The short and the Tall of it All

“Where IS Summer, this time?” Grandpa looked all around the barn, the old dairy, the stockyards – even peered into the pig pen.

His slow and easy voice showed he didn’t expect to find her there, but the child had taken up near-permanent residence in Pansy’s pen a few weeks ago. Grandpa shook his head again, as he had many, many times. That friendly pig had given birth to TEN piglets on her first ever litter. “TEN!” He snorted out loud to nobody there. “Pansy’s only a young’un herself.” And nobody there answered him.

“Summer! Summer!” he called, and muttered, where is that girl? He pushed the barn door open wide, looking out into the sunny meadow on one side… and then squinting his eyes up tight to see more clearly into the apple orchard on the other side. And there she was, laying back against the trunk of her favourite tree, safe and sound. A large sigh escaped his lips. If Summer could have seen the look of relief easing the many wrinkles of his old face, she would have laughed at him and teased him for worrying even the teensiest bit.

For many moments Grandpa didn’t say another word. The smile tugging at the edges of his mouth showed how much he enjoyed the vision of this small child, chewing on a long stalk of hay, oblivious to her world’s sounds. Summer’s one squinted eye in that small, upturned face showed her focus was on the changing cloud shapes. Grandpa approached her, unwilling to disturb such a charming scene as she traced imagined shapes with one chubby finger of her upraised hand. Despite his stealth, Summer sensed his presence and turned her head trustingly, prompting him to ask what she saw this time. He never tired of looking through her eyes. Her imagination knew no boundaries as it stretched his own far beyond his usual practical and down-to-earth visions.

“Don’t tell me the short man has come down from his tall mountain again, hey punkin’?” And as he lowered himself to sit alongside her, he took one of her long golden braids and tickled her nose with the curly ends hanging below the pink polka-dot ribbon. Summer giggled as she nodded her head so hard Grandpa thought it could roll right off her shoulders.

“And what does he breathe out this day, hey? More animals?” And he settled himself more comfortably. How he loved his little darling telling him a story, instead of the many bedtime ones he told her. She snuggled up against him just as tightly no matter who was the storyteller. But unlike their precious night-time ritual, one snuggle was all Summer could manage before she simply had to wriggle free to point skywards again.

“It’s my Knitty Gritty kids, Pappy. L-O-O-K! Up there between those two branches. See ? Where the old nest is?” And she pulled his head to her so their faces were pressed side by side, to see exactly where she peered. And though he knew he didn’t have a quarter of the imagination running wild behind those shining brown eyes, he pretended. And couldn’t believe the magic happened again, like last time when it was all about animals. Inside the warmth of her… uhmm? Aura? Was that what it was? Grandpa wasn’t sure of its name. All he knew was up close and all around his little punkin’ was this warmth and light, where strange new powers were born and flourished. Like being able to see the shapes and characters who filled her daydream world.

“LOOK! Do you see Gran and Grandpa?” Her voice was small and hushed, but her excitement was impossible to miss. “They’ve got their heads together, Pappy – same as we have.” And she planted a hasty kiss on his ear, with eyes still stretched to their limit sideways. And whether it was the ‘aura’ thing or whatever, Grandpa could see his namesake and the other one who represented his dear old wife, Clara. How well he remembered the amount of time she’d spent creating them. Knitting all their bits and sewing them together; puffing out their small bodies with stuffing; and then the faces. He shook his head to clear the image of the many attempts Clara had made to get those small mouths into the best smile, and darned eyes to match each other, yet magically, seeming to be looking at each other when they were side by side.

And now, with his Summer-eyes at work in place of his old-farmer-see-for-miles ones, more and more of the Knitty Gritty children floated into view.

“Look! Bimbo! It’s Bimbo the Clown,” he said gleefully, beating Summer by a goat’s whisker. “And I can’t even see where your Gran patched him after the terrible night of the munching moths.” For a moment, the suspicion of a tear hovered on Summer’s eyelashes.

“He was SO brave, Pappy. He never cried out when it was happening. He soldiered on. And you know he refused an anaesthetic when Gran mended him. Bimbo just toughed it out.” Summer sniffed. “But she did have to restitch his mouth to put his special smile back.” Her little body stiffened as she pointed off to the other side of the tree – “See? Past those three apples cuddled up tight. See? It’s another bravest one. It’s Molly!” Grandpa had to squint, but then he too could see a cute little mop cap shading the brightest eyes.

