Monday, December 14, 2015

Dragon Mountain (Part 5)

           by Valerie L. Egar

          Sheriff Joe continued talking into the radio, calling every deputy in the county to respond, while Melchinor lounged in the parking lot, preening his wings. I had to do something and do it fast. 
            I didn’t want to attract Melchinor’s attention. He might run over if he noticed Ziti or me. If Sheriff Joe thought I was in danger, Melchinor might get hurt. I needed to distract Sheriff Joe and get Melchinor out of the way.
            I’ve got a pretty good pitching arm, so I picked up a few rocks. I tossed one lightly at the back window of the police cruiser to get Sheriff Joe to turn around. Then I pitched another at Melchinor, aiming for his tail. I didn’t want to hurt him, I just wanted to startle him, hoping he would fly away.
            With a yelp and a huff of smoke, Melchinor took off. I ran up to Sheriff Joe’s car.
            “Get back, Terry!” Sheriff Joe yelled. “There’s some kind of monster—”
           Three cruisers pulled up, lights flashing, sirens blaring.  Melissa, Mr. Gibbons, Ms. Quirkhorn, Jenna and Mom all came running. I saw a few porch lights flash on as people who had been asleep wakened to the commotion.
            “It’s not safe out here!”  Sheriff Joe shouted.  “I want all of you to go home and stay there.”
            I whispered to Melissa that I’d seen Melchinor and that he’d taken off towards Bridge Street. “The problem is, Sheriff Joe saw him, too.”
Melissa whispered the news to her father and then she and Jenna slipped away to try and catch Melchinor.  Meanwhile, Ziti, excited by the noise, tugged at his leash and jumped up and down.  A few sparks flew from his nose and caught Sheriff Joe’s attention. He stared at Ziti for a long time.  “What kind of dog is that?”
            “ All American shelter dog, ” I said. Mom nodded.
            “He looks a lot like the thing that just flew away. I swear, I saw sparks come out of his nose!”
            Sheriff Joe is a reasonable man, kind and well-respected. He’s also thorough, which is why everyone voted for him. I didn’t know what to say about the sparks, so I looked at Mr. Gibbons.
“Sheriff, can we speak to you alone?”
“I can make some coffee,” Mom volunteered.
“I can’t leave my deputies with a monster on the prowl.”
 “Sheriff, I can explain that so-called ‘monster.’  Please, let the deputies go back to what they were doing. “
Sheriff Joe looked skeptical. “I know what I saw: a creature with wings, that huffed smoke and sneezed sparks.  It  looked dangerous.”
“But it isn’t,” said Mr. Gibbons.
“I’ll give you a half-hour of my time,” said Sheriff Joe. “After that, if I’m not convinced, I’m going to form a search party and capture it.”
To be continued….


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dragon Mountain (Part 4)

       by Valerie L. Egar

     Melissa stood in the doorway and started to cry. Melchinor, the orphaned dragon her Dad brought home for her to raise, had just stretched his newly budded wings and took off for town. That a new species of dragons from Iceland had established a lair in a cave at the top of a mountain in our northern Maine town was a secret. Only Melissa, her Dad, his girlfriend, Ms. Quirkhorn, and I knew.

       Though Melissa's Dad could have easily become famous for his discovery, he knew the dragons would be hunted for trophies and caged in zoos. Our beautiful mountain wilderness would be destroyed by dragons seekers. We had to catch Melchinor before anyone in town saw him.

       "Come on! Hop in the truck!" Mr. Gibbons grabbed his keys.

       I jumped in the cab with Ziti.He was huffing and yelping, smoke blowing from his excited dragon nose. I was starting to see that raising a young dragon was going to be harder than I'd thought. What would I do when Ziti's wings started to grow?

       Melissa scrambled in, carrying Melchinor's favorite toys: his squeaky knight and chewy bone.  We rolled the truck windows down and tried to glimpse Melchinor flying over the trees. The moon was full and silvered the woods. Melissa squeezed the squeaky toy over and over and called his name, but we didn't see him.

       When we got to town, the streets were quiet. Jeb's 24/7 was the only place open and nothing was going on there. We rode up and down the streets, looking in trees and on rooftops, but saw nothing.

       "Maybe we should walk around and look for him," Melissa suggested.

