Chapter 4: Uncle Jake’s Visit

 

Doom Clown princess

Jack and Ryan were concerned because Uncle Jake was coming to visit, and they didn’t want Doom Clown to ruin their fun with him.

There was a knock on the door.

“Hey, kids, guess who?”

It was Uncle Jake!

Behind the door, Doom Clown stood with a knife, ready to surprise him.

Jack opened the door, and the two brothers quickly dragged Jake through the living room into their bedroom closet.

“Well, I’m glad to see you guys, too, but you hurt my arm … and how about a hug? And what’s with all the secrecy?”

“Shush!” Jack said. “Sorry about the arm, and here’s a hug.”

Both boys embraced their uncle.

“But we’ve got a problem,” Ryan said. “There’s a homicidal clown running around the house, and we need you to help us stop him!”

At that moment, there was a scream.

Autumn, the boys’ little sister, was in trouble. Or so they thought.

They ran to her bedroom and found Doom Clown, seated at her bureau, screaming like a girl.

Autumn was putting makeup on him, making him look like a princess.

Doom Clown looked pretty. And terrified.

“Now’s our chance!” Jack said. “Go for it, Uncle!”

Jake hesitated.

“Well, this isn’t really my style, but she is kind of cute … hey, lady, are you single?”

“What?” Ryan said. “This ain’t no time for shenanigans … Get him!”

“That’s a HIM?” Jake said.

“Yes, and he’s a maniac!” Jack said. “Stop him!”

“Fat chance, suckers!” Doom Clown said.

He pressed a button on his watch and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

“Oh, no, he escaped!” Ryan said.

“Ha, ha, ha!” Doom Clown said.

But when the smoke cleared, they realized he hadn’t escaped at all.

He was stuck. In the mirror.

“Oh, no!” said Doom Clown. “I must have pressed the wrong button on this darn watch …”

“Lucky us,” Jake said. “Looks like we get the last laugh, after all.”

“Maybe, this time,” said Doom Clown.

The mirror swirled in smoke and his face faded in the darkness.

“But I’ll be back … I’LL BE BACK!”

Dragon Buster

Dragon Buster 1

On the day of the camping trip, Marshall arrived at the home of his ex, Lauren, and instead of his usually jubilant 6-year-old daughter greeting him, a pensive young investigator sat on a stool in the middle of the living room with a note pad and pen in hand.

“Good day, sir,” Autumn said, trying to withhold a smile. “Have a seat, please.”

She pointed at the couch; her father did as directed.

“How can I help you, miss?” Marshall said, struggling to hide his amusement.

Autumn crossed her legs and remained silent.

Lauren explained. An argument erupted the day before in Autumn’s kindergarten class after a student lost his pencil, and Autumn suggested a fairy might have taken it. A boy in the class responded that there were no fairies, nor Santa Claus nor Easter Bunny, for that matter. A girl, offended, insisted the boy was mistaken; she claimed to have seen a fairy herself.

The class quickly divided in two camps, the Believers and Non-Believers in a world of magic. Meanwhile, Autumn’s faith had been sufficiently shaken, so much so, in fact, that before her father arrived that morning she created a survey that she intended to use to interview the adults she knew to determine if her favorite mythical creatures were real, or not.

Autumn already completed her interview with her mother. Next was her father.

“First question, sir,” Autumn said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Do you believe in fairies?”

“I believe in you, don’t I?” Marshall said.

Autumn smiled.

“Check,” she said, and with her pen she marked the appropriate square box on her note pad. “Second question, do you believe in Santa Claus?”

Marshall glanced nervously at Lauren; Lauren smiled.

“Let me put it this way,” Marshall said. “I believe in the spirit of Christmas.”

Autumn raised her eyebrows suspiciously, but after further consideration she interpreted her father’s comment in the affirmative.

“Check,” she said, and she marked her survey accordingly. “Third question, do you believe in the Easter Bunny?”

“Maybe,” Marshall said, and he stood. “I’m not sure I have the right answer. What do you think?”

“Excuse me, sir,” Autumn said, and she pointed at the couch. “Please, sit down. I’m the one asking the questions.”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” Marshall said, glancing at his watch. “Chloe’s waiting in the car, time to go!”

“Oh, all right,” Autumn said, and she disembarked from the stool, shoulders slouched, and harrumphed her way to the door.

Autumn kissed her mother goodbye as her father loaded her into her car seat, survey still in hand. As the car ride began, Autumn switched back into investigator mode and greeted Chloe, her father’s girlfriend, seated in the front passenger seat.

