by Max Reif

Hillcrest School was not a place you'd associate with trouble. It had nice buildings and pretty grounds and lots of trees. The students did their work and got along well with the teachers. Parents and children alike felt the school
was a healthy and happy environment for boys and girls.
      This year, though, two problems had suddenly arisen at Hillcrest. The first problem was pretty simple, and it wasn't totally new. Mrs. Halstrom, the Principal, as well as most of the students and teachers, and most parents too, had felt for a long time that the school needed its own orchestra. The new part was that Mrs. Halstrom had decided this was the year to do something about creating one.      
      Where was the money going to come from for the instruments? That was the question everyone was asking. Various ideas, including bake sales and car washes, were discussed. But to buy enough instruments for a whole orchestra would take an awful lot of bake sales.       
      The other problem at Hillcrest was much, much, more mysterious: People's coats were flying off and disappearing! And not just their coats! Their scarves, sweatshirts, hats—anything that wasn't part of their regular, indoor layer of clothing.      
      This mystery was a constant topic of discussion. It seemed that whenever a student forgot, even for a moment, to think about where his or her coat was—it was gone! Everyone had a theory, but no one knew where the coats were. Or how to bring them back.

     But if you went out to the big, blacktopped playground of Hillcrest School at night, when all the boys and girls had gone home, you'd find coats, sweatshirts, scarves and hats laying everywhere, face down-pink ones, blue ones, striped ones, plaid ones, polka-dotted ones. In fact, it was kind of a pretty sight, although the parents of boys and girls who had worn the wraps to school might not have been able to see it that way!      
      If you waited there behind a tree until the night was very dark and the white stars were shining above the hills, you'd start to hear something after awhile, near the entrance-way that had been cut into the high, chain- link fence halfway down Pleasant Road. A little while after that, you'd see a little old man come pushing a noisy, single-wheeled cart onto the blacktop.      
      He was an odd-looking old man, only slightly taller than a dwarf. A long red beard curled down from his chin. In fact, he looked as if he'd stepped straight out of some old fairy tale. If you kept watching, you'd see him walk around the blacktop and collect the coats, one by one, talking to them as he piled them onto his cart.

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