“Of course. She’s the courageous soul who came all the way across the sea from Tasmania to our BIG island – all by herself!” Grandpa had always been greatly impressed by this small sailor. Certainly, she had been carefully but firmly wrapped, and that was most important, but still it must have been terrifying to be surrounded by strange noises and smells, and not be able to see ANY of the culprits at all. And have no understanding of the hero’s welcome waiting at the end of her journey. Bravery above and beyond the call of duty, Grandpa muttered.

As Grandpa focussed more and more clearly thanks to Summer’s magic, he saw Simon Scarecrow, keeping crows and other troublesome winged types away. Although, Grandpa saw he let angels pass without a problem. SOME feathered friends were ALWAYS welcome.

“And Pappy… do you see Derek the Cat?”

Now it was Grandpa’s turn to nod with such vigour he nearly lost his beanie. “I know him. He’s the one who tells the story of being Dick Whittington’s cat in another lifetime, and going to London to visit the Queen.” And a sly but wide grin nearly split Grandpa’s face in half. “And if I’m not mistaken, there’s his best girl Susie, holding his hand.”

Summer wriggled. “And if we were not so far away, I’ll bet we’d hear him singing his bestiest song in the world—”

“Ahh but I love that one, too.” And Grandpa ducked his head. “… sing it to Gran sometimes, out on the porch, on a moony, starry night—” and he interrupted himself to urrhum-urrhum as two red spots appeared on his wrinkly cheeks and his voice dropped to barely a whisper. “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…’

Summer smiled at her Pappy. Hardly anyone knew what a marshmallow he was behind the rough-tough old farmer image. But then his face changed. He wore a frown now and a questioning look.

“Just a minute. I remember last time how you told me the ‘short man’ is Scotty the Chimney Sweep, and the breaths he breathes to make all these shapes are a heap of giant sneezes from all the dust and grime inside all the chimneys he cleans, right? But how does he get up on the roof in the first place? And the tall mountain, too, on his short legs? That’s what I don’t understand.”

Summer’s face relaxed into her usual happy smile. “Ahh… easy-peasy, Pappy. Great big Harry the Painter – see him?” And she leaned so far to one side Grandpa thought she would topple right over and likely roll down the hill exactly like her beloved Jack and Jill.

“See his big tall ladder? It’s strong as forever. You know what a supercalafragalistic tradesman he is! He props it against any house, and up Scotty goes. And now he doesn’t need any help to climb the tall mountain. His legs are sturdy as tree trunks and he goes up faster than a speeding bullet! See, Pappy?”

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Author’s Note:  Proud to tell you this won third place in a children’s story competition – the challenge being to create a >1500 word story from a paragraph prompt –

Summer lies on the warm grass, her long braids keeping her wind hair out of her freckled face.
She traces the outlines of the shapes in the clouds with a chubby finger and one squinted eye.
“What are you doing out here punkin’?” Summer’s grandpa inquires as he shuffles through the yard.
“Watching the animals,” she replies simply, never taking her eyes off the sky.
“Animals?” Her grandpa asks.
“Yeah Pappy, the animals the short man on the tall mountain makes with his breath.”

 

The Curse of the Deep Green Blues

 

“If I wasn’t green, I’d tell you I was blue.”

“Blue? Why would you want to be blue? Dragons aren’t BLUE!”

“No. Not the colour, my little friend. I mean ‘blue’ as in unhappy, down in the mouth, all that kind of sad puff ‘n stuff.

Timmy tilted his head and stopped licking his lollipop only just long enough to say, “WH-A-A-T?” and “WH-Y-Y-Y??”

He scratched his head some, like he’d seen Grandpa do when he was muddled and befuddled. Timmy had never seen a sniffling snuffling dragon before and wasn’t sure what he should do. His mum always came with the tissue box when he cried – but a dragon with the waterworks would probably need a whole roll of paper towels… best nip that one in the bud, he thought. Maybe give Kaida a lick of lollipop? That could work. And Timmy held up his red and white swirly lollipop as high as he could reach. It was a super-generous gift – Timmy’s favourite – raspberry and vanilla.

Kaida’s large and grateful lick threatened to knock Timmy over, but he braced his legs. He’d been getting dragon licks since he was small, when Kaida blew warm breaths over his baby body to tickle him ever so slightly and post him off to Dreamland. He’d actually learned to walk by holding on to the pointy bits up her spine, becoming excellent at keeping his balance around her.

