7th Grade Winner- Jaelynne

The Day Sara Saved Santa

There was a night, one Christmas Eve, that everyone talked about for years after. This
night was, quite possibly, the most famous in all the nights that came and went in the little town of Mapleton. And, since you’re probably wondering what made this night so famous, just settle down and listen to the tale of young Sara McManus. Sara was an ordinary girl, you see, as ordinary as a 13-year-old girl in olden times could be. She liked ordinary things, like putting her dirty blonde hair in a braid down her back and wearing blue calico dresses. If you saw young Sara walking down the street, you wouldn’t think much of her; a medium-short girl with tanned skin, lots of freckles over her nose, hazel eyes, and a long dirty blonde braid. She was just one of the many 13 year old girls in Mapleton.

But Sara was no ordinary rider. No, she was fantastic. If you put young Sara McManus on the back of a horse, she would become one with the wind. If you saw Sara riding by, you would think, “That is no ordinary girl.”

Sara was the second-oldest child in the McManus family. Her father worked as a train engineer on the railroad that ran right through the middle of Mapleton. Her mother was a quiet woman who loved sitting on her porch, surrounded by her giggling kids. Sara’s older brother Matthew had gone away as soon as he was old enough, eager to get to California and find gold.

He wrote occasionally, and his letters were filled with exciting tales of danger and daring that were like wonderful bedtime stories to the younger children. After him was Sara, who became the wind when she rode her horse, Peach. Then there was her little sister Alice, who liked to play with her dolls. After her was little Luke, biggest fan of dirt on the earth. Last were the baby twins, Lizzy (Elizabeth) and Lottie (Charlotte). They didn’t love much of anything, as they were just babies, but they seemed to have a partiality to sunshine and warm milk, fresh from their mother’s milk cow.

They lived in a white farm house on the edge of town, with a big tree in their front yard and back yard, with a big red barn behind the house and surrounded by acres of farm land. It was a happy life they had, altogether in that little town where everyone knew you and you knew everybody.

Little did they know that adventure would come to them, faster than they ever thought it would. You see, every year a man from the town would volunteer to become “Santa” for the kids in Mapleton. He would borrow somebody’s sleigh and a horse or two to pull it, don a full Santa suit sewed every year by the wife of that year’s Santa, and gallop away with some money from each parent in town and a list of ideas from the kids to buy some presents from the nearest big city. Then, he would sneak into each house on Christmas Eve and leave the presents, with a note and tag on each signed with Santa’s name, underneath the family’s Christmas tree.

It was so fun for the younger children, the ones who still believed that there was, in fact, a real Santa, to run downstairs on Christmas morning and, squealing with joy, rip open the presents, wrapped in brown paper, and read the little notes from “Santa”.

When they got older and figured out the trick, they would still enjoy the gifts they were given, and sometimes help sneak the Christmas lists of their siblings to that year’s Santa. Sara was now at the age where she saw through the adults’ little scheme. Her little siblings, however, still believed in the mysterious Santa that somehow got into their house every Christmas Eve.

Today, was Christmas Eve, and Sara was hurrying all the Christmas lists down to her best friend’s father, who was this year’s Santa. Sara, wrapped in her best winter coat, hurried down the road to her best friend’s house.

The cold wind nipped at her cheeks, blowing in a blizzard, and she ducked her head, trying to keep warm. She kept her hands in the coat pockets, preventing the precious pieces of paper from blowing away. Glancing up, she saw the light blue house that her best friend, Eleanor Whitaker, lived in. Eager to get out of the cold, Sara picked up her pace. She pulled open the back door of the house and slipped in, letting the wind blow it shut behind her.

“It’s Sara,” she called, announcing her arrival. She walked into the kitchen, breathing in the delicious smell of Mrs. Whitaker’s baking bread.

“Sara, dear!” Mrs. Whitaker smiled, stepping away from the wood stove and wrapping
Sara into a hug. “How are you?”

“Cold and hungry,” Sara grinned, plopping down in a kitchen chair. “Is the bread
ready?”

“You schemer,” Mrs. Whitaker laughed. “No, the bread is still baking.”

“Is Mr. Whitaker here?” Sara asked. “I have my siblings’ Christmas lists for him.”

“He’s upstairs, finishing his packing,” Mrs. Whitaker said, then turned to call up the
stairs. “Henry, Eleanor! Come down please!”

“If he’s busy, I can just leave them...” Sara started. She was eager to get home and
feed her horse. She was planning on braiding Peach’s mane, just like she braided her own, and tying some red and green Christmas ribbons into it.

“No, you stay and get warmed up for a minute. He’ll be down soon.” As if on cue, Mr. Whitaker and Eleanor came down the stairs. Eleanor’s face broke out into a smile when she saw Sara. She bounded forward and hugged her, her dark brown hair flying behind her.

