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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Saturday, May 5, 2012
The Mission BeginsThomas loped like a cat across the frosty field, darting between sagebrush and tumbleweed, keeping his green eyes peeled. On the lookout Thomas was, and why not? For he was hot on the trail of a rascal and a thief. Oh yes, there was mischief afoot, and a good deal of grief. Thomas was in his prowling mode, heading towards the stone gate on Cemetery Road.
Thomas could lope like a cat because he was a cat. Not a big cat, like a lion or a tiger, but large for his species, which was House. Thomas was a House Cat. But not just any house cat. Thomas was a spy cat, and he was out on this cold October night to carry out a spy mission. What mission, you ask? A mission to discover the identity of the infamous Funerary Flower Thief! The FFT, for short, or as Thomas said, the “phfft.”
Thomas stopped at the old stone gate. He thought I’d better hesitate. Alert to every move and sound he looked around, first to the right, and then to the left, and then to the sky, and then to the ground -- up into the bare branches of trees hulking overhead, and down at the grey, gravel path upon which his four feet tread. Satisfied that the coast was clearly clear, Thomas the spy cat thought, I have nothing to fear, and padded softly on his furry paws through the stone gate that looked like a giant’s jaws.
The Spy Cat SpyingA full moon hung in the darkening sky, melting mysteriously among the hovering clouds. A chill wind moaned with a mournful sigh, scattering the dry leaves that laid like shrouds across clustered graves.
Thomas stopped beside a looming gravestone and sniffed the air. “Whooo,” came a voice from somewhere high above and Thomas crouched, cat like (because, remember, he was a cat), beneath the red leaves of a spiny Barberry bush. “Whoo,” came the cry again. And then, whoosh, above his head flew a great white owl. You have to be careful when you’re out on the prowl!
A great, dark cloud moved across the moon, and Thomas thought, It’s not too soon. The flower thief might be here now. He moved beneath a low hanging bough where unobserved he could observe, a new grave. A simple marble memorial stone engraved with R.I.P stood at the head of the grave, and there by the stone were fresh flowers fittingly placed by family members in remembrance of their dear departed.
Thomas settled down to wait and watch. He placed his front feet out in front, with his white paws poised to leap, and his back feet under his russet rump, with his white paws poised to jump, and he let his long, and furry tail lay out behind, and he kept it there, unconfined, so just its tip could twitch and switch. And Thomas waited there like that – the watchful, wary, sly spy cat.
The Villain CapturedThomas thought about his quest. Who was the culprit stealing flowers meant for dear ones laid to rest? Who would do this, Thomas wondered, all these grave adornments plundered?
He listened closely. Heard a rustle. Something moving in the leaves. Are those the sounds of flower thieves?
Thomas tensed his every muscle, ready to leap, to pounce, to tussle. What’s behind that bush, that bower? Something’s pulling on that flower! I think I’d better try and grab it!
And Thomas jumped upon a… a rabbit. “Hey, that’s not funny,” said the fuzzy, soft brown bunny.
It squirmed, and writhed, and wriggled. “I’m just here to have a snack. Why did you give me such a whack?”
“Why, why? I’ll tell you why,” said Thomas. “You’re stealing flowers from a grave. Is that the way one should behave?”
The bunny said, “I have to eat! I thought they were a lovely treat. Now let me up. Don’t be so silly. Let me go and eat my lily.”
“Those flowers aren’t for you,” the spy cat said. “They’re there in honor of the dead. You can’t eat them, silly bunny.”
The bunny stopped its wriggling and suddenly started giggling.
“Well, I don’t eat the whole, darn wreath; a flower here, a flower there. Do the dear departed care?”
Thomas gave the hare a glare, green eyes flashing, cat teeth gnashing. “The families care you little thief. If you don’t stop, I’ll give you grief!”
“Okay, alright, I will agree,” the bunny said, “But set me free.”
“And do you promise not to eat the lilies, roses, or carnations?”
“Yes, I promise,” said the naughty little rabbit. “I will break my eating habit. From now on I won’t eat much, just some greens and roots and such, and perhaps a few impatiens.”
So Thomas set the bunny free.
And off the little rabbit hopped, his rabbit paws going thwop, thwop, thwop.
A Frightening NightThomas sat and watched the rabbit disappear across the grass and through the bushes. Then he rose and padded softly through the cemetery and out the stone gate, back down Cemetery Road, back across the frosty field, towards home. Mission accomplished, he thought.
As he turned and headed down the block, he saw a shadow dart across the street, and then another. Thomas jumped into the bushes and hunkered down. What was that! And then he saw it. Some wispy, white thing floating furtively down the street followed by another frightening apparition dressed in black.
Thomas leaped up and raced across the lawns of neighbor’s homes until he slid to a sudden stop at his own front door. He gave the signal for the door to be opened, “Meow, meow,” he said, glancing frantically down the block where shapes too gruesome to contemplate came closer.
Finally, the door opened. His mistress stood there peering down at him.
