Saturday, May 19, 2012

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Nearly twenty years ago, on a visit to my brother Bob and his wife Linda, I visited Linda's grade school class. She introduced me to the children as a visiting author. I was thrilled to have that title even though I didn't really deserve it. I chatted with the students about writing, especially writing children's stories. They all thought it would be a good idea if I wrote a story for them, just to show them how it was done. I took them up on the challenge, and this story about an unusual cloud over an unusual Kansas town is what I wrote.

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Have you ever heard of Hillyville? You haven’t? Well, Hillyville has never heard of you either.

Hillyville is in the middle of one of the flattest places in the United States. Hillyville is in Kansas, a very flat state. And out in the middle of this very flat place lies Hillyville. The town is called Hillyville because, as you might have guessed, the whole town sits on a hill. A very hilly hill.

And not just any old hill, but a very high hill. The highest hill for miles around. The only hill for miles around. It looks like one of the pyramids of Egypt, sitting out in the middle of Kansas.

But this hill is even higher than a pyramid. It looks more like a long skinny nose sticking out of the flat face of Kansas, sticking its nose in the air like it’s just so much better than little flat towns. Some people from the flat parts of Kansas think that Hillyville is a very stuckup little town. They think that Hillyvillians are very stuckup people.

This hill in Hillyville is so high that every once in a while a cloud comes and sits on top of the hill, like a fluffy dandelion blossom after it’s gone to seed. There it sits all day long. And sometimes all night long too.

You know what you do when you find a ripe dandelion, when it’s juuuust right?

Yes, you know. You hold it up to your lips and then you blow really hard. All the seeds go flying away.

Whenever the cloud came to hang around their hill, the people who lived on top of the hill in Hillyville wished they could blow their cloud away, just like a dandelion. But this cloud wouldn’t be blown away. It would just sit there all day long. And sometimes all night long too.

The people who lived near the top of the hill would stumble around in the cloud, not able to see where they were going.

Having some very strange encounters.

Bumping noses into noses.

“Oh, so sorry,” Barney Biggerbeak would mumble, holding his nose to see if it was still attached to his face. “Hope I didn’t hurt your nose, whoever you are, but I can’t see a thing because of this silly cloud.”

“Mmmm, ohhh, uhhh,” Gertie Grossnoss would say with a little moan. “Quite all right, I think. Should be fine in a day or two . . . or three or four.”

Banging into trees.

“Oh, I say, I’m terrible sorry,” Bertie Butternut would groan as he held his elbow, rubbing away the pain of banging his crazy bone on a low low branch, “but I can’t see a thing in this silly cloud.” The tree, since trees can’t talk, would say nothing. And Bertie would mumble something about how some people wouldn’t even accept an apology, and then he would stumble away through the cloud, a cloud like layers of white sheets on our mother’s clothesline.

Tripping over dogs.

“Oooof!” puffed Billy Boombelly as he landed on his stomach in the bed of bluebells his wife had just planted in the backyard. Billy’s big brown and black bloodhound Blue was lying asleep there when Billy bounded around the corner and then went flying through the air into the flowerbed. “Was that you, old Blue?” Billy asked as he pulled a bluebell out of his mouth and scraped some dirt from off one cheek. When Blue heard his name, he opened one big blue eye. But because he couldn’t see anything through the cloud, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Getting tangled up in the sheets and long underwear drying on the line in Connie Clozpin’s backyard. Her husband Calvin Clozpin liked to have his long underwear dried outdoors. And he liked to wear blue and green and yellow and red long underwear. And when the wind would blow, the blue and green and yellow and red long underwear would fill up with air like balloons and dance and flap and bounce up and down as they dried.

“Hey, Somebody! Anybody!” Sylvester Sinkerswim yelled. “Help me, Somebody! Help me, Anybody!” Sylvester had been running through Connie Clozpin’s backyard. He was running away from his sister Sylvia and, because the cloud was so thick and white all around him, he couldn’t see where he was going. He ran right by the sheets. He ran right by the blue long underwear, by the green long underwear, by the yellow long underwear. But he didn’t run by the red long underwear. In fact, he really did . . . run right into it. He went headfirst into the back flap of Calvin’s long underwear and that’s where he stayed, all tangled up inside the long underwear, hanging upside down on the clothesline.

“Heeeeeeelp!” he screamed. “I’ve been swallowed by a monster! An octopus just made me his meal! Help me, somebody! Help me!” But nobody heard poor Sylvester’s cries for help.

