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Mia acts fast in face of danger

Editor’s note: This is the eighth chapter of a 12-part continuing, fictional holiday tale, “The Golden Ornament” that is running daily through Christmas. Parents are encouraged to read it aloud to their children.

Just as they’d reached the house, the cows started mooing and carrying on. Mia stared at the barn for a moment and wondered why so many animals were talking all at once.

Mr. Cameron was inside talking to his wife about how they were getting a grant so that they could hire new help, which made her happy to hear. But if he was inside, she couldn’t imagine what was getting the animals so shook up.

“I’ll be right back, Brandon. I want to go take a look in the barn. You go ahead and order up our cocoa.”

“You sure?” He glanced at the barn. “I’ll come too.”

“No, it’s OK. I just want to check inside. See if there’s any peppermint cocoa for me.”

Inside the barn, it was even louder. The cows were definitely spooked; their eyes were large and fearful. Some were backed into the far corners of their stalls and some seemed to be trying to get through their gates, but all were in distress.

Mia walked slowly down the row and talked sweetly to each one. She looked everywhere as she went on, searching for anything wrong but saw nothing. When she got to the end, the pigs were squealing as they ran around in frantic circles. Mia was really worried now, and got inside the pen to see what could have scared them.

That was when she smelled smoke, very faint but unmistakable. Panicked, she started moving every crate and bucket she could. She couldn’t see any smoke, but she could definitely smell it.

Outside the pig enclosure, the whole back of the barn had huge holes in it where Mr. Cameron was replacing parts of the wall. The air outside was getting chillier as the afternoon went on, and cold gusts of wind blew in through the holes, blowing stray pieces of hay about.

She whirled around, pulling her hat down over her ears, and froze as she spotted it: in the corner behind a few stacks of hay was a small space heater, and on top of it some stray pieces of hay had smoke rising off them. A spark caught, and Mia gasped as more followed. Within seconds, flames flickered along the wall, and with all this dry hay, it was sure to spread fast.

She knew she had to act faster than the flames. The water troughs were filled but she couldn’t see any buckets, so instead she flung open the gate to the pig enclosure and started ushering them out. They obeyed, in fact, they seemed to know they had to get out as they headed quickly toward the barn’s entrance.

She screamed for help, hoping they could hear her from the house. Her limbs were shaking with fear, but she ignored it and started on the cows, which was going to be much harder. They were huge, and much stronger than she was. She opened every latch of the half gates for all six cows and started leading the first one out.

As she was leading out the second cow, Mr. Cameron and Brandon rushed in to help. Mia yelled and pointed which ones were left. The fire was still on the other end but spreading faster, and the entire pig pen was in flames. The three of them got the remaining four cows outside where Mrs. Cameron was busy getting all the animals across to the gated pasture.

“The fire department is on the way,” she called out.

A few minutes later, the four of them were huddled safely outside the pasture and every animal was safely inside the gates. The horses, reindeer and alpacas were far enough away to be safe from the flames. Everything after that felt like it happened in a blur; fire trucks pulled in and started on the fire with their hoses, and wrapped them all in blankets and gave them water.

The barn was a total loss. But it was the only thing that was.

“Mia, sweetheart, I called your mom. She’s on her way. Your mom too, Brandon,” said Mrs. Cameron.

They nodded and turned back to the charred, smoking remains of the sanctuary’s largest barn.

“How did you know?” Mr. Cameron bent down to face Mia with tears in his eyes. “Brandon said you wanted to check inside.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t know. Not really. I just felt like something was wrong. It was the heater. Hay blew on top of it and caught on fire. I couldn’t get to the water, and I didn’t know what else to do. I’m so sorry you lost your barn.”

“Sweet Mia,” Mr. Cameron said, hugging her tightly. “Because of you, I’ve lost nothing that can’t be replaced. You acted heroically and on instinct. You got so many animals out before I even knew there was a fire. It’s me who’s sorry. This is my fault. I should have turned off that heater, I know better. I didn’t think I’d be gone more than a minute.”

“What will happen now?” Brandon asked.

“We’ll rebuild.” Mrs. Cameron put her arm around her husband. “We’ll get a temporary shelter built for these guys and then we’ll rebuild.”

“So … you’re going to be okay?” Mia asked.

“Thanks to you, Mia. You saved the lives of these animals and in doing so, saved our livelihood, not to mention our hearts. These animals are like our children. We didn’t lose anything important today. You saved everything that matters, and we’re so thankful. Your being here today was fate.”

Read the next chapter of “The Golden Ornament” in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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