“Why Thomas Cat, where have you been? It’s cold outside. You must come in!” And Thomas dashed right through the door and slid across the hardwood floor.
“Why what’s the matter, you silly cat?” His mistress said, just like that.
How could she know that just outside, witches on their broomsticks ride?
Feeling safer now, Thomas tried to look nonchalant. He decided to wash up a bit. He lifted a paw and with his rough, pink tongue began to clean it. I’ll neaten up, and then have a bite to eat, thought Thomas.
Just then there was a fearsome banging on the door. Thomas leaped high into the air and ran and hid beneath a chair. He saw his mistress move towards the door. NO! Don’t open it! Thomas thought, but all he could say was “Meow!”
The mistress reached out and took the door handle in her hand and Thomas heard the click of the latch unlatching. She’s going to let them in, he thought, those scary ghosts and goblins. Thomas, the spy cat, sat trembling under the chair too frightened to retreat. He heard the door swing open, the sound of shuffling feet, and then the happy shouts of
“Trick or treat! Trick or treat!”
The EndThe cat in the picture is Thomas Samuel Katt. He came to Kennewick in the back of a moving van and adopted my father, who suggested that Thomas would be happier with us, where he is now. The graveyard pictured is in Ireland somewhere out on the windswept moors. The bunny lives at Cannon Beach, Oregon, at a lodge in Ecola State Park. The boy trick or treating is Logan Matthew, our 3 year-old grandson.
Grandma Boogler’s going to take a trip to see her grandson, Bobby, in Vienna.
She needs a trunk, a bag, or grip to pack her clothes in for the trip.
But she and Grandpa Boogler have only one trunk and Grandpa Boogler stuck it under his dusty, musty old bunk.
“Where is that darned trunk,” says Grandma Boogler with a shout. “I’ll bet old Grandpa has it somewhere,” Grandma says, as she looks about.
Grandpa’s climbed up on the roof to fix the old TV antenna.
Grandma hollers up at him, “Hey Gramps, where is that trunk we had? I need to pack it for my trip.”
“What, what did you say?” Asks Grandpa, whose hearing’s not so good.
“A bag, a trunk, or grip. I am packing for a trip,” shouts Grandma.
“Oh don’t you worry Grandma dear, Grandpa says. “I’m hanging on and I won’t slip.”
“Slip, I don’t need another slip, I need a suitcase for my trip,” Grandma yells.
To make a long story short, Grandma Boogler finally found a trunk.
She packed it up with all her clothes, her lipstick, rouge, and other junk.
Then she went out and hollered, “Grandpa Boogler, come in and carry out my trunk!”
So Grandpa Boogler carried the trunk out and loaded it in the bed of his truck.
Grandma jumped in the truck and Grandpa cranked the engine. He was in luck.
That old truck started with a snort, and Grandpa and Grandma Boogler drove down the road towards the airport.
It was a very bumpy road. And Grandpa’s truck was carrying a big load. Not only did he have Grandma’s trunk, he also had a big box of frogs that he was bringing to Farmer Boggs pond to eat the mosquitoes that were pestering Farmer Bogg’s hogs. “Take it easy!” Grandma yelled, as Grandpa sped down the road. “You’re bouncing my trunk all over the place.” And sure enough, Grandpa hit a big bump and Grandma’s trunk bounced right out of the truck. The trunk flew open when it landed and all her clothes went flying up in the wind. “Why lookee there,” Grandpa said, “Is that pajamas up ahead?”
“What did you say?” Asked Grandma. “You want to be fed? Why ain’t you had lunch?”
Neither Grandma nor Grandpa knew that Grandma’s trunk had flown out and gone “crunch!”
By the time Grandpa pulled up to the departure gate at the airport it was almost time for Grandma’s plane to leave. Grandma jumped out of the truck and ran into the airport to get her ticket. She yelled back at Grandpa, “Grab my trunk and carry it up to the counter, Grandpa!” And old Grandpa Boogler ran around the back and grabbed that box full of frogs and huffing and puffing, he carried it up to the counter and Grandma told the airline agent, “Check that trunk through to Vienna, will yah honey?” And the agent did.
The Marinaras, Matthew and his dad and mom..., oh, and their cat, Claw, lived in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. It was a small town and everyone seemed to know everyone else. And they seemed to know everyone else's business. So everyone was surprised when Mr. Splutter, the mail carrier, marched up to the Marinara’s door and announced that there was a letter for Matthew.
“Who is it from?” asked Matthew.
“Not my business,” said Mr. Splutter. “Besides, there’s no return address.”
Matthew studied the envelop. Sure enough, it didn’t have a return address, just a couple of marks in the left corner that looked like geese flying. “Hmm,” said Matthew, turning the envelop this way and that.
Claw rubbed against Matthew’s leg looking for attention. Matthew reached down with the letter and said, “Who do you think this is from, Claw?”
Claw sniffed the envelop, arched his back, and his fur stood straight up. He let out a yowl and dashed off upstairs.
