The Map

piratemap

The playground near me is small, like me. Mom says it’s just my size. I like it because it has a tall slide. But today there’s a kid at the top.

He sticks out his tongue at me.
“This is my slide.”
I tell him that the park district owns the slide.
“No, I’m on it so I own it.”
I ask if I can have a turn.
“You can’t slide until I’m done.”
I ask how long it will be.
“Hours.” And he spits over the side at me.

He misses, and some of it gets on his sweater. I watch him. He wipes himself off and watches me.

I think about my options.

He is bigger than me, so I can’t push him.
He won’t listen to me, so I can’t talk to him.

I walk to the sandbox nearby and sit on a corner with my back to him. I set my backpack down and suddenly notice a crinkled corner of paper in the side pocket. I pull it out and examine it. It has markings and numbers and x’s on it. It has ink smudges everywhere, and it looks old.

The kid slides to the bottom and climbs back up. He slides again. He climbs again. I think he watches me out of the corner of his eye.

I count under my breath as I look at the paper. I look over my shoulder at him. He sees me do it, and I quickly turn back. I stand, and with my head down I mark out paces by the sandbox.

He slides, but doesn’t climb.
“What are you doing?”
Nothing.
“What’s that you’ve got?”
Nothing.
“No, seriously. Let me see.”
It’s a map.
“For what?”
Not telling.

He comes closer and watches me. I stop pacing and look at him.
“Seriously. What’s the map for?”
I glance over each shoulder, then whisper.
Can you keep a secret?

His eyes get big and he leans in.
“Yeah!”
What’s your name?
“Ben.”
Mine’s Pete. Nice to meet you.
“What’s the map about?”
It looks like a map to buried treasure.
“No way.”
Yes way.
“What kind of treasure?”
I don’t know yet. Do you want to help me find it?

He considers.
“What if you’re lying?”
I’m not lying about it. I could use your help to get it.
“Okay. What’s your name?”
Pete.
“I’m Ben.”
Nice to meet you.
“Where do we start?”

We pace along the walls of the sandbox together, looking carefully at the map. It leads us from the sandbox, around a tree at right angles, toward the gate.

Take Elm to the corner of Madison. We get our bikes. Ben has a cool blue ten-speed with racing stripes. He brags about how he got it for his birthday from his rich uncle. I got mine from my mom. It’s smaller, but fast and red and it has a bell that sounds like a boatswain’s whistle. He thinks that’s pretty cool. He says his bike was so expensive that his mom couldn’t afford it so his uncle got it for him.

We bike to Madison. A riddle about a tiny house with books living in it. There’s a house with a little box lending library attached. They have Sea of Monsters. He likes Tyson. I like Grover. We debate.

We check the number by the riddle against a page number. There’s a yellow post-it note with my address on it – “beware the front gate; go to the back.” The back gate is unlocked. We pace thirteen, left four, right twenty, and find a pile of fresh dirt and two trowels. We unearth a cardboard chest.

Inside are two pirate outfits, two foam swords, and a basket full of chocolate gold coins.

“Sweet! You be Jack Sparrow, I’ll be Blackbeard!”
Okay!

We spar and walk the plank and leap from piles of mulch. We eat too many coins. Ben does a great parrot impression.

Dad walks out the back with lemonade.
“Who’s your friend, Pete?”
This is Ben.
“Hi Ben! Cool swords.”
Ben waves it at him and growls.
“Arrrr ye landlubber!”

We get lemonade.

Dad catches me looking at his hand, and wipes a smudge of black ink from it. He winks.

I turn to Ben.

Come on, let’s go hunting for treasure again.

Pepperoni Joe!

pizzatrain

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Hey look, it’s
Pepperoni Joe!
He is the
fastest in the land.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
And setting up his plan.

You know that
When you order up
He’s gonna
Have it to you quick.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
With crust both thin and thick.

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

You know he
Clicks along the track,
And then he
Clacks up with a screech,
And all the
Pizzas slide on forward
So they’re just within his reach.

