A Rainbow Coat

“Is that story really true?” Little Beetle asked.

“Of course it is,” Grandpa Beetle said.

“So, if I climb to the top of the big pine tree, I could get a rainbow coat to wear too?”

“If you’re there at just the right time,” Grandpa Beetle said. “But the journey is very dangerous.”

“I’m going to go tomorrow,” Little Beetle said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Grandpa Beetle said.

Little Beetle straightened his antennas. “I’m going anyways.”

Grandpa Beetle sighed.

The next morning, when it was neither light nor dark, Little Beetle left their burrow under the edge of the stone fence. He strode up to the big pine tree and started to climb. At first, it wasn’t so bad. And then, just as he reached the lowest branches, a dark shadow fell across his path. A squirrel scampered towards him.

Quickly, Little Beetle darted in to a crack in the bark. A furry paw reached in after him. Little Beetle leaned back and avoided the paw. He ducked and darted. The paw kept reaching.

Finally, the paw retreated. A dark eye peered into the crack. The paw returned, even more relentless than before. Little Beetle was growing tired when the paw drew back again. The eye returned, and then the other paw.

Just when Little Beetle was sure he couldn’t duck or dodge any longer, the paw disappeared. Little Beetle waited anxiously. There was a chittering sound outside the crack in the bark.

Little Beetle waited and waited. Finally, there was the scratching sound of claws on bark that was initially quite near and loud. The sound grew fainter.   Little Beetle waited. He peeked out and looked back and forth. He was alone.

He continued to climb. As he passed a branch, he met a little caterpillar resting in the nook where the branch met the tree. “Hello, friend,” Little Beetle said. “Are you climbing the tree for a rainbow coat too?”

“I don’t think that works for caterpillars,” the little caterpillar said.   “I’m eating to prepare for my long sleep.”

“Why do you need to sleep for a long time?” Little Beetle asked. “The weather is still warm.”

“To get my wings,” the little caterpillar said. “It is what caterpillars do. Do all beetles climb for coats?”

“Only the brave ones like me,” Little Beetle said. “Maybe next I’ll try for wings.”

“Good luck,” the little caterpillar said.

“You too,” Little Beetle said. He started to climb again.

He climbed higher and higher. He learned to listen for the scratchy sounds and hide before the squirrels could come close enough to see him. The heat of the day grew and Little Beetle had to pause to eat some pine needles.

While perched on a twig, munching his lunch, Little Beetle spotted the newest danger. A bird landed on a branch nearby, a cricket squirming in her beak. Little Beetle froze. When the bird turned around, Little Beetle crept away.

The trunk was in the shadows cast by the branches. He couldn’t watch for shadows or listen for scratchy sounds.   The birds could arrive without warning.   Little Beetle started to dart between hiding places, spending as little time out in the open as possible.

He finally reached the top of the big pine tree at sunset. Little Beetle was bathed in the rainbow colors of the sunset. He hoped the colors would stick.   The sunset faded. It was neither light nor dark. Little Beetle began to climb down the tree.

He wasn’t sure what dangers were there at night. He continued to dart between hiding places, stopping occasionally to eat or rest. He reached the ground again as morning broke. Grandpa Beetle was waiting.

“Little Beetle,” he said. “You did it! Look at your beautiful shell.”

Little Beetle looked at his legs. They shimmered in all the colors of the rainbow. “I got my rainbow coat!” he said. Then he looked back up at the pine tree and shuddered. “Will that make it easier for the squirrels and birds to find me?” he asked.

“It might,” Grandpa Beetle said. “You do seem to glow a bit.”

“That’s it,” Little Beetle said. “I’m going home right now. I won’t go out again until this has worn off completely.”

“Little Beetle, this is wonderful,” Grandpa Beetle said. “You’ve gained wisdom.”

