Bob the Mystic Frog

Bob the Frog 2

On the nights Autumn stayed with her father in his apartment, he told her a bedtime story, and then she fell asleep in his bed next to a big stuffed frog, which she called Bob. He had a pink heart.

Later that night, after reading a book or watching a movie, Autumn’s father, Marshall, joined them.

And that’s how it was, for years: Marshall slept on one end of the bed next to Autumn, who slept in the middle of the bed next to Bob, who slept on the other end of the bed.

And while Autumn and her father were close, Autumn and Bob in some ways were closer.

“We share the same dreams,” Autumn said one night as Marshall put her to bed.

“Oh, yeah?” Marshall said. “What do you and Bob dream about?”

“Bob and I dream about a town where everything is made out of rainbows,” Autumn said. “The houses are made out of rainbows. The cars are made out of rainbows. The fridges are made out of rainbows. Even the fruit roll-ups are made out of rainbows.”

“That sounds like a beautiful place,” Marshall said. “Are the people made out of rainbows, too?”

“No, they’re normal,” Autumn said. “Except for Bob. He still looks like a frog.”

“That must be neat, to have a friend that shares your dreams.”

“It is,” Autumn said. “Bob’s really cool. He can read minds. He’s a … mystic!”

“I see,” Marshall said. “Sleep well.”

And the three did, until Chloe started spending the night, too. She not only often joined Autumn and her father for Daddy Day, she sometimes stayed until the next morning.

Autumn remembered the first time. She woke up with her father to one side, as usual, but Chloe was on the other. Bob was nowhere to be seen.

“This is so surprising!” Autumn said, playing with Chloe’s poofy hair.

“Chloe was too tired to drive home last night,” Marshall said. “I thought it would be better if she stayed here.”

“You had a sleepover?” Autumn said.

“Yes, is that all right?” Chloe said.

“Yes, I think that’s a great idea!” Autumn said. “You can sleep over any time.”

Autumn quickly learned, however, that sleeping in bed with her father and Chloe was a little different than it had been with her father and Bob.

There was less room in the bed, because Chloe was larger than Bob. Everybody was squished.

One day, Autumn arrived at her father’s apartment, and it wasn’t only his anymore. It had plants and books and crystals and blankets and spoons. Chloe was moved in.

“Is all of this stuff yours?” Autumn asked Chloe.

“It came from my apartment, but now it’s all of ours,” Chloe said.

“Are you going to marry Chloe?” Autumn asked her father as he put her to bed.

“Someday, probably,” Marshall said.

“Will there be a big wedding, with lots of cupcakes?”

“Big wedding, no. Lots of cupcakes, maybe. But only if you sing.”

“I will sing, Daddy.”

“I hope so,” he said. “Love you, baby.”

That night, Marshall told Autumn a bedtime story about her and Bob’s first adventure leaving the rainbow town. It involved a treasure hunt on a flying carpet for magic cupcakes that gave Autumn and Bob super powers.

It was such an exciting story, Autumn and her mystic friend dreamed about it together all night.

When Autumn woke the next morning, she was sleeping in a new bed.

Just for her.

And Bob.

Story Clouds

aliens and spaceships

Because she often was bored during car rides, Autumn liked to play games to pass the time.

During the drive to her cousins’ house one Sunday, Autumn played Story Clouds. In this game, passengers take turns telling stories about the images they see in the clouds.

“I see a frog jumping off a lily pad!” Autumn said. “Daddy, what do you see?”

Marshall, her father, glanced out the window.

“I see a kitty eating a cookie,” he said. “What do you see?”

“I see an alien spaceship, and it’s coming our way!” Autumn said. “Daddy, what do you see?”

Marshall saw the red flash of brake lights as cars stopped ahead of them. He applied his brakes, and the car he and Autumn were riding slowed down.

It was stop-and-go traffic on the freeway as far as Marshall could see.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “I’m going to have to keep my eyes on the road for a while. You’ll have to play by yourself.”

Autumn sat in her rear car seat and watched silently as the alien spaceship approached. To her it looked like a giant hamburger, a meal her father always wanted her to try but she was always too afraid to do so. She only liked eating the bun.

“Why are all of these people honking at us?” Marshall said, confused. “I’m as stuck here as they are.”

Autumn knew. The alien spaceship hovered above their car, and people were excited. Everyone wanted to meet the aliens, even Autumn.

“It’s nothing, Daddy,” Autumn said, not wanting him to be anymore confused than he already was. “You just keep your eyes on the road.”

