Okay, so I'm a little embarrassed about this one but I'm putting it out there anyway, haha. I started this in 2018 but couldn't finish it due to having cancer. I didn't finish it last year, either, less directly due to the same cancer. Ahem. It's not especially Seuss-like but I've always been interested in the idea of who the Grinch is after the Christmas in question. I think the answer is different based on whether you're talking about Grinch Classic or one of the adaptations. This version of the Grinch takes into account all of the Grinch stuff written specifically by Dr. Seuss but none of the adaptations. Also, this is kind of lazy of me, but I know I imagine Cindy Lou as having both parents and a handful of siblings (from the illustrations) but I didn't want to write about them nor include an excuse. So they're there, but standing just out of frame and no one talks to them during the action described.
Also, regarding timeline: I imagine that Halloween is Grinch Night takes place the autumn before the Grinch steals Christmas. Around that time Euchariah was probably around nine years old while Cindy Lou was two. This is around ten years later, give or take. The Grinch has mellowed out considerably in the intervening years, and he's especially down in this story because- well, here you are:
Even on his best days, the Grinch wasn't so much of a "get up early and greet the day" person as he was a "sleep 'till noon and then you only have to pay for two meals" person. So when his alarm began blaring at six in the morning, he reached out a furry green mitt to silence it so he could roll over and return to his tranquil slumber. However, the jaunty Christmas music coming from his clock radio reminded his foggy, sleep-deprived mind that today was the day before Christmas, and there was a lot to do to get ready for the holiday. He had promised Cindy Lou's family to be there for the big pre-Christmas brunch, and after that he would join the town was getting together to finish setting up the Christmas display for tonight's Christmas pageant. He was also supposed to help gather the presents the townspeople had gotten for the less fortunate Whos who otherwise wouldn't receive anything.
But before that, he had to take care of everything in his cave. In addition to feeding himself and grooming his fur, he also had to get Max up and ready. Mornings had been getting slower the older Max got. Back when he was young, Max was always up before the Grinch was, pawing at the kitchen for his breakfast. All the Grinch had to do was drop some food in his bowl and then open the front door to his cave to let him out. However, as he got older, Max's dietary needs changed, and it was no longer enough to get a can of slop from the corner store. Instead he had to mix a special blend of wet dog food with some rice and chicken he had to pick up specially. Then, when Max started getting arthritis, the Grinch added a special root powder he had to grind every night to alleviate the pain in Max's joints. As time went on Max began to lose his sight, until he was very nearly blind, and so the Grinch had to carry him into the kitchen to his food, and then carry him outside to do his business. And, as Max was losing control of his bladder, the Grinch had to find out if Max had gotten up and gone anywhere in the night, as he often left puddles that needed to be scrubbed and cleaned as soon as possible. Sometimes, when Max couldn't see what was going on around him, he got frightened, and if he felt something touch him he would try and bite. It pained the Grinch that he could not comfort his friend, but he waited until Max had calmed down and then offered his hand so what was left of Max's sense of smell could recognize that the figure around him was his old friend, and then he would allow the Grinch to carry him where he needed to go, or else just hold him and stroke him gently in front of the fire.
All this he did without complaint, because Max was his friend, Max was always there for him, and Max needed him now in his old age. The Grinch kept Max's bed close to his, so that he didn't have to leave Max alone even when they slept. This morning he went over to the little bed, stained and dirty, imbibed with the smell of the dog who slept there. Max was curled up and relaxed.
Honestly, the Grinch realized what had happened as soon as he looked down at the little bed. But still, partly out of habit and partly out of a desire to be wrong, he gave his friend a gentle shake. "Hey... good morning, buddy, ready to get up?" Max did not respond. His body was cold to the touch.
The Grinch slowly picked up Max and held him tightly against his chest. This was a long time coming, he knew and he was preparing for it, but it still hurt. He stayed here for a while, holding his friend close, spending their last morning together.
It was going to be a busy day, but he needed to take a little time now.
It was nearly noon when Cindy Lou reached the top of Mount Crumpit. She had left the house shortly before eleven with her neighbor Euchariah, who was now trailing behind. Her mother had asked her to find out why the Grinch had not arrived yet, as he was never late to a Christmas brunch before.