 

 

The Little Bear

Rufus was patrolling the boundaries of the clan’s territory when he found him.   There, in a spot where their territory overlapped the human territory, a small bear was lying on his side in a patch of sunlight. Rufus felt that unnatural calm that precedes a battle as he charged forward, bellowing to warn away any attackers.

He couldn’t see any attackers, and the little bear didn’t move. Rufus towered over the little cub. He nudged at him with his nose. The little guy didn’t smell right. His eyes were glassy and his fur was an odd color.   When Rufus picked him up in his paws, the little bear’s legs flopped as though there were no bones. He was obviously under some sort of terrible human spell.

Rufus rushed the little guy straight to the clan elders. “I need some help,” he said, as he charged into the hidden cave. “It’s terrible. A spell has been cast on this little cub.”

The elders rushed forward, with the clan mage in the lead. “Put him on the floor here and let me examine him,” the healer said. “I can determine if there has been a spell cast or not.”

Rufus laid the little bear down on the ground. He backed up and the elders crowded closer. The healer stepped forward and listened to the cub’s chest and lifted and dropped one of his legs. He peered closely into his eyes. “Is it a spell?” Rufus asked.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the healer said. “Where did you find him?”

“At the edge of the human territory,” Rufus said. “He was lying on the ground. I picked him up and brought him straight here.”

“Did you see anything on the ground around him?” the healer asked.   “Was there anything unusual in the area?”

“I don’t think so,” Rufus said. “I didn’t look very closely. I was really worried about the cub.”

“Of course,” the healer said. “Rightly so. Well, this is beyond my skill.”   He nodded to the clan mage and stepped back.

The clan mage conjured a ball of light and let it dance over the little bear.   “Hmmmm,” he said.

“What does that mean?” Rufus asked. “Can you help him?”

“I’m not sure,” the mage said. “I don’t know who he was or what was done to him. All I can safely say is that he is currently not a bear.”

“What do you mean?” the clan eldest asked. “We can all see that this is definitely a bear. What else could he be?”

“He does not have the bones of a bear. He does not have the skin or hair of a bear. He does not have the insides of a bear. He only has the shape of a bear,” the mage said. He huffed and the light blinked out.

“Can’t we help him?” Rufus asked.

“There is an old spell,” the mage said. He paused and looked up at the ceiling of the cave.

Rufus waited. The mage continued to look up. Rufus coughed. The mage didn’t glance his way.   Finally Rufus couldn’t wait any longer.   “What does the spell do?” he asked.

The mage looked down again and glanced around the circle. “I cannot make something that is not-bear into a bear.   However, I can give him the chance to earn the form himself.”

“What do you mean?” the clan eldest asked. “How could he earn the chance to be a bear?”

“He will awaken and have the chance to live and learn and choose. If he chooses to truly be a bear, then he will be one,” the mage said.

“What will he be before then?” the clan eldest asked.

“A not-yet-bear,” the mage said.

“Can’t you do anything else?” Rufus asked.

“This is the best I can do,” the mage said.

“Then perform the spell,” the clan eldest said.

The mage’s voice rumbled and echoed through the cave. The little bear glowed. The bears blinked, and the light was gone. “It is done. It is now up to him,” the mage said.

The little bear blinked and stretched. “He is waking up. I will explain this to him,” the clan eldest said.

Rufus followed the other clan elders out of the cave. “What happens now?’ he asked.

“I don’t know,” the clan mage said.

 

Charlie’s Room: The Bookmark

It was bedtime, and Charlie was tucked into bed waiting to hear a bedtime story. Isaac found the book on the top shelf of Charlie’s bookshelf and sat in the chair at the desk. The homemade brontosaurus bookmark was stuck into the book upside down again, with the tail poking up out of the pages.

Isaac opened up to the bookmarked pages. “Were you reading ahead again?” Isaac asked.

“It’s not me,” Charlie said. “I’m still reading that mystery story.”

“Are you sure? The bookmark is in the wrong spot again,” Isaac said. He flipped back several pages, and then he flipped back several more.   “It’s even further ahead than last time.”

