dinsdag 17 mei 2011

Black or white

Despite his appearance, Arthur the horse is a very fast runner. From a distance, Arthur could easily be mistaken for a skinny cow, because of the coloring. Arthur is both black and white. And maybe that is why Arthur is Gary’s favorite horse. So every moment he is not at school or working for his dad at their farm, he spends with his friend. Right now Gary is admiring his friend while he runs like the wind at the other side of the fence. Arthur easily outruns Jonas, the all white stallion, the pride of the farm. Father bought it for a very reasonable price when it was still a young mare. But they soon found out why. Jonas was an incredibly difficult horse. It was very hard to handle. He would let no one on his back, and kick at every stranger that came too close to him.

Arthur tiredly dribbled back towards Gary after his sprint. He knew that in Gary’s right hand sugar cubes awaited him. Meanwhile, Gary’s left hand slid over the fence. With that motion, some bits of paint came off. The annual paint job of the fences was long due, but unfortunately his father didn’t have a lot of money at the moment. Business wasn’t going well the last few years. A few big companies had started very modern and very big farms not too far away, and sales had plummeted over that. They could get along, but hardly. His father had sold some of the distant fields to the big companies, but that was only temporary relief. Gary was worried. At nights when he couldn’t sleep, he liked to lie behind the living room door, just below the glass window, and listen to his parents talk. It calmed him, and helped him to go to sleep. One of those nights, he overheard his parents discussing the possibility to sell some of the horses. Gary cried all night over that. But right now he was awakened from his daydreams by the gentle sensation of a horse licking his right hand. It was Arthur, claiming his reward. With a smile Gary opened his hand and watched as the sugar cubes disappeared with amazing speed. With his left hand he stroked the horse’s nose. A few paint specks stuck in the horse’s hair. Gary took them out, patted the lovely animal, and went back to the farm house, obeying his mother’s call for diner.

A few days later, when Gary came home from school, he saw a big and expensive car parked next to the barn. Inside he heard voices. Gary went into the kitchen.
            “Mom, who are those people with dad in the barn?”
Still bent over the sink doing the dishes, mom answered:
“Things have been difficult around here with all those new big farms. These men are interested in buying a horse my love.”
A wave of shock surged through Gary’s little body. He dropped his school bag and ran out the door. When he reached the barn, he just saw the men shaking hands with dad. After that they left. Dad waved them goodbye.
“What are you doing dad? Please tell me you haven’t sold any of the horses! Why would you do that?”
Dad looked at his son and smiled. But it wasn’t a happy smile.
“These men are interested in buying Victor and Carrie. They will come back in two days with the contract. I’m sorry, but we have no choice. We need the money.”
That was a relief. Victor and Carrie were horses Gary didn’t really care about. But still, if dad sold them, then who knows where he would stop. Maybe Arthur would be next. Father promised him that he would do everything in his power to prevent Arthur from being sold.

Gary walked down the path to the end of their land. There he set down the bucket and dipped the brush in it. It came out black. Gary took on to paint the fence. After a few meters he looked back. It was really an improvement. But he knew it was only an improvement in appearance. What would the people in the expensive car think? They came slowly driving by, with a double horse trailer at the back. Gary could only see his reflection in the tainted windows. It took them about forty meters of painted fence to return, with the two recently sold horses in the trailer. Gary saw their faces get smaller as the car drove away. In the next days and weeks, a lot of potential buyers come by. They all follow the same pattern. First they see Jonas, the great stallion. They like him because he is very beautiful and white, and very strong. But then they dislike him because of his temper, his kicking and that he refuses to let someone ride on him. Then they see the other horses. Finally they look at Arthur and make fun of him:
            “You should feed your cow better.”
            “Well, there’s a cow with an attitude.”
Just some of the remarks. They never try him in the fields. Luckily, according to Gary.

One late afternoon, Gary finishes painting the fence around the corn field. Now only the grain field near the hill remains. Father said that he could ride Arthur after he finishes the corn field fence. So Gary already took Arthur there. Gary places the bucket and brush in the little shed, and climbs on the horse’s back. Arthur is in the mood, so soon they run like the wind across the endless waving grain. The young boy enjoys it so much, that he doesn’t see the man in the dark suit, that is leaning on his car at the side of the road. Through his binoculars he watches the pair. Well, actually he watches the horse very closely. When they are out of the reach of his binoculars, he reaches inside his pocket for his mobile phone and dials a number. After a short talk, the man gets into his car again and leaves. Out of breath, Arthur arrives at the farm. Gary brushes him off and gives him some nice fresh food. His father comes up to him and asks:
            “Where did you put the paint and the brush?”
Gary answers that he left it in the little shed. But father wants it to be in the tool barn, so he tells Gary to go and get it. Reluctantly Gary takes his bike out and drives into the fields again. Because he is still a young boy, or because the corn is very high, you can’t see Gary from the road. So that is why he hears some men talking, without them knowing that he is there.
            “I’m telling you, that horse runs like crazy!”
Coming from the man in the dark suit with the mobile phone. Another voice answers. Gary recognizes it from a few days ago, when a sleazy business man came over to look at Jonas. He told dad he was into racing horses, but Gary didn’t like that man at all. He didn’t seem to care about the horses, only about making money from them. Luckily he was no exception to all the other visitors, so he also left empty-handed.
“I’ve seen the horse you’re talking about. It seemed like a starved cow to me. But we can see tomorrow. If it’s as fast as you say, than maybe it’s worth the money.”

And indeed, the next day a car drives up to the farm, and out come two men in suits. One of them is the business man that was here a few days ago. To father’s surprise they want to take another look at the horses. Gary, looking from behind the stable doors, saw that he was just feigning interest in the other horses. Finally the men arrive at Arthur. Gary can’t hear what they are saying because it is too far away. After some time they come out the barn again. Unaware that Gary can hear them, they discuss:
“What a stupid man. I offered him a generous amount for that horse. Why is he too bloody proud to sell that piece of shit?
The other man answered:
“I know. But anyway, do you think you can contact those guys from that horse job a few months ago? If he doesn’t sell, then we’ll have to find another way to get our hands on this beauty.”
The men move to the car, get in and drive off. In shock Gary runs to find his father. He explains what he’s heard, but his father doesn’t believe him.
“They don’t want to use Arthur as a race horse. This one guy was looking for a cheap present for his daughter. But he offered me such a low amount, that I immediately refused it. These guys won’t do anything like stealing a horse.”

Kleng! Boing! Deng! Father and mother are upright in their bed. What was that noise? Armed with a flashlight and a shovel, father enters the barn. He shines the light around, everything seems to be fine. Well, until the light reaches the corner. There, on the floor, sits his son Gary, all covered in black paint. Gary is ready to cry. Out of fear that those bad guys would steal Arthur, Gary had decided to keep watch. But unfortunately, he had missed the bucket of paint. Father had to suppress a smile. The farmer informed his wife, and she filled the tub with hot water. The paint was very strong, so it took her almost an hour to clean her little boy. But in the end, he was shiny and new again. She gave him a kiss after she tucked him in, and they all went to sleep again. The next day after school, Gary was on his bike again, with the bucket of paint strapped at the back. He was going to finish the fence around the grain field. Again, he couldn’t be seen behind the corn. And again he overheard the men talking there.
            “So, your guy can be here next Wednesday night?”
Agreement came from the other side.
“Good. This horse will do great at the races. We offered him a fair amount. If you don’t want to listen, I guess you just have to feel.”
Car doors were opened and then closed. The car disappeared down the road. Gary was at a loss. What to do next? Those guys were obviously going to steel Arthur, and his father didn’t believe him. Gary looks back to the farm, looking for inspiration. When he looks forward again, his eyes pass the back of his bike. And suddenly he knows what to do. Next Wednesday little Gary stays out into the barn late. Father has to call him several times before his son comes in. His mother reads him a bedtime story. The one about the boy who would be king. He likes that one. When his mother is gone, Gary looks at his hands. They are covered in black paint stains. With a smile Gary falls asleep.

