We had a campfire in the yard today. The wood was damp, the baby nearly threw herself onto the fire, and nobody toasted a good marshmallow, but it was fun. (Except for wrangling the baby. That was…not fun.) As is our custom, we told stories—at least, a few of us did: My husband, myself, and my oldest daughter. Here are our stories.
There were once six good cats–
“Good cats? Ha! Now I know this is fiction.”
—who liked to catch mice. Now one time they caught a really smart mouse who said, “Please don’t eat me!”
The cats were surprised. “Mice cannot speak the common tongue of the animals. How can you speak it?”
The mouse said, “I am a magical mouse.” He wasn’t really magical, but he was a smart mouse, which is why he could speak the common tongue of the animals. He said, “If you let me go, I will grant you three wishes.”
The cats said “All right then. We wish for ten mice to eat.”
The mouse then got his friends to come over and told them there was something delicious for them to eat.
“Wow! What a stinker! He betrayed his friends! I don’t like this mouse.”
But there were only six mice, and the cats were very displeased. They cornered the mouse and said, “You didn’t bring us ten mice as you promised!”
The mouse said, “It’s true I’m not really magical, but I can help you. Next door there is a family with a baby and they set out milk. I will let you in so that you can drink the milk.”
The cats agreed to let him go, and the mouse ran next door. But he said to himself, “I am not going to help those cats. I’ll just run away and hide in this house!”
“Ugh. He even betrays the cat. He deserves what he gets!”
“Maybe Mommy should finish this story. I’ve got to clean up the baby.”
“Oh, no! It’s much too good!”
“Well, the trouble is, I have no idea what’s going to happen next.”
Now there happened to be in this house a radioactive spider who came and bit the mouse, and it hurt very much. The mouse thought to himself, “I wish this spider would burst into flames!” And he did! “Wow, that was a neat coincidence,” thought the mouse.
Just then, the cats came near the house. The mouse said to himself, “I wish a dog would come and chase the cats!” Just then, a big dog came and started chasing the cats.
The mouse realized then that the spider had given him magical powers.
“Wow! Peter Parker, eat your heart out. That kind of thing never happened to Spiderman.”
“There are too many interruptions to this story.”
“That’s just because we like it.”
The dog chased the cats into the house where the mouse was, and they pounced on the mouse. “We’re going to eat you!” they said.
“Please don’t eat me! I don’t want to die. Look, I really do have magical powers. I just wished for the dogs to chase you so that you could get into the house to drink the baby’s milk.”
“That wasn’t very nice,” said the cats, who were growing meaner and meaner. “We’re not going to fall for that nonsense again.”
“No, really! I just recently gained real magical powers! Watch, I’ll make you a big bowl of milk.” So they let him go but sat in a big circle around him so that he couldn’t escape.
And the mouse wished for a big bowl of milk, but he made it really big, with a platform in the middle for him to sit on. The cats were all in the milk, but they managed to swim to the sides. “That’s a dirty trick,” they said.
The mouse decided to use his magic powers to make himself really big and wished to be big. But nothing happened! “Huh! That’s weird,” he thought. “Every time I wished for something, it came true—the spider going up in flames, the dog chasing the cats, and the bowl of the milk. Uh-oh! Three wishes! I don’t have any more magical powers.”
Then the cats caught him again and told him they were going to eat him. He protested that he was magic, but they said that it wasn’t worth it. One ripped off his tail, another one ripped off his head, and they ate him.
“Good. Serves the stinker right.”
“All right, Mommy, I think it’s your turn to tell a story.”
“Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly follow that story!”
“Oh, come on.”
Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived with her father and mother in the Australian outback, which is in a dry part of Australia, way away from cities, and there were lots of poisonous and dangerous animals. Her parents were, um, rangers. She was about your age, Daughter.
One day some bad poachers came and were shooting animals. (A poacher is an illegal hunter.) The parents tried to stop them, but the poachers killed them. The little girl was nearby, and they realized that someone else was watching, but she was able to sit so still that they didn’t notice where she was. The little girl realized she had to get to the city, where her uncle was. She was very clever, and her parents had taught her a lot, so she grabbed some food and a canteen–
“What’s a canteen?”
“It’s like a water bottle, but fatter.”
She grabbed the canteen, and some food, and started walking. She used the sun to navigate—you know how the sun rises in the east, goes up, then sets in the west? So she used that to figure out where she was going, but in the middle of the day she had to rest because it was just too hot to walk. She’d walk at night and use the stars to navigate.
