Monday, February 26, 2018

Trading Places

Trading Places
                                          By Valerie L. Egar

            Matt yawned as he got ready for bed. “Gosh, I wish I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow!” He looked at his Labrador Retriever, Jasper. “You have the life, staying home all day. You ought to go to school!”
            As Matt pulled the covers under his chin, he stared at the full moon glowing outside his window. “I really wish Jasper and I could trade places, just for one day.”
            When Matt awakened, he was surprised to find himself stretched out on the carpet, with paws instead of hands and feet. He shook his head and felt his ears flop back and forth. He looked in his bed. A boy who looked like him was asleep. He nuzzled the boy and woke him up. “Jasper, is that you?”
            Jasper sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Matt?”
            Matt realized his wish had come true. Jasper looked like him and was going to have to go to school. He looked like Jasper and was in for a day of lazing around on the couch. Oh, this was going to be fun!
            “Matt! Breakfast!”
     Jasper fumbled his way through getting dressed, since he’d never worn human clothes before. He was anxious to go downstairs for breakfast. Eggs, bacon, toast. Jasper gulped his breakfast in seconds flat and asked for more.
           “Matt! Where are your manners this morning?”
            “I’m really hungry,” the dog turned human replied.
            The real Matt wagged his tail and circled the table. He was hungry, too.
            “Jasper! Stop begging. Eat your Dog Crunchies.” Matt looked at Jasper’s bowl. Ick. He might look like a dog, but dog food was disgusting. He nudged his best friend who was on second helpings and looked at him with his big brown eyes. He was grateful for the slice of bacon Jasper slipped under the table.
            “I saw that,” said his sister. “You’re not supposed to feed Jasper at the table, Matt!”
Soon the house was empty. Mom and Dad left for work and Jasper and Matt’s sister got on the bus to school. Matt wandered the house. He was still hungry, but he couldn’t open the refrigerator. Mom hadn’t left anything good to eat on the counters. He was thirsty and looked in Jasper’s water bowl. Yuk. He took a few quick laps and reminded himself to wash Jasper’s bowl more often when he turned back into a boy.
            He couldn’t turn the TV on or play video games. Matt looked out the window and watched squirrels.  Squirrels were interesting. He started to think how much fun it might be to chase one. Wait! That’s what Jasper would think. Matt felt confused. He jumped on the couch to nap. Being home all day with nothing to do was boring.

         Meanwhile, Jasper was having a hard time at school. Sitting at a desk for a long time without moving was almost impossible. He’d seen police dogs that could stay in one position patiently, but that wasn’t for him. He stared out the window. A white cat walking across the playground caught his attention. “Look!” he shouted. “A cat! I see a cat!”
            “Matt,” Ms. Bevins said, “What is the matter with you? Quiet, please.”
            The only thing Jasper liked about school was lunch. Sheila ate her sandwich and left the crusts. “Do you mind if I eat those?” he asked. Sheila wrinkled her nose. “If you want them, go ahead.”
            He finished Jana’s yogurt and half of a ham sandwich Jayden didn’t want. He bent to pick up a piece of cookie that had fallen on the floor, but caught himself.  Humans didn’t eat things off the floor. Too bad for them.
            By the time Jasper got back home, he was tired of being human. “Except for the food, going to school is awful.”
Matt wagged his tail. “Being a dog is boring. I can’t wait to go back to school tomorrow.”

            Both of them went to bed early, anxious to change back into boy Matt and dog Jasper.  One day of trading places was enough.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author. 

Published February 25, 2018, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monique's Miniature Service Horse

