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.

The Great Rock Pool Rescue

 

Debbie was trapped. Trapped and terrified.

Exploring the vast rock pool had been such fun—surely it was only moments ago she’d been hiding in caves; slithering through seaweed; investigating all those shellfish. But the tide silently slipped out while Debbie was busy, and she’d been a naughty baby dolphin, pretending not to hear when Mother called her, over and over again. Now she was darting around, hoping against hope to find an escape, but the rock pool was slowly getting smaller.

Out in the ocean Mother cried frantically, “HELP! HELP! Someone PLEASE save my baby Debbie. She can’t live through the hours until the next tide without a feed, without me.”

The Sea answered sternly. “I follow the moon and MUST change my tides at precise moments. All who live within me must learn this and obey. THIS IS MY LAW.”

“Oh please,” said Mother. “Please don’t be such a cruel sea.”

But the Sea kept flowing away.

High above, seagulls soared and swooped, nosily dipping down to investigate, only to  start arguing, pecking, squawking, and offering Mother no help at all

High above, seagulls soared and swooped, nosily dipping down to investigate, only to start arguing, pecking, squawking, and offering Mother no help at all.

“DO stop fighting and think of something!” she said. But they were too busy scavenging to think of anyone else.

Just then, shimmying through the crystal water, tentacles rippling behind like a bunch of super spaghetti, came Jilly Jellyfish. “Maybe if I spread my tentacles across the rocks, Debbie could slither over them into the sea?”

Mother shook her head sadly. “No-o-o! Your tentacles sting terribly.”

Claudia Crab scrabbled sideways onto a rock. “Oh! I’d have pulled Debbie up onto Jilly’s tentacles with my trusty nippers.”

” NO!” Mother was horrified. “Your claws would hurt her… but thank you.”

Todd Tortoise ambled slowly across the rocks. “If—I—got—underneath—her, I—could—piggyback—her—out—of—there.” And he sighed with exhaustion from saying so much.

“Oh Todd, such a splendid idea, except she’d slide off your great round back.” Todd nodded, slowly and sadly.

Another voice rang out—Electra Eel. “If I gave her an electric charge from my tail, she’d jump clear out into the sea.”

“Electra! NO! That is too shocking. Oh, what ARE we to do?” A giant tear slid down Mother’s face.

Suddenly Octavia Octopus bobbed up alongside Mother. “I could wrap one of my l-o-n-g arms around her and pull her out, but I need something strong to hold onto with another arm.”

“. . . and she would still be hurt, being dragged over the rocks.” Mother was desperate now.

Tiny voices babbled and twittered from the rock pool.

“We want to help!” said Percy Periwinkle.

“. . . but we’re too small,” said Annie Anemone.

“. . . but there must be something we can do,” said Colin Cockle.

“. . . and I know what it is,” said Lucy Limpet. “Chatter and keep Debbie company!”

And they did. And Debbie felt a little better. Still, more of Mother’s tears became lost in all the other salt water.

A sudden ‘whoosh’ overhead, and a startling splash-down announced Felicity Flying-fish!

“If I flew back and forth with news and messages, would that help?” Mother nodded gratefully.

A great shape loomed large in the sky before Patrick Pelican made a water-ski type landing. “My dear… what grave news. How upsetting and worrisome. ‘In flight’, I was thinking I might save the day by catching fish and delivering them in my humongous pantry beak. Then, my dear, she WILL survive until the later tide!” But his ear-to-ear smile drooped at Mother’s reply.

 Then, my dear, she WILL survive until the later tide!" But his ear-to-ear smile drooped at Mother's reply

Aah Patrick. It’s a clever plan, but you don’t understand. We are mammals, so Debbie drinks milk from me. She hasn’t even started a mashed sardine diet yet. She’s still too young.”

“Don’t cry! My nose gets all stuffy when the water is TOO salty.” The voice was long and thin. Sammy Swordfish offered to saw a channel through the rocks, but Mother knew they were far too hard. He would only blunt the points of his saw nose.

A sudden swirling sea-swell frightened Mother, until the great grey head of Winston Whale broke the surface, his nearest small black eye looking sadder and kinder than usual.

“My radar registered your distress from far away, but I feel so helpless. Here am I, strongest of us all. Strong enough to pull her to China and then Peru… but I can’t reach her. I can’t do it alone. None of us can make it alone,” and he blew a huge bubbling sigh into the sea.

“Bravo, Winston! THEY are the keywords!” The deep stern voice came around the rocks just before its lumbering owner—Sergeant Stonewall Sea-lion—oldest and wisest of them all. Twitching his whiskers, he harrumphed importantly.

