Once there was a little boy named Peter. He always wore a blue coat that used to belong to his father, so people called him Peter Bluecoat. Peter lived in a little rundown cottage at the edge of the woods with his mother and three sisters.
Peter’s mother worked hard everyday, leaving Peter at home to watch his sisters in the summer when school wasn’t in session. Before she left, she’d say, “Be good. I love you. Whatever you do, don’t go near Troll McGregor’s rock garden.”
Peter would roll his eyes because she said the same thing everyday, and he wasn’t four, he could remember something from one day to the next. His sisters Flora, Moira, and Cora would all say, “Yes, mommy,” and try not to cry, because they were four. Unlike Peter, who was much older and almost grown up.
But, hearing about Troll McGregor’s rock garden day after day made Peter more and more curious. His father had disappeared near there while chopping wood two years ago, and Peter somehow just knew that he wasn’t dead. He wanted to go and look for him, but he was sure his mother would never agree to let him go. So, he came up with a plan.
A silly, fussy neighbor often needed help with chores. Every day for a week, Peter trudged over to her house, trailing his sisters behind him. He knocked on the door. After a bit of crashing and thumping, Miss Jemima would look out her door.
“Oh, it’s little Peter Bluecoat,” she’d say. “You’re just in time. I need some help.” And then she’d ask him to chop wood or move furniture or beat rugs. And Peter would do what ever she asked, while his little sisters watched and giggled and picked strawberries when they thought no one was looking.
At the end of the week, he came over again and waited for Miss Jemima to answer the door. Crash thud thud crash thud. The door creaked open and Miss Jemima peeked out and smiled. “Oh, it’s little Peter Bluecoat,” she began.
Peter interrupted. “Miss Jemima, I need some help today. Could you watch my sisters while I run an errand?”
Miss Jemima frowned and looked at Flora, Moira, and Cora. They smiled and giggled and waved. “I suppose I could. You have really helped me out this week. Perhaps they can help me figure out what’s been eating all my strawberries.” The little girls giggled nervously.
Peter smiled. “I’m sure they’ll be very helpful. I’ll be back soon.”
And off he ran to find Troll McGregor’s rock garden deep in the forest. He stood outside the tall wooden fence, for just a moment. Then, taking a deep breath, he began to pace, looking for a way in. There was a big, tall heavy gate with a latch too heavy for Peter to lift. He sighed and kept looking. Halfway around the garden, he found a gap at the bottom of the fence, just small enough for someone to squeeze under.
He started to wiggle under the fence, but his father’s coat caught on the bottom edge of the fence and it held him back. He paused again and wondered if this was a good idea. What if his father really was dead? What if Peter died too? What would his mother do if he wasn’t there to watch his sisters?
Miss Jemima could watch them, Peter decided. And his father wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be. Peter wriggled out of the coat and left it under the fence. He stood up and looked around.
The rock garden wasn’t what he expected. There were flowers everywhere, and lots of statues instead of rocks. At the center of the garden, there were two pools of water. At the far end, there was a little garden shed.
Peter looked at the closest statue. It looked almost real. The woman was holding one hand over her heart, and her mouth was open in surprise. Peter looked closer. He could see her fingernails and every hair in her eyebrows.
Walking closer to the pools, Peter continued looking into the faces of the statues. And then he looked up and somehow he recognized one of the statues on the other side of the pools. He walked faster and faster and then he ran.
He looked up into the statue’s face and it felt like the world froze for a moment. Here was his father. He’d found him.
Peter looked around feeling lost. He didn’t know how to change his father back. He couldn’t fit the statue under the fence. What should he do now?
A door slammed, and Peter’s heart thumped. It had to be Troll McGregor. Peter ran into the garden shed. He crouched next to a bag of potting soil and peered out of the dusty window.
Troll McGregor was twice as tall as the statues in his rock garden. He was hairy, and his nose was big, and his teeth were sharp and stuck out in all directions. He was smiling, and that was the scariest part of all.
He had a big bag slung over his shoulder. He walked up to the pools and set his bag down. He reached in and pulled out a really big spray bottle. He put on some plastic gloves and dipped the bottle into the water to fill it. He reassembled the sprayer and dropped it in his bag. Then he left.
Peter waited a moment. Then, he crept out of the shed. Troll McGregor was probably leaving to make more statues for his garden. Peter picked up a plastic watering can nearby. If one pool turned things to stone, then would the other change them back?
He dipped the watering can into the pool the troll used, being careful not to touch the water. He tipped it out over a lily. Sure enough, it turned to stone. He poured more of the water over it. Nothing happened. He poured the rest of the water back into the pool.
He walked over to the other pool and dipped up some water. He started watering the stone flower. After a long moment, it turned back. Peter set aside the watering can. He brushed his fingers over the lily. It was unharmed. He let out a deep breath. He stood up and grabbed the watering can. He didn’t have much time.
Just then, he heard a door slam. Peter was too far from the garden shed. He ran to the other pool and scooped up as much water as he could. Water sloshed out over a few of his fingers and his ankle. They went numb.
He ran a strange sort of hobbling, skipping run, towards troll McGregor, who was stomping into the garden. He didn’t see Peter until he was right in front of him. The troll had just enough time to scowl before Peter Bluecoat threw a watering can full of water into his face.
The water dripped down his face and chest and arms, and they turned to stone. He fell backwards, and the ground shook. He dropped the bag when he fell. The spray bottle rolled out at Peter’s feet, still full.
Peter snatched it up and sprayed the troll with the water over and over, until the bottle was empty and the troll looked just like all the other statues in the garden. Peter’s heart slowly stopped pounding in his chest. His hands felt stiff, and he realized that the water had dripped all over his fingers and they’d turned to stone, still curled around the spray bottle.
He walked back to the second pool and dipped his hands in, spray bottle and all. The feeling came back into his fingers and he stretched them out for a moment. He dipped his ankle in the pool, and then he rinsed out the spray bottle and filled it. And then he marched over to his father.
He sprayed and sprayed and sprayed his father. When his father finally took a breath and smiled at him, Peter had to blink away the tears. Then he had to go back for more water to finish changing his feet back.
Then, his father picked up the watering can, and together they changed everyone back. When they finished, the sun was setting. Working together, three men got the gate open, and people started pouring out of the garden, cheering.
Peter paused. “My coat!” he said. He ran back to the gap in the fence, his father following him. Peter wiggled the coat around and managed to free it from under the fence. He brushed it off and handed it to his father. “I took good care of it for you, Father,” he said.
His father hugged him, coat and all. “I am so proud of you,” he said. “Thank you Peter. Thank you for not forgetting about me.” He took the coat and draped it over Peter’s shoulders and smiled. “Keep the coat.”
Peter smiled and blinked back tears again. “We should go home,” he said. “Mom will be worried, and who knows how many strawberries the girls ate at Miss Jemima’s house. They’ll probably all have stomachaches. And I’ll probably be grounded.”
His father laughed. “I can’t wait,” he said. “Let’s go home.” And so they did.