********

It all started with Farmer Grandpa, once upon a long time ago. Farmers can fix most anything, always living up to the title – ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’. This was never more useful than the day Grandpa met a dragonette in his far paddock. A dragonette, you ask? That’s a youngster, only about 60 something years old, trying hard to be a grown-up. This was Kaida and she had become separated from her mother [who was about two thousand years old, although she liked to say she’d lost track, and forget a few hundred years here and there… seems to be a female kind of thing.]

First came a severe cramp in one wing as Kaida tried to keep up with her mother, flying against a buffety wind, and that had caused the crash landing – luckily into a forest of extremely leafy trees. After she slowly fell through the branches onto a forest floor covered in ivy and mushrooms and a mountain of crackly fallen leaves, Kaida managed to stand up. BUT, to her dismay, she not only couldn’t fly [having damaged her wing] but her fiery, whooshing huff ‘n puff wouldn’t work at all. Instead it came out as a warm and gentle breeze. Her green cheeks turned a brightish pink with embarrassment, imagining how the other dragonettes would laugh and make fun of her. Maybe even her parents would be ashamed of her? She knew they loved her and would pretend it didn’t matter, but it would hurt them terribly when all the other dragonettes were playing their fire-bug games and she couldn’t join in.

Kaida begged Grandpa to help make her better – and being an excellent handyman, always ready to try anything, he wanted to help her… BUT this day it was his job to babysit Timmy, and he couldn’t possibly do both. Kaida convinced him she could let the babe lay on her tail between the pointy bits and sway him ever so slowly, while humming as she curled around him and did some warm-air-blowing. She promised faithfully [and crossed her heart and hoped to die if she lied], she would NOT eat Timmy, even though he looked perfectly scrumptious.

She said, “It’s only fair! PLEASE! I beg you…” Her plaintive tone and tear-filled eyes convinced Grandpa to trust her. With a quick look over his shoulder to make sure Timmy’s mother wasn’t anywhere near to see the risk he was taking, he found the coast was clear [and the paddock too], all the way to the barn where he placed small Timmy in a nest of hay he’d made, beckoning Kaida to lay her head close to the babe. Soon Timmy was sleeping happily in the soft ebb and flow of her loving breath. Kaida couldn’t believe the unsuspected well of love she found deep inside herself.

After several hours of concentrated binding with the strongest silver packaging tape – because band-aids were too wimpy, and gauzy-type bandages likewise – Grandpa was able to patch Kaida up darn-fine-splendid as he liked to say when he did a good job. But reviving the fire and brimstone blasts of breath was impossible. [To tell the truth, Grandpa didn’t try TOO hard. He loved that Kaida could only blow gentle warm breezes, no matter how hard she huffed and puffed.] He pretended much grief as he shared the bad news, but when she broke down and sobbed her great dragon heart out, he did feel truly sorry for her.

“I won’t belong anywhere in Dragonville any more. Even dragonettes have to fire up daily to survive there.” Kaida sniffed so hard the hay around Timmy was nearly sucked up. He murmured and wriggled, but thankfully never woke. “Once upon a long time ago, dragons were the only things flying really high in the sky – even more than twice as high as eagles and the like. And then you human beans started crowding us out with your flying dragon-things; more and more of them, flying ever higher, until some went right off into the darkest sky and never returned. These are powers we don’t understand. So we crept into the deepest caves and hid… or risk perishing if we showed ourselves to you.”

Grandpa was deeply moved. Clearly he’d decided to make this dragon a friend. After all, he murmured quietly to himself, anyone who purrs like Kaida and makes my precious grandson giggle and laugh out loud when he’s awake, and then sleep like a… well-ll-ll… baby – MUST be trustworthy. And as always, gruff old Grandpa’s heart went out to the homeless, even such as this young dragon of almost sixty six.

Turned out it was a wonderful choice Grandpa made. Kaida never ever let him down. Not. One. Single. Time. Even when tiny Timmy was teething and brought to Kaida screaming, she’d calm him down in a moment. Grandpa made sure she had the best of care and a diet rich in banana skins. He’d discovered orange peels were OK, although a bit ho-hum. BUT banana skins? They were a special treat for dragons, and he gratefully and regularly rewarded her with well-deserved treaties. And Timmy grew and flourished and grew some more, until even his mother lost all fear and came to depend on Kaida’s special care.