       "Yes," I said. "If he sees Ziti, he might come."

       "What we need is more help," said Mr. Gibbons. "I'm calling Sandy."

       While he was on the phone with Ms. Quirkhorn, I had an idea. If it was OK with Mr. Gibbons, maybe Mom and Jenna could help, too. The way I saw it, they were going to figure out that Ziti was a dragon sooner or later. They'd keep the secret, I knew they would. 

       Mr. Gibbons hesitated when I asked him, but we had a lot of streets to cover, and he agreed that Mom and Jenna would find out the truth about Zita soon enough. While he parked the truck, I ran into the house. Mom had just gotten home from the office and Jenna was upstairs doing her homework.

       "Come quick!" I yelled."I don't have time to explain, but we need help."

       Jenna came down the stairs and rolled her eyes. "What is it now?" Mom looked at me expectantly.

       "Melissa's dragon, Melchinor, flew off tonight. He's somewhere here in town and we have to find him before anyone else does."

       Mom looked at me. "Terry, it's not like you to make up things to get attention. What's going on?"

       Mr. Gibbons and Melissa came inside. "I'm afraid it's true, Ms. Campbell. I'll explain later, but it's really important we find Melchinor as soon as possible. He'll be in danger otherwise."

       "More exciting than algebra homework!" Jenna said. "Tell me what to do."

       As Mom put her sneakers on, Mr. Gibbons explained that Melchinor was friendly and that the goal was to get him back to the truck without anyone seeing him.

       We split up to walk around town, listening for unusual noises. I walked Ziti on his leash and whistled softly, hoping that if Melchinor heard, he would come. The fallen leaves crunched under my feet and the air  felt nippy.

       When I came to Main Street, I heard a siren and saw flashing blue lights headed our way. Sheriff Joe's car skidded to a stop in front of the hardware store. Melchinor was sitting in the parking lot, glowing in the moonlight, preening his wings.

       The police radio crackled. "Send reinforcements!" Sheriff Joe shouted. "Bring plenty of ammunition!"

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune, November 29, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Dragon Mountain (Part 3)

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

      by Valerie L. Egar

     "What's the secret?" Mrs. Tufts asked. She was standing behind us and we didn't know how much she'd heard about the dragons Melissa's Dad had discovered in the mountains. All we knew was that she'd heard the word 'secret' and her nosy radar activated.

          Melissa looked frightened. News about the dragons couldn't slip out or their lives would be in danger. I stood up and looked Mrs. Tufts in the eye. "Melissa and I are planning our Halloween costumes. We're thinking about being dragons." I wasn't lying, Halloween was still a few weeks away and being a dragon had crossed my mind. 

          "Oh." She was disappointed. "But, I heard Melissa say her Dad didn't want anybody to know about the dragons."

          "He wants us to keep our idea secret, so people are surprised. You're not going to say anything, are you?" 

          "Me? I'm like First Knox when it comes to secrets."

          More like a TV broadcast, I thought, but I smiled.

          She looked at Melissa. "Are your Dad and Sandy Quirkhorn still seeing each other?"

          Melissa's mother died a few years ago and now I understood how Ms. Quirkhorn knew about the dragons. 

          "Yes," said Melissa. Her voice could have flash frozen vegetables. 

          "And your mother, Terry? Is she still working late?" 

          Mom was the target of a lot of Mrs. Tufts' gossip. I'd overheard comments that my sister Jenna was "practically raising me," and that Mom "spent more time at work than with her children." I wanted to say "Why do you ask?" but I knew that would only prove that I wasn't being raised properly.  I said, "Yes" and let it go.

          Melissa was pale as Mrs. Tufts walked away.  "That was close."

          The following day, Melissa invited Ziti and me to her house to meet Melchinor. I rode my bike out of town and up a country road that turned to dirt. Ziti galloped along next to me, on a leash. Melissa's house was an old Cape Cod at the end of a long driveway, at the foot of the mountains.

          Melchinor greeted Ziti with a few huffs. He was bigger than Ziti and had translucent wings that grew from his shoulders. As they scuffled in the yard, I asked Melissa, "Is Ziti going to grow wings?" 

          She nodded. 