He checks the
Address on his list
And hurries
Up there with a cheer
And rings the
Doorbell twice and yells real nice:
“The pizza train is here!”

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Now one day
Pepperoni Joe
Just got so
Hungry on his route
That he ate
Every single pizza slice
Without a second thought!

Nooooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
Now where’d my pizza go?

He chugged on
Up to my front porch
And rang the
Doorbell nice and neat
And said “I’ve
Got a plan, see, I’m your man.
You’ll get your pizza treat!”

He tossed some
Sugar, salt, and yeast
And then some
Water in a bowl
And mixed it
Up with flour for half an hour:
P. Joe was on a roll!

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

He let it
Rise then spun it high
And then he
Sauced it with a smile
And added
Sausage, cheese and anchovies,
A pepperoni pile!

He opened
Up the oven door
And did a
Dance upon the floor.
“Now let that
Pizza pie cook up on high
For ten minutes or more.”

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

So when you’re
Hungry for a slice
And want it
Fast and that’s a fact,
Just call the
Pizza train and once again
Old Joe has got your back!

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

It’s P-E-P-P-E-R-ONI
Pepperoni Joe! Hey!*

 

*”Hey” is optional but recommended

The Archaeologist

archaeology

His brow, it’s taut with focus deep.
Who knows what secrets this place keeps?
The stakes are high and thus require
Determined dimpled chin and mind;
Nothing keeps his focus so.
What treasures will he find?

The finger, slim and nimble, creeps
Down passage long and knuckle-deep.
He snags it, pulls it, draws it out
From depths unseen by human eyes,
And holds it up for all to see:
The treasure that no money buys.

This little blob, he made this heap.
It’s stuff of him, his fruit to reap,
There’s nothing like it anywhere,
Not east nor west nor north nor south.
He transfers nimbly to his thumb
And pops it in his mouth.

Henrietta McFlub and the Great Rainbow Caper

raccoonHenrietta McFlub was a minnow. Like most minnows, she was small and relatively drab.  She all but disappeared in the shallows of Cricket Creek, where she lived with her family. This was considered a good thing by the elders of the minnow community, since minnows make excellent meals for any number of hungry animals. Mud was a good color for hiding.

However, Henrietta had more important things to do than hide. She made colorful outfits out of wild flowers, leaves, and grass. You may think that minnows don’t need outfits, and you would be right. But they enjoy colors just as much as you do. At this point in the history of Cricket Creek, colorful clothing was very popular.

Henrietta was an expert. Bonnets, neckerchiefs, overalls, evening coats and gowns all flew from her sewing needle in brilliant colors as the seasons shifted – late summer goldenrod,  autumn russet, purple coneflower in the spring.

On that fateful September day, it might have been advisable for Henrietta and her friends to have gone with a basic color like mud or scum green, but I will leave you to decide.

Henrietta and her friends Bip and Flicker were playing tag that day in a quiet, shady pool. Henrietta was wearing sunflower yellow, Bip had vest of indigo borage, and Flicker wore a hat made from a particularly bright green leaf Henrietta had found. Flicker was “it”, and had just darted after Bip in a threatening manner when the the world became a rainbow.

Henrietta found herself swimming in a whirlpool of vivid reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and oranges. Before she could blink, she felt something she didn’t understand (the feeling of flying, she later discovered) and everything went black.


Finn Chitterack trotted along the road, carrying a suspicious lumpy bundle and looking very pleased with himself. His bright eyes flicked left and right down Cricket Creek, but it wasn’t clear if the raccoon was keeping watch or looking for an audience. He had bagged his loot only moments before.

He skipped forward, leaping high over roots and rocks and humming a tune that sounded remotely like Wabash Cannonball. Finn had a dream. He was making that dream happen, bundle by bundle, and the closer he got to the dream, the more excited he became. And the less likely to watch where his feet were going.

The root reached right up to grab his ankle and down he went, ripping a hole in his sack and unleashing a stream of jelly beans into the shallows of Cricket Creek.