Monique’s Miniature Service Horse
                                                By Valerie L. Egar
            Mr. Dean held up his hand to quiet his Fifth Grade class. “Are there any more questions for Monique?”
            “Why a horse instead of a dog?” Elle asked.
            Monique smiled. “I’m allergic to dogs. And, when I grow bigger, a dog wouldn’t be strong enough for me to lean on and lift myself up if I fall.” Monique sat at the front of the class next to Mr. Dean, her legs in braces. “I can lean against a horse, hold onto its harness and walk.”
            “And you can ride it, too?”
            “No. Miniature horses are too small to ride.” Monique pointed to Mr. Dean’s desk. “She’s about that high. Small enough to ride in the back of our SUV.”
            The class was excited. They were the only class that was going to have a service horse in their classroom with Monique every day. The horse would help Monique get out of her chair and walk. She would go to the cafeteria with the horse, and to music and art. Everywhere Monique went, the horse would go.           
“Does Mr. Pritchitt know about the horse or do we have to sneak it in?”
Mr. Pritchitt was the school’s principal and everyone knew he was very strict. No running in the halls! No shouting in the cafeteria! What if the horse ate everything on the salad bar at lunch? Nobody could guess what Mr. Pritchitt  would say then.
    “Yes, he knows,” said Mr. Dean. 
            “What if the horse does, you know— on the floor?” giggled Jax. Everybody laughed.
            Mr. Dean rolled his eyes. “The horse is house-broken.”
            “Is she going to sleep in your bed?” Taisha asked.
            “No,” said Monique. “The horse will help me in the house, but she’ll have a nice barn and a fenced yard to run around in. She can’t work all the time.”
            On Monday, Monique arrived at school with Daisy. Daisy was caramel color with a white star on her forehead. She was small, just like Monique said. She wore a bright blue vest that identified her as a service animal. When she had the vest on, that meant she was working to help Monique and no one was allowed to touch her or talk to her except Monique. When the vest was off, Daisy was off-duty and Monique’s classmates could pet her.
            Daisy stood quietly by Monique’s desk all morning. When the class walked to the art room, Monique grasped Daisy’s harness and leaned next to her and the little horse walked in step beside her. Tempting as it was to talk to Daisy or pet her, the class understood she was working and left her alone. It was so hard though! She was small and cute, with big brown eyes and a pretty amber mane that would be so much fun to braid!
Soon it was recess and Daisy walked Monique outside. Monique sat on a long bench and unfastened Daisy’s vest. “Playtime, Daisy.”
The little horse trotted around the playground and then walked back to Monique. Everyone gathered around Daisy and pet her. “Can she have a carrot stick?” Shaun asked. “I saved one from my lunch.”
Daisy crunched on the carrot while Monique’s friends braided her mane. When Monique slipped Daisy’s vest back on, it was back to work. She helped Monique stand and walked her to the classroom.
Day in day out, everyone in school saw Daisy with Monique and Daisy became part of the school’s routines. When Monique dressed as a wizard for Halloween, Daisy dressed as a dragon. Daisy stood on stage next to Monique at the spring concert. She led Monique to the ocean’s edge and stood in the water with her at the class picnic.
On the last day of school, Mr. Dean handed out report cards. He gave Monique two.  One was for Daisy! It said:
Helpfulness: A+
Cooperation: A+
Citizenship   A+
Attendance  A+
Daisy the service horse was a straight A student.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published February 18, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Jenna's Superpower

                                                      Jenna’s Superpower
                                           By Valerie L. Egar

            Jenna always suspected she had a superpower that would allow her to change from a human into an animal, but when she woke early one morning and found she’d turned into a parrot, she was disappointed. She’d always imagined becoming a fierce animal like a lion or a stealthy one like a wolf. If she were fated to have a superpower, turning into a parrot seemed second-rate at best. 
Maybe turning into a parrot was a transition before becoming an eagle or a magnificent hawk. She closed her eyes and held her breath. When she opened them, she was still a parrot. Sleek, bright green with a large yellow beak, she flapped her wings and almost crashed into the wall as she started to fly. Steering and landing gracefully were a lot harder than she thought.
Jenna slipped out the window and spread her wings. A warm breeze lofted her higher and she found she could glide over treetops and enjoy the sights below. Flying was fun!
             She tested her landing skills and gently settled on a tree branch. A little shaky, but she was getting better. She took flight again, and practiced turning right, then left. 
            When she settled at the top of a pine tree to rest, she caught the attention of an owl. “Whew! You sure are bright. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Jenna was amazed she understood the owl perfectly.
         “Actually, I live in a house a few miles over there.” Jenna pointed with her wing. “I’m just looking around. See you soon!”
        Talking to the owl felt strange. She made parrot noises that sounded harsh to her ears, but the owl seemed to understand. But, parrots also talked. She wondered if she had that ability. She tried a few words. “Jenna. Applesauce. Rainbow.” Clear as a bell.
            Jenna remembered that parrots also imitated different voices. She tried to sound like her music teacher, Ms. Radnor. “Now class, sing it again from the third measure with feeling.” Perfect! Jenna realized she had the ability to imitate anyone’s voice. She wasn’t sure how that was going to come in handy, but it was fun.
            Jenna circled the park and watched as people fed the ducks. Children played on the swings. People relaxed on park benches and talked.
            She noticed an older man on a park bench. He looked lonely, eating a sandwich all by himself, throwing little pieces of bread to the pigeons. Jenna perched next to him. “Hello,” she said, with a wonderful British accent. “I wonder if I could join you for tea.”
            The man laughed. “Where did you come from?”
            Jenna didn’t answer, but started to sing a comical song. The man laughed harder. Soon, his laughter drew other people near. “Look at the parrot!”  They started talking to the man, asking if the parrot was his. 
Jenna flew off and watched from the treetop. A few people talked for a while and though most wandered off, a woman stayed. She sat on the bench and was still talking to the man when Jenna realized it was time to fly home.
When she slipped back into her room, she immediately turned back into a human. She felt a bit dizzy and still didn’t know how changing from human to parrot and back again worked, but she started to have an idea that being a super-hero wasn’t always about fighting crime or being strong or fierce. Maybe her super-power had something to do with easing loneliness and making people laugh, and for that, turning into a parrot was perfect.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published February 11, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, February 5, 2018

