Mom’s waiting for me, Lucas thinks, better hurry!
He thunders down the back stairs and into the wild back yard, clutching a tattered and faded green book. She is waiting for him, and he throws himself into her lap, making her grunt. Oops, got her with an elbow! When he poked Mary Jane Weiler with his elbow last summer when they were watching a softball game, it had made her cry. “Sorry,” he says.
“It’s ok, honey,” Mom says, and he feels better. Mom really likes to snuggle.
He plops the book into her hands. It’s really old, maybe older than Mom, and it looks sad and beat up. Once Mom had turned a page and it fell out, and it made her cry. It had been her book before she gave it to him; she said her momma had read it to her when she was a little girl. She didn’t have anything else left from when she was a kid, so this book was special.
It was also the best book he had ever read. Maybe it was Mom’s favorite, too, even though she read lots and lots of books. Most of them didn’t even have pictures, and most of the ones that did were dumb. Pictures of rats in mazes, or rows and rows of green plants that all looked the same, not pictures of witches and mermaids and two little girls named Amy and Clarissa.
“Read the part about Malachi, Mom,” Lucas says, “that’s where we left off.” Lucas bets he’s read this book a million times, and it’s still cool!
Mom reads really good, with voices and everything, so the wild back yard starts to turn into Old Witch’s gloomy house on top of a glass mountain. Old Witch is very wicked and knows lots of bad spells and stuff, but she’s kind of dumb. She gets caught being wicked by two little girls and they banish her to the top of a glass mountain where she could never, ever get down, even if she tried for a hundred years. She has to stay there until she learns to be good.
Amy and Clarissa are friends with a magical bumblebee, and he ends up on the glass mountain with Old Witch. Old Witch looks and looks and looks for him, so that she can send him back to the two little girls! Why? Why not just make friends with him? It would be soo cool to have a magical bumblebee as a friend! Lucas had wished for a friend like Malachi every year on his birthday when he blew his candles out. Those sorts of wishes are supposed to come true, weren’t they? He also wished for a snake and a gerbil and a pony, but never, ever on his birthday.
They finished story time by chanting the magical incantation for about the zillionth time, by heart:
You are a magic
If in trouble
e’er I be,
here to me.*
Mom closes the book carefully. Story time is over. Now it’s monster-roaring time! The long grass is awesome to roll in. He’s a horse — no, a dinosaur! An allosaurus! They used to roll on their backs when their backs itched, didn’t they? They must have. He starts to giggle when he thinks about an allosaurus reaching up with his puny arms and scratching his own back.
He pops his head up over the tall grass. Oh, jeez, Mom’s watching him. Better mind his manners. He grins and tries to pick the dead leaves and twigs out of his hair, but he gives up after a second. It hurt! Mom’ll pull them out later, but she’ll laugh at him. He can’t help it, it’s like his hair is a weird magnet for all kinds of stuff. She calls it a bird’s nest, but he never found any eggs in it. Anyway…
“Thanks for reading to me, Mom. We’ll do more tomorrow, okay?” She smiles at him and nods, and he takes off running, whistling something by that silly laughing guy, Mozart, back toward the creek, to look for tadpoles and fish in the mud.
But the creek is a mud hole, no rain this week. Icky. He didn’t even want to wade in the gooey stuff, it’s too hard to see through, and he’d die if he got bit by a cottonmouth. He slumps in disappointment. Darn, there were tadpoles down in there somewhere. Nice, big, fat, slimy tadpoles that must turn into giant toads that eat mosquitoes. Just have to wait until there was more rain and the water didn’t look so creepy. He scratches one of the gazillion little bumps that the skeeters left from sucking his blood. Bloodsucking bugs were pretty cool, but Lucas wished they’d suck someone else’s and leave his alone. They itch! Mozart wouldn’t laugh at this. Boooring.
Well, until he sees some little tiny tracks printed in the mud. What made those? Okay, birds, yeah, and that’s a squirrel–he knows the way their toes splay out–and that looks like one of the barn cats, the one with the crooked hind leg who’s missing a toe– and awesome, a tiny little hoof print! A dee-, no, a fawn! Where was its mama?