Euchariah trailed behind. He had only come to keep an eye on Cindy Lou, as they were neighbors and he was the older, more responsible one, but he wasn't in the mood to trek all the way up the mountainside today. Cindy Lou was energetic and excited for Christmas, so she had all of that powering her journey up the mountain. Euchariah would rather be at home curled up with a good book and a mug of hot cocoa, waiting for Christmas to get here. Still, he did wonder why the Grinch hadn't shown up at his neighbor's house, and he was concerned for their friend's well-being.
Euchariah lost sight of Cindy Lou, but he knew the way up the mountain well enough and soon found his way to the Grinch's front door. However, he didn't see Cindy Lou's footprints there, which concerned him. First he wanted to check in with the Grinch before turning back to find out what happened to Cindy Lou, so he rapped loudly on the door. He waited, but got no response. He knocked a few more times, but after there were no signs of life from the cave he decided that whatever was going on with the Grinch, it wasn't occurring in his cave.
Euchariah clapped his mittens together to get the feeling back in his fingertips before heading back down the mountain to find Cindy Lou. Now that he was looking down rather than up, he could easily see where her footprints diverged from the path, and he followed them. It wasn't far, just beyond a clump of trees, when he heard the sound of snow crunching. "Ah," he said to himself, "I've found her."
There was a flat area in the clearing just beyond the trees, on the west side of the mountain where the ground thawed last. Euchariah saw that an area of the snow had been cleared away, and that the Grinch was kneeling in front of a small hole, fiercely stabbing at the frozen dirt with a garden spade. Next to him was a bundle wrapped in a quilt Euchariah recognized as the one Max would lay down on in the Grinch's kitchen. Cindy Lou was standing off to the side, looking on in silence.
Euchariah stepped up next to Cindy Lou, watching the Grinch work. "Merry Christmas, Grinch," he said in a cautious voice.
The Grinch grunted in response.
Euchariah took in the scene, putting the pieces together to form the story. Then, using that same prudence, he asked softly, "It's Max, isn't it?"
The Grinch nodded.
"You're never going to finish before Christmas that way. Do you still have some dry lumber next to your fireplace? I can help you thaw the ground."
The Grinch stopped digging to wipe his brow, and surreptitiously his eyes as well. "Yes," he said. "Thank you."
Euchariah tugged on Cindy Lou's arm. "Come on," he said. "You can use his phone to call your mom and tell her we'll be a while."
It took a while, but Euchariah's fire thawed the ground nicely. He also brought two more shovels from the Grinch's supply closet (he had five in total, and Euchariah didn't really know why anyone would need more than one) and started to dig as well, but the Grinch stopped him. He didn't say anything, just held his hand on the shovel and looked up at Euchariah, and Euchariah understood well enough. This was the last thing he would ever be able to do for Max, and he needed to do it himself.
Finally, after another hour of digging, Euchariah said, "I think that's deep enough." It wasn't as deep as it should have been, but the Grinch had been out there since sunrise and he looked exhausted. The Grinch only nodded, and then gently picked up the quilt and tenderly placed his beloved dog into the hole.
"We should say something," said Cindy Lou.
"I agree," said Euchariah.
The Grinch sat back down in the snow and leaned against one arm supporting him from behind. He wasn't young himself, and it looked like the effort on top of the grief had sucked all the life out of his bones, leaving a ghastly pallor behind on the Grinch.
After a long silence, the Grinch said, "There's nothing to say. He was a good dog, and a good friend... and I don't know what I'm going to do without him."
"I remember one Christmas when my mom said I had to eat the green beans if I wanted any more Christmas cookies," said Cindy Lou, "and I hate green beans, but Max was sitting under my chair so I kept dropping them off my fork and he gulped them right up, and Mom thought I ate all the green beans so I got cookies." She paused. "I gave half of them to Max anyway, because he's the one that earned them."
That got a very faint smile out of the Grinch. "I remember that. He had a stomachache that night and he threw up in my old slippers."
"Fortunately a new pair is what Grandpa Josiah got you for Christmas that year," said Euchariah.
