The two children were laughing as they tried to catch the red leaves raining down from the sugar maples. A cold wind brought the promise of frost by morning and she shivered as she tried to keep the children on the narrow path. A fall in the river would be dangerous this time of year. When she glanced up, she instinctively reached for the children’s hands. A man, whose untucked shirt was dripping with red, was approaching. As he got closer, he showed a toothless grin, tipped his hat politely, and said…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)



The narrow riverbank was bitterly cold as Fall had taken full effect in their small town. Her kids, playing in front of her, tried to catch maple leaves as they fell to earth, the dream being to hold one that had never before laid upon the ground. Usually, this meant that they would be cherished long into the winter, until early in the spring when she could finally throw them out, without fear of the children noticing they had gone.

She was looking at her children’s feet as they played, trying not to react when they got closer to the edge of the river, knowing that they no longer needed the constant supervision and guidance she had been used to giving when they were younger.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

She was startled by a sudden gruff voice speaking to her and instinctively moved between her children and the man who was now standing before her. He was soaking wet, like he had just come out of the water, but his t-shirt was soaked in red. He was smiling, but his toothless grin agitated her, though she could not reason why. She noticed too that he had some leaves stuck in his beard, suggesting maybe he had fallen in the river, but why the red?

“I’m sorry” she said as she attempted to hurry the kids past and away from the potential danger.

“I know I must look a sight” the man said, “but I just need some help. My vehicle you see, it fell into the river and the others, well they’re alright but I lost my dentures, my clothes are ruined and I can’t go back like this. She’ll be so mad.”

“I’m very sorry” said the woman, “But I can’t help. I’m sorry you fell in, but I’m sure the others can help you.”

The man smiled warmly. “Oh they do normally, but I fear this might be beyond what they’re capable of.” He rinsed off his bobble hat and placed it back on his head, tilting it back slightly in acknowledgement. “Sorry to have startled you, Ma’am.”

The woman wanted to move on but she felt her children staring at her. “Come on Mom, can’t we help him?” They looked pleadingly at her. “You’re always saying kindness is magic.”

Her own words struck a chord in her and she gave the man another look over. He did seem relatively harmless, but even still, she could always get a knife from her kitchen and keep him back should he end up being a maniac. From the look of him, he would not be able to run as fast as the children anyway, so she they could always flee if needed.

“Okay” she said. “Of course, of course. How can we help you, sir?”

“Well I need to dry off these clothes” he said, holding up a soaking wet pink garment in his arms and indicating to his pants, which were in an identical condition. “And something to warm up the insides would be much appreciated, too, if at all possible.”

The woman took this in and nodded “Okay. We can do that. Our house is just up here. I can turn the fire on to dry your clothes and I can make you some split pea soup if you like, or a cup of hot cocoa. But you should probably wash, too. Your beard looks like there are animals nesting in there!”

The man reached up, felt the leaves in his bushy beard and gave a hearty laugh that made the children look at each other with a smile. “Ho, well thank you, onward we shall go!” he said, brushing the leaves to the floor.

After he was washed up and had eaten his soup, he looking sadly at his clothes drying by the fire. “She’ll be so annoyed,” he said. “She told me that I shouldn’t be trying it out and I should just stick to the old suit. And now look, the color…”

“I think pink is your color,” the younger of the children told him.

“Oh no,” he said to the girl. “It was a nice bright red before I fell into the water and that is definitely my color.”

The woman looked at him quizzically. “Where do you live?”

“Oh, a long way from here,” he said.

“What brings you here then?” she said, picking up his dried out clothes and folding them neatly.

“I just wanted to get ready, I’ve got a big trip coming up in a couple of months and sometimes I worry that I’m getting too old. If one day I suddenly find out I am, rather discover it in Fall than in December. At least there’s time to plan ahead then.”

There was a jingling of bells outside the house and he smiled. “They did it,” he said and took his clothes from the woman. “Your kindness is appreciated, all of you.” He strode across to the door and, as he exited, he turned around once more and said warmly, “You’ll be on the nice list again this year, no question!” And with a smile and a sparkling wink, he was gone.