“Maybe Mom’s been reading it,” Charlie said. “It is a good story.”

“I’ll have to ask her,” Isaac said. He turned one more page. “Here we are. The dinosaur just ate all the pirates.”

“Even the one with the green hair?” Charlie asked. “I thought he had the rock to help him travel in time.”

“We’ll have to see. Maybe he saves his crewmates in the next chapter,” Isaac said. He started to read. By the end of the chapter, Charlie was yawning and blinking a lot.

When Isaac closed the book, Charlie frowned. “It can’t be the end of the chapter. The pirates are still stuck in that awful cave and the dinosaurs stole their ship.”

Isaac opened the book again at the bookmark. He showed the pages to Charlie. “See, end of the chapter. We’ll find out what happens tomorrow.”

“That’s not fair,” Charlie said. He yawned. “They shouldn’t be allowed to end a chapter like that.”

“It’s part of the fun of reading,” Isaac said. “Wanting to know what happens next.” He smiled at the dinosaur face peeking out of the top of the book. Then, he stood up and slipped the book back into its spot on the shelf. “Goodnight, Charlie,” he said. “I love you.”

“Goodnight, Dad,” Charlie said. “I love you, too.”

Isaac turned off the light and left the door partway open. Then he went down the hall to his own bedroom.   Marianne was sitting on the bed writing something on a pad of paper. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Writing a to do list for tomorrow,” she said. “I have a lot going on and I don’t want to forget anything.”

“Anything I can help with?” Isaac asked.

Marianne frowned and looked at her list. “Could you stop by the store and pick up three packages of sugar cookies and two cans of lemonade concentrate?”

“I can do that on my way home from work. Will that give you enough time?” Isaac asked.

“Yes, thanks,” Marianne said. She crossed something out and scribbled something else.

“Oh, by the way,” Isaac said. “Have you been reading the story about the dinosaurs and the pirates?”

“No, why?” Marianne asked. She flipped over the paper and began to write on the back.

“Every night that I’ve sat down to read the new book to Charlie, the bookmark is further ahead in the book than where we left it,” Isaac said. “Charlie says he’s not reading ahead.”

“Then maybe it’s the bookmark,” Marianne said. She didn’t look up from her list.

“The bookmark is reading ahead?” Isaac asked.

“Mmmhmmm,” Marianne said. “Can you pick up pickles, too?”

“Slices or whole pickles?” Isaac asked.

“Gherkins,” Marianne said. “Here, I’ll write you a list.”

The next day at bedtime, Charlie was tucked into bed waiting to hear the next chapter. Isaac pulled the book off the shelf. The bookmark was tail up, nearly to the end of the book. Isaac left it where it was and found their place. He read the next chapter, leaving the pirates on a leaking raft surrounded by sharks.

“I still say it’s not fair to end a chapter like that,” Charlie said.

“It will give you something to dream about,” Isaac said. He patted his pockets and pulled out the shopping list he’d used earlier in the day. He stuck it in the book and marked their place. He smiled at the brontosaurus tail sticking out of the top of the book and slid the book into its place on the shelf.

Maybe if the bookmark finished reading this story, it would like to read another one.   The story about the dinosaurs and the alien penguins had been a lot of fun to read. He’d leave it in that book next. “Goodnight, Charlie,” he said. “I love you.”

“Goodnight, Dad,” Charlie said. “I love you, too.”

Isaac turned off the light and left the door partway open.

 

The Mighty Hunter

Sigolath, the terror of the neighborhood, stalked down the sidewalk angrily swishing her tail. Mr. Grenfell, that clumsy oblivious human, had stepped on her tail again. Twice was two times too many. He needed to be taught a lesson.

She stopped and eyed the oak tree that shaded this section of sidewalk.   The moss that clung to the trunk should make it easy to climb. The branches that arched over the sidewalk would be the perfect spot to sit and wait.

