Michael knew there was something wonderful about the pond the minute he saw it.  

They were at their grandfather’s house for two months, and these woods were the only form of entertainment he had. This pond was going to save his summer. His sister took one look at the murky, greenish water and told him to stay away from it.  She warned him that it was probably full of nasty bacteria.  But Michael had never been good at listening to warnings.  

The very next day he dived in.  It was cool and refreshing and much, much deeper than Michael had thought.  Near the edge, he could touch the muddy bottom with his feet, but three paces in, the water was over his head, and the floor dropped down steeply.  Michael was a strong swimmer.  He always had been.  His mother said he was part fish.  It was harder than he thought to kick all the way to the bottom, but it was worth it.  What he saw there made the rest of his air whoosh out of his body, so that he had to shoot to the surface to breathe.

He was only up for a minute, and then he dove again at top speed.  He could see it through the gloom this time as he approached it: a huge stone archway.  There was writing around the edges.

Heed the danger, friend.


Turn back before it is too late.

Go home while you can.


Each warning was in a different handwriting, and some looked much older than the others.  Slowly, Michael approached the arch.  It didn’t look dangerous.  He reached out a hand and touched it.  Nothing happened. He had half expected an electric shock or something.  He considered another trip to the surface to breathe and thin it through. But really, he could see both sides of the arch.  The same green water.  The same brown muddy bottom.  The stone of the arch looked like it had grown straight out of the earth, solid and immovable.  

Michael read the warnings again.  He shrugged.  He had never been good at listening to warnings.

He swam through the arch.

Nothing happened.  Michael was deflated.  He shot to the surface for air.

The brilliant colors caught his attention first.  When he had left, the woods were green and brown, the leaves so thick that the light was dim.  Now sunlight showered down and he saw reds, yellows, oranges, purples.  Purples?  Michael pulled himself out of the water.  The nearest tree was small, its bark brown but somehow soft looking.  The leaves were yellow and hanging among them were large round purple discs.  He reached out and touched one.  It was smooth and hard.  It looked so much like candy that Michael couldn’t help himself.  He knew he shouldn’t.  His mother had warned him not to eat things that grow in the woods.  You never know when something might be poisonous.  But Michael had never been good at listening to warnings.

The purple thing was candy, and it was delicious.  Michael was still sucking on it when he realized that the tree trunk had melted a little where he had put his hand while picking the purple candy.  He leaned closer and licked it.  It was chocolate.

After that, Michael was too busy eating to think about anything else.  Only when he had eaten so much that his stomach felt tight and his head dizzy from too much sugar did Michael begin to think of going home.  He wasn’t sure how it worked, but this was obviously not the same woods he came from.  Somehow the arch had brought him here, so it would take him back again.  He swam down and looked at it again.  The same arch.  The same warnings.  This time he swam through from the other side, headed home.

When his head broke the surface, Michael knew at once that it hadn’t worked.  He was no longer in the candy forest, but he was definitely not in his grandfather’s woods, either.  The trees here were so tall he could barely see the leaves above him.  The trunks were smooth and straight like pillars in a cathedral.  In fact, the whole place had the still, silent feeling of a church.  As Michael climbed out of the water, he noticed that the ground was covered in a thick carpet of leaves.  They crunched underfoot, giving off a faint scent that reminded Michael of candles burning and Christmas cookies in the oven.  He was dripping wet but didn’t feel cold at all.  The air seemed to snuggle around him, warming his skin without making him feel hot.  A few steps away was a pile of boulders.  Michael sat on the nearest one to think.  All thought was surprised out of his head when the rock proved to be softer than the softest pillow.  He lounged back on the pile, feeling more comfortable than he ever had in his life.  He thought he would just rest here for a minute before swimming back down to the arch.  In moments, he was asleep.

When Michael woke up, he felt so rested he thought he could run a marathon.  Instead he stared at the pond.  Obviously the arch could take him to different places, different worlds he guessed from what he had seen (and tasted and felt).  Wonderful worlds.  Worlds anyone would want to visit.  Why would anyone warn him away from such worlds?  

One possible reason presented itself, but Michael ignored it.  Of course he wasn’t lost forever. Of course the arch would eventually take him home.  There were only so many possible worlds, right?  Sooner or later, he would show up in his own.  To keep from thinking about this any more, he dived into the water.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  Weeping willows with branches trailing into the water on every side.  Some sort of sad music playing off in the distance.  Michael dived.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  Rubbery trees swaying in a wind so strong Michael’s hair was whipped in every direction.  A strange smell of burning sugar drifted on the wind.  Michael dived.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  Night time, no trees, only small round shrubs in every direction glowing with some unearthly light.  Michael dived.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  Sheets of rain so thick it was impossible to see the bank of the pond.  A fork of lightening.  Michael dived.

Through the arch and through the arch and through the arch.  World after world after world, none of them familiar.  Michael began to feel desperate.  All the energy he had gained by sleeping on the pillow rocks was gone, but still his fear spurred him on.  His legs and arms felt weak, but he dived and dived and dived again.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  A grey sky.  Blackened stumps on every side, smoke still rising in places.  A shout, harsh and unintelligible.  Pain bursting through his shoulder.  The shaft of an arrow sticking out.  Michael dived.

Swimming was agony.  His right arm was useless.  He could see his blood clouding the water around him.  The arch down below seemed impossibly far.  In desperation he kicked.  The next world had to be his own.  It would certainly be the last.

Through the arch.  Up to the surface.  Dim light.  Warm air.  Familiar trees.  Home.

Michael staggered up on the bank and collapsed.  Blood seeped from around the arrow, but the pain seemed far away now.  The whole world seemed far away.

A shout.  A soft touch.  His sister’s face, set with worry.  A sharp pain.  The arrow was gone.  Capable hands wrapped his shoulder tightly.  A bottle was raised to his lips.  Water…and something else.  Michael came suddenly wide awake.  He was being carried on a stretcher.  He couldn’t see who was behind his head, but his sister was carrying his feet.

