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 Short Story

A Christmas Miracle

By Bernard Howe

It was late in the 19th century, deep within the hills of the Missouri Ozarks. The snow was falling fast and the wind was whippin through the trees. The sun was obscured from site and it was becoming very hard to see. The trail was starting to disappear as the snow blanketed the ground. Hank and his little dog Jess, a beagle hound, were hurrying to make it home before nightfall. The howling of the wind and the bitter sting of the snow hitting old Hank made him wish he stayed in town. As Hank and Jess was just getting to Blue Ridge reservoir it seemed like the bottom just fell completely out of the clouds, they could not even see 5 feet down the trail? The new clothes Hank had just bought in town for Christmas was in a bag under his arm and a lunch sack in the other made it hard for Hank to keep his hands warm. The ridge, about a half a mile ahead was starting to seem like it was a hundred miles ahead. There was a faint smell of smoke in the air so Hank knew that a cabin was close by. It was the home of Bill, the wicked old man who hated everyone. It was said that Bill was a friend of the famed outlaw Jesse James, and went into hiding when Jesse was killed. Old Bill was also a confederate major in the civil war and once was a Quantrell Raider.

Hank said to ole Jess that if they didn't go and see if they could stay at Bill's till the storm passed they both would freeze to death. Walking toward the smoke in the direction of old Bills the snow was so deep. Hank had to really pick his feet up as they were sinking knee deep into the fresh snow. It was getting so deep that poor Jess could hardly move. All he could do was keep jumping to move forward, so Hank picked Jess up and stuck him in his coat. It seemed like they walked for miles and still they could not see old Bills cabin. It was just a short distance from the trail and Hank was starting to loose his directions, as it became totally white in every direction he looked. The wind was blowing even harder now, that Hank had a hard time keeping his balance. The smell of the smoke was still coming at them at times. The sun was starting to set as it began to get darker and colder. Hank started to push harder to make the cabin as soon as possible for he knew if he couldn't get there quick both him and Jess were goners.

Darkness came quick and the temperature dropped fast. Soon it was so cold Hank's knees was starting to go numb and his feet was burning. Hank dropped the new clothes he bought for his kinfolks back at the homestead. Poor Jess was crawled up inside Hank's light coat and that helped Hanks body to stay warm. Hank was really starting to get frightened now, he was not too sure if he was going to make it. He went and got himself lost in his own back woods. Hank stumbled and fell and then something hit him in the back of the head. Hank then felt something warm running down the back of his head, just as he lost consciousness.

It seemed like years had gone by as Hank woke up. His head was so sore even his eyes even hurt; there was this sticky feeling all over the back of his head and shoulders. His arms and legs felt like he had just been run over by a herd of cattle. There wasn't a muscle or bone in his body that didn't hurt. He rolled over and looked around to see where he was at or if he'd died. Hank's eyes was watery and blurry, the light hurt them as he tried to open them up wider. As he began to raise himself up a sharp pain hit him right in the middle of his back. Hank fell on the blanket he was lying on and tried to catch his breath. Just then Jess came and started to lick his check. Hank reached out and pulled Jess close to his side and asked him where they were. Hank rolled on his side and held on to Jess and tried to see where they ended up.

The place was strange to him as he has never been here before, and it had a very odd smell, kind of sweet and spicy like fancy baking, like pies or cakes. Hank could not see anyone so he tried to call out. When no one answered his call, Jess just sat there and watched Hank and gave a short bark. Hurting still and very tired Hank went back to sleep, hoping that someone would be there when he awakens.

A strange noise woke him up. It sounded like the clanking of pots and pans. Hank started to get up and then he became dizzy. So he lay against the wall while getting his balance back. He then got up and went into the other room, and there in front of him was a large breakfast all hot and steaming. But still Hank could not find anyone around. He poured a hot cup of coffee and started eating. Once he was finished and rested some. Hank got up and put the dishes in the washtub. Still there was no one to be seen. Hank then heard a noise in the other room. When he went in the fire was going strong again and stocked with plenty of firewood. Still no one was to be seen. Hank started to feel kind of nervous not knowing who was there doing all of this. Then he noticed his package of clothing he had dropped in the snowstorm lying there on the table. Hank went to the window and peeked outside to see if he could figure out where he was. Nothing looked familiar to him at all, and the snow was about 3 feet deep. He wondered just how long he had been here. Hank started looking around to see if he could find something to tell him where he might be or who's place he is in. After hours of looking, he couldn't find anything to give him an idea of where he might be. Hank tried to see the back of his head where it hurt, but he couldn't find a mirror. He wondered what it was that hit him; he didn't even know how long ago it even happened, or who helped him.