The next morning Gary is woken up by the sound of cars arriving. He looks out the window and sees police cars stopping. When he comes down, his mother looks very concerned. Gary asks what happened. Even though Gary didn’t like Jonas, it was still a shock to him. But on the other hand, they had fallen for his trick. Gary bet that those guys would look pretty dumb when they found out that they had been fooled. After the police left, father came in. They all sat down at the table and ate their breakfast in silence. But then, in the middle of a bite, father looked up. He had a smile on his face. He turned towards Gary and spoke:
“Well my boy. I have to thank you. Because of your little story, I decided to insure Jonas. To us he may have been annoying, but he was still a breed horse. The insurance company will pay us a fortune for this. Our money problems are over!”

donderdag 14 april 2011

The house at the end of the street 1/2

Bounce! The bright red ball bounces up again. From Tommy to Anna. Anna catches it and bounces it on to Robert. Robert completes the circle in bouncing it towards Tommy again. Because the tiles on the street are not level, the ball always bounces in an unexpected direction. That makes it harder for them to catch the ball, and the game more interesting; you never know where the ball is going, and the object of the game is for the other not to be able to catch the ball in once. They play this game every day after school, even in the winter. But now it is almost summer, only two weeks until summer holiday. That is always an amazing time. Because then they can play this game all day. And not only in their street, but also at the big lake just outside of town.

Tommy bounces the ball again. Right after his head almost automatically turns to the end of the street. Or more specifically to the house at the end of the street. On both sides of the street there are big houses, paired in two’s. Tommy and Robert live next to each other in one of the pairs, Anna lives across, one pair further. All spacious houses, with three floors and a nice garden in front of it. Hidden from sight by the houses are the backyards, which are very large. Most of them have swimming pools or tennis courts in them. In short, a very nice neighborhood. Except for the house at the end of the street. It is part of a pair, and doesn’t look like the other ones at all. And there is no house at the other side of the street to match it. It is as if the house was placed there randomly. Many of the residents complained about the house. It seemed uninhabited for years now, and nothing had been done to preserve it. Some of the residents complained at city hall, but apparently they couldn’t do anything, because somehow all taxes were paid for on time.

That, however, did not interest Tommy at all. He was drawn to the house time and time again by the mystery. The house breathed excitement and adventured, and it smelled of the unknown. But he never went close, and nor did Robert and Anna. Their parents had strictly forbidden them to go anywhere near the house. They warned them that the house was haunted. There was the story of a young boy who had supposedly vanished into the house. In the end, when the police gave up their search, the poor family moved away. Their house, at the other end of the street, had been empty for over a year to remind them all of the tragedy that had occurred. Because Tommy was looking at the house all the time, he moved a small step closer to it every time he bounced the ball. The others, also unaware, followed him. So after a few games, with mostly Robert as the winner because he was very good at it, they were actually playing in front of the last paired houses of the street. Tommy heard something. Quickly he turned, realizing it was the ball that Robert threw at him. But he was too late, so he couldn’t catch the ball. He was out of this round. While Robert and Anna started their battle for this game, Tommy stared at the house.

The house was surrounded by a high fence. Once, long ago, it must have been shining metal, but now it was only orangey rust. The bars were about two meters high. Just above the bottom, at the middle and just below the top they were crossed by smaller horizontal bars. Every two meters was a big bar that had an ornament on top of it. The bars in between had spear like spikes on top. They still looked very sharp, despite the rust. In the middle of the fence there was the gate. It had all kinds of ornaments in it instead of bars. Tommy couldn’t decide what they represented. One time they looked like waves, the other time like faces, their appearance would change every time. Behind the fence was a garden. Well, maybe jungle was a better description. High thorn bushes fought each other for space, and you couldn’t see more than a few meters into the thickness of it. The front door you could see though, because the path to it wasn’t completely overgrown yet. The front door had three marble steps in front of it, and the door itself was a big wooden double one. It was half open, and squeaking because of the wind. Above the bushes you could see the upper floors. The all had big windows, the glass broken in most of them. Shards of curtains were flapping through the openings, giving the house a sinister sight.

            “I’ve won! Again! I’m the king of this street!”
The shrieks of Robert ecstatic crying brought Tommy back to reality enough to see the red ball bouncing up very high, over the head of little Anna. He also noticed that the ball was heading straight for the haunted house. Robert and Anna noticed too.
            “Oh no, my ball! It was a present from my grandmother.”
Anna was about to cry. It must have happened in only a few seconds, but to Tommy, Robert and Anna it seemed like forever. In slow-motion the ball made a perfect arc towards the fence. They all fear that the ball will hit the spikes, but through a miracle it lands exactly in between two of them. The ball bounces straight up, and is taken from their sight temporarily by the springtime sun that is high up in the sky. When it comes back down, it again bounces on the fence. And again right in between two spikes. But unfortunately for the three, the ball gets launched into the garden instead of back to the streets. They hear it hitting some bushes, and then it is gone.
“What do we do now? I don’t want to go in there, it’s scary.”
Robert huffed and replied:
            “You are a typical girl, you are afraid.”
But when Anna dared him to enter the house himself then, he didn’t move either. Tommy completed their still life. They look at each other. All afraid to admit to the other that they are scared, but knowing it of each other anyway. Finally, Tommy breaks the silence.
“I think there’s a hole in the fence of the back yard. There are no metal bars there, only chicken wire. Maybe we could go in from there to get the ball back?”
They think of it a bit, and when the boys see Anna’s sad face, they decide to at least check it out. So together they walk around the house, follow the fence until the sidewalk stops. They continue over the grass and through some low bushes, keeping one hand on the chicken wire at all times. Finally, when Tommy starts to think he was wrong, they find the hole. It’s a small hole, but big enough for cats and dogs.

