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A Christmas Miracle?: A Christmas Mystery Short Story

IN THE December 19 ISSUE

FROM THE 2018 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Gary Hoffman

Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.

Sarah was so engrossed in her own problems, she didn’t hear the three men ride up to the front of her farm house. When one of the men called out, “Hello,” she jumped, and her hand went to her mouth. After smoothing her apron and running her fingers through her hair, she went out on the front porch. house

“Afternoon, gentlemen. Can I help you?”

One of the men, heavy-set with dark hair, took off his hat. “Just wondered if you had a place we could water our horses?”

The men looked rough. Dust was caked on their faces and had turned to mud where it was mixed with perspiration. Their road-weary faces told the story of a long ride with little rest.

“Out by the barn there’s a trough. Also a spring just a little further out. You can wash up there if you care to. Just use the stile to cross the fence into the spring. ”horse

“Thank you, ma’am. Good, cold spring water sounds mighty good.”

Sarah watched as the men headed for the barn. Her mind went back to the number of times she watched Joe do the same thing after a long day of working in the fields. Just saying his name in her mind brought mist to her eyes. Joe Abrams was one of the most respected men around. Her Joe, who was buried up on the south ridge.

She went back in the house and looked at her china cabinet. Somehow, she needed to figure out how she was going to move it and her china without destroying both of them. Joe built the cabinet for her, so she would have a place to put the set of china she inherited from her mother. After a few moments, she simply sat and gazed blankly at the cabinet.

When she heard the men coming back from the barn, it was almost dark. The time had simply gotten away from her. She returned to the porch. “You gentlemen had anything to eat for your supper?”

The heavy-set man seemed to be the leader. “No, ma’am.”

“Well, come on in. I’m not going to turn a man away from my house hungry.”

“We’ve got some beans and a slab of side meat to add, if that will help.”

“Sounds good. Come on in now and I’ll get a pan of biscuits started.”

“Home-made biscuits. Haven’t had them in I don’t know how long. Makes my mouth water just thinkin’ about them.”

Sarah laughed. “Maybe you better taste them first before you go to thinking they’re that good.”

“I’m sure they’ll be good, ma’am.”

The men dug into the food like they hadn’t eaten in several days, and from the looks of them, Sarah wasn’t too sure that wasn’t the case.

“So where you boys headed?” Sarah asked.

“Oh, here and there. West mainly and then north. Just trying to find work where we can make a dollar or two.”

“Kind of hard to find work with everyone coming home after the war,” Sarah said.

“That’s a fact, ma’am. Your husband join up, did he?”

Sarah stiffened. Here it comes, she thought. Questions about if she was alone. “My son Bobby Gene went and joined up with General Lee. Joe, my husband stayed here to run the farm and take care of me since I was going to have another child.”

“So where’s Joe now?”

“Union force came through here and took our horses and killed him when he tried to stop them. I know the war is over, but I still haven’t heard anything from Bobby Gene in over a year. Last letter I got from him, he was fightin’ against Sherman down in Georgia. The baby I had was born sickly. I lost her after only three days.”horse

“Sorry for all your problems, ma’am.”

“Well, like all problems, they just keep adding up. Here it is a week before Christmas, and I haven’t even felt like doin’ any decorating. Now I’m gonna lose this farm.”

“Lose your farm?”

“Yes. I’m behind on the note. Mr. Chester at the bank was awfully kind and kept me afloat for awhile, but things change.”

“How so?”

“Bank was bought out by a big outfit from up north. They got rid of Mr. Chester and now I’m dealing with a man named Thomas. He won’t give me any leeway at all. In fact, he’s coming out tomorrow morning to foreclose on the place.”

“You know where you’re gonna move?”

“No idea. It doesn’t really matter to me, but if my son does come home, and I’m not here, he’ll have no idea where to find me.”

“That’s a tough nut, isn’t it?”

“More than you know. Joe and I put a lot of work into this place. We always thought we’d be here when we died. Guess Joe made it.”

The three men glanced at each other. “How much would it take to satisfy your loan, ma’am?” one of them said.

“Fifteen hundred dollars. I saved up about $400.00, but Mr. Thomas won’t even talk about taking that and letting me stay here.”

“Sounds like a typical carpet-bagger.”

“That’s a fact.” She sighed. “Well, gentlemen. It’s too late for you to continue your journey. There’s some good, sweet, fresh hay in the barn if you want to stay there for tonight. Ought to be some oats for your horses, too.”

“That’s mighty kind of you, ma’am. I do believe we’ll take you up on that offer, right after we help you get these dishes cleaned up.”