Henrietta could see pinpricks of light in the blackness. Bip and Flicker slipped close to her side. There was about an inch of water in the bag from the hasty scoop, and the friends pushed out a small pocket apart from the weight of the beans. They huddled there, waiting, listening. There was a rattling of metal on metal, a rusty creak, a bump and a dull skittering.  A hole, held closed before, appeared in the side of the bag, and through it she saw a shaft of light for an instant. The rusty creak again, followed by a darkening final clang. Silence.

The water was steadily seeping from the bag.  Henrietta knew she had moments before they couldn’t breathe at all. She dipped under, took a deep breath, and struggled out of the bag, followed by Bip and Flicker.


Finn didn’t mind a little water. He figured his loot would dry off by the time he got back with his last load.

He clambered down the ladder and leapt to the path below. Dusting the rust off his paws, he looked up at the giant goblet of goodies. This water tower had stood by Cricket Creek for as many years as the Hill ‘o’ Beans Candy Factory, and probably more. Visions of paddling round a sea of candy beans, gobbling as he went, played past his eyes. It was almost full. It was almost time. He could almost feel the sugar coma in his face.


Henrietta and her friends heaved themselves over the piles of strawberry, grape, and lime jelly beans toward what looked like a giant wheel. She hoped this opened the exit hatch she had seen.


Mr. Chitterack was no more than twenty paces down the road when an ominous creak reached his ears. He turned, slowly. The tower had creaked, to be sure. He took a step forward and shaded his eyes.


“Again!” called Henrietta.

“I’m losing water!” Bip groaned as he coiled and sprang.

“Again!”

Flicker slipped and skittered down, gasping on the slope. Bip and Henrietta landed on the spoke, and the ceiling of the tower became a star field of colors as sunlight poured through the heap.


Finn Chitterack stood and watched years of candy beans waterfall into Cricket Creek. He sat and watched his beautiful, transcendent trove float lazily down the river toward the dam. He lay back and watched the cerulean sky, pondering life and its many mysteries as he listened to the steady rush and plop of beans falling into the river.


Henrietta and her friends understood what it meant to fly.


Shortly after the torrent subsided, Finn had determined to leave a life of crime and become a vicar. He stood long, looking at the creek, and picked up four beans that had fallen by the wayside. He ate them one by one, with great reverence, then slung his empty sack over his shoulder and trudged away up the creek path.


For weeks after, the more human types along the creek marveled at the sweetness of the water. Folks near the dam told tales of a rainbow of colors cascading from the gates (which no one believed because the colors immediately churned into an unassuming brown).

And everybody commented on how fast the minnows were swimming.

DROOGLE

droogle

(this awesome person drew this)

(to be read with growls and grumblings)

One day DROOGLE woke up with his tummy RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING.

So DROOGLE ate a leathery weatheredy boot that was (barely) missing an owner. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE took a bite out of a flippy flappy book (down, DROOGLE, down!) But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE gobbled a rubbery flubbery tire, from a car that had (almost) no need of it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE munched on an dingy wingy swing set that was (slightly) unoccupied. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE crunched on a squeaky creaky boat. The owner had (recently) discarded it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE swallowed a tooting scooting train whose passengers had (just) left. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

DROOGLE downed three chugging, tugging tractors that were (quickly) left alone by three farmers. But DROOGLE was still so very, very hungry.

DROOGLE was sad, because nothing stopped his chubby, fuzzy tummy from RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING all day long.

Then, DROOGLE saw a gleaming, steaming present from the (terrified) townsfolk.

DROOGLE sniffed and whiffed.
DROOGLE picked and licked.
DROOGLE ate every last tasty-basty bit.

THIS was what DROOGLE wanted all along. If only DROOGLE had known!

DROOGLE was full of yummy scrummies.
DROOGLE sat back and patted DROOGLE’S roly-poly tummy.
DROOGLE started snoring snoozily.

And the townsfolk fell asleep too, and slept (almost) mighty-tighty all nighty long, until early in the morning when…

…DROOGLE’S tummy went RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLY!

(Also, seriously, check out Josie’s stuff on Facebook and Instagram. You won’t be sorry.)