But even though she was really clever, the poachers had jeeps and guns and were closing in. Just then, a dingo came by.
“What’s a dingo?”
“It’s a kind of wild dog.”
She was really scared, because she thought that the dingo was going to eat her, because dingoes sometimes have eaten children. But this dingo was sent by the spirit of her parents to protect her. It said, “Look, I’ll lead off the poachers.”
It ran off and ran in front of the poachers, who figured that they might as well kill it. They almost got it several times, but they kept missing and wasted lots of ammunition. They got mad and drove after the dingo, and it was able to slip away and confuse the girl’s tracks. So they went on.
“If this were my story, I’d have the dingo’s head cut off.”
“Hey! This is my story.”
As they got near the city, the dingo said, “I won’t be able to help you now. You should cut off my head.”
“I can’t do that!” cried the little girl. But the dingo begged and begged, so finally she did.
“She had a knife.”
“She cut its throat first.”
“Yeah, so it couldn’t scream while dying in agony.”
“It was very quick and painless. Anyway…”
Out of the body of the dingo sprang a boy. “I was sent to help you by the spirits of your parents, but I was also under an enchantment,” he said. “You have freed me.” He took her by the hand, and they went into the city and made a police report, and the girl lived with her uncle and they caught the poachers. Then the girl grew up and the boy grew up, and they got married. The end.
“Well, I’ve told a story and Daddy’s told a story, so who’s next?”
“I guess…me,” said the 8-year-old. “But it won’t be very good.”
“That doesn’t matter! It didn’t stop me, did it?”
“I thought your story was as good as Daddy’s.”
“I did, too, but it ended too abruptly.”
The Eight-Year-Old’s Story
Once upon a time there was a family of four—a mother, father, a boy of eleven named Cory, and a little girl named Elizabeth who was three. They were very poor. They lived in a little house on a lot of land. They had a dog and a small pig. They were so poor that Elizabeth and Cory had to share a bedroom and bed and blankets and pillows, and they didn’t have a normal dresser. Instead, they had a bunch of drawers under their bed, and in some of them they kept their clothes and in some of them their toys and candy.
“That sounds like my bed growing up at Grandma from California’s,” I said.
They had a little garage, and they had a baby wading pool and a tricycle for Elizabeth and a bicycle for Cory.
“I bet they were given those things,” I said.
“Well, they were given the tricycle and the bicycle, because they were so poor, but they bought the wading pool.”
Cory was annoyed that the wading pool took up so much room. They also had an attic and a little kitchen and a bathroom next to the kitchen, and a living room. Cory was annoyed by Elizabeth and found her toys annoying, but Elizabeth really liked Cory.
“Good setting and characterization. What are you going to have happen? Maybe Elizabeth could be in danger and Cory realizes that he really loves her?”
“No! I want things to stay nice.”
One time Elizabeth really embarrassed Cory when his friends were over. She said to them that he only liked them because being with them gave him a break from being with her. They believed her because she always seemed to be telling the truth. After that, the kids at school ignored Cory, and he realized that he really liked them. But they wouldn’t talk to him, and they were always talking about a really good party they went to—like, “Do you remember the giant gingerbread house, and all of the cupcakes?”
“I got that part from Harriet the Spy.”
“I figured you did. That’s good, my darling—good writers and storytellers take from other stories and make them their own.”
Cory was mad at Elizabeth, but his mom made him take her to the park one day. One of the kids from school was there and called Cory “Grass-head.” Elizabeth yelled, “He doesn’t have any grass on his head!” The boy threw a rock at her. Luckily, it wasn’t a big rock. Cory threw a rock at him, which wasn’t very good, but at least he was doing something for Elizabeth. Then Elizabeth threw a rock at the boy, and he realized that uh oh, I didn’t set a good example for Elizabeth. Then the boy tried to take away Elizabeth’s doll, which wasn’t really a doll but a piece of leather that Elizabeth said was her doll. Elizabeth threw another rock, and even though she was little, she threw it really hard!
After that the kids at school didn’t just ignore Cory, but called him “Sisterhead.” But then Cory moved away, and they realized that they really liked him because he was always bringing in cupcakes and things like that. Cory went to another school. He met one of the boys from his old school and was going to run away, but the boy said sorry and they were friendly.
Things were back to normal, well, mostly back to normal, except that Cory was a little nicer to Elizabeth. But that didn’t prevent him from getting annoyed with her sometimes.