With a little squirming the kids get inside the fence. They have to stand very close to each other, because the bushes are very dense here. They only see one direction to go so they go there. Robert leads. He is the biggest and strongest of the three. Anna is in the middle, Tommy at the back. They seem to be following some sort of path.
            “I see light in front of us; maybe we’re at the house already.”
Robert picks up the pace, Anna and Tommy follow. Now they all see the light. Some beams of sunlight hit their eyes. Suddenly Robert stops and screams. Anna bumps into him, Tommy into Anna. With a scared look on his face Robert looks around and pushes them back.
            “There is someone there. Someone horrible and scary and ugly!”
They all stand very still. But they hear nothing. After some time Anna whispers:
            “Do you think it is safe now? Maybe he was scared of us too?”
Tommy takes the lead, and slowly moves forward. The others stay behind and wait. He disappears into the sunlight. For a moment they hear nothing. Then suddenly Tommy bursts out in laughter.
            “Come over here, it’s only a statue. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
The others follow hesitantly, but soon they also see what Robert was so afraid of. In a little clearing in the bushes is a statue of a man. But not an ordinary man. Instead of feet he has hooves, and a stone tail curls from behind him. His eyes look like they’re on fire, and two little horns emerge from the top of his rock hair. Now that they see it in daylight, it doesn’t look so scary. Except for the eyes. They really look like they’re on fire, even though they are carved and lifeless. Quickly the group moves on. The small path leads them further into the wilderness. This time Tommy leads, with a moaning Robert at the back. But it isn’t for long that Tommy is also scared by another statue in a little clearing. This time not a man, but an animal. Robert laughs.
            “You’re just as scared as I am Tommy.”
The animal looks like a wolf. It is carved in an attacking position. So no wonder Tommy was scared when he entered the clearing. The wolf like creature is on its hind legs, with his fore legs facing towards anyone coming from the small path. But what is the scariest, is the face of the creature. It has big and sharp teeth, and eyes that show no mercy. It looks very lifelike. The tongue seems to move inside its mouth. Without delay the group continues its journey, but now they take a lot of care when they reach a clearing. After a group of fierce dwarves and a skeleton like man they suddenly can’t go any further. They have reached the side wall of the house. 

The house at the end of the street 2/2

With their backs against the wall the three young adventurers moved on. Step by step they came closer to the corner of the big old house. Finally they arrived there. Around the corner however the situation wasn’t better. Still the bushes grew all the way up to the wall, so they couldn’t move very fast here either. Bit by bit they got to the door, on their way passing a big window that was boarded up. Robert tried to break the board. But that didn’t work, despite the fact that it looked very old. After a while they got to the front door. Looking to the right they could still see the street behind the gate. It looked like another world to them. The ball should have landed here somewhere. So they looked around for it. But the ball was nowhere to be seen. Not near the door, not on the path to the street, not in the bushes besides the street. Disappointed, Anna sat down on a stone flower pot that had fallen over. She looked at the boys.
            “I think it’s no use. We can never find the ba…”
Mid sentence she stopped, and looked past the two boys in surprise. Curious as to what she saw, Tommy and Robert turned around. There, in the shadow of the door, on the floor, they saw it too. A small round object, dark from the shadow of the door, that could have been red in the right light. The boys followed Anna, who had eagerly passed them. When she came near the door, the ball seemed to roll away. Anna pushed the door wide open. She welcomed the help from Robert and Tommy; it was a heavy door. It squeaked a lot and then came to a stop against the wall with a big bang. Anna and the boys looked inside. They didn’t see the ball there. Carefully they walked in. Through the hallway, and into the wide lobby. Everything in there was covered in thick layers of dust. A wooden chair, a side table, a pair of slippers, the umbrella stand. The umbrella stand had an umbrella in it, but it was half eaten by moths. A gust of wind came in through the front door, and it shook the crystal chandelier that was hanging in the middle of the lobby. Dust fell down and on their heads. It made them look down and see a track. A track that could well have been formed by a ball. A red ball even. It went – not in a straight line – towards the stairs. The stairs were something spectacular. Even in the dim light they looked astonishing. Wide marble steps were surrounded by very beautiful guardrails, carved out of fine oak wood. The railings seemed to be covered in pure gold. On both sides of the lobby there were stairs. Somehow the track of the ball went up one of the stairs. After only a few moments of hesitation, the children followed it up the stairs, the one to the right. It took them some effort, because the steps were quite high.

The stairs took them higher and higher. Higher than they would have expected actually. Finally they saw the end. Relieved they took the last steps and ended up… exactly where they had begun. They were in the lobby again, but now on the left side. They saw their footprints in the dust, leading towards the staircase on the right.
            “But that is impossible! We only went up…”
Tommy looked outside to confirm that they were actually still at ground level. And they were. With a puzzled look on their faces they found each others eyes. Without having to tell each other they simultaneously started walking to the left stairs. Again it took them a long time, but in the end… they were back where they had come from, but now of course on the right. Unbelievable.
            “What is going on here?”
Anna asked a bit scared.
“I have an idea. Robert, you go up at that side, and then I go up here. Let’s see if we meet each other halfway.”
And so it was done. Robert went up on the left, Tommy on the right. Anna stayed downstairs in the lobby, waiting. After a while she heard voices talking far above her. She couldn’t hear them clearly enough, but she thought she recognized her friends. Not too much later she heard someone running down the stairs. Or better, two someones. It wasn’t long before Tommy arrived on the left, and Robert showed up at the right. It turned out they had met in the middle, and proposed to keep following their route to see where that would lead them.

Since there was apparently no way to get up a floor, they decided to explore the ground floor. Close together the two boys and the girl entered one of the doors that came out into the lobby. They took the one most to the right. It was a large room which must have once be brightly lit by all the big windows, but now it was rather dark. All over the wall were books in impressive old book cases. In the middle of the room stood a lonely leather chair. It was accompanied by a big globe. It was opened at the equator, and in its mouthlike shape the children could see empty glass bottles. A candle had melted all over the candlestick that was placed in the middle of a small round table. It had some red blotches on it. They found nothing interesting so they moved on. The only other door in the room led to a long corridor. The corridor seemed very high. It looked like it followed the corners of the house. At every corner, the children felt that it was lower. Suddenly Tommy noticed
“Hey, we have had four corners now, which means that we should have been back at the lobby by now.”
That was true. But they weren’t. All that was there was the endless and lowering corridor, with pictures of old people at the wall that would get only larger. They walked on, and rounded another corner. Again the corridor continued and the ceiling became lower. A grown man would have had to tilt his head a bit by now. Confused the children went forth. The corridors just didn’t seem to end, and at every corner they became lower, the paintings becoming bigger. At one point the paintings were too big for the corridors, so the old people started missing heads. Robert, Tommy and Anna got tired. But still the corridors weren’t at an end. By now they had to tilt their head a bit. And it only got worse.
            “Hey guys, do you see that?”
Tommy pointed at a painting. All it showed were the arms of a no doubt old and dead man. He had 10 fingers up in front of him. They hurried to the next portrait, but nothing. And so for the next portraits. But in the last painting the man held up 9 fingers.
            “Maybe that’s a sign that we are getting closer to the end.”
Robert remarked. They didn’t know if it was true, but at least they kept finding portraits with fewer and fewer fingers held up. In the end they had to crawl, and the portrait showed only one finger held horizontally. It was at another corner. But around the corner a surprise awaited them. There was a door. A very tiny door. A grown man wouldn’t have been able to get trough it, but for the children it wasn’t too much of a problem. One at a time they pulled themselves through. When all three had passed the door, they looked up. And they almost fell over in astonishment. Because there was something very wrong in this room. Everything was turned over 90 degrees. The carpet, the chairs and the table seemed to be on the side wall, and the window was at the ceiling. They were walking between some cupboards. Apparently they were in the kitchen.
Suddenly they boys heard a thud and a scream. They looked back. Anna rubbed her toe. She had bumped into the stove. Not knowing what else to do, they headed for the next door. They had to climb through it. Now they found themselves in the living room. But not at the floor, and not at the wall. They were standing on the ceiling. Everything was upside down. Or they were upside down and everything was normal. But anyway, something was again very wrong. Tommy started to get nauseous a bit from all the changes in perspective. Quickly they made their way to the next door, trying to avoid the standing lamps that hung from the floor, and the big chandelier that rose from the ceiling. They jumped for the door that was now high above them, and rolled into the bedroom. At least it was the right way up. In the middle there was a big bed, bigger than they had ever seen. In the middle of the bed was a big bump. It looked round, and exactly the size of the ball they had been looking for. Robert and Tommy each went to a side of the bed, and took a point of the sheet. Slowly they rolled the sheet back over the bed. When they reached the bump, they hesitated a bit. But at Anna’s encouragement they continued. And there it was, Anna’s red ball. Anna jumped on the bed and grabbed it. Tommy looked around; he saw stairs in the corner. Not as beautiful as the one in the lobby, just a simple wooden stairs. Anna got of the bed and joined Robert and Tommy. They climb the wooden stairs. The stairs crack under their weight, but they don’t break. Just when the light from the bedroom starts to fade, they reach a door. With some trouble Robert turns the knob, and pushes the door open. To their surprise they are back in the lobby again, the door most on the left. How was that possible? They hadn’t gone down, had they? But anyway, they were back near the exit again, and that was a good thing. With al last look at the marble stairs and all the other doors they left the house through the big wooden doors. Robert closes the doors behind him. Slowly it swings to a close while the children walk over the path towards the gate. With a big bang it closes behind them. The group walks towards the gate. There is a switch they can use to open it. It’s rusty, like the rest of the gate and the fence, but with a little push it starts to work. Without looking back the children leave the garden. And that’s a pity. Because if they had looked back, they would have seen the sign above the entrance door. The door closing had caused the dust above the entrance to fall off, and reveal a sign that said: ‘Welcome to the mystery and imagination of Mister Darius’. Behind the glass window next to the door an old man appeared in the shadows. With a sad look on his face he looked at the backs of the children. A small and wrinkled hand came up, and waved. Mister Darius went in again. Maybe next time someone would stay and really enjoy his house… 

