Saint Nicking at Night

by Brock Eastman

Kinley peered around a curtain. The neighbor’s porch light was off, and her curtains were closed.

“Are you ready for the Saint Nicking?” Kinley asked her sister.

Elsie Mae tugged on her boots. “Almost.”

Since Thanksgiving, the sisters had been looking for clues about what their neighbor, Mrs. Umberoach, might want for Christmas.

Once the girls had found gifts, they wrapped them and waited for tonight—Christmas Eve.

Mom leaned over and wrapped a scarf around Kinley’s neck. “I’ll be right here watching,” Mom said.

Kinley tucked a present under her arm and clicked on her flashlight. Elsie Mae carried the other two packages.

Wispy white snowflakes swirled as Kinley opened the door. The girls stepped into the dark night. Snow crunched beneath their boots.

“Elsie Mae, we have to be really quiet,” Kinley whispered.

To pull off their plan, they couldn’t get caught. The key to Saint Nicking was to deliver gifts in secret.

Kinley stopped at the end of the driveway and looked both ways. No cars were on their street. The wind howled, and Kinley shivered.

Why isn’t Elsie Mae nervous? Kinley thought. Her little sister just seemed excited. Kinley worried they’d get caught.

They crossed the street. Kinley softly pressed against Mrs. Umberoach’s gate. It groaned. Kinley stopped. She watched the porch light. It stayed off.

Nearly the whole house was dark. The rest of the homes on the block shone with Christmas lights.

“What are you waiting for?” Elsie Mae asked.

“Shhh,” Kinley warned. “Follow me.”

The girls snuck up Mrs. Umberoach’s porch steps. The flashlight shook in Kinley’s hand. She remembered stories she had heard about the old woman.

Nora said that Mrs. Umberoach sprinkled dead spiders on her salad and ate pickled mice for lunch. Micah said Mrs. Umberoach’s backyard was a graveyard for kites, baseballs and other toys that went over her fence.

Kinley jumped as an owl hooted from a nearby pine tree.

“I’m cold,” Elsie Mae whispered.

“Just a few more steps,” Kinley said. She glanced back across the driveway. Mom watched from their window, just as she’d promised.

Kinley took another step toward the door. CREAK! The sisters stopped.

Had Mrs. Umberoach heard them?

Suddenly, the door opened, and a figure filled the doorway. The girls froze like icicles hanging from the roof.

“May I help you?” Mrs. Umberoach asked. A cat rubbed against her legs.

Kinley looked at Elsie Mae. “Uh...”

A smell tickled their noses. Cookies?

“If you’re looking for the Goodlins,” Mrs. Umberoach grunted, “their house is next door.”

Kinley wished she was back home. What do we do now? she thought.

“These are for you,” Elsie Mae said, holding out her packages.

“Me?” Mrs. Umberoach sounded surprised.

Kinley nodded and handed her the other present. “They were supposed to be a surprise.”

Mrs. Umberoach sniffled. “I... I don’t know what to say.”

Elsie Mae gave her a big hug. “We didn’t mean to make you cry,” Kinley said.

“I’m glad you did,” Mrs. Umberoach said. “These are happy tears.”

Kinley heard footsteps behind them. Mom came up the steps. “Merry Christmas!” she said.

“Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Umberoach echoed. “Would you like to come in for cookies and cocoa?”

The girls looked at Mom. “Yes, thank you!” she said.

A fire crackled in the fireplace.

“Welcome to my home,” Mrs. Umberoach said. “Have a seat.”

Kinley looked around the room. The furniture looked old, but she didn’t see anything scary. A bright Christmas tree stood in the corner.

Mrs. Umberoach came from the kitchen with cookies, hot cocoa and marshmallows. Kinley didn’t see any spiders or pickled mice on the tray. Maybe the neighbor kids were wrong.

Mrs. Umberoach smiled as she served them.

“May I open these presents tonight?” she asked. “I think it’d be more fun with you here.”

“Of course!” Elsie Mae said.

In the first one, Mrs. Umberoach found a necklace with a cat-shaped pendant.

“We thought you might like cats because we saw yours in the window,” Elsie Mae said.

“I do!” Mrs. Umberoach petted the orange cat beside her. She opened the next gift.

“It’s a Bible,” Kinley said. “We have highlighted our favorite verses for you.”

“And we drew pictures of our favorite Bible stories, too,” Elsie Mae said.

Mrs. Umberoach pulled out the colorful pictures. “These are beautiful!” she said.

“Now open the last gift!” Elsie Mae cheered.

As the wrapping paper fell away, Mrs. Umberoach held up a pink and purple scarf.

“These are my favorite colors!” Mrs. Umberoach said. “How did you know?”

“In the spring you have pink and purple tulips,” Kinley said.

“So we thought you liked those colors,” Elsie Mae added.

Again, tears came to Mrs. Umberoach’s eyes. “Thank you so much!” she said. “I didn’t think anyone noticed me, but you’ve made this Christmas so special!”

Kinley smiled. After Christmas, she would tell Nora and Micah what Mrs. Umberoach was really like. Maybe next time they could visit her together.

Click here to learn how to plan your own Saint Nicking.

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr. magazine. Copyright © 2016 by Brock Eastman. Illustration © Donald Wu.