Woodpecker’s Way

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2002

By Braden M. McDonald, Illustrated by Max Strebel
CHAPTER ONE:
HOLIDAY CHARACTER

 

Braden was very lucky in many ways. His only bad luck was that he had a severe allergy to rabbits. Not many have traveled the world by boat and are at a wonderfully academic-filled private school, called Turnlamb Terrace. But this does not take place in school, or neither in town. Braden was also lucky as his grandparents had a 320-acre farm. With spreading hills, plains and valleys, and also numerous vegetable patches, it was a beautiful place to be. It was also natural with beautiful green grass and trees, and the only dirtiness was the cows’ pies. It was Braden’s favorite place in the world: 728 Whatten Road, Admaston County, Ontario—Admaston County was just outside of Renfrew. This place had a lot of activity. The activities ranged from hikes, milking cows, playing on the tractor, setting up a pretend farm business, helping Grandma prepare supper and much, much more. It was holiday, but it was active.

At the age of ten, with no map (though he was planning to draw one out one day), Braden could only go on short hikes by himself. Grandma told him even though it was eight PM, and darkening (on August 10) that he could go on one hill where he always exuded happiness. It was very short—you had to turn around sooner or later. This fact allowed him to go on it alone quite frequently. He liked to be alone—he could think about the new school year of grade five—he had just turned ten in July.

Woodpecker's Way creature in the snow

Braden was hoping desperately that either the snow or the woodpecker-rabbit would stop soon

“Oh, yes, that hill’s perfectly fine for you—just stay out of mischief!” Grandma said in her valley voice. For the last part (“stay out of mischief . . .”) she had been joking, as Braden never got into mischief.

“Can I have my midnight snack first?” Braden joked back to Grandma, as one, it was not midnight, and two, he never ate between meals.

*          *          *

CHAPTER TWO:
JUST HIS BODY AND HIS EAGERNESS

So he set off. It hadn’t rained too much this year, in 1989. This didn’t affect the grass, as I said it was as green as fresh cabbage, but it did affect the crop—especially the potatoes. Poor Grandpa had been out in the potato fields since two PM, and had only returned once for a drink, and once for a very brief supper. Grandma despised this. He was still off there, watering them, and he was also digging some up for Grandma’s own soup recipe.

I can’t describe how convenient that McDonald farm is. Right in the middle (quite a far distance away) are all the crops, and to the sides are the hills. Braden’s hill to hike on was closest to the crop to the right side.

Remembering all this himself, Braden began to gather speed. Luckily, he was not carrying anything, but he was tired from helping groom the horses all day. That didn’t stop him. He remembered his harder times, when he had had pneumonia for six months, and at some times had been unable to breathe. He still had a touch of that pneumonia, so was hoarse.

He had reached his favorite hill and could see Grandpa in the distance. He did not bother yelling “hard work, is it?” as the poor man was hard of hearing. So he turned the opposite direction as he saw something gleaming in the distance. With this farm lacking technology, it couldn’t be a satellite dish with medallion edges, or anything of that sort. As Braden approached it he could see that it was some sort of rock. Even closer . . . he could tell that it was huge. He could also see many pecks and nibbles imprinted in it. Braden was very excited—and because of this he looked around for any piece of farm equipment he could find—a shovel, a rake—anything. Nothing could be seen. Not thinking twice, he put his hands down into a little crevice and pulled. He pulled on the rock, but something from beneath pulled him down into some kind of hole.

*          *          *

CHAPTER THREE:
NEVER BEEN THERE; NEVER DONE THAT

Braden had expected it all to be pitch-dark—due to soil. However, it was as clear as day—bright, too. It was some different land—just a valley. It was snowing, but woodpeckers could be seen off in the distance. Some of them were carrying wands in their teeth; and some were using them. For example, a tree could have come to life, if the woodpecker that pointed its wand at the tree hadn’t been half asleep. Braden was astonished. He realized that it wasn’t just ordinary snow falling—the snowflakes didn’t have any pattern (they were square) and some were black.

So he climbed down to feel the unique snow.

As happy as he was when he set off hiking—and he was very impressed with himself to have found the land—he was very sad and hurting now, as when the black snow touched him, it seemed to have burnt a hole in his skin. So his spirits dropped very quickly—as if it were a thermometer showing a drop of temperature from 30 degrees Celsius to minus-30 degrees Celsius.