vrijdag 8 april 2011

The sad little boy

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Charlie. He lived in a nice house, in the middle of a nice and quiet street. The houses were lined in two equal rows. On the other side the houses with the odd numbers, on Charlie’s side the houses with the even numbers. The numbering on his side of the street started at 10, nobody knew why. But that is why the house where Charlie lived had number 18, even though it was only the fifth house in the row. He often fantasized about the numbers 2 to 8. Sometimes they were wiped out of existence by a big storm that lifted them up high in the sky. Other times the people who had lived there loved their houses so much when they moved, that they had literally moved house one day.

Charlie fantasized a lot. In his imagination everything could and would happen. To him dragons were as normal as the street lights every few meters, and passing cars were as common as knights or astronauts. Charlie loved his imaginary world, because everything was possible. He loved to go there as much as he could. Often this had led him to the corner of the class room, when the master didn’t get a response from him when he asked Charlie a question. But Charlie didn’t really mind, because that corner only offered him more opportunities for his dream world: no masters bothering him with stupid questions or math exercises.

At first Charlie tried to share his fantasy world with his friends. Very enthusiastically he would start about dragons and damsels in distress, but without any exception all his friends looked at him weirdly after a few minutes. Because to Charlie, everything was so clear and normal, he forgot to explain most of his world to the others. So all his friends heard were incomprehensible fragments of fantasy. And you know how little boys are. They pick on everything and everyone that is different. Charlie didn’t fit into the standard of football, playing war in the park and talking about cars. He really tried to fit in, but he just couldn’t. Charlie didn’t understand what was so much fun about running around and kicking a ball, or pointing sticks at each other and saying ‘piew piew you’re dead!’ Out of a sort of guilt the other boys still invited him to play ball, but after a while, and after the ball had hit a dreaming Charlie in the head several times, that courtesy stopped. So very soon he was alone. Well, not entirely alone of course, because his fantasy provided him with a lot of company.

While the other boys were playing, Charlie would sit alone at the edge of the school yard or on the concrete wall surrounding the park, his eyes staring into the nothingness of this world, but the everythingness of his own world. In his mind Charlie fights off hordes of enemies from his castle. With heroic courage he saves the villagers and is their hero forever. They throw him cheerfully in the air, and then again. But at the third throw, there is suddenly no one there to catch him. When he gets up from the ground with a painful look on his face, he looks around. The castle is gone; Charlie is standing in the middle of a large plain. It is rather flat, with a few hills. The ground is trembling a little. He looks to where the sounds is coming from, and sees a big dust cloud in the distance, behind a row of hills. The rumbling gets louder and louder. Finally Charlie sees what was behind the hills causing the dust clouds. It is an enormous herd of bisons! Thousands of hoofs creating an impressive rhythm that swells in power every single second. And they are heading straight for him. Charlie starts to run. As fast as his little legs can carry him, he runs away from the bisons. Through the plains, over the hills, past the sparse bushes he runs. There is a little gathering of bushes on a small hill, and Charlie has to run past it. As he passes the last bush, his feet suddenly no longer feel support beneath them. The hill caved in and left a steep sand slide that took Charlie by surprise. He plummets down, rolling over and over. His mouth fills with sand. At the end of the slide is a big black hole. Charlie tries to stop, but he has so much speed that despite his efforts he falls into the hole. The hole seems endless. Charlie falls and falls. But then, out of nowhere, his fall is broken by a bouncing castle. Now he’s bouncing up and down within a big red and blue inflatable castle. Surprised he gets up straight. Now that he is bouncing on his feet, he can look around. The castle appears to be floating in a big ocean. Everywhere outside the plastic walls there is water. And in the water fish are swimming. Big fish, lots of little fish, jellyfish, even a shark slowly swims past. He seems to be winking at Charlie. From the right a big old turtle comes peddling by. He turns his head towards Charlie and says:
            “Charlie, stop dreaming! I’ve been looking all over for you. Diner is ready!”
The turtle sounds a surprising lot like his mother. Charlie rubs his eyes and opens them again. The castle, the turtle and the water are gone. Instead Charlie is back at the edge of the park, with his mother impatiently waiting in front of him.

The next day, Charlie walks all the way to school. Alone of course. When he arrives at the class room he notices something. There is an extra chair and table. At the table, turned on her chair to talk to his class mates, is a young girl. She doesn’t look like any of the girls from his class. Maybe she’s new. He doesn’t pay any more attention to it and finds his way to his own seat. Luckily that hasn’t been moved too much to make room for the new kid. When he gets up from putting down his bag, his eyes meet the loveliest face in the world. It belongs to the new girl. She is so beautiful. Charlie immediately feels warm inside. Her face is perfectly pink, and very smooth. Her nose forms the cute little center of it. Her lips shine a beautiful red. Her long dark brown hair elegantly falls down the side of her face.