When Mr. Grenfell walked back this way, she’d land right on his ridiculous hat and yowl in his ear. That would be something he’d not forget any time soon. Sigolath purred. This was a great plan.

Sigolath looked at the tree again. Not now. He wouldn’t be home until the sun had moved to the other end of the sky. She would be back. It was time to hunt and keep her skills sharp.

She crouched and pushed through the gap at the bottom of the fence. This was the house with the lovely little pool where the birds took baths. She kept to the shadows and crawled under a bush.

Once she was positioned at the edge of the bush, she waited, ready to leap out at any bird foolish enough to land on the lawn nearby. Finally, a little finch glided from the bath to the ground below.

It would barely be a mouthful, but catching the little thing would be a challenge. Sigolath pounced. The finch darted away. It landed on a tree branch nearby and scolded her. Sigolath groomed her paws and ignored it. She hadn’t really wanted to catch it anyway.   It was all feather and bones.

She turned and jumped at the birdbath. She couldn’t reach the top edge, but the birds scattered. They knew if they stayed too long, she’d find a way to catch them. Sigolath turned, tail in the air and marched to the tree.

She gripped at the bark with her claws and began to climb. The finch flew away chirping in alarm. She ignored it and clambered up onto a large branch. From the branch, she dropped down onto the top of the fence.

She ran along the top of the fence. The stupid dog in the yard below barked loudly. What good would making all that noise do? Dogs were terrible hunters. It’s why they had to hunt in packs. She flicked her tail at it. The dog barked louder and jumped at the fence. Sigolath dropped down on the other side and strolled away, leaving the noisy dog behind.

She caught and ate a beetle, chased some mice, and watched a rabbit for a while.   It was safe inside a little box, but maybe today she’d find a way in. The rabbit pressed itself against the back of its box and trembled.   Sigolath whipped her tail from side to side and waited.

Finally, it was time to address her grievance with Mr. Grenfell. She would have her vengeance and prevent the future maiming of cat tails everywhere. She stalked down the sidewalk and started to climb the oak tree.

She slipped once as some moss pulled free, but she caught herself and kept climbing. She perched in the middle of the branch where she had a good view of the sidewalk.   She narrowed her eyes and waited.

A human came down the sidewalk carrying its child. The child looked up with wide eyes. Sigolath and the child watched each other as the child’s mother walked towards the tree. The child pointed and said something. The mother looked up.

The mother squinted. She stepped back. The child pointed again.   She locked eyes with Sigolath.   “Oh, poor kitty,” she said. “Are you stuck?”

Sigolath looked away. It was almost time. Was that Mr. Grenfell?

“Here, kitty kitty. If you drop, I’ll catch you.” Sigolath looked down. The human had set the child down and was holding her arms out. She was standing directly below Sigolath.

Sigolath looked up. Mr. Grenfell was here. He was going around the woman, out of pouncing range. Sigolath ran along the branch, but it was too late. Mr. Grenfell had escaped. Sigolath yowled her displeasure.

“Oh, are you too scared to jump? Poor thing. I’ll be back with a ladder, just wait here,” the human said. She scooped up her child and hurried away.

Sigolath glared at the sidewalk below. The humans had worked together this time and escaped her trap. She could wait. Her memory was long. No one held a grudge like a cat.

The woman returned carrying the child. Beside her was Mr. Grenfell, carrying a ladder. What luck! He climbed the ladder and reached out for Sigolath. She jumped straight onto his ridiculous hat. He tried to pull her off, but she avoided his hands.

Finally he started to descend the ladder. Sigolath leaned over and yowled into his ear. Justice was done after all. When they were closer to the ground, Sigolath dug her claws in and then leapt to the grass beside the sidewalk and scampered off. Her work here was complete.

 

A Nest of Hair

“Maggie, if you’re going to grow your hair out, you need to keep it brushed,” Mom said.

