A twofer day – The Surprise

The Surprise

By S.C. Mathisen

 The cold wind whistled through the loose boards on the shack. Two figures inside shivered and wrapped their blankets around them tightly to fend off the frigid air.

“Is there any more wood for the fire?” Anna asked.

“No, I’ll have to go out and round up some more.” Jacob took off his blanket, rolled it up, and laid it down, away from the fire. He stood up.

“Where will you find wood this late at night?” Anna asked.

Jacob turned to his sister with a wink. “I have a source you know nothing about,” he grinned. “I’ll be back in a little bit,” he said, as he grabbed a sweater from a peg on the wall.

“You’re not stealing it are you? You know what Pop would say!”

Jacob layered the thick sweater over the others he already wore. “Don’t you worry about that. I’ll worry about what Pop might say when he gets back. In the meantime, he’s not here and we need wood.”

“I can’t understand why he’s been gone so long,” Anna said. “Sometimes he goes away for a day, or maybe two, but he’s been gone for three days now! We are nearly out of food and already out of wood for the fire! “ She buried her face in her hands. “I’m beginning to wonder if something happened to him and he can’t get back to us!”

“Maybe so,” Jacob replied quietly, “but we can’t wait for him to come back. We need to take care of ourselves, and that is what I am going to do right now! I’m going out for some wood.”

Anna lifted her head and looked straight at her brother. “Jacob—be careful out there! The storm is really bad!” Her voice quivered. “I don’t want to lose you, too.”

Jacob imitated Pop’s voice and laughed his bravest laugh. “Now don’t you worry your pretty little head, Anna, me girl. I’ll be back in two shakes of a tail.”

Then, pulling his hat down over his ears, he went out into the stormy night, closing the door hard behind him.

Anna stared at the door, then at the red coal remnants of the fire. She wept and she prayed.

Outside, Jacob leaned into harsh wind, and made his way across the street. He turned left, went down two blocks, and came to a hole in the side of an old brick building so tall he couldn’t see the top.

Once inside, he crawled over mounds of rubble to get to the wood pile, then started loading up his arms with the wood.

“And what do you think you’re doin’ with that wood?” a voice cried out. “It don’t belong to you—it belongs to me!”

Jacob turned toward the sound, but couldn’t see anyone.

“It doesn’t belong to anyone!” he shouted. “It’s just scrap wood, and I’m taking what I need to keep warm!”

Jacob grabbed another pieced, then bolted. He heard footsteps giving chase, so sped up.

Jacob almost made it to the hole in the wall when he tripped, dropping the wood. He leaped to his feet and grabbed some wood. Suddenly he heard a loud crack, and felt a sharp pain in his head. Little bright lights filled his eyes. Everything went black.

The fire at the shack went out. Smoke from the embers filled the room. “I just can’t sit and wait for Jacob to come back!” Anna said to herself. “I need to go out and find some wood, or something, to burn!”

Anna folded up her blanket and put on her heavy coat over her sweaters. She pulled her hat down hard over her ears, and headed out the door, careful to close it tight to keep the wind from blowing it open again.

Anna struggled to make any headway against the wind. She made it to the street and grabbed onto a lamp post, trying to figure out which way Jacob might have gone. She turned right, toward the docks and the waterfront. They had gone there often with Pop when he worked building and repairing boats. Maybe Jacob found a stash of scrap wood left over from someone’s boat repairs down there?

Jacob’s eyes opened to a light so bright it hurt his eyes. His head throbbed. He moaned, rubbing his head, as his eyes adjusted to the light.

“Well, boy. So you thought you were gonna’ get away with my wood? Ha! Ha! Ha!” said a loud, raspy voice that made Jacob’s ears ring. “No one gets my wood, boy!”

Jacob’s head ached as he turned in the direction of the voice. He tried to see who was talking, but his sight was blurred.

“I didn’t know it belonged to someone. My sister and I ran out of wood and we are so cold!”

“ I don’t care if you freeze to death, boy!” the voice thundered. “It’s my wood! You’re gonna’ pay for tryin’ to steal from me!”

Anna stayed close to the buildings she passed, to avoid the worst of the bone-chilling wind. Each time she felt the full force of it, she pulled her coat tighter around her small, thin frame.

When she got to the place where her Pop used to work, she saw a light in his old workshop. She peeked through the window.

“Pop!” she yelled.

Her father, Aloysius, worked on what looked like a large cage.

Anna ran to the door and tried to get in, but it was locked with a big chain and a padlock. She banged on the door and yelled, but he didn’t hear her. Frustrated, she began to cry, but then a thought popped into her head. Anna ran back to the window and knocked as hard as she dare.

Aloysius jumped at the loud sound and turned in her direction. Shock, then surprise, then fear filled his eyes. He waved at her to go away.

