Bernard and Sasha

Bernard, the dog, walked into the kitchen in the dark to get a drink of water. Glowing eyes greeted him from the counter. Sasha, the cat, had been looking out the window.   Bernard sat on the rug in front of the sink and yawned.

Sasha hissed.   “Close your mouth. I can smell your awful breath from here,” she said.

Bernard laughed and thumped his tail on the floor. “At least I don’t have cat breath.”

Sasha rolled her eyes. “Dogs tell the dumbest jokes.”   She turned and settled herself in front of the window again.

“What’re you looking at?” Bernard asked. He put his front paws up on the counter and tried to look over Sasha’s head. He could see the wind chimes being tossed around in the wind.

“It looks like another storm is coming in,” Sasha said. “Will winter ever end?”

“Of course it will,” Bernard said. “Maybe even tomorrow. It will be warm and muddy and perfect. We can go out and chase sticks and splash in puddles. It’ll be great.”

Sasha turned and pushed on his forehead with a paw, trying to move him off the counter.   “That sounds dreadful. Who wants to be wet? Why chase sticks?”

Bernard flopped back down on the rug. “So what do you want to do?”

“Chase birds, climb trees, sleep in the sun-warmed grass,” Sasha said. She wrapped her tail around her paws.

“I like to chase things too!” Bernard said. “Like sticks!”

“You already said that,” Sasha said. “And it’s not the same.”

“I know we both like to have our ears scratched too,” Bernard said.

“Well, that is true,” Sasha said.

“And we both love to go camping!” Bernard said. His tail thumped on the ground. He reached up to put his front paws on the counter again. “You love camping too, right Sasha?”

“I hate camping,” Sasha said. She put both paws on Bernard’s forehead and tried to push him off the counter. “Go away. Your breath still smells bad.”

Bernard laughed loudly and Sasha backed up and scrunched up her nose. Bernard dropped back down to the rug and laughed some more.   “Everybody loves camping, Sasha.   So of course you like camping.”

“I don’t,” Sasha said. She stretched along the counter so that she could look down over the edge at Bernard. “I don’t go at all if I can avoid it.”

“Camping is the best. I like to roll around in the piles of dead leaves and pine needles. Nothing smells quite like it. I can sleep out under the stars and maybe swim in a stream in the morning.”   Bernard sighed. “Maybe winter will be over tomorrow.”

Sasha licked a paw.   “I like to sleep when it’s safe and warm. I do like hunting under starry skies. But I want my normal breakfast at the normal time. I hate waiting.”

“Oh. It’s not nice to be hungry,” Bernard said.   “But camping doesn’t mean no breakfast.   You should come. Maybe tomorrow.”

The wind blew the wind chimes around and they rang wildly. The window panes rattled. Sasha jumped down from the counter. “It will be winter for a long time. It is too cold for camping. Even with your poorly-groomed overgrown fur coat.”

“My fur is just right. It keeps me warm,” Bernard said.   “You’re just jealous because your fur is short and you’re always cold.”

“Maybe I am jealous,” Sasha said. “Except that I hate it when my fur is messy, and yours is always messy.”

“At least I don’t have cat breath,” Bernard said.

“It’s better than dog breath,” Sasha said. She paused before she left the kitchen. “Maybe I will come camping sometime, if winter ever ends. Maybe I won’t.” She left, tail held high.

Bernard laughed.   “Cats!” he said. He stood up and stretched. “Winter will end. Maybe tomorrow.”

Charlie’s Room: the top hat

“Let’s all go on a walk,” Isaac said one Saturday morning. “It’s not too cold, and it’s not raining.”

Charlie looked out the window, nose pressed to the glass. “It’s muddy,” he said.

Marianne laughed.   “Then wear your boots, Charlie. I think it’s a great idea.”   She handed Charlie his coat. “We can’t be out too long. We need to eat lunch before Charlie and I go to the library to read to a pet. Boxy would be sad if we didn’t show up.”

Charlie put his coat on with a huff and found his boots in the back of the closet.   “Okay. But last time it was muddy a car drove through a puddle, and it sprayed me with yucky muddy water. It was awful.”