"I think I've known him my whole life," said Cindy Lou.
"Since you were two," said the Grinch. "I remember that Christmas." What was left unsaid, of course was the Christmas I tried to steal. In all the years since, not one single Who had ever tried to hold that over his head, for which the Grinch was grateful.
Euchariah took his glasses off to clean a spot off of the lenses. "You know," he said pensively as he squinted at the hole that the Grinch was now slowly filling. "I think I like this funeral much better with my glasses off."
The Grinch let out a long, weary sigh. "You need to put your glasses back on and face the facts."
"I know, I know," said Euchariah as he did so.
Cindy Lou went over to the Grinch and wrapped her arms around his. "Come on," she said. "Mom and Dad are waiting for us back at home. I told them we'd be late but you know how parents are, they worry."
The Grinch reached his free arm out and gently touched one of Cindy Lou's hands with the tip of his fingers. "Yes... I suppose they do." He shifted his weight, and then slowly stood up, his joints creaking as he did so. "All right... let's go. I know there's a lot of work to do for Christmas. Just let me grab my overnight bag and we'll be on our way."
It was half past four when the Grinch, Cindy Lou, and Euchariah all arrived at Cindy Lou's house. The Grinch was greeted by Mrs. Who in a warm embrace before being ushered in to sit down next to the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a lap quilt, which he graciously accepted.
"Cindy Lou told us what happened when she called," said Mrs. Who. "Grinch, honey, you don't have to do anything you don't want to today. Don't worry about it, we're taking care of everything."
"Thank you," said the Grinch as he settled into an overstuffed easy chair with the best view of the crackling fire and the twinkling Christmas tree. He watched the fire, but out of the corner of his eye he noticed Mrs. Who picking up a few small wrapped packages and carrying them out with her. He closed his eyes and sighed.
When he opened them, he saw Cindy Lou sitting in front of him on the floor, legs crossed, looking up at him just as wide-eyed as she was the night she caught him stealing her Christmas tree. It was hard to believe in only a few short years she would be a young woman. It made him feel like an old man.
"Grinch," she said, "where did you get Max?"
The Grinch chuckled at the question, and then tilted his head back, letting all the memories run down the back of his skull until they pooled in the cerebellum, which didn't help any. "It was many years ago now," he said. "I had been alone for a long time at that point, longer than I care to remember... but he was just a puppy then. It was winter, a few weeks after Christmas and I was feeling... particularly Grinchy, shall we say? I had the worst itch in the small of my back and no matter what I did I just could not scratch it. So I went out, and there was this puppy, and he must have been hungry and lonely and miserable because he latched onto me and just would. Not. Go. Away. I yelled at him, I even kicked the poor thing," and here the Grinch shuddered remembering it, "but no matter what I did, he wouldn't stop following. When I got back to my cave I let him in and I lay down on my stomach on my bed, just angry about everything. And that dog..." here the Grinch smiled and shook his head. "That clever little pup knew what was bothering me. He climbed right up on the bed and gave that one spot between my shoulder blades a good scratch, and I knew I needed to keep him around."
The Grinch had been smiling that whole time, but when he got to the end of the sentence, his face slowly fell until it was back to its misery. "I treated him so poorly back then," he said softly. He closed his eyes and pinched his temples. "I was so sorry for the way I was back then. I tried to make up for how I was, but does he know? I told him I was sorry, but did he know?"
"He knew," said Euchariah. Euchariah was sitting on the floor next to the Christmas tree, near the presents. "I know he wasn't so happy when I first met him, but he knew you loved him in the end. Dogs understand apologies; when they're young and they're playing with their littermates, and one of them yelps loudly, the other one will switch to appeasing gestures such as muzzle licking to demonstrate that it wasn't done on purpose. I often saw you patting him, scratching his chin, rubbing his belly, and I'm sure he knew for the rest of his life you wanted to make up for how you treated him before."
Euchariah looked for any reaction in the Grinch's stony face. There wasn't any readable shift in his expression, but he did say, "Thank you, Euchariah."
"Do you remember when my pet hummingfish died?" asked Cindy Lou.
