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CHRISTMAS EVE RUN

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By Woody Green

Anna was a freshman at Hillpoint High School, and she decided to give indoor track a

try after a moderately successful cross country season in the fall. Anna discovered

that she really loved running, and while she wasn't able to keep up with the best

girls on the team, she had improved quite a bit from the start of the cross country

season.

Today the team was meeting at the YMCA indoor track for a workout. It was the last day

of school before Christmas vacation, yet almost all the team members were in

attendance.

"Okay, girls," Coach Culpepper called out. "Everyone should be good and warmed up by

now. Is everyone ready?"

The girls quietly indicated that they were, knowing full well they were about to do a

painful two mile time trial. They were all a bit nervous and jittery. There was very

little of the usual chatter.

"All right. Be smart, try to run an even effort and don't go out too fast," he told

the girls as they moved up to the starting line. "Have fun," he told them.

"Ready, go!" And they were off. Cindy Batliner, a senior and the best runner on the

team, took the lead from the start. Anna tucked in behind her. The first few laps felt

easy, and as coach Culpepper called their times at each lap, Anna calculated that they

were running almost 30 seconds per mile faster than she had ever run. And she was

feeling great. Each lap was one-eighth of a mile, and by the seventh lap, Anna started

feeling a hot, burning sensation on the outside of each foot. Her toes began to hurt

at the tips, too. She knew why this was happening; her shoes were too small. Anna had

no money for new shoes. Her father had lost his job at the factory, and was now

working at a convenience store. Her mother had died the year before in a car accident.

There wasn't enough money coming in to make house payments, and even though Anna

worked a part time job at a local sandwich shop, she couldn't earn enough to make up

the difference. Anna and her father had been forced to sell their house and move into

a small apartment.

"Five-forty," Coach Culpepper called as Anna passed the mile a few yards behind Cindy.

Her feet were really starting to hurt. Lately, her feet had been sore with every run,

but the tight turns on the indoor track seemed to be making things much worse. She

could feel raw spots on her feet.

Kara Torres moved past Anna, looking fluid and strong. Anna could feel herself limping

slightly. She tried to land differently on her feet to avoid the sore spots, but it

wasn't working. She knew she was slowing quite a bit, and before long three more girls

had passed her.

The coach called to her as she passed by with a lap to go, "are you okay?" Anna just

kept running, her body bent and looking almost like she was fire walking. Some of the

girls on the team turned their heads and laughed. They thought of Anna as a sort of

awkward outcast, and often talked behind her back about her worn out clothes.

Finally that last lap came to an end, and Anna walked off the side of the track and

pulled her shoes off. Her socks were stained with blood spots from the nasty blisters

she had gotten.

"Gross," said one of the seniors.

"Oh my god, look at that," shrieked another girl.

Some just turned and walked away from her.

"Anna," her coach came over and put his hand on her shoulder, "those shoes are way too

small for you. You've got to get some new ones."

"I know," she replied, the tears swelling in her eyes. She looked down at her bloody

feet.

"You ran really well tonight, until your feet just got too sore to go on," he told

her. "Get some new shoes and nobody will believe how fast you can go!" He shook her

shoulder and bent down to try to catch her eye. She looked up and smiled weakly.

"Make sure you clean up those blisters really well, and I'll see you after the

vacation," he told her.

"Okay, Coach."

Culpepper started to walk away.

"Coach," she called.

"Yes," he said, turning back.

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too, Anna," he smiled and replied.

Cindy Batliner was the only girl on the team who bothered to say anything to Anna

before they all left and went home. "Anna," she said. "You ran well tonight, I'm sorry

about the blisters."

"Thanks, Cindy," she said. As the main group of girls walked away from her and out the

door, she heard one girl say, "why do you even talk to that girl, Cindy? She's such a

poser. She'll never be a good runner."

"She'll kick your butt soon," Cindy replied, and there was great laughter. Anna hid

her face in her torn sweat shirt.

