July 25, 2016

Mostly clear

The Gazette’s annual Christmas story contest


Christmas story contest rules
We started the story, now it’s your turn to finish it. Here are the rules:
1. Entries must be received by 4 p.m. Dec. 14.
2. Each entry must include the following: Name, address, daytime phone, age and
e-mail address.
3. E-mail submissions must have the entry form information at the top of the message.
E-mail submissions must also include “Gazette Christmas story ending” in the subject line. Do not e-mail the story as an attachment.
4. Hard copy entries must be typewritten or neatly printed on 8½-by-11-inch paper. Illegible entries will be ineligible.
5. Endings must not exceed 1,000 words.
6. Entries will not be returned.
7. Employees of The Gazette and their family members may not enter.
8. There will be three winners, one in each of the following divisions: ages 8 to 12, 13 to 17 and 18 and older.

How to send entries
By mail: Accent — Christmas Story Ending, The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina 44256.
By e-mail: accent@ohio.net

“Christmas Eve magic”

Judy A. Totts
The Gazette
She was cold and hungry. And it began to snow. Gusts of wind pummeled the thick gray clouds that hung over the town at the foot of the mountains. It was mid-afternoon on the day before Christmas Eve, but the darkening sky made it seem much later.
The small gray tabby kitten huddled in the shop doorway. She tucked her wet paws close to her body and wrapped her thin tail around them, her eyes half-closed against the stinging snow that pelted down, her ears laid back.
When the door opened, she perked up as a rush of warm air washed over her and a path of light beckoned. But heavy footsteps kicked up snow as people rushed in and out, their arms loaded with last-minute packages, and the kitten shrank back into the shadows.
The door swung open again, more slowly this time, and the shopper held it open for the older woman who followed.
“Thanks,” Maggie Silverstar said, as she shifted the shopping bag to her other arm. “Don’t stay too long, this is going to turn into a blizzard before the day is over, Janie.”
“That’s not what the weatherman said,” Janie replied, pausing before she started walking to her car. “Just a few inches. The kids will be happy. They should be home soon.”
Maggie shook her head. “Those machines don’t tell you everything. And that road the school bus takes over the mountain gets nasty in a hurry.”
“You worry too much,” Janie said, a smile softening her words. “Is your brother Nick coming for Christmas?”
“Maybe the day after,” Maggie said. “So I’ll be talking to the animals at midnight by myself on Christmas Eve.”
“You still do that?” Janie asked. “My kids love it when you tell that story about how the animals are given the gift of speech on Christmas Eve.”
Maggie ran a small farm beyond the city limits, in a valley where the land all around it rose toward the mountain.

She knew just about every teenager and their tag-along kid brothers and sisters in the small town, because at one time or another they earned pocket money by picking strawberries or selling vegetables at the farm stand or helping Maggie with the goats and sheep she kept.
“Well,” Maggie said with a smile, “it’s true.”
The kitten poked her nose out of the shadows.
“It looks like we have a little visitor,” Maggie said, without turning her head. “Come on, little girl, it’s OK,” she said softly, slowly crouching down. She handed her shopping bag to Janie and extended her hand to the little tabby.
The kitten sniffed Maggie’s finger, then inched closer and allowed Maggie to pick her up and carry her to the ancient pickup truck she drove.
Janie watched Maggie tuck the kitten into the blanket she had on the seat beside her.
Almost as if she knew she would take home a foundling, Janie thought as she handed Maggie’s shopping bag to her.
And I could swear I heard her say, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
But then there always had been something wonderful and mysterious about Maggie Silverstar.
Maggie who knew more about the weather than Doppler radar, Maggie who still had a team of draft horses and whose menagerie of animals followed her around like the children did, Maggie whose vegetables won blue ribbons every year at the state fair. People came from miles around to buy her produce.
Maggie never seemed to slow down, despite being … how old was Maggie, anyway? She’d seemed old even when Janie was a girl.
But that’s just because I was so little, Janie thought as she got into her car and turned the key in the ignition. Still, there was something magical about Maggie. She smiled as she watched the old woman drive off into the darkening day.
Maggie talked to the kitten all the way home, promising warm broth and some kibble, and a warm blanket to curl up on.
Yes, I’d like that, the kitten said in its kitten voice.
The wind began to whip snow across the windshield so hard the wipers couldn’t keep up, and Maggie slowed the truck to a crawl.
She looked up at the rugged hills across the field from her house. The snow always drifted deeply and quickly across the roads through there.
She slowed the truck even more as she rounded the bend and started to turn down her long driveway. She gasped. Just beyond her drive, a rockslide blocked both lanes of the road just beyond, and the school bus, although still upright, had skidded into the ditch. Maggie pulled the truck carefully into her driveway, hopped out and walked around the mess to the bus. She was relieved when Peg Winston, the driver, opened the door.
“Anybody hurt?” Maggie asked, climbing up on the step.
“Just shaken up, as far as I can tell,” Peg said. “The littlest ones are crying because they know we won’t be able to get into town, and despite all this” — Peg waved her hand around at the bus stuck in the snow and the rockslide —“they’re afraid Santa won’t find them.”
“Well,” Maggie said, “it looks like I’ve got company for Christmas after all. This won’t clear out for a couple of days, but I have plenty to share. I’ll go hitch up the team and bring up the sled. It will take awhile, but it will be safer than the truck.”
Tears turned to squeals of delight when Peg announced the sleigh ride, which made Maggie smile.
Later, as the children bundled into the kitchen for hot cocoa, Peg came up to Maggie, a worried look on her face.
“I can’t find Joe!” Peg said. Joe Burgess, a headstrong 12-year-old, could be exasperating and tender by turns.
“Joe said he could find his way home,” said 6-year-old Cathy Carter as she sipped her cocoa.
Maggie and Peg exchanged a worried look.
“Cathy, did Joe walk away from the bus or after we got to the barn?” Maggie asked.
“The barn,” Cathy said. “He said he didn’t believe your story about the animals talking tomorrow night anyway. But I believe you. We’ll still have Christmas, won’t we, Maggie? Santa can find us here, can’t he?”
Maggie nodded and then turned to Peg.
“You stay with the children,” Maggie said, pulling her heavy parka down from its hook by the back door.
“There’s a blizzard out there, and Joe might be beyond the fence line by now,” Peg protested. “He’s my responsibility. I’ll go.”
Maggie smiled and looked at the kitten, who had been sitting in Cathy’s lap. “Time to go to work.”
“What?” Peg said, bewildered as the kitten jumped into Maggie’s arms and climbed on her shoulder. “What is she, a search-and-rescue cat?”
Maggie smiled gently again. “Something like that.” And she stepped out the door, closed her eyes and murmured some words under her breath.
Yes, the kitten said. Let’s go.

… to be continued with your endings, Dec. 22.