Finally, the cars began moving again and didn’t stop. As Marshall continued to drive, Autumn noticed the spaceship fly past the freeway toward the hills where her cousins lived.

Autumn’s aunt, Misty, and her cousins, Star and Krystal, were happy to see Autumn when she arrived.

“Okay, sweetheart,” Marshall said. “It was great seeing you this weekend. Have fun with your cousins. Your mom will be by to pick you up in a few hours.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Autumn said. “See you next time.”

Autumn, Star and Krystal decided to play on the trampoline in the backyard. They unzipped the safety net, climbed aboard, and began to jump.

Autumn told Star and Krystal about the alien spaceship she saw on the freeway. They didn’t seem impressed.

“There’s no such thing as aliens,” Star said. “You just imagined it.”

“Yeah, Autumn!” Krystal said.

“I did not!” Autumn said. “They flew this way. I think they are landing on the street. The aliens are coming for us.”

“Why would they come here?” Star said. “What would they want us for?”

It was a good question, but Autumn had an even better answer.

She sprang toward Star and whispered in her ear.

“They aren’t coming for us,” Autumn said. “They’re coming for our food!”

Star, Autumn and Krystal laughed. They jumped around the trampoline in circles, pretending to be aliens chasing each other.

Aunt Misty called them to the patio table. It was time for lunch.

Hamburgers.

“I’ll be right back, girls,” Aunt Misty said. “I need to get more water from the kitchen.”

Star and Krystal piled their patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickle. They squirted ketchup and mustard on their bun and swirled it together with a butter knife. They began to eat.

Autumn was a little jealous, but not enough to do the same. Since Star and Krystal were so busy with their food, they didn’t notice what Autumn did with hers.

Autumn gave her patty to Sabina, the old family dog, who fetched it from Autumn’s hand and disappeared around the corner.

Aunt Misty returned from the kitchen.

“Done so soon?” she said to Autumn.

“I guess the alien ate her food,” Star said.

“What?” Aunty said.

Star explained to Misty Autumn’s fascination with the aliens.

“Maybe they came here to make you eat your food,” Aunty said.

Star laughed.

“Yeah, if that were true, would you still say aliens are real?” Star said.

“No,” Autumn said, taking a bite out of a bun. “That would be silly.”

Unicorns Are Real

park house

Autumn finished her latest Lego creation.

“Look, Daddy!” she said. “It’s a park house!”

“A park house,” her father said. “What’s that?”

Autumn explained that a park house was a special place where people could rest and eat snacks while they played at the park. They were built among flowers and trees. Autumn’s park house featured a bed, lemonade stand and TV.

“All the comforts of civilization,” her father said.

“What’s civilization?” Autumn said.

“Good question,” he said, looking at his watch. “We’ll talk about it later. Clean up, please, time to go!”

Autumn and her father, Marshall, and his girlfriend, Chloe, were off to hike in the mountains near their home. They were met at a trailhead by friends, Steve and Kim, and their little baby, Luna.

“Hi, Autumn!” Steve and Kim said.

Luna, strapped to her mother’s chest, peered at Autumn with her big dark eyes.

“Luna is so pretty!” Autumn said.

Autumn heaved her Tinker Bell backpack over her shoulder, filled with Band-Aids and peanuts, and ran uphill. The adults trailed behind.

After a while, they came to an open field, where stood a magnificent apple tree.

Autumn couldn’t help herself. She rushed to the tree and tried in vain to pluck one of the red, shiny, low-lying fruit.

The adults agreed that a lone apple tree in the wild was unusual, even for Los Angeles, a city where the unusual was not uncommon, but what happened next was more so.

From the ridge, a white glistening unicorn galloped into sight.

The majestic creature slowed to a trot and ambled toward the apple tree. There, it pulled the branches with its mouth, causing apples to fall.

One landed in Autumn’s hand. The unicorn gently nibbled the apple, tickling her fingers, until swallowing it whole.

The unicorn peered into Autumn’s eyes, neighed quietly, then vanished.

Autumn turned toward the adults.

“Wasn’t that awesome?” she said.

Steve scratched his head. Kim adjusted the baby strap. Chloe sipped water from a bottle.

Marshall gazed at his daughter.

“Sure was,” he said. “All of those apples falling at once. Who would have thought?”

“We must have just had a little earthquake,” Steve said, examining the apple tree. “But I didn’t feel anything, did you?”

The adults shook their heads.

They must not have seen the unicorn, Autumn thought. How strange.

