Lucinda the Liar

It’s always more fun when kids help make up stories, so we’re trying something new today.  Lucinda is a character that’s been rattling around in my head today, and I think she has the potential for unlimited adventures.  I’ll get the ball rolling, and then hand it off to the listeners to add in ideas.  If I run this by my kids, will you do the same? Then we can meet back here next week with some fresh new leads. Here we go…

  

“Where are you going?” Lucinda’s mother asked.

“On an arctic expedition,” said Lucinda, buttoning her parka with the fur around the hood.

“In this weather?” said her mother, looking out at the pouring rain.

“Yes, we must hurry before the polar caps melt,” said Lucinda. Seeing her mother’s face, she added, “Don’t worry, we’re taking an umbrella.”

Not five minutes later, Lucinda’s mother looked outside to see Lucinda gathering rocks in the rain. She was soaked to the bone.

“Lucinda!” her mother exclaimed, pulling the girl back inside. “You said you were taking an umbrella!”

“We did take an umbrella,” Lucinda protested. “My assistant was carrying it, but she was eaten by a polar bear.  They are very hungry at this time of year.”

“Lucinda, there are no polar bears and you don’t have an assistant.  If you tell me you are taking an umbrella, you have to actually take an umbrella. You’ll catch your death of cold!”

“Well, I can’t take the umbrella now,” Lucinda explained patiently. “It’s inside a polar bear.”

Lucinda’s mother gave up with a groan, but not before forbidding her to go outside again.

Lucinda studied the rocks in her pail and decided she had gathered enough samples for one day. It was best not venture out again, in any case. That polar bear might be getting hungry again.

____________________

Sunday dinner was a special affair. Not only were they eating at Grandma’s house, but Great-Grandma was visiting.  Lucinda’s mother made her wear her fanciest dress.  She even put a bow in her hair. 

Lucinda took the bow out when her mother wasn’t looking, but she didn’t mind the dress. It flared out when she twirled, exactly like the skirt of a ballerina.

“My, how big you are,” said Great-Grandma when Lucinda walked in the door. “How old are you now?”

“I’m fourteen,” said Lucinda.

“She’s eight,” said Lucinda’s mother, squeezing her shoulder.

“Then why’d she say she was fourteen?” asked Great-Grandma.

“Because I am fourteen,” Lucinda said. “I’m very small for my age. It’s a good thing, too. If I weren’t so small, the Royal Ballet would never have considered me.”

“The girl dances ballet?” Great-Grandma said in confusion.

“Yes,” said Lucinda. 

“No,” sighed Lucinda’s mother.

“What a little liar,” said Great-Grandma.

Lucinda thought about this all through dinner.  Her fancy ballerina dress was beginning to itch her back.  She couldn’t be a ballerina with an itchy back.  Besides, that last twirl on the front porch had made her dizzy. Ballerinas had to twirl all day, and being dizzy that long would not be enjoyable.

Being a liar, though, that sounded like fun.

Lucinda thought of all different kinds of liars: spies and magicians and actors and novelists and lawyers.  She thought she would be quite good at all of those things.  

___________

All the next week Lucinda was a spy.  Her alias was an average eight-year-old girl, and it was the perfect cover story. No one suspected that she was actually a secret agent for the tiny kingdom of Hortensia.

No one suspected that when she volunteered to walk the dog, she was really scouting out escape routes in case her enemies found her.

No one suspected that when she offered to tidy the living room, she was really hunting for clues about the whereabouts of the Hortensia crown jewels. 

No one suspected that the reason she agreed to wash the dishes every night that week was that she needed to cleanse her hands of all traces of the invisible ink she had used to send messages home.

“What’s gotten into you this week?” Lucinda’s mother asked. “You’ve been so sweet and helpful.”

“Nothing,” lied Lucinda smoothly. “I just appreciate all you do for me.”

Actually, as it turned out, that last bit was even true.  After one whole week of dog-walking, living room tidying, and dish-washing, Lucinda felt more thankful for her mother than she had ever felt.

____________

You never really stop being a spy, of course, but once Lucinda’s mission was complete and the crown jewels were returned to the Queen of Hortensia, Lucinda had time to focus on other things while waiting for new instructions.

Sneaking around had been extremely interesting, but Lucinda thought she might like to try some more obvious lying as well.  The next day, she went to the library and checked out a book about magic tricks.

In no time at all, she had mastered seven different card tricks.  Her friends at school were all amazed.

“How did you do that?” they asked.

“Magic,” said Lucinda.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” said Robert Grady.

“There used to be,” Lucinda said. “The world was full of magic long ago, but then the last magician accidentally fell down inside a volcano.  It took all his magic to keep from burning up, so he couldn’t get himself free.  He had been there for three hundred and fourteen years when I found him two weeks ago.  I threw him a rope and pulled him out all by myself, and he was so grateful that he taught me how to use real magic.”

“That’s not true,” said Georgia Fulton. “You made that up.”

Lucinda made a quarter appear in Georgia’s ear and smiled mysteriously.  

“Do you think he would teach me magic, too?” asked Robert.

“Probably not,” said Lucinda. “He’s gotten used to being alone and doesn’t want to see anyone but me. If you wanted, I could teach you, though.”

Robert and Georgia were eager to begin, but after their first lesson, they looked at Lucinda in disappointment.

“That’s not magic,” said Georgia. “That’s just a trick.”

“When I first showed you, did you believe it?” Lucinda asked calmly.

“Yes,” Robert admitted.

“That’s because I used my magic to make you believe.”

Robert and Georgia did not know how to argue with this logic, which is how Mrs. Hanson’s second grade class came to school on Monday to find three magicians in their midst.

Their wonder was better than any logic.

_____________________

Restoring magic to the world was so thrilling, that Lucinda began to wonder what else she might be able to do.

And I am wondering, too.  What other “lies” might Lucinda tell and how might she make them come true?  It’s your turn to tell…

Inside and Out

This morning Lucy started to tell me a story and then decided halfway through that I should finish it for her. I thought her premise was so quirky and perfectly expressive of her brain that it was worth a Lucy-esque ending. Here’s what we came up with together. Because nothing is more fun that making stuff up with my kids.

Lucy:
Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a big castle. She lived there all alone because everyone else had died.

One day a huge giant came to her castle. “I’m going to eat you!” he said to the princess.

(Now, don’t worry. He isn’t going to…well, he IS going to eat her, but it will be okay.)

So then he ate her in one big bite, but she didn’t die. She went inside him. You know. And inside him she went to a beautiful land.

And the thing is that he was a bad giant, but he used to be a good giant, only all his niceness was down inside him now, and the badness was on the outside. So down inside him, she was in his niceness.