“I’m so glad you were here,” he whispered. “I don’t think I could have made it home.”

That familiar smile was a little puzzled now.  That familiar voice answered, but with words he could not understand. Michael’s heart constricted.  Another voice answered from above his head, words in the same strange language but in a voice he recognized.  It continued, haltingly in English, “Do not fear.”

That voice. It couldn’t be. Ignoring the pain, Michael twisted to look up.  His own face stared back at him in wonder.  His own hands carried his stretcher. 

In mindless terror, Michael lurched to his feet, stumbling toward the pond with the last of his strength.

The voice that was his and yet not his followed him. “You must not!  Your wound!”

Michael had never been good at listening to warnings.  

Michael dived.


The Future

“I saw the future,” said Chester. “Just now, when I was looking into the lake.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Sarah. “You can’t see the future. No one can.”

“I see the future all the time,” said Chester. “Sometimes it is red and sometimes it is orange or brown or green. This time it was blue.”

“You probably just saw a reflection in the water,” said Sarah.

“No,” said Chester. “It was the future. There is a boat in the future.”

“A blue boat?” said Sarah. “There are lots of blue boats on the lake.”

“This boat wasn’t on the lake,” said Chester. “It was in the sky.”

“That’s what reflections look like,” said Sarah. “If you weren’t such a baby you would understand.”

“I’m not a baby,” said Chester. “I’m five years old.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. You can’t see the future. No one can see the future,” said Sarah

“I can,” said Chester, “and it’s blue.”

“Whatever,” said Sarah. “I’m going swimming.”


“I think you owe me dinner,” said Chester.

“Okay,” said Sarah. “You win. I can’t believe I forgot about this.”

“It was 30 years ago,” said Chester, flipping down his blue-tinted visor and adjusting the color output of the technosails. “You’re getting old. They say the memory is the first thing to go.”

“Ha, ha,” said Sarah, doing quick calculations on her orange monitor. “I’m already going to buy you dinner. You don’t have to rub it in.”

“I had to bring you to the most boring day in history to convince you,” said Chester. “Let me enjoy it.”

“Whatever,” said Sarah. “Take me back home, little brother.”


Five-year-old Chester rolled over on the grass and examined the line of ants marching by. This time he didn’t see the ship float by overhead and then disappear into the future with a tiny flash of multi-colored light.

DIY Lego Advent-ure

I’m really excited to share this with you all because I’ve been having so much fun with it!

The whole project came about because I already had a super girly Christmas countdown thing for my girls, and I wanted something equally special for Scott (who’s 9, if you aren’t keeping track). Like most people (I really hope we aren’t the only ones.) we have huge amounts of Legos filling a giant bin in a disarray of disassembled Star Wars ships, Superhero bases, and Hagrid’s hut complete with giant spiders. We’ve had the expensive Lego calendars in the past, and I’ve seen some DIY ones on Pinterest, but I wanted something a little more exciting, a little more personal, and a lot funnier.  Because that’s Scott.

SO!!  First I wrote the story in 24 parts. It’s intentionally ridiculous.  Because super-smart nine-year-olds love ridiculous.  Then I spent a couple of nights fishing through the bin to build the pieces that should go with it.  I was determined not to buy any new Legos for this project, so there are few goofy looking pieces (ahem, Santa’s “hat”), but it was fun to get creative with that huge pile.

Is this basically an excuse for a grown woman to play with Legos? YES! YOU SHOULD TRY IT!

Seriously, you have to try this.  Write your own story if you’re up for it (and if you do, and you send me a picture of the result, I will personally mail you a copy of my book for free). If not, feel free to borrow mine. You can get the printable version right here.  Don’t stress over it. If you don’t have a Batman, change it out for a different superhero (or Yoda or a girl or anything you want). If you can’t build a random vacuum that looks like mine, invent your own.  And though my girls would probably enjoy this, I made it for my son, so if you want to girl it up for the girl in your life, go for it. Do it your way! The point is to have fun. 

Okay. Enough talk. Here it is:

 1. This is Hal. Don’t lose him. He’s going to be very important to the story later. He may be cold. Build him a little shelter to keep warm while he waits for what comes next.


 2. Hal is an astronomer. This is his telescope. Make sure he is watching the stars tonight. There’s something he won’t want to miss!


 3. Hal is looking up at the universe when he sees this! It’s a meteor, and it’s headed straight for earth. By Hal’s calculations, it will hit on Dec. 24, just in time to destroy Christmas (and incidentally the whole Earth). It’s up to Hal to stop it!


 4. This is the President of the United States. He talking on the phone to Hal about a meteor. Why is he laughing? He doesn’t believe Hal! If the president won’t help, what is Hal going to do?


 5. This is the Christmas tree in the park in New York City. It’s big, isn’t it? Hal is pretty sure the meteor is going to land right here, but no one believes him. Instead, they just keep hanging more ornaments on the tree. Maybe you can add a few while you think about what Hal should do.


 6. This is Batman. Of course he’s real! Hal has called him to see if he will help. He is on board, but he doesn’t have any superpowers, so this isn’t going to be easy. Luckily, he’s really smart and has a lot of money. I’ll be he and Hal are going to come up with something great.


 7. Is this what you think it is? Yes! You are right! This is the beginning of a space ship! Batman and Hal are building it to fly up into space. Help them attach the wings. They only have a couple of weeks to get this thing built and figure out how to use it.


 8. What is this? It looks like a bunker! It IS a bunker! The president said he didn’t believe Hal, so why is he building a bunker to hide in? He made it in Christmas colors, but we’re not fooled. He doesn’t love Christmas. If he did, he wouldn’t be letting a meteor destroy it.


 9. Hal and Batman have been hard at work. They’ve built these giant guns to go on their space ship. It looks like they plan to blast that meteor right out of the air! Or wait, not air. Right out of the vacuum of space! Help them add the guns to the ship while there’s still time.