Stories

stories

The old man rocked and rocked and rocked
The same old chair, the same old place,
The same old frown upon his face.
“Nothing new,” he croaks and sighs
“Everything is made for flies,
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

His daughter’s daughter clambers up
And gestures mildly with her cup.
“Whaddaya mean, Grampop,” she peeps,
And settles curls on wrinkled cheek.

“All the stories have been told
From time to time, they all are old,
Aged, useless, and so am I.
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

“You’re silly Grampoppa,” she giggled away,
“I’ve just read a brand new story today
With princesses, dragons and trolls and moats,
And a city in clouds that bobs and floats.”

“Derivative!” snarled the Grumpop, sitting,
“And hardly worth the time, not fitting
For young impressionable minds
Find something better to do with your time.”

“Well Grampop, I don’t believe that’s true.
Every story I read is new.
What about this one – a really great read,
About a young lady and brilliant white steed,
And the horse has great wings, and the lady can fly
On her steed over mountains up into the sky.”

“Child, that’s barely a plot line at best.”

“But Grampop, just wait ’til I tell you the rest.
She saves this whole village she grew up in, poor,
And if that isn’t enough, I’ve got more.

There’s this story about a humongous old mole
Who gets loose and climbs snarling up out of his hole,
But it turns out he only wants jelly beans, stat,
So they feed him and send him back down, how ’bout that?

And then there’s this one with a dog made of rain,
And the one where a berry bush grows from a drain,
And the wishing bench guarded by gnomes and wee elves,
And the furniture people who hide in the shelves.”

“Good grief, my darling, these stories are silly.”

“Oh no they’re not, Grampop, it’s you that is, really.
Don’t tell me you don’t know the one about mops
You can fly on like brooms but you never can stop,
Or the one with the things that hide in the dark,
That turn into dust at the song of the lark.”

“I’ve not heard of that one, I guess. All the same,
What are you thinking to prove with this game?”

“Then there’s the gnat who grows big as the moon,
So he flies off the world into space, none too soon.
The man-eating letters,
The bees who make sweaters,
A macaroni boat on an ocean of cheese!
The mouse with a limp,
The tap-dancing shrimp,
And the circus of kids run by fleas!”

“Okay now, okay!  I get your point, child.
Just where did you read all these stories? They’re wild!
In all of my life, I’ve not heard of such stuff.”

“That’s because, Grampop, I made it all up.”
And she smiled and leapt down off his lap with her cup.

He sat a while rocking and rocking, and slow,
His mind afire with newfound things,
And thoughtfully, watched her blond curls go
On down the hill to make use of the swings.

“Well, sweetheart, what a gift to give:
You’ll never see it all; so live.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charley’s War

charleyswar

The night was a starless one in late summer, the type when you leave the windows open for a cool breeze and the crickets lull you to sleep.

Charley knew the danger.

“Mommy, you can’t close the curtains all the way. If you leave one open They can’t get in.”

“Charlotte, honey, the streetlights are too bright. You won’t sleep. You still have your nightlight.”

So the curtain was closed, the blue-green faded ballerina light was turned on. Charley was tucked into bed with a brush of a kiss and a pat on the head. She closed her eyes to a slit, her whole being set for action, as her mother closed the door.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

Charley was out of bed in a heartbeat, padding like a cat across the muddy carpet. She knew the urgency.

“Philemon, up.”

A breeze wafted the curtain, throwing splatters of light from the streetlamp to the ceiling. The crickets droned. She had ten seconds at most.

“Up, Philly!”

Breathless, she tied her blanket tight around her neck, draping it skillfully to the floor. She felt on the third shelf of the bookcase for her tiara, frantic, grasping. Philemon lifted his fuzzy head with the blank stare of the recently awakened.

“Wassat.”

“Philly, They’re coming.”

Philemon blinked three times, slowly. Then alarm entered his black eyes. Charley had her tiara on.

The curtain suddenly stopped hovering and fell back, hanging like a dead thing from the gallows. The knife-edge of lamplight disappeared.