I want you to finish the story.

ID-10076800

Mommy:
So inside his belly, all his niceness had made this beautiful land, and the princess wandered the beautiful land looking at rainbows and flowers and everything happy and nice, and there, under an apple tree she saw a boy. When she got closer, she realized that it was her brother!

She ran up and gave him a hug. “I thought you were dead!” she said.

Her brother laughed. “Well, I WAS eaten by a giant, but instead of dying I found myself here in the beautiful land. Ad guess what else I found?”

Then her brother took her by the hand and showed her where her mother and father and grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins were all living among the rainbows and flowers. Every single one of them had been eaten by the giant!

Her mother hugged her. “We’ve missed you so much! We wanted to see you, but we couldn’t figure out how to get out of this giant. Now that you are here, though, we can stay here happy forever.”

The princess knew that was a bad idea, though. The people in the kingdom were counting on the royal family to protect them, and on the outside, the giant was still very bad and very likely to keep eating people. Then their families would be so sad, just like she had been when she thought her family was dead.

“We need to find a way out of here,” she said. And she came up with the perfect idea. She and her family picked thousands of leaves and flowers and wove them together into a giant hot air balloon. Then they built a little fire and puffed up the balloon and floated up, up, up, the giant’s throat and right out of his mouth!

The giant was so surprised when a beautiful hot air balloon came out of his mouth that for just a minute he forgot to be bad. “What is this? Where did you come from?” he asked.

“We came from inside you!” the princess answered. “All these beautiful flowers were right down in your belly. You are still very, very nice in there!”

The giant was amazed, and he loved the balloon, and he remembered when he used to feel all those nice things all the time, so he decided that he would be a nice giant again, and let all that niceness back out.

So the princess and her family went back to live together in their castle, and the very nice giant helped them make their land the most beautiful land in the world.

(Image above courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Emily Jane’s Imagination

Emily Jane had two great gifts: an imagination and a best friend.

Emily Jane’s imagination thought up spectacular things: rhinoceros hunting on the African plains, tea parties in the halls of the woodland elves, a scientific endeavor to capture the essence of rainbows in a bottle. There was no end to the things it could dream up, and each day held wonder, for you never knew what adventure was waiting.

Emily Jane’s best friend lived right next door. Her name was Holly. She was small and dark-haired and sweet and always willing to set out on any quest that Emily Jane’s imagination invented. In fact, though Emily Jane scarcely noticed, Holly brought a little magic of her own to every adventure.

The pursuit of scientific progress was almost halted by determined clouds that even Emily Jane could not imagine away, and only when Holly found an old lamp in the attic was Emily Jane’s imagination able to create a suitable rainbow laboratory. An elvish kingdom of eternal autumn in which fall leaves sprinkled down constantly would have lived only in Emily Jane’s imagination if it weren’t for Holly tying a rope to the branches above their tea table and learning just the right way to shake the leaves free as she drank her elvish nectar. And though only Emily Jane could have imagined it possible to trap a rhinoceros using only tree branches and twine, it was Holly who found a way to weave the branches tightly together. Once Candy, the neighbor’s fluffy white dog, got hopelessly tangled in them, it was no trouble at all to imagine a wild beast doing the same.

Things continued in this happy way for several years, which felt like always to two little girls, until one day when Emily Jane went to Holly’s front door, busily dreaming of giants in the clouds, Holly’s mother said she was too sick to come out and play. Emily Jane was sorry to hear it, but she was preoccupied with her giants, so her disappointment wasn’t too severe. The next day, she needed Holly for a space adventure she was planning, but Holly was still too ill. Space adventures wait for no one, and this one went off anyway, but Emily Jane found it very difficult to imagine herself defeating the evil Zargod alone. The next day, Emily Jane brought over her tea set for a nice quiet tea with the owls who lived in Holly’s back yard, but Holly could not even sit up for tea. At last Emily Jane was truly worried. No one should ever be too sick for tea.

For several weeks, Holly stayed in her bed, and Emily Jane was left alone with her imagination. She found that though her imagination did not stop supplying her with adventures, each one was flat and dull without a best friend to supply the extra magic. Emily Jane struggled on alone for a while, but at last, she knew that something must be done. She knew that Holly had seen a doctor, and she knew that she was taking medicine, but none of that seemed to be working. Emily Jane knew of only one thing that was strong enough for a problem like this.

Emily Jane and her imagination knocked on Holly’s front door and asked to see the patient. Holly’s mother sadly nodded, and with only one caution to be quiet and still, led Emily Jane upstairs. Emily Jane was shocked to see how pale and thin her best friend looked lying in the big bed, but holding her imagination tight, she bravely sat next to Holly and took her hand. Emily Jane looked at her friend’s white face and summoned all the power of her imagination. She imagined Holly’s cheeks were rosy and her eyes bright and her mouth smiling. She imagined Holly sitting up, full of energy, asking what they should do today. She imagined the two of them skipping down the stairs and out into the sunshine. Emily Jane held this picture in her imagination and waited. Always before, when Emily Jane saw something in her imagination, Holly made it come alive. Emily Jane squeezed her best friend’s hand, and whispered her imaginings over and over. Was that a tinge of pink she saw?

Emily Jane sat there for a long time, long after it became impossible even for her imagination to convince her that anything had changed. She did not know what to think or what to do. After what seemed like hours, a noise in the kitchen startled her, and she slipped down the stairs and out the door before anyone could see her and the tears on her face. Emily Jane went home and crept into her own room where she curled up on her own bed quietly. For the first time in her life, Emily Jane’s imagination had let her down. That it happened on the same day that her best friend also let her down was nearly unbearable.

The next day, Emily Jane did not imagine anything, or the day after that, or the day after that. In fact, a whole week went by without a single adventure. True, on the fifth day she found a whole tree laced up in cobwebs and her imagination began to whisper to her, but Emily Jane silenced it immediately. What good would defending silk fairies against giant spiders be without a best friend by your side? Refusing to listen to her imagination gave Emily Jane a grim satisfaction, but life was very grey when you only saw what was actually there. The week dragged to a close, and Emily Jane felt old and tired and sad as she thought of another lifeless week to come.

But Emily Jane’s imagination had had enough. One week of moping was all it could take, and since she wasn’t listening to it in the day time, it broke into her dreams and left a trail of wonderful ideas in her sleeping brain.

When Emily Jane woke up, she knew exactly what she was going to do. She pictured all the fun adventures that she and Holly had been on together and remembered all the things that made Holly smile. Then she got to work. Emily Jane baked cookies and she wrote stories and she cut out paper flowers and she built a fairy house out of bark and twigs. Each day, she carried one of Holly’s favorite things over to her house.