“Gather up those apples, and let’s get going,” Autumn’s father said.

Autumn noticed that Luna continued staring at the empty space where the unicorn once stood. Then, she smiled at Autumn. Autumn smiled back. At least Luna knew.

Autumn stuffed the fallen apples into her Tinker Bell backpack. She rejoined the group.

They continued to hike. Finally, they came to a grassy clearing at the end of the trail. There stood a lone oak tree.

An old woman with raggedy hair and dirty clothes was building something around the tree. It involved a blue tarp and a shopping cart and pieces of cardboard.

“It’s a park house!” Autumn said. “Look, Daddy, look!”

But no one else seemed to notice the lady, except Luna. Like the unicorn, it was as if they couldn’t see her.

As Autumn continued tugging on her father’s shirt, trying to get his attention, Marshall bent down suddenly and met his daughter, eye to eye.

“Remember how I mentioned the word ‘civilization’ to you earlier today?” he said.

“Yes, Daddy. What is it?”

“Civilization is like our city, Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s a place where a lot of people come together to live. Some people live in big fabulous houses, but most of us live in little houses, or apartments. Some people don’t have homes at all, like that lady there, so she’s building herself one.”

Autumn stood in silence and watched the lady. Slowly, she opened her backpack.

“May I give her an apple?” she said.

“Yes,” her father said. “Let’s give it to her together. I’m sure she would like that.”

The Valentine’s Day Surprise

When Valentine’s Day arrived, Autumn was sad to see that her father had neglected to bring her a card.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “I guess I forgot.”

But Autumn did not. She handed her father the red heart-shaped Valentine she made for him that morning and quietly walked out the door to the car.

It was Saturday, and they were busy, as usual. First they were off to ballet class, then lunch, then grocery shopping, then to the park to play before dinner, bath and bed.

Autumn loved the park, where she liked to make friends.

“May I play with you?” she said to two girls.

They were digging a hole in the sand. They didn’t bother looking at her.

“No,” one of them said.

They continued digging.

“Okay,” Autumn said.

Her lips quivered a little, and then she moved on.

It didn’t bother Autumn as much as it used to when kids didn’t want to play with her. She learned from her father long ago that people were sometimes so absorbed in their own business that they could be inconsiderate of others.

“May I play with you?” Autumn said to a group of boys.

“Sure,” one of them said, and he tapped her on the shoulder. “You’re it!”

Autumn counted to ten, and then she chased the boys in a game of hide-and-go-seek. Because she was fast, she easily caught a boy, and because she was small, she easily fit into a cranny where no one bothered to look for her.

This gave Autumn time to think.

As she lay hidden, tucked behind a slide, she thought about her father. She was sad because he forgot to give her a Valentine.

The more she thought about it, the sadder she became. It made her want to cry.

Autumn heard a scratchy voice whisper in her ear.

“Don’t worry, my pretty,” the voice said. “Your daddy doesn’t love you as much as I do.”

Autumn felt something in her hand. She peeked.

It was an apple, shiny and red, just like the Valentine from her father should have been.

Autumn wanted to take a bite out of the apple, but she hesitated. She wasn’t sure why.

She ran to her father and showed it to him.

“Wow,” her father said. “Where did you get that?”

“A lady gave it to me,” Autumn said. “Can I eat it?”

“What lady?”

Autumn turned toward the playground. She spotted the boys and girls, but not the lady with the scratchy voice who offered her the apple.

“I don’t see her anywhere,” Autumn said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“That’s strange,” her father said. “Maybe she was a witch — or maybe you just picked the apple off the ground.”

“I didn’t, Daddy!”

“I believe you.”

Autumn’s father opened his hand, and Autumn gave him the apple.

“What do we call people we don’t know?” he said.

“Strangers.”

“Exactly,” her father said. “And what are we supposed to do if strangers offer us treats?”

“Not eat them.”

“Exactly.”

Autumn’s father tossed the apple in a trash can.

“But, Daddy, I want a treat!”

“Of course you do.”

Autumn’s father handed her a folded napkin instead.

“Open it.”

The napkin had words written on it. Autumn’s father helped her sound out the words:

“I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING. YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY VALENTINE – XO DAD”

“Thank you, Daddy!” Autumn said.

She gave her father a hug.

Autumn was happy, but she wasn’t satisfied. She still craved something sweet.

“Come on,” her father said.

“Where are we going?” Autumn said. “I want to play a little longer.”