"Yes, I do," said the Grinch. "You were only six, I believe."
"Six and a half, I believe was your insistent terminology," added Euchariah.
"Well, that was important back then," said Cindy Lou. "I remember I cried for days. I missed Hummy so much. Then my mother brought home a new fish, and it wasn't the same, but I learned to love Splashy just as much."
The Grinch was already shaking his head. "I know where you're going with this, but no. It's not the same. And besides, I'm too old to take in another puppy. They're... so energetic and lively, and I'm just not, anymore."
"I'm sorry," said Cindy Lou.
"Don't be," said the Grinch. "It was a good suggestion."
"Are you gonna be okay?"
"I will. I'm just... sad. Max was a big part of my life. I will say this, though, I'm glad he isn't in pain anymore."
After that he sat quietly, slowly sipping his hot drink, letting himself thaw out and reminiscing in his mind about his old friend. Cindy Lou and Euchariah stayed near, knowing that now wasn't the time to talk but also understanding that being close and present was enough. Still, Cindy Lou was apprehensive. She could feel a strange sort of coldness emitting from the Grinch and she wasn't sure what it meant.
So the afternoon passed in that way for a long time, until finally the Grinch rose from his chair, moving the quilt aside and placing his empty mug on the hearth. "Before I forget," he said as he moved over to the front door. That was where he had stashed his overnight bag, which he always took with him to Whoville so he wouldn't have to return to his cave as often during an extended visit. Inside he withdrew a small series of brightly wrapped Christmas presents and arranged them under the tree with the rest.
"Yours are under there, too," said Cindy Lou. "And-" but she cut herself off immediately.
As he was doing so, Mrs. Who returned. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold as she quickly began unbuttoning her coat before the warmth of the fire made her skin start to prickle. "Hello, Grinch," she said with a smile. "Feeling better?"
"Yes, thank you," said the Grinch. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help gather the presents."
"Don't worry about it," said Mrs. Who. "We're fine. We're all pitching in, everything is going to get done. Are you hungry? Would you like some dinner yet?"
"No, thank you," said the Grinch, who hadn't eaten since his early dinner last night. His stomach was still tied up in knots and he wasn't sure if he currently had the ability to swallow anything.
"Would you still like to go to the pageant tonight?"
"Yes, that sounds wonderful."
The rest of the evening's events seemed to happen around the Grinch as if he were separated from the rest of the world by a pane of glass, transparent and nearly invisible but a barrier nonetheless. There was a part of him, a part that was slowly growing, that resented the fact that they had been able to complete the day's activities without him, as if he wasn't needed at all, as if they just kept him around as an amusement. The idea didn't make sense, and yet he felt in his heart that this was the case, for his heart, which had grown three sizes before, now without his best friend was slowly shrinking.
The pageant was beautiful, but the Grinch didn't notice. He didn't register any smiling faces distributing the gifts to the less fortunate. All he saw was the same empty, shallow materialism that had fueled his crusade on Christmas all those years ago. The joy, the togetherness, and the love that permeated each action did not reach him. Now that he was alone again it all seemed... meaningless.
Normally when he visited overnight he stayed in the house of Cindy Lou Who and her family, and tonight was no different. As his bones were getting old and creaky, he slept in Cindy Lou's room on her bed and she slept on the couch in the family room. As a child she had loved the prospect of being in the same room as Santa Clause, even though she was never able to stay awake long enough to meet him and he was quiet enough that she never stirred. The Grinch usually put up a token struggle, insisting that he was fine and no one needed to be displaced because of him, but Mrs. Who and Cindy Lou were gracious hosts and insisted, and after a few rounds of this he caved. Tonight, though, he went up to bed without a word, lay down in Cindy Lou's pink and white sheets, closed his eyes, and went right to sleep.
He was awake again at two in the morning, betrayed by his bladder and all that cocoa he'd had to drink. But after that was over, he found he was too awake to go back to sleep. And he didn't really care about Christmas the next morning. And honestly, he didn't want to be around the Whos as they were happy and singing, and blowing their floofloovers and banging their tartookas... it just seemed loud and pointless.