Hank stayed there for 2 more days, and every morning and evening a warm meal was waiting for him and the fire was kept going, yet no one was ever seen. Jess didn't even bark or anything. It was as if by magic it all just appeared. Hank gradually got his strength back and he was ready to find his way home, as Christmas was almost there. Hank got all wrapped up and put Jess in his coat again along with his package of clothes, his family gifts, and set out to head home. Hank was about 100 paces away when he turned around to look back. There in the window was the outline of an old woman working inside the house. So Hank turned around and headed back to say his thanks. Just as he was within shouting distance of the place the outline of the lady inside went away. Hank started calling and as he got to the door and reached up to knock a loud noise came from inside. He pulled the door open, and to his surprise the cabin was cold and empty as if no one had been there in years. Hank then turned around and started back towards where he thought the path may be. He never looked back as he didn't want to think about what just happened. He kept walking and walking when he came upon a large tree with the markings his family made to let people know whose land they was on. Hank now knew just where he was. He and Jess felt happy to know they would be home soon.

Shortly Hank walked over the hill where he could see the clearing where his house was. There in the clearing was his ma and grandpa. Hank called to them and kept on walking. When He walked up to them and said how glad he was to be home his grandpa said it was a wonder he even made it at all. Seems a big avalanche came crashing down and covered the town where he went to do his Christmas shopping and they all thought he was a goner. Hank and his family walked towards the house as Hank started telling them of his story about how he ended up in a strange cabin with no one around. Hanks grandpa said that there never has been a place there by the backside to the lake. He wanted Hank to take him there to see just who was moving in. Hank got a warmer coat and a pair of boots and they took off to where He and Jess spent the past 4 days. Hank and his grandpa followed the trail he left in the snow. Soon they came to where the house was in the deep woods and Hanks foot prints stopped. But there was no house to be found. Hank started looking all over and told his grandfather this is where that house was. Hanks grandpa went over to where a small pile of rocks was and he found an old grave marker. On the marker was a carved note:

Ma Parker once lived here
Now she's with her maker.
So be kind to old Ma now
For its our turn to care for her.

As Hanks grandpa was reading the inscription Hank had a cold chill run up his back and made the hair on his neck stand up. Hank didn't know just what to make of it as he just stood there with his mouth open looking at his grandfather. Hanks grandfather said don't ever mention this to anyone or they would think he went daft. As they were walking back home Hank could not help but think about what may have happened. Grandpa said to Hank "Boy yous'n twas very lucky, so member now jus what happened, tanks yore maker". Hank listened, and for the rest of the way home. He kept thinking, where did he sleep and what was that he was eating?

When they arrived back at the house everyone started to ask questions and grandfather said the trail was gone and they couldn't find it and they would try it again in spring when the weather gets better. Hank said he was very tired and that he needed to go to bed. So He went off to his room in the loft and just lay there thinking about what he had just been through. Jess crawled up in the bed beside Hank and went to sleep also. The next day no one seemed to care about what had happened and Hank hoped they would all forget about it. Hank and his grandfather never did talk about it ever again. But every so often Hank and Jess would go back to where the old grave marker was and leave a bundle of flowers with a little note of thanks. And every year for Christmas under the tree there would be a little box all wrapped so pretty with a big fancy ribbon on it for Hank. Hank would always open it and say, "Who got me dis? And inside the box he would hold up an old pair of socks. Then when he took it back to his room and opened it up again he would find gold watches, rings, and fancy gifts with a note that reads…

Thank you dear boy
for remembering an old lady.

Hank would smile and sit back and say, "Jess this is the nicest lady I have never known," and Jess would just bark his approval. As the years went on Hank fixed the old gravesite up and made a nice fenced in area with lots of pretty flowers and he also made another head marker for her grave. Many people saw the grave but no one ever knew who kept it up so pretty.

Bernard Howe
Copyright 2002
http://members.cox.net/berniehpoetry/

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