 10. What’s all this white stuff? It’s snow! Snow is falling fast and thick. This is going to make it hard to launch the space ship. Batman and Hal will need to figure out how to deal with this new complication. On the bright side, we can use the snow to cover the president’s bunker. Serves him right if he gets trapped inside!


 11. What a weird contraption this is! It was Hal’s idea to clear away the snow with this thing. It’s a giant vacuum cleaner! If they can suck up all the snow on the launch pad, they should be able to get their space ship off the ground.


 12. They did it! Hal and Batman have launched the space ship and are soaring through space toward the meteor. It wasn’t until they were in the air that they discovered this present hidden on board. Who could have put it there? Did Santa come early? Don’t peek inside! It’s not Christmas yet!


 13. Of course Hal opened the present. You know he couldn’t help himself. Batman would have waited, but then, he has the training and discipline of a ninja. Hal doesn’t recognize this weird thing inside, but the note sure is interesting. “In case of emergency.” Well, that’s handy. On this dangerous mission, emergencies are pretty likely.


 14. The space ship has arrived at the meteor, and Batman is preparing to shoot it to pieces. But what is this weird thing? It’s an alien! This isn’t a meteor! It’s an alien ship in disguise. 


 15. Watch out, Batman and Hal! The alien is shooting at you! Well, great. The alien has destroyed the guns on Hal’s ship. Luckily for Hal, he has Batman with him. With some fast flying, Batman manages to swipe the alien with one wing. The alien got knocked out! Good thing they made those wings so strong! Unfortunately, the meteor/alien ship is still hurtling toward Earth and that Christmas tree! What are they going to do? This is a serious emergency!


16. Like you, Hal remembered something about the word emergency. The present! He pulled out the weird object and yelled, “This is an emergency!” Then the whole thing unfolded into this. What is it? Could it be a giant hammer? It’s way too big for Hal to use. It’s even too big for Batman. Maybe if we attach it to the ship it will work?


17. Good job getting that hammer attached! With some careful flying and and a big swing, the hammer has smashed the meteor! Here are some of the pieces. You can break the rest up yourself. Of course, the danger isn’t over. There are meteor pieces flying in every direction. Look out, Hal! Look out, Batman!


 18. Oh no! One of the meteor pieces has knocked a huge hole in the side of the spaceship and Hal is floating out into space. Good thing he put on this space helmet before it happened. He has oxygen for a few minutes, but he won’t last long out there in the vacuum!


 19. Back on Earth, something interesting is happening. The secret service has delivered this wreath to the president’s bunker. It looks very pretty there on the snow, but it seems to me like it they could have used their time better digging out their leader instead of decorating.  


 20. Oh wait! The wreath was just a fake, so that any spies who were watching wouldn’t know the president had been trapped. Really, it’s an explosive device and it blows all the snow off the bunker! The president is free to come out now, and the first thing he does is make a call on his special red and green phone. Who could he be calling?


 21. Look! It’s Santa! The president has called Santa Claus! It seems he had a lot of time to think inside that bunker, and he feels bad for making Hal handle this crisis on his own. The president isn’t such a bad guy after all. Santa agrees to see if he can help Hal with the meteor.


 22. As you probably remember, when we left Hal, he was floating through space with only minutes left to live. Good thing Santa came to check on him in this magical flying sleigh! Santa pulls Hal into the sleigh and goes to look for Batman and the damaged ship.


 23. Why is Santa getting out rope? They’ve found the ship, that’s why. Batman picked up the unconscious alien floating through space. They’re going to tie him up and use the rest of the rope to tow the ship back to earth. Santa speaks alien, which is how they discover that the alien doesn’t understand Christmas. He saw that giant tree and thought it was a missile. That’s why he attacked. Sounds like someone has a lot to learn.


 24. Hal and Batman have saved Christmas! With a little help from Santa Claus. And now we have an alien who needs to know what Christmas is! Gather up the tree, the wreath, the present, and the snow. Give that alien some hot chocolate and this plate of cookies. Merry Christmas, alien! Merry Christmas, Batman! Merry Christmas, Mr. President! Merry Christmas, Santa Claus! And most importantly, Merry Christmas, Hal! You’re our hero.


So there you go! I just packaged these simply in brown lunch bags, wrote a number on each bag and slapped a bow on for extra festivity.  


I’m sure you could make them much prettier, but I know my son, and I know his disregard for packaging.  I decided to spend my energy on the story instead!

The following instructions will come with bag #1:

A Lego advent-ure awaits you! Open one bag each day, but be careful not to crush the masterpiece inside! Read the story paper inside to follow the action, and then feel free to play with the Legos as much as you like. Just be sure not to lose them! You’ll need those pieces later in the story, so find a central location to keep your heroes safe. Good luck!

What do you think? Are you up for it? There are still four days before December 1, plenty of time to get your build on.  

He’s My Best Friend And He’s Also A Bear

Frankie Orzo was a strange boy and he came from an equally strange family.  He spent a lot of time by himself.  Too much time, his teachers all agreed, but his Great-Aunt Lela, who was his legal guardian, wasn’t concerned.

“Boys have to go their own way,” she said, placidly rocking in the old wooden chair she kept on the porch for just that purpose.

She only said that because she hadn’t yet realized what way Frankie was going.

Frankie’s grown-up cousin, Louise, who also lived with Great-Aunt Lela, wasn’t concerned, either, but that was because she was too busy with her bees.  Louse was a bee-keeper and had fourteen hives out behind the house.  This was one of the chief reasons no one ever came to the house, which of course, just left Frankie with even more time by himself.

A lot of boys would have bored living with two old women and a bunch of bees, but not Frankie.  A lot of boys would have been lonely with nothing to do but roam the woods behind the house after homework was finished, but not Frankie.  Frankie was never bored or lonely.  That’s because Frankie had a secret.

Frankie’s secret went unnoticed for a long time, but nothing stays secret forever, and eventually hints began to appear.

One day on the playground the Harrison brothers were bullying Frankie as usual when suddenly, Frankie reached his arms out to the biggest Harrison brother and wrestled him to the ground.  No one was hurt, but the Harrison boys cried anyway, of course, and Frankie was taken to the office and questioned.