"A combined air, land and sea rescue is the thing to solve this dilemma

“A combined air, land and sea rescue is the thing to solve this dilemma. I recall the time down at the old Antarctic, when the penguins were revolting. They were coming at us from all directions. Must have been over a thousand of them. Our strategy was—”

 Our strategy was—"

“Oh please, Sgt. Stonewall.” Mother interrupted, politely. “PLEASE? Another time? My baby seriously needs help RIGHT now.”

The Sergeant looked embarrassed. “Well yes. Humble apologies and all that. Bit carried away for a moment. Heat of the battle… sorry!” Harrumphing again, arranging his sternest face and most important voice, he said, “Right troops, here is my strategic plan. Every man must carry out orders without question, without hesitation. Can I count on you?” And even though several ladies were part of the crowd, they all replied as if with one voice – “YES, SIR!”

“Good! First I need you, Jilly Jellyfish.” She quivered through every tentacle with excitement and pride to be the first called to action. “You choose the longest, strongest seaweed in the pool, and hold all shorter ones back with your tentacles.”

And Jilly did.

“Next, we’ll have you, Claudia Crab, hacking off long seaweed with your nippers.”

And Claudia chopped away cheerfully.

“Todd Tortoise! Hurry, there’s a splendid chap, and position yourself beneath baby Debbie.”

At a pace barely faster than slow, Todd slid under Debbie.

“Now, where is Electra Eel?”

“Down here,” she cried, and lit up her tail so all could see her in the darkest depths.

“Listen carefully, Electra. Wrap the seaweed round and around Debbie and Todd, SECURELY tying her to his back. But CAREFUL! You must NOT shock her!”

Like a flash of lightning, Electra tied Debbie up cute as a Christmas parcel on its way to Africa—with a splendid bow on top.

A chorus of voices chimed out, “What are WE to do? There’s no job for us.” And Percy Periwinkle, Annie Anemone, Colin Cockle and Lucy Limpet cried piteously.

“Harrumph!” Sgt. Stonewall couldn’t handle tears. “Come, come now. Get a grip on yourselves. You shall encourage the rest of the troops to victory.”

They all stopped crying and started laughing, for now they were the Official Cheer Squad.

“Attention troops. I said ATTENTION!” The Sergeant roared, as everyone had become excited and far too noisy. Instantly they stopped and listened.

“That’s better! Now Felicity Flying-fish, continue your ‘fly-between’, comforting Debbie. And Patrick Pelican—hover above and direct movements from an aerial view-point.”

So Felicity flew, and Patrick hovered.

“Now,” said the Sergeant, “Octavia Octopus, put your longest, strongest arm into the rock pool; take a firm grip on those seaweed ties; and wrap your second longest, strongest arm around Winston Whale’s tail.”

Octavia’s arms clutched their grippiest best.

“NOW – PULL WINSTON, PULL!”

So Winston pulled; Octavia’s grip tightened; Jilly held the short seaweed away; the Cheer Squad encouraged loudly; and s-l-o-w-l-y, carefully, Todd Tortoise and baby Debbie emerged from the pool, up over the rocks, and down the other side—SPLASH into the deep blue sea.

Everyone cheered, but Sgt. Stonewall hadn’t finished. “WAIT! There is one more thing to do. Sammy Swordfish?”

“YES, SIR!” Sammy snapped to attention, long nose quivering expectantly.

“Saw through those seaweed ties with your grand saw nose to release Debbie. BUT… CAREFULLY, so you don’t cut her.”

Sammy sliced, and the seaweed fell away.

Debbie surged toward Mother and gratefully, greedily drank—and Mother laughed and cried as Mothers always do, and couldn’t stop thanking her friends for their marvellous rescue.

Debbie surged toward Mother and gratefully, greedily drank—and Mother laughed and cried as Mothers always do, and couldn't stop thanking her friends for their marvellous rescue

“Teamwork,” she whooped in delight and gratitude. “We ALL need each other to succeed.”

All the sea creatures cheered and splashed and flapped , while Sgt. Stonewall Sea-lion roared his approval, puffed out his great hairy chest and harrumphed as everyone crowded around congratulating him.

High above the flock of seagulls still screeched and squawked and squabbled, as seagulls ALWAYS do.

High above the flock of seagulls still screeched and squawked and squabbled, as seagulls ALWAYS do

The Sea smiled, creating a warm, soft current to drift Debbie and Mother into safer, deeper waters.

He was happy to see one of his own saved, because he was not really such a cruel sea at all.

He was happy to see one of his own saved, because he was not really such a cruel sea at all

 

Author’s Note:  Proud to tell you this won FIRST place in a children’s story competition – the challenge being to create a >1500 words on the theme Diversity (and must include at least 3 pictures)