Note: I wrote this story for my niece for her first Christmas. That was…gulp…over eight years ago. Something brought it to mind recently, and I thought I’d share it with you all. This was the first story in the Bean Creek Chronicles. It was illustrated by my mother, so if it’s a bit lacking in description, it’s because you’re missing the pictures. I’d love to pass them along, but I don’t have them. Eight years ago was before my scanner. 😦 The idea was to write one for each child in the family. It worked great for my niece and nephew. Then I had my own kids! Needless to say, those other stories never got written. Maybe now I’ll have the inspiration to finish off the Chronicles. In any case, I hope you enjoy these first two installments.
As was their habit on a fine spring morning, Wally Warthopper and Francesca Nibbles sat in front of their holes on the banks of Bean Creek having tea and cookies. Francesca loved to be out and about, and Wally enjoyed nothing better than soaking in the sunshine.
Just as they started on their second cup of tea, the entire Bouncylegs family came hopping down the path towards the forest. Mr. and Mrs. Bouncylegs had thirteen children, so they made quite a parade!
“Where are you going?” asked Wally.
“To see the Shining Valley,” answered Mr. Bouncylegs.
“This is the day of the magical lights,” added Sally Bouncylegs happily.
“It’s all the way on the other side of the forest,” said Georgie, the tiniest grasshopper. He looked a little scared.
“We have to hurry, or we’ll miss the lights,” scolded Mrs. Bouncylegs, shooing Georgie along with the others.
Wally and Francesca looked at each other. Magical lights!
“That sounds wonderful!” exclaimed Francesca.
Wally just croaked his agreement.
“We should go see them,” she added, jumping up to get her coat and hat.
But Wally didn’t want to leave his comfortable spot on the bank. He thought about how far it must be to the other side of the forest and how much nicer it was to sit still and soak in the sun. “It sounds so far,” he said doubtfully, “and it looks like it might rain.”
But Francesca was tired of being inside after the long winter. And the lights sounded so exciting! She decided to go anyway.
Francesca was traipsing along happily, when a big, fat raindrop hit the top of her head. She hadn’t even noticed the big clouds that had rolled in. Soon it was pouring and she was soaked through. She tried to hide under a leaf, but the water still trickled down her neck. She was wet and cold and miserable. Just then, a giant splash almost knocked Francesca off her feet. She wiped the water from her eyes and saw a mischievous young jackrabbit right in the middle of an enormous puddle. He was dripping water, but didn’t seem to mind it.
“Whatcha doing under there? All the puddles are out here,” asked the jackrabbit with a grin. Francesca didn’t know what to say.
“My name’s Joshua,” said the enthusiastic stranger, thumping again with his back foot and making another huge splash.
“I-I-I’m Francesca,” she stuttered with cold.
“My mama always said the best way to keep warm in a spring rain was to keep hopping right through it,” said Joshua. “Watch this.” And he leaped from his puddle into another nearby puddle, causing a small tidal wave.
Francesca smiled in spite of herself.
“Well…come on,” yelled Joshua, leaping this way and that.
Francesca crept cautiously from under her leaf and stepped lightly in the edge of the nearest puddle.
“No, not like that!” corrected Joshua. “Right in the middle.”
Francesca took a big, deep, long breath…and jumped. SPLASH! She giggled. Joshua was right! This was fun! Pretty soon, she and Joshua were splishing and sploshing their way down the path. Francesca wasn’t cold at all any more. In fact, she almost felt a little disappointed she suddenly felt the sun again. The rain was gone and they were approaching the edge of the forest.
As soon as Francesca could catch her breath, she explained to Joshua about the Shining Valley. He was thrilled at the thought of a whole valley of magical lights, so he quickly agreed to come with her.
Meanwhile, Wally went inside when it started to rain. He built a fire in the fireplace and sat close, toasting marshmallows. He peered out at the nasty rain and was very, very glad that he had stayed at home where everything was warm and dry.
Francesca and Joshua waltzed down the forest path for a ways, enjoying the gentle breeze and the forest noises. They were just beginning to feel dry again and wonder where they could find some lunch, when Joshua stopped short. “Listen,” he hissed, darting a glance at the sky. This time Francesca heard the noise, too. It was a loud, high screeching. A hawk!
Joshua and Francesca dashed together as fast as they could to the base of a nearby tree. Joshua was shaking. Francesca looked every which way for a hole to hide in. Just as the hawk swooped low, she saw an opening! Pushing Joshua ahead of her, she scrambled into the little hole under a root. They could still hear the hawk circling outside. Francesca was so scared that she began to wish she hadn’t come into the forest at all.