The new girl is called Veronica. Her parents moved here from the other side of the country, and she doesn’t know anyone here. But that soon changes. She turns out to be very popular. Everyone loves Veronica. Both the teachers and the children. Charlie wants to meet her too, talk to her. But he is afraid. In his imagination he finds thousands of ways to talk to her, become friends with her, play with her. But in the real world all he does in front of her is say nothing and stare at her.
            “Hello Charlie, what do you want?”
She knows his name! That makes him feel even more uncomfortable. He now not only stares, but also makes weird movements in front of her. That scares Veronica, and she hurriedly turns away to play with some of her new friends. From that moment on Veronica avoids his look as much as she can.

It makes Charlie very sad that he can’t talk to Veronica. Not in real life anyway. In his imagination they have great and exciting adventures together. Charlie escapes to his imagination more and more often. He wanders off alone in the park, while the other boys play football on the school yard after school. A stick soon transforms into a mighty sword, which fights off the tree enemies. The birds aid him, but the squirrels have to be fought too. Charlie is happy in his own world. In this world he has everything under control. And he can always get out or create an entire new world when he wants to. Right now Charlie likes to be a knight, to fight the bad guys. The adventure. The excitement. Everything is great in this world. But then, a noise. It sounds like a twig breaking. Disturbed Charlie looks up. The knights are gone, the trees are just trees again, the birds are singing their happy tune like always. But something made that twig break. Charlie looks around. He sees something bright blue disappearing behind the big oak tree. Carefully he walks over there, trying to make as little sounds as possible. He hears someone breathing behind the tree. He stops for a bit at the other side of the tree to gather courage. Then he jumps around the tree to find…

Veronica. It is his new classmate Veronica behind the big oak tree, dressed in her bright blue winter coat. He is very surprised to see her here. She laughs. That makes him realize why she must be here. She will tell of him to their classmates. And then they will make fun of him very much. That scares him and makes him very sad. In tears Charlie runs away. He sits down at another big oak tree and starts crying. After a while he hears footsteps approaching. He braces himself for the terrible laughter. But no, she says:
“I’m sorry that I scared you Charlie. I was just very curious. Were you playing knights and princesses?”
 Charlie is surprised. He hears concern in her voice. With a hand dirty from the woods he dries his tears and looks up. He sees that same beautiful face from a few weeks ago. Veronica gives him a warm smile.
            “Can I play with you? That is, if you don’t mind of course.”
It turns out that Veronica doesn’t really like to play with the other girls. She thinks they play stupid and childish games. She likes to use her imagination when she plays.
            “Yes Veronica, you can play with me.”
Charlie manages to say with a lot of nerves. She helps him up, and soon Charlie has explained to her who the good guys or the bad guys were.
            “But there is no princess in my world. What to do now?”
He says a little sad. But Veronica knows the answer to that one.
“Then we can just imagine a princess into existence. Just like that. I can be princess Veronica, and then you are the brave knight Charles.”
Together they play. Together they explore each others imagination. Together everything is possible. They play until the sun has to go to bed. They both rush home, but they promise each other that they will meet again after school the very next day. Because their imagination awaits!

donderdag 31 maart 2011

Dream land 1/2

Pop! Sizzle! Tommy liked the sounds all those liquids and powders made. He was playing with his chemistry set at the attic of their house. He had gotten the set from his father for his birthday last month. It came with a useful guide that taught him the useful stuff. Explosions and sizzles and lots of foam and all that. Jumbo looked up sleepily from the corner. When he saw that it was his little master busy again with those strange tubes and all, he put his head down again. His big ears covered his face, and soon he was back asleep. The young boy looked out the window, but his mother’s car was still not there. She was out with his twin sister Carol. They had gone shopping for clothes. Mother had asked Tommy to accompany them, but he had refused. He didn’t like to go shopping, especially for clothes. How contrary to his sister. Carol loved shopping; trying new dresses on and going to shops she had never seen before. That was Carol. Always curious what would be behind the next corner. Tommy had stopped counting the times she was lost, and was brought home by some concerned adult. Tommy liked inside more. He was always looking for how things worked. With him, his father had stopped counting the times Tommy had dismantled some piece of equipment and forgotten how to put it back together again. There certainly weren’t any dull moments with those twins.

Tommy gets back to his experiment. According to the book he has arrived at the big moment now. Only a few drops of the yellow liquid, and he would have a nice little explosion. But not more than a few drops, the book said specifically. The first time he had read that, he had laughed. Being the young and enterprising boy he was, he had of course ignored this warning. His hair had almost grown completely back now… Carefully Tommy collected a few drops, and moved the pipette towards the powder mixture in his mother’s cake paste bowl. But what he hadn’t noticed was that Jumbo had woken up. The small dog dribbled over towards his young master, his big ears hanging at the floor. Jumbo stopped just behind Tommy, but the boy still didn’t notice. Instead he slowly moved the pipette over the bowl. Just as he wanted to release a few drops into the bowl, the dog decided to lick his boss’s other hand. That really startled Tommy, and caused him to totally empty the pipette into the bowl with one big splurt. For a fraction of a second nothing happened, but the relieved boy’s
Was overpowered by a powerful reaction. The contents of the bowl were reacting strongly to each other, which resulted in a big sizzle. Suddenly a big powder cloud emerged from the bowl. Tommy and Jumbo jumped back. The powder cloud expanded towards the ceiling, but then something strange happened. The cloud seemed to travel in a certain direction. Normally you would expect it to expand to all sides evenly. As a matter of fact, it was moving in a certain direction. From a safe distance child and dog followed the cloud towards the corner of the attic. It landed at a big brown box. The powder cloud totally covered the box. After a while Tommy saw something he couldn’t believe. The box started glowing. Jumbo covered his eyes with his ears. The glowing got bigger and bigger, but then in an instant it was gone. The powder fell to the ground and there was silence.

Just as Tommy wants to open the box, he hears his mother’s car pull up the driveway. As soon as the door opened, he heard his sister chattering unstoppably about what she had bought, but more importantly: what new shops she had discovered today.
            “Tommy, lunch is ready!”
Shouted his father from downstairs. So Tommy decided to examine the box later, with his sister. He just hoped she wouldn’t go on and on about her new clothes like she usually did. Tommy helped his dog down the stairs, and they both rushed to the kitchen table. The boy sat on his chair near the window, Jumbo lay down besides him in his basket. Both were treated to a nice meal and an ever talking Carol. However the latter one seemed to be lost on the dog. Tommy envied his little companion. Impatiently Tommy ate his lunch, and rushed back upstairs again. His sister had understood his excitement, so she followed him on foot. When they arrive at the attic, Carol is disappointed. She had expected a lot more than a box with some dust next to it. But when Tommy explained what had happened, her curiosity was aroused. She wanted to open the box. But Tommy stopped her.
            “What if something’s wrong with the box? Be careful!”
But Carol had never been the careful type. So she opened the box. Nothing happened. She looked inside. It was empty. Tommy and Jumbo joined her over the edge of the cardboard box. There was nothing in the box, but still something wasn’t quite right about it. But they couldn’t figure out what. Jumbo growled at it a bit. Suddenly Carol saw what was wrong.
            “Look at the bottom!”
Her brother looked and asked
            “What bottom?”
They realized the box didn’t seem to have a bottom. The blackness inside just seemed to go on and on. They stared, and stared some more. It was almost as if something inside that blackness was moving, but they just couldn’t see it properly. So they leaned over the edge of the box some more. All three of them, because Jumbo was also a very curious dog. Suddenly the edge cracked, and they all tumbled into the box. They expected to land on the hard attic floor, but they were mistaken. They tumbled and tumbled. Tommy, Carol and Jumbo were all tumbling down. Or maybe up or sideways, they couldn’t tell. They had lost their sense of direction and felt weightless. And all that time all they could see was each other. After what seemed like an eternity they saw a light in front of them. They were heading for it. The light became closer and closer, and brighter and brighter. In the end they had to cover their eyes. And then, they felt like they had all their weight back, because they felt themselves falling down fast. The three adventurers landed on a big pile of fluffy pillows. When they looked up, they saw nothing but a clear blue sky. Curious as they were, they crawled out of the pillows and onto the grass. They looked around, there was only grass. As far as their eyes could see. And above them only the clear sky. Their world consisted of nothing but green, blue and a touch of white at the moment.

