Manto stuffed some boxes in her closet. She was already a leg up on her Christmas shopping; after all, that was her favorite holiday, and she liked to have things planned ahead of time, so she could enjoy the season itself when it arrived without the pressure of a long to-do list.
“There,” she said. “It’s a start.”
“It’s a good start,” said Kat. “I’ve already got the Hallmark ornament catalog, too. It’s so hard to choose which ones to get for this year.”
“Do you like the ones that talk when you push a button?”
“It depends on which kind it is. But I do like the ones that plug into the string of lights.”
“Oh, me too.”
“Hey, are you guys busy?” CJ peeked her head in after knocking.
But the girls didn’t answer, for behind CJ they saw a shadow that grew larger and darker every moment. “Helloooo?” CJ said. “Well, how rude. Ooof!” She flew in the room as the shadow bumped her hard.
“So you really like Christmas, eh?” said the Harbinger of Death. “You like picking out those stupid ornaments when you should be at the U-pick pumpkin patch?”
“N-n-no, we just—“
“Oh, don’t lie to me! Don’t add insult to injury here! Come with me, you little Christmas elves!” He grabbed Manto and Kat by their collars. “You too,” he added to CJ.
“What, what did I do?” she said in her best innocent voice. (She’d been studying axman’s technique.)
“Guilt by association. Let’s go.” With a swish, the three Debs found themselves in a meadow, alone.
“Where are we?”
“Not sure. But I— Uh-oh.”
“What? Oh. You’re furry.”
“So are you. Nice antlers. They look velvety.”
“Velvety antlers? Is that what you said?”
“Oh. How fitting.”
All three of them froze as they felt something unusual on an instinctive level. The birds had quieted, for one thing. And then it happened.
The mountain lions were upon them, and the male knocked Manto over. With a swift crunch on the back of her neck, she was dead. The female pounced on Kat and gave another fatal bite. CJ was terrified and tried to run, but the lions were too fast. They circled her, cutting off her escape route, and closed in. They leapt upon her back and toppled her to the ground. She felt their jaws close over her neck and then a piercing pain.
“It’s the natural order of things,” she heard a deep voice say, and then everything went black.