Falling into wading pools.

THUMP! “Aah, eeee, whoops!” SPLASH! Sylvia Sinkerswim had on her new pink dress when she fell over the edge of her little brother’s wading pool.

“Ohhhh,” Sylvia growled wetly as she rolled over on her back and sat up. “That sneaky little slimeball Sylvester! Is he ever going to get it when I catch him! I just know he left his wading pool right here on purpose. He just knew I would come along and fall in it. And now I’ve ruined my new pink dress!”

Sylvia couldn’t see what she looked like, but she could feel the water running down her nose from her hair. And she could feel her hair hanging wetly on her cheeks. And she could feel the mud on her hands from the dirt on the bottom of the pool. Sylvester did more than just wade in his wading pool. He also liked to make mud pies in his pool. And now Sylvia was sitting in one big mud pie. With her new pink dress on. Her new muddy pink dress on.

“Ohhh!” she growled again. Then she thought about what it would be like to make a mud pie out of her little brother Sylvester. And she smiled with a curious gleam in her eye as her tongue came out to catch a drop of water as it dripped from her nose. “A Sylvester mud pie would be nice,” she thought, smiling wickedly.

One of Sylvia’s best friends was Hillary Hillgenberg. Hillary lived in a house at the very top of the hill in Hillyville. She lived at the very top because her father was the mayor of Hillyville. Some people might think that Hillary would be stuckup because she lived in the house on the very top of the hill in Hillyville. But they would be wrong. Hillary was full of mischief, but she wasn’t stuckup at all. Hillary and Sylvia often played together, and often they got in trouble because of the mischief Hillary planned.

Sylvia crawled out of the wading pool. She felt her way back into her house where she changed her muddy pink dress for a fresh blue dress. Then she went back out to go find Hillary. Hillary would know what to do about getting even with Sylvia’s little brother Sylvester.

Sylvia felt her way through the thick white fog of the cloud, the cloud like layers of white sheets on our mother’s clothesline. She went slowly up the hill toward Hillary’s house. She walked with her arms out in front of her so she wouldn’t bump into anything. She didn’t see Barney Biggerbeak when she went by him, but she heard him mumble, “Oh, by poor sore dose. I bust fide sub ice for this swellig.”

And she didn’t see Gertie Grossnoss when she went by her, but she heard her moan, “Mmmm, ohhh, ahhh. I bust fide sub ice for this swellig.”

And she didn’t see Bertie Butternut when she went by him, but she heard him groan, “Ohhh, my poor elbow. I think I’m going crazy with the pain in my crazy bone.”

And she didn’t see Billy Boombelly when she went by him, but she would have laughed if she could have seen the bluebells in his hair, one behind each ear and two sticking straight up in back.

And she didn’t see old Blue when she stepped on his tail, but she heard him go, “AAAOOOOO!” when he howled as only bloodhounds can howl.

And she didn’t see her little brother Sylvester when she went by him, hanging upside down in a pair of red long underwear, but she heard a muffled voice shouting something like, “Helpfff! Helpfff! I’m being eaten by a giant octopufff!” But she couldn’t understand what he was saying, so she continued on her way to Hillary’s house.

“Hillary!” she shouted when she thought she was near the top of the hill. “Hillary, where are you?”

“I’m right over here, silly,” Hillary said from just a few feet away. “I’m sitting in my father’s car. I do believe you must be Sylvia, from the sound of your voice. Come over here and sit in my father’s car with me. We can pretend we’re racing down the Hillyville hill.”

Sylvia got in Hillary’s father’s car and then she could see her friend, for the cloud was outside while they were inside. Hillary was sitting behind the wheel, making little racing noises, squinting ahead where she could see nothing but the cloud, like layers of sheets on our mother’s clothesline.

“Vroom, vroom,” she went, getting ready to go fast. “Vroom, vvvrooooom, vvvrrrroooooom.”


Then, “RRRRRRRRRRR!” like the sound of tires spinning. And Hillary threw the gearshift forward like she had seen her father do when he would drive down the hill to go to work.

Sylvia pulled her seat belt around her and buckled herself in, for Hillary’s noises sounded so real. It almost felt like they were really moving in the car, going faster and faster.

And then Sylvia felt a bump and suddenly there was Barney Biggerbeak staring in the windshield at them. He was holding his nose with one hand and holding on to a wiper blade with the other.

“Oh my,” said Hillary in a quiet little voice, no longer vrooming. “I wonder what he’s doing out on the front of my father’s car.”