Isaac patted his back. “It’s all right. I’ll walk between you and the road. As long as you don’t run ahead, you’ll be fine.”

It was a beautiful day. Rain from the night before was still in little beads on the clover and bushes. They glowed like tiny jewels. The air smelled fresh and clean, and the sun glowed brightly.

“This is nice,” Charlie said. He ran ahead again and paused by a sign stuck into the weeds at the base of a stop sign. “Look, a yard sale. Can we go?”

“I don’t have any money with me, Charlie,” Marianne said.

“I have a few dollars,” Isaac said. “Let’s go.”

“Yay!” Charlie said, and he held out his hand.

Isaac opened his wallet and pulled out two dollars. “That’s it. You know, you don’t have to spend it now. You could save it and buy something later.”

Charlie laughed.   “Nah. Come on!” He raced ahead, and Marianne and Isaac hurried to follow him.

They had to remind him several times to wait. At one point, he ran back and hid behind Isaac when they went past a big puddle and several cars were coming. Isaac’s shoes and socks got all wet.

At the yard sale, Charlie began bustling around, digging through boxes and checking prices.   Finally he decided on a worn, lopsided top hat. “Look, it’s like the ones magicians use,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Marianne asked. “I think it smells funny.”

“It’s exactly two dollars,” Charlie said. “It’s perfect.”

“You could save your money,” Isaac said. “I think someone sat on that hat.”

“Nope,” Charlie said. He bought the hat.

They went home and ate tuna fish sandwiches, and then Marianne and Charlie went to the library to read to Boxy. It was a pretty great day. The next day, Marianne found a half-eaten apple on the kitchen floor.

“Charlie,” she said. “If you can’t finish your apple, put it in the compost bucket. It doesn’t belong on the floor.”

“It wasn’t me,” Charlie said. “Maybe it was Dad?”

“Not me,” Isaac said.

Marianne rolled her eyes and picked up the apple. “It was obviously somebody,” she said.

A few days later, there was a hole in the bread wrapper and a hole looked like it had been carved into the loaf. “Do you think it was mice?” Marianne asked in a hushed voice.

“I haven’t seen any signs of them,” Isaac said. “Let’s keep the food put away just in case. We’ll see if there are any more problems.”

“Let’s feed the rest of this loaf to the ducks,” Marianne said.

The next Saturday morning, Marianne was watering the red geranium that used to be her grandmother’s. She set the watering can down with a thump. “Isaac!” she yelled.

Isaac came running.   “What’s wrong?”

Marianne pointed a shaking finger at the plant. “Something has been nibbling on my grandmother’s geranium. That is the last straw. I’m taking Charlie to the bug museum and you are going to find the mice or locusts or groundhogs or whatever it is that is doing this.” She turned and grabbed his sleeves. “Please Isaac. Make it stop.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Isaac said. He gave her a hug. Then he helped her pack Charlie off to the museum.

Isaac got two slices of bread out of the cupboard and set them in the middle of the floor.   Then he sat on the counter and waited quietly. He was mentally going over his to-do list for work on Monday, when he heard a soft, thumpy, shuffly sort of noise in the hall.

A tiny white bunny with black spots hopped to the middle of the kitchen and started nibbling on the slices of bread. He let it eat for several minutes. When it started slowing down, he hopped off the counter.

The bunny jumped and then bolted out the kitchen door. Isaac chased it down the hall to Charlie’s room. It jumped into the top hat sitting on the floor, leaning against the desk. Isaac picked up the old top hat and looked inside. No bunny, of course.

Isaac took the hat with him to the bedroom and took his wallet off the dresser. He flipped through the cards and found a business card near the back. It had a phone number under the words Wendell, Wizard Extraordinaire. Isaac called the number.

Wendell appeared at the front door minutes later and was quite happy to take the top hat.   “This is a classic,” he said. “I can’t wait to see how they did it.   Thank you!”

Isaac called Marianne and told her it was safe to come home. “What was it?” Marianne asked.

“Something living in Charlie’s top hat,” Isaac said. “I’m afraid I had to get rid of the hat.”