Charley whirled, reaching desperately behind the bookcase, shielding the nightlight with her pink cloak.

Fingers of darkness began soaking the edge of the window, like a towel catching water from an overflowing bath. Slowly, slowly, at first, then more quickly until the stain was almost a foot wide on every side. The air was still, offensive, and Charley covered her mouth with a corner of her cloak to filter it.

Philemon T. Bear leapt from the bed to her side, his small form growing to child-size as he landed. He turned to the window and produced a heart-shaped shield of red metal, emblazoned with his family’s coat of arms.

“How many?”

“As many as last night.”

The stain grew to two feet.

“Or… maybe more.”

Click. Shuffle. Creak.

To the untrained eye, the change was subtle. Charley knew the signs, knew to look for the places where emptiness replaced darkness, and saw the claws grasping the edge, the dribbling tentacles slip to the floor, the horns, the teeth, the eyeless heads.

“Hold, Philemon.”

Philemon held, readying his weapons. Her hand found what it had been looking for.

The Nightmares gathered at the corners of the window, cautious, smelling the air and reaching out. In her favor was that they couldn’t see her, being eyeless, and they always assumed, being witless, that she would be in her bed.

Philemon growled low. Their heads snapped toward him, and silently the bodies followed.

“Hold.”

The Nightmares heard her. They moved more quickly toward the corner.

“Now!”

Philemon stretched his bow as she threw back her cloak. The warm glow of the nightlight blasted the first two rows of Nightmares into ash. The back rows fell to the edges of the glow, clicking and gnashing their empty teeth at them, but couldn’t escape the first salvo from Philemon’s bow.

Philemon had recently sharpened his extensive collection of Crayolas, and now put them to good use. A tentacled mass was decimated in midair by Forest Green, and Electric Pink snuffed out the scuttling blight to his left.

Charley drew her wand, acquired at great price ($2.25 plus tax) from a street fair vendor two weeks earlier, and lit it by whacking the head off a snaky blot who’d slid past the line.  The red and blue flashing lights confused the demons, and the rubber spikes hardened to titanium in her hand. The flying ones attempted dives at her head but rebounded back from her crown.

She cut down great swaths of Nightmares, leaping and spinning, stabbing and swatting, Philemon by her side, firing Tangerine’s and Cherry Red’s into the heart of the horde.  Together they whirled around the room, by the bookcase, atop the table, bouncing from the bed. Her heart sung in her chest as each fell, and their numbers could not dismay her.

Until the nightlight flickered.

She glanced back at it, doubtful, and tread on her cloak.

Her blanket slid from her back. She fell, it seemed in slow motion, from the bed, landing on Philemon and crushing two crayons and her tiara beneath her. Her wand slipped in the process, and landed a foot from her wild hands. It flashed twice, and with no further impact to keep it alight, went dark.

The nightlight flickered again, and the Nightmares, sensing weakness, grew larger, closer, substantial.

“Milady!”

Philemon struggled out from under her and leapt to the fore, his shield blazing red as he took a blow meant for her.

“Quick, take my cloak.”

The sturdy knit shrunk in her hands to the size of a doll’s blanket, useless.

“Milady, you must believe!”

Charley slid to the wall, setting her back to it and turning her face from the darkness. Philemon leaped to her, smaller, smaller, his shield slipping. The Nightmares cackled in triumph, flaunting their growing reality, and closed in.

Charley cried out.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

The door swung open. Life-giving lamplight scattered the closest monsters into nothing, and the others cringed. Charley looked.

Her mother, framed in glory, stepped brazen into the fray, broom in hand. She swept back the horde, catching a web-winged object full in the face and laying a spiky hulk flat into fragments. Charley recovered enough to retrieve her wand, and knocked the nearest many-legged creature into the bookcase. It exploded to absence with a satisfying splorch.

In seconds it was over. Her mother lifted Charley in her arms and held her, stroking her hair.

“I’m here.”

Charley clung to her for a good while. Being five (almost six), of course, she didn’t really need that long, but she wanted her mother to feel needed too… Eventually, her mother carried her to bed, fished the blanket from behind the bed, and tucked her in tight.