“Good day, miss,” Autumn said. “Okay, first question …”

They were on their way to a forest up north that Marshall promised would be unlike any Autumn had ever seen, but she was skeptical. If there were no fairies or Santa Claus or Easter Bunny in the world, what else was left that could be so special?

Autumn mulled the implications of such an existence as she, Marshall and Chloe meandered in the car up the coast.

They had been driving forever, it seemed, and Autumn felt tired as the sun receded beyond the dark blue Pacific outside her window. The car entered a tunnel as Autumn started to doze.

*

The car emerged from the tunnel: what a forest, indeed! There were fields of flowers that resembled sugar cookies, trees made of lollipops, mountains covered in whipped cream.

Bob the Mystic Frog was driving, and El Papa, the immortal potato, sat in the front passenger seat. The Troll from Autumn’s birthday party sat next to Autumn in the backseat. Everyone was in good spirits.

“Wow!” Autumn said. “This is cool. Where are we going?”

“We’re meeting up with your dad and Chloe at the camp site,” Bob said. “Just taking a detour, that’s all.”

They stopped at a fueling station, and some gummy bears ran out of a garage, grabbed a pump and filled the tank with liquid licorice.

The passengers stepped out and stretched. Autumn surveyed the area, and noticed white frogs bellowing from creeks made of orange soda, blue birds soaring through a pink sky that smelled like cotton candy, and little bunnies hopping to and fro.

Then, a horrifying sight: a dragon, purple and menacing, appeared overhead. It zigzagged its way across the sky in a strangely logical fashion, exhaling grayish smoke that formed circles, rectangles and triangles.

Stranger still, the dragon’s eyes were closed. It began to cry out in fear and anger and rained fire on the enchanted wilderness below.

“Run!” the Troll said, and Autumn, her friends and the gummy bears huddled together inside the fueling station.

When the rain of fire ceased, Autumn and the others stepped outside and assessed the damage. Many of the lollipop trees were scorched; some of the sugar cookie flowers were wilted. The frogs, birds and bunnies remained in hiding.

“It’s okay, you can come out now,” Autumn said. “Don’t be afraid, cute little animals.”

Reluctantly, one by one, the mythical creatures of the forest followed Autumn’s cue and again revealed themselves.

“Let’s get out of here,” El Papa said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

Autumn and her friends waved goodbye to the gummy bears. Bob directed the car back to what he believed was the tunnel through which they came, and Autumn was suddenly thrilled at the prospect her nightmare soon would end and she would be reunited with her father and Chloe again.

But that’s not what happened. Bob was a lousy driver, and the tunnel they entered was not a tunnel at all, but a cave.

Deep into the cave they drove, until at last the car’s lights shone on the closed eyes of a dragon slumbering peacefully.

It snored loudly.

“I’m scared!” the Troll said, clinging to Autumn in her car seat.

“What should we do?” Bob said.

“Back up!” El Papa said. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“That’s what you said about the forest, and look where that got us!” the Troll said.

“No, wait,” Autumn said. “We can’t leave. We have to save this magic world.”

With note pad and pen in hand, Autumn disengaged herself from her car seat, opened the door and stepped before the snoozing dragon. Her friends watched, mesmerized, as she sat on the ground, Indian style, and proceeded to ask the terrifying monster a series of questions.

“Do you believe in mountains covered in whip cream?” Autumn said.

No response from the dragon, only snores.

“Trees made of lollipops?”

Still no response, just more loud breathing.

“Gummy bears?”

Nothing.

“Fine,” Autumn said. “It’s clear you don’t care about this world. I’m not sure why I should, either.”

As Autumn stood to leave, the dragon opened its eyes. They were as green as her own.

“Excuse me, little girl,” the dragon said, “I just had a terrible nightmare of a land far, far away. It was a world where people only believed what they could see with their own eyes, and it made me fearful and angry.”

“He must have been flying in his sleep,” Bob said.

“Thank you for bringing my bad behavior to my attention,” the dragon said. “I must remember to eat more strawberries before I nap. That will help calm my nerves. I’m so sorry for scaring you and your friends.”

“We forgive you, and I am sure the forest animals will, too,” Autumn said, and she hugged the dragon’s nose.

She returned to the car.

“How about that?” Bob said. “You saved the day.”

They drove away.

*

As the car exited the tunnel, Autumn startled awake. Her father was behind the wheel, and Chloe was curled up next to him. The sun’s last rays shone through a beautiful forest.

They were surrounded by trees taller than any building Autumn had ever seen, with trunks so red and leaves so green that Autumn thought she was on another planet.

But she wasn’t. She was home, on Earth.

“Pretty awesome, hey?” Marshall said.

It was true, Autumn thought, even if it were a planet without dragons, or at least any she could see.

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.