And then there was another bump and suddenly there was Gertie Grossnoss looking in at them with surprise in her eyes. She was holding on to her nose with one hand and holding on to the other wiper blade with the other.

“Oh my, oh my,” said Hillary, even quieter now. “I really wonder what she’s doing out on the front of my father’s car.”

And then there was another bump and suddenly there was Bertie Butternut with a shocked look on his face. He was holding his elbow with one hand and Barney Biggerbeak’s ear with the other.

“Oh me, oh my, oh what have I gone and done now?” Hillary wondered in a very quiet voice. “I wonder what my father is going to say about this.”

And then there were two bumps right in a row and suddenly there was Billy Boombelly, with mud on his cheek and bluebells in his hair. He was squeezed in between Bertie Butternut and Gertie Grossnoss, and he was holding Bertie’s arm with one hand and Gertie’s hair with the other. And on top of Billy’s head, with his big ears flapping, his big blue eyes wide open, there was old Blue, holding on for dear life with his front legs wrapped around Billy’s neck. And all of them were looking in at Hillary and Sylvia.

“Ooooohhhh, am I ever going to get it now,” Hillary whined. “Oh how will I ever explain this to my father?”

And then there was a twang like the sound of snapping string, and suddenly the people on the front of Hillary’s father’s car were wrapped in sheets as white as the cloud that liked to hang around the top of the hill, and long underwear of blue and green and yellow. And red long underwear, with Sylvia’s little brother Sylvester peeking out of the back flap as he held on to old Blue’s tail.

“Oh me, oh my, oh boo hoo hoo!” sobbed Hillary. “If we all get down the Hillyville hill all right, I promise I’ll never get into mischief ever ever eeeeever again.”

Hillary’s father’s car went down the Hillyville hill, faster and faster. The sheets were flapping behind them, faster and faster and faster. And the long underwear, the blue and green and yellow but not the red, were waving behind them, like flags in the wind, faster and faster and faster. And the people hanging on to the car and each other held on ever harder. Their eyes got bigger and bigger. Their mouths got wider and wider. And all together they went, “OOOOOOHHHHHH!” higher and higher. Sylvia and Hillary joined them from inside the car, going, “OOOOOOHHHHHH!” higher and higher.

They were going so fast down the Hillyville hill with the sheets flapping and the long underwear waving and all the people going , “OOOOOOHHHHHH!” that the cloud got dragged along behind them. And when they finally reached the bottom of the Hillyville hill, the car, the people, the sheets, the long underwear, and the cloud all went streaming out across the flat part of Kansas right below the Hillyville hill.

After a mile or two, they coasted to a stop. The sheets stopped flapping. The long underwear stopped waving. The people stopped going, “OOOOOOHHHHHH!” And the cloud, with a sigh of relief, turned into water and became a lake at the bottom of the Hillyville hill. The lake had water as blue as old Blue’s big blue eyes, as blue as the bluebells in Billy Boombelly’s hair, as blue as Sylvia Sinkerswim’s clean blue dress, as blue as Calvin Clozpin’s blue long underwear.

The cloud was happy.

Bernie Biggerbeak and Gertie Grossnoss were happy, and they didn’t even notice their throbbing noses.

Bertie Butternut was happy, and he didn’t even care that his elbow was still going crazy.

Billy Boombelly was so happy he gave old Blue a hug, and old Blue gave Billy a big wet lick on his muddy cheek.

Sylvester Sinkerswim was happy as he climbed out of the flap at the back of the red long underwear.

Sylvia Sinkerswim was happy as she climbed out of Hillary’s father’s car. “Sylvester,” she said to her little brother, “I’m so happy I’m going to forgive you for getting my new pink dress all muddy. I’m not even going to make you sit in a mud pie.”

Hillary Hillgenberg was happy because nothing bad had happened to her father’s car.

“Whew!” she said to everyone. “I’ll never do that again. I think I’m all done racing cars down long steep hills.”

And even Mayor Hillgenberg was happy. He was happy because Hillyville would never have to worry about the cloud coming to hang around the top of the Hillyville hill. Now the town had a beautiful blue lake, as blue as old Blue’s big blue eyes, as blue as the bluebells in Billy Boombelly’s hair, as blue as Sylvia Sinkerswim’s clean blue dress, and as blue as Calvin Clozpin’s blue long underwear hanging on his wife’s clothesline.

Now have you heard of Hillyville?

Yes? Well, Hillyville’s heard of you too.