********

But now, out of the blue, here was Kaida ‘feeling blue’. “But why??” said Timmy, when Kaida lay her head alongside her shoulder and her mouth turned down at the corners. He’d been so sure the lollipop would do it. Why, he was even ready to sacrifice the whole stickful, if worst came to worst.

“Because I can’t make fire, I can’t see the brightest yellows and oranges and reds of flames. My soft huff’n puff stuff is all quiet colours, like lemon and apricot and kind of pinkish.” And Kaida sighed so hard Timmy’s best-loved cap blew off and rolled far away before he could catch it. But despite his loss and before he had time to miss it too much, he started smiling as a super thought popped into his mind.

“It’s OK,” he said. “Think about sunrise colours. They’re all those soft huff’n puff colours, and they are the beginning of a new day… a new chance for each one of us to follow a dream, or be our own new bestiest person [or dragon] we can be. Isn’t that a super-dooper thought?”

“Well-ll yes. I guess so… “ Kaida didn’t sound overly convinced. “But the bright colours? I miss them SO badly.”

“Easy peasy. They’re the colours of sunset – the END of each day. It’s like all your dreams are over, all bridges burned—” and Timmy interrupted himself, putting up his hand like a STOP sign. “BUT that is NOT sad. It just means you can go to bed and dream about all the tomorrows, all the ‘might be gonna happen’ stuff.”

And Timmy stretched out his hand to stroke the soft part of the front of her nose, where it was velvety, just like a horse’s. And Kaida smiled and made an almost whinnying sound… and decided green was the nicest colour a dragon could possibly be.

 

********

 

Author’s Note:  I’m proud to say this small story won Second Prize in a competition for a story suitable for children under 10 years old, 1500 words or less, inspired by the picture that I used as my cover.

Bizarre wee Beasties: Chapter 6 – Derek Cat and his Best Friend, Susie

Maybe you would like to read how this bedtime story began. You could check here –

Those Small Knitty Gritty Kids (or how it all came about) (click here)

Derek Cat and his Best Friend, Susie

I promised myself to puff up my courage to tiptoe into the jungle of enormous cats – and to my great amazement, what did I find? A most appealing cat peeping out of the bushes—and a friend with him. A girl-friend?

Derek twitches his whiskers. “Isn’t it time to talk about cats yet, Mum?”

I’ve been keeping an eye on him, seeing his impatience grow as his tail swishes back and forth, faster and faster. Uh-oh, better give him a say before he gets too angry. I pick him up and tickle below his chin. He loves that. And I say, “OK… your time to shine, Derek.”

He stretches as tall as he can (which is not too tall at all, but shh, don’t tell him that), clears his throat and with a growl, says “Some cats are King of the Jungle, and of the animal world, too. In faraway places, a long, long, long time ago, some cats were treasured and worshipped as gods. Other people thought cats were good luck… while others said we were evil luck.” He frowned and tried for another ferocious growl. “And what’s the story about the one called Dick Whittington’s cat, Mum? You know that one, don’t you?”

I sure do, and it’s my turn for some throat clearing. “Hurr-humm. Many years ago, there was a Whittington family who lived a long way across the sea in England, and they had a famous son named Dick. He became Lord Mayor of London, not just once, but three times. And just like Mary’s lamb in that favourite rhyme – everywhere that Dick went, his cat was sure to follow. I never found out what that London-visiting cat’s name was, but I do know while he was visiting the Queen, he ‘frightened a little mouse under her chair’.

When I first met Derek the Cat, my mind jumped immediately to that rhyme. I wondered if he could be the original ‘Dick Whittington’s Cat’? Maybe not, but he surely looks like all the pictures I’ve ever seen from that old rhyme. There’s the cheeky tilt of his hat and the fluffy feather sitting cheerfully on one side. There’s the belt with a sky blue buckle, holding up trousers tucked into tall boots. And then that candy apple red cloak he wears with such style. Derek certainly looks like a born again Dick Whittington’s cat. Except Derek is not into mouse-chasing business. He’s a gentle soul, who really has no interest in harming anything at all.

Having mentioned this other famous cat, Derek and the other Small Knitty Gritty Kids cannot possibly let me move on without repeating the rhyme – AGAIN!

‘Pussy cat, Pussy cat – where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy cat, Pussy cat – what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.’