“We’re getting ice cream.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Yay!” Autumn said, and then she seemed confused. “Why, Daddy?”

Her parents rarely let her have sweets. They said sugar from cupcakes and candy and other stuff like that wasn’t good for her.

“First, because it’s Valentine’s Day, a special occasion,” her father said. “Second, because you didn’t eat the treat a stranger offered you, even a healthy treat.”

As Autumn and her father left the park, she glanced back.

She thought she saw a witch peeking at her from a tree.

 

The troll goes to the birthday party

Once upon a time, a happy little girl named Autumn was on her way to an indoor playroom to celebrate her birthday with family and friends.

As she walked with her father Marshall and his girlfriend Chloe toward their truck, they passed a big bush that started to rattle.

“What’s the matter with that bush?” Autumn said.

“I think someone is hiding inside it,” said Marshall. “Who goes there?”

The bush stopped rattling. All was quiet.

“Maybe there’s nobody in there,” Autumn said.

Two big feet, which looked more like hooves, poked out from the bottom of the bush.

“Oh, gee, look!” Autumn said to her father. Then, to the feet, “Come out so we can see you!”

But nothing did.

“Maybe it’s scared,” Marshall said.

“Are you scared?” Autumn said.

The bush rattled again.

“You have no reason to be scared,” Marshall said. “We won’t hurt you. We just want to know who you are, and what you are doing here.”

The bush stopped rattling. Slowly, the feet emerged from the bush, connected to a large torso, connected to two arms and a large head.

It was a troll, with a sad face.

“Uh, oh,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure I want to know what a monster like this is doing here. Perhaps it should go away.”

The troll’s face grew sadder.

“It’s okay, Daddy, I know why the troll is here,” Autumn said. Then to it, “You’re lonely, aren’t you?”

“Wuf,” the troll said.

“Do you want to go to my birthday party?”

The troll nodded its head.

“Wuf, wuf!”

“Sweetheart, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Marshall said. “This monster is big, maybe mean. Someone at your party could get hurt.”

“I think your father is right,” Chloe said. “Shouldn’t this troll be keeping to itself on a couch?”

But Autumn wasn’t so sure.

“You promise not to hurt anyone at the party, right?” Autumn said.

The troll nodded its head.

“Wuf, wuf, wuf!”

“See, Daddy,” Autumn said. “He doesn’t want to hurt us. He wants to be friends. He’s a nice troll.”

“Well, you’re the birthday girl,” Marshall said. “As you wish.”

The three rode in the pickup truck to the indoor playroom where the party was to be held. The troll sat in the open back cab, with a big smile, as the wind whistled through its mangy hair.

They arrived at the playroom before guests, and that was probably a good thing, judging by the astonishment of Autumn’s mother, Lauren, busy preparing the party.

“Oh, my!” Lauren said. “There will be too many little ones running around to allow such a big creature on the loose. Look, it can’t even get through the door!”

Sure enough, the troll was stuck as it tried to enter the playroom. Its face grew sad again.

“Here, try this!” Autumn said, and she, her father, her mother and Chloe grabbed the troll by its arms and pulled.

It worked. Once free and inside, the troll smiled.

“Well, I guess we can make do,” Lauren said. “No stomping or eating other guests, okay?”

“Wuf!” the troll said.

Autumn ran and clasped the troll’s leg, hugging it.

“I believe in you!” she said.

With that, mother and father did, too.

Soon the guests arrived, boys and girls and their parents. Autumn was so excited.

The troll stood in the center of the playroom. It was frozen with fear. It had never seen so many happy people before. It didn’t know what to do.

The boys and girls mistook the troll for a play thing, like the slides and swings and tug-o-war rope of the playroom. They climbed its arms, clung to its back. This tickled the troll and made it laugh.

“Wuf, wuf, wuf!” it shouted, filled with joy.

This time the boys and girls were frozen with fear, as well as their parents.

No one knew the troll was alive. They thought it was a giant toy, and they mistook its joy for rage. They thought it was mad, and they were scared.

Kids cried. Parents panicked. They ran and tripped over each other. Some, feeling courageous, tried to use the tug-o-war rope to tie down the troll.

The troll tugged back, playfully, lifting a few children and parents into the air, swinging them round and round the playroom.

“Wuf, wuf, wuf!” the troll shouted.

The children and parents were dizzy. They felt silly as they landed. They laughed.

There was no reason to worry. The troll was fun and safe after all.

The parents watched as children played with their new friend.

Autumn’s birthday party was a great success.

 

The birthday dress that never was