It didn’t work instantly, as magic is said to do. In fact, for the first several days, Emily Jane did not think it was working at all. But helping was so much better than moping. In fact, it was almost as good as imagining things. So she kept on day after day, until the day that one of her stories made Holly smile again. The next day, Emily Jane’s special blend of tea brought a slight pink tinge to Holly’s cheeks. One day soon after, Holly even sat up to put on the crown of leaves that Emily Jane had brought.

On the day that Holly could finally come outside again, Emily Jane decided to wake up her imagination. She knew she would need a very special adventure, and she hoped her imagination hadn’t gotten too rusty. Of course, it hadn’t. Though Emily Jane didn’t recognize it, her imagination had been working all this time, thinking up ways to make Holly feel better, and now that what was required to help Holly was an adventure, Emily Jane’s imagination had a spectacular one all prepared. A wagon pulled by wolf hounds (represented by one grumpy beagle), a picnic lunch in an Alpine meadow (or a tree house decorated with rocks and flowers), and a musical show put on by shooting stars (supplied by an old record player and leftover Christmas tinsel).

Emily Jane thought it was the best adventure yet, and Holly quite agreed. As they walked home at the end hand in hand, each girl felt filled up with love for her best friend, and even Emily Jane’s imagination could not think of anything better.

Little Pink Girl

In a little white house in the green, green woods lived a little pink girl with deep brown hair, and all the colors loved her.

In the morning rosy glowing gold reached through her window and woke her gently. Brown and black and white bounded in together on four feet to lick her hand, while green and red and yellow and blue sprang up in the garden to offer her food. All day long she played on brown and green, while blue looked on with a glowing yellow smile and reached out a sparkling aqua hand to wash away her tears when she tumbled and fell. At evening orange and purple gloriously fought for the right to tuck her in, and fluffy white cuddled her close until purply black came to sing her sleep.

Life was bright and happy in the little white house, and even small hurts were a part of the friendly flow of days as red met pink and was soothed by green and blue.

Still, small hurts are only a preparation for big ones, and it is the way of life to bring big hurts when we least expect them. And so it was for the little pink girl, who ran out of the green woods one day to find the little white house engulfed in angry orange and red, while a billowing gray blackened the blue above to a dingy color she had never seen. With wide eyes she watched as the orange and red fought, and when their war was over, the little white house was gone, and in its place was a pile of grayish black that was no color at all. This same non-color covered over the red and the yellow and the blue of the garden, and even the green had clothed itself in mourning brown.

Her brilliant, lovely world was gone, and the little pink girl felt lost. For a long while, she wandered about her old home, the only living color in a drab, lifeless landscape. Then she sat down on the hard, gray earth and cried brilliant tears, which ran pink and blue down her lovely face but fell colorless onto the dull ground. At last, unable to bear the loneliness any more, the little pink girl crept quietly into the green woods, deep into the green woods where she burrowed into warm brown and let the blackish purple steal over her and close her eyes in forgetful sleep for a while.

In the morning, the gold could not get through the tangle of leaves and branches, and so it was a pale dappled green that woke her to her new life. The little pink girl set about living, finding sustenance among the gray and brown that were all that could grow in these shadows. She wandered quite a ways, in fact, and found that everything seemed gray and brown, as if the same non-color that covered her beautiful garden had also coated her own eyes, and even her old friend green and her constant comforter blue were washed out to pale imitations of themselves. Without a home, she wandered day after day, searching for the colors she once knew, and night after night she returned to the brown to cry tears of a brilliancy that she could not see.

Still, unseen things are as real as the things we see, and the tears did their work very well, washing away a bit more gray each night and giving the little pink girl eyes that could see a bit better each day. So it was that one day, as she wandered through the shadowy green, the little pink girl saw a glimmer of gold ahead. With a tiny cry, she stumbled forward and burst into a clearing in the trees, a clearing she had never seen before and did not know was there, a clearing that was filled with golden light.

The shimmering gold glimmered off the living green all around and played over the rosy pink and glowed among the deep brown, and green and gold and pink and brown were the only colors to be found, and for that moment they were enough.

For everyone knows that where color lives, more color will come, and that is something that little pink girls, who carry the colors inside themselves, can always count on.

Bought and Sold

Once there was a girl named Molly and she was all alone in the world.  She didn’t live alone.  She lived with her aunt in a broken down house on the edge of town.  But her mother and father had died when she was just a little girl, and though her aunt was her father’s sister, she did not love Molly even a little bit.  No one did.  And that is how Molly knew she was all alone.

Being alone made Molly very sad, of course, but she always reminded herself that things could be worse.  Her aunt told her so.  She could be sold to gypsies.  This thought always made Molly shudder.  Her aunt told her often what that would be like.

When Molly was washing the dishes after dinner and accidentally broke a plate, her aunt said coldly that clumsy children would be sold to the gypsies, who would only give them bread and water to eat.

When Molly was bringing her aunt some tea in bed and accidentally spilled a bit on the covers, her aunt shrieked that the gypsies wouldn’t let her sleep in a bed, but make her wrap up in an old blanket on the ground in a tent.

When Molly’s aunt caught her singing while she pulled weeds in the garden, she told her to be very careful that no one ever heard such songs, or the gypsies would come and take her away and force her to stand up in front of many people and sing until her throat hurt and people booed and threw rotten fruit at her feet.

When Molly’s dress was torn by a dog on her way home from the market with the food for dinner, her aunt shrugged and said she must sew it up and wear it just the same.  Ungrateful girls would be sold to the gypsies who would dress her in bright orange and scarlet, and everyone would stare and point and laugh.

This was the thought that made Molly shiver at night.  She could be sold.  Sold like the animals in the town market.  Sold to dark and terrifying strangers who would carry her off to be seen by more strangers, and everyone who saw the little girl with pale skin and gold hair would know that she didn’t belong there, would know that her own family had not wanted her.  Molly determined to work very hard.

She did her best.  She cleaned the house without complaining.  She learned to make the special cookies that her aunt liked to have with her tea.  She made sure she did not complain and that no songs escaped when her aunt could hear them.  In fact, she was all but silent.  But still, nothing ever seemed quite right.  Her aunt pointed out that there was still dust on the mantle, and the cookies were too sweet, and Molly’s smile did not seem grateful enough.

Molly’s best was just not good enough, so she was not really surprised to see the old woman draped in scarves in the front yard speaking to her aunt.  She was not really surprised to see money passing from hand to hand.  She was not surprised when her aunt called her out into the yard, but she was very afraid.  She trembled as she closed the door carefully behind her, and could not look up even when her aunt told her to pack her things.