“Where did you learn to wrestle like that?” Principal Mills asked.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

As no one had been hurt and wrestling was not technically the same as fighting, Frankie was sent back to class with a warning to be more careful.  Principal Mills checked the school records and verified that there was no student named Oswald, but he was a busy man and couldn’t give it much more thought than that.

A week later, Louse came out the back door to find Frankie with his arm inside one of the bee-hives.  While she watched, she carefully pulled his hand out, dripping with honey, and walked away without a sting.

“Where did you learn to handle bees like that?” Louse asked, when she was done telling Frankie off for messing with her hives.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

“Who is Oswald?” Louse asked, wondering if there was another bee-keeper in town.

“He’s my best friend,” Frankie said, and Great-Aunt Lela rang the dinner bell, cutting off all further conversation.

Two days later, as Frankie was walking home from school, Mrs. Hanson’s dog dug under the fence and confronted Frankie on the street.  Frankie was pale as a sheet, but he stood his ground and as the dog approached, Frankie growled so fiercely that Ripper turned tail and scuttled back under the fence.

Mrs. Hanson, who only saw the last part of this as she pulled into her driveway, was alarmed.

“Where did you learn to growl like that?” she asked Frankie.

“My friend Oswald taught me,” Frankie said.

“What kind of friend would teach a boy to growl?”

“He’s my best friend, and he’s also a bear,” Frankie said.

“Well, I don’t know who this Bear family is, but your grandmother ought to be warned that you are associating with low types,” Mrs. Hanson huffed, and she trotted straight inside to make the call before Frankie could say that Lela was actually his Great-Aunt.

When Frankie got home, Great-Aunt Lela was still rocking placidly on the porch.  She didn’t get up or yell or do anything other grown-ups might have done, but she did say that Frankie was to invite his friend Oswald to dinner, the next night, no excuses.

Frankie did not think this was a good idea, but for all her placid rocking, when Great-aunt Lela made her mind up about something there was no changing it.

The next night, when Great-aunt Lela rang the dinner bell, Frankie came into the yard right on time.  Oswald was just behind him.

Louise screamed.  Great-aunt Lela dropped her bell.

“What is that?” Louse yelled.

“This is Oswald,” Frankie said. “He’s my best friend and he’s also a bear.”

The big black bear nodded over Frankie’s head in a friendly way and tried not to stare longingly at the bee-hives.

“He’s an actual bear,” Great-aunt Lela stated the obvious.

“And an actual friend,” nodded Frankie.

Great-aunt Lela sank into her chair, but she did not rock, placidly or otherwise.

Frankie was a very strange boy, but he was still a boy.  It was dinner time and he was hungry.

“Is it time to eat?” he asked.

Louise stared.

Great-aunt Lela sighed a very, very long sigh.  Then her chair rocked just a little.

“Better bring the dinner out here on the porch, Louise,” she said.

Louise was too stunned not to obey.

Eating on the front porch with a bear as your guest is a very strange thing to do.  Finding that you rather enjoy it is even stranger.

Fortunately, Frankie Orzo had always been a strange boy and he came from an equally strange family.



Once upon a time there was a baby snake named Ssabastian.  For the longest time he looked exactly like all the other snakes.  His skin was green and brown.  His body was long and skinny.  His tongue was pink and forked.  Ssebastian’s mother loved him very much and taught him all about how to hunt for small animals to eat and how to stay out of the way of dangerous birds of prey.

As Ssebastian grew, he got very good at hunting for small animals.  Very, very good.  He often caught dozens of mice each night, not to mention the odd squirrel or chipmunk.  And since he always ate everything he caught, Ssebastian grew at an alarming rate.  His mother was alarmed.  His friends were alarmed.  It goes without saying that all the small animals in the forest were extremely alarmed.

Ssebastian grew and grew and grew.  The bigger he got, the better he was as hunting.  Soon he could catch rabbits and then racoons, and once he even caught a fox.  By this time, Ssebastian was longer than the old pine tree which had fallen over just before his birth and nearly as big around.  Ssebastian’s mother still loved him very much, of course, and now she began to worry that he would attract attention from something far more dangerous than birds of prey: humans.

Luckily, Ssebastian’s mother was a very intelligent snake.  She decided to make a disguise for Ssebastian.  Taking the bark off of many fallen trees, she pieced together a new skin that Sebastian could slither inside.  When he did this, if he lay perfectly still, he looked just like a fallen tree himself.  In this way, she planned to protect him from the notice of humans and so keep him from being killed out of panic or worse, put into a zoo for children to gawk at.

Ssebastian liked his new disguise.  It was fun to pretend he was a tree, at least at first.  He lay very still and smelled the lovely sappy smell of his bark and watched the clouds go by overhead.  After a while, though, he started to get tired of lying still, and his skin began to itch.  He longed to slither through the forest and to coil around the trees and scratch his skin on their branches.

Ssebastian looked around at the other trees.  He saw how they swayed in the wind and thought to himself that he didn’t need to be a fallen tree.  He could slither around in his disguise and be more like a living tree which moved back and forth as much as it wanted.  So Ssebastian began to move.  First, he just rolled over, and that felt so good that he slithered over to some trees and arched against them.  Their bark scraped against his in such a pleasant manner that he stretched higher and higher, reaching for their branches.  He let the branches brush against the back of his head and then ducked his head down and let the branches slide down his back.


At this exact moment, two human children came walking through the woods.  Ssebastian froze when he saw them coming.  He was in a very compromising position: his tail in the trees, his back swooped down low and then arched high into the air, and his head ducked down in the grass.  It was too late to move, though.  The children had seen him.

Luckily, his bark disguise was very well-made.  The children began to exclaim about the cool shape of this tree, and Ssebastian thought he was home free when suddenly they started to climb on him.

“Come here!” said one child.  “We can slide down it!”

“I’m going to do flips!” said the other child.