“Hey, girlie!” a loud voice yelled from behind her. “What do you think you’re doing here?”

Startled, Anna turned to see a tall, brutish figure. Just then, she saw a piece of wood leaning against the building. Anna grabbed it, and ran through his legs, knocking them out from under him with the wood. He fell to the ground. He lay motionless.

Anna spied a key ring on his belt. “Maybe one of them will fit the lock on the door.”

Sure enough one did. Soon she was in her father’s arms. After a quick hug, they ran out the door and back to their cold, little shack.

“Anna, why were you there? H-h-how did you find me?” he stammered.

Anna relayed how they ran out of wood, how Jacob went looking for more, and how she went searching for him.

Aloysius looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is a building up the street a little way where we went to get wood once. I’ll bet he went there. But he should have been back by now….”

“Oh, Pop—what if he’s hurt? We have to go look for him!”

He smiled mischievously. “Let’s go!” he said. “The good Lord will provide a way!”

They didn’t go directly to the building with the hole in the wall, but first returned to where he had been held captive. He retrieved the cage-like apparatus, then when they reached building, set it up so that it opened toward the hole in the wall, with just enough room around it for them to crawl in.

He turned to Anna. “Stay behind me. This is the den of Screecher and his gang. They are the biggest, hairiest, baddest gang in town. If they have Jacob, we’re gonna’ have to do some swift maneuvering to get him out of there.”

They crawled in and crept toward the interior of the building. Before long they heard voices, then saw a bright light.

“There’s quite an echo in this building,” Aloysius whispered. “We’ll use that to free Jacob.”

“How?” Anna whispered back.

“God is faithful, little girl,” Aloysius said with a quiet grin. “Just you wait and see.” He stood up. “Heeeey, Screecher!” he yelled. “Looking for a tender morsel? Come and get me!”

His voice rang out through the building. “Who’s that callin’ to me?” said a loud, gruff voice.

“’Tis your old friend, Aloysius! I come to collect my boy! Oh, and by the way, I got rid of your big cage, Norman!”

What did you call me!? No one calls me Norman! I’ll get you for that! Come on, boys!”

“Come and get me, Norman! I’ve got a surprise for you!” Aloysius yelled again at the top of his voice.

The sound of feet running over the rubble approached. Aloysius grabbed Anna. They ducked behind a pile of bricks.

Screecher and his gang rushed past, out the hole, and into the cage. They were trapped!

Aloysius and Anna quickly found Jacob.

“Pop!” Jacob cried, as they untied him. They grabbed some wood, then fled the building. After alerting the police about Screecher and his gang, they made their way home, then built a roaring fire. There, they ate a small meal and each told of their adventures.

Aloysius held his two children in his arms. “We are very fortunate mice my little ones. The Lord watched out for us, and now we are all home safe and sound again. That fat cat got a surprise he will never forget, and he will never bother us again! The trap he planned to use on us was used to trap him! That was quite a surprise, I’d say!”

The Story of Naaman

Here is a story I wrote to tell in Sunday School. The story of Naaman is instructive for us when we think we know better than God.

The Story of Naaman

By: God

Adapted by: S.C. Mathisen

 He was a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies but…he had a problem. The problem that he had was not with an enemy of his country. He could have dealt with that easy enough. The problem was not with an enemy in his own country. It wasn’t someone that was trying to do him harm. You see the king of his country thought very highly of him. Through him, his country had won many mighty victories over their enemies. It says in the Bible that the Lord had given them those victories, so the Lord was on his side. His problem was…with himself.

I could probably be talking about a lot of famous men, but there was one that lived a long time ago in the Kingdom of Aram. We call that country Syria now.

The man’s name was Naaman and he was a leper. The word used for leprosy in 2 Kings 5 could be translated as a “contagious skin disease” and is used to describe a variety of skin diseases, but that doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that “he was a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies but…he had a problem”. It’s hard to be “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies” when you are not welcome at the victory celebrations and your fellow soldiers won’t (or can’t) hang out wth you. It’s very lonely and takes a lot of the fun out being “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies” because you have a problem that no one can fix, except maybe the Lord. And as it turns out, the Lord had a little surprise for him.

It turns out that as Naaman was returning home one day after another victory in battle, one of his young servant girls was thinking about this problem and said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” You see this little girl was captured from the land of Israel by one of the Aramean raiding parties that plagued Israel and had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. But, she was well treated. They had taken her into their home and she was fond enough of her master and mistress to make this suggestion.

