By Linda Hutsell-Manning
A handsome black and white cat stares out big glass doors, his long whiskers twitching as snowflakes swirl into drifts against the backyard fence. It’s late afternoon on December twenty-fourth, and his owners, Caitlin and her mom, sing and laugh as they hang colourful ornaments and crinkly tinsel on an evergreen tree.
The cat twitches his feathered tail and mews to go out.
"It's Christmas Eve, Moufette," Caitlin's mom says, "and we bought you a Christmas stocking." He watches her pull three large red stockings from a plastic bag.
Moufette mews again and picks his way around an empty cardboard box to sniff at the red stockings. He bats one and sticks his head inside it.
"Silly cat," Caitlin says, snatching him up. "Your stocking is still empty."
Moufette wriggles out of Caitlin's arms and runs to the door again. "Me-ow," he mews plaintively, "meo-o-ow."
"It's too late, Moufette," Caitlin says. "You might get lost in the snow."
Caitlin's mom turns on Christmas lights and Moufette watches the twinkly colours sparkle across the snow-covered patio. He jumps onto his hind legs and scritch-scratches his front paws against the cold glass. "Me-ow," he mews, more loudly. "Meo-o-o-ow."
Caitlin pulls the curtains across the patio doors. "No, no, no, Moufette," she says, pulling a cat treat from her pocket.
Moufette turns his back on them and crouches down, narrowing his eyes into two slits.
Caitlin puts the treat down beside him and picks up one red stocking. "I wonder what Santa will bring you?" she says, running the stocking along his back.
Moufette darts behind the Christmas tree and crouches down even further.
Caitlin's mom pulls the curtains back a little. "Look Caitlin," she says, "it's a perfect Christmas Eve."
The backyard is covered in great cloud swirls of snow.
"The gate is open." Caitlin adds, still holding Moufette's stocking.
"I'd better close it," Caitlin's mom replies. She puts on her parka and flips up the glass door bolt. "Where’s Moufette?" she asks, before sliding it open. Moufette backs further into his dark corner behind the tree.
Caitlin looks around the tree, behind chairs and under the table. Caitlin's mom even checks the hall closet.
"He’s not here," Caitlin says. “Maybe he went upstairs.”
The instant Caitlin's mom pulls open the door, Moufette races outside.
Caitlin's mom turns on the back light.
"Moufette?" she calls.
Moufette bounds over white-topped flower pots and through frozen flower stalks.
"Moufette?" Caitlin drops the Christmas stocking and runs out into a knee-high drift. "Get back here."
Moufette pauses. He flicks his handsome plume of a tail and disappears through the open gate.
"Moufette!" Caitlin's mom shouts into the wind. But Moufette is gone.
Caitlin and her mom trudge up and down the street. They call and look over back fences and under cars. Lights twinkle in every window. Christmas laughter floats out through every door.
Finally, cold and discouraged, they give up and return home. Caitlin's mom makes hot chocolate and Caitlin finds a big woolly blanket.
"You can wait for him on the couch," Caitlin's mom says, giving Caitlin a hug.
"He'll scritch scratch, and I'll hear him," Caitlin whispers, tears tumbling down her face.
"He does have a name tag," Caitlin's mom reminds her. "Maybe someone will find him."
* * *
Outside, Moufette dances through drifts, banging snowflakes here, catching snowflakes there. His silky black coat glistens against the soft whiteness. He dives under a wheelbarrow and through a broken wire gate. He scrunches down to slink along a wet woody hedge. His white belly hairs brush the ground. His whiskers twitch against the wind.
When a scrap of paper swirls by, he leaps after it, skidding onto the street. Icy lumps cramp his paws, and he sits down to pull them out. The wind gusts up and down, swirling snow in his ears and mouth. He feels thirsty and turns to go home.
Moufette criss-crosses to the closest house looking for his own glass door. When a great, shaggy dog lunges at him, he bolts back to the street. Where is his house?
He sits down to lick his wet fur, then trots along street after street, from one house to another. Almost all have big, glass doors but never the right ones. And no one lets him in.
Close to a park, lights appear through the heavy snow and a car skids around the corner. Moufette jumps but not quickly enough. The car's front bumper smacks his side, flipping him into a huge drift. He struggles up and, legs wobbling, stumbles to the bank of a dark, gurgling creek. Still thirsty, he moves slowly toward it, and, sinking down near the water’s edge, curls his white-tipped paws beneath him. Somewhere in the distance, the faint sound of bells echoes through the street.