“It hurts when you brush it,” Maggie said. “I’ll brush it.”

“You’re only brushing the top layer of hair,” Mom said. She reached for the brush. “Let me do it. It’s all knotted up underneath.”

Maggie hugged the brush to her chest and turned sideways so that her shoulder shielded the brush. “No.   I can do it,” Maggie said.

“Maggie, if you don’t keep your hair neat and tidy, things will nest in it,” Mom said. She reached out again.

Maggie pulled her shoulder in closer and hunched over the brush.   “No. I can do it. Let me do it,” she said.

Mom dropped her hand and sighed. “If the knots get too tight, we may have to cut your hair.”

“It’s my hair and I want it long,” Maggie said. “I want princess hair.”

“Then let me brush it for you,” Mom said.

“No,” Maggie said.

“I’ll let you try for now, but I’m going to brush through your hair before your bath tonight. If you do a good job of brushing it now, there won’t be any knots for the brush to catch on later,” Mom said.

“Okay,” Maggie said. But she didn’t brush her hair.   She hid the hairbrush under her bed and went outside to play. She crawled under bushes and rolled somersaults across the grass. She stuck leaves and flowers into the knots of her hair and pretended to be a queen.

When it was time for dinner, she hid under the table and grabbed at her mom’s ankles when she walked past. She stuck her silverware into her hair. “Look, no hands,” she said.

“Please sit down and put your silverware at your place,” Mom said.   “It’s time to eat.”

“Use your fork,” her dad said. “Spaghetti isn’t finger food. Go get something to wipe your hands.”

“I’m fine,” Maggie said. She wiped her hands on her hair.

“Next time use a paper towel, Maggie,” Dad said.

After dinner, Maggie rolled herself into a blanket. “It’s time for a bath,” Mom said. “Where’s the brush?”

“I can’t talk now,” Maggie said. “I’m in a cocoon. I guess I’ll have to wait to take a bath until I’m ready to hatch out. Maybe next week.”

“Humans don’t need cocoons,” Mom said.

“Then I’m a burrito,” Maggie said. “Burritos don’t have hair.”

“Come on out,” Mom said. “I have an extra brush in the bathroom.” She grabbed the edge of the blanket and gently rolled Maggie out of the blanket.

“That’s cheating,” Maggie said. She stomped into the bathroom. She tried to close the door, but Mom caught it and held it open.

“Maggie, that’s enough,” she said. “I’ll get the brush and you can sit in front of the couch. I’ll brush your hair while you watch a show.”

“Forest Fairy Princess Bunnies?” Maggie asked.

“Sure,” Mom said.

Maggie sat in front of the couch and her mom started her favorite cartoon.   Her mom started to brush out her hair.   It hurt a little. “Ouch,” she said. “Mom, what kinds of things would nest in my hair if I didn’t brush it?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Mom said. “Birds, small animals, fairies, nightmares, poisonous mushrooms, that sort of thing.”

“That would be nice,” Maggie said. “Ouch. Stop brushing my hair. I want the fairies to live there.”

“They’d be awfully heavy. They’d want to move their furniture in too. You wouldn’t be able to lift your head up,” Mom said. She kept brushing. She sprayed something on Maggie’s hair and the brush slid through the hair a little easier.

“I wouldn’t mind. I’d keep the furniture and put it in my dollhouse,” Maggie said.

“The fairies wouldn’t want to live in the dollhouse,” Mom said. “They’d move all the furniture back out.”

“Where do they live now?” Maggie asked.

“Probably with the bunnies,” Mom said.

“Would the bunnies miss them if they left to live in my hair?” Maggie asked.

“I think so,” Mom said.

“Oh,” Maggie said. “Are you almost done?”

“Yes, almost,” Mom said.

“How almost?”

“Almost almost,” Mom said.

“It’s going to take a long time, isn’t it?” Maggie said.

“Yes,” Mom said. And it did.