One day near Christmas Jo Jo was on her way into the woods. The woods were at the back of her house. Her daddy was at work and her mammy was talking at the front gate to the neighbour Mrs Gillespy. She was busy talking about a deer that had run across the road and was hit by a car. The deer ran away.
"A stupid deer," said Mrs Gillespy. "Maybe he was frightened," said Jo Jo's mother. "Still," said Mrs Gillespy, "he could have caused a serious accident and maybe could have killed the man in the car. The man is very angry and he is hunting for the deer now with his gun."
Jo Jo's mother and Mrs Gillespy kept on talking as Jo Jo climbed up on the little wall and crossed over the barbed wire into the wood.
She was careful not to tear her nice blue dress. She knew why her daddy put up the barbed wire. It was to keep the wild animals out from their nice garden where they had plum trees and apple trees and lots of nice plants and flowers of many colours.
She liked blue flowers the best, especially bluebells which made a lovely carpet in the woods in springtime. Because her eyes were blue, blue was her favourite colour. But now all those flowers were gone to sleep, as her daddy said, for the winter. But they would wake up again in spring and summer like some of the animals too. Like the hare which they had seen in the woods, and her daddy joked that he would make hare soup if he caught him.
Jo Jo knew she should not go into the woods. She knew her mammy and daddy would be cross with her. But she dreamed of going into the woods. She wanted to know what it was really like to live there away from her warm and comfortable house with her nice, soft bed and sheets and plenty of food in the refrigerator. She wanted to know what it was really like to live among all those trees.
She noticed some of the trees never lost their leaves. Others looked very bare with only their branches showing.
Her mammy told her that squirrels lived there and they collected nuts so they would not go hungry in the winter. Jo Jo pushed back the branches as she made her way deeper into the woods. She wondered about the hare and the squirrel and the deer. Especially the deer. She wondered was he lying down hurt after being hit by the car. It was getting a little bit dark.
She looked back and could see the light from her house. Her mammy must have turned it on. Jo Jo knew she would be looking for her. But the light would guide Jo Jo back. She would find the way and would be home soon before it got too dark.
Halfway into the wood she heard a sound and saw the deer. His antlers looked very big and heavy, and Jo Jo felt sorry for the poor deer who had to carry such awkward things on his head.
The deer's antlers brushed against the forest floor as he stooped down to munch some grass. Jo Jo drew nearer. She broke a twig under her foot. The deer looked up. Jo Jo did not feel afraid of the deer. He had nice brown eyes that looked sad and she noticed blood on the deer's nose. Jo Jo stayed very still. The deer did not move.
"You are the little girl," the deer said, "who lives in that house."
The deer pointed with his antlers towards the light.
"Yes," Jo Jo said and she understood now why the deer had antlers. They were like hands. "My name is Jo Jo," she said.
"There is a man trying to shoot me," the deer said. "He is hunting me with his gun. But he is very heavy and I would hear him coming with his big boots. He is not light like a little girl. You see the blood which has gone hard now on my nose?"
"Yes," said Jo Jo.
"That was when the car hit me," the deer said. "If the man shoots me, do you know what will happen?"
"No," said Jo Jo.
"The children will not receive any Christmas presents."
"Why?" said Jo Jo. She was very worried now. She had asked for a bicycle for Christmas.
"Because I help Santa Claus," the deer said. "He calls for me every Christmas Eve. I lead his sleigh. My name is Rudolph."
The man wore big boots and they made squeaky noises as he went through the woods. He was carrying his gun. He pointed it at every sound he heard: a creak in a branch, a bird flying out, some sound further up that he could not make out. He saw the trace of blood on the trunk of a tree. He knew he was getting nearer to the deer.
The deer suddenly looked frightened. He pressed his head sideways to the forest floor. "I must go," he said to Jo Jo. "I hear the sound of the man. I hear his boots. Goodbye."
Jo Jo watched the deer run through the gaps in the trees. He ran fast like he knew every step of the way, and soon he disappeared deep into the woods.
The man saw Jo Jo. He spoke to her in a cross voice. "What are you doing, child, out here in the woods on your own? Go home."
"I saw the deer," Jo Jo said.
"Where?" The man was excited.
"He went that way." And Jo Jo pointed to the opposite way the deer had gone.
On Christmas Eve Jo Jo could not sleep. She left out a carrot for the deer and wondered if he would come with Santa.
She also wondered if she would get the bicycle. Or did the man with the gun find Rudolph and shoot him?
She lay awake as long as she could. She looked out her window at the frosty night and at the moon and all the stars in the sky.
There was no sign of the sleigh or sound of Santa's sleigh bells. She tried to keep her eyes open but they grew heavy and soon she was asleep.
When she awoke on Christmas morning there was a shining new bicycle at the end of her bed and the carrot she had left for Rudolph was gone.
From 'The Adventures of Jo Jo' by James Lawless