“Bet you can’t hang by your ankles!” the first child answered.

They did.  They did all those things.  Poor Ssebastian had to hold perfectly still as the children slid down his back and climbed up again, as they gripped his bark and swung back and forth, as they bent their knees around his middle and hung upside down.  His back was hurting dreadfully, and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold his position.

Now Ssebastian was a very kind and friendly sort of snake (friendly toward everyone except small animals, of course, and even that was only because he was so hungry all the time).  As uncomfortable as he was, he actually found himself liking these little humans.  They laughed and shouted and sounded like they were having so much fun that he could hardly stop himself from trying to join in.  He tried to remember all of his mother’s warnings, and to think about her stories of the horrible zoo, but between the pain in his crooked back and the sound of laughter all around him, he couldn’t seem to remember what was so bad about these humans.

All at once, Ssebastian let his back drop, lightly setting down the child who had been clambering up it.  It felt so good to finally be released that SSebastian rolled over twice and let out a hissss of pleasure.  The children screamed.  Very loudly.  SSebastian curled around them protectively, just as his mother had done for him when he was scared as a tiny snake.  The children screamed even louder and started kicking his sides.  Ssebastian thought maybe this was a new form of play and tried to nuzzle the children with his head.  They screamed louder than any noise he had ever heard.  Then one of the children grabbed a stick and started hitting Ssebastian.  This broke open some of Ssebastian’s lovely bark disguise.  The children kept on yelling.

The nose was beginning to be almost as painful as the climbing had been, and if these children kept on hitting him, his whole disguise would be ruined.  Ssebastian realized now why his mother had wanted him to remain unseen.  He wished he had listened to her.  He wondered if it was too late to pretend to be a fallen tree again.  He decided to try it.

Ssebastian lay completely still on the ground, stretched out straight and flat.  The children cried in triumph.

“I killed him!” yelled the child with the stick.

“He’s dead!” yelled the other child.

“Let’s go tell Davey that we killed a snake as big as a tree!” yelled the first child.

The two children ran off through the trees to brag of their adventure to all their friend, none of whom, fortunately, believed them.

As for Ssebastian, he had learned his lesson.  His mother made him a new bark disguise, and Ssebastian spent many long hours lying silently inside it, resting and thinking about the peaceful lives of fallen trees.  Only at night, when it was too dark for anyone to see him, did he come out to do more hunting.  This restriction in his hunting time was a good thing for everyone.  The moderation in his diet kept Ssebastian from growing even larger than he was, and the small animals of the forest, of course, were quite relieved.

By the Full Moon

When I was a little girl, I lived for just a few years in a little house in the state of Oklahoma. It was a normal sort of house in a normal sort of neighborhood, probably not unlike the one you live in now. I was friends with the little girl next door, and the other neighborhood kids were friends with my brother and used to come and play basketball on the hoop in our driveway. We all rode bikes and ran back and forth and had general good times on our safe, quiet little street.

There was only one yard we did not go to. It belonged to a large house, set back off the road and half hidden by overgrown trees. This house was always dark, which caused a lot of talk among the kids, but it wasn’t abandoned. The red car that was parked in the driveway was sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left and sometimes gone altogether, so someone must have been driving it. Whoever it was didn’t show his face much, though, or mow his lawn. The grass grew tall, sometimes as tall as our knees, much to the annoyance of the retired army sergeant who lived next door. Sometimes the sergeant would come over and mow the grass down himself, cursing under his breath all the while, to keep the neighborhood from looking ridiculous.

I avoided this yard, the same as everyone else, but I felt a strange fascination for its owner. I couldn’t help wondering what sort of life it was to be always in the dark and to come and go without anyone seeing you. An unseen life. The idea made me sad.

Once when I was wandering slowly by, keeping to the sidewalk but gazing steadily at the half-hidden house, I thought I saw a face starting back. It wasn’t at all like the face I had been imagining. It wasn’t at like any face I had ever seen, mostly because it was under a shock of wild-looking hair, and also was spotty and only had one eye.

I thought I must have imagined that last part. I told my brother about it, just to be safe. He laughed and said that I was a silly little girl. He said he had seen the guy who lived there coming out his front door and getting in his car one night just before dark. He said he looked like a normal guy and probably just worked at night. This sounded very rational to me, but I didn’t believe it.

Then one hot afternoon near the end of summer, I wandered out of our back yard and left the gate open. I didn’t mean to leave the gate open. I meant to be as careful as possible, but I was reading a really great book, and I didn’t want to put it down as I moved around the house in search of better shade, and I pulled on the gate, just not hard enough, and it never latched. I knew better than to leave the gate unlatched because we had a puppy named Panda, and he was always looking for a chance to escape.

Sure enough, Panda got out of the yard. I saw him streak by my reading spot and realized my mistake at once. With panic flooding my stomach, I dropped the book and ran after him. He darted around trees and in and out of yards, following some scent and his own joy. I called and called his name, but he knew this was his chance, so he pretended to be deaf. Before I knew what was happening, Panda had trotted right up to the high privacy fence that surrounded the back yard of the UNSEEN house. He squeezed under a loose board and disappeared.

There I stood, overcome with fear, trying desperately to decide what to do. If I went home and told someone what happened, I would be in big trouble for leaving the gate open. And what if something happened to Panda while I was getting help? Summoning my courage, I sprinted toward the back gate. I tried the handle and found that it was unlocked. Hurrying, so I wouldn’t have to think about what I was doing, I opened the gate and went into the yard.

It was the strangest yard I had ever seen, so strange that I stopped short and forgot all about my puppy for just a second. Neon flowers grew in spirals all over the place. Purple vines with triangular leaves covered the fence and most of the back of the house. A glass fountain stood in the middle of everything, with orange soda frothing into the air.

Next to this mesmerizing fountain stood Panda, but he wasn’t alone.

As soon as the gate clicked shut behind me, the mound of fur hunched next to my puppy straightened up and I was looking at a monster.

