The Girls Solve a Mystery
"Look! More spots!" said Pen, sleepily picking up her shirt as she climbed out of bed.
"Impossible," Angie said. "No. It can't be." Then she added, "We'd better wear sweaters over them. How could we explain these shirts to Mom and Dad?"
The girls put on their shirts, covered by sweaters, and went downstairs. Their parents were already in the kitchen making breakfast.
"Good morning, kids," said Mom, giving each girl a kiss on the cheek.
"Doubt you'll need those sweaters," Dad said.
"It might be chilly," Pen said, glancing at Angie for help.
"Remember last spring, we got those colds," said Angie. "I don't think we dressed warmly enough."
Dad shrugged. "Suit yourselves." He laughed. "I made a joke. Suit yourselves. That's like, 'Dress yourselves, wear what you want.' Your dad's a funny guy."
The girls laughed, glad Dad was thinking about his joke and not their clothes. They hurried through breakfast and excused themselves to go play.
"Are you two going to the schoolyard?" Mom asked.
"Just the backyard," Angie said, thinking about Jerome.
Out in back, the girls didn't have much to do except to wonder about their amazing shirts and about the trouble Angie had the day before. Angie drew some numbers in the dirt with a stick and tried to add them in her head. She wrote higher and higher numbers until she wished she had her calculator. Pen started searching for a lucky four leaf clover. When she got tired of looking, she lay down in the long grass to feel its nice tickling and to feel the warm earth. High in the sky, Pen noticed a thin, faint plume of smoke that dropped down until it disappeared behind the woods that ran back from the house. I wonder who lives out there? she thought, assuming the smoke came from someone's chimney. Whoever it is, I never saw smoke from their chimney before.
"Look, Ange," she said to her sister. "Smoke from someone's chimney." She pointed so Angie could see the place.
"That's odd," said Angie. "That smoke is red."
"Oh, yeah! That is weird. It's neat though."
The red color seemed somehow familiar but Angie didn't know how. "Yeah, it is neat," she said, "but red smoke doesn't make sense, and it's a funny time of year for a fire."
Pen shrugged. She didn't care why the smoke was red; she just liked it.
But Angie didn't like things without logical explanations. She studied the smoke that climbed high in the sky. Why did that pretty shade of red seem so familiar? Ah, she thought, remembering her spotted shirt. She unbuttoned her sweater and saw a red identical to the one in the sky. That was the red she was remembering. Peculiar red spots. Funny-looking red smoke. How could she make sense of it all? As Angie ran her hand over the spots on her shirt, she had to agree with Pen. There were more spots than last night. Many more. In fact, there were more spots than when she'd dressed this morning.
Pen called Angie out of her thoughts. "Let's look for the smoke," she urged her sister. "Let's go find it."
"I'm not sure we should," said Angie. But Pen was already at the edge of the woods that started where the girls' property ended. Angie had no time to think. Pen was already deep in the woods. Her sister had to hurry to catch up to her.
"We'll just follow it," Pen said, making her way among the trees, "and see where it leads."
Angie stopped. "We can't," she said. "Look up."
Pen saw what Angie meant. Once inside the leafy woods, the girls could only get a glimpse of the trail of smoke and they couldn't tell where it came down toward earth. There was no way to follow it. The girls stood still, at a loss for what to do.
"Listen, Angie," Pen said after a while. "I hear a whistle, kind of like my whistle." She fingered her beloved whistle, which hung as usual from the orange lanyard Pen had made for it.
Angie listened and she, too, heard a whistle. "Kind of like a teakettle on the stove," she said. "But it can't be, not way out here in the woods."
"But it is," said Pen. "We both hear it."
Angie felt funny. Her ideas about what things made sense just didn't fit with what her eyes and ears told her. The red smoke that matched the spots was one of the strangest things she'd ever experienced. Maybe if she could find the place the smoke was coming from, she could answer the questions that were flying around in her head. "If only we had a way to locate that smoke," she said.
"Probably if we just wander around we'll find it," said Pen, still happy and busying herself hopping on one foot, pretending she was Hiphop.
"Just wandering will never work," Angie said. "We have to think of a plan of how to get there."
"Okay," said Pen agreeably. "You think of it. You're good at plans."
A squirrel popped up through the mat of old leaves and darted in front of the girls.
"Cute," said Pen. "Whoo, whoo," she shouted out, as she sometimes did when she was excited.
"Whoo," Angie said out loud, imitating Pen, then she clapped her hand to her mouth, surprised by her own silly behavior. And then, because both girls felt good being the only ones in the woods talking out loud to the breezes and the animals, they shouted together, "whoo, whoo, whoo." Then Angie said she thought she heard that teakettle whistle get louder, as if it were answering them.
"Oh, be sensible," Pen said, imitating Angie's usual seriousness.
"Oh, be sensible yourself," Angie repeated, pretending she was a stern schoolteacher, and she shook her finger at the squirrel, who was flicking his tail as he stood at the base of a red pine.
"Let's follow him," said Pen. "I think he wants to lead us somewhere."
"Better not," said Angie. "We might get lost."
Pen resumed her hopping on one foot. When she looked down at the ground she noticed she was hopping on a red spot. Then she noticed that a red spot on the front of her shirt seemed to be sliding down toward the hem. When it got to the bottom edge of the shirt, the spot slid right off, dropped onto the ground, bounced, and began rolling on its edge. "Angie," Pen shouted, my spots are falling off."
Before Angie knew it, she and Pen were running after the remarkable rolling spot. The bright squirrel raced behind them. After a while, the spot slowed and stopped and dropped over onto its side, where it lay still. Angie stopped to pick it up and put it in her pocket. As she knelt on the ground, she noticed one of her own spots sliding off the shoulder of her shirt and down the sleeve till it came to the end and fell to the ground. Like the first spot, this one rolled merrily, bouncing as it hit twigs and stones. The girls followed after it, racing to keep up. As each spot came to a stop, another one would fall from the shirt of one girl or the other and the girls would run in back of it, shouting in excitement.
"Hey, Angie," Pen said after a while. "My spots stopped falling."
"Mine, too," Angie said, looking down at the few spots remaining on her shirt, which seemed as firmly attached as brand new teeth. Angie and Pen sat down on a log, tired and out of breath, but delighted. Pen looked up to the sky and was amazed to see the red smoke dropping down from the sky and entering the woods not far beyond them. "Look," she said in a voice that was unusually soft. She fingered her whistle nervously. "A house." She pointed to where she could just make out the outlines of a little house whose chimney puffed out red smoke. The smoke rose from the chimney in lovely loops, like cursive writing, though Pen couldn't make out any words. The house itself was a plain square house, with a very pointed roof. It had two rather large windows up above. It also had a small brown pointed roof over the door that made it look as if the door were wearing a wooden hat. A dirt path led to the door.
So there it is, Angie said in the privacy of her thoughts. It seems a very pleasant, ordinary house. "I wonder who lives there," she said to Pen. Who would live in a little house such as this one, with red smoke dancing from the chimney, and no neighbors but the birds and the chipmunks?