“Silly cat,” said Matthew. He tore open the envelop and read the letter. It said,
Dear Mr. Matthew Marinara;
You are invited to a dinner to be held in your honor at the home of Baron Timothy Von Tinymann tomorrow evening at 1800 sharp. Guests may include very important people, such as the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the head of the school district, and members of the city council. You would be wise not to disappoint these VIPs.
RSVP, which, if you don’t know French, means, Are You Coming or Not, Please (and you better be coming).
Very Respectfully yours,
His Royal Hindend, Timothy Von Tinymann, III, Baron of Kugelkase
Gosh, I wonder why I’m being honored, Matthew thought. Maybe because I did my homework this week? No, that can’t be it. I didn’t do my homework.
Matthew scratched his head. Why am I being honored? he asked himself. Maybe it’s because I didn’t tease the cat, thought Matthew. No, Matthew said to himself, you don’t get rewarded for not doing bad things. You get rewarded for doing good things.
“Let’s see,” Matthew said to himself, “Did I help Papa take the garbage out? No. Did I help Mama wash the dinner dishes? No. Did I put away my toys? No.”
Matthew thought and thought, but he could not think of anything he did to deserve being honored, especially by “very important people,” like the Baron and his VIP guests.
He ran into the kitchen and showed his mother the letter. “Why do you think I’m being honored, Mama? he asked.
Mama Marinara looked at the note. “Who is Baron Von Tinymann?” she asked Matthew.
“He’s a very important person, and he is holding a dinner in my honor,” Matthew said, proudly.
“That’s nice, dear,” said Matthew’s mama, and then she turned back to the pasta sauce she was making.
Matthew ran into the living room where his papa was sitting reading the paper. “Papa, papa!” Matthew shouted. “Look at this note.”
Papa Marinara lowered his paper and glanced at the note. “Hmm,” he said.
“Why do you think I’m being honored, Papa?” Matthew said.
Matthew’s papa said, “Ask your mama, Matthew,” and went back to reading the paper again.
Matthew walked slowly back to his room and sat on his bed, staring at the letter. There must be a good reason, he thought. I’ll just have to go and find out. He went to his desk and wrote a note. It said:
Dear Baron Von Tinymann;
I am coming to dinner, but I don’t know why.
Matthew Marinara, Kid of Goodly Street, Happy Valley, PA
The next evening, Matthew put on his good slacks, shoes, and shirt, and pulled a warm sweater on. Then he put on his heavy coat, shoved the dinner invitation in his pocket, and went to the front door.
“Bye!” he shouted, and dashed out.
Matthew wasn’t sure how he found the Baron Timothy Von Tinymann home; somehow he knew it would be on the very top of the hill, and it was -- way up there playing hide and seek in the clouds.
Matthew came to a wall so high he could not see the top. In the middle of the wall were two tall flamingoes facing each other. Matthew stared at them.
“What are you staring ahtttt?” the flamingoes squawked.
“Uh...” Matthew stammered. “I’m here for the dinner.”
“What dinner?” the flamingo on the left asked.
“The dinner in my honor; I’m Matthew--”
Before Matthew could finish saying his name, the flamingo on the right said to his partner, “He’s the guest of honor, you bird brain.”
“Oh dear, then we should open,” the other flamingo said and the two flamingoes turned and opened like a giant bird gate, feathers flapping apart in welcome.
Matthew walked through the flamingo bird gate and headed towards the house. He walked and walked, up and up he went, until he was breathing hard and wondering if he’d ever get there. Finally he came to the front door. He saw a big door knocker shaped like a serpent and standing on his tip toes, grasped it and banged it on the door.
“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” the door knocker shouted. “Sissss-pose, I banged your head on the door,” the serpent said. “How would feel about that?”
“I’m sorry,” said Matthew. “I wanted to get in.”
“Well, ssssssilly, why don’t you open the door?”
Matthew turned the door handle and the big door swung open, its hinges squealing like Grandpa Marinara’s old wheel barrel.
Matthew walked into a cavernous entry hall filled with dusty statues. The walls were hung with dark paintings of castles, and mountains, and oceans. A giant chandelier hung overhead. Most of the lights in the chandelier were out and it gave off only a faint, ghostly light.
Matthew’s footsteps echoed on the cold floor tiles.
Matthew said a weak, “Hello?”
No one answered.
He said, “Hello” louder, and still no answer.
Then he shouted “Hello! and his voice echoed around the empty room, “Hello lo lo lo lo.”
Matthew decided he’d either got the date of the dinner wrong, or someone was playing a joke on him, and he turned and was about to leave when he heard, “Master Marinara, I presume.”
Matthew turned back and there was a man standing in the entry. He stood very straight, wore a black tuxedo, with a bow tie, and kept his hands clasped behind his back. He bowed slightly and Matthew saw that the man’s black hair was very shiny and not a single strand was out of place. “Yes,” said Matthew.
“Indeed,” said the man. “I am Butter, the butler. Follow me, please. The dining room is this way.”