Tommy had the sharper eyes of the two, so in the end he spotted something.
            “Hey Carol, look over there. I see something. It looks like a boot!”
Carol had to agree.
“Strange, who would leave a boot out here in the middle of nowhere? Come on, let’s go and check it out.”
But Tommy didn’t want to. He first wanted to know how they got here, and why they couldn’t see the tunnel they fell down through. Carol however didn’t give him the chance. She pulled him by his hand and dragged him along over the grass field. Carol and Jumbo led, Tommy followed. They were getting closer to the boot, but it seemed to grow only bigger. After about an hour Tommy noticed something weird on top of the boot. It seemed like there was a roof on it. And when he looked even better, he thought he saw windows on the boot. Another hour passed. The boot grew bigger, and Tommy’s ideas were confirmed. The boot was a house, probably about 10 meters high. They now can see a nice little garden with a fence around it, and smoke coming out of a little chimney. Soon they arrive at the house. Carol wants to open the gate, but it opens on its own. The twins are a bit scared by that, but their curiosity wins. They enter the garden, closely followed by Jumbo. From the boot house comes a stumbling sound, like someone walking down the stairs. And indeed, after the sound is over, the door to the boot slowly opens. And out comes a gnome.
            “Hello, my name is Jerome the Gnome.”
He didn’t waste time on introductions, so after they had given their names, he invited them into his boot. The small hallway had only one other exit: the wooden stairs they had expected from the sounds the gnome made. Going up, they now all made those sounds. Upstairs, halfway up the boot, was the gnome’s living room. There they all sat down and had tea. Jerome told them how he liked riddles. He was a big fan of riddles. And it showed: everywhere they looked where books full of riddles, and the walls were scribbled full of them. When they had finished their tea, the twins got.
“You have been very kind to us with the tea, but we must move on now. We have to find a way to get home.”
At that moment the polite smile disappeared of the gnome’s face. Instantly the door to the stairs shut with a hard bang.
“You do not leave me! I have finally found someone to test my riddles on. You shall not leave until you have solved this very hard riddle.”
Tommy and Carol were shocked by the sudden change, but they ran for the door anyway. Unfortunately, it was closed and they couldn’t move it one bit. Jerome the Gnome laughed. He demanded that they answer his riddle, but he was sure they would never get the answer.
            “What is once in a minute, twice in a moment but never in a thousand years?”
Wow, that was a difficult one. They thought about it hard. A minute had second, and so did a moment. But a year had seconds too. So it couldn’t be seconds. They thought hard and considered every option. They tried different angles: clocks, time, emotions, et cetera. But they couldn’t find the answer. In the meantime the gnome couldn’t stop laughing. Tommy looked down at his shoes in despair. They were nice shoes with all the letters of the alphabet on it. Suddenly he had an idea.
            “Can you repeat the riddle for us please?”
The gnome obliged. But this time the young boy listened carefully to what the gnome said literally. It took him a few seconds, but then his face gave birth to a big smile.
            “I know the answer!” He said proudly.
Both Jerome and Carol were surprised. The gnome didn’t believe it.
“Be very careful what you answer young boy. You get only one chance. If you answer wrong, you will stay here forever.”
Carol brought her mouth to her brother’s ear, and whispered if he was sure. He whispered something back to her, and after a short while she smiled too.
            “The answer is the letter M.”
The gnome fell silent. With a sad look on his face he admitted that the boy got it right. He agreed to let them go, the door swung open at the snip of his fingers. Before they left, Tommy turned around.
            “Do you know how we can get home?”
The gnome got a bit of his smile back.
            “Yes I do, but I will not tell you. Goodbye.”
He turned around. But Tommy didn’t give up that easily.
“What if I have a riddle for you that you can’t answer? Will you tell us how to get home then?”

Dream land 2/2

Jerome the Gnome agreed, positive that such a little boy could never come up with a riddle that he, the great riddle master, couldn’t solve. So Tommy tried him.
            “What strange creature has two eyes in front and many more behind?”
That one took the gnome by surprise. He didn’t know that one. A puzzled look came over his face as he pondered over the answer. He dove into his books to find the answer or at least some clues. But however hard he tried, he couldn’t solve this one. Finally he admitted defeat.
            “The answer is a peacock.”
Jerome slapped his forehead. How could he have missed it? But he had, so he had to keep his word. He told them that this land was created by an old lady who had had enough of the normal world. She lived somewhere out there. He pointed out the window. He didn’t know exactly where she lived, but he was sure it was in that direction. The children thanked him, polite as they were, and went down the stairs.

Behind the boot they found a path, in the direction the gnome had pointed out. So they decided to follow it. The path led them straight to the south. To the left and to the right of them was grass, always grass. Every other kilometer or so the path was covered by a brick tunnel. The tunnel was long and small, and there was no apparent reason for it. The group went inside the tunnel, it was chilly there. Soon they were totally covered in darkness. After five minutes they saw light at the other end of the tunnel. They would have preferred to go past the tunnel but from the entrance of the tunnel there was a thick bush to both sides. It was very thick, so they couldn’t get through it. After they left the tunnel they looked back. They couldn’t see the bushes anymore, that was weird. A few more of those strange tunnels followed. Again at first the bushes, but they seemed to have vanished as soon as they left the tunnel on the other side. After a while they didn’t bother about it anymore. The road just went on dead straight. Another tunnel, they had stopped counting how many there were. But at the end the twins and their dog Jumbo didn’t end up on the road anymore. They were surrounded by bushes. When Tommy looked back, he cried
            “Where has the tunnel gone? There’s only bushes now?”
Carol soon followed in surprise. Suddenly they were in the middle of what seemed to be a maze. How were they ever going to get out of there? The boy and girl sat down pondering, while Jumbo sniffed around. Then Carol had an idea. She had seen once on TV that there was a sure way to get out of a maze.
“You just have to keep one hand on the same side all the time. It may not be the fastest way, but we will definitely get out of this maze.”
Following her advice, Tommy and Carol placed their left hands on the bushes, and started walking. Soon they were totally lost. They thought they recognized some bits, but were never sure. All that kept them going, was the knowledge that sometime they would reach the end of the maze. But just when they were starting to fear that maybe there wasn’t an end to this maze, they saw something that could be the end. They ran towards it happily. But their happiness was short-lived. The maze had led them to a big square. Besides their path no less than seven paths entered the square. Hope left them there at that point. For a few minutes Tommy and Carol sat there. Jumbo lay there as well, almost as if he knew that the situation was getting hopeless. But then Carol got up, she hadn’t given up hope yet.
            “We’ll just have to try every path until we get the right one.”
She decided. She dragged both Tommy and Jumbo with her, but not before marking the path they had come from originally. The first path they took, right next to the marked one, led them back to the square within 30 minutes. They marked both paths and chose another one. But unfortunately the result was the same. That was five down, three left to go. Luckily they didn’t have to try all eight paths, because number six seemed to be their lucky number. After about twenty minutes they suddenly found a tunnel after a corner. At the end of the tunnel there was light. They went for it, and found themselves outside the maze. As they looked back, all they saw was the tunnel and a long row of bushes on each side. Quickly the group moved on.