So he decided to go back. He picked up his hat and scarf from the coat rack by the door and left into the night, not even bothering to leave a message letting them know where he was going. They'd wake up in the morning and he just wouldn't be there. Maybe they'd send someone up to his cave, but he probably wouldn't respond to the bell. Probably they'd just assume he wanted to be left alone, which he did, so they'd be right.
It had started to snow again after midnight. A rich, wet snow covered the paved streets of Whoville and hid his footprints from the afternoon. The weather was near freezing, but the Grinch didn't notice through his thick winter fur. The only part of him that was aware of the cold were his feet where the snow clung to his hairs, but even that wasn't demanding much attention, just a dim awareness of its existence.
The wind picked up as he reached the base of the mountain. Here the snow was deeper, around shin level. It was going to be a long walk. The Grinch was still exhausted from being up early and digging in frozen dirt and not getting much sleep, and as he got older it got harder and harder to go up the mountain whenever he was done visiting with people. In the mood he was in, he thought that this problem was easily rectified; he simply would make no more trips down the mountain and then he wouldn't have to climb it again. Of course that would mean never seeing any of the Whos again, and this thought brought some warmth to his frosty toes.
A particularly large gust of wind blew at the Grinch's side, flipping his scarf tail up past his face and smacking him in the cheek. Annoyed, the Grinch flipped it back down and scowled. But when the howl of the wind subsided, the Grinch heard a slightly different howl. He stopped walking, because the crunch of the fresh snow was disruptively loud, and listened. Just above the sound of the wind the Grinch could hear a faint yowl, unlike one he had heard before.
Curiosity got the better of him, and he started in the direction of the noise. It was so faint that it was hard at first to tell if he was getting closer, but as the Grinch crept along as quietly as he could in the snow, he determined the noise was coming from a pine tree a few yards away, just a bit further up the mountain. When he found which tree it was, he parted the branches at the base to see just what was disturbing the night.
There, curled up at the base of the tree, in a protective layer of pine needles, was a tiny, gray kitten. The Grinch blinked a few times in surprise, not quite registering what he was seeing right away due to fatigue. Then, after the surprise was over, he took off his scarf, knelt down, scooped up the kitten, and wrapped it in the thick wool. He didn't speak any words of reassurance, didn't coo over its big ears or skinny tail, simply wrapped it up tight and turned back to Whoville. In under ten minutes he was back at the house of Cindy Lou and her family.
When he got inside, he found Mrs. Who standing at the fireplace next to her daughter's now-filled stocking. The stack of presents under the tree had grown since that evening, as well. Mrs. Who looked surprised and whispered, "Grinch? Where were-"
"Could you light a fire, please?" replied the Grinch in an equally hushed voice.
"Now? It's three in the morning."
"Yes, now." The Grinch moved the end of his scarf just enough for Mrs. Who to see the small kitten.
She gasped in surprise. "Oh! Oh, my, where did you-?"
"Just outside of town," replied the Grinch. "I don't know where its mother is but if I didn't move it, it would have frozen."
"I'll light a fire immediately," said Mrs. Who. Right away she took some logs from the wood bin by the fireplace and crumpled some paper for kindling. In a few minutes, the fire was roaring. The Grinch unwrapped the kitten and set it by the fire. It curled up as close as it could to the blaze and began to purr softly.
All of this noise wasn't particularly loud, but it was enough to wake Cindy Lou on the couch. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and mumbled, "Is it Christmas yet?"
"Just barely," said the Grinch.
Cindy Lou's eyes widened when she saw the fire. "Put that out!" she squawked. "You'll burn Santa!"
"Santa already came," said Mrs. Who, pointing to the stocking.
Cindy Lou rubbed her yes. "Oh. I just had the weirdest dream where Christmas was in the summer and Santa Claus lived on the sun. But, like, he wasn't fireproof. I dunno. It was weird." At this point she saw the tiny guest. "Oh! Who is that?"
"Mr. Grinch found him outside in the snow," said Mrs. Who. "So we're warming the poor thing up."
"Oh my gosh, he's the cutest thing!" Cindy Lou squealed. She reached her hand out to pet it, but was blocked by the Grinch.