          Now I was worried. When Ziti grew wings, everyone would know he wasn't a dog. Melissa was far enough from town that no one ever saw Melchinor, but it would be a problem for Ziti.

          Melissa waved off my worry. "Get him a cute dog coat. It will fit over his wings and no one will know."

          Dress Ziti up the way a girl would dress a poodle? I'd get teased for sure, but I'd do just about anything to protect the secret.

          Melissa's Dad came hiking down the mountain as it started to darken. He rubbed Ziti under the chin. "You're a handsome guy," he said. "I have to wonder how you ended up at the shelter."

          I shrugged. Aside from saying he was a stray, the shelter wasn't able to tell us anything about him.

           Mr. Gibbons invited me in. Melissa led the way and Ziti and Melchinor scrambled in after us. As he made pizza, he explained more about the dragons. His theory was that several had flown from Iceland to northern Maine. 

          "I'd always thought that dragons were make-believe."

          Mr. Gibbons shrugged. "Many animals we thought were mythical may exist in remote areas of the world. Think about it, Terry. Since ancient times, people in many different cultures have drawn pictures of dragons. If they never saw one, why do the pictures look similar?"

        Melchinor scratched at the door and huffed. "Melissa, I think he needs to go outside," Mr. Gibbons said.

          I understood. I'd missed the clues once or twice and quickly learned that cleaning up after a dragon is NOT fun.

          When she opened the door, Melchinor yelped, spread his wings and flew over the trees towards town. 

          "Oh no," screamed Melissa. "Melchinor, come back!"   

          To be continued…..

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune, November 22, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dragon Mountain (Part 2)

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

       by Valerie L. Egar

     When Melissa told me to "bug off," it wasn't the answer I expected. I thought telling her that Ziti had a "very long tail" would tip her off that I had a baby dragon. Instead, she was annoyed I'd disturbed her and it made me mad.

    "No wonder you're always alone on the playground!" She looked at me. "I'm trying to tell you something."

         "What?" She wasn't smiling, but at least she was listening.

          It was all or nothing now. After all, I'd told Mom, my sister and best friend I had a baby dragon and they all laughed. I had nothing to lose with Melissa. "I have a baby dragon. Everybody thinks he's a dog."

           Melissa's eyes widened and she looked around to see if anyone was listening. "Let's go outside."

          We sat on a bench under an oak tree outside the library and I told her what I knew about Ziti: how we'd adopted him from the shelter, that his tail was long and strong, how sparks flew from his mouth when he was excited.

          "And smoke comes out of his nose sometimes?" she asked.


          "But unlike pictures of dragons you've seen, he has fur, not scales?"


          "What kind of sound does he make? Does he bark like a dog?"

          I thought about it. He didn't woof when someone came to the door. He snorted and huffed when he was excited and now and then he yelped, but it sounded weird.

          "Mom says he's not exactly a watch dog. He doesn't bark. If I close my bedroom door and he's on the other side, he snorts under the door until I open it."

        "Dragon. Definitely a dragon." The way she said it sounded bossy, like she was telling me something I hadn't already figured out on my own. I wasn't sure I liked it.

            "How do you know?"

          Now, she got prickly. "You're the one who said you had a dragon. I'm just telling you you're right. How did you know to ask me about it?"

            "Ms. Quirkhorn. I asked her if she had any books about what dragons eat and she asked if I had a baby dragon. I told her I didn't, but she told me to talk to you. Is he going to get a lot bigger?"

            "No. He's a new species, Dragonae Minaturus. He'll be about the size of a collie."

            "How do you know?"

            Melissa paused. "I have a dragon, too-- Melchinor." Then, she added, "It's a much better name for a dragon than Ziti."

            I shrugged. "I thought he was a dog. How did you end up with a dragon?"

            "Dad's an ecologist studying the upper ranges of the mountains. He discovered a lair of dragons in the caves up there. Melchinor was orphaned, so he brought him home for me to raise."

            "Wow. That's big news, Melissa. Dragons, a new species. Your Dad's going to be famous."

            "No!" She said it so fiercely, I was almost frightened.  "No one can know about the dragons or their habitat will be ruined. They'll get captured, studied, put in zoos. The mountains will be overrun with hunters who want a trophy dragon for their walls. The dragons are a secret and Dad plans to keep it that way."