“Sara, I’m so excited that Daddy’s Santa this year! He says I can read all the Christmas lists before he leaves tonight. What did you ask for?” Eleanor said, letting go of Sara and
eagerly bouncing around the kitchen. Her mother shook her head as Eleanor twirled around her.

“Nothing much,” Sara said. She hated talking about herself.

“Just some stuff.”Eleanor gave her a disdainful look as she came to a stop.

“I asked for a lot of stuff.”

“You always do, Ellie,” Sara smiled as she sat down beside Eleanor at the table.

“I heard you’re bringing me some lists, Sara,” Mr. Whitaker said. “How many?”

“Five,” Sara said, pulling the lists out of her coat pockets and handing them to him. “I would give you Matt’s, but he didn’t send one,” she joked.

“Even if he did, I wouldn’t be going all the way to California to deliver them,” Mr. Whitaker laughed. He looked out the window, observing the clouds building in the sky. “You’d better get on home before the blizzard starts. I’ll be leaving soon, riding all night until I get to the city.”

“Yes, sir,” Sara said, hugging Eleanor and leaving the house. The wind was worse than before. Wrapping her arms around her middle to hold the last little bit of warmth she had in, she ran home. Her father was standing in front of the barn, waving his arms at her. Wondering what he needed, Sara ran towards him.

“I fed your horse,” he said, his voice drifting away on the wind. He leaned closer so she could hear. “Get inside and wash up. Your mama was about to put dinner on the table.” He smiled at her and went back into the barn.

“Sara, you’re back!” Alice cried.

“I’m back,” Sara said, pulling her coat off and draping it over the back of her chair. Mama came and hugged her, brushing stray hairs off her forehead.

“Where did you go?” Alice asked curiously, following Sara as she hurried up the stairs and kicked her shoes off in her bedroom.

“Just to Ellie’s,” Sara said casually, using Eleanor’s nickname.

“Oh,” Alice said, tossing her double blonde braids from shoulder to shoulder. That night, snow started to fall. In the middle of the night, Sara was awoken by the wind howling outside. She kicked off her heavy quilt and slid out of bed, tiptoeing across the floor to the window. Putting her hand to the plaid curtains, she pulled them apart just enough so that she could look out.

Snow was falling from the sky, covering the ground with a white blanket. The sight brought a smile to Sara’s face, and she rested her arms on the windowsill. Resting her chin in her hands, she gazed out the window and imagined riding Peach through the snow, wild and free. It was a wonderful daydream.

Eventually, she twisted her head so that she was pointed in the direction of Eleanor’s house. “Mr. Whitaker is probably on the way back from the city now,” she whispered to herself, “if he left early enough.” She strained her eyes to peer through the snow, searching for signs of a sleigh. But she didn’t see anything.

“That’s perfectly normal,” she assured herself, trying to settle the sudden butterflies she felt in her stomach. “He should be back soon.” Feeling reassured, Sara tiptoed back to her bed and curled up in a ball, trying to keep herself warm. The wind whistling outside had picked up, and Sara felt even colder. Pulling her quilt up to her chin, she tried to stop thinking about Mr. Whitaker. She woke up two hours later, feeling a little better.

“I’ll just go downstairs and check for gifts,” she decided. “I’m sure that he’s back by now.” Sara opened her door and hurried down the hall, walking on the balls of her feet to keep the floors from creaking. She padded down the stairs and turned the corner, prepared to see a pile of gifts under their sweet-smelling Christmas tree.

Her breath stopped when she saw that there were no gifts. The tree stood alone in its corner of honor, decorated with homemade ornaments. Some candles rested on different branches, blown out now for the night. A star made of twisted-together tree branches rested on the top. The tree was pretty, but Sara couldn’t look at it now.

She stared at the bottom of the tree, where a pile of presents should’ve been. “He... he must just be running late,” Sara whispered, trying not to think about what might have happened. Suddenly, a particularly strong gust of wind hit the house, rattling the windows, as if reminding Sara how dangerous the blizzard was becoming.

“Something’s wrong,” Sara said softly, voicing her concerns. “I’ve got to go look for him.”

Before she had time to change her mind, Sara dashed into the mudroom, not bothering to go upstairs and change out of her nightgown. She wiggled into a pair of boy’s overalls that her father had bought her for farm work, wadding up the long skirt of the nightgown and shoving a bit of it into each leg of the overalls. She pulled on her boots, then looked around in the dark for a coat. She found one of her heavy winter coats, and pulled it on over the thin sleeves of her yellow nightgown. She  buttoned it up as she found her warm hat and gloves. She ran her fingers through her hair before pulling on her warm hat. She fished her fingers into her gloves, and then threw open the door and ran into the storm.