Butter the butler led Matthew to a set of double doors. Matthew could hear loud voices, the clatter of dishes, and what sounded like a duck quacking, all coming from the room behind the doors. What a noisy dinner party, Matthew thought.
Butler Butter opened the door and bowed Matthew in. As Matthew passed by he noticed that the butler’s hair was painted on his bare scalp.
The dining room was a chattering, clattering, rattling, ruckus of a mess. A very fat man at the near end of the table was rocking violently in his chair hollering, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck, I’m stuck!”
The woman next to him had a giant, feathered hat on and was batting at it with a soup ladle. The hat was quacking.
The places around the table were filled with men and women of every size and shape and color and they were all talking at once, gesturing wildly, with food in their hands, and shouting to be heard over the general cacophony. The table was filled with covered platters. A large vase of flowers covered with caterpillars sat in the middle of the table.
Matthew was looking for his place at the table, when a piece of buttered bread and jelly came flying out of the air and hit him on the forehead. It stuck there on his forehead and Matthew was too stunned to do anything about it.
“I say there, young man, that’s my jellied bread. I’ll thank you to give it back!” said a very small woman seated near the head of the table. She jumped up on the table and came running towards Matthew to get her bread, but suddenly she was stopped in her tracks, and a deep voice shouted from the head of the table, “Silence!”
The room went as silent as church.
Matthew tried to see who shouted, but the woman on the table whose bread he had on his forehead was blocking his view.
The woman climbed off the table and back into her seat and Matthew saw a very elegantly dressed, very little man at the head of the table.
“This is the guest of honor, Master Matthew Marinara,” the man said in his deep, sonorous voice. “Allow me to introduce myself, Master Matthew. I am Baron Timothy von Tinymann. At your service. And this charming lady,” and the Baron gestured to the small woman at his right, “is Lady Lydia von Tinymann.”
“He has my bread on his head,” said Lady Lydia.
“Nonsense,” said the Baron. “It’s the latest fashion.”
And all the guests began slapping jellied bread on their foreheads.
“Now then Master Matthew,” said the Baron. “Let me introduce you to the menu.”
“The menu?” said Matthew, pulling the bread off his forehead. “Don’t you mean to say, introduce me to the other guests?” said Matthew.
“I say what I mean, and I mean what I said, I said, when I said what I meant,” said the Baron, throwing his head back so violently that the bread on his head went flying into the soup tureen.
There was a violent splashing in the tureen as several turtles fought over the bread.
“Now then, please pay attention,” the Baron said.
He climbed out of his chair and up onto the table. He lifted the lid off a platter and pointed to a frog sitting on a bed of lettuce. “Il primo,” the Baron announced, with a flourish. “We will start with a frog-leg salad. Say hello Hoppy.” The frog said, “Ribbid.”
The Baron replaced the lid and went to the next platter. Lifting the lid he gestured to a sparrow sitting on its nest. “We will then have a bird’s nest soup.” The sparrow gave a tiny chirp, before the Baron replaced the lid.
Matthew watched in fascination as the Baron went from platter to platter introducing their contents; a pink pig he called, “Span Ferkel,” a brown rabbit, he called “Hasen Pfeffer,” and then a platter with nothing in it.
The Baron looked around the table and spotted the duck on the woman’s hat. “Ah ha!” he said, grabbing the duck and putting it back in the platter. “This is our French delegate, Monsieur D’la Orange; the pièce de résistance.”
The duck said, “Je suis enchanté,” before the Baron slammed the platter’s lid down.
“Very nice,” said Matthew, wondering what was for dessert, but feeling it would be impolite to ask. “Where do I sit?” he asked.
“Why right here,” the Baron said, lifting the lid from a platter of spaghetti. “Pasta a la Matthew Marinara,” he announced to the diners, who stood in unison and clapped enthusiastically.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Matthew said. And that’s when he woke up.
Matthew ran to the bathroom, washed up, and skipped down the stairs, hopping over Claw on his way. His mother was in the kitchen working at the stove.
“Momma, momma!” Matthew shouted, “What are we having for dinner?”
“Dinner?” His mother said. “We haven’t even had breakfast yet.”
Just then Matthew’s father came into the kitchen. “I think I’ll fix my famous Pasta Marinara for dinner,” said the father.
“Oh no!” said Matthew.
Mama and Papa Marinara looked askance at Matthew.
“That’s odd,” said Mama Marinara. “He usually loves your pasta, Papa.”
“Hmm?” said Matthew’s father. “I wonder what’s gotten into him.”
“Baron von Tinymann,” Matthew said, under his breath.
“What’s that dear?” asked his mother, feeling his forehead to see if he had a fever.
“Nothing, Mama,” Matthew said, and went out to get the morning paper.
“Does he have a fever?” Papa Marinara asked Mama Marinara.
“No, but he seems to have jelly on his forehead.”
“Come on, Ricky. We’re going for a ride!” Ricky heard his mother call from the kitchen. Good! Ricky thought. He was tired of playing with his cars and trucks and tractors and trains. He’d run out of ways to have them crash, anyway.