Well, Naaman’s wife evidently thought that was a good idea so she told Naaman. Naaman thought it was a good idea and he went to the king and told him what the little girl had said and the king that it was a great idea. After all Naaman was “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies but…he had a problem” and the king wanted to help him with it.  So, the king said, without hesitation, “Go and visit the prophet.” Now you can’t just wander over into a country that you have been raiding and occasionally at war with and go looking for someone, especially when you are “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies”. The local people and the king will start to get real nervous, so the king of Aram said “I will send a letter of introduction for you to carry to the king of Israel.”

So Naaman started out and he took with him some presents for the King of Israel. He took 750 pounds of silver (about $217,200 today), 150 pounds of gold (about $2,220,000 today) and ten sets of clothing (all of this was close to 2.5 million dollars!). The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

Well, the king of Israel did not know what to say. He was shocked by this request. He knew who Naaman was and was probably just a little bit nervous having him and his party of soldiers with horses and chariots with him. Not to mention being afraid of a man with leprosy! After he heard this request, he probably had to pick his jaw up off of the floor. The Bible tells us that “When the king of Israel read it, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can kill and give life? He is only trying to find an excuse to invade us again.”

Fortunately the prophet Elisha heard about the letter and the king’s reaction and sent a message to the king saying “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

So Naaman, with all of his soldiers with horses and chariots (and probably the gold and silver and changes of clothing as well) went to see Elisha. They arrived and waited outside of Elisha’s house. But, Elisha did not go out and see him himself. He sent a messenger out with this message. “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of leprosy.”

Naaman was stunned. This was not what he expected at all! I am sure that he expected the great prophet to come out and greet him personally as one would any guest. He expected to be treated as an honored guest! I am also pretty sure that he expected Elisha to come out and pray for him, or put some special medicine on him –or- something grand and spectacular. After all he are “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies”!

Elisha was not impressed. He knew that in God’s eyes even “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies” was just like anybody else and needed to obey the word of the Lord. That was just what Elisha had given him, the word of the Lord and he needed to listen and to obey. That’s not what Naaman did. He got angry and stomped away yelling. The Bible tells us that he said “I thought he would surely come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! Aren’t the Abana River and Pharpar River of Damascus better than all the rivers of Israel put together? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

Let’s think, for a moment about what just happened. Do you ever ask God to do something or expect Him to do something and He either doesn’t give you what you ask for –or- He gives you something else completely different –or- He doesn’t do what you expect at all? What do you do when that happens? Do you get mad and stomp around yelling, do you get sad and disappointed? Do you stop believing in God just a little bit and thnk that He answers other people but not you?

God doesn’t always fit into our expectations. In fact, He very rarely does. He is much bigger than we can ever imagine and has bigger purposes than we can ever understand. God works on a much grander scale, but still cares about the little things in our lives.

I think that is partly what Naaman was thinking and feeling.  Elisha (God’s man on the scene) was not performing up to his expectations and that disappointed him and it made him angry. Really angry. It’s ok to get angry with God and to tell Him that you are, but you need to listen to that voice of wise counsel too. Let’s see what happens next.

The officers in his army that he brought with him knew him really well and went to reason with him. They said “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured!”

What do you think that Naaman did? I think that he was humbled by what his trusted and loyal officer told him, because the Bible next tells us that he went down to the Jordan and washed seven times. He didn’t just swish his hands around in the water. The Bible tells us that he dipped himself. He got completely immersed in the water. Not just once, but seven times just like Elisha had told him to do. He had become humble and obedient. Even “a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies” needs to be humble and obedient. He needed to put aside his pride.

Naaman then went back to see Elisha and offered all of the silver and gold and changes of clothing, but Elisha would not take anything and refused it all. Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” You can’t pay God for the things that He does for you.

Naaman learned that obedience leads to healing. But, he only learned that after he put aside his pride.

We also learned that Naaman needed someone to tell him about the true prophet in Israel and, in reality, about the one, true God.

So, even though he was a great and mighty warrior, the commander of all the king’s armies …he had a problem, that only God could fix.

A different view on Noah…

I’ve been sitting on this story start for a long time, so I thought I would share it here. I hope you enjoy it.

Mrs. Noah and the Ark

Desert sunsets are spectacularly beautiful some days. Today was one of those days. The air was warm and drier than usual. It was very comfortable as Noah sat on his favorite bench underneath his favorite tree watching the sunset with his wife. They leaned back against the back of the bench and held hands. Noah and Naamah had enjoyed doing this for several hundred years and never tired of it. Noah looked over at his wife. She was still beautiful after all these years. More beautiful than ever he thought at that moment as they sat together in the twilight sun. They had been married a long time. After all Noah was 500 years old (that was still young in those days) and Naamah was, well…younger. But, it didn’t matter. She had borne him three healthy sons and they were all married and they both hoped for grandchildren soon. Life was good. Noah squeezed her hand gently and Naamah smiled.

