Editor's note: For Christmas, we present this extra ?entry in the 2012 Buffalo News Short Story Contest, in which ?writer Joan Wickett of Hamburg followed our opening prompt ?about a table and a dog all the way to Bethlehem.
At least the table looks good."
It did – everything was shiny and perfect. The other preparations were coming along, too, though there was much still to do. With luck, they would have it all ready in time.
And then: "Grrrrrr-GRRRRR," loud and louder!
What on earth was upsetting the dog?
"Here's a biscuit … What's the matter? You don't want it?"
The growling continued. The hair on the dog's back stood on end as she glared at, but did not approach, the door.
"Hush, dog, don't you know it may be him! We must make him welcome – no growling! – dumb dog!"
The sound of heavy boots approached the door. A thunderous knock – could it be him? No, a king would not come unescorted; it could be his people – perhaps his army.
He will need an army, yes, if he is to rescue us. There must be an army to throw the tyrants out – to give us back our rightful land.
The pounding continued
"Open in the name of Herod – open this door, or we will break it in!"
The growling continued.
"Hush, you will get us in trouble!," the man said to the dog, then he turned to his wife: "I will answer the door. We must appease them – at least for now."
Hesitantly he opened the door – just far enough to see two very large men in Roman army regalia.
"Is he here?," they demanded. "We heard he was coming – is he here?"
"Who is it you seek?" the man asked.
"The king, of course. Herod was told he would come tonight. We are here to welcome him and bring him to Herod so that he, too, may honor him," the soldiers said.
"No. I know of no king but Caesar," the man replied. "Why do you ask me?"
"Yours is the only inn in town," the soldiers answered. "We thought perhaps he would seek shelter here."
"No, but I will surely tell him, if he comes, ?that you are seeking him."
As he closed the door, the innkeeper called ?to Sarah, his wife.
"Come quickly! Soldiers were here – they are seeking him, too," he said. "I told you the prophets were right! This is the day – and this is the place! The Messiah is coming – perhaps to our very door and this very night! I have saved our best room for him."
Checking with Sarah, he asked, "Is everything else ready – how goes the meal?"
"All is ready," she responded. "The table is set with our finest. The calf is over the fire. All is perfect, just as you requested."
She couldn't help but add, "The inn is full. We could have sold that room many times over. A young couple came while you were talking to the soldiers. She was expecting – very close, it looked like. A sweet young thing – I think her first. I told them they could spend the night in the stable – at least it will keep them out of the weather."
"That's fine, Sarah," her husband said. "You had better check on the dinner. It can't be long now."
Another knock came at the door. Perhaps it is he!
The sound of animals came through the heavy wooden door. Opening it revealed a humble shepherd boy clutching his staff, a look of anxiety on his weathered face.
"What is it you want?" the innkeeper said. "We have no room. We are busy tonight – quick, state your business."
"We saw the star, and an angel appeared and told us to follow it," the young shepherd said. "We seek the new king. The star is over your town. Have you seen him? Is he here?"
"No, no king – not yet. We, too, are waiting," the innkeeper answered, kinder now. "We hope it won't be long. You may water your animals in our stable. There is a young family there taking shelter, and they have a newborn child – be sure not to disturb him."
As he turned away, an almost angelic smile crossed the shepherd's face.
"Strange people these shepherds were," the innkeeper said, "so simple and so easy to please. Who would think they would be so happy to share a stable with a poor couple and a baby?
Then, he added: "Sarah, why don't you check on the baby and mother. Perhaps take them some food – we have plenty.
"It may be a long night. We must stay awake ?for his coming! He probably will have his ?army with him."Yes, Sarah, the Messiah is coming ?– he is coming!!"