The No-Help Helper

The No-Help Helper
                                        By Valerie L. Egar

        Josh invited his friend Jaden to stay overnight. He was coming at 5:00.
Josh looked around his room. Games and game pieces covered his top bunk. Magazines and papers littered his desktop. Dirty clothes hung over his chair. Books and little cars cluttered the floor. Worse, a funny smell wafted from under the bed. 
“I’ve got lots of work to do before 5:00,” he said to his Maine Coon cat, Broomtail. “Want to help?”
Josh climbed to the top bunk and put the game boards and pieces back in their boxes. Broomtail joined him and sat in a box. “Broomie, that’s no help. Out.”
Broomie swiped Josh’s hand.
“You can’t sit in the box.” Josh gently pushed Broomie out. Broomie stretched. He found a plastic man and a domino near the pillow and swatted them. They fell on the floor. Josh sighed. “You’re not helping!” Josh climbed down to pick them up.
        Broomie yawned, jumped into the lower bunk and nestled on the pillow as Josh finished clearing the top bunk. He put clean sheets on the mattress.
        Josh decided to put clean sheets on the bottom bunk, too. “C’mon Broomie, move.” He lifted him off the bed. Broomie jumped back on.

        “No. Let me get this done first.” He lifted him off again.
         Broomie walked around the room as Josh fitted the bottom sheet onto the mattress.  As Josh opened the flat sheet to spread on the mattress, Broomie jumped on the bed. He was quick and landed under the sheet. Now there was a Broomie lump in the bed. Josh pulled the sheet off.
         “Broom-cat, you are NOT helping!” He put Broomie on the floor and quickly made the bed. “You can go back to sleep now.” Josh patted the mattress, but Broomie had other ideas. He discovered a reel of string on a shelf that Josh used for his kite. String was fun! Broomie knocked it on the floor and it unwound, bouncing over the little cars on the floor. Yards of string tangled in the car wheels as the reel rolled under the bed.

        “Broomie! You’re making more work.” Josh snipped the string with his scissors and threw it in the wastebasket. Broomie jumped after the tail end and knocked the wastebasket over, spilling everything onto the rug.
“Enough!” Josh yelled, frightening Broomie. He jumped onto the desk and skittered across the desktop, sending magazines, markers, pencils and glue stick flying.
         Josh sat on the edge of his bed and put his head in his hands. His room looked worse than ever. He looked at the clock. 3:30. He didn’t have much time left.
         Josh picked up everything that had been in the wastebasket and dumped it in the garbage barrel in the garage. While he was there, he grabbed a cardboard box and put all his toys, books and dirty clothes in it. “Not the best way to clean up,” he thought, “but it works for now.”
 Broomie jumped in the box and made a bed on the dirty clothes. “That’s not helpful!” Josh slid the box into the closet and started to close the door. Broomie jumped out.
After Josh piled his school supplies neatly on his desk, he fished shoes and socks out from under the bed. He discovered what smelled bad—  hummus and carrots he took out of the refrigerator for a snack. Was it three weeks ago? Four? Down to the garbage barrel again. Finally, he was ready to vacuum the rug.
Broomie was afraid of the vacuum. Josh looked around to see where he was. “Must have gone downstairs,” he thought and switched it on. Broomie flew out from under the bed, scrambled across his desk, sending Josh’s markers flying again. He jumped on the top bunk, but slipped and grabbed onto the sheet with his claws. Broomie landed on his feet, leaving a long tear in the sheet.
Josh looked at the clock. 4:45. He pulled new sheets out of the closet and re-made the bed.  He picked the markers off the floor. “Broomie, you’re a no-help helper.”
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME) February 4, 2018