Well, that’s probably the way that Noah would start this story. But, I wonder how this story looks from Naamah’s point of view. Perhaps it was something like this…

My  husband Noah and I ended our very busy day as we tried to do most days. We sat at our favorite bench under our favorite tree watching the sunset. Desert sunsets are spectacularly beautiful some days. Today was one of those days. The air was warm and drier than usual. We leaned back on the bench and held hands. His big hands were rough from hard work, but they were always tender toward me. Noah was a very special man and I knew that from the time that we were both little. And now, after having shared several hundred years of marriage (I won’t tell you exactly how many if you don’t mind…) we were the proud parents of three healthy grown boys and (since they were all married themselves now) we were hoping for grandchildren. But, that will come in the Lord’s own good time. Our life together has taken on special significance because my Noah has been trying to remind our neighbors of the righteousness of the Lord and trying to persuade them to give up their wicked ways. He goes into town and preaches to the people in the town. He tells them to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. They don’t seem to take him seriously. Poor Noah, he has always taken great pains to run our business and home life with great honesty and respect for others. But our neighbors and those in the nearby towns couldn’t be bothered. They all seem determined to forget that there is a God and that He sees their evil ways. Some days he is just sick at heart from the way that the others live and their refusal to change. That makes my heart ache with his. Oh, we are not perfect! We know that. But, to live with total disregard for doing what is right….”Nothing good will come from that,” I told him. “You just mark my words….” I say to him. He looks at me with those big loving eyes of his and says “You are very right, Naamah. Someday the Lord will deal with them. It is just my job to tell them, to warn them that they are taxing his patience.” “Let’s go inside now, my husband, the sun has gone down and the air is starting to get a chill.” I said. We both stood up, he put his arm around me and we walked together toward our home.

Well, not too long after that conversation, Noah had the most unusual experience. One unlike any that he had ever had. The Lord God spoke to him. The Lord God Himself spoke directly to my Noah. I could not believe my ears when he told me that the Lord had given him plans to build an ark.

“He wants you to build a what?” I said.

“An ark, it’s a very big boat. A ship really.”

“A ship, what is a ship?”

“A very big boat, it floats on the water.”

“What water? We live high in the desert. The only water we get up here is from our well.”

“Well,” Noah replied “it’s going to rain.”

“Rain”, I said, “what is rain?” getting more confused by the moment.

Noah patiently replied, “We are going to have water falling from the sky and water gushing up from the earth, but not for awhile yet. We need to build the ark first.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. My normally sensible, solid, stable husband had taken leave of his senses. At least that’s what I thought at first. Then I remembered that he was not taken to flights of fancy and that there must be something to this. So, I asked him to tell me more.

“Well, the Lord gave me instructions, very specific instructions for building this ark. He told me how high to build it, how long to build it, how wide to build it, what woods to use, all of the details for the construction of the outside, the inside and everything!”

“Well” I said, “why is He doing this? What is all of this water going to accomplish?”

Noah responded, “He is tired and weary of the people of this generation. Their sin is out of control. All these people think about is evil, evil, evil; all the day long. His patience has come to an end; just like I have been telling them. He is sorry that He made us and is going to wipe us out; He is going to wipe us all out, every last one of us…except for…our family. That is why I have been given instructions for the ark. We are to build it so that we can survive the flood. I need to get our sons over here and start planning this.”

“Wait just a minute,” I said “when is this rain and flood going to happen? How long will it take to build this big boat, this ark?”

“I’m not exactly sure yet” He said, “I’ve never built anything this big before. It may take a long time. It may take years!”

“Years? Did you say years?” I said “Just how big is this boat, ark, thing going to be?”

Noah put his big arm around me and said softly “Very, very big. Let me show you my notes”.

I looked down at what he had written down. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here is what it said “450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high.” I stood there silent for a minute trying to imaging how big that was going to be. Doing that made me a little weak in the knees and Noah guided me to the closest bench so that I could sit down. I had never even imagined anything so big and we were going to build it ourselves right outside in our…

“Wait a minute” I said “where are we going to build this thing? Not in my garden, I’ll tell you that much right now, and certainly not in the barn, this thing is too big to fit in there!”

Noah smiled at me and said “No certainly not any of those places. I was thinking of that field over to the east of the barn. It’s too rocky for planting and has never been good as pasture. It’s perfect. There is plenty of room to stack the wood while we prepare it and its level enough to work on.”

He was right of course. He always did make it a point to have things thought out before he told me about them. He knew that I would have questions. He wanted to have answers for me.

“There is something else that I haven’t told you yet about the Lord’s plan” he said. “We are going to be bringing some animals along. Lot’s of them.”

