The smell drifted from the brightly decorated living room, across the garden and into Fred’s hutch. With a jolt, she suddenly realised the significance of all the lights, music and laughter. It was Christmas Eve. The one night of the year when the children always brought Fred indoors. And yet here she was in her cold, dark hutch gazing wistfully upon the festivities inside.
The first Christmas Eve, Fred was just a baby. The novelty of a new pet still hadn’t worn off and the children had bounded over to her hutch as soon as they arrived home from school. During the holidays, they’d played with her all day and when it got chilly, her whole hutch was moved inside. She’d spent the night of Christmas Eve curled up on a cosy, warm lap.
By the next year, the family had realised that Fred was actually a girl when she’d had the babies. Whilst unexpected, the babies were welcomed with open arms. When winter came, they were all taken inside to keep warm and play. But with the spring came talk of new homes and soon, one by one, Fred’s babies disappeared.
Next, the taunts started. The children were getting older now and they didn’t have time for her. She’d only see them when they threw some food into her cage and topped up her water. Unless they were in the garden with friends. Those were the times Fred dreaded. The children would point and jeer. Laughing about the girl called Fred. Sometimes they’d poke her through the bars of the hutch. She’d longed to feel the summer grass on her feet but the hutch door never opened.
And now, gazing through the closed window, Fred understood that there would be no more grass. No more Christmas inside. The girl named Fred had been forgotten. Her heart sank and she buried her head sadly into her straw.
Fred didn’t know how long she’d been sat like that before she heard it.
Woof. Squeeeak squeak. Woof.
Fred peered through her bars and caught sight of Gerald, the tiny dog from next door. He’d been bought as a puppy the Christmas after she’d arrived here. She used to hear his excited yaps as his family took him out for a walk, but his walks got fewer and further between. She only ever heard him sniffing around the garden these days.
Gerald was wearing a pink Christmas jumper and she watched as he pulled frantically at the rusty catch on her hutch door. Eventually, Gerald stepped backwards and the door creaked as it swung open.
Tentatively, Fred hopped out onto the frozen ground. Gerald beckoned for her to follow him and they squeezed through a gap in the fence and into a vegetable patch. She followed him across lawns and patios, under fences and over steps. They squeezed through one last gap and emerged into a large, warm barn full of beautiful lights that twinkled like stars.
Inside, lounging comfortably on the soft straw, were hundreds of animals. Some she recognised but most were strangers. There were ponies, llamas, cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and mice. There were birds, snakes, lizards, tortoises, hedgehogs and stick-insects and many more besides. Some, like Gerald, were wearing festive outfits. But most of them looked a bit unkempt, like nobody really cared about them anymore.
Fred wondered briefly who they all were and then it dawned on her. They were the unwanted pets and this was their Christmas party. Some of the pets were strays, mostly the cats and dogs. Many lived in hutches or cages, still in the place they had once called home but no-longer loved. The dogs who had homes were well-fed but never walked and the cats were fed but not cared for.
In the middle of the room was a feast like nothing Fred had ever seen. There was something for every animal. Tasty, fresh dandelions for the rabbits, cheese for the rodents and steak for the meat-eaters.
At the side of the room was a fireplace with a beautiful open fire and next to that was the biggest Christmas tree she’d ever seen. Piled up under the tree were presents of all shapes and sizes. In that room, all the animals had put their differences aside. Dogs groomed cats, snakes curled up next to mice and ponies nuzzled lizards.
Suddenly, the double doors swung open and a beautiful creature trotted in. It was a glowing white horse with a single horn on the front of its head. It folded its enormous wings and made its way to the Christmas tree.
The creature spoke with a sing-song voice like melted syrup. All the animals stopped what they were doing and turned to listen.
Tonight is Christmas Eve. The loved and happy pets are enjoying it with their families. And I am here to grant you the same happiness for Christmas. Each of you will become healthy and free from pain. You will experience love, cuddles and happiness from one another. And you will all receive a gift.
The creature turned towards the pile of gifts by the tree and nodded. Slowly all the gifts started to sparkle and fade, each leaving behind only a bead of light.
When each of you returns you’ll find your gift in the place where only you go. Now, be still so I can heal you all.
A hush descended on the room. From the end of the creature’s horn came a pink ray of sunshine. It spread out, enveloping the whole of the barn. There wasn’t a squeak, hiss or neigh. Not a woof, meow or tweet broke the silence as the light silently disappeared.
Fred looked around the barn and every unloved, unkempt animal had been transformed. Each had a full coat of fur and appeared healthy and happy. The creature spoke again.
Now, I must be gone. In the middle of the room is a feast for each of you. The love and happiness that you seek is also right here. Love one another today and every day. Meet your neighbours, find out how you can help each other throughout the year. Do not suffer or see suffering. There is enough love in the world for every animal but that won’t always come from your humans.
The creature turned on its heels and cantered from the room, spreading its wings as it went through the door. Fred watched it take off into the night sky, glistening and fading as it blended into the full moon.
She watched for a moment before joining Gerald and the others at the feast. Gerald introduced her to the other animals from her street. They explained that this happened every Christmas Eve for the unloved animals. But last year, she and her babies had been indoors. But wait, were her babies here?
She looked at all the rabbits tucking into their food but she recognised nobody. Seeing her disappointment, Gerald scurried off to a proud looking ginger cat. The cat told Fred that her babies weren’t here because they were loved. Though she missed them, she was glad. She hoped they would always be loved. But she knew that if they were forgotten like her, then one day they would be reunited for a special Christmas Eve.