            "Did I hear someone say 'secret'?" It was Mrs. Tufts, the town's big mouth. I know it's not nice to call people names, but even Mom says Mrs. Tufts is a nosy gossip. We didn't know how long she'd been listening, and there wasn't a secret in the world that was safe with her.

                                                        To be continued……

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune, October 25, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission fro the author.





Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dragon Mountain (Part One)

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

     by Valerie L. Egar

     At the shelter, I chose the puppy with the longest tail. It seemed unusually long for a dog his size, but I liked the way he wagged it. His tail was so strong, it made a thump-thump-thump that even people in the parking could hear.

       The little dog was white with chocolate drop eyes and snuggled into my arms as I carried him to the car. I named him "Ziti," because of his color. I liked that name a lot better than "Cloud," "Macaroni," or "Q-tip," the names my sister Jenna suggested.

       Ziti's long tail whipped the flowers in Mom's garden off at the roots, and knocked my books across the bedroom. "Calm down, Ziti," I said and took him outside to run in the yard. 

     "I've never seen a dog with a tail like that," said Mr. Krebs, the postman, when Ziti came bounding down the sidewalk to greet him. Later, I saw a few sparks fly out of Ziti's mouth as we ran around and I realized Ziti wasn't a puppy at  all.

       I ran inside to tell Mom. "Ziti's really a baby dragon." 

       "Sure he is," said Mom, but I knew she didn't believe me.

       I tried Jenna. ""Ziti's not a puppy, he's a baby dragon."

       "Yeah, right."

       I gave it one last try and told my best friend, Mike. He rolled his eyes. "And Mr. Whiskers is really a saber-toothed tiger, not a cat."

       I felt sad no one believed me. I was on my own raising a dragon everyone thought was a puppy. I sat Ziti down for a serious talk. 

       "No breathing fire in the house or around the dried leave in the yard," I said. He nodded.

     "Try to be more careful with your tail. Mom's not too happy about the garden." Ziti practiced moving his tail gracefully, the way a conductor might lead slow music. 

       "That's very good!"

        Ziti appeared to grin and a little smoke came out of his nose. 

       I knew I had a lot to learn about dragons. Was dog food the proper diet? How big might he get? What kind of exercise did he need?  I didn't find too much on the internet: no one had a Facebook page about raising dragons and no one posted any videos on You Tube. I went to the library.

       When I asked Mrs. Quirkhorn, the librarian, what dragons liked to eat, she raised her eyebrows. "Have you a young dragon, Terence?" She always calls me 'Terence' instead of 'Terry.'

       I thought it best to say no. "I'm just wondering if anyone ever wrote a book, that's all. 

       She stared at me for a long time. "Are you sure you don't have a dragon?"

     "Where would I get a dragon, Ms. Quirkhorn?" I said. "Last time I checked the Humane Society, they only  had dogs and cats and a guinea pig or two."

       Ms. Quirkhorn lowered her voice to a whisper that was softer than her usual library voice. "I've heard there are a few in the mountains near here," she said. "I think Melissa might have a young one." She pointed to a girl seated at a table reading a book. 

       I'd seen Melissa in school. She was a year older than me, a quiet girl who often sat by herself at recess. 

       I didn't know her and and wasn't sure what I should say. "Hey, I hear you have a dragon?" or "Seen any dragons lately?" Nothing I thought of sounded quite right.

       I walked up to her table. "I, uh, have a new puppy with a very long tail," I said. "Would you like to meet him?"

       "Bug off, creep!" she said.
                                                     TO BE CONTINUED

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune as "My New Puppy, Ziti (Part 1), October 18, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published or reproduced without permission from the author.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Zilla and Truffles at Halloween

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

       by Valerie L. Egar

     Zilla and Truffles, her parrot, were undecided about what they should be for Halloween.

     "How about a pirate?" Mom said.

     Zilla frowned. "I AM a pirate!" Zilla had spent some of her summer captaining a pirate ship, but stopped when Truffles, who grew up in a restaurant, kept saying things like, "The salmon is flavored with lemon and capers" instead of "Hoist the sails, sea dogs!"