“No things,” said the old woman in a heavily accented voice.  “No need things.”

Molly felt tears in her eyes, but she didn’t dare cry them.  She wasn’t even allowed to have any of her own things.  She didn’t own anything worth bringing, but surely having worthless things was better than having nothing at all.

Before Molly knew what was happening, the old woman gripped her hand and led her out through the front gate.  Molly tried to find the voice to say good-bye, but nothing could get past the lump in her throat.  For just a moment, she lifted her eyes, but her aunt had already gone back into the house.  Molly swallowed a sob, but a little squeak came out anyway.  The old woman tightened her grip.  Her hand was very strong.

Molly hurried along next to the old woman, looking down at the ground, feeling misery all the way down to her bones.  She just knew that everyone in the town was looking at her, watching the old gypsy pull her along, whispering about how Molly had been sold.  It wasn’t until she saw tree roots under her feet that Molly realized they were walking into the forest and not through the town at all.  She looked up and saw trees on every side.  A few minutes later, they came out into a clearing full of wagons and people.

Molly had never seen anything like it.  The wagons were painted bright blue and red and green and yellow.  People were everywhere, setting up brightly colored tents, cooking food over fires, caring for horses, talking, laughing, children chasing around yelling.  It was all so loud and strange, and Molly had never been more scared in her life.

Molly was led into one of the wagons.  It was like a little house on wheels, and inside it was draped with brightly colored scarves and other brilliant things peeked out of cupboards.  At the back, a beautiful young woman with rich, dark hair and was wrapping a shawl around her shoulders.  The old woman said a few words that Molly could not understand and then left.  Molly tried not to stare at the beautiful girl, but she didn’t know where to look.

“Sit,” said the girl softly, and Molly sat on the only chair she could see.  She knew the best way to stay out of trouble was to obey without asking questions.  “We must find you a new dress,” the girl decided.  “That one will never do.”  Molly held back her tears.  It was just as her aunt had said.  She would have to wear something that made everyone stare.  And it was true that when the girl handed Molly a dress, it was colorful, brilliant green and golden yellow and pink. Fortunately, it was also soft and warm, and when Molly put it on, she did not feel as bad as she expected.  In fact, she felt comfortable, and she couldn’t help thinking that the colors were lovely, even if they would make people laugh at her.

That night Molly sat by the fire with the gypsies and listened as they talked and laughed.  She tried not to tremble, but she couldn’t help it.  She could not understand most of what was said.  She did not know where they were going to travel or what they were going to do to her.  When people started singing after dinner, she was careful not to let herself sing along, even though the music seemed to go inside her and swirl around and push against her throat.  She thought she could stand to work hard for these strangers, but she could not bear to be put in front of people and made to sing.

That night she slept in a tent with the beautiful girl.  It was just as her aunt said.  She was given some blankets and told to make her bed on the ground.  But it was not hard and dirty as she had thought.  Molly was cushioned by a pile of leaves which had been laid down under the tents.  Her blankets were warm, and she could hear the wind blowing in the branches outside, a soothing sound which lulled her to sleep almost immediately.

As the days went on, Molly found many things like that.  It was as if the gypsies were exactly what she expected…and yet not at all like she expected.  She was given work to do, sweeping and sewing and washing, but everyone in the camp seemed to work with her.  They all sang as they worked, and she found it very hard not to sing with them.  It was true that they all ate very simple food: bread and cheese and water to drink.  But Molly thought the bread was the tastiest thing she had ever had and the water came from a forest spring and was fresh and cold and wonderful.  No one tried to atlk to her.  Molly didn’t blame them.  She had been sold, and even the gypsies who bought her must know that she did everything wrong.  It didn’t matter anyway.  Everyone spoke a language that Molly didn’t understand.  Secretly, she thought it was beautiful, almost like music, and it made her want to be quiet since her own language was so ugly by comparison.  Only the lovely young woman spoke to her in her own language.  Molly was often with this girl, and she thought she must be some sort of gypsy princess, and Molly was meant to be her servant.  She tried hard to do things just as the girl asked, and she thought maybe she was succeeding since the girl seldom complained.

Things went on like this for a week, and Molly felt herself relaxing.  Everything was strange and she was still all alone, but she was used to that.  And there were some things that were wonderful here.  The best of these was the singing after dinner each night.  The music was so beautiful that Molly would forget who she was, forget that she was all alone and that she had been sold.  One night she even forgot that she must not sing, and her voice carried out and mixed with the other voices and she felt as if she had never lived before that moment.  When the song ended, she saw that everyone was looking at her.  Their smiles seemed terrible to Molly.  How they must be laughing.  Molly jumped up and ran to her tent.

A few minutes later, the beautiful girl stepped inside.  She was humming softly, and she got ready for bed quietly, without looking at Molly.  Molly was relieved, but she was also worried.  Was the girl so angry that she wouldn’t even speak to her?  Or worse, was she happy that Molly could now be used to sing on the street corners, thinking of the money she would bring in?  The girl blew out the lamp and laid down on her own bed.

“You have lovely voice,” the girl said into the darkness.  “The song was better tonight than it has ever been.”

Molly felt tears running down her cheeks.  She tried not to sniffle.

“You must sing more often,” said the girl.

This time a little sob escaped before Molly could stop it.

“Why do you cry?” asked the girl with concern, sitting up in bed.

Molly whispered into the dark, “Please don’t make me sing on the corners.”

“The corners?” said the girl, astonished.  “Oh.  I see.  You have seen the people singing on street corners.  Perhaps you were told that when you were sold, you too would be made to perform.”

Molly knew the girl could not see her nod, but she couldn’t talk.

“I was told such stories, too,” said the girl.  “I was told I would be made to dance before strangers who would laugh at me.  I was told I would be kept chained in a gypsy wagon and only let out for the dancing.”  She laughed.  “You can see that this is not true.”

Molly was so shocked she spoke without thinking.  “You were sold?”

“Not sold,” said the girl.  “Bought.”

Molly could not see the difference.

“I know it is hard not to be afraid,” the girl said.  “I know there were those who did not want you.  I know you feel alone.  But look around you.  Here everyone was unwanted once.  Here everyone was sent away.  And here no one is alone.  Were you sold?  Perhaps.  But you were also bought.  Bought by someone who wanted you here with us.  Who knew you would belong.”

Molly lay awake all night, thinking.  She could not quite believe what the girl had said, but for the first time, she felt a bubble of something inside her chest.  Something that felt light and hopeful.