He could not seem to get back up to his homeland—there were too many woodpeckers in the way. The ones that weren’t in the way were pecking away noisily and annoyingly. He tried to stay closer to the white snowflakes, but when one touched him, he realized it was bitter ice. Black “snow” must have been hot embers, and white “snow” must have been ice.

To make it even worse, some woodpeckers were swooping at him; and there was one in the lead—it wasn’t a woodpecker.

*          *          *

CHAPTER FOUR:
NEVER SEEN THAT; NEVER HEARD THAT

Or rather . . . wasn’t just a woodpecker. It had two sides for faces—on the right and left side. At the front and back there was a little crevice. One side was the side of a woodpecker’s; and the other was the side of a rabbit’s—very fluffy with a mouth ready to nibble. The creature had one side with a wing, and the other with a paw. It didn’t fly—just walked with one sharp talon, and one foot-paw. It was a terrifying sight for Braden. Both its mouths or beaks seemed to go together on its crevice to nibble and peck at the same time—and it did so right in the area where the “coal” had touched Braden’s skin. Braden tried to scream, but as he was hoarse, couldn’t do so very loudly. Braden was hoping desperately that either the snow (which was paining his bare legs ferociously) or the woodpecker-rabbit would stop soon. He coughed in a choking manner (to clear his throat), and then tried to scream. He was hoarse, the woodpeckers were noisy, Grandpa was hard of hearing, and Grandma was very far off. It was no use. He knew he would not die, but he did not know how healthy his skin would be (particularly given his severe allergy to rabbits); or how he would ever be happy again. His eyes were also watering from the rabbit.

*          *          *

Now no one, not even Braden, who had traveled the world by boat, had seen this woodpecker-rabbit before. He was taken by surprise. But it was even more surprising when the creature was after him with a dagger. He was after the spot where the ember had started, and then the peck-nibbles had been put on top. This only added a third coat to his pain.

On a positive note, Grandpa was heading back from a long potato-nurturing day. He could see wings off in the distance—poking out from a large hole where the rock had been.

“Someone must’ve opened it,” he said, surprised, to himself. He had not been that far away from it, and had now reached it.

He looked down into the hole, and could see the blue sky with black and white snow falling from it. He could see woodpeckers. He loved birds, so exclaimed in excitement. But when his eye caught sight of his grandson being attacked by a woodpecker-rabbit, he changed his mind.

The woodpecker-rabbit’s dagger may have been stronger that Grandpa’s hoe, but the woodpecker-rabbit wasn’t concentrating on himself, just Braden.

So Grandpa threw the hoe down, hitting all the heads of the regular woodpeckers circling, and knocking the attacker out.

Braden was free to come up, and did so immediately—hugging Grandpa in thanks. Tears streamed down his face— not from his allergy to rabbits, but from happiness and relief.

*          *          *

EPILOGUE:
NOW THE WORLD KNOWS

Braden felt very thankful for his grandfather’s rescue. He managed to get home, with Grandpa’s help (he was limping) and slept a night with many painful interruptions when his leg hurt. He was about to go home that day, but then the woodpecker-rabbit found his way to the farmhouse and pecked on the door. It was a screen door, and the regular door was open, so they could see what it was and were very worried. None of them opened the door.

Then, a powerful breeze came on, and the door flew open, and the woodpecker swooshed in. “Govecs Zacramin. CUZYU! Julies nevecev uyht toto men!” was how it sounded to Grandma and Grandpa, but Braden heard it differently.

“I apologize for the scars that I gave to you last night. When woodpeckers and woodpecker-rabbits are half-asleep, we do crazy things.” At that, the woodpecker-rabbit pecked on Braden’s scars, and they were immediately cured.

They were friends forever, and it made all the more reason for Braden to go to his grandparents’ farm more frequently. His allergy to rabbits was no longer a problem with his health, and he could speak the language of the fantasy animals, such as woodpecker-rabbits. Through the years, he continued through that, land, and met many more amazing creatures.

Now the world knows about woodpecker-rabbits, as Braden was in every newspaper in the world, as they all thought he healed very quickly. Another article stated that the woodpecker-rabbit cured him, which was the truth. This article was only in The Sunday Times, England.

Woodpecker's Way Braden M. McDonald

Braden M. McDonald, 10
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Woodpecker's Way Max Strebel

Max Strebel, 12
San Francisco, California

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