     Zilla shook her head. Sometimes Mom did not understand. "I don't want anyone to recognize me. Everyone knows what a great cook I am." After Zilla's brief attempt at pirating, she had opened a cafe and sold millions of strawberry and chocolate cupcakes, while Truffles, who had finally learned to talk like a pirate, entertained customers.

     Zilla looked in her closet. When she saw the blue velvet dress Grandma bought her for her birthday, she had an idea. With ruffles at the neck and lace on the sleeves, it was exactly the kind of clothing Zilla never wore. Zilla liked pants she could wear climbing trees. She liked blouses that were loose and comfortable. She remembered what Mom said when she opened the package: "I'm not sure I'd recognize you in a dress like that." Zilla decided to wear the fancy dress as her Halloween costume. No one had ever seen her dressed like that, and they would have no idea who she was.

     What about Truffles? With his colorful feathers, Zilla decided he could be a butterfly and she made little antennae for him to wear on his head.

     After supper on Halloween, Zilla pulled the fancy dress over her head. She brushed her hair and pushed it back with a velvet headband Grandma had also given her. She put on black patent leather shoes, but because she'd never worn them, they pinched. She knew she could never walk through the neighborhood with tight shoes, so she she put on her scuffed sneakers. 

     When she looked in the mirror, she hardly recognized herself. Mom took a picture that didn't include her sneakers or the trick or treat bag and texted it to Grandma. Truffles was excited and fluttered back and forth like a butterfly with the tiny antennae bopping on his head.

     With Dad staying well behind, Zilla and Truffles stopped at Mrs. Bloom's.

     "Why Zilla, don't you look pretty!" said Mrs. Bloom. "But why aren't you wearing a costume?"

     Zilla frowned. "This is a costume!"

     "Oh," said Mr. Bloom. "I suppose you're a fairy princess?"

     Zilla didn't want to try and explain. "Uh huh," she said, "and Truffles is a butterfly." Truffles spread his wings and waved his antennae.

      Mts. Bloom gave Zilla a chocolate bar and Truffles a handful of peanuts.

     At every house, each person who opened the door recognized Zilla, told her how pretty she looked, and asked why she wasn't dressed up for Halloween. Zilla felt discouraged and even Truffles felt downcast.

     Then, Zilla had an idea. When Mr. Cassidy opened the door, Zilla said, "Ahoy, matey! 'Ave you any loot?"

     Truffles said,"'Ello, sea dog."

     "Oh my goodness," said Mr. Cassidy. "A pirate and a parrot disguised as a pretty little girl and a butterfly!" He handed Zilla three pieces of candy and went to the kitchen for a crisp apple for Truffles.

     After that, word spread through the neighborhood that a wild pirate and her parrot were trick or treating in a clever disguise.

     "That's right," said Zilla. "Don't be fooled when someone who looks like a little girl and a butterfly come knocking on your door!"

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune, October 11, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published or reproduced without permission of the author.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Zilla the Pirate (Illustrated)

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

       by Valerie L. Egar

   Illustrated by Sarah Smith

Author's Note: I published this story on my blog several weeks ago and it inspired Sarah Smith to draw Zilla and her parrot, Truffles. I am thrilled that the story captured Sarah's imagination and thank her for sharing her drawings of Zilla and Truffles. Though I can't promise to post other drawings of SNICKERTALE stories on the blog, I will share them on my Facebook page.  If you are inspired by a story and draw a picture, please forward them to me on my Facebook page with your name.  Thanks! 

     When Zilla decided to become a pirate, she outfitted a fine ship with shiny brass cannons and recruited a hearty crew of sailors. She filled the ship's hold with food and water for the long sea journey, hired a carpenter to build treasure chests, and bought paper and colored markers to draw treasure maps. Now, all she needed was a parrot.

     Zilla knew parrots and pirates went together like macaroni and cheese, because in every pirate picture she saw, a big green parrot perched on the captain's shoulder. Zilla set out to find a parrot and hoped it would say things like, "Shiver me timbers," and  "Hang him from the yard arm, Bucko!"Once she had a parrot, she could set sail. 

"Once she had a parrot, she could set sail."