It was at least seven feet tall and had bright purple hair over most of its body. On the top, the hair stood straight up, giving him the look of someone who had stuck a fork in an electrical outlet. His one large eye and the pink spots that covered his furry purple face left no doubt that this was what I had seen in the window that time.

I turned to run, but my legs wouldn’t move. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out.

“Don’t be afraid,” said the monster in the very nicest voice you could imagine. “I won’t hurt you.”

I turned around and saw that he had knelt down again next to Panda and was stroking his back. Now that he wasn’t towering over me, the monster didn’t seem so terrifying.

“Is this your dog?” he went on in his pleasant voice. “I just love dogs. What is his name?”

“P…Panda,” I forced out, relieved that my voice did actually work after all.

“Panda…oh! Like the bears! I can see why. He does have just the right Panda bear markings on his face. Very clever.”

I nodded, unable to believe I was talking about names with an actual monster.

The monster must have been thinking something similar because he quickly ducked his head. He was still petting Panda.

After a minute I forced myself to speak again, though it came out very squeaky, “I have to take him home now.”

The monster looked up. “Oh, yes. Of course you must. I’m sorry. It’s just been so long since I got to pet a dog.” He paused for a moment and then rushed on like he was nervous. “Do you think he could come back sometimes to visit me? Just, you know, whenever it was convenient? He doesn’t seem to be at all afraid. And I would take good care of him.”

I didn’t know what to say. It was true, Panda looked extremely comfortable sitting next to that ridiculous fountain. (I wondered if it really could be orange soda in there.) The monster’s face, which should have been terrifying, somehow just wasn’t.

“I guess,” I said finally.

“Oh good!” The monster stood up and did a little dance. He looked so ridiculous that I couldn’t help laughing. This made him act even sillier, until I was doubled over with giggles. Finally he began to laugh, too, and tumbled onto the ground.

“Oh! You don’t know how long it’s been since I laughed. Maybe when your puppy comes to visit, you could come along, too.”

Before I even knew what I was doing, I agreed.

And that is how I came to be friends with Jax. On my second visit, he told me his whole story over giant cookies and glasses of orange soda dipped straight from his fountain. He was from a land called Solax. (I never did quite understand his explanation of how you get there.) Solax was full of people who looked like him, but he had been sent away ten years ago.

“It was because of my…affliction.” He said sadly. “At first people just called me names, maybe laughed, maybe kept their distance. But after a while, they began to worry that my affliction was catching. No one wanted to risk that, so I was sent away, never to return.”

Obviously, I was really curious about what his “affliction” was, but I didn’t think it was polite to ask.

Panda and I made several visits to Jax’s house that summer. Jax always had fresh cookies and he always had weird flowers to show me in his garden and he always had interesting stories to tell about Solax.

The only bad part about being friends with Jax was that I couldn’t tell anyone. Who would understand a little girl visiting a big monster? Who would understand a big monster living on a quiet suburban street? Who would understand a big monster existing?

On the last night of summer, I made one more secret visit to Jax’s back yard. When I got there, though, he wasn’t there. I went to the back door and knocked. No one answered. I was so disappointed. The sun was setting, and I couldn’t stay long. School started the next day, and I knew I wouldn’t be a able to come visit much once I was in class all day and had homework and early bedtime and all those school things that made September so annoying.

I was turning to go home when Panda gave a loud bark. He was wagging his little tail crazily. I saw a face quickly whip out of sight in Jax’s back window. It wasn’t Jax, though. It was a young man with brown hair and a sad look on his face. My heart pounded. Had someone found Jax?

I couldn’t just leave without finding out. I crept forward and tried the handle of the back door. It was open. Panda and I slipped inside Jax’s kitchen. There at the little white table sat the young man. He stared at me without saying anything.

“Oh, um, excuse me,” I fumbled. “I….my…um…friend lives here. I just thought I’d say hi, but…um…I guess I’d better go.”

The man didn’t say anything, but Panda pulled away from me and ran over to him, wagging his tail and nuzzling against the man’s hand.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “He’s a really friendly dog.”

“I know,” said the young man. “It’s me.”

I stared.

“It’s me,” he said again. “Jax.” He buried his face in his hands.

I didn’t move.

“So now you know,” he said finally.

I didn’t know, so I didn’t say anything.

“Now you’ve seen my affliction.”

I thought I began to understand, but I was still afraid of saying anything wrong.

“It only happens once a month,” he said, suddenly sounding eager to explain. “At the full moon. NO one can explain why, just as the sun sets, I suddenly lose all my beautiful fur and grow a second eye and shrink down to…this. But don’t worry, by the time the sun comes up tomorrow, I’ll be back to normal.”

I suddenly had the urge to laugh, but I didn’t. He seemed so embarrassed to look like a normal person. Instead, I tried to make him feel better.

“You know, you could come meet my family now,” I said.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” said Jax. “I have to do all my grocery shopping on this one night….to last for a month. And…” He looked down.

“What?” I asked curiously.

“Well, I don’t so much mind strangers seeing me like this, but I’d rather not let anyone else know me looking so…” He trailed off, clearly not wanting to insult me.

This time I did laugh.

So Jax did his grocery shopping, and I went home to giggle about what the checkout lady at the grocery must think about the strange young man who showed up once a month and bought the whole stock of orange soda.

I only lived in that house down the street from Jax for two years, and I made sure I never visited him on the night of a full moon. When I moved away, leaving him was the hardest part. He made me a huge box of cookies, so big that I almost couldn’t carry it down the street, and you should have seen my brother’s eyes when I came in the door with that box.

I let him eat one cookie, but I didn’t tell him where it came from. Cause some things are for sharing, but some things just aren’t.

What If?

“I like Grandpa’s house, Mommy.  There’s lots of places to play.”

“Me, too, little Joe.  Did you have fun exploring today?”

“Mm-hm.  Mommy, what would you do if you found a door in the side of the mountain?”

“That would be very mysterious.  I would wonder what was inside.”

“What if you went right in and it was too dark to see anything?”

“I would probably go get my flashlight.”