"Careful," said the Grinch. "He's cold and afraid and doesn't know any of us. It's best to give him some space."
"I love this cat," said Cindy Lou.
"It's a kitten," said Mrs. Who, "and he can't be older than a few weeks given his size. Too small to be away from his mother. So whoever takes care of him will have to give him specialized care."
"I'll talk to Max's vet day after tomorrow," said the Grinch. "He'll have some idea of who can look after a kitten."
"You mean you're not going to keep him?"
The Grinch shook his head. "No. I told you I'm getting too old for a pet."
"You said you were too old for a puppy," said Cindy Lou. "Dogs are rambunctious and full of energy and they need lots of walks and stuff. But cats practically look after themselves. You have to give them things to climb and scratch and play with, but they don't take as much energy as dogs."
"They do when they're this tiny," said the Grinch.
Mrs. Who went into the kitchen and fetched a dish of milk. "I know milk isn't ideal for kittens, but we won't be able to find kitten formula until the morning at least," she explained when she came back. She put the dish on the fireplace. The kitten sniffed the air and slowly moved towards the dish of milk, and began to drink it. Mrs. Who smiled. "I think this little guy is going to be fine," she said. Then she turned to Cindy Lou. "It is past your bedtime, young lady."
"Well, you guys woke me up!" she said with a pout.
The Grinch sat down on the couch next to her. "Why don't you go back to your room? I'll keep an eye on the kitten and make sure the house doesn't burn down."
With little resistance, Cindy Lou went up to bed. The Grinch stayed up with the cat until nearly dawn, when the fire died down and was nothing more than a few red embers. By then, the kitten and warmed up considerably and was able to stay warm and cozy in the Grinch's scarf.
A few hours after dawn and Christmas began properly. The Grinch woke up, still sitting on the couch, to the sounds of Mrs. Who making breakfast in the kitchen. Sometime in the night the kitten had curled up on the Grinch's lap, ostensibly for warmth. He absentmindedly stroked the kitten's back, and then carefully nudged it off his lap and onto the couch.
Cindy Lou was sitting on the stairs, watching them. The Grinch became aware of this as soon as he stood up. "Can I help you?" he asked.
Cindy Lou stood up. The Grinch saw she was holding a wrapped present. It was lumpy and oblong, clearly just a wrapped object not in any sort of box. She handed it to the Grinch, who took it. He saw two patches that were white, where the color had been ripped off. "That was Max's Christmas present," said Cindy Lou, "but I thought the cat might want it... if that's okay with you, I mean."
The Grinch carefully unwrapped it. It was a knotted, frayed rope. Usually this kind of rope was used for dogs to play tug-of-war. However, when he dangled it over the kitten's head, he reached up with his claws and started swatting at it. The more the Grinch moved it, the more the kitten attacked, until they were having a fantastic game.
"Thank you," said the Grinch.
"You can take it to the vet when you give the kitten away," said Cindy Lou.
The Grinch sighed. "That wouldn't be fair to the cat," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"He already likes it here with us," replied the Grinch.
"So you're going to keep him?"
"Probably. When I get older, so will he. And it's like you said, a cat isn't a dog. Although, I might need some help from time to time."
"You want me to come to your cave and cat-sit?"
"Maybe. Or I might move down here."
"Maybe. But it's getting harder and harder to go up and down the mountain. I think it might be time for me to think about setting up a place of my own just outside of town. Like, on the other side of the town border. Off the mountain. Not in town. But down here."
"That would be cool," said Cindy. "If you keep the cat, what are you going to name him?"
"I don't know. Max was the only name I could ever think of. Maybe you should think of a name."
"Maybe you should name him, like, Christmas or something."
"Maybe not that on the nose."
"Maybe we'll name him later."
Mrs. Who came bustling into the room. "All right, I've got breakfast on the table. We overslept a little, though, so eat quickly or we'll miss singing in Town Square. Will you be joining us for that, Grinch?"
The Grinch pondered that for a moment. "Yes," he said slowly, "I think I will." He smiled and patted his chest, where his heart was just the right size. "I definitely will."