“Ew. I don’t want to know. And he put that on his head? I’ll have to check his hair. Ew.   No more yard sales,” Marianne said.   “We’ll be home soon. Thank you for taking care of it for me.”

“No problem,” Isaac said. “I’ll see you soon.”

The Pig and the Radish

Daisy was rooting around her pen, looking to see if there was anything tasty she’d missed.   In the far corner, behind the trough, a little radish had taken root. Yum.

“Wait, don’t eat me!” the radish said in a little high-pitched squeaky voice. “If you let me be, I’m sure I’ll find some way to help you.”

Daisy scrunched up her nose. “But I’m hungry. And I like radishes.”

“Please don’t eat me,” the radish said. “I’m too young to die.”

Daisy laughed.   “Fine. I’ll leave you be this time. But if Farmer Green is late with supper, I make no promises.”

Farmer Green was not late. “Thank you, Farmer Green, for your punctuality,” the radish said from behind the trough.

Farmer Green looked around, then he looked at Daisy. “Did you say that?” he asked. Then he shook his head. “That’s silly. Pigs don’t talk.” He picked up his bucket and left.

“How did he understand you?” Daisy asked. “Are you a magic radish?”

“I don’t think so,” the radish said. “I think all radishes can talk. Perhaps the others have softer, safer beds and sleep more than I do.”

“That makes sense.   I think generations of pigs have packed down the dirt in this pen until it’s quite hard,” Daisy said.

“How is it that you’re the only one left?” The radish asked. “Shouldn’t there be lots of pigs if there’s been pigs here for generations?”

“I don’t know.   Don’t radishes have more than one seed?   Shouldn’t there be more than one of you?” The pig asked.

“It’s just that we’re so incredibly tasty, that someone or something seems to come along and eat most of the radishes, quicker than you can blink. If only we tasted terrible, like skunk cabbage.” The radish sighed.

“I like cabbage,” Daisy said. “But maybe I wouldn’t like bad tasting cabbage.” She scuffed at the hard dirt with a trotter. “Do you think the other pigs got eaten, like your radish relatives?”

“Hmmmm. I think it’s entirely too likely. The humans do seem to be fattening you up for something,” the radish said. “I’m sorry.   I think you’re too young to die too.”

“You have to help me,” Daisy said. “You promised.”

“How?” the radish asked. “Ask him not to eat you? Even if he listens to me, he’ll stop feeding you.”

“Make him believe I’m a valuable talking pig,” Daisy said.

“And when he takes you from the pen and you can’t talk?”

Daisy growled.   “Think of something quickly, or I’ll eat you. All this stress is making me hungry.”

“Ok, ok.   Stop pressuring me. I’ll think of something,” the radish said.

In the morning, Farmer Green came by with a bucket of scraps for Daisy. Daisy came trotting over and eyed the food. Her stomach grumbled and she dove in. The Farmer chuckled.

“Farmer Green,” the radish said. Farmer Green looked around again. “Petting zoos are money-makers, and this pig is unusually friendly. Add a pumpkin patch, a corn maze, and maybe some apple cider, and the future is bright.”

Farmer Green scratched his head and looked around again. “Grandma? Is that you? It doesn’t sound like you.”

“Petting zoo,” the radish said again. “Maybe teach the pig a few tricks.”

Farmer Green picked up his bucket. “Right.   Petting zoos. And apple cider.” He marched off, looking determined.

“I think you’re safe for a few more years,” the radish said.

“Great,” Daisy said. “Then I won’t eat you.”

“Thanks,” the radish said.

Country Reports

Justin was very excited about the country reports they were doing in school. He’d spent a lot of time drawing pictures and diagrams.   He’d even done extra chores so that his mom would buy a small treat at the store for him to share with the class. His report was going to be the best one in the class. Did they have a trophy for that?

“Who would like to go first?” Mr. Armstrong asked.

Justin half-stood and waved his arms wildly in the air. “Me! Me! Pick me!” he yelled.

A few other students had their arms raised, but mostly everyone was staring at Justin.   “All right then,” Mr. Armstrong said.   “Justin, why don’t you go first?   I appreciate your enthusiasm.   You must have an awesome report to share with us.”

“Oh, mine is the best. You may as well give me the trophy now,” Justin said. He smiled hopefully.