Jumbo picked up a scent. He ran along the path. The children followed him, but had to run too to keep up. At a crossroads he stopped and sniffed a bit. The children happily took their rest. But then Jumbo chose to go left, and Tommy and Carol had no choice but to follow. It didn’t take long for them to see a big farm ahead of them. Next to the farm, at a little distance, was a big barn. Both the buildings were surrounded by big meadows. In the meadows a strange and unbelievable array of… ehm… well… things were grazing. A big herd of camels on the one side, but also a number of bicycles. Bicycles roaming around without someone on it. And if that weren’t strange enough, on the other side of the farm the field was filled with huge standing clocks. They could hear their bells from a big distance. Fascinated by the sight of it, they decided to go to the farm. The nearer they got to the farm, the harder and more present the noise from the clocks became.
“Luckily the clocks are all at different times. It would be an incredible sound if they would all ring together.”
Carol screamed over the ringing of two big brown clocks near to them. Tommy nodded in silent agreement. Jumbo just pressed the flaps of his ears closer to his head. They opened the big gate at the end of the road, and walked over to the door of the farm house. Besides it on a bench sat an old lady, waiting for them. She welcomed them to her humble place.
            “Welcome my children. Can I offer you anything to drink?”
The children gladly accepted the big glass of cold milk the old lady came back with from out of the farm house. Jumbo really appreciated the big bowl of water. She explained that she had gotten so tired of living in real life, that she had created this world out of her imagination.
“I don’t necessarily want fantastic adventures all the time, I just want a little more imagination now and then.”
The kids agreed with her, and complimented her on her farm. But they had some comments on the maze.
            “Ah well, it shouldn’t all be too easy now?”
The old lady replied with a smile. The kids however disagreed. They were almost lost forever in the maze, and they hadn’t forgotten the adventure with the gnome either. Fantasy was alright, but within boundaries. And they ended their plea by expressing their wish to go home.
            “Because our parents will be worried about us.”
In the end, the old lady saw their points, and agreed to take them back to their own world. So after a good meal she led them to her camels. Tommy and Carol were scared a bit at first, but the camels turned out to be very sweet creatures. The three of them rode on the back of the camels, with Jumbo running next to them. He always liked running, so he was very excited now.

Surprisingly fast they reached the big pile of white pillows in the middle of the green grass field. The old lady finally opened the bag she had been carrying with her all the time. She took out four springs, two for each child. She helped them tie the springs underneath their feet. Then she gave them instructions.
“Jump as high as you can. Once you jump high enough, you will go back the same way you came here.”
Tommy and Carol look at each other. The woman must be crazy. But after some consideration they decide to try it anyway. Because they really want to get home. So the kids start jumping. Tommy with Jumbo held tightly in his arms. It’s actually quite nice. Better still, it’s a lot of fun to jump around. At first they are a bit careful, but soon they bounce around happily and freely. Suddenly however Tommy doesn’t see Carol anymore. She bounced up, but didn’t bounce down again. Frightened Tommy stops bouncing. Scared he looks at the old lady, who smiles.
“Your sister has reached the right point and height. She is on her way home now. You try it too, and before you know it you’re home.”
So Tommy starts jumping again. It takes some effort to reach the same height as his sister, because he is carrying Jumbo. But in the end he succeeds. Suddenly he isn’t bouncing anymore, but he is being hurled into the darkness. It’s the same darkness from earlier that day. After a while he sees his sister’s face. It’s at the edge of the cardboard box. Soon Tommy and Jumbo are thrown out of the box. They land on the attic floor. Carol helps them up. They take off their springs. As the old lady requested, they throw the springs back into the box. Then they close it. As they do so, they hear a faint ‘thank you’ coming from the box. Everything was still as they left it. They rush down to find their parents still clearing the kitchen table as if nothing happened. They don’t seem at all surprised to see their children again. Tommy and Carol look at each other and decide to keep their fantasies to themselves. Fantasies were alright, but with boundaries.

donderdag 24 maart 2011

Little white lies

“Why did they have to move here? It was very cold and grey. Not at all like home. At home it was always sunny and warm, and you didn’t need a coat to walk outside.”
Her father nodded. He had heard his daughter’s complaint before. And he gave her the standard reply that he had to go here for work, and that it was only for two years. He also knew it was much colder here, but again he explained that she would get used to it. Sulking the girl got deeper under her covers, so father could only kiss her forehead goodnight. On his way out he switched off the light and looked back. She was already dozing off. If the weather forecast was right, she would be in for a surprise tomorrow. That made him smile.

The next morning, young Susie woke up. She pushed the covers down, her face was now fully visible. She looked around, listened. There were hardly any sounds at all this morning. And that was weird, because they lived in a busy street and it was an average week day. So Susie got out of bed, into her slippers and walked over to her window. Since a couple of weeks she was tall enough to reach the stick to move the curtains. So she did. But she stopped halfway.
            “What is that? It’s all white! What’s wrong with the windows?”
She opened the curtains completely. Everything was white. From one end to the other, she saw nothing but white. She rubbed her eyes; maybe she wasn’t awake enough yet. But she was, because after she rubbed them, there was still only white. She tried to clean the glass of the windows, but without result.

Suddenly, from the left, a dark figure approached. Before she got the chance to get scared, she recognized her father. He was dressed in a padded coat, and he wore boots and gloves. His hair was covered by a big black hat, with flaps to keep his ears warm. He smiled and waved as he saw his little girl at the window. When he reached the door and started looking for his key, the door opened. There was Susie in her pajamas, curiously looking outside. Father gently pushed her back in, and the coldness disappeared as he quickly closed the door. At her demand he explained:
“That, my love, is snow. It is like rain, but very cold. Snow is actually very nice as you can see. It covers everything and makes it perfectly white. And of course you can have a lot of fun with snow…”
Susie sincerely doubted that. To her everything cold was wrong, bad and boring. But eventually he convinced her to at least go outside and experience it. So Susie dressed in her warmest clothes, and tugged her hat deep over her face, using her thick woolen mittens. With a shiver that started before the door even opened, she entered the cold.