      Zilla looked far and wide and finally found a parrot with an odd name, Truffles. The shopkeeper assured her that the parrot knew how to talk, but seemed reluctant to tell her what the parrot knew how to say. Truffles was handsome with sleek green feathers and rubbed his head against Zilla's cheek in a kind of parrot hug. Zilla loved him immediately, even though she wasn't sure "love" was a word pirates used, even for their parrot companions. 

      At last, the pirate ship was ready to sail. Zilla stood on the deck with Truffles perched on her shoulder and waved her cutlass at the crew. "Batten down the hatches!" she yelled. "Heave ho, you scurvy dogs!"

     The crew hoisted the ropes and raised the sails.

     Truffles squawked, "Would Madam like more lemon in her tea?"

      The crew stopped working and started to laugh. Zilla glared. "Back to work sea dogs!"

Zilla glared. "Back to work, sea dogs!"

      "Mr. Maddock slurps his soup," said Truffles. He made a nasty sucking sound. 

      The first mate laughed so hard, tears came from his eyes. "Blimey!" he said. "That's no pirate's parrot!"

     "Parrots don't eat parsnips," said Truffles. "Ewww!"

     Zilla tried to restore order by stamping her foot and shaking her cutlass at the unruly crew, but all of them were laughing too hard to get back to work. The ship returned to dock.

     The following week, Zilla tried to train Truffles to be a proper pirate's parrot. She repeated, "Yo ho ho," "Blow me down,""Ahoy, matey," and other pirate phrases hundreds of times. No matter what she said, though, Truffles squawked, "The Reilly sisters are not good tippers" and "Quiet! Chef Henri is making soufflĂ©." 

     Zilla sighed. She loved Truffles, but it seemed a pirate's life was not cut out for them. She decided to open a cafe, since Truffles had so much experience as a restaurant parrot. She made chocolate cupcakes with strawberry frosting, orange cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and fresh lemonade with just the right amount of sugar. She tinted the lemonade pink to make it pretty and hung a big sign over the door, "Zilla's Cupcake Cafe."

Zilla's Cupcake Cafe

     The first customer ordered a chocolate cupcake and a medium lemonade. 

     "Yo ho ho, landlubber!" screamed Truffles. 

     Zilla winced, but the customer laughed. "Pirate, are you?" He left a big tip.

      Truffles talked to the next customer, too. "Walk the plank, you scallywag!" That customer laughed and also left a big tip.

      Soon, people came from all over, not just to eat tasty cupcakes, but to hear Truffles talk like a pirate.  Zilla renamed her business, "Pirate's Cafe" and sold more cupcakes than anyone, thanks to Truffles.

     When the wind blew from the west, though, Zilla still dreamed of being a pirate and sailing the open seas. On those occasions, Truffles sensed her discontent and cheered her by saying, "Escargot are snails, Madam. You eat them with butter" over and over until Zilla began to laugh.

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune,  July 26, 2015.  Story copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar, 2015. May not be published or reproduced without permission from the author. Illustrations copyright 2015 by Sarah Smith and may not be used without permission. 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Scarecrow Through the Seasons

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

                   By Valerie L. Egar

     The scarecrow took its place in the center of the garden in the spring. Hoisted high above rows of vegetables and flowers, the scarecrow was meant to look like a person and frighten birds, rabbits and other animals away.

     Emily and her Dad made the scarecrow from old clothes before the garden was planted. She stuffed straw into a pair of blue jeans and used a red plaid shirt with long sleeves for the body and arms. Newspaper crumpled into an old pillow case made a good head. Emily drew a scary face on it with a marker. She propped a yellow baseball cap her brother never wore on its head and the scarecrow was finished.

     Through the spring and summer, the scarecrow guarded the garden. Rabbits noticed the scarecrow's legs, thought it was a person and scurried away. Crows and other birds took flight when its arms flapped back and forth in a breeze. 

   The scarecrow did its job well and the family harvested string beans and lettuce, tomatoes and squash. In the fall, vines yielded colorful gourds and bright orange pumpkins appeared in the pumpkin patch. 

    When the harvest was over and the last tomato plant pulled and composted, the scarecrow remained at the center of the garden. The holes in its jeans were bigger. Straw spilled from its arms and its shirt pocket was ripped. Its scary face had faded in the hot summer sun.

        "I'm taking it down tomorrow," Dad said.