The next morning, the thing Molly had dreaded, came.  The gypsies all began packing up the camp to travel far away.  Molly helped with the packing, and found that it was like everything else, different than she had expected.  She found that the idea of new places and new things did not feel frightening but exciting.  She found that the bubble inside was growing bigger.

That morning, Molly sat on the seat next to the beautiful girl as the wagons rolled through the forest and away from the life she had known, and off into a world that was never exactly as she expected, never quite what she had been told.

Glow

Every night when Lisa lay down, she put her light in a jar by the side of the bed.

After a long day of running and reading, of climbing and eating, of arguing and laughing, of flipping and thinking, Lisa had generated quite a glow.  Her face was bright and her fingertips shone and sparks flew at her every step.  It took some time to get every last bit into the jar, but when it was done she could lie on her side, peaceful and still, and gaze at the light until she slipped into dreams (which could never be dark with such radiance to watch over her).

Lisa wasn’t the only one comforted by her glow.  Nearly every night, her brother and sister would creep in and make little nests near the jar, snuggling up close with the light on their sleepy smiles.  The dog settled in nearby where one soft ray showed his ears perked up for any night sounds.  Even the owls, hunting in the outside night, came now and then and perched on the window frame to warm themselves before returning to their work.

How horrible, then, was the day that the jar disappeared!

In the morning, no one noticed.  With so many people to soak up the light, the jar was always quite dim when the sun rose up.  Lisa thought nothing of it.  She knew another long day of life would fill the jar to the brim by the time the sun’s light was gone.  That day was no exception.  It was only when she slipped into her pajamas, glittering from head to toe, that she realized there was no jar to hold her glow.

A frantic search produced no results.  Every member of the household was questioned carefully, including the dog (who thumped his tail in agitation, offended that he should be suspected and ashamed that he had not caught the thief himself).  No one had seen a thing.  Other jars were tried (and cups and bowls and even a teapot) but none of them could hold the light.  It always slipped right out and found its way back to Lisa.  At last there was nothing to do but try to sleep.  Lisa lay down, still aglow.

It was a long night.  Lisa’s radiance burned within her, the sparkle of it itching her skin.  She tossed and turned, too bright to sleep.  She was still awake at midnight when her sister came in and snuggled up against her side.  With someone else to draw some of the light, Lisa felt a bit better, but it was still another hour before exhaustion carried her away.  In the morning, the light had dimmed, and Lisa felt awful.

A long day followed that long night.  Lisa was too tired to run.  Her head hurt when she read.  It was hard to argue and harder to laugh.  Flips were out of the question.  Thinking was blurry at best.  It was no surprise that when night fell, her glow was not nearly as bright as usual.  She dreaded another night without the jar.

At the top of the stairs, the dog sat, tail held up at a jaunty angle.  His face radiated pride.  Lisa absently scratched his head as she went sadly into her room.  He followed with a bark and a nudge of her leg.  There by the bed was a jar.  This jar was much bigger than the old one, but just the same shape.  Lisa laughed and yelled, and all the family came running, and the dog wagged his tail, and everyone watched happily as Lisa put all her light into the jar.

Lisa’s sister said it must have been fairies.  Her brother thought it was Santa.  Her father suggested mice.  Her mother said some mysteries weren’t meant to be explained.  She was right.  No one in the family ever found out the truth of the old jar had gone or why or who had brought a new jar.  No one, that is, except the dog, and he wasn’t telling.

 

Beautiful

There once was a little girl so lovely and gentle that everywhere she went flowers bloomed in her footsteps.  Her name, quite fittingly, was Bella.  Her special gift of flowers, and her gentleness and beauty, made her very well loved everywhere she went.  Everyone in the village smiled when they saw her coming down the street.  Old men resting on front porches would spring up and offer their arm to escort her wherever she was going, enjoying the fragrance of their lost youth as they slowly walked along.  Housewives would bring Bella inside and feed her delicious meals, smiling on her gentle gratitude and feeling their cares lift for a few moments.  The old mayor of the village, an avid gardener, often invited Bella to spend time in his gardens, and though his flowers bloomed more beautifully after her visits, his invitations were not wholly selfish.  The mayor knew that Bella had no mother and father, and he wanted to be sure that she was well looked after.

Bella was not aware of his concern.  She may have had no mother and father, but she did have three older brothers that she lived with in the old family house outside the village.  Her brothers were all strong, gifted men, and they loved Bella very dearly.  “You are the light of our life,” they told her, and Bella thought that they were very kind to her when she was such a useless thing.  What Bella wanted more than anything was to be as splendid and useful as her brothers.  Her oldest brother, Henry, was a talented doctor.  People said there was healing in his hands, and they called for him whenever there was illness in the village.  Her second brother, Gerald, was a genius chef.  He had invented no less than fifty-six scrumptious ways to cook potatoes, and all the poor people in the village (who had nothing but potatoes to cook) sang his praises.  Bella’s third brother, Joseph, was a master builder.  He had built half of the newer houses in the village, and everyone claimed that even a hurricane could not make one of his roofs leak.

Bella loved her brothers and was proud of them.  She wished so much that she could help them.  She could not go along with Henry on his visits to the sick.  He must always move in a hurry, and her legs were too short for keeping up.  Gerald, of course, cooked for the whole family, and though he loved to have Bella in the kitchen with him, she was too small to help with the chopping and measuring.  Sometimes Joseph would take Bella along to his worksites.  He called her his assistant, and she handed him tools, but she knew that he would have worked even faster if she weren’t there.  Bella tried to take on other tasks at home.  She made the beds, but she was so little she had to crawl on them to tuck in the corners, so they ended up wrinkly instead of smooth and neat.  She wanted to wash the windows and scrub the floors, but the buckets of water were too heavy for her.  One day she walked back and forth many times wetting a cloth and cleaning what she could.  She was so exhausted after several hours of this that she fell asleep before dinner.

Her brothers, tired after a long day of working, found trails of flowers all over the house and Bella curled up on her bed.  They smiled and tucked her in and ate their dinner together with the lovely smell of flowers in the air.  They felt so refreshed after an hour surrounded by the flowers that they each began to work on a little project to surprise Bella.  Henry took Bella’s favorite doll, which had recently been torn by the cat in the barn, and sewed her up with his healing hands.  Gerald baked a special cake, taking flavors from Bella’s flowers and blending them in a delicious sweetness.  Joseph built a little cradle for Bella’s doll to sleep in, with sturdy rockers and a beautiful carving of flowers all around the edges.