That night she went home and put up a small Christmas tree and trimmed it. Then she

tacked up her stocking, and her father's, with push pins on the kitchen wall. Just as

she was finishing, her father came in the door.

"Hi, Dad," she said.

"Hi, honey," he replied. "The tree looks nice. You know, don't you, that I'm not going

to be able to put anything in your stocking this year?"

"I know, Dad. But it looks nice."

"Yes, it does." He sighed deeply, put his head down and walked to his bedroom,

shutting the door behind him.

The next few days Anna tried to run after work. Her feet were still very sore, but she

was able to run better on the roads without the tight turns of the indoor track. She

visited a sporting goods store to price new shoes, but discovered they were much more

expensive than she could afford.

On Christmas Eve night, Anna pooled all the money she did have and purchased a book

for her father. He loved reading, and so she got him a treasury of classics. She

wrapped it in some aluminum foil and placed it under the tree. She had worked most of

the day, volunteering to take two shifts so that others could have the day off. She

looked out the window into the dark night. There was not the slightest sign of snow,

and the temperature felt well above freezing. No white Christmas this year, she

decided sadly. Still, Anna believed in the wonder of Christmas.

She plopped herself on her little pull out bed, said a prayer for her father, and

quickly fell asleep. She dreamed about her mother, and about happier times.

Then a noise from the front door woke her up. Her heart beat quickly and she rushed

out of her tiny bedroom to see the door closing. Her father was supposed to be at work

until early Christmas morning, so it couldn't have been him. They had very little to

steal in the house, but she was not about to let anyone take what little they had. She

raced to the door and opened it. At the end of the walkway she saw a short, thin

figure in tight black clothing. He couldn't be described as a typical thief, however,

since he had bright, gleaming gold decorations all over his clothing. He looked back

at Anna and smiled. "Take a look under the tree, Anna" he said. "See you." Then he ran

off with nimble, lightening quick bounds that were filled with elegant grace, yet

seemingly he had the power of a buffalo behind him. It was then that Anna noticed the

light, white flakes of snow that were falling to the ground.

Back in the apartment she looked under their tiny tree and found a pair of black shoes

with gold stripes. They were running shoes! Anna picked them up and ran to her room.

She quickly dressed in her running clothes, then put the shoes on her feet. A perfect

fit. No more crushed toes, no more blistered feet. She almost flew out the door.

The snow was thick, but falling gently and the air was refreshingly brisk. Anna flowed

across the powdered streets and sidewalks, her running effortless and her feet free

from pain. She felt stronger and faster than she had ever felt in her life, and the

streets belonged to her this night. Not a single car or pedestrian was to be found,

and the only footsteps to be seen were her own.

A hazy rainbow colored halo surrounded the streetlights, and the snowflakes glistened

like diamonds as they fell slowly to the earth. Not even in a dream had Anna felt so

free and so full of energy. Her feet barely seemed to hit the ground with each step.

After running all around the neighborhood, Anna headed back home. She was scarcely out

of breath, but she decided to end her run for the night. Tomorrow was Christmas, after

all, and she wanted to rest so she could spend the day with her father. Anna pulled

off the shoes, which were wet from the snow, and changed into dry clothes. She lay

back on her tiny bed and quickly fell fast asleep.

"Good morning, Anna" she heard her father say. "Merry Christmas."

She opened her eyes. "Merry Christmas," Anna replied, yawning, rubbing her eyes and

stretching her arms.

"I made some pancakes for breakfast. Come on out," her father said with a tired smile.

Anna got up and looked out her window. There was no snow, only barren, dead grass and

pavement. She hurried to the front door and opened it. No snow, not a single trace.

Had it all been a dream?

"Dad," she asked, "did it snow last night?"

He laughed. "Not hardly, dear. It's been way too warm these last few days for any

snow."

She rushed back to her room and looked on the floor by her bed. They were still there!

The black and gold shoes were there! She picked them up and felt the dampness. She

held them close to her and closed her eyes.

"Anna," her father said, scratching his head. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, Dad, yes," she replied. "I'm just fine."