Ricky’s mother appeared in the den and Ricky looked up to see her smiling at him. He pushed himself up from the floor and ran over to her for a hug.
“There’s my big boy,” his mother said. “Here, put on your coat.”
“Don’t need it,” Ricky said and pulled away.
“Come on now, honey. It’s cold outside. We don’t want you catching cold.”
Ricky looked at his mom while she struggled to get him into his coat without any help from him.
Doesn’t look cold, he thought, seeing the sun streaming in the window.
“How do you catch it?” he asked his mother.
“Catch what?” she answered, taking his hand and starting for the door.
“Cold,” he said, but his mother wasn’t listening. She was rummaging around in her purse like she always did just before going out the door.
Ricky stood on the front porch waiting for his mom to lock the door. It was cold, even though the sun was shining. The wind was making a whooshing sound in the colorful trees, and red and yellow leaves were skittering across the lawn. Something white flew up towards the porch making a crackling sound and Ricky backed up into his mother’s hip and reached for her hand.
“Okay, honey, here we go,” his mother said.
Ricky watched the white thing settle back on the front walk. It was just an old newspaper.
Ricky crawled into the back seat and up into what his mom called his ‘special seat.’
“Aren’t you a good boy,” his mom said.
And I’m a good climber, Ricky thought.
“Here we go,” said his mom, backing out of the driveway.
As they drove off Ricky noticed that the neighbors had big orange pumpkins on their porches and steps, just like the one they had on their porch. But he and his dad had made their pumpkin smile. Some of the pumpkins Ricky saw as they drove along had scary faces. He didn’t like that.
“There’s a bull yard stop,” Ricky said, pointing to a round, red sign on the corner as his mother slowed and stopped.
“I see it,” she said, looking to one side and then the other before she started going again.
As they drove through the intersection Ricky looked at a house on the opposite corner and gasped. There was a ghost standing right in the middle of the lawn waving its arms and swaying back and forth. Ricky wanted to tell his mom, but he was so scared he couldn’t say anything. He turned his head as far around as he could and watched the ghost disappear behind them. Ricky wondered how his mother could have missed it, but then he remembered how she was always saying, ‘Darn, I missed my turn,’ so maybe her eyes weren’t as good as his.
“Here we are,” his mom said, as she parked the car next to a big grey and green building. There were lots of cars parked next to the building and Ricky’s mom held tight to his hand as they threaded their way through the cars and across the parking lot to the building’s entrance. Ricky was startled by a loud cackling and looked up to see three black crows hopping along the fence next to the walk. They looked like little magicians to Ricky and he watched them carefully to see what tricks they might have up their sleeves.
When they got in the building, Ricky’s mom stopped to look around. Ricky looked around, too.
Ricky pulled on his mom’s hand to get her attention. “Mom, Mom, this supermarket doesn’t have any food,” he said to her.
“Oh, honey,” she said glancing at him, “This isn’t the supermarket. This is the Health Department.”
Ricky squinted his eyes and looked around again. He’d heard the word ‘health’ before and it seemed to him that he didn’t always like what was connected with that word, like broccoli, for example.
Ricky’s mom seemed to figure out what she wanted, turned and started walking down a hall. It seemed to Ricky as if it were getting darker the further they went. He looked up at his mom to make sure she knew what she was doing. There were signs with arrows pointing the way and she followed the signs, so Ricky figured she did. Finally, they came to a room where a lot of people stood in line. Ricky and his mom got in line behind them. Ricky looked up at the person in front of them. It was a woman wearing a long, black coat, a thick scarf, and a knitted, wool hat. Ricky tried to see her face, but her back was turned. He did see her hands. They had, long, red nails. She could be a witch, Ricky thought. He squeezed his mother’s hand. She looked down and smiled at him.
Ricky was restless. He was about to tell his mother that he wanted to go home, when he heard a clack, creak, clack, creak coming up behind them. He jerked around and saw an old man shuffling towards them. He was using what looked like a cane, but Ricky looked closer and saw that the foot of the cane had claws. Ricky scooted up as close as he could get to his mom. He said, “Mom?”
“Yes dear,” she said.
But Ricky couldn’t say anything because the man with the claws was standing right next to them. The man saw Ricky staring at him and smiled. Ricky hid his face in the folds of his mother’s dress.
Finally, he and his mother were shown to a room off to the side. There was a man standing there next to the room. He was carrying a bag with a bottle in it. Tubes went from the bottle up to the man’s nose. Ricky pulled on his mother’s hand.
“Mom, why does that man have tubes in his nose,” he whispered.
“That’s oxygen,” she whispered back. “He needs it to help him breath.”
Help him breathe? thought Ricky. He must be an alien.
He was about to ask his mother if the man was a dangerous alien when she said, “Okay, Hon, it’s our turn,” and led him into the room.
There was a woman in a clean, white dress in the room. She had on a white hat.
Ricky pulled down on his mother’s hand. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s the LPN,” said Ricky’s mom.