Now they are all content – especially Derek… and his dearest Susie looks ever so proud.

# # # # #

With his head leaning against my shoulder and trusting, imploring eyes stretched to look up into mine, Jonjon has a question – “But Sarah! Cats ALWAYS chase mice. Don’t they? Sarah?” And the cheeky tyke tugs my chin around to make sure I give him my full attention. Reluctantly, I stop reading Granny’s words. Sometimes I could strangle this kid – but I guess he has SO much to learn. And I think to myself, didn’t we ALL, when we were young!

“Some cats LOVE mice,” I reassure him. “Truly! I saw a photo just the other day of a cat and mouse who grew up together. Nobody taught them this doesn’t happen in the actual world, so they just went right ahead and became best pals.”

“Ohh, I know, I know!” Jonjon has to wave his hands around like a small whirlwind. “It’s uhmm… you know? Like that picture we saw the other day of the two little boys with the same hair cut to confuse their teacher, so she wouldn’t know who was who. It was so funny, because they couldn’t see that of course she would know – one had MUCH bigger ears than the other one. Remember that one, Sarah? Silly teacher!”

I have to smile. That photo was of a black child and a white one. Neither had any idea THAT was what their difference was. And obviously nor did Jonjon. Cute. So cute.

Meanwhile, back at the story about Derek Cat and Susie…

# # # # #

“But this – make peace, not war attitude? It doesn’t mean you’re not brave, does it Derek?”

“NO WAY!” he answers, with the loudest and most disgusted miaow he can make. “I am REALLY brave – and loyal and faithful. You just ask my Susie… go on!”

I don’t have to. Derek and Susie hang out together all the time and nobody knows him better. He feels the same, and if you listen carefully, you will often hear him sing that old classic—

‘If you knew Susie,
Like I know Susie,
Oh, oh, oh what a girl!
There’s none so classy,
as that fair lassie,
Oh, oh, you should see her super-chassis’

# # # # #

“Sarah, Sarah! Stop for a minute.” And Jonjon curls his hand over my mouth to be sure I can’t continue. “What’s a ‘supershazzy’??”

I pull my face out of his grip to say, ‘“Super CHASSIS’, Jonjon. It’s the umm… well-ll… body of the car. It’s the frame underneath the outside shiny part.”

“But why talk about a car when it’s his girlfriend Susie he means?” His face creases up like a tatty paper bag. “Doesn’t he mean her?”

I flounder a little. “Uhrr… I think it means she has an impressive bone structure beneath her pretty face and uhrr… body!” And I hastily get back to the reading before another ‘WHY?’ can follow the deep intake of breath and Jonjon’s squeezed up lips. “Now shh… and listen to the rest of this chapter. CAN you do that?? P-l-e-a-s-e?” Jonjon looks shamefaced and stays quiet to allow me to continue reading.

# # # # #

Derek knows all the verses, and it’s plain for all to see that Susie just adores hearing her name in song. (Shh-hh… please don’t tell her he didn’t write it especially for her. She believes she is the only Susie in the world). This is easy to understand when you think of the other song he loves to sing to her about the love of two special people—

‘If you were the only girl in the world,
And I were the only boy…’

It IS love. The level of their commitment is clear by the huge smile on Susie’s sweet face (and his too, but Derek’s small mouth shows he’s giving some serious thought to this subject. Huh?)

Uh-oh, surely Derek is not embarrassed by all this love-type talk? I do believe he’s blushing, and he sounds flustered when he says, “I just don’t enjoy talking about our feelings, you know? They’re private. OK?” and he changes the subject.

“You haven’t told them about the thing little cats like me can do that big wild cats can’t,” and he’s grinning again.

I have to chuckle. “The purring bit?” I ask, and he nods his head so hard I fear one of those wonderful feathers may fall off his hat.

“Well… they say big wild cats can only purr on their outward breath because their throats are made to roar. BUT… little cats like Derek can purr on and on without any breaths seeming to happen at all. You are SO clever, Derek,” and I snuggle him tighter. “… and I’m SO happy you don’t roar. That would frighten both Susie and me right away!”

Derek the Cat is a most gentle soul, who doesn’t want to scare or harm anything at all. I have to wonder. Will Derek purr a path to Paradise? And take that sweet Susie with him? I have no doubt they’re bound to be a couple forever.

# # # # #

 

NEXT??  Chapter 7: SIMON SCARECROW (click here)

 

Christine