thought to himself. He crawled into bed and slept so soundly he didn’t even hear the exclamations of surprise from the other gang members the next morning when they woke up and found the mound of presents outside.