Well that didn’t surprise me, after all we had to eat I thought. I said to him, “Of course we are going to bring our flocks and herds, that is very sensible.”

He took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “There will be more than that, lots more. The Lord has instructed us to take two of each kind of living creature, a male and a female, to preserve their lives as well. That includes birds, mammals and reptiles.”

Now at this moment I was glad that I was already sitting down because the thought of all those animals…the thought of ALL THOSE ANIMALS! My heart started beating double time as I began to think about all those animals and the last thing that I remember is the room starting to swirl and get dark. The next thing was waking up in bed with my three sons and their wives standing around the bed with my Noah fanning me with a towel. As soon as I was able to sit up the girls fixed us all a meal. As we ate, Noah and the boys were actively planning what they needed to do to get started on the ark.

Noah was right; it did take a long time to build the ark. A very long time.

The Haircut – A Short Story

Sometimes memories refuse to fade or are brought back by certain sights, sounds or smells. This story was created after a memory prompted by a smell popped into my head. It’s slightly fictionalized, but true – mostly .

The Haircut

It was a bright sunny Wednesday morning in late June. My last day of school was yesterday and I was looking forward to my first day of summer vacation with nothing to do at all.

I walked into the kitchen to find my mother setting the table for breakfast. She was talking to her friend Mrs. Randolph on the phone but saw me walk in and smiled at me. I pulled the cereal off the shelf in the pantry and retrieved the milk from the fridge.

My mom had already set the table with bowls, glasses and spoons at each place. I sat down in my usual seat and proceeded to pour my cereal and milk into my bowl.

I had just taken my first bite and was starting to read the back of the cereal box when I heard my mother, “Ok Betsy, I’ll see you at 2 at your house. Bye!”

She came over to where I was sitting, ruffled my hair and said “Good morning sweetie Oh, your hair is longer than I thought.  I think that it’s time for a haircut. I’ll get you the money and you can go get a haircut when you are done with your breakfast.”

“Mom!” I said as she walked out of the room.

I didn’t want to get a haircut.

But, after finishing my breakfast & brushing my teeth, I took the money she handed to me and rode my bike over to O’Halloran’s barber shop.

When I arrived, I was surprised to see three of the six chairs busy with men getting haircuts. I never knew that people got haircuts this early on a Wednesday. I slumped into one of the waiting chairs to wait and picked up a copy of a dog eared car magazine. That’s when the sounds and smells of the barber shop began to hit me.

I could hear the sound of a radio playing music from the back corner of the shop, scissors snipping and the barbers and the men discussing sports and politics.

The smell of the place was a really clean smell. Mr. O’Halloran always kept the place spotless and cleaned up the floor after each customer. Also, he always used a special tonic in everyone’s hair when he finished up a haircut. There was an ad for it on the wall. It was called Wildroot Cream-Oil Hair Tonic. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

When my turn in the chair came and Mr. O’Halloran and I talked about the fact that school was out, what I wanted to do this summer and about my family. He always made sure that he asked lot’s of question about his customers. It made me feel more grown up when he did that.

He put that Wildroot Tonic in my hair when he was done. I paid him, thanked him and walked back outside with that fresh summer morning sun in my eyes and the smell of Wildroot in my nose.

I remember it like yesterday even though it was about 50 years ago.

Pizza

A funny little story about my first dog…enjoy

A long time ago, in a neighborhood that seems far, far away. Back during the time when I was just a skinny little kid, my family had a dog. Lots of families had dogs so that is not unusual; the unusual part was that we named the dog Pizza.

The time in my life that we had that dog was after my parents divorced. You see, I am the oldest of six kids. At that time, there were only five of us kids and I was about 11.

Like I’ve already mentioned, my parents were divorced and my mom was working as a waitress at an Italian restaurant that was well known for its authentic spaghetti and pizza. It seemed to us kids that my mom brought home an awful lot of pizza for us to eat. (The story goes that she got to bring home the mistake pizzas. From the quantity I remember, I think they must have made a lot of mistakes on purpose but, we were not complaining.)

We had no idea how hard it must have been to feed 5 kids on what a waitress makes. All we knew was that we had some of the best food on the planet, lots of it and the best school lunch trade bait ever. Other kids would trade anything for pizza.

So when we had the chance to adopt a dog, it must have seemed a very natural thing for us to name it Pizza. None of us remember how Pizza came into our family and only one of remembers that she might have been a collie. I have my doubts about that part. I have no memories of any dog looking like Lassie ever living at my house.

The only thing we can all agree on is that, at some point, she had a litter of puppies. The generally agreed on number of puppies is four but, our collective memory fades on the names. We seem to remember that we named the poor unfortunate creatures things like Pepperoni, Sausage and Mozzarella. There seems to be no entry in our collective memory for the name of the fourth puppy and there is some doubt about the third.