The snow made strange crispy sounds under the touch of her boots. It was just everywhere: on the terrace, the window, the roof of the shed, the side of the big tree in the backyard. A bit scared she touched the snow. It felt weird, but alright. She created a track on the garden table with her hand. Suddenly something hit her at her back. She jumped. She turned to see what hit her, and saw some chunks of snow falling from her coat. Susie looked up to see her father with a big smile on her face and a new snow ball in his hand. After a second he pulled back his hand, and the snow ball came flying at her. Luckily father threw it slowly and with an arch, so she could easily avoid it. Susie sat down and picked up some snow. She threw it as hard as she could towards her father, but the result was just a big fountain of snow. Her father showed her how to make a proper snow ball: use your both hands to pick up some snow, squeeze it together and then make it nice and round. Soon the backyard had turned into a war zone. Snow balls flew from one side to the other. Every hit was cheered by one, condemned by the other. After a while, they got tired of the fight. But then father had a great idea. They gathered all the snow in the garden and rolled two big balls from it. Father put the smaller one on top of the big one, while Susie looked for 2 same sized round pebbles and 2 small branches from the tree. The pebbles gave him eyes; the branches gave the snow man arms. But something was still missing. Suddenly father jumped up, and disappeared into the shed. He returned with a big orange carrot, that he planted firmly into the smaller ball just below the eyes. Now it was complete, now it was a true snow man.

Pleased with what they had achieved, father and daughter went inside. Only there they realized how cold they had gotten from playing in the snow all the time. Luckily mother had an answer. She told them to take off their wet clothes, and ordered them to sit near the fireplace. That gave a nice hot glow that soon entered their cold bodies. It didn’t take mother long to return with two big cups of hot steaming coco. Susie snuggled between her fathers leg and took a sip. It tasted delicious! When they had regained some body heat, father told his daughter a story.
“At Christmas day we celebrate the birth of the little baby Jesus. He was born two thousand years ago in a shed, because there was no more room in a normal house for him and his parents. They were surrounded by all kinds of animals. Can you imagine that my sweet child? Being born with a goat staring at you?”
Susie yawned. She didn’t think it was a very interesting story. Father continued.
“Then some shepherds came to give the baby presents and congratulate the parents.”
As she heard something about presents, Susie was suddenly full of attention. But that changed just as rapidly when she understood the presents weren’t for her. Father continued, about the name the parents gave the little baby, how they got back home again risking their own lives and about all the angels singing. But the story was lost to little Susie. Father wanted to tell more about how little baby Jesus grew up, but then he noticed how his daughter had fallen asleep in his arms. The morning had only just passed, but she was exhausted from the snowball fight.

Later that afternoon, after Susie had taken a little and reviving nap, she decided to play in the snow some more. Father and mother couldn’t join her, because he had gone to work and she had gone shopping. Enthusiastically she created a lot of brothers and sisters for the big snow man. Soon she had a whole family ready. Well, except for the noses they were ready. So little Susie went into the shed and looked around. At the top shelf she saw the box with the big carrots, but of course she couldn’t reach them. Fortunately there was also a box filled with smaller carrots, so she found her noses there. As she inserted the final nose into a small snow woman, she heard a lot of flapping behind her. Oh no! A big bird was eating the nose from the big snow man. She tried to scare it away, but the damage had been done. The snow man had lost his nose. With a sad face Susie took another little carrot from the box in the shed and put it where the big one had been. That didn’t look right. A big snow man needs a big nose. So she went into the shed again, stacked some blocks of wood under the top shelf and climbed up. She could just reach inside the box, and with the tip of her fingers she rolled a big carrot to the side. After a few attempts she finally succeeded in rolling it up the side of the box as well. When she had taken out the carrot, she looked around in pride. But of course no one was there to compliment her on it. But what she saw was way more interesting.

Over there, in the corner, there was a big pile of presents. You could only see them from above. She climbed down, carrot in her hand, and ran over to the corner. She moved aside the board that covered the hiding place, and that revealed a huge treasure. Presents in all shapes and sizes where neatly stacked on three shelves at the back of the shed. She had never seen them before, because they were always covered one way or another. This was an amazing discovery! What were all these presents doing there? Her parents couldn’t know, because they wouldn’t have kept it a secret of course. Susie looked around. No one. She looked at the treasure again. A little hesitation. Then she picked up a little present that was at the side, covered a bit by a bigger one. She hid it under her coat and went back into the house. She silently passed her mother, who was decorating the Christmas tree. Christmas was now only four days away. Up in her room, Susie unpacked the present. It was a watch. And it looked like an expensive one too. She looked at the shiny dial for a while and then put in under her bed, where no one could see it. In the next three days Susie smuggled all the presents up to her room. At first she didn’t want to, but the presents just seemed to scream to her to be opened. So after three days the watch was accompanied by new clothes, tools and jewelry. So many nice presents. And they all belonged to Susie now. She was rich!

The night before Christmas Susie goes to bed early. Her parents told her that she would get presents if she was a good girl. Of course Susie already had a lot of presents, but she wouldn’t mind to get more. She slept like a baby, dreaming of all the new presents she would get the next day. Early that next morning she woke up. But not from excitement. She heard her parents talking loudly downstairs. They were arguing. Unfortunately she couldn’t hear what it was about. When Susie came down, her mother turned to her with tears in her eyes.
“My little Susie, all the Christmas presents have been stolen. Someone has taken them, so now we have nothing left.”
Mother’s voice broke, and she started crying. Father comforted her, but obviously he wasn’t in a much better mood either. Susie was in shock. The presents stolen? That was terrible. What mean thief would do such a thing? They all got to the kitchen table to eat the traditional Christmas breakfast. Normally this was a very happy feast, but this time nobody said a word. Everybody just chewed their food automatically and stared sadly in front of them.

            “I still can’t believe it. Who could know where we hid those presents?”
Father shook his head and answered:
“I know, I thought I hid them safely in the shed behind that old board. You’d have to be very close to it to be able to see it. It’s a mystery to me.”
Susie froze, and not from the cold outside. Because now she realized what she had done. She was the thief. She had stolen the presents from her parents. She was so shocked she couldn’t say a word. Tears fell down her face silently, as she bit her lip not to start crying out loud. Under the impression that she was sad about the stolen presents, father moved closer to his daughter and put his arm around her. Susie felt ashamed. She would have to tell them soon that it was her who had caused all this sadness. But she didn’t have the courage. She was so afraid of the consequences. But then she thought of Joseph and Mary, who had risked their own lives to get their new born baby safely back to their home town. They had shown what real family was about. It was about caring for each other, and doing things for the other even if you didn’t like doing it yourself.
“Mommy, daddy, please don’t be angry with me. I’m the thief. I found the presents the other day when I looking for a new nose for the big snow man, and I took them all. They are under my bed. I’m so very sorry!”
Father and mother looked at each other. The look started with anger, but soon a smile formed on both their faces, as they looked at their daughter. She looked terrible. They could see she really felt very sorry for what she had done. Father broke the silence.
“It’s ok, my love. Come on, we’ll go upstairs and get them all. After all, what is Christmas without presents?”
Relieved, Susie took her father’s hand and followed him upstairs. Mother came last. The three of them took the presents from under the little girl’s bed and brought them all down. With a big pile of presents in their arms, they came down the stairs again. Susie only took one present at a time, because she was still little. Finally all the present were down and under the Christmas tree. Happily they finished the Christmas breakfast, and now they were talking and laughing a lot. After they finished eating, they gathered around the tree. There they divided the presents. And even though they weren’t wrapped anymore, it was still very nice to receive them. Susie liked this so much better than sneaking up the presents and not being able to share them with others. She had learned her lesson. Christmas was about family and sharing. Happiness is only true happiness when you can share it with your loved ones.