Sarah didn’t know who these men were, but for some reason, she trusted them and slept well that night. She was at the barn just after dawn and told them to come to the house for breakfast before they got on their way. “A man needs to ride on a full stomach,” she said. “I’ll have bacon, eggs, and biscuits ready in about 15 minutes.”barn

The breakfast was as good as their supper, and the men ate heartily. When they finished and were enjoying a second cup of coffee, their leader spoke. “We’ve been talking, ma’am. We’re flush. We’re gonna give you the full $1,500 to pay off your loan so you can keep the $400 you saved to make it through the winter.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” Sarah objected.

“Sure you can. We’re offering it to you with no strings attached. When this Thomas gets here, pay him off, and get a signed receipt for the money. Make sure he signs over the deed to the land, also.”

“I’ll never be able to pay you back.”

“Don’t think there was any mention of that.”

“I don’t even know who you are. This must be just like a real Christmas. Three men come ridin’ in from the East and save me.”

“That really doesn’t matter,” the leader said. “Just remember to get a signed receipt for the money, and the deed.”

“I don’t know what to say, except thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now we pray Bobby Gene makes it home, and you have a great life.”

The men left around eight in the morning, and Adam Thomas arrived a few minutes before ten. He left his horse and buggy at the front gate and looked around like a man surveying a prime piece of farmland he was soon going to own. He combed his beard with his hand and tossed the stub of a cigar on the ground.

Sarah offered him a cup of coffee before they started what needed to be done.

“Don’t think that’s necessary, Mrs. Abrams. This is not my favorite thing to do, so let’s get it over with.”

“As you wish, Mr. Thomas.”

“I’ll ask you one last time. Do you have the money to satisfy your note at the bank?”

Sarah took a packet of bills from her apron pocket and dropped it on the table in front of Thomas. “I think this should cover it.”money

Thomas sat back in his chair and his jaw dropped open.

“Oh, and I’ll need a receipt and the deed to the land.”

The banker’s mood on his trip back to town wasn’t as pleasant as he expected it would be. The woman refused to tell him where she got the money, although it really didn’t matter. She had it, and the farm was now hers, free and clear.
He urged his horse across a small creek and started up the rise on the opposite bank. As he topped the rise, he saw three men sitting on their horses in the middle of the road.

“Good morning,” one of the men said.

“Would you please get out of my way and let me pass?”

“We surely will sir. We surely will. Just as soon as you hand over your wallet and any other money you might have with you.”

Thomas’ hand started to go down to a pocket on his coat. One of the men cocked the hammers on a double-barreled shotgun, and Thomas’ hand stopped.

“Good thinking, sir. Now reach for the pocket on the inside of your coat and hand over what’s in there.”
Thomas brought out a wallet.

“Now. Toss it to me.”

Again Thomas did as he was told. The man opened the wallet.

“Only $32.00 dollars in here. I believe, sir, you might have more inside that pocket. You can toss it to me, or I can take it from you after we shoot you. Your choice.”

Thomas only hesitated a second, then tossed the man the packet of money.money

“Good choice, sir. Now, I’m going to throw your wallet back to you. I’m taking out $30.00 for our trouble. I’ll leave you two in case you need to buy dinner or something. I doubt anyone around here will offer you a free meal.”

The men parted and left Thomas room to pass between them. Thomas whipped his horse back to town.

“Well, not bad interest. Thirty bucks for a loan of a couple of hours,” Jessie said.

“Hope Bobby Gene comes back to his mother,” Frank said.

“She should have a pretty good life now,” Cole said.

As they continued on their way, they came to another road heading north. A man heading south, driving a buggy was stopped there. His leg was held straight by a splint, and there was a bandage around his head. “Mornin’,” he said.

“Would you gents be from around here? Things have changed a great deal. I grew up in these parts, but I don’t remember this road being here.”

Jessie, the leader, spoke up. “Could have been built by one of the armies to get heavy equipment up to Wilson’s Creek.”

“Never thought of that. Are y’all from around here?” the young man asked.

He got three “Nopes.”

“Well, I’m looking for the Abrams’ place. Wouldn’t happen to know where that is, would you?”

“Actually, we do.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, sir. We had some dealings with Mrs. Abrams last night. We offered her money for the food she fixed us, but she refused. I did leave a $10 gold piece on the shelf above her stove. She’ll find it sometime. Fine woman.”

“I like to think so. She’s my mother.”

“So you’re Bobby Gene?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“Well, she’s gonna have a real Merry Christmas now.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including more Christmas ones) in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast! The latest episode is set at Christmas time!

Gary R. Hoffman has published over three hundred short stories, non-fiction articles, poetry, and essays in various publications. He has placed over one-hundred and fifty items in contests. He taught school for twenty-five years and lived on the road in a motor home for fourteen years. He now resides in Okeechobee, Florida.

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