In any event, my mother met the man who became out step-father while working at that pizza place and eventually the free flow of pizza into our diet stopped. We moved away from Seattle to New Orleans, no dogs came with us to our new home and we moved on to explore new gastronomic delights.

A Bump on the Head

Josh was late for school…again. He was running faster than usual, taking his usual shortcut through Mr. Binkley’s yard and only had to duck under that low branch on the maple tree when . . .

Crunch!!

“Ooooowwww!! That . . . hurt . . .” Josh put his hand on his head, felt a very sore lump the size of a small egg, saw stars and dancing chickens and then . . . everything went dark.

“Hey buddy, are you ok?” Josh thought he heard someone say and then he felt a big, wet tongue on his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw Howie; Mr. Brinkley’s dog licking his face.

He pushed the dog away and sat up.

“Ok that’s enough, boy.”

“Alright, I’m just makin’ sure you’re ok,” he heard someone say.

Josh looked around and saw no one.

“Ok, who said that?”

His hand went back to the sore spot on the top of his head.

“Ouch! That must have been some conk on the head! Now, I’m hearing things.”

Just then a small voice came from up in the tree. “I don’t think he heard you, Howie.”

The dog looked up and saw a robin up in the tree. “I know, Hawthorne. They always act like they don’t understand.”

Josh looked first at the dog and then up at the robin and then back to the dog. “Are you guys talking?”

Howie and Hawthorne looked at each other and then at Josh and both said, “Yes! Are you…?”

They both stopped at the same time and then Howie continued, “You could understand us?”

Just then Mrs. Abernathy’s orange cat Norman came into view, “Hey guys, what’s up. This kid conk his noggin’ on that low branch?”

Josh looked at Norman and his mouth fell open and he started scooting himself back quickly with his hands. “Whoa! I must be dreaming! This can’t be real!”

Josh started to shake his head, as if to shake off this strange new reality, but quickly grabbed his head with both hands. “Oh! That hurt and made me dizzy at the same time!”

Howie moved closer to the boy, “Maybe you should just rest for a few minutes, Josh.”

Josh’s eyes widened as he looked at the dog, “Y…y…you know my name? H…h…how come I never heard you talk before?”

Howie sat down, looked at the boy and cocked his head to one side. “Well…”

Hawthorne flew to the ground and said, “Maybe you just never listened before.”

Norman came up and sat next to Josh opposite Howie, wrapped his tail around his paws and said, “I think he’s got an attention span problem.”

“Joshie, why you layin’ down in the grass?”

Josh turned toward the house to see little Lizzie Brinkley, rag doll hanging from her chubby little hand. “Hi Lizzie, I was cutting through your yard and hit my head on the low branch and was just…”

“Why?”

“I was on my way to school, Lizzie.”

“Oh. Who’re ya’ talkin’ to, Joshie?”

“I was talkin’ . . . talking to . . .”

Howie emitted a soft “leave us out of this” that sounded like a low growl.

“I was talking to myself. I do it sometimes when I’m alone.”

“Oh, okay.”

Josh jumped up, careful to avoid the tree branch.

“I’m going to be late for school if I don’t hurry. You should go back inside, Lizzie.” he said as he rushed off.

He looked back and saw Lizzie waving goodbye, he waved back at her.

All the way to school he wondered about what had happened.

“Maybe I was delirious. Animals don’t talk, that’s just crazy.” he said to himself.

Josh heard other voices as he rushed to school. His head rotated like a bobble head doll each time he heard a new one.

“It’s mine!”

“No it’s not, I found it first!” He saw two birds arguing over a worm.

There was a dog sniffing all around a grassy yard and mumbling.

“Where did I leave that juicy, tasty bone?”

Then he heard laughter. “It looks like the old, hound dog lost his bone again.”

Two cats were sitting on a fence, laughing at the dog.

All morning long in school, Josh wondered about what had happened and just when he thought he was feeling normal again . . . he heard a small, strange voice.

“So, I hear you can understand us when we talk.”

Josh looked around to see who was speaking.

“Hey! Look down here, it’s Louie…you know…the hamster!”

“Oh no, not you too! How did you find out about me?”

“Easy, the windows are open. I heard it from a little birdie! Ha ha ha, I heard it from a little birdie. I am sooo funny!”

Josh looked down into the hamster cage and saw Louie rolling around laughing and holding his sides.

“Shhh! Somebody will hear you!”

(Still laughing) “Who cares? Nobody can understand me but you. Hahaha, this is too good! I heard it from a little birdie!”

Josh rolled his head back and looked up. “Oh man! This is NOT happening to me!”

“Hey, Josh, who are you talking to?” said Scott in the next row.

