Daddy left the play pen gate open. He was grumpy as he was most mornings, but he'd come when he called and picked him up gently and taken him downstairs. He put him in the pen then headed straight to the kitchen to let the dogs out – they barked excitedly when they saw him and drowned out the faint calls from the front room.
So he pushed open the gate and stepped out of the play pen. He followed Daddy to the kitchen and found he wasn't there and the back door was also wide open. A blast of cold air came from it; there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground and an eerie sort of pale light that looked much whiter than daylight usually did. He picked up his sippy cup that was lying on the floor under the table and shook it. It was empty.
He headed out into the back garden. He could hear Daddy and the dogs but couldn't see them, they must have gone round the side. But something caught his eye in the woods that started just the other side of the hedge – a glimpse of bright red moving among the trees. He toddled down the lawn and squeezed through the hole in the hedge that the dogs kept making.
He'd wandered some way into the woods before realising he'd lost sight of the red and that he was starting to get cold. He stopped and looked round for Daddy or Mummy but couldn't see either of them and was getting ready to start crying when he saw the red again and was captivated. It was a man, taller than Daddy, wearing a bright red coat that went all the way below his knees, and a bright red hat too. The coat and hat had white fur along the bottom, like Mummy's big coat, and the hat had a ball of white on top that bobbed up and down as he walked. He was carrying a bag over his shoulder, and walking alongside him was something that looked like a horse but with horns, something like a cow's but much bigger and branching off.
He forgot about crying and went towards the man and his not-horse, who seemed to slow down just for him to catch up. When he reached them he was a little scared, the man and beast were both so big, but they stopped walking and the man turned and bent down to look at him and smiled. He handed his sippy cup up to the man, still a bit too shy to say anything, and the man didn't say anything but put his bag down and took the cup. He put the cup into the top of his bag and pulled it out again straight away and handed it back.
He snatched it and drank greedily – it was full of slightly warm milk which tasted better than anything he'd had in a long time. The man started walking again, so he stuck his hand up and the man took it and together they walked through the woods, the not-horse following behind, snuffling slightly and breathing warm air down his back. He didn't feel cold any more.
They left the woods and turned down an alleyway and onto the main street that he recognised from going into town with Mummy. The man led him right to his front door and gave it a slight push – it drifted open just wide enough for him to slip through. The man let go of his hand and he looked up at him. The man smiled again and put his bag down, reached into it, and brought out of piece of toast with butter melted in. He took it, it was still warm, and bit off a mouthful. He finally felt brave enough to say “bye-bye” and waved, dropping bits of toast from both hand and mouth. The man just nodded and turned to walk away.
He went inside and immediately heard Mummy and Daddy calling for him. He tottered down the hallway – there was a bang as the front door closed behind him – and went into the front room. Mummy came in from the kitchen and shouted in relief. She rushed up to him and picked him up and hugged him and kissed him. The Daddy appeared in the doorway and exclaimed “Thank God!” and then frowned. “But where did he get that toast?”