Ricky had no idea what an ‘Elf peon’ was, but he didn’t like the look of her.
The LPN was sitting at a small table. It had little bottles and little plastic packages on it. There was something about it that made Ricky squirmy. He scrunched up close to his mom and said, “Mommy, I wanna go home.”
Ricky’s mother leaned over, took Ricky by the shoulders, and said, “We’re going to get flu shots, Honey, so we don’t get sick this winter.”
“I don’t wanna flew shot,” Ricky said, glancing at the nurse woman.
She smiled at Ricky and said, “Don’t you want to show your mommy what a brave boy you are?”
“No,” Ricky said.
“Come on now, Honey. It’s just a little stick. It won’t hurt,” his mother said.
“Yes it will,” said Ricky, reflexively rubbing his upper arm where he remembered getting the shot for something called chicken pockets.
“You get it for me,” Ricky told his mother.
“I already had mine, Honey.”
Ricky’s mom pushed Ricky towards the nurse and he saw that she already had a sticker thing in her hand.
“Which arm do you want to give me?” asked the nurse.
Ricky’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open. She wants one of my arms? He wanted to keep both his arms so he could drive a truck when he grew up.
“Here, let’s do the left arm,” said his mother.
Ricky wanted to squeeze his eyes shut, but he was afraid of what the nurse might do to him if he wasn’t looking, so he turned his head away and looked at her sideways.
The nurse pinched his arm, but she wasn’t very good at it and it didn’t hurt any where near as much as when Lizbeth Dowdy did it at preschool.
“There we are. You’re all through,” said the nurse.
A sense of relief washed over Ricky. It was over, it didn’t hurt – not much -- and he hadn’t even cried. He felt very brave.
“Here you are young man,” said the nurse, and handed Ricky a lollipop. “I bet you’ll get more candy when you go out trick or treating later,” she said.
Trick or treating, thought Ricky. I forgot all about that. And he smiled.
“Can we go home now, Mommy? Ricky said.
Outside, Ricky noticed that it had gotten cloudy and it felt colder. He was happy to get in the car, climb into his special seat, and have his mom put a blanket on his lap. He felt a little tired. He must have dozed, because the next thing he knew, his mom was slowing to make the bull yard stop and turning onto their street. Ricky noticed that the ghost wasn’t on the neighbor’s lawn anymore.
“How about a little nap, then you can put your costume on,” said Ricky’s mom. Ricky didn’t argue.
“Want me to carry you?” Asked his mom.
“I can do it,” Ricky answered. He was feeling pretty grown up after what he’d been through. He held his mother’s hand and trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.
Ricky climbed in his bed; his mother removed his shoes and pulled his blanket up to his chin. She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She felt warm and soft and he liked the way she smelled.
Outside Ricky’s window three miniature magicians – about the size of crows – sat on a tree limb watching Ricky’s mom tuck the boy in for his nap and waiting for her to leave. The ghost, the witch in black, the claw foot man, and the alien waited below for the magician’s signal. You could just hear the alien’s raspy breathing over the sound of the wind whistling in the trees.
Tom Builder had not built a house all year. He and his brother, Bob’s house building business was not doing well. The town where they lived already had almost enough houses for everyone.
Tom thought about his wife, Hilder, and two children, Milder and Gilder. He loved them very much and he wanted to make sure they had a nice place to live, enough food to put on the table, and every now and then, a few presents to make them happy. He went to his brother, Bob, and told him he was going to move to another town.
“You can stay here and keep building houses, Bob,” he said. “I am moving my family to Eltopia. Maybe they need houses there.”
Tom loaded his family, their furniture, Milder and Gilder’s toys, and their pet cat, Shilder, into the truck and off they went on the long drive to Eltopia, which was way off in the south eastern part of Washington State.
When they got to Eltopia, Tom dropped his family off at the Eltopia Hotel and drove right over to the courthouse to talk with the mayor of Eltopia, Mayor Milford Mayer.
“Hello Mayor Mayer,” Tom said, shaking hands with the Mayor. “I’m Tom Builder and I’ve come to your town to build houses.”
Mayor Mayer pushed his glasses up on his big, red nose, put his hands on his big, fat hips, and said in his little squeaky voice, “We have plenty of houses already, mister… what did you say your name was?”
“Builder, Tom Builder. Are you sure you don’t need a few more houses, Mr. Mayor?”
Mayor Mayer leaned forward and looked Tom Builder right in the eye and said, “Look Mr. Builder, we have houses of every description here in Eltopia. We have big houses, we have little houses, we have wood houses, and we have brick houses, we have one story houses, and we have two story houses, why, heck, we even have a three story house. That’s my house,” said the mayor, with a satisfied smile.
When Tom Builder got back to the hotel he told his wife, Hilder, what the mayor had said. “Gosh, Hilder, I don’t know what to do. There’s no work for me building houses here in Eltopia. How will I make enough money to take care of you, and little Milder and Gilder?”