* * *
Each Christmas Eve, Santa halts his reindeer close to this fast-running creek and, loosening their harnesses, leads them down its bank to drink. Moufette is just another snow-covered mound beside the water. One reindeer, however, snorts and paws the ground next to his still form until Santa comes to have a look.
Moufette mews a small, barely audible mew.
"What would a cat be doing out here on a night like this?" Santa asks, scooping him up. "You're half-frozen, little fellow. You need a warm drink." He strides back to the sleigh and, gently placing Moufette on the seat, pulls out a shiny thermos. Filling the lid with steaming liquid, he scoops Moufette up in one large, gloved hand. "Here," he says, holding the lid close to the cat’s cold wet face. "Try this."
Moufette looks into Santa's twinkly blue eyes and gives a half-hearted lap. "A little more," Santa says softly. "Drink a little more."
He strokes Moufette's head and scratches under his chin. "Someone must be missing you this Christmas Eve."
"Meow," Moufette mews faintly. Then he laps and laps until, slowly, his body comes back to life. Santa tucks Moufette under a blanket on the bottom of his sleigh.
"Time to harness up," he calls to the reindeer, his great white beard blowing in the wind. "Come Dasher, here Prancer...”
When he climbs in, Santa sees that Moufette is shivering again. “I’ll tuck you inside my coat,” he says. “Guess I’ll take you back to the North Pole with me.”
As he starts to tuck Moufette inside his coat, the cat's round metal name tag jangles against Santa's top coat button. "What's this?" Santa says, peering at the tag. "Moufette?"
"Meow," Moufette mews.
“You don’t look like a skunk,” Santa says, scritching Moufette’s chin. “Where’s your white stripe?” Moufette turns slightly and Santa notices the cat’s white underside. He strokes Moufette’s belly. “I guess you are a little skunk.” He takes another look at the cat’s metal tag.
"Thirty-nine Arbour Road? That's a long way from here."
Moufette purrs and rubs his head against Santa’s beard.
"I remember," Santa continues. "You’re from one of those town houses. There are a whole row of them. I had to be extra quiet." He pulls out a long list from under his padded sleigh seat. "Here it is,” he says, finally. “Your mistress is Caitlin, and I found her asleep on the couch beside the fireplace."
Moufette rubs his whiskered face against Santa's collar again. "Meow," he mews between purrs.
"Back to the row of town houses," Santa calls. "Hie, hie!"
Reindeer and sleigh lift silently through the dark night sky into the clouds.
* * *
When Moufette opens his eyes, he’s back in his own living room. Tree lights twinkle on two bulging red stockings. Caitlin is under a woolly blanket, worry and dried tears on her sleeping face. Moufette's stocking is on the floor.
"Shh," Santa whispers. "We don't want to wake her." He picks up the stocking and tucks Moufette and a catnip mouse inside. With an extra-large safety pin pulled from his pocket, Santa secures the stocking between the other two.
"Merry Christmas, little Moufette," he adds, scratching the cat behind his two black ears. "This is the first time ever I've visited the same house twice on Christmas Eve."
As Moufette’s green cat eyes close, sounds of sleigh bells disappear into the snow swirl darkness.
About the Author
Linda Hutsell-Manning has eleven published children’s books that include picture books, plays and time travel novels. She has written scripts for Polka Dot Door and given countless school workshops and readings across Canada. A literary novel was published in 2011 and she has short fiction and poetry in a number of Canadian Literary magazines. Currently, she is working on a memoir, Two Years Out of Time, recounting two teaching years in a 1960's one-room southern Ontario school.
Linda's writing career spans 40 years and includes an impressive variety of genres including poetry, plays, TV, short fiction, and novels.
What Readers Are Saying About Finding Moufette
"...it’s great! I think kids would love it - good description, lots of action and a happy ending." Carole G.
"...what a delightful short story to read to children at Christmas time - it would make a great book with pictures - the descriptions are so vivid you see the book in your imagination as you read . Fabulous piece." Mgshoup
"What a timely, touching, little story for anyone who can still hear the Christmas bells." Heather C.
"A delightful story with a splendidly happy ending! Just right for Christmas." Felicity R.
"I just read Finding Moufette with my granddaughter . We loved it as much as Linda’s other children’s books." JoAnn K-H.
"I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the charming story about Finding Moufette. As a cat owner myself it touched home when the cat shot out into the snow, fortunately into the arms of Santa! A lovely short story for all ages!" Elisabeth L.
"Kids, cats, Christmas and and Santa Claus! It's a delightful winning combination. The happy ending purrs with satisfaction. Children and their adult readers will love it." Orland F.
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