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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Periwinkle Longtoes – Moldy Toadstools

The cold, dreary days of winter faded from Nigel's memory as he watched the robin's neck bobbing up and down in search of worms. His gaze wandered from the emerald grasses to the chartreuse leaves bursting forth from buds on the oak branches. “Spring at last. No more bitter nights, chilled fingers, or frozen toes.” He strolled down the path towards home, leaving the cathedral in the hands of the priests. A stifled yawn escaped his mouth as he turned the doorknob to his house. “Ella! I'm home.”

“Nigel! You must be exhausted! Come and sit down. I'll have your breakfast out in a moment. It's a lovely morning, isn't it, luv?” Ella glanced over her shoulder as she stirred the scrambled eggs.

“I am tired. I'll eat breakfast, have a shower and then get some sleep. What are your plans for the day?” Nigel sipped the hot coffee from the rosebud decorated china cup.

“Today I'm going to Rafflingham with Mildred Totter. Her son lives there and she doesn't want to take the train by herself. I might be late coming home tonight. I've fixed you some shepherd's pie. After you wake up, slip it in the oven for half an hour.” Ella set the hot plate of food down on the table. “I'm not eating with you. I had a bite to eat earlier. I'm off now.” She kissed her husband's cheek and slipped out the back door in a hurry.

Nigel sighed. He looked down at his plate of sausages and eggs and forced himself to eat.

After a hot shower, he crawled between the covers, the fresh-smelling sheets caressing his skin. Soon he was sleeping, dreaming amusing imaginations.

Later that day, as directed, he placed the shepherd's pie in the oven and read the nightly newspaper while he waited for his supper to warm through. When the buzzer went off, announcing the food was at an edible temperature, Nigel polished it off, down to the very last pea.  He watched the television for an hour, read a chapter in a book and then, with nothing better to do, decided to go to work early. Ella wasn't expected home for another hour or two.

He rummaged through the refrigerator, dropping a block of English Cheddar into his paper bag. “There's not much in here to eat.” After opening each cupboard, he put on his coat and with the full bag in his hand, he headed for the cathedral.

Even though it was the dark of night, Nigel could see the pink and white blossoms on the trees. The scent of the flowers saturated the air with a perfumed sweetness.

As he did every evening, Nigel turned the keys, unlocking the side door to the ancient cathedral. He traipsed down the hall, his step light and chipper, with anticipation of his nightly duties. After dropping the bag of food in his room and feeding the rats a crust of bread, he headed for the nave, knowing it would be spotless. When he turned the corner and saw a sweetie wrapper lying on the ground, Nigel sensed something was not quite right. He stopped, picked up the rubbish and stuffed it in his pocket.  A shambled untidiness greeted him as he entered the Gothic-arched room. “Oh my. Periwinkle! Something must be wrong. He’d never let the place stay dirty and unkempt.”

Without hesitation, he raced across the room and down the hall to the stone wall. Clapping his hands together three times, the block opened and Nigel rushed inside. “Periwinkle! Periwinkle!” He gulped, stopping at the bottom of the untidy bed. Rats clambered over the books and stale food lying on the night table. “Periwinkle, are you all right?” Nigel nudged the hobgoblin's leg. 

Several moans escaped his dying lips.

“Periwinkle, you look horrible. Your skin is pasty and whey-faced. Are you sick?” Nigel bent over, lowering his face to the hobgoblin's.

“I'm sick.” Periwinkle struggled to speak, gasping between each word. His sunken eyes opened. “I need help. I need a leaf from the lady slipper orchid before the sun rises, or I shall die. It's rare and most difficult to find.”

“What? Lady slipper orchid? Where will I find one? It's dark outside. I am not sure what to do!” Nigel rambled on.

“Nigel, listen to me. The plant has a yellow flower.” Periwinkle closed his eyes and sighed.

“A yellow flower. What happened to you? Did you eat something bad?” Nigel straightened up.

“I was cleaning and I came across a box of old and very moldy toadstools. I inhaled some of the spores. The only thing,” Periwinkle stopped to catch his breath, “that will help me is the leaf. Please, go and find it.”

“Very well. I'll go and look. Will you be all right while I'm gone? Oh my, I'm not sure where I'll find one.” Nigel paced back and forth. One more gaze at the sick hobgoblin was all he needed. “I'm off. Stay right here. I'll be back as soon as I can.”  He rushed out of the room, closed the block of stone behind him and ran back to his cubby. “Oh my. How will I find a yellow lady slipper orchid at this time of night?”

