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The Upside-Down House
IF YOU WERE to walk north along Juniper Street, which is the main street in the town of Little Spring Valley, and pass by all the shops and businesses until you came to Aunt Martha’s General Store, and then turn on to the very next street on the left, you might think, Hmm. What a nice, ordinary little town. You would pass brightly colored houses with porches in the front, and trimmed lawns with children and dogs and pots of flowers, and bicycles and scooters lying about.
And then you would come to a house that was upside down, with its roof poking into the ground and its bottom waving toward the sky. There’s a regular-looking porch on this upside-down house, with steps to the front door, because how else could you get into the house? But the chimney of the house starts at the slope of one of the upside-down roofs and tunnels into the ground. Since some of the bricks have fallen out of the chimney, it makes an especially good climbing wall with lots of helpful footholds, and the children of Little Spring Valley scamper up and down it like monkeys. The windows of the upside-down house open from the top, not the bottom, and, inside, the ceilings are the floors and the floors are the ceilings. Chandeliers sprout out of the floor like cabbages, and sometimes the chairs and couches are just where you’d want them in order to sit down, but sometimes they’re hovering above your head or turned downside up.
Who lives in this house? That’s a perfectly reasonable question. The house was built many years ago by a pirate named Mr. Piggle-Wiggle for his bride, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. When Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was a little girl, she dreamed of one day living in an upside-down house. So her husband built her the house of her dreams. It isn’t a very practical house, since one constantly has to leap over doorways and vacuum around the chandeliers, and it’s hard to know whether to call the attic the attic or the basement, or the basement the basement or the attic, but the house is a lot of fun, and there isn’t another one like it in Little Spring Valley.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives in the upside-down house now. Mr. Piggle-Wiggle disappeared some years ago when he was called away by the pirates, who are always unpredictable. His wife missed him terribly, of course, so at last, when there had been no word from him in months and months, she decided to go in search of him, and she asked her great-niece, Missy, to stay in the upside-down house and take care of it and the animals.
So that’s who lives in the upside-down house now. Missy Piggle-Wiggle.
* * *
On the first truly warm Saturday of spring, Missy sat up in her bed and stretched. “Good morning, Wag,” she said to the little brown dog who was dozing at her feet.
You might think that the dog who lives in a magical upside-down house built by a pirate could talk, but you would be wrong. The only talking animal in the house is Penelope the parrot.
Wag let out a woof and a snort and went back to sleep.
Missy looked across the room at the wool hat she wore in cold weather and thought that today was the day she would switch her wool hat for her warm-weather straw hat. Then she looked at her cupboard of magical potions that could rid children of unwanted habits, and she wondered who in Little Spring Valley would need curing next. Last spring, there had almost been an epidemic of I-Never-Said-itis, but she had nipped it in the bud by giving Georgie Pepperpot a single dose of the Promise Potion.
Missy had learned everything she knew about magic and potions and cures and children from her great-aunt. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was renowned for her ways with children, and before she had gone off in search of her missing husband, the children in town had visited the upside-down house nearly every day to play with the magical little lady who lived there. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle could make any chore fun. Most children moaned and groaned at home if asked to hose down the porch or tidy up the mudroom. But Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle would cheerfully ask her visitors to “Swab the decks, mateys!” or “Make this place shipshape!” and then she would time them on a stopwatch for good measure.
When problems at the homes in Little Spring Valley became acute and parents were at their wits’ end because their offspring had become gum smackers or know-it-alls or tiny-bite takers, they would phone Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for one of her magical cures, and she would always have the proper potion at hand. Missy, who, as a little girl, had spent happy vacations at the upside-down house, now knew almost as much about magic and cures as her great-aunt did.
* * *
Missy was reaching for her bathrobe when she heard a knock at her bedroom door.
“Come in,” she called. The door opened, and in stepped a large pig carrying a tray with good smells wafting from it.
“Lester,” said Missy, smiling. “Breakfast in bed? What’s the occasion?”
Lester set the tray on Missy’s bed and shrugged his hairy shoulders. He couldn’t speak, but he was extremely polite, and Missy sometimes engaged his help when she needed to teach good manners to children who didn’t need a magical potion but who nevertheless chewed with their mouths open or refused to use their napkins or grabbed handfuls of cookies without passing the plate around.