A blast of snow and wind hit her at once, nearly knocking her down. The drifts of snow piled around the house were already up to her elbows. Heart pounding, Sara pulled one foot free from a drift and struggled to the barn, head ducked.

When she slid open the door, warmth greeted her. Breathing hard, Sara slammed the heavy door behind her and walked into the barn, wiping the wetness off her face. Peach’s welcome whinny greeted Sara as she walked up to Peach’s stall. Sara tacked up her horse and draped the cold leather saddle in a blanket.

“Well, girl,” Sara said into the Appalachian’s twitching ears. “I guess you’ll be able to take a snow ride after all.” Peach let out a joyful whinny. And with that, Sara slid open the door and led her horse out, pulling it shut behind her before any snow could blow in.

It seemed like the storm got worse by the minute. Sara fought the wind to climb into the saddle, grabbing the reins with her gloved hands. Peach’s neigh was lost in the wind. Sara yanked the reins back, pulling Peach to stand on only her hind legs, then released them and let Peach take over.
Peach knew the drill. She cantered to the fence, picking up speed as she did, and neatly jumped it. She hit the ground galloping, and she shot down the road to the town.

As the town flew by in a blur, no lights in the windows, a Christmas rhyme came to mind. As she leaned into Peach, grasping her mane, she recited it softly to herself.

“Twas the night before Christmas,” she said to the beat of her horse’s hooves, “and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

Peach jumped over the railroad tracks, and Sara grunted as they landed. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,” she continued, thinking of the stockings hung on the fireplace at home, “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”

She glanced behind her, realizing that they were out of the town. “Faster, girl,” she shouted before continuing. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads...”

Her voice trailed off as she saw something in the snow ahead. Her eyes widened as they got closer, and she yelled for Peach to stop. Even before Peach came to a complete stop, Sara jumped off and ran to the crashed sleigh. The figure curled up inside the sleigh that sat in the snow on its side looked up, alarmed.

“Sara?” came Mr. Whitaker’s voice, carried to her by the wind.

“Yes, it’s me,” Sara confirmed, reaching the sleigh and dropping to her knees. “Mr. Whitaker,” she gasped. “What happened?”

“We hit some ice,” Mr. Whitaker said, crawling out of the sleigh. “The sleigh dropped onto its side. I think the horse is injured.”

“What about you?” Sara asked.

“I’m fine,” Mr. Whitaker said offhandedly. “Just a little shaken up is all.”

“Good,” Sara said, noticing all the presents neatly stacked inside the sleigh. “Did you do that?”

“I did,” Mr. Whitaker said tiredly. “Didn’t want to risk them all getting ruined.”

“Smart thinking,” Sara said, piling presents into her arms. Mr. Whitaker stood up and grabbed some as well. Sara clicked her tongue for Peach, then tied the rest of the presents to her back. Mr. Whitaker went and got his horse, holding its bridle to lead it.

They set off through the snow. Mr. Whitaker was limping, trying to keep the weight off his left leg. Sara took a few presents from him, knowing that he was weighed down enough by the weight of the heavy Santa suit. When they got to to the town, it was still and hushed. The wind was now just a slight, chilly breeze that barely lifted Sara’s hair. As they walked into the square, Sara turned around and looked at the beautiful sight of the sun as it rose, turning the white blanket of snow into gold. Sara smiled into the warmth of the sun.

“Thank you, Sara,” Mr. Whitaker said as he sat down on a bench in the square. “If you hadn’t come, I could’ve frozen to death out there.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Whitaker,” Sara said, sitting down beside him and shedding her heavy winter hat, dropping it at her feet. Her hair tumbled free, snaking around her shoulders.

“There will be a lot of disappointed kids this morning,” Mr. Whitaker said sadly. “If only I could’ve made it back in time.”

Sara chewed her lip, feeling a little sad too. What would happen when her siblings woke up to no presents under the tree? Then, she had an idea.

“Mr. Whitaker,” Sara said as suddenly several windows around them turned bright from candlelight inside. “We don’t have to go to the kids...” Doors opened around them, filling the air with cries of mixed joy and disappointment. “...if they come to us.”

In an instant, Mr. Whitaker and Sara were surrounded by squealing kids and their parents. Peach whinnied and pranced around at all the excitement. Sara beamed around at all the upturned faces. She saw Alice’s face, her mouth wide open with awe. Mr. Whitaker turned to Sara. “You earned this,” he said with a big jolly smile as he took off his big red and white Santa hat and plopped it onto Sara’s head. “You saved Santa.”

Sara turned to the crowd with a smile... and tossed the gifts she held into the early-morning sky.

And so, now you have heard the tale of Sara McManus. Now you know why that Christmas Eve night became the most famous night in the history of Mapleton, and you have heard the magical tale of the night that Sara saved Santa.

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