“I’m always here.”

She picked up the broken pieces of warfare from the floor and placed them on a shelf.  Then she dusted Philemon off, set his shield right, tied off his cloak, and slid him in next to Charley. Charley held him tight, her stalwart, and whispered.

“Th… the nightlight is going out.”

Her mother saw the flickering and exited, returning in moments with a new bulb. The light now shone steady.

“Charley, I’m here with you. Even when you can’t see me, I’m here.”

A snuggle. A kiss. A whispered love. And she was gone. But she left a spell of protection behind her in the room, one which the Nightmares couldn’t break. The darkness seeped away, and the night breeze wafted the streetlight’s glow onto the ceiling.

Charley slept.

 

 

 

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

 

I, the Fly

ithefly

I, the fly
I’m big and I’m brassy,
I get in your face
I’m odious, sassy,
I’ve hairs on my back
And my tummy and nose
And my arms and my legs
And my knees and my toes
That capture the filth and the grime that you fear.
Everything nasty, I’ve got it right here!
I’m a bulge! I’m a bulbous and fabulous blight!
A hairy canary! A goblin in flight!
Germs! I scream as I zip by your head.
And mostly, you boast(ly), you’d best like me dead.

You clumsy oaf human
You swing and you miss
And I zip on by blithely
With whir and with hiss.
Bwa! ha! ha! I cry
(Yes, I the fly)
Outwit, outflit, and
Outdo you all with my spirally whirls
My daredevil flaring, my squirrelly curls

I sit. Yes, I sit. Yes, I the fly,
Sit quietly, taunting, sit quietly by.
I lick my claws at you!
I spit on your chair!
I wiggle my bum at you!
Thppppttt! So there!

You’ll never catch me,
So I show you my tush.
I, the intractable, total implacable
True indestructible, fully unflappable,
I, the unbreakable, yes, inescapable
SMOOSH.

30 Degrees

ws30degrees

Heidi lived with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She was a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby was worrying.

There’s nothing to worry about! Her mother would say. But Heidi knew she was wrong.

You need more courage! Her father would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to get it.

You’re such a chicken! The children at school would say. But Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

But enough about Heidi. This story is actually about her house. Specifically, the foundation of her house, and what she found there.

Heidi’s house was tilted at exactly 30 degrees to the north. Heidi and her parents spent their days on an incline. No one knew why this was. It simply was, and had been since as long as anyone in the town could remember.

They climbed a carpeted hill every evening so they could brush their teeth.

They nailed furniture to the floor so it wouldn’t move.

They made sure that all drawers were extra sticky so that they wouldn’t slide.

They always knew where to find things they dropped, because they all rolled, bounced, or slid to the southern side.

Heidi found walking on a level road to school to be quite easy. Opening drawers was a little too easy. But most of all she worried. She worried that her house was developing structural problems (which was not altogether unfounded), or that it would suddenly right itself in the middle of the night and they would all perish in the wreckage.

Oh, stop worrying about silly things. Her mother would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to stop worrying.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t happen. Her father would say. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

Bawk bawk bagawk! The children at school would say. But Heidi still didn’t see how this applied.

One day while watering the flowers by the lower end of the house, Heidi noticed a small rough-hewn door in the sod, no bigger than her, at the base of the porch. It seemed to lead under the porch. Normally, Heidi would worry about getting a splinter, or encountering a poisonous spider, or getting stuck, or getting poked in the head by a nail, or getting crushed beneath the house. However, she had most recently been considering the much larger worry of complete destruction to home and family, and knew she must act.

She opened the door cautiously and peered in. She saw several spiderwebs draping the beams, but couldn’t tell if they were from poisonous types or not. She thought it might be best to be safe. She stood up and was turning to her watering pot when she heard a tiny voice. She looked back.

Sitting upon a daisy nearby was Firefly.

Hello. Firefly said.

Hello. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find out why your house is like this. He said.

