This story is by E.C. Sullivan and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Fiddlebrookians were once a colorful people; until they lost the wealth of their land in a trickster business deal gone bad. “It was the deal of a lifetime,” they were told. “The trees will grow back,” promised the men who wore dark suits and serious faces.
But the trees did not grow. Instead, the air grew thick and burnt, and the once lush, evergreen hills turned bald and gray. With each rumble-roar and whistle-crash, another grand sequoia tree fell.
“Industrial villainy!” Fiddlebrookians grumbled.
As often happens when all hope is lost, the hearts of the adults grew sour. They could see no solutions. There was no more merrymaking, dancing, or laughter. And patience for the imagination of children was thin.
“Dreams are fiddle-foolery,” said the schoolteacher, Mrs. Knucklebalm, over the thunder growl of outside machines and saws. The schoolchildren pulled the necks of itchy drab sweaters over their chilled noses so as not to choke when the stinky breeze bullied through.
In the back row sat Blanche—a peculiar, pale, and bony girl with choppy brown hair. Somedays, when she was in an extra-fancy-pants mood, she would borrow her father’s aged top hat and fashion it with a rose-shaped lolli or licorice bow.
To Fiddlebrookians, she was a strange and useless girl.
Her fondest memories were of dreaming and playing in the once full forest, hanging upside down on twisty branches and climbing to the very tippy tops of trees.
“I will be the greatest dessert scientist in the world,” she would shout to them. She swore the trees would sometimes whisper back, “The magic is in your heart and imagination.”
The trees were my friends.
Blanche pinched herself hard. Best not to dream of trees. I don’t need more trouble.
There was already the unfortunate incident of losing her longlasting bubblegum chew in Mrs. Knucklebalm’s styled, frizz hair earlier that morning.
She was angrier than a wet bear-hornet. Blanche shuddered.
She then did what she always did when her mind felt like pudding, usually after Fiddlebrookian snore history. Blanche sunk low into her seat and daydreamt the perfect blueprint.
First, she would build the four walls around her out of sturdy graham crackers. They would, of course, be secured by extra-tough taffy. Banana-flavored. No, grape. Peppy peppermint, gold chocolate molding, and glistening gumdrop lights. White icing grout and candy cane tile. Furniture would be made of sourdough pretzel legs and pastel marshmallow cushions; the curtains would be strawberry satin…
The candy house thought crumbled and disappeared when she felt the heat of peering eyes.
Perhaps Chester “The Cheese” was lining up the perfect spitwad intended for her head. She turned, only to find him doodle-drawing himself with a bulging muscle.
It must be wicked Nini and Ashwin, or “The Warts,” whispering more stinking lies. She glanced towards the sisters to show them her ugly glare-face. But they were innocently rolling marbles.
She then locked eyes with it.
In the window, a cold black crow nestled tightly. It had been years since Blanche had seen a bird. “Buzzzzz,” the bell interrupted, granting the children permission to make a dash toward freedom.
Blanche took the long route home, mostly to avoid The Warts.
She felt the eyes again. “Are you following me, bird?” she asked. She reached into her patchwork pocket, pulled out a candy popcorn ball, and tossed it to make peace. The crow accepted.
At home, Blanche was not hungry for her mother’s protein power stew. “Hot bland food interferes with my work and dulls my extra-special taster senses,” she explained. Besides, tonight she was distracted by thoughts of her new friend.
Where did the bird live when there were no trees to nest in?
Blanche looked around her modest family tent. Life was easier when Fiddlebrookian homes were wooden, but the men in suits took all the wood away. Even the very last twig.
Still, Blanche was grateful her camp had the warmth of her mother’s spiced sweetieberry tea. And treasures like her father’s old science books.
Suddenly, she felt very sorry for her cold friend who did not have such comforts.
She hurried to her workspace and yanked the curtain behind her. “I will make the bird a home of its own!” she exclaimed. She picked up a trusty crayon and pulled blank paper from her sketch stack of brainy ideas.
Fabric would just blow away.