When Bella woke up in the morning, she saw the three gifts sitting beside her bed, her sweet doll, all mended and sleeping in her wonderful cradle next to the table with the tempting cake set out on a plate.  She felt so happy and so ashamed at the same time.  Happy to have such wonderful brothers who gave her such wonderful presents and ashamed that she had fallen asleep without being useful…again.

That day was Wednesday.  On Wednesdays, Bella always went to visit Widow Halloway, who was quite blind and loved to have company.  When Bella arrived at the widow’s house, the widow, as always, knew it was her before she even knocked on the door.  “Come in, Bella,” she called.  Bella smiled.  She wondered how the widow did it every time.  Of course, it was because the smell of the flowers trailing behind Bella came to the old woman’s sensitive nose, but Bella was so used to the flowers she hardly noticed them any more.  Bella had brought Gerald’s cake with her to share with the widow, but as she sat cutting it, she couldn’t help thinking again about how little she deserved such a wonderful gift.  “What is wrong, child?” asked the widow.  “You are sad today.”  Bella told her everything, looking sadly at the table so that she did not notice the old woman’s smile.  When she was done, Bella looked up.  The widow sat quietly for such a long time that Bella thought she must be very disgusted by Bella’s uselessness.  They ate the wonderful cake in silence until it was time for Bella to go home.  As Bella went to the door and said good-bye, the widow laid a gnarled hand on Bella’s shoulder and said quietly, “The important thing in life, Bella, is to think about what you can do and not about what you can’t.”

Bella thought about this all the way home.  She tried to think about what she could do while she listened to the busy bees visiting the flowers in her trail and sipping the nectar to take home for their honey.  She tried not to think about all the things she couldn’t do while she picked flowers from her footprints and left them on the door steps of several friends.  But that was just it, she thought, other than the flowers there was nothing special about her at all.  Then Bella stopped.  Why “other than the flowers”?  The flowers were one thing she could do.  She had been surrounded by them for so long that they did not seem particularly wonderful any more, but she knew that others enjoyed them.  Bella smiled.  The flowers were very beautiful.  Beauty was not as important as usefulness, but it was something.

So Bella used her gift on purpose.  She asked Henry who in the village was sick, and though she could not keep up with him on his rounds, she walked at her own pace to each house, leaving behind the gift of flowers at the bedside of each invalid.  She asked Gerald which flowers made the best flavorings and picked those especially to leave with housewives struggling to turn plain food into something tasty for their families.  She visited Joseph each time he finished a new house and spent time leaving behind a garden to surprise the new occupants.  Beauty, which of course is entirely useful in the things that really matter, went to work.  The people in the village had never smiled so often as they did that week.  Bella’s brothers had never been so effective in their work as they were that next month.  And Bella was happier than she had ever been.

The Way Home

Once there was a girl named Elise who had no home.  She had a place where she lived.  In was a long low building made out of bricks, she slept each night in a tiny room next to many more tiny rooms full of girls like herself.  In the day, she worked hard carrying water from the stream up to the giant house that loomed over everything and pulling weeds in the vast gardens and scraping moss off the stones of the high walls that encircled her world.  Elise had spent every day for as long as she could remember inside those walls and every night on that small hard bed.  But that was not a home.

Elise knew what a home was supposed to be.  She had a picture in her head, almost like something she had dreamed, a picture of a warm circle of firelight and a table with bowls and steaming soup and a woman’s face smiling as she cut a loaf of bread.  Elise did not know where this picture came from, but she was sure it was real, and she wanted with all her heart to find that cozy room and that gentle, smiling face.

Early one morning, Elise woke up from a particularly beautiful dream of home.  She crept out of bed and went outside.  She was happy to see that it was still dark.  All of the workers woke up at the first sign of light, but right now Elise had a few minutes to be all alone.  Suddenly Elise was aware of a soft glow coming from over by the nearest wall.  It wasn’t the golden glow of the sun rising, and it wasn’t the flickering glow of a fire.  It was a warm pinkish glow.  Elise couldn’t help herself; she walked quickly toward the light.

The wall loomed above her when she finally saw what was causing that glow.  Eight enormous pink balloons were floating down next to the wall, each carrying a package.  An excited voice caused Elise to duck behind a tree.  She peeked out to see two men untying all the packages from the balloon strings.  As soon as the last string was untied, the pink balloons floated up and up again.  The men immediately turned and began carrying all the packages up to the big house, but Elise could not take her eyes off those pink globes.  They drifted high, casting their soft light in gentle circles on the wall, then they were over the wall and soaring away, out of sight.  Soon even the last faint light was gone.  Then Elise realized that the sun was coming up, and she turned and ran so that she wouldn’t be late for her chores.

But all that day Elise thought of the balloons.  She wondered who sent them.  She wondered what was in the packages tied to their strings.  Most of all, she wondered where they went when they floated away over that wall.  How she wished that she could float away like those balloons!  To rise higher and higher , to feel the wind on her face as she left the earth behind, to finally see what was on the other side  of that wall.

For many nights after that, Elise went out to look for the balloons, but they did not come back.  She began to wonder if she had dreamed the whole thing.  That feeling, though, that yearning for freedom, would not go away.  All day long, she stared at the walls as she did her work.  She found it harder and harder to sleep at night.  Dreams were not enough any more.

So Elise decided to act.  Maybe the balloons weren’t coming back again, but they had come once, and that was proof that something was out there.  She would climb the wall.  She had experience climbing it halfway to clean off the ever growing moss.  The wall was high, but she was sure she could make it if she wasn’t caught.  Elise packed up her spare dress and a little food she had sneaked from the kitchen.  She tied the bundle over her shoulders, and she waited until the darkest part of the night.

Elise had been so sleepless lately that she was very good at sneaking around in the dark.  She crept toward the wall without making a sound.  She had chosen to climb in the spot where she had seen the balloons come over the wall.  It just seemed right.  Finding small holes for her fingers and toes, Elise began to creep up the wall.

She was about halfway up when she noticed the glow.  Her heart began to pound.  The balloons were coming back.  Tonight of all nights!  Soon the men would be coming to get the packages.  They were sure to see her.  Before she could even move, the first pink balloon drifted over the wall.  Elise clung there, unmoving.  There was nothing else to do.

There were only three balloons this time, and they were all the way on the ground before Elise heard the voices coming.  The men grumbled a bit about the late hour.  Elise closed her eyes and held on, barely daring to breath.  She counted the seconds.  The men were directly below her now.  They were untying the packages.  Soon they would turn to go.  Elise began to hope that she wouldn’t be noticed.  The balloons began to rise beneath her.

Then she heard a shout.  “Hey!  You!  Hey, guys, there’s someone on the wall!  You, now, come down from there!”