“Don’t you worry, Tom Builder,” said Hilder. “You’ll think of something.” But Hilder was worried, too. Christmas was coming. Would she and Tom be able to buy the children presents? It’s not important, she thought. As long as we have a place to live and can put food on the table, we’ll be all right.
Tom Builder kept looking for people who might want a house built, but he had no luck. Everyone in Eltopia seemed to have a house.
One evening, after a few weeks without work, Tom found a few dollars in his pocket and stopped at Sladko’s candy store to buy Milder and Gilder some licorice, which they dearly loved. While he waited for his candy to be wrapped, he glanced in the candy story window and saw a beautiful little house made entirely of cake and candy.
When Tom was paying for the licorice he asked the candy store owner, Pecivo Sladko, about the little house. “Do people buy candy and cake houses like that?” Tom asked.
“Do they ever,” said the candy man, enthusiastically. “People here in Eltopia love their sweets.”
Tom rushed right home and told his wife, Hilder, about the little candy and cake house. “It gave me an idea,” he told Hilder. “I’m going to build a big candy and cake house.”
“How big?” asked Hilder.
“Yes, Daddy!” shouted Milder and Gilder. “How big?”
“Big enough for a family like us to live in,” said Tom Builder, beaming.
“Oh dear,” whispered, Hilder Builder.
Tom started right in on his house building project. First he drew a house plan, showing where the living and dining rooms were, where the bedrooms would be located -- there were three bedrooms -- where the bathroom would be, where the front and the back door would be, and how the house would look from the inside and the outside.
Hilder looked over Tom’s plan and made a list of all the things needed to make the cakes, cookies, sweet tarts, candies, and other goodies with which to build the house according to Tom’s plan.
Tom and the children went about collecting huge sacks of flour, sugar, chocolate, raisons, and nuts, and fruit, and cinnamon, and nutmeg, and other spices. Tom spent almost all the money he had saved to buy the supplies, but he didn’t mind, because he was so sure he could make a lot of money selling the house -- after all, everyone loved sweets, didn’t they?
Milder and Gilder started making candy canes, and strings of twisty licorice, and dark chocolate candy kisses, and fruit-filled hard candies, and just about every kind of candy they’d ever heard of and some they invented on the spot, like chocolate-filled licorice straws, licorice covered strawberries, and figs stuffed with licorice -- the children did love licorice.
Everyone had a job to do to make the materials needed to build the candy and cake house and they all worked very hard to do their jobs well. And the most amazing thing was, nobody, not Tom, not Hilder, nor Milder, nor Gilder ate any of the cake or candy they were making for the house. Only Shilder, the cat, was tempted. He jumped up on the counter and took a couple of licks of licorice. He wrinkled his nose and made a sound like,”Phfft Blah,” and jumped right back down and started licking his paw and wiping it across his mouth to clean his whiskers.
“We’ll have money to buy lots of sweets once we sell the house,” Tom Builder told his family. “And we’ll have enough money to buy Shilder his favorite liver and fish treats, too!”
“Liver and fish!” said Milder and Gilder, at the same time, “Blah and double blah!”
Tome Builder, and Hilder, Milder, and Gilder Builder worked day and night on building the candy and cake house in order to have it ready before Christmas.
Hilder Builder worked so hard her hair turned white from all the flour she was using. But worry was also turning Hilder’s hair white. They were almost out of money. If Tom didn’t finish the house soon and sell it quickly, they would have no money for food, and no money to pay the hotel bill, and certainly no money for Christmas presents.
Finally, Tom put the finishing touches on the house and the whole family went to look at it.
“Why, Tom,” said Mrs. Builder, “it’s utterly beautiful.”
“Yes, Daddy, said Gilder. “It looks scrumptious.”
“It looks very well built, Dad,” said Milder, who, when he grew up, wanted to be an engineer.
“Now we need to sell the house,” said Tom Builder. He went to a real estate agent and asked how he could quickly sell his house. The real estate agent told him to hold an open house, so people could come and see the house for themselves. And that’s what Tom did. He called the newspaper and told them he wanted to put an announcement in the paper.
“And what are you announcing?” asked the copy boy who answered the phone.
“I’m selling a candy and cake house and inviting the good citizens of Eltopia to come and see it,” said Tom.
The copy boy, Fant Neumen, got some additional details from Tom and told him the ad would run in Friday’s paper. He was in a hurry so he wrote the ad himself and skipped sending it to the ad editor. It went in the press just the way he wrote it and ran in the Friday morning edition.
Candy and cake at Tom Builder’s house on First Street, open to all, the ad said.
The open house was held that Saturday and so many cars, and vans, and even buses were driving up that people had to park around the block. Loads of people piled out of the vehicles and ran up to the house, where Tom and his family stood proudly on the peppermint porch to welcome the people and show them around.
“May I show you the house?” asked Tom to a portly man and his portly wife.
“Oh, that’s all right. We can take care of ourselves,” said the man, and he and his wife waddled right in.
Soon the house was full of people wandering here and there, opening doors, and closets, and even the pantry and refrigerator, and looking through everything.
