Monday, January 27, 2020

Pumpkin Patch Shortcut

                                Pumpkin Patch Short Cut
                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Inspired by a Bantu folktale
A long time ago, before cars and school buses, country children walked over rolling hills and through woods to one-room schoolhouses. With a long walk, there was always something interesting to see.  A girl might find a shiny stone and put it in her pocket. Walking past a cow pasture, a boy might notice a new calf.  
Most children followed the same path every day, but one day Jonas and Micah decided to take a short cut through Farmer Richardson’s pumpkin patch on their way to school.

            It was autumn and a hint of wood smoke scented the air. Red and yellow leaves flashed in the morning sun, but it was the bright orange pumpkins that attracted the boys. Thick vines curled across the field with large pumpkins waiting to be harvested.
            The boys inspected the pumpkins, imagining which ones would make the best jack o’ lanterns. Jonas pointed to the biggest one, perfectly shaped with bright orange skin. “I’d choose that one.”
           Micah shook his head and pointed to one that was knobby and still a little green. “This one would look scarier.”
            Jonah walked over to the pumpkin to get a better look. He ran his fingers over it. With that, the pumpkin began to move, so slightly the boys thought the sunlight on the pumpkin was playing tricks on them.
            “Did you see that?”
            “I don’t think—” The movement grew stronger. Jonah looked across the field. All of the pumpkins were moving, slowing rolling back and forth.
            The boys started to run. By the time they got to the end of the field, the pumpkins were twisting wildly to free themselves from the vines. As they freed themselves, they careened toward the boys. Jonas and Micah ran as fast as they could, pumpkins bumping along behind them.
            Both thought the same thing as they ran— the pumpkins were enchanted. They’d overheard gossip about Farmer Richardson. No one knew much about him, not where he’d come from or why he’d bought a farm in their little town. He kept to himself. Mistress Barnstable swore she’d seen him wandering in the church graveyard at midnight, but her eyes weren’t good and people didn’t believe her.
            “The river!” Micah shouted with the pumpkins close behind. 
            Jonah and Micah jumped into a small rowboat tied to a dock and rowed to the middle of the river as hundreds of pumpkins splashed into the water and sank. The water churned around them, rocking the boat. 
            The boys waited for the water to calm. An hour passed and the water finally quieted. No more pumpkins appeared at the water's edge.  The boys cautiously rowed to shore.
            They arrived at school two hours late, hair messy, clothes wrinkled. “And where have you been?” demanded the teacher.
            The boys knew that no one would believe their story about the pumpkins. “We took a shortcut and it wasn’t a good idea,” Jonas replied.
            “Shortcuts never are,” the teacher announced to the class. “Both of you will stay after class and write, ‘Shortcuts are lazy. I will not be lazy’ one hundred times.”
            Jonas and Micah had no desire to go anywhere near Farmer Richardson’s pumpkin patch on their way home. They didn’t want to see a pumpkin at all, unless it was in a pie. They heard a few days later that he had mysteriously disappeared.
            “Must have sold all his pumpkins before he left,” their father mused. “Wasn’t even one left in his field.”
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published September 21, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Mystery Shop

                                      Mystery Shop
                 By Valerie L. Egar
Roselle did not expect to find a small shop on a back street of the dusty desert town. She’d noticed lots of empty storefronts on the main street— certainly those would be a better place for a business, especially in a town that seemed to depend on tourists for business. She wandered down the street only because she glimpsed a white cat. In the afternoon light, the cat might make a good photo and she was ready, camera in hand.

Instead, the cat disappeared and she discovered the shop. Dirty front windows, with an odd assortment of clutter behind them— a ventriloquist’s dummy. Packets of seeds that looked hundreds of years old.  A silver flute, red paisley shawl, old newspapers. Over the door, a hand painted sign said, “Mystery Shop.”  “It’s a mystery all right,” thought Roselle. “How do they stay in business?” She was curious though and opened the door.
A bell hung on the door jangled as she stepped inside and a woman called from a back room. “I’ll be right there!”
Roselle looked around. 

Despite the dust and lack of organization, the store appealed to her. What looked like diaries bound in leather sat on top of an old piano. She picked one up and opened the cover. “This diary belongs to George Washington.”
            George Washington? The first American president?
            Roselle began to read, tracing her fingers over the faded ink and wobbly cursive handwriting.
Today I chopped down Father’s favorite cherry tree. I have a fine new ax and wanted to see how well it worked. Father was angry and asked….
           Roselle shook her head. If the diary was George Washington’s, what was it doing on a shelf in a dusty store? Shouldn’t it be in a museum?
            A woman appeared from the back room. “Ah, the Washington diary. Lovely isn’t it?”
            “Is it real?”
            “Who knows? It’s a mystery, like everything else in here. Have you seen Picasso’s early artwork? I have a few drawings he did when he was 5.”
            Roselle saw a few scribbles signed “Picasso.”  “Why would a 5 year old sign his scribbles?” Roselle asked.
            The woman shrugged. “How old are you?”
            When did you learn to write your name?
            Roselle shrugged. “When I was 4 I think.”
           “So why are you surprised he knew how to write his name? The woman stared at Roselle. “Where are your parents?”
            “Having lunch at the cafĂ©. I wanted to take a walk. They figured I couldn’t get lost, since there are only two streets in town.”
“And here you are at my marvelous store! I knew someone interesting would come by today.”
            Roselle looked at the items displayed in a glass case by the cash register. Broken pottery, a few rocks, photographs.
            “Would you like to see the Egyptian pottery shards?”
            “They look exactly like my Mom’s dishes.”
            “Leaves were a popular pattern on dishes for thousands of years.”
            Roselle pointed to a photo of a man in a toga. “What’s that?”
            “The only known photograph of Emperor Nero.”
            “We learned about him in school. He’s from ancient Rome. They didn’t have cameras thousands of years ago!”
            The woman sniffed. “The ancients were much smarter and more advanced than we think. And look, it even says ‘Nero’ at the bottom.”
            “Maybe he’s an actor in a play?”
            “Then it would say ‘actor’. It would be misleading otherwise.”
            Roselle sighed. The shop and the woman were rather strange. She needed to get back to her parents who were surely finished with their lunch by now, but she
wanted to buy something, anything, to remember her odd visit. She fished in her pocket. “Have you anything for $2?”
            The woman rooted through a pile of old keys. She pulled a rusty one from the group and held it up. “The key to an ancient walled city, ” she whispered. “I don’t know which one, so I can let you have it for $2.”
Roselle smiled and gave the woman her $2. The key looked exactly like the key her grandmother used to lock her antique desk, but it was fun to imagine an unknown city with a gate she could unlock with a rusted key. She tucked it in her pocket and ran to catch up with her parents.
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          Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
                Published Biddeford Journal Tribune,(Biddeford, ME) October 5, 2019.