“Will you join me?” asked Missy.
Lester perched on the bed, crossed his hind legs, and poured himself a cup of coffee. He was the sort of pig who liked to drink four or five cups of coffee with each meal.
Missy, Lester, and the sleepy Wag enjoyed breakfast in Missy’s room until Missy suddenly clapped her hands, said, “Saturday or not, there’s work to be done,” and jumped out of bed.
* * *
There are always plenty of chores to be done on a farm, and behind the upside-down house were a barn and a farmyard. Beyond the farmyard was a pasture, so, as you might imagine, there were animals to be fed and exercised, stalls and hutches to be cleaned, and any number of things to keep Missy busy. The farm was a lot of work. Running it was expensive, too, and Missy’s wallet was growing light, but so far she hadn’t needed to search for the silver key her great-aunt had mentioned. She hadn’t sold the precious gold doubloons, either. Gold is valuable and would fetch a pretty price. But gold doubloons are the only currency worth anything in the pirate world, and Missy had a feeling in her bones that one day her great-aunt might need them in her search for her husband. Missy dared not part with even a single one.
Missy, dressed in her straw hat and a flowing palegreen dress with wispy bits trailing off of it that sparkled when the light hit them just right, greeted Lightfoot the cat and Penelope the parrot in the kitchen downstairs.
“Good morning,” she said cheerfully as she set out their food. Then she glanced at nothing in particular and added, “Good morning, House.”
A window shade flicked in reply, and Missy could tell that the upside-down house was in a good mood, which was a relief since House could be temperamental.
Missy scratched Lightfoot behind her ears as the cat ate her kibble. Lightfoot arched her back under Missy’s hand but didn’t stop eating. She missed Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle more than Wag and the others did, and Missy wondered if any of her potions worked on animals. Then again, some problems couldn’t be fixed with magic.
“All right. Farm chores,” announced Missy.
“About time! About time!” screeched Penelope. “Lazybones.”
Missy knew she was not a lazybones, so she didn’t answer. She tromped out into the farmyard with Wag at her heels and Penelope flapping after them.
“Good morning,” she said to Warren the gander.
“Good morning,” she said to his wife, Evelyn Goose.
“Good morning,” she said to Martha and Millard Mallard, the duck couple.
Then she called a general good morning to the turkeys in their pen and the rabbits in their hutches and the chickens scratching at the warm earth. At last, she entered the barn. In the rafters above, Pulitzer the owl was just settling in after a night of hunting. “Whoo,” he called sleepily to Missy before closing his eyes.
Missy fed Trotsky the horse and Heather the cow. She was startled when she heard Penelope, who had perched herself in a tree near the house, call, “Missy, Veronica Cupcake is here!”
Missy turned to see a small girl standing outside the barn. Veronica, who lived just down the street, was one of the youngest visitors to the upside-down house and so far had not needed to be cured of anything.
“I’m bored, so I came over,” Veronica announced. “What can I do?”
“Help me clean out Trotsky’s stall,” Missy replied.
At home, Veronica had the unwelcome habit of squinching up her face and falling to the floor in a heap if her parents or big sister asked her to do the tiniest thing, such as pick up a sweater. But here at the upside-down house, she smiled and took the muck bucket from Missy.
Missy and Veronica had become nicely muddy by the time Tulip and Rusty Goodenough arrived. Rusty was one of the first children in Little Spring Valley that Missy had cured—of his unwelcome habit of spying on his sister and the rest of his family—for which Tulip was supremely grateful.
Missy rinsed Veronica off with a watering can and then hurried into the kitchen, where she and Lester made a pitcher of lemonade.
“Can you believe it’s warm enough for lemonade?” Missy asked.
Lester gave her the thumbs-up sign, which is hard to do when one has hooves instead of fingers, and then he carried the pitcher to the front porch.
