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.

Another Kid’s Treasure

butterfly

Autumn was a born treasure hunter. Not long after she learned to walk, Autumn began scouring the ground in search of shiny objects: buttons, coins, rocks and sea shells were among her favorite findings. For a while, Autumn tried to eat her treasures, but in time, as she grew from toddler to girl, she learned such behavior was neither acceptable nor desirable. When it came to fine dining, Autumn realized she preferred fries over pennies any day.

However, Autumn’s steps toward maturity didn’t stop her from collecting the odd things discarded by everyone else. By the time she began kindergarten, Autumn’s “treasure chest,” as she liked to call it, consisted of a shoe box brimming with a wealth of trinkets collected in her day-to-day travels from home, school, park or beach.

With each figurine, key, pebble or ring Autumn discovered, she liked to recount the story of its unearthing. She was also known to sometimes embellish her tales and attribute magical qualities to the items she found.

“Where did you get this?” said Marshall, Autumn’s father, one morning as they prepared to depart for school.

Marshall held up a small, stitched tie-dyed sack that crumpled in his grip.

“I found it at the laundromat with Mommy,” Autumn said, whispering in a secretive tone. “I think it might be a pouch to carry Pixie Dust … Daddy, do you know what it is?”

“Yes, it’s called a Hacky Sack,” Marshall said. “My friends and I used to play with them when I was a kid. Here, let me show you how.”

Marshall demonstrated how to kick and catch the Hacky Sack with the top of his foot, and he and Autumn practiced passing it back and forth to each other with their feet.

“Cool!” Autumn said.

“Well, Hacky Sacks may not make us float with magic powder, but they can still be fun.”

“Shouldn’t we get going?” said Chloe, Marshall’s girlfriend.

“We should,” Marshall said. “Time to clean up, Autumn.”

As Autumn put away the contents of her shoe box, her father absent-mindedly pocketed the Hacky Sack.

It was Work Day at school, where members of the community volunteered to help beautify the campus. Autumn’s class was gathered at the school garden, where Autumn and her fellow classmates worked alongside their parents weeding and tilling the soil before the spring planting.

“Look what I found!” a boy said, unearthing a caterpillar.

Several of the boy’s classmates, including Autumn, gathered around him.

They took turns admiring and petting the green bug.

“What should I do with it?” the boy said to their teacher, Jay.

“Put it back in the soil where you found it,” Jay said. “That way it will live.”

The boy did as suggested and returned the caterpillar to the soil.

Not long after, another classmate found another caterpillar.

“Look what I found!” she said.

Several of the girl’s classmates, including Autumn, gathered around her.

They took turns admiring and petting the green bug.

“What should I do with it?” the girl said to Jay.

“Put it back in the soil where you found it,” Jay said. “That way it will live.”

The girl did as suggested and returned the caterpillar to the soil.

Autumn and her classmates continued weeding and tilling.

Marshall and Chloe were knelt side by side, pulling weeds and amused in the pleasant work, sunshine and small talk with the children when they noticed a squabble underway.

“Put it back!” a boy shouted.

“Yeah, put it back!” a girl said.

“I won’t!” Autumn said. “It’s mine!”

Marshall glanced up from the soil and noticed Autumn surrounded by her classmates. He walked to the circle, and the crowd of children parted.

“Autumn found a caterpillar, and now she won’t let it go!” the boy said.

“She’s not listening to what Teacher Jay said!” the girl said.

“Autumn, what’s the problem?” Marshall said.

Autumn opened her cupped hands; languishing inside was a green caterpillar.

“That’s a beautiful little creature, isn’t it?” Marshall said.

“Uh, huh,” Autumn said.

“What do you plan on doing with it?” Marshall said.

“I want to take it home and add it to my treasure chest,” Autumn said.

Marshall knelt before his daughter, gazed in her eyes. He spoke as softly as possible.

“But, sweetheart, that’s the problem,” he said. “That caterpillar isn’t like your rocks and keys and rings … it’s alive, and it will die if you don’t let it stay here. This is its home.”

“I can build a home for it,” Autumn said. “I can put it in a jar with sand and grass …”

“Sure, you could,” Marshall said, “and with a little magic, anything is possible … but wouldn’t it be better just to let the caterpillar be, to be surrounded by other caterpillar friends?”

“Maybe,” Autumn said.

“Let this beautiful little creature be, sweetheart,” Marshall said. “Believe me, it’s the right thing to do. You won’t regret it.”

“Okay,” Autumn said, and she slowly put the caterpillar back into the soil.

“Nice job, sweetheart,” Marshall said, and he stood.

He glanced at Autumn’s classmates surrounding her, and he had an idea.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “All of you have worked so hard, why don’t we take a break, and I will show you a little game. I’m sure your teacher won’t mind.”

Marshall pulled out the Hacky Sack and winked at Jay; Jay gave Marshall the thumbs up.

“How many of you have ever played with one of these before?” Autumn’s father said.

Autumn was the only one to raise her hand, so Marshall offered to have him and her demonstrate. Soon, Autumn’s classmates joined them, and they took turns passing the Hacky Sack to one another.

No one mentioned the caterpillars again.

Then, a few months later, Marshall picked up Autumn one day from school, and she and her other classmates rushed him and the other parents toward the school gardens.

There were herbs, vegetables and flowers. There were also beautiful white butterflies, fluttering freely.

It was magic.