I’m worried about the spiders. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting splinters, and you still opened the door. Firefly said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach did three quick backflips, she followed Firefly under the porch.

The porch had slats on all sides, so the grey dim was shot through with rays of sun. The ground was covered with small pebbles. Heidi inspected the webs carefully, and determined that they were of the non-poisonous variety (she had a precise knowledge of spiders). At the back wall of the foundation there was a wide hole leading to a very dark tunnel. It looked to be too small for her. She took a step backward, but suddenly heard a squeaky voice. She turned.

Sitting upon a rock nearby was Rat.

Hey. Rat said.

Hey. Said Heidi.

Follow me. She said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find answers to your questions. She said.

I’m worried I’ll get stuck. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of spiders, and you still came under the porch. Rat said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight her logic, and though her stomach fluttered like a flock of hummingbirds, she followed Rat to the tunnel. By Firefly’s pale green light Heidi could see that the tunnel turned downward and north. Rat led the way forward. She followed them both.

The tunnel twisted and turned and dipped and dodged, darker then ever and tight in most spots. Rat guided them expertly, and Firefly lit the way. Soon the tunnel opened into a wider tunnel which began sloping upward, following the line of the house. Beams, skeletal, knocked against each other in all directions; bare nails gleamed dull in Firefly’s light.

Heidi eyed the low ceilings and exposed spikes nervously, brushing the the sod from her pants. She glanced back at the tiny tunnel she had just crawled through, but suddenly heard a gravelly voice. She turned around.

Sitting upon a flat boulder was Badger.

Greetings. Badger said.

Greetings. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To know the truth. He said.

I’m worried I’ll get poked by a nail. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting stuck, and you still came through the tunnel. Badger said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach dropped taut like a rock on a trampoline, she followed him toward the back of the house. Firefly followed stoutly, lighting the way for them all, while Rat followed.

The house and the ground around it sloped up and up and up, gradual but steady, step after step, until they came to the very back of the crawlspace. Badger pointed to the wall. It was covered in mushrooms and scaled by age, and it encroached into the crawl space like the hood of a car through a shop window. Heidi turned and looked at her three guides, quizzical.

Badger spoke.

She has been here for generation after generation.

Rat spoke.

No one knows where she came from.

Firefly spoke.

Or when she will leave.

Heidi turned and looked at the wall again. She didn’t understand. She walked forward and touched it gingerly, brushing some of the dust away.

It moved.

A low rumble built up, the wall vibrating and heaving, the ancient sod on all sides cracking free from the bulge. Heidi saw daylight through the cracks, glimpsed scaly underbelly, reptilian claws pushing out from indentations in the shell.

Turtle stood up ponderously, lifting the house to a 90-degree angle. She turned her head slow from side to side, stretching thousand-year-old kinks and dripping streams of bronze. Heidi was glad her parents weren’t home.

Turtle lifted her foot, intent.

At this point Heidi realized that her worst worries had come true. Sort of. She hadn’t factored in a giant turtle. Mostly, though, she didn’t want to die under her house when the improbable reptile let it drop.

Casting frantically about, she spotted two floorboards in the dust. She looked up, hoping beyond hope, and saw a tiny opening between two nail-festooned, splintered beams. She gathered Firefly, Rat, and Badger in her arms, aimed and closed her eyes tight just as the house slipped from Turtle’s broad back.

There was a whir of dust and color, an almighty crash, and Heidi fell backwards with her friends in her arms. When she opened her eyes she was staring at the ceiling of her home, nestled on the north wall, along with most of her family’s belongings. A tiny spider skittered across her leg and into the crawlspace.

Heidi lives with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She is a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby is trying to explain how her house ended up with a 30-degree incline to the south.

There’s no such thing as a giant turtle! Her father said. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

You know you can tell us what happened. Her mother said. But Heidi didn’t know how to explain any differently.

We don’t believe you! The children at school said.

Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

Bobby Billows, Fiasco Immense

The day that Bobby Billows bumped into his sister’s blocks
Is an awful, catastrophic day that won’t be soon forgot.