In that most terrifying of moments, Elise laughed.  She always laughed when she was afraid.  The fear just seemed to gurgle up in her throat until some came tumbling out, and then the fear inside was less.  The laugh unfroze her muscles and she started climbing again.  The balloons cast their warm glow on her as the drifted in her direction.

Something brushed against Elise’s foot and tumbled away.  The men below were throwing up a rope, hoping to catch her leg and pull her down.  They must have been too big to climb.  Elise laughed again and moved a bit higher.  Then the rope touched her foot again.  This time it did not fall away.  It was around her ankle.  A big tug almost made her fall.  She kicked her leg as hard as she could, hoping the rope would fall.  It stayed.  Holding on with one hand, Elise reached down with her other to pull off the rope.  She was able to get one finger into the loop and pull.

Then several things happened at once.  The loop of rope slipped off her foot, causing her to gasp in relief.  Then the rope heaved in her hand before she could let go.  It was just enough to wrench her other hand away from the wall.  Elise was falling.  She had about two seconds to imagine herself hitting the ground far below before she flopped onto something soft and round.  She was facing down, looking at the men below her, but something was pushing against her stomach.  Pushing her up.  The pink glow left no doubt as to what it was.

Curling herself around the balloon, Elise held on as it floated higher.  She held on as it drifted over the wall.  She held on as she watched the trees go by beneath her, as she crossed a river, as she saw the wide world that was outside the wall.  She held on until the three balloons slowly came to rest outside a small cottage with a red roof and a green door.

The sun was coming up as the door opened.  “I knew if we kept sending the balloons, one day they would bring you back to us.”

Elise was so tired from her long journey she could barely see the warm, smiling face as a pair of arms lifted her off of the balloon.  She was only just aware of a warm fire in the fireplace as she was carried inside and tucked into a bed.  Was that soup and baking bread that she smelled?

In that soft cozy bed, she drifted into sleep, and she didn’t have any dreams at all, but the best dream of all was waiting for her when she awoke.

In Your Eyes

Once upon a time there was a king, named Henry, and his queen, named Helen, who ruled a beautiful kingdom full of sun and rain and flowers and trees and farms and towns and people who were happy just with living their lives and loving their families.  King Henry and Queen Helen loved each other very much, and even though they were very busy taking care of their kingdom they were just thinking it was about time to have children and be happy with a family of their own when some bad news reached them.

It seemed that an evil witch had just taken control of the neighboring kingdom.  She had killed its king and made its queen disappear and made all the people of the kingdom into her slaves.  Worse, she wanted to take control of the whole world.  It was only a matter of time before she attacked King Henry and Queen Helen’s kingdom.  The messenger who brought them this bad news was a young man who had short brown hair and large blue eyes and a very crooked nose.  He told them all about the evil witch and how she had the power to change what anyone looked like.  She could make herself young or old, tall or short, beautiful or ugly.  And she could do the same to anyone she touched.  Often she would make her soldiers look like women or young children so that those fighting against them did not like to hurt them.  That was how she came to power.

Queen Helen had been looking at this messenger for a long time, looking past that crooked nose and into those large blue eyes.

“Can she even make a woman look like a man?”

“Yes.”

“Could she make someone with flowing golden hair have short brown hair instead?”

“Yes.”  The messenger looked at the floor.  He seemed about to cry.

“Gwendolyn?  Is that you?” Queen Helen asked.

The boy really did cry, but he nodded his head.

Queen Helen had recognized the eyes of her old friend, Queen Gwendolyn of the neighboring kingdom.

When Queen Gwendolyn, now disguised as a young boy, stopped crying, she told how the witch had broken into the castle and changed her, how many soldiers had come before the witch could change the king also like she had planned, how the queen had run away when she saw herself in the mirror, and how her husband the king had been so upset at her disappearance that he had ridden into battle himself and been killed.  “It’s all my fault,” she sobbed.  “I should have stayed close.  But I was afraid no one would know me looking like this, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to.”

Queen Helen hugged her friend and told her not to blame herself and thanked her for bringing this news to them so that they could be prepared for the witch’s attacks.

They didn’t have long to prepare.

The very next day, the witch and her soldiers attacked the kingdom.  King Henry rode out with his army and they fought for many long days.  It was very hard.  Ad Queen Gwendolyn had warned them, the witch would change the appearance of her soldiers.  Sometimes they would look just like an innocent young woman…right up until they attacked you.  Sometimes they would look just like you, so that you had to fight yourself.  Sometimes they would look very like someone you knew from home, so that you felt as though you were killing a friend.  But King Henry urged his men to be strong.  He told them what Queen Helen had seen in her friends eyes and urged them to look into their enemies’ eyes to see the truth.  This helped.  No matter how much a soldier might look like a friend, he always had the eyes of an enemy.  Many of King Henry’s soldiers began wearing special helmets with small eye holes that helped them look only at the enemies’ eyes and not the rest of their appearance.  It looked like King Henry was about to win the war.  The witch’s soldiers were retreating back over the mountains and into the neighboring kingdom.

But the witch had one more plan.

While King Henry was at war, the witch sent several of her best men, disguised as palace servants, to kidnap Queen Helen.  They brought her to the witch’s tent, high in the mountains between the two kingdoms.  The witch laughed as she put her hand on Queen Helen’s beautiful head.  “With you gone, the king will have no will to stand against me any more.”  Then she changed Queen Helen so that she was unrecognizable and sent her to another tent to be kept under guard until the war was over.  Ten guards stood outside the tent on all sides.  Inside, Queen Helen sat and thought and maybe cried a little but mostly thought about what to do.   When she was done thinking she knew two things.  First, that she had to get back to King Henry no matter how far away he was or what she looked like now.  Second, that the way she looked was actually going to help her get free.

When King Henry heard that Queen Helen was missing, he was heartbroken.  He went to his own tent on the edge of the battlefield and sat down and thought and maybe cried a little but mostly thought about what to do.  When he was done thinking he knew two things.  First, that he needed to find Queen Helen no matter where she was or what she looked like now.  Second, that the only way to find Queen Helen was to first win this war.

The first thing that Queen Helen did was rip her dress.  It looked ridiculous on her now anyway.  Then she went to the door of the tent and asked the guards if they could please get her a needle and thread to fix her dress.  They felt sorry for her, so they did.  Then Queen Helen worked away day and night inside the tent, sewing and sewing and sewing.  When she was done, she had all new clothes to wear, clothes that looked just like the ones the women wore who brought her food.  She put them on and waited.  First thing in the morning, the old guards went off to eat, and new guards took their place.  Just when they were changing, an old woman came to bring the queen her food.   She slipped it inside without even looking and hurried away.  Quick as a wink, Queen Helen dumped the food out and walked out of the tent, carrying the empty dishes.  The new guards nodded at her, thinking that she was one of the kitchen workers.  Queen Helen calmly walked through the camp to the kitchen tent.  She got some food.  She left the dirty dishes.  Then when no one was looking, she just walked away into the woods and started making her way home.