The hawk swept by again and again, but at long last the dreadful shrieking started to fade as he moved on, scouring the forest for something else to eat. Francesca looked around her for the first time. The floor of the hole was covered with great big walnuts! It was the perfect lunch. Francesca gnawed open the shells and shared the nuts with Joshua. After they had both eaten, they felt brave enough to leave the little hole and continue on their adventure.
Meanwhile, Wally was settling into his favorite chair with an enormous plate of sandwiches and a big glass of milk. He sighed with contentment as he ate six ham and cheese and four tuna fish sandwiches. “Nothing beats a good lunch,” he said to himself. Then he picked up Fritz the Flycatcher and started to read. Having already read the book several times, he quickly dozed off.
Francesca and Joshua marched along for what seemed like ages. Dusk was just settling in, and they still couldn’t see the end of the forest. Francesca knew that the Shining Valley was right where the forest ended. But they kept walking and walking and walking…and walking. Joshua’s hops were getting a little shorter each time, and Francesca looked sadly down at her aching feet. When she looked up, she groaned. In front of them was a huge hill, looming up out of the dark like a giant.
She stopped. Joshua stopped, too. They were so tired. “How are we ever going to make it all the way up?” groaned Joshua . For a long moment, neither one moved.
“We can’t forget the magical lights,” sighed Francesca at last. “They’ll be worth it. I know they will.”
There was nothing more to say. With a big effort, they both started to climb. Joshua went first and Francesca followed, trying to ignore the bits of gravel that bit into her sore feet. They toiled up, slowly making progress until they were stopped short by a big boulder that had fallen on the path. Francesca wanted to cry. They had come so far! But Joshua wasn’t giving up. He was digging rapidly at one edge of the boulder. Francesca flopped down to wait. In a few minutes, Joshua cried excitedly, “I’m through!”. He had carved out a little tunnel. It was a tight squeeze, but when Francesca emerged, huffing and puffing, from the other side, she saw that the trees had disappeared. Just ahead was the top of the hill. They had made it through the forest. With a loud “Yippee!” she and Joshua surged to the top and began to slip and slide down the other side of the hill.
Meanwhile, Wally woke up from his nap with a stomach ache. Too many sandwiches! He swallowed a big spoonful of medicine with a grimace. The shadows outside his door were starting to get long, so he lit a lamp. He looked outside and thought how glad he was that he was not out in all that blackness. He shut the door on the gloom, pulled the armchair near to the fire and put on a big pot of soup for dinner.
With a giant giggle, Francesca and Joshua landed in a heap at the bottom of the hill. They untangled their arms and legs and ears and tails and sat up to look around. It was so dark, they couldn’t see anything! Francesca stretched out her arm and bumped into Joshua’s head.
“Ouch!” he yelped.
“What are we going to do now?” asked Francesca. “We must be near the Shining Valley, but I can’t even see a speck of light.”
She started to feel a little scared again. Joshua huddled close. It was just too dark to move, and they couldn’t think of what to do next.
Meanwhile, Wally finished off his soup with a big slurp. He felt warm and sleepy. He climbed into his big, soft bed and pulled the covers up around his ears. He felt a little lonely after being by himself all day. “I wish Francesca was here to tell me a story before bed,” he thought to himself, and with a sigh, he slowly drifted off to sleep.
Francesca and Joshua felt very cold. Francesca was just about to suggest that they try to clamber back up the hill and go home, when Joshua whispered, “Did you see that?” Off in the distance, they saw a little flickering light.
In a minute, it was joined by another light, and then another. Before Francesca could say anything, the whole air was full of little lights, dipping and swirling around each other. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The combined glow from the lights lit up the whole valley. Francesca and Joshua had been in the Shining Valley all along! And under a clump of pines in the middle of the cavorting lights was the Bouncylegs family, standing with a group of other creatures laughing and pointing.
Francesca and Joshua went to join the group, and everyone gazed and gazed at the beautiful flickering lights. They glided and gamboled as if they were dancing. After a moment, Francesca gasped. They were dancing! And all the creatures looking on joined hands and began to dance along with them, whirling and twirling among the sparkling lights. It was one of the happiest moments of Francesca’s life. “I wish Wally could be here to enjoy this, too,” she thought to herself. But just then, Joshua went leaping by with little Georgie Bouncylegs on his back. Francesca laughed at his antics and, joining hands with Sally, skipped off to join the fun.