As he darted through the cathedral he saw the mess. “I don’t have time to clean this place right now.” He grabbed his coat and rushed outside. “Where do I begin looking for a plant that I’ve never seen before?” Crickets chirped, hidden in the thick undergrowth. Bracken, just beginning to green again, surrounded the tree trunks, wrapping around them as if to hold them to the earth.

“Ah ha! I see some violets. No good. That’ll not do. I need a yellow lady slipper orchid.” He pushed wild rose branches to the side, parting them. “Buttercups, daisies. There’s every sort of flower here but what Periwinkle described to me.” Nigel pulled a pocketwatch from his coat. “I’m wasting too much time. Ella would know, but Ella’s not here.”

Nigel paced back and forth in front of his house. “I could check some of the neighbor’s flower gardens.” With a nod, he darted from house to house, finding clematis, Victorian roses, ivy, nasturtium and pansies, but no ladyslipper orchid. An hour later Nigel leaned against the stone fence of the cathedral grounds. “I might as well give up. Poor old Periwinkle. He’s going to die and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. There isn’t one of those blasted flowers growing in this part of England and I don’t have time to go into town to the florist.” He sighed and stared at the stained glass window high on the cathedral wall. “Dear Periwinkle, give me a clue. Help me know where to find one.” He stood silent for a few minutes and then in defeat, slouched his shoulders and walked towards the wooden door.

Ambling reluctantly up and down the halls, Nigel took a deep breath. “I might as well go and tell him, though I don’t want to. I wish Ella was home. Some of her chicken soup would have helped the poor hobgoblin. It cures everything else.” He shuffled his feet as he walked through the empty building.

“Look up, Nigel.” Someone whispered to him.

Nigel stopped. “Who said that? Who’s there?”

“Look up, Nigel.” The voice spoke again.

Nigel raised his head and saw a sign. “Angelsbury Cathedral Gift Shop. What’s so important about that?” He leaned closer, pressing his head against the window, peering inside. “I see post cards, books, pencils, sweeties and flowers. Flowers? I see yellow flowers.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. “Are any of you ladyslipper orchids?” Nigel moved from plant to plant, reading the tags. “Ladyslipper orchid. Right you are.” He plucked a few leaves off and without bothering to close the door to the shop; he rushed to Periwinkle’s room. “Periwinkle! Periwinkle! I’ve found one. Oh, please be alive.”

Nigel glanced out the window. “Dawn’s almost here. Periwinkle, what should I do? I’ve got your leaf.” The hobgoblin opened his bloodshot eyes. His skin, pale and gray, felt leathery to Nigel’s touch. Nigel pressed the leaf into Periwinkle’s mouth. The hobgoblin sucked on it as the sun’s rays burst through the window, kissing Nigel’s face with warmth. “Periwinkle, did I make it in time?”

No change crossed the hobgoblin’s face. It remained pasty and reeked of death. Nigel collapsed on the bed. “I was too late. Poor Periwinkle Longbottom. If only…”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself. I’m fine.” The hobgoblin leapt off the bed, his skin back to its original healthy color. His eyes sparkled with life and his limbs danced across the room.

“Periwinkle! You’re alive!” Nigel took the hobgoblin by the hands and danced around with him. “You’re alive! You’re alive!” He laughed out loud as joy swept through his body.

“I’m alive because of you.
What a wonderful thing to do.
Found the leaf, oh yes you did,
Now I’m happy, happy as a gid.
Dance with me oh Nigel do,
We’re a team, we are, we two,
Now the sun is up and we
Can celebrate because now I’m free.”

Periwinkle stood and danced around.

“I need to get rid of that box of toadstools and clean this place up before the priests come. They’ll be here any moment and there is rubbish all over the place.” Nigel fretted and glanced at his pocket watch.

“I’ll help you, my friend. You go and clean up the rubbish and I’ll polish the windows.” Periwinkle rushed out of the tiny room and went to work.

Nigel closed the door to the gift shop and locked it up tight. He collected the rubbish, stuffing it into a bag. He picked up the box of moldy toadstools and threw them outside in the woods. With shovel in hand he buried them in the ground, covering them with a thick layer of dirt. When he opened the door and went inside the organ started playing. A grin spread across Nigel’s face. He stowed the bag of rubbish outside the back door and went to find Periwinkle. The hobgoblin sat at the organ playing with nimble fingers. The pews shone with polish and the windows sparkled like crystal. Nigel didn’t say a word. He went back to his cubby, slipped on his coat and headed home.

“Good morning, Nigel,” the priest said. “I trust you had an uneventful night?” The priest nodded and went inside without waiting for an answer.

Nigel skipped his way home with a click of his heels.

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