“There isn’t a trophy,” Mr. Armstrong said.

“A certificate with a gold seal?”

“No,” Mr. Armstrong said.

“A ribbon?”

“Nope.”

“A hall pass?”   Justin asked.

“We’ll see,” Mr. Armstrong said. “Why don’t you give us your report now.”

“All right,” Justin said. “Prepare to be amazed.”   He pulled out the map of Finland.   “This is the site of one of the first alien landings on earth. Over two thousand years ago, fishmen landed and settled there.” Justin pulled out his fishmen drawings. He was rather proud of them.

“Justin, I’m not sure where you got your information, but humans live in Finland, not fishmen,” Mr. Armstrong said.

“Oh, I’m sure that some do, but it’s mostly fishmen,” Justin said. “They’re not exactly trying to hide it. It’s in the name. They wear disguises so that they blend in, but I believe that they’re proud of their heritage, and that’s why they named their country Finland.”

“Justin, I don’t think this is correct. Did you look up your country in an encyclopedia?” Mr. Armstrong said.

“Of course I did.   Then I had to account for human bias.   Did you know that some people refuse to believe that Abraham Lincoln was really in contact with Alpha Centauri?”   Justin laughed.

“All right,” Mr. Armstrong said. “Why don’t you go ahead and finish your report.”

Justin smiled.   “Great. So, the fishmen had the same troubles on earth that they did on their home planet. The rival fishmen in Sweden conquered them in the 12th century, and then the humans came in from the west in the 1800s. They won their freedom again about a hundred years ago.”

“So there are fishmen in Sweden?” Mr. Armstrong asked.

“Of course there are,” Justin said. “Haven’t you heard of Swedish Fish? In fact, I have some to hand out to the class now.” The class cheered as Justin handed out the small packets of candy.   “Of course, it’s mostly narwhals in Norway. They’re more peaceful.”

Justin unrolled his timeline. “I’ve projected their future expansion when Russia and Canada get flooded due to global warming and have to be evacuated. There is some concern that the fishmen are causing climate change in an attempt to terraform the earth to their preferences. They are able to think long-term like that, and now that they are willing to work with the fishmen in Sweden, future generations of humans may see a global Finnish Empire.”

Justin displayed the flag he’d drawn and a poster with the words to Finland’s national anthem.   “To prepare for this almost inevitable future, it would be a good idea to remember this flag and anthem to make the transition easier. I’ll hum the tune and then we can all sing it together.”

After the class finished singing the anthem and then sang it again as an encore, Justin asked if there were any questions. Every hand in class shot up.

Mr. Armstrong came to the front of the class and stood next to Justin. “Class, this has been a unique and interesting presentation.   But, in order to have more time for the other presentations, I think we’ll have to stop here. Thank you, Justin.”

Justin smiled as the class clapped enthusiastically and then gathered his posters. “Now, about that hall pass…” he said.

“We’ll see,” Mr. Armstrong said.

A Mystery Tale

Little Red was taking the day off from her summer job. The deliveries would have to wait. Recovering from trauma was more important. She was so grateful that her uncle, a woodcutter, had come along to check on Grandma Hood. Things could have gone much worse. Her nightmares had made that very clear.

Mom knocked on the open bedroom door. Red rolled her eyes. “Come in,” she said.

“Are you doing okay?” Mom asked.

Red sighed.   “I think so.”

“Do you think you could go and tell your brother that it’s lunch time?” Mom paused. “If you don’t think you’re up to it, I can go.   You’d need to watch your sister.”

Red stood up and stretched. “No, that’s fine. He’s just up the road.   I’ll go get him.”

Little Yellow was already in her highchair, smashing peas with a spoon. Red waved as she went by. Yellow giggled.

Red trudged uphill to Grandpa and Grandma Riding’s farm. Her brother Blue was working there over the summer. Red scrunched up her nose. Cows and sheep and pigs were a bit smelly. She preferred the delivery business, as long as it remained wolf free of course.

A dragonfly zoomed past her ear, glittering metallic blue in the sunlight. Red turned and watched its path as it flew over the crooked fence of the farm next to her grandparents.

