Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story Contest
Child First Place

The Blizzard

by Maia Shoham

About Maia Shoham

Maia Shoham likes cold weather and history, both key elements in "The Blizzard," which won first place in the children category of this year's fiction contest.

So many stories are about modern life, so Shoham wanted to write about the past. The Gideon Hausner Day School fifth grader drew on her knowledge of U.S. history for her story's details.

"I was thinking of the Gold Rush time, and general stores, and how food is probably dried for the winter," Shoham said to explain how she decided what her characters would be eating in the story.

As for the story's tragic end, Shoham said the main character Katie and her mother will make it in the future, even though it might be difficult.

"They get along fine," Shoham said with a sigh, "but they don't really have much income. And every day they wake up sort of sad."

In addition to writing, Shoham likes her pet hamster Bart, pop music and reading books from the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series. She also wants to pursue life on the stage. Shoham is playing a bride and an angel in her school's play this winter.

"I plan to be in as many plays as I can," she said. "because I really love acting, singing and dancing. My dream is to be on Broadway someday."

--Lorraine Sanders

Katie Lorton sat in her little cabin. She was sitting on the hearth, staring into the fire, while its light cast flickering shadows on the wooden walls and Mama cooking supper in the little kitchen area.

Baby Holly was sleeping in her rocker. Katie moved her gaze to stare unfocusedly at the kitchen as her mother's skirt swished and swayed with her movements around the stove. Her gentle voice brought Katie out of her reverie.

"Katie, set the table please. Your papa will be home any minute now," said Mama, unloading three tin plates out of a cupboard.

Katie groaned. She had been hoping that Mama would forget to tell her to set the table. But grudgingly she set the tin plates, cups, and spoons in place at the table, scowling all the time.

Mysteriously, as if her bad mood had floated through the crack under the door, as she set the last piece of silverware in place, a terrible, shrieking blizzard began to rage and storm outside. Although it started gradually, soon the winds began to scream and moan as if in pain. It was as if Katie's bad mood had infected all the winds and snow in this part of Wisconsin and was making them squabble with each other. She trembled.

Suddenly Katie began to think of Papa, making his way home from town through the woods, through the howling, angry blizzard outside. Terrible pictures began to form in her mind. ... Papa stuck under the snow, Papa blown into a tree and trapped there, Papa freezing to death because of no nearby shelter, Papa being eaten by a hungry bear.

Mama seemed to have thought of this too, for even as she called Katie to eat, her large brown eyes were wide and fearful, and her soft voice shook slightly. Even as she set dishes of food on the small, circular table, she looked slightly preoccupied. Katie leaned into her mother's embrace and asked, "Mama, how will Papa get home? Won't he freeze out there in the snow?"

"Katie, I'm sure Papa is fine," said Mama, although she looked exactly as worried as Katie was.

Mama and Katie continued eating their supper as though nothing was going on. When they at last finished, Katie washed the remains of their potatoes from the dishes while Mama dried them and put them away. As Katie was getting ready for bed, Mama came in and suddenly started to brush Katie's long, wavy, reddish-brown hair. This surprised Katie, for usually Mama never brushed her hair. She had soon begun to learn that Mama only brushed her hair when she was extremely worried. So Katie started to cry.

"Katie, dear, don't cry. I'm sure Papa will be home by tomorrow morning," soothed Mama, though her voice was tight, as if she was struggling to hold back sobs herself. However, this didn't help Katie. She just kept on sobbing and sobbing and sobbing, and sobbing some more.

Katie couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned on her trundle bed trying to get comfortable. The blizzard was still going. She could see Mama's dark outline restlessly moving on the big bed, too. Only Baby Holly slept peacefully. Then, all of a sudden, Katie heard sobs. They were not coming from Baby Holly, she knew. The only other person in the house was Mama.

Now Katie was the brave one. She cautiously climbed into bed with Mama and whispered soothing words into her ear. But no matter how hard Katie tried, Mama would not be consoled. So Katie spent the long night huddled against Mama's shaking body. She was dazed. Usually Mama was brave. Now she was. She wondered what would happen if Papa did not come home. She wondered if she would ever get over Papa dying, if it happened. Finally, Mama cried herself to sleep.

Katie woke with a bright ray of sunlight falling across the bed where she and Mama still slept. She could see Baby Holly starting to fuss in her rocker. So Katie silently crept out of bed and started to calm her. Katie's little white nightgown flapped around her calves as a sharp breeze came through the crack under the door. Out of the window, Katie could see a white world. White ground, huge snowdrifts, tall pines covered in snow. And yet the sun was out. It sparkled off of the snowdrifts and made the trees look like they were strung with huge golden Christmas baubles like the ones Katie saw in town when Papa drove her and Mama and Baby Holly there to buy something for Christmas.
Baby Holly continued to fuss until Mama woke up, which was some fifteen minutes later. Once Mama had nursed and burped her, Baby Holly was once again sleeping soundly, with only an occasional snuffle here and there. It was then that Mama looked at Katie and said, "Katie, I'm so sorry."

"Mama, it's okay. I'm fine," said Katie truthfully. "It's just ..." But before Katie could say another word, she started bawling, the tears rolling down her small cheeks, whites of her eyes red, and her eyelashes glistening because she was crying so hard. All her worries of the previous night spilled out of her mouth as she told Mama everything. However Mama just pulled Katie onto her lap and held her against her bosom while Katie clung to her.

Katie's tears slowly stopped, and then Mama hurried herself into a work dress and an apron, while Katie put on her dress. They were just finishing up their salt pork and cornbread for breakfast when a knock at the door came. That knock changed everything.

Katie continued to clear the table and wash the dishes as her mother opened the door. Outside were Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hubble. They were good friends of Papa's, and they helped him with cutting down trees and all the other work that men do. Mama stepped outside to talk to them, and even though the door was shut, Katie could hear a rumble of voices and Mama saying quietly, "I understand."

When Mama came back in, she looked dazed, and she hugged Katie tightly, and told her daughter what had happened. She told Katie that Papa had tried to get home through the snow but he had gotten blown into a tree headfirst, and had suffered a concussion and brain damage. But worst of all, he was dead. Suddenly Katie was angry. She was angry at the day, for starting out so beautifully and now seeming so cruel. It was sunny and warm. Inside Katie's heart, the weather was like last night's blizzard. She was black and writhingly angry inside, and here is this sunny weather, daring to exist! "How dare it be sunny!" She thought. "How dare it!" Then she looked up at Mama and said, "Mama, I love you."