Meanwhile, King Henry had gathered together his whole army.  He told them about Queen Helen disappearing and their only chance of rescuing her was to win this battle.  Then they attacked the witch’s soldiers more fiercely than they ever had.  It was a long battle.  It lasted without stopping for three whole days.  At the end, King Henry and his men were exhausted, but they found themselves right in the witch’s camp in the mountains.  The few of her men who were left were all running away through the woods.  The witch herself was nowhere to be seen, but that was not surprising.  No one even knew what she really looked like.

King Henry didn’t worry himself about the witch, though.  Without even stopping to sleep, he rode all the way home to the castle to begin looking for Queen Helen.  And so it was, that while Queen Helen was slowly walking toward home, a journey that would take months without a horse to ride, King Henry was searching his kingdom.  Starting with the castle, he walked up and down every hall, opened every door, turned up every street, knocked at every house.  Pausing only to eat and sleep when he absolutely had to, he looked into the eyes of every person he met, looking for the one pair of eyes he would recognize in an instant.

This went on for several weeks.  Finally, even the King’s friends were starting to tell him he should give up.  Queen Helen could be dead.  She could look like anyone.  How would he ever know.  But he would not stop.  He looked into face after face.  He studied the eyes of small children and old men.  He talked to fat innkeepers and slender young women.   Blue eyes, brown eyes, hazel eyes, green eyes, eyes that twinkled, eyes that filled with tears to see his sad face, but none were the eyes he loved.

Finally, one day, in a village far from the castle, he came out of a house and saw an old woman coming up the lane.  She was walking with a stick and looking at the ground and was bent over as if exhausted.  Hurrying over to her, the King gave her his arm and led her to a nearby bench to rest.

“Thank you, young man,” she said and looked up into his eyes.

The King gasped.  “Helen!”

Her beautiful eyes filled with tears.  Without even answering, she buried her face in his shoulder.

“Come,” said King Henry.  “We will get you home.”

Queen Helen just smiled up at him through her tears.  “I am home,” she said.

The end.

But just in case you were wondering….

The queen lived as an old woman for a year and a day.  She and King Henry were very happy to be together and to have their kingdom safe again, but sometime they felt a little sad that they would never have a family of their own.  Then one day, all of a sudden, Queen Helen woke up and was herself, young and beautiful.  All over the kingdom, people who had been changed turned suddenly back to the way they were before.  And so they knew that the witch must be dead.  They never found out how she died, but I have since been told that it is a very good story all on its own.

Maggie and the Flying Saucer, Part 2

Maggie and Tabby flew along in the saucer, down out of the mountains, over the plains and finally toward a deep canyon. Maggie felt her tummy flip-flop as the saucer dropped down into the canyon at full speed, but it came to a rest at the bottom as lightly as a cat landing on its paws.

Tabby jumped out of the saucer just as lightly. Maggie followed him into a nearby cave.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“To Lava City,” said Tabby. “It’s down here a ways. Just around the corner you can see the glow.”

Maggie thought that lava city sounded a little more dangerous than Snow City. She was already starting to feel very warm. The bottoms of her feet were burning a little. Then she turned the corner and her mouth dropped open. She was standing on the edge of a drop off, and at the bottom a river of lava was flowing. All along the cliffs on both sides of the river, stone houses, glowing with heat. It was beautiful. Scary, too. But even though at first she was afraid she might fall over the edge, she quickly saw that there was a tall guard rail all along the walkway where they were standing. Wide steps led down the side of the cliff, also bordered by a secure wall that reached almost to Maggie’s shoulder.

Maggie was just about to start down the stairs when Tabby stopped her. “First we put on shoes,” he said. “The ground is quite hot down there.” He turned and showed her a set of cubby holes in the wall to their right. Each little cubby held a pair of shoes made out of what looked like rock.

“I’m already wearing shoes,” said Maggie.

“Why, so you are!” exclaimed Tabby. “Extraordinary. Still, unless they are made of flint or something stronger, you will probably want to change them. Lava city can be very hard on the feet.”

Maggie changed her shoes for a pair of rock shoes. She thought they would be very heavy and hard to walk in, but surprisingly they were quite light. Just wearing them made Lava City seem more wonderful and not scary at all. She followed Tabby down the stairs smiling. About halfway down to the lava river, Tabby turned off the stairs and went into a little cafe built right into the cliff. There were no windows in the cafe, but it was all lit up with red light that came from its own mini river of lava running down one wall and along a groove in the floor. Tabby chose a stone table and ordered up two hot chocolates.

To say that the hot chocolate was hot didn’t begin to describe it. When the stone mugs arrived at their table, Maggie couldn’t even get close enough to blow on it. She leaned back and waited, watching the spirals of steam coming off of her hot chocolate. When she did finally taste it, though, she could see why Tabby brought her all this way. It was like drinking the most delicious chocolate bar she had ever eaten. It was not too sweet and perfectly creamy. When she was finished, she wanted another, but when Tabby asked her if she’d like to stay for dinner, she suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be home for dinner. She hoped it wasn’t already too late. Her mother hated it when she was late for dinner.

“I have to go!” said Maggie. “My mother expects me at home.”

“Of course!” said Tabby. “Right away.”

They both leaped up from the table and dashed back up the stairs. In just a matter of moments, they were both in the saucer and taking off for Maggie’s house. Maggie could see the sun going down, and she would have been worried if she hadn’t been so amazed at how fast the saucer was flying. They were going at least twice as fast as they had before, and the world whirled away below them. In no time at all they were back at the tree where Tabby had found Maggie.

“Thank you so much,” said Maggie as she climbed back onto the branches and down the tree. “I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”

“It was my pleasure,” called out Tabby. “We’ll do it again sometime!” The saucer was already soaring up and disappearing into the clouds as Maggie ran toward home.

She was just in time. Her mother was putting the plates on the table when Maggie dashed in. Without even looking, Maggie’s mother said, “Take your shoes off and go wash up, Maggie.”

Maggie looked down at her feet and gasped. She had been in such a hurry to get home…she had forgotten to change her shoes! As quickly as possible, Maggie slipped off the stone shoes and hurried to her room. Her mother never saw anything. With a grin, Maggie stashed them under her bed. It was just as well, she thought, as she went to wash her hands. She would be needing some more of that hot chocolate soon.