Mr. Crook was hunched over, next to the fence, his hand inside his coat. His other hand held a shovel. He narrowed his eyes when he saw her looking at him. His angry gray cat hissed. It was walking with a limp. It had probably got into another fight with the neighborhood cats.   “Hello, little Red,” Mr. Crook said.

“Is everything all right, Mr. Crook?” Red asked.

“Oh, yes, of course. In fact, I just found a sixpence. I’m going to bury it right here for luck. So I can’t have you watching me. Move along, move along,” Mr. Crook said.

“Bye, then,” Red said.

A few minutes later, she was crunching down her grandparents’ gravel driveway. It was nearing lunchtime, but the sheep were still in the meadow. Usually, by now, they were moved into the pasture that had more trees to shelter them from the afternoon sun. Blue was behind schedule.

Red groaned.   She’d probably have to help him catch up before they could go home. It wasn’t fair. She stopped when she heard crashing sounds to the left. What was that? For a moment she imagined bright eyes and sharp teeth. She froze.

Then Bella stuck her nose out from the tangle of cornstalks and mooed. Red laughed. It was just the cows. But wait, how had they moved from the meadow into the cornfield? Someone had to have opened the gate. Where was Blue? Why hadn’t he blown his horn to call for help?

Red ran straight to the farmhouse. “Grandma! Grandpa! Blue is missing!”

Grandpa Riding ran out of the barn and met her in front of the house. “Red, what’s wrong?” he asked.

“It’s Blue.   The sheep are still in the meadow and the cows are in the cornfield, but he didn’t blow his horn or you would be there to stop them. Where is Blue and why didn’t he blow his horn?” Red was starting to cry. Could the wolf have come this far? It felt like she was stuck back in her nightmares from last night.

“Calm down, Red.   Let’s get Grandma and start looking.   We’ll find him,” Grandpa said.

They started looking. It was Red who was the first to see his legs sticking out from under a haystack. She yelled for help and they brushed the hay off of him. He had a big bruised bump on the side of his head, and there was a loot of blood in his matted hair, but he was breathing.

Red wanted to shake him awake and ask what happened, but Grandma insisted that it was better to carry him inside and call for the doctor. “You both figure out what happened,” Grandma Riding said. “I’ll take care of Blue.”

Red and Grandpa Riding watched her leave. “We’d better catch whoever did this,” Red said. She was so angry it felt like her ears were ringing. No one was allowed to hurt her little brother. No one.

“We will,” Grandpa said. He looked around, and started digging through the hay. “Do you see the emergency horn?”

“No,” Red said.   She started to dig through the hay.   Then she sat back on her heels.   “You know, I did see Mr. Crook burying something by his fence. His cat was limping, too.”

“But why would Mr. Crook take the horn and hit little Blue?” Grandpa Riding asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Someone also let the cows in the corn,” Red pointed out. “Perhaps he caused other mischief that we don’t know about and Blue saw him.   If he thought he killed Blue, he might be trying to hide the murder weapon.”

“I don’t know,” Grandpa said.

“Let’s go dig up what he buried,” Red said. “If it’s the horn, then we’ll know.”

Grandpa Riding grabbed a shovel. They walked back down the driveway and found the patch up turned up earth. Grandpa started digging. Clink.   They brushed away the dirt.

There was the horn, dented and splattered in blood. “Do you have a handkerchief, Grandpa?” Red asked. “There might be fingerprints.”

Grandpa took a clean white handkerchief from his pocket and gently picked up the horn.   “I think it may be time to call the police,” he said.

Mr. Crook confessed to the crime. He’d actually stolen several cows and wanted to make it look like they’d escaped on their own. His cat had been injured helping him herd the cows to his property.

Blue had seen him, and Mr. Crook took the horn and hit him to stop him calling for help.   He hadn’t planned on hurting anyone.   Mr. Crook actually cried with relief when he heard that Blue hadn’t died.

Blue had a terrible headache for days, but he was otherwise all right. Red took over his summer job and was secretly relieved to drop the delivery business for a while.   She was openly relieved that it didn’t take long to get used to the smell of the animals on the farm. The nightmares finally went away.