“What if you saw a pile of candles and some matches right by the door?”

“Oh.  I would definitely light a candle and go exploring.”

“And what if you discovered a long, long tunnel that went right into the heart of the mountain?”

“I would keep right going until I saw what was at the end.”

“What if you got really hungry and thirsty walking so, so far, and when you got there, you saw a table full of yummy food and a big cup of juice?”

“I would be pretty suspicious of food inside a mountain, but if I was that hungry and thirsty, I might be tempted to eat and drink just a little bit.”

“What if you drank some juice and then fell fast asleep?”

“I would think that I probably shouldn’t have drunk that juice.”

“And what if you woke up and the room was full of animals?”

“I would be pretty confused and maybe a little scared.”

“What if you saw that the animals were all wearing clothes and dancing around to pretty music?”

“I would be really amazed.”

“What if just then you noticed that your shoes and coat were missing?”

“I suppose I would be worried that my mother would be mad.”

“But what if you looked over and saw that a mountain goat was wearing your coat and a baby bear cub was dancing in your shoes?”

“It would make me pretty mad.  I might go right over and ask for them back.”

“But what if they just laughed at you?”

“Then I would tackle that bear cub and get my shoes back.”

“What if his mother came along and picked you up and put you in the corner.”

“I would stay in the corner.”

“What if the animals danced for so long that you fell asleep again?”

“I would be afraid that I was missing dinner.”

“But what if you woke up and the animals were gone and your shoes and coat were sitting next to you on the floor?”

“I would put them on and run home as quickly as I could.”

“What if your shoes didn’t seem to fit anymore and running was too hard?”

“Then I would walk, I guess.  And I would be pretty mad at that bear cub for stretching out my shoes.”


“Yes, little Joe?”

“Are you going to go into town tomorrow?”

“Yes, Grandpa wants me to pick up his medicine.”

“Do you think you could get me some new shoes while you are there?”

The Road to China

Once there was a boy named Josiah, and he decided to dig a hole all the way to China.

Josiah had recently started Kindergarten, and one of the first things he learned was that the Earth is a gigantic ball.  The place where Josiah lived was on one side of the ball, and all the way around on the other side were far off countries like China.  Josiah had always wanted to visit far off countries.  He had thought he would have to wait until he could drive a car or fly an airplane.  He didn’t know there was a direct path to them, straight down.  There were no streets he wasn’t allowed to cross under the ground, just dirt, and he was allowed to get as dirty as he wanted between school time and dinner.

Josiah had a corner in the back yard that was all his own, so that is where he began.  He worked alone.  When he had announced that he was going to dig a hole to China, his father had said, “That’s nice,” and his mother had said, “Just be back in time for dinner.”  His older brother, George, had laughed and said, “You are such a baby.  You can’t dig to China.  Under all the dirt is rock, you know, and you can’t dig through that with a plastic shovel.  Besides, you would have to go through the center of the earth, and that is lava.  No one can go there.”  Even though he hated being called a baby, Josiah liked his brother’s answer best.  Sometimes it is better to be laughed at than ignored.  

Plus, his brother’s answer was useful.  Josiah added a hammer and a bucket of cold water to his list of supplies.

Josiah worked hard.  He dug down deep with his shovel and piled the dirt in a neat heap next to his hole.  He had only gone down as deep as his elbows  when he found the first bone.  Josiah held it up and brushed the dirt off.  It was small, and he knew it was probably an old steak bone that his dog, Stella, had buried.  She liked to stick bones in the ground and come back for them later.  Still, a bone looks very different when you pull it out of the ground than it does when you see it on your plate after dinner.  He was still examining the bone when his next door neighbor stuck his head over the fence.

“Coooool!” said Alexander.  “You found a bone!  It’s like you’re a paleontologist.  I learned all about them at the museum.  They dig up dinosaur bones.  Can I come dig with you?  I want to be a paleontologist, too.”

Josiah considered.  Being a scientist who dug up dinosaur bones sounded fun.  And with two people digging, he would get to China twice as fast.  He told Alexander to get a shovel.

Josiah and Alexander got to work.  Working together, the hole was soon twice as wide and getting deeper by the minute.  They found several more bones.  Alexander told Josiah all about dinosaurs, and they decided that what they had found was a baby dinosaur, since the bones were so small.  They figured that no one had ever found the complete skeleton of a baby dinosaur before.  Once they put the whole thing together, they would be famous.  They dug until they had a small pile of bones and the hole was so deep they had to jump down inside to dig more.

“I’m supposed to tell you that we have half an hour until dinner,” said a voice.  It was Josiah’s cousin, Roland.  Roland and his family had come to dinner, and he was sent outside to play until the food was ready.  “Whoa!!” he said when he saw the hole with the pile of bones next to it.  “It’s like you guys are in a war!  I read about how soldiers dug trenches to hide in when they were fighting.  You must be pretty good soldiers.  I can see the bones of your enemies!  Can I play, too?”

Josiah considered.  It had been a while since they found any more bones, and being a soldier sounded pretty exciting.  Plus, three people digging instead of two would make a path to China even faster.  He told Roland to hop in.

Josiah and Alexander and Roland got to work.  The trench was not deep enough to hide them from enemy bullets, so they had to dig down to get their heads out of sight.  Every few minutes enemy fire would rain down on them, and they would drop their shovels and grab their guns to defend themselves.  This only made them dig faster when the attack was over, though, and they soon had an admirable trench for their own protection.  They had just fought off a particularly fierce advance when Josiah’s mother called them in to dinner.

Climbing out of the hole, the three boys shook hands solemnly.  It had been a good day’s work.

“So you couldn’t make it all the way to China, widdle baby?” asked George before bed.

Josiah shrugged.  “You can’t dig to China in one day,” he said.  “I’ll dig again tomorrow.”

Josiah got in bed, his arms aching from all that digging, and thought about how his grandma always said the road to a place is more exciting than the place itself.  He had never believed her before, but now he saw what she meant. 

He thought of being a paleontologist and a soldier.  