        Emily thought the scarecrow looked forlorn in the garden all alone, but she was sad to see it go. "Can we keep it up a while longer?" she asked. "Until Halloween?"

        Dad laughed. "If you want, but it's a pretty sorry looking scarecrow!"

       Emily drew a new face on the scarecrow with her markers, making a smiling, happy face. She put one of the pumpkins from her pumpkin patch near it and hung several dried sunflowers on its body.

        Soon, sparrows and chickadees discovered the dried sunflowers and gobbled the seeds. Some of the seeds fell to the ground and a family of field mice found them. They made a winter's nest in the scarecrow's leg.

        For Halloween, Emily draped an old sheet over the scarecrow and put a few green glow sticks under the sheet. She knew she'd done a good job of making the scarecrow into a ghost when a car of teenagers drove by, stopped to look and sped away. 

       "OK, Halloween's over, time to take the scarecrow down," said Dad.

       "We can't," said Emily. "There's a nest of mice in the pants and squirrels hid acorns in the back pocket."

       Dad shrugged. "All right, but a new one goes up in the spring."

       "Of course," said Emily, who loved making scarecrows.

     Emily removed the sheet and put more treats for the birds and animals around the scarecrow.  At Thanksgiving, she put a pilgrim's hat on its head and hung ears of dried corn on it. For Christmas, she decorated it with garlands of popcorn and sprigs of holly berries. 

       When snow covered the scarecrow, Emily pressed two acorns she'd saved for eyes and another for the nose into the snow that covered its face to make it look like a snowman and built a snow woman and a snow dog next to it.  She sprinkled them with birdseed.

       When the spring rains came, Emily knew it was time to prepare for a new garden. She helped her father take the scarecrow down. The field mice had moved and the acorns the squirrels stashed were gone. She put the old straw in the compost heap and the raggedy clothes in the garbage. 

      "Thank you, old scarecrow," she said. "You helped feed and shelter the animals all winter." 

       Emily looked at the red  dress and silly straw hat Mom gave her for the new scarecrow and got ready to make a new one. 

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune, September 27, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or distributed without permission from the author.





Friday, September 25, 2015

Something Missing on Dad's Birthday

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

        by Valerie L. Egar

    The Randall children surprised Dad with breakfast in bed for his birthday. Christie, who was twelve and allowed to cook, made pancakes. Ten-year-old David microwaved bacon. Nicholas was seven and wasn't sure what to do.

     "You can pour Dad a glass of orange juice and carry it to him," said Christie.

     Dad ate every drop of his breakfast. He said the pancakes were delicious and the bacon crisp, exactly the way he liked it. He drank the orange juice and said it was extra sweet.

     Nicholas knew Dad enjoyed his breakfast, but all he got to do was pour juice out of a carton. He wanted to do something special for Dad and he didn't think pouring juice was enough. 

     When Dad came downstairs, he saw presents. He opened a pretty red, white and blue tin to find chocolate chip cookies Christie made. "Mmmm, delicious!" he said as he tasted one.

     David had placed something in a brown paper bag and taped the bag shut. Dad pulled at the tape and took out a birdhouse David had painted. "This is great!" Dad said. "I heard some wrens the other day and I think they will like this house very much."

     Nicholas had wrapped his present in the Sunday comics and it looked colorful and bright. Dad opened the package and found a picture Nicholas drew of a man in a blue truck. Nicholas' Mom helped him put it in a frame he'd found in the attic.

     "That's you, Dad," said Nicholas.

     Dad smiled. "It  looks just like me." He put it on his desk. Nicholas knew Dad liked the picture, but he still felt as though something was missing. Somehow, the picture wasn't enough.

     That afternoon, the family went to a baseball game. Dad loved watching his favorite team, but so far, the season hadn't been a good one. "We've got to cheer them on said Dad. Every time the team made a good play, Dad, Christie, David and Nicholas yelled as loud as they could. 

     When the game was over, Dad was all smiles. "I've never heard anyone cheer as loud as you kids. You helped them win."

     Nicholas had yelled so loud, so often, he didn't have much left to his voice. He knew the win made Dad happy, but even that didn't feel like enough. Something was still missing.