Stones would be too heavy.
She poured a glass of her specialty candied-think-berry-juice and took a long drink.
The sugar rush caused her heart to pump three times the normal Fiddlebrookian rate and put the wheels of her think-tank in motion. Like a train that gains momentum from fuel, Blanche’s think-wheels spun faster and faster, until finally, her genius-idea-light switched on. “It will be my greatest masterpiece of all time!” she exclaimed.
Blanche put on her science goggles and sketched her plans.
What began as a simple birdhouse grew to a cozy bungalow and expanded to a large cottage with a balcony and bonbon garden. When she finished, she had drawn a bird-sized palace.
It took the whole night to engineer it just right. She measured and weighed each ingredient with care. She tested different sticky textures and tastes. “On a scale of one to ten, one is beetle goo, and ten is a rainbow explosion,” she said in her most serious voice.
With a sugary-wild and inspired look in her eye, she perfectly assembled the treats. “It is fit for royalty,” she said proudly.
Castle in hand, Blanche skipped to school and called out to her friend. “Oh, birdy. Little birdy.”
Sure enough, she felt the eyes.
“This home will keep you safe and warm,” said Blanche. She knew the crow would explore only when she walked away, so off to school Blanche went.
That evening, the very tired scientist headed straight for her room. She kicked off her worn boots and plopped into bed.
Something shiny was on her pillow. She reached for it.
It was a crow-sized, colorfully decorated egg. A gift from my friend! She drifted off to sleep, smiling, carefully clutching her new prized possession close to her heart.
The next day, Blanche went to thank the crow, but instead, she found a fantastical surprise and shock.
What in the Hershey heavens…!?
The candy castle had grown a million-gazillion times bigger in size! It sparkled, towered, and drew a crowd.
“Where did it come from?” said one woman.
“Is this a joke?” another sneered.
The crowd grew restless and demanded answers. “Some nerve to build a tacky castle in our town, while the rest of us freeze in tents!” shouted a man.
“Break down the doors!” suggested another.
Scared by the anger and threats, Blanche ran home.
She held the egg in her hand as she worried. Oh, I hope they don’t hurt my friend. What have I done?
What ingredient caused this reaction?
“Was it the goddess guava syrup or the exotic tiger tarts?” she sobbed.
Why do I have to be so good at science?
With one big sniffle, her hand trembled and she lost hold of the egg. It twirled and whirled on its way down and smacked the floor.
“Nooo!” Blanche cried and fell to the ground.
She stopped and focused her eyes.
There, in the largest shell piece, was a small rolled note. It read, “The magic is in your heart and imagination. Build more!”
Blanche instantly understood the instruction. No think-juice was needed. She leapt from her bed and got to work. She artfully constructed more candy homes, each with their own unique character and charm.
Mrs. Knucklebalm would need a candy-cobbled fireplace to cozy up to when reading student papers. The Warts would need a playroom, spacious enough for jump rope and marbles. The Cheese would need a gym for his muscles.
Blanche loaded her wagon and wheeled the tasty homes to their new lots as her friend the crow watched. Under the light of the moon, she did not see the crow circling over the tiny town, leaving a trail of magic.
“It’s a delicious dream! A marshmallow miracle!”
Blanche woke the next morning to the sounds of Fiddlebrookian excitement and joy. No longer was there concern for the mysterious castle, as each family had their very own perfect life-sized home. There was jubilant celebration and good cheer in the streets.
The odd news and even odder rumors quickly spread. Outsiders came from around the world to see the magic candy town and to catch a glimpse of the hero scientist.
Strange became the newest fashion trend and the highest Fiddlebrookian compliment.
“Have a strange day!” Fiddlebrookians would say.
Candy tourism replaced bully-industry, and the men in dark suits went away. The stinky machines disappeared, and the trees grew in peace.
Blanche, the best dessert scientist in the world, moved her workshop into the castle, where she lives today. She is still busy working on sweet scientific breakthroughs, with heart and boundless imagination.
And of course, a little magic.