“May I help you find something?” Tom asked a group of children, who were searching under the lemon meringue bed.
“Where’s the candy and cake?!” they all shouted at once.
“Yeah! Where is the candy and cake!?” everyone shouted.
“Why you silly people, Gilder said, “The whole house...”
“No Gilder,” said Mrs. Builder, realizing that something was wrong.
But it was too late. Gilder opened her arms wide and twirled around and said, “The whole house is made of candy and cake.”
And before their very eyes, the Builder family watched in dismay as the townspeople of Eltopia proceeded to eat Tom’s candy and cake house, They ate the cupcake door handles, and the white chocolate doors, and the dark chocolate countertops, and the ice cream refrigerator, and the lollypop drawer handles, and the licorice window frames, and the taffy putty around the windows, and the sour cherry light switches, and the gingerbread desk and chairs, and someone even ate the vanilla cookie toilet seat.
When they were though inside, the crowd rushed outside and starting eating the peppermint porch, and the Baked Alaska pillars, and the Potika porch swing, and the apple strudel roof, and the Ponhanje chimney, and even the wintergreen candy sticks used for the lawn. They ate the house right down to the foundation. They would have eaten that too, but it was made of hard candy that was too hard to chew.
Tom Builder and his family stood with tears in their eyes looking at the empty space where their beautiful candy and cake house once stood.
“Oh, dear,” whispered Mrs. Builder.
That night the Builder family sat around the little table in their hotel. They were all very sad. No one said anything. They didn’t have to. They all knew what a terrible disaster had befallen them. Tom couldn’t even look at them. He sat with his head in his hands, staring down at the table. All their hard work, all their money, had gone into that house and now it was gone.
Finally, Mrs. Builder said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get along somehow. We just need to pull together.” She tried to smile, but tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Just then there was a loud knock on the door. Tom Builder jerked his head up with a start.
“Who can that be at this hour?” he said.
“Maybe it’s the landlord come for the rent,” Hilder Builder said.
“Daddy, did you pay the rent,” Milder Builder asked.
Tom Builder shook his head. “No, I didn’t have the money.”
Gilder Builder started to cry.
Tom finally got up and opened the door. In walked Mayor Milford Mayer the mayor of Eltopia.
“Good evening, everyone!” he said, smiling broadly. “And what a very fine evening it has been,” he said looking from one Builder to the next and fixing them with his gap-toothed smile.
Gilder Builder wiped her eyes with one hand and grabbed at her Daddy’s sleeve with the other. “Daddy, Daddy,” she said loudly, “That’s the man who ate the toilet set.”
The Mayor looked at Gilder and laughed. “Yes indeed,” he said. I have a great fondness for vanilla cookies and that was the biggest, most delicious vanilla cookie I ever saw. Ha, ha, ha.”
All the Builders just stared at the mayor. He looked back at them smiling. Then he remembered why he’d come and said, “You’re probably wondering why I’ve come?”
All the builders nodded, yes.
The mayor started pacing the room, back and forth he went, talking very fast. “That house you built, that candy and cake house. Why that was the finest, sweetest, most delicious house I ever ate. Why come to think of it, that’s the only house I ever ate. Ha, ha, ha.”
Tom Builder looked at his wife, Hilder, and smiled for the first time that night. He was proud of the work they’d all done, even if they were now broke and likely to be put out on the street.
The mayor went on, “Tom Builder, you and your family are the most famous people in Eltopia. People have been calling my office and asking that I have you build another candy and cake house. Why, Mr. Horace Wholewheat, the president of Eltopia Flour Company even came by my office and demanded that I have you build a candy and cake house at Christmas, every Christmas, and one every Easter -- he wants giant, marsh-mellow bunnies at the front entrance -- and another on Valentine’s Day -- be sure to have chocolate hearts -- and, gosh... I can’t remember all the holidays he wants candy and cake houses for.”
When the mayor paused to take a breath, Tom started to tell him that they were out of money and couldn’t build anymore houses, but before he had a chance to open his mouth, the mayor started talking again.
“The City Council has decided to give you an advance on the Christmas house, and Mr. Wholewheat wants to hire you to be a spokesman for his flour company, and Sladko’s candy store wants to hire your wife to make candy and cakes, and, well...” the mayor took a breath, “When can you get started?”
Tom, and Hilder, and Milder, and Gilder Builder just stared at the mayor. They were speechless.
“Oh...,” said the mayor. “I forgot.” He opened the briefcase he was carrying, reached in and came out with more money than any of the Builders had ever seen. “Here’s the cash advance. They’ll be more coming. Now, get some rest. You folks are going to very busy from now on.”
And with that, Mayor Mayer turned and rushed out the door, late for another meeting, leaving the Builders standing with their mouths open. Finally, they all started to laugh and jump for joy.
“We’re in the candy and cake house building business!” Tom Builder shouted.
“Yea!” shouted Hilder, Milder, and Gilder.
“Meow,” meowed Shilder, wondering when he was going to be fed some liver or fish; anything but that terrible licorice.