The Christmas Horse

by Dana Kerkentzes What was left to be discovered for a child who spent her every waking moment looking for a new discovery? Michaela had never been like the other girls in her fourth grade class. She didn’t like dolls. Coloring she found boring. And playing house usually meant she had to “stay home and take care of the kids.” What Michaela thought was fun the other girls would scrunch up their noses and shudder at. And the boys…well, they still thought girls had cooties.

The Christmas Horse

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So everyday after school, Michaela would drop her backpack on the porch and run into the woods behind her Gram’s house (though never venturing out of sight). The next few hours were for climbing trees (not too high, of course), creating imaginary treasure hunts, and flying—or at least that is how she described the rush of soaring on her father’s old rope swing. It was while pushing her back and forth and spinning her round and round that she had talked with her dad about what her mom had been like. “I know,” dad had always said, “that even though you never got to meet her, you would have loved your mom.” Then he always added, “And she would have loved you.” It had been years, but Michaela still missed her dad. As though in memory to him, Michaela would only swing until the first snowfall of the year, so Gram would not worry about her being out in the cold. “You’ll catch pneumonia,” she always fretted, as though pneumonia were something that could be found in the snow. And yet, just because Michaela could not venture outside often, that did not mean there was no fun to be had. And Gram knew her granddaughter’s games well, so while Michaela was still at school she would hide a treasure somewhere in the house for Michaela to find when she got home. Usually the treasures were simple; a lucky penny found on her morning walk with Aunt Joyce, a buttercup picked from a neighbor’s field, or sometimes a seashell, which in some magical way had found its way from the ocean, through the rivers and creeks, to small town Pennsylvania. The seashells were Michaela’s favorite. But even better than the mysterious shells, were the treasures Gram hid for her on Christmas morning. These were the treasures that meant the most to the child, because they were the treasures that had belonged to her mom. On this particular Christmas Michaela woke long before the sun. She knew, that even of she tried, she would never get back to sleep, and years seemed to pass before Michaela heard a gentle rap at her door. “Michaela, sweetie,” her Gram sang. “Come see what Santa left you downstairs.”

The Christmas Horse

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Of course, she did not have to be told twice. Michaela flew from her bed and was in the living room opening her presents in a matter of seconds and there were stacks upon stacks of presents, all wrapped in green, gold, and red, and hidden inside were dozens of toys, games, and puzzles. But the best present, Michaela knew, was hidden somewhere in the branches of the Christmas tree. Hiding somewhere was something that belonged to her mom. “Why don’t I time you this year?” Gram said cheerily. “Let’s see how long it takes you.” Michaela nodded eagerly, her smile widening. She didn’t have to search long—in fact, Gram said that by her watch it only took the child nine seconds—before Michaela spotted a small box wrapped in silver paper. Excited, she ripped apart the paper and threw open the lid, letting it fall to the floor. For a brief moment her breath caught in her chest. Resting in a bed of tissue paper was a tiny, silver horse. The animal was posed as though sound asleep, and the child could not help but to stare at the beautiful way the silver shown in the lights of the tree. Gingerly, Gram threaded the charm on a silver chain and clasped the necklace around her granddaughter’s neck. “I gave this to your mommy when she was little,” Gram explained. “All she ever talked about was horses. She read books about horses, watched movies about horses; she would always shout when we drove by them in the car, nearly scaring me half-to-death every time. It was just horses, horses, horses. That’s all I ever heard about.” Michaela giggled and clutched her mother’s charm. Gram continued, “When she was about your age, that crazy mother of yours, she started telling me she wanted to learn to ride horses. But we couldn’t afford it, and I gave her that necklace. I knew it couldn’t replace…” Gram trailed off, perhaps heartbroken, Michaela wasn’t sure. “But she wore it—she wore it right up to—until the day you were born.” She wiped a tear from her eye and took her granddaughter’s hands. “As long as you wear that necklace,” she whispered, “your mommy will always be with you.”

The Christmas Horse

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That evening Michaela kept the silver horse around her neck as she drifted off to sleep. And when she dreamt, it was still Christmas morning, and snow was falling delicately around her, leaving the flakes to rest in her hair like pure white stars in the nighttime sky. Michaela sat alone on the tree branch, kicking her legs in the winter air and whistling carols into the wind until, in the distance, she spotted something moving trough the deepening snow. She held her breath. Her head told her she should be scared at whatever this thing might be, but she found she held no fear, only curiosity. Soon, the figure had moved closer, and she was able to finally see what it was. She smiled in delight at the sight and hopped out of the tree. Even though she lived in the country her whole life, and surrounding her was nothing but open fields and farms, Michaela had never seen a horse so close before. Usually she spotted them the way Gram said her mom had, whizzing by in a car, only able to catch a glance. But now one was close enough to touch! And, that was what she did. Reaching out a nervous hand, Michaela brushed the animal’s soft hair and giggled with joy. Soon she had wrapped her arms around the horse in a hug. Of course, she was much too small to properly hug the horse, but still she tried and the horse lowered its head to rest on her back. The pair stayed that way for a long while, until the sun began to sink in the sky and the air grew much too cold, forcing the child back inside. The Christmas horse would return to Michaela’s dreams on occasion throughout her life, most often when times grew hard and she needed some comforting. For reasons she could never quite explain, even as she grew into adulthood, the Christmas horse made Michaela feel secure. As long as it was near, she could never come to harm. Yet, on the morning after the first dream, Michaela woke up shivering beneath her covers as snow blew in through the open window. Rolling out of bed, she caught a glimpse of her tree and images from her dream rushed through her memory. Michaela bolted from her room, down the stairs, and through the kitchen where a now confused Gram was making breakfast. She darted out the back door and into the cold December

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morning, not caring that her winter coat still hung snuggly in the hall closet or how the only thing her feet were covered with were a pair of worn-out socks. She just knew the horse was waiting for her. But when she got to the tree, Michaela found nothing but more snow. No mysterious dream horse. Nothing. Despite her disappointment she smiled as she trudged back to the house. She could already hear her Gram shouting from the kitchen. “Michaela, get back in this house this instant! You’re going to catch pneumonia!” And while the child walked she never noticed that, as she made her footprints in the fresh powder, a second set of tracks, much like those a horse’s hooves would make, appeared mysteriously in the snow behind her, never too far away, keeping a young girl safe.

The Christmas Horse

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