For when they toppled down upon the floor they bumped a stack:
Of library books, hazardously leaning in the back.
Those books, when toppled, nudged the chair
His sister sat upon (she knew
Not to lean but yet she dared
To set her chair askew).
It toppled too, and back she flew,
And nudged the flower pot.

The flower pot (petunias fair)
Flew gracefully down through the air
And landed with a thudding crash upon the welcome mat.
Can you guess who, languid there,
Lay sunning, lazy, unaware,
None other then – that’s right – the Billow’s cat.
The Billow’s cat (his name was Fred),
He thought his third of nine was up
He shot up, shot out, yowled and fled,
Right up the leg of Mailman Crupp.

Crupp fell backward, tripped the brake
His truck began to whine and shake
And trundle on down 16th street,
Crupp bravely chasing, fifty feet,
One hundred, two-thirty, five-forty and some
Yards flashing, mail flying, nine hundred and one
Until the fortunate pit leaped right out
And stopped the truck short, straight on its snout.

Alas, if only it ended right then.
But a package of fruit was ejected and when
It came down it looked round and found something amiss:
The conductor and crew of train two-fifty-six!

(Now right then young Bobby (this kid was a blight)
Had just settled down in his bed for the night.)

The train took off slow but then steady built steam,
Driven by ghosts, or fruit, it would seem.
Through field and forest, through pale fading light,
Then on to the coast, all the long moonlit night.
It ran out of coal just one mile from the end,
Slowed down to crawl, and came round the bend…

A cow who was staring and munching serene,
Got bumped by this deadly infernal machine.
He toppled quite slowly, still eating his lunch.
And tripped up the rest of his vast bovine bunch.
One by one, tippling and toppling through fields,
The cows wavered, wobbled, and teetered and keeled.
‘Til they bumped Granny O’Malley McPhee
Who was having her picnic right down by the sea.
An apple flew straight from her hand through the air
And decked a young man with wavy blond hair.

He fell from his tower down into the waves,
Scaring some fish, coming up in a daze.
Those fish, it would seem, took off through the deep
They bumped a small dolphin who gave out a cheep
And flew from the water, propelled by its tail,
Which smacked an old, crotchety, fusty blue whale.

(Now right then this Bobby, the agent of woe
Proceeded to breakfast, his blankey in tow.)

This whale, vindictive as any could be,
Looked about fiercely, and what did he see
But the hull of a boat, and a big one at that,
So he went right on up and he gave it a slap.
The boat careened wildly, the crew went all green
The steering froze up and they started to scream
It warbled along, yawing widely and then
It jostled quite fast down the banks of the Seine.

(Now right then this Bobby, fiasco immense,
Was eating some raisins in one of his tents.)

The cruise ship, quite casually, aimed for the dock,
The crew then leaped over, avoiding the rocks,
As the ship plowed on blithely, and upset a cart
Filled with barrels of pickles and artichoke hearts.
The barrels rolled quickly through borough and lane
Causing hysteria, panic, and sprains,
Rolled through a cafe, smashed into a chair,
And a lady’s umbrella flew high in the air.

As if in slow motion they all watched it fly,
The parasol, spear-like, arched high in the sky
And landed smack dab in a crack in the Eiffel
Which everyone thought had been only a trifle,
That is, until the crack started to spread
And grew wider, like spiderwebs, over their heads.

With creaking and groaning the whole tower fell
And the sound of the metal rang bright like a bell
The point landed fissure-first, jammed in the ground,
And the public heard then a much awfuller sound.

(Now right then young Bobby, who caused this whole mess,
Was stuffing poor Freddy into a pink dress.)

The rumbling started, first low and then loud,
And the cracking and quaking swept under the crowd.
The countries and continents severed and pounded
As an earthquake of global proportions abounded.
Asia bumped Europe and Australia loose
And the Earth broke apart all in fours, threes, and twos.

(Now right then young Bobby was floating in space
With family, Freddy, and whole human race.)

So watch where you step, son, and don’t bump her blocks
Or we might end up weightless on freshly-made rocks.