He wondered what else he would get to be on the road to China.

3, 2, 1

Tommy was miserable.

It was bad enough that he had to leave his old school and his old friends, pack up all his stuff, and go live someplace he’d never even seen.  Now it was worse.  Standing and looking at the place he was supposed to live, he thought he might cry.

The lighthouse stood out on an island, its glass top winking in the sunlight, its highest tip pointing straight at the sky.  All around were rocks and waves.  Tommy couldn’t see anything else.  Who would be his friends here?  What would he do?  It would just be him and his parents and some seagulls.

“It will be an adventure,” his mom said from behind him.  “You love adventures.”

She had been saying that over and over for the last three weeks.  Tommy didn’t think he believed her.  An adventure?  It was so quiet here he felt bored already.

As they rowed the small boat across the water to the lighthouse island, Tommy looked up at the white shape towering above him.  There were no windows anywhere except at the very top where the light would shine out.  He imagined himself living in the dark down below.  Maybe he could pretend it was a cave for him to explore.  If only it weren’t so small.  Tommy sighed.

They got out of the boat and hauled their suitcases up to where a set of stairs wound around the outside of the  lighthouse.  Tommy’s eyes widened.  “You mean we have to carry our stuff up there?” he asked, not caring that he sounded very whiny.  His mom just nodded and started up.  Tommy muttered under his breath but he did the same.  Panting for air, he pictured himself climbing these steps every day.   He imagined hauling groceries up here.  His mom always made him unload the groceries.  Tommy shuddered.  This place was going to be so much work there wouldn’t even be time to play.

Finally they got to a door.  They were very high up now.  Tommy’s mom turned to look at the view.  “See!” she raised her voice a bit over the wind.  “It’s beautiful.  Already an adventure.”

Tommy turned and looked.  The ocean looked flat from up here and stretched on forever.  Even from this height, Tommy couldn’t see any other houses on the land behind them.  He opened the door and went inside.

“Your room is just over there,” said his mom.  “There’s a button next to it that opens it up.”

Tommy stared at her.  A button?  He pressed it.  The door slid open like it was on an elevator.

Tommy looked at his room.  It was very small.  He set his suitcase on the narrow bed and turned around.  If he stretched out his arms, he could almost touch all the walls.  A small desk was next to the bed.  A thin plastic thing was attached, which looked like it would fold down and be a place to sit.  The desk had a computer on it, but it was strapped down.  Tommy stared at the straps.  Did this place get earthquakes?  That would be an adventure but not really the kind of adventure that Tommy liked.  Everything in this room was white.  Tommy imagined laying on that tiny bed and staring at the white ceiling.

“You’d better put your things in the closet,” said his mom from the doorway.  “There isn’t much time.  Then come down the hall to the last door.  Your father and I will be waiting for you.”

Not much time?  Tommy stared at the empty doorway after she left.  What was the hurry?  What were they possibly going to do here?  He supposed at some point they had to turn on the light, but it was still hours until nightfall.  Maybe his mom had made a cake or something to celebrate the move.  Well, okay.  Tommy liked cake.  He unzipped his suitcase and began unloaded all of his favorite things.  When he opened the closet, he saw that it was already half full.  Strange clothes, all one piece, shirt and pants, in solid colors.  Big clunky boots.  A pair of gloves.  Tommy wondered if his new school required a uniform.  He shuddered to think of what kind of school it must be if it wanted kids dressed like that.  Quickly, Tommy buried the weird new things under his own clothes.  He stuck a few books in the bottom, along with his baseball and glove.  His collection of baseball cards went lovingly on the top shelf.  They just barely fit.  It was a good thing he hadn’t brought any more stuff.  No wonder his mom only let him pack one suitcase.

Shoving the suitcase under the bed, Tommy went back out into the short hall.  He could see three doors just like his on the opposite wall and one down at the very end.  That door had a button beside it, too.  The elevator doors didn’t seem too strange when Tommy realized there would be no room to open a normal door, but the tight space made him think of long winters and being stuck in one little place with nothing to do.  He jabbed the door button a little harder than was necessary.

When the door opened, Tommy froze.  The room in front of him looked like something out of a movie.  A whole panel of buttons and computer screens took up the wall in front of him, with a window above it looking out at the view.  Three built-in seats were in front of this panel.  His mother and father were in two of them, busily working on something on the screens in front of them.  They looked up when Tommy stepped in.

“Well, son,” said Tommy’s father.  “What do you think?”

“I…what is this?” Tommy asked.

“The control room,” said his father.  “Have a seat son, and we’ll tell you all about it.”

Tommy sat down in the empty chair.  His mother reached over and buckled some straps around him just like she used to do when he was little.

His father explained.  They had been chosen to explore a possible location for a colony on a new planet.  This “lighthouse” was their ship.  It was all top secret, so they had not been allowed to tell him before in case he accidentally let something slip.  No one was anywhere near here, so they should be able to get away unseen.  With any luck, they would be gone for a year, but when they came back it would be to put together a team of colonists and lead them back.  In five years, they could be living on a new planet.

By this time Tommy was grinning.

His mother grinned back.  “See, I told you it would be an adventure,” she said.  “You love adventures.”

“Hold on tight, everyone,” said his father.  “Here we go.”

Not the socks

For Campbell.  Thanks for reminding me of the poetic value of the conversations of six-year-old boys.

I like cotton candy and roller coaster rides.
I love the beach and the rocks.
I’m happy with cozy blankets snuggled to my sides.
But I don’t like smelling smelly socks.

I would jump at a chance to go the zoo.
I’d be thrilled to make a fort out of a box.
I’ll go along with anything that you would like to do.
But just not smelling smelly socks.

Of all the foods, pepperoni pizza is the best.
My favorite shoes are my Crocs
Chocolate ice cream is better than the rest
But the worst is smelling smelly socks.

So let’s race to the tree, I don’t care if you win.
Let that hairy spider crawl near
I’ll twirl in a circle until my head spins
But get smelly socks out of here.