Missy followed him with a tray of glasses. She was surprised to see that playing in the front yard now were not only Veronica, Rusty, and Tulip, but also Linden Pettigrew (whom she had cured of a full-blown case of gum smacking) and Honoriah and Petulance Freeforall, twins who wouldn’t soon forget how Missy had helped them change from a know-it-all and a greedy grabber into happy, thoughtful sisters. And skipping down the street came Melody Flowers, the very first child Missy had met after moving to the upside-down house and who was new in town herself. Veronica was climbing the oak tree, Rusty and Tulip were engaged in an argument over a golf ball, and the twins and Linden were busy with shovels, digging for the pirate treasure that Mr. Piggle-Wiggle was said to have buried somewhere on the property. The yard around the upside-down house was always rather holey, which Missy didn’t mind too much as long as the children eventually filled the holes with flowers or planted seedlings in them. She kept two trowels handy for this very purpose.
“Lemonade!” called Missy from the porch.
Veronica slid down the tree trunk, Rusty and Tulip abandoned the golf ball, and the twins and Linden dropped their shovels. They ran breathlessly to Missy.
What do you think was the first thing any of them said as they reached for glasses of lemonade? Was it “Thank you” or “You’re so thoughtful, Missy” or “Tasty lemonade, Lester”?
No. Tulip spoke first, and she exclaimed, “Rusty took my golf ball!”
“I didn’t know you played golf,” Missy replied.
“Well, we don’t. But I found the ball on the way over here—”
“You mean I found it,” Rusty interrupted her.
“I saw it first!” cried Tulip.
“No, I did!”
“No, I did!”
“NO, I DID!”
Missy leveled her gaze on Rusty and Tulip. All the children on the porch knew that look, and they set down their lemonades, wondering what would happen next.
Rusty and Tulip grew quiet.
“What a thorny problem!” screeched Penelope, bobbing up and down on Lester’s head.
“And it must be solved,” said Missy firmly.
Veronica burped, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and said, “You could saw it in half.” Then she added hastily, “’Scuze me.”
“What am I supposed to do with half a golf ball?” asked Tulip, and Veronica shrugged.
“I guess we could share it,” said Rusty. Then he added, “But I don’t really want to.”
“You want it all for yourself. Is that right?” Missy asked him.
“And you don’t want anyone else to play with it?”
“Of course not!”
“Then you should have it.”
“Hey! No fair!” yelped Tulip.
“Go ahead and play with it,” Missy said to Rusty.
Rusty gave her a suspicious glance, but he set his lemonade on the tray, jumped down the porch steps, leaped over two of the holes in the yard, and claimed the ball. He didn’t have a golf club, so he stood on the lawn for a while, tossing the ball up and down, up and down. Then he threw it at the oak tree, aiming for an O-shaped knot, but he missed eighteen times in a row.
The children on the porch sipped their lemonade and watched him.
Rusty tossed the ball in the air again. At last he carried it back to the porch and announced, “This is boring.” He handed the ball to his sister. “Here, you can have it.”
“Thanks,” said Tulip halfheartedly. She was standing on the porch, the golf ball resting on her palm, when it vanished. One second it was in plain sight of everyone on the porch; the next moment there was a little crackle in the air, and the ball was gone.
Tulip gaped at her empty hand.
“Huh,” said Missy. “I wonder where it could be.”
“Golf ball hunt!” cried Petulance, and off ran the children to search for it.
“Very tricky,” squawked Penelope.
Missy sat down on a comfy seat next to Lester. Across from her sat Melody Flowers, the only child who hadn’t joined the hunt. Missy smiled at her. Melody smiled back shyly.
“I was thinking,” said Missy, “that today is the perfect day for a spring picnic.”
“Ooh,” said Melody. “On a blanket on the ground? With sandwiches and grapes and ants? Maybe we could be circus performers on the run from thieves.”
Here’s the wonderful thing about Missy. Most adults would have replied, “We’re on the run from thieves, and we stop to have a picnic?” But Missy replied, “Perfect! Also, we’re guarding an infant princess, and we have to keep her hidden.”
Melody followed Missy into the kitchen, where Lester helped them prepare food for their adventure. They baked cookies in the funny old black stove (Missy noting that they were nearly out of flour) and slapped together tomato sandwiches on the table, which was a bit difficult since earlier that morning, the table and chairs had floated to the ceiling.
“Remember to bring the parrot food!” screeched Penelope.
“You know,” said Melody as she placed apples and grapes in the picnic basket, “in Utopia, which was my old town—”
Missy refrained from saying she knew perfectly well that Utopia was the town from which Melody had moved to Little Spring Valley the previous year. Melody had started bringing up Utopia with great regularity.