     When they arrived home, Mom made Dad's favorite dinner. Mom asked Nicholas not to say, "Eww, gross" when she brought it to the table. Nicholas thought not making any comments might be a kind of present too, so when Mom surprised Dad with the biggest lobster ever, Nicholas quietly ate his hamburger. Staying quiet, hard as it was, didn't seem like enough.

     When Nicholas went to bed, Dad came to tuck him in. "Thank you for making my birthday special, Nicholas."

     Nicholas hugged Dad. "I love you very much, Daddy."

     Dad's eyes brightened and Nicholas knew he'd finally found the something that had been missing.

Published in The Sunday Journal Tribune June 28, 2015. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or distributed without permission from the author.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Zilla and Truffles at School

Snicker. The blog is named after him.

                 by Valerie L. Egar

     When summer ended, Zilla hung up her chef's hat, closed Pirate Cafe and got ready for school. Summer had been exciting. At the beginning, she and Truffles, her parrot, tried the pirate's life. Then, because of Truffles' restaurant experience, they settled down and opened a cupcake cafe.

     Zilla sold millions of cupcakes while Truffles entertained customers saying, "Yo ho ho, landlubber," and "Walk the plank, matey." Even though the cafe was successful, they still yearned for the open sea and the thrill of buried treasure.

     It isn't easy for anyone with a pirate's heart to settle down to school books and rules. Because Zilla had captained a pirate's ship and ran a cafe, she was used to making rules and not very good at following anyone else's. Truffles never waited his turn to speak, but said whatever he wanted when he felt like saying it. 

     The first few weeks of school were hard. Though the teacher, Ms. Bracey, made generous allowances for pirates, she made it clear that Truffles could not refer to anyone, especially the principal, as a "scurvy dog." She advised Truffles that only polite language was used in school.

     Ms. Bracey separated Zilla and Truffles during math lessons when she saw Truffles whispering answers in Zilla's ear. He had memorized the multiplication tables easily and Zilla still struggled with them.

     Over and over, Ms. Bracey reminded Zilla and Truffles to raise a hand, or a wing, and wait to be called on before talking in class. Over and over, she reminded Zilla that even pirates follow directions.

     Soon it was time for Ms. Bracey to select someone from the class to be a hall monitor. When students went to the cafeteria for lunch, the monitor made sure no one pushed or ran. 

     Zilla liked the bright red hat monitors wore and hoped Ms. Bracey would chose her. She'd practiced saying, "Walk, don't run" in the mirror so many times, even Truffles could say it.

     When the time came, Ms. Bracey chose Ellis, a quiet boy who followed all the rules. Zilla didn't think anyone would even hear him say, "Walk, don't run." Zilla was disappointed.

     One day, Ellis was absent and Ms. Bracey needed someone to fill in for him. Zilla raised her hand and didn't shout. Truffles sat quietly on her shoulder. Ms. Bracey noticed how much they had improved and decided they could take Ellis' place for the day.

     At lunchtime, Zilla stood at the end of the hall with Truffles on her shoulder. As classes were dismissed, the halls filled with students on their way to the cafeteria. "Walk, don't run," said Zilla in a loud, clear voice.

     "Walk, landlubbers," screeched Truffles.
     All of a sudden, the fire alarm sounded. Ding! Ding! Ding! The halls were crowded and some of the smaller children looked frightened. 

     Zilla didn't know whether it was a drill or a real fire, but she knew exactly what to do. 

     "Walk to the nearest door and leave the building," she said calmly. Truffles left her shoulder and flew back and forth over the children. "Walk," he said. "Don't run, landlubbers."

     Zilla pointed the way to the nearest exit. As the alarm continued to clang, she said over and over, "Walk, don't run." Truffles helped by flying back and forth, showing the way to the door.

     Zilla didn't leave the hallway until the last child was out of the building. When she left, Ms. Bracey was right behind her. They saw a fireman with a stopwatch. 

     "That's the best drill this school has ever had," he said. "It was the fastest and the safest."

     Ms. Bracey said, "We can thank Zilla and Truffles for that. They knew exactly what to do."

     At the next school assembly, the Fire Chief presented Zilla and Truffles an award for leadership. 

     "Pirates know how to get things done," said Zilla and with that, Ms. Bracey had to agree.

Published September 13, 2015 in The Sunday Journal Tribune. Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.