“Oh…um…nobody…just talking to myself.”

“That’s right, pretend you can’t hear me.” said the Louie.

Josh put his hand over his ear in attempt to not hear Louie.

“Just thinking out loud Scott.”

“You’re seriously in denial, that’s what you are,” said Louie.

Josh turned toward the hamster cage and tried to whisper, “I am not! I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want to hear or understand animals when they talk. Now, leave me alone!”

“Young man, just who are you addressing in that insolent tone?”

Josh turned around to see Mrs. Harbaugh towering over him. She stood with her hands on her hips and her graying hair pulled in a bun so tight she always looked like her face was going to rip.

Josh felt his face flush, “No one, Mrs. Harbaugh. I was just talking to myself. Sorry if I was too loud.”

Mrs. Harbaugh harrumphed, “I thought you might have been talking to Louie. He gets a bit snarky from time to time but we should always be polite to him.”

“He gets snarky?”

“Yes, it means smart-alecky. He has something of a twisted sense of humor. Don’t let him get to you. Just ignore him if he is rude.”

“You mean, you’ve heard him talk?”

The whole class began to laugh.

“Oh yes, all the time! I have tried to teach him some manners but, he doesn’t seem to understand etiquette.”

“How did I not know that?”

Louie’s voice came from behind him. “You’ve got a short attention span, or so I’ve been told.”

Mrs. Harbaugh spoke again, “See what I mean. Snarky. But enough of that, we have a class to conduct.” She turned on her heels and began addressing the class about the next lesson.

Louie said, “I am not snarky. I just have a weird sense of humor.”

Josh peeked at him, “It’s kind of rude if you ask me.”

The class got down to the business of the geography of Peru but Josh’s head began to hurt badly and he asked permission to go see the school nurse.

Sitting in the nurse’s office, Josh began to hear strangely muffled voices that sounded like they had bubbles in them.

“So you think that’s him, Thelma?”

“I sure do, Daphne. He matches the description I heard from Oscar.”

Josh started looking around to see where the voices were coming from and then noticed the two big goldfish in the nurse’s fish tank looked like they were staring at him. As soon as he looked at them, they swam off in opposite directions.

He shook his head as if he could make the voices go away but just made his head hurt worse.

The nurse came in and examined Josh.

“So young man, it looks like you got yourself quite an egg on your head. What happened?”

“I was ducking under a low branch on my way to school and didn’t duck low enough.”

“I’ll say you didn’t! That’s quite an egg on your head. Are you having any pain?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been having a pretty bad headache and…”

“And what?”

“Nothing. I just have a really bad headache.”

“Well, I think that’s enough to send you home so your mom can take care of you. I don’t think you have a concussion. But you do need to rest and let the swelling go down.”

“I live real close by, I can walk home.”

“All right, but I’m going to call your Mom and let her know you are on your way.”

“Ok, thanks…”

Josh got two notes from the nurse, one for his teacher and one for his mom. He went back to his classroom and gave Mrs. Harbaugh the one for her.

She read it and told him to pack up his things and go home. As he was doing that, he looked at Louie and the hamster stuck his tongue out at him.

“See ‘ya later kiddo!”

A wave of pain shot through Josh’s head, so he ignored Louie, threw his backpack over his shoulder and headed home.

Instead of just a few animals talking, there now seemed to be a whole chorus of animal talk going on. It was like being in a crowded airport with all sorts of conversations going on around him. It made his head hurt even more.

Josh decided to take the same short cut home through Mr. Binkley’s yard and only had to duck under that low branch on the maple tree when . . .

Crunch!!

“Ooooowwww!! That . . . hurt . . .” Josh put his hand on his head and felt a two very sore lumps the size of a small egg, saw stars and dancing chickens and then . . . everything went dark.

“Hey buddy, are you ok?” Josh thought he heard someone say and then he felt a big, wet tongue on his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw Howie; Mr. Brinkley’s dog licking his face.

He pushed the dog away and started to sit up when he saw his mom’s face. She was kneeling next to him and said, “Buddy? Are you ok? Mrs. Binkley called me and said that you knocked yourself cold ducking under this old tree limb.”

Josh looked at Howie and Howie just twisted his head, smiled curiously and let out a small “woof!”

“Is that all you have to say Howie?”

Josh reached into his pocket for the note the nurse gave him for his mom and nothing was there. He then hurriedly checked all the rest of his pockets and looked around on the ground to see if he had dropped it.

His mom asked, “What are you looking for, Josh?”

Josh looked at his mom and said, “I guess nothing. You know, I think I just had a bad dream while I was knocked out. I had this dream that I heard…”

Josh put his hand on his head, but only felt one very sore lump.

Howie responded with another “woof”.

The cat said “meow” and the robin said “chirp”.