“—in my old town,” Melody was saying, “spring came earlier than it does here. We sometimes had picnics in February.”
“Hard to believe,” said Penelope and cocked her head.
Missy clapped her hands briskly. “Is everything ready?” she asked. She checked the picnic basket. “Sandwiches, fruit, carrot sticks, cookies, more lemonade, and a thermos of coffee for Lester. All we need now are plates, cups, and napkins.”
Lester tugged at Missy’s sleeve and held out a bag.
“Lester, you’re a marvel,” exclaimed Missy. “You’ve thought of everything. Melody, why don’t you call the others?”
* * *
Missy and her guests set off through the farmyard with Wag and Lester. Penelope swooped ahead of them. “There’s a good place!” she called. “There’s another one.”
They settled on a spot at the edge of the pasture that was neither too dusty nor too muddy, and where the grass was still short and not yet prickly. Honoriah and Petulance flapped a checked blanket in the air and let it float to the ground. Lester handed around plates and cups.
“In Utopia,” said Melody as she bit into a tomato sandwich, “we once had a picnic in a field, and we picked wild strawberries, and later we made strawberry shortcake.”
Missy saw Petulance and Tulip glance at each other.
“I think this picnic is perfect,” announced Honoriah.
“It’s getting a little cloudy,” said Melody. “In Utopia—”
“I like clouds,” Rusty interrupted her.
“Hey, Missy,” said Veronica. “You should have brought your boyfriend with you.”
“And just who is my boyfriend?” asked Missy.
“You know. Harold Spectacle.” Veronica sang the name like this: “Har-old Spec-ta-cle.”
Missy hoped she wasn’t blushing. “He couldn’t come. The bookstore will be especially busy today. Everyone will be out shopping in this lovely weather.”
“Is he your boyfriend?” asked Tulip.
“Stop talking about boyfriends!” exclaimed Linden Pettigrew. “I’m trying to eat.”
“You know my friends Pollyanna and Ashley-Sarah? From Utopia?” said Melody.
“I’m sure they had boyfriends, even though they were eight,” said Honoriah.
“Of course,” said Petulance. She shook her head and giggled.
Missy stood up then, her dress trailing behind her in the wind that was blowing across the pasture. She shaded her eyes with her hand and stared into the distance.
“What is it?” asked Linden.
“Are the thieves after the baby princess?” exclaimed Melody.
“No,” said Missy. “This is real. I think it’s time to end the picnic. A storm is coming.”
Lester stood up and followed Missy’s gaze. He frowned. Wag woofed softly. Penelope called, “Hurry! Hurry!”
The sky to the west had turned a dark shade of purply green. Thunder rumbled. The wind lifted Missy’s straw hat from her head and sent it tumbling through the pasture. Rusty ran after it, and the others tossed plates and grape stems and half-eaten cookies into the picnic basket.
“Is it a tornado?” shrieked Veronica.
“No, but it’s a big storm,” said Missy. “Hurry, everyone.”
Missy and the children ran through the farmyard, Melody holding tight to Missy’s hand. Wag and Penelope raced ahead, and Lester lumbered along behind. He wasn’t a very fast pig. By the time they reached the back door of the upside-down house, rain was pelting from the sky.
“I’m soaked,” said Tulip, panting, as she hurtled through the door and into the kitchen.
“Soaked!” agreed Veronica.
A flash of lightning lit the farmyard, and in the very next second, the light went out in the kitchen and the refrigerator whirred to a stop.
“Power failure,” whispered Linden.
“Everybody in the basement,” said Missy.
“You mean the attic?” asked Petulance.
“I thought you said this wasn’t a tornado,” whimpered Melody.
“I don’t know what it is,” replied Missy, “but the basement is a safe place during a storm.”
Petulance started to run upstairs, but Missy grabbed her and said, “The attic, then. We need to be belowground.”
“What about Trotsky and Heather and—” Rusty started to say.
“The animals know how to find shelter.” Missy hustled Rusty and the other children into the attic-basement. Lester, Wag, Lightfoot, and Penelope hurried after them. They had barely reached the bottom step when a terrific crash of thunder sounded from above.
The upside-down house shook.
Text copyright © 2017 by Ann M. Martin Inc. and Elliam Corp.
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Ben Hatke