There’s a path beat down along the bank of the creek, one that he’s never seen before. Why not follow it? It might lead to pirate treasure, or a meadow with flying unicorns living in it. Hey, he could catch one and fly up into the clouds! Or maybe there’s a wizard like Merlin, that would teach him spells like the one that calls Malachi. That would be good, too.
The path leads away from the creek and winds through some baby trees that shiver in the wind. Lucas knows that he’s too far away from the house now, Mom will yell if she finds out. She always seems to yell whenever he does anything really interesting. The meadow waves at him, making him want to walk farther into the grass. Something strange stands out in the sunshine, something haystack yellow and shaped like a big, upside-down basket. Who knows what was inside?
Lucas stands in the sunshine and listens. Above and around the leaves rustling, and a dog barking, there was a strange humming. It seems almost, kinda familiar.
Then a honeybee flies around his head twice, like he’s checking him out, and lands on his arm. He doesn’t sting — no, wait, this bee was a girl bee, not a boy bee like Malachi — she just crawls around a little bit and flies away. It feels way different from when a fly or a mosquito crawls on him. Like soft or fuzzy, maybe. Huh. Lucas wonders what her name is, and if she’s magical or not. Maybe not, maybe the magical ones are the bumblebees. But maybe all bees are magic. Maybe bumblebees knew spells, and honeybees knew Aikido, like Mary Jane Weiler’s mom did. Then they’d be awesome fighting bees! Now that makes him giggle. Commander Lucas of the Fighting Bee Squadron, reporting for duty!
More of them come to take a look at the weird human, like the first girl bee did. They buzz around him like all those old-fashioned planes flew around King Kong’s head, but he doesn’t roar at them and wave his arms. That’d be stupid. They don’t want to hurt him, after all. They want to be his friends! Where did he find all those flowers on his shirt? Must check it out, crawling around. Must find where that dirt came from, and that bit of mud. Yes, got it, ma’am, over this way!
And some of them zoom off, on patrol, gonna go find those wild bean flowers where the garden at the Back Forty used to be, not far from the cellar hole. The beans are kinda strange back there, giant and speckled and the bean pods are a dark purple until they dry out. They look like Martian beans! Maybe that’s where the Pod People come from. On second thought, maybe the bees better not go there, maybe the Pod People will eat them! But it’s too late, they’ve gone already. Well, good luck, bees! Will they come back transformed into Purple People-Eating Martian Bees? Ewwww.
He stands very still and lets them buzz around him, crawl on him even, if they want to. This is crazycool. He wonders if he could take one back to show Mom. She likes Malachi, after all! He reaches out with the place in his throat, unrolls the invisible leash that he uses when he sends out the secret centipede, and clips it onto one of the bees.
He’s not too sure she likes it, it makes her buzz harder in a circle around his head, held by the leash. It works, though!! Can’t hold her too long, she’ll get frightened and fly too hard trying to get away, and get too tired out to get back home. She’s not used to it. It’s like Mom’s friend Sonja working with a puppy, that’s it. But when the puppy figures out how much fun it is, getting to go everywhere, watch out! They’ll have to get used to it first. Maybe he could make enough leashes for all of the bees and hold on very tight to the other ends and they could fly away together, if they work very hard at it. Wonder where they’d take him?
Go bees! Go fly high, find lots of flowers so you’ll be strong! Lucas waves good bye as they go.
He’s gonna have to come back later, maybe tomorrow, and visit his new bee friends again. But now, he can hear his mom calling him, from very far away. It’s gonna take him a while to get back, so he breaks into a run down the worn path.
Dark splatters and splotches mark the dried mud on the edges. Whoa! He didn’t even see those clouds coming up, and here’s the wind, too! Big ploppy warm drops smack in his face and his hair. He runs harder, skidding, and slides at the line of trees. He’s just getting up, with a rip in his pants knee, when he sees a flash of blue flutter down by his foot.
It’s a big feather, like a jay. It’s very bright. He squints upward against more big plops of rain in his face.
Oh boy, this is gonna take help.
He grabs the feather, and runs harder.
*Exerpt from The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes, copyright 1960. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s utterly charming.
A late evening collaboration between Numaari and Nagasvoice. But the Aikido bees are GreenJudy’s fault. 🙂