“Heard what?” his mom asked.

“Oh nothing…maybe I better go home and lay down for a while.”

“I think that’s a really good idea. I’ll call the school and tell them you’ll be home sick today and then I’ll call the doctor to see if he wants to see you.”

As they walked toward home, Josh thought he heard Howie say, “See ‘ya later Buddy.”

 

Esmeralda Wants To Be a Princess

A funny little story…I hope you enjoy.

Esmeralda sat on the floor in her room and looked at the drawings hanging on her wall. Each one was of a princess from a book she had read. She drew each one as she read the story and then hung them on her wall when she was done with the book. Each drawing gave her such vivid memories that she could tell each story just from looking at them.

Esmeralda wanted to be a real, live princess more than anything in the whole wide world so she would draw what she imagined.

“Ezmie!” Her mother called from downstairs.

Sigh!

“Yes mother, I’m coming. I was just…um…straightening up my room.”

“Your breakfast is ready and it won’t stay hot forever.”

“Yes, mother, I’ll reheat it myself if it gets cold.”

Esmeralda stood up, looked at her posters again and then bounced down the stairs to the kitchen.

Things started bouncing around in the kitchen and her mother had to grab the dishes to keep them from falling on the floor,

“Ezmie! Stop bouncing on the stairway. You’re rattling the whole house again.”

“Sorry mother, I forgot.”

As she was eating her breakfast her mother asked, “What do you have planned today?”

“I am going to practice my waltzing so I can be graceful at a ball.”

Her mother hesitated for a moment and then said, “Being graceful is…is…always a good idea. Where are going to do this?”

“I was thinking about the living room.”

“Um…can I suggest that you do it outside? I am going to be busy straightening up in the house. We’re having company for dinner tonight.”

Crestfallen, Esmeralda said, “Ok, that will give me room to move about more freely.”

“Yes! Yes it will. That’s a good plan sweetheart.”

Outside, Esmeralda found a spot amongst some trees where she could dance around all she wanted without bumping into anything or breaking any dishes. So she bounced and flounced and waltzed to her heart’s content.

“I love this practice!” She said to herself as she executed another pirouette, “I am becoming as graceful as a swan.”

Suddenly there was a racket coming from up in one of the trees. Esmeralda looked to see where it was coming from and there were two squirrels chattering at her from one of the branches.

She stopped to listen and to her surprise she could understand them!

“Will you please stop that infernal jumping around! You’ve woken up my babies and broken half my furniture!”

“I…I’m sorry. I had no idea. I was just doing my waltzing practice. I’m going to be a princess someday!”

The squirrel stared at her for just a moment and then began laughing uncontrollably.

“You…you…you’re going to be a princess?”

Then the squirrel laughed so hard she almost fell out of the tree.

“Why yes,” Esmeralda responded. “Why not?”

“Have you ever looked in a mirror sweetie,” the squirrel said still laughing.

“What? Why”

“Haven’t you ever noticed that you were a little large…ha ha….and green…ha ha ha… and scaly to be a princess? Dearie, you are a dragon and dragons can’t be princesses!”

“Hmmpph! That shows what you know. My Mom told me I could be anything I want as long as I study and work hard. That’s what I am doing out here today. I am practicing my waltzing so I will be the best dancer at the royal ball.”

“Royal ball? Haha! It… haha…it… haha…it will be a long time before you get invited to a royal ball.”

Just then there was a thrup-thrup, thrup-thrup, thrup-thrup sound coming from the sky. Both Esmeralda and the squirrel looked up to see another dragon flapping it’s wings and landing right in front of them.

Both Esmeralda and the squirrel were speechless at the sight of what looked like a boy dragon dressed up like a prince.

“Hello,” the prince said.

Esmeralda fainted.

The prince rushed to her side and picked her up in his arms, “Oh no, I seem to have scared her.”

“You think?” said the squirrel.

“I just wanted to ask her to the Royal Dragon Ball.” said the prince.

Esmeralda woke up suddenly, “Did you say Royal Dragon Ball?”

The prince replied, “I sure did. We only hold one every hundred years and we are doing so this year. I have been hunting far and wide for someone to invite and I was told about you by your mother. She told me where I could find you. And when I saw you dancing…I…uh…you…were…spectacular!

The prince helped Esmeralda to her feet, “Please say you will come with me!”

Then he bowed to her.

Esmeralda looked at the prince…then she looked at the squirrel and then back at the prince and said, “I will have to ask my mother and father but, YES!”

The prince looked up at her and said, “You make my heart glad. Let us go and ask immediately.”

With that he took her arm and they walked Esmeralda’s home.

Esmeralda turned and looked back at the squirrel over her shoulder, just ever so slightly stuck out her tongue and smiled.