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The Blown-Ups

A long time ago, when children were taken seriously, there were no adults in the world at all. The boys and girls picked fruits and berries and spent all their time playing and exploring the mountains, the forests and the rivers.
Somewhere in the hills of Djacoodee, there lived five children in a tent they had built themselves out of twigs and branches. Every morning, as soon as the sun had risen, they would go down to the river to play or swim or float down the stream in their little boat. Later they would frolic in the forest or climb a hill, and in the evenings they would light a fire in front of their tent, roast their apples over it and tell stories they had made up, funny stories about trolls and fairies, scary stories about beasts and monsters, spooky stories about ghosts and witches, and sometimes even stories about children.
Very often, one of them would start a story, and the others had to tell the next part, until the last child had to think of a good ending.
One of these evenings, Edna started the story of Amanda's Adventure. 'A long time ago, when children were taken seriously, there was a little girl called Amanda. She had the bluest eyes and the blackest hair, and she was the prettiest child all over Djacoodee. One day, when she was picking daisies for a garland, she heard a deep voice saying, "Bring the golden apples to the house where the sun goes down!"
She looked around, but she couldn't see anybody. She wasn't sure what to do and thought of forgetting about it, but the voice had sounded very serious, and so she decided to lose no time.
After she had finished the garland, she put it around her neck and walked into the woods.'
Then Edna looked at Jovana, and Jovana continued the story. 'The first creature she met was a fox. "Excuse me", said Amanda, "do you know where the golden apples are?" "I'm sorry," answered the fox, "I don't eat apples, so I wouldn't know."
A little bit later, she saw a butterfly on a leaf. "Excuse me," said Amanda, "do you know where the golden apples are?" - "I don't eat apples, so I wouldn't have a clue, little girl."
It was almost getting dark when a hedgehog crossed her way. "Excuse me," said Amanda, "do you eat apples?" "No, stupid," said the hedgehog, "I'm walking home." "I mean, do you eat apples in general?" "Do I eat apples where?" "What I'm trying to say is: do you like apples?" "If that's what you're trying to say, why don't you say it in the first place? Yes, I do like apples." "And do you know where the golden apples are?"
The hedgehog's eyes widened with fear. "The golden apples?" he asked.'
Jovana nodded at Montgomery, and Montgomery went on. '"Yes," said the hedgehog, "I know where they are." With that he walked away from Amanda, but she ran after him. "Please," she shouted, "please tell me where they are!" "They lie under the tallest apple tree on the other side of the wood," replied the hedgehog, "but it won't be possible for you to get them. They are guarded by a large poisonous snake with fangs as sharp as my spines, and it is said that she can swallow ten children at once." "That sounds terrible," answered Amanda, "but I have to try." "The sun went down already," said the hedgehog, "maybe you should leave it till tomorrow." "You're right," sighed Amanda and looked around. "Is there a safe place around where I can sleep?" "Any place is safe," replied the hedgehog. "You just lie down and raise your spines!" And with these words the hedgehog rolled himself in and fell asleep.'
Montgomery poked Michelle in the ribs, and Michelle continued. 'At sunrise Amanda woke up and started her journey to the other side of the wood. She found the apple tree, and she also found the snake at its foot. The snake was very small and had no fangs, and it looked completely harmless. "Excuse me," said Amanda, "are you the snake who is guarding the apples?" "I don't guard them," said the snake, "I just eat them. But for some reason, all the other animals are afraid of me and stay away from here." "Are there any golden apples amongst them?" "Yes, but they're inedible. Do you want them?" "Yes, if you don't mind." "Help yourself," said the snake, "they're of no use to anybody."
Amanda checked the hundreds of apples that were lying around the tree, but only a handful of them were golden ones. She wove a little basket out of twigs, put the golden apples into it and went back into the wood.'
Now Michelle winked at Michael, and Michael finished the story. 'As she was passing a small clearing, she saw many little creatures dancing in a circle. They were about half her size and had red wings with black spots; they actually looked like a mixture of children and ladybirds. They all held hands and flew up and down in the air while their wings made a very musical buzzing sound. When they flew up, the note of their wings grew higher, and when they flew down, it grew lower. In that way, they played a few songs before Amanda stepped into the clearing and talked to them.
"Who are you?" she said. "We are whilers," answered one of the little people. "We entertain people who have to wait for something." "I'd love to stay with you," said Amanda, "but I must be off, because I have an important appointment." "And where do you have this appointment?" "In the house where the sun goes down," answered Amanda. "You'll have to wait until sunset," said the little whiler. "You're not going to find it as long as the sun is still up in the sky."
Amanda couldn't argue with that, and so she stepped into the circle and held hands with the whilers who lifted her up into the air and sang and danced with her until the sun went down. Then Amanda took her basket and went where the sun was setting. Before long, she stood at the ocean and saw the sun sinking behind it.
"I'll have to cross the ocean," she thought and looked around for a boat when suddenly she saw a house at the beach. She knocked at the door and heard a voice saying "Come in"; it was the same voice that had sent her out for the apples.
As she stepped into the house, she saw a black-bearded wizard standing at the window, and she gave him the golden apples.
"I don't know if these are all of the golden apples," she said.
"Neither do I," answered the wizard.
"You don't know how many "
"No, and I don't care."
"But what do you need them for?" asked Amanda.
"I don't need them," said the wizard.
"But if you don't need them, why did you send me to get them and bring them to you?"
The wizard looked at her with a friendly smile. "You had fun, hadn't you?"'
'That's a beautiful ending,' said the others and finished their apples before they went to sleep.

When they got up the next morning, the sun was already shining with all its power. As you all know, the only thing to do on a hot day is to go for a swim in the river, and that is what the five children did.
After their bath, they sat on the banks of the river and played with reeds. Montgomery found a long bamboo stem and fiddled around with it. First he blew through it, then he dipped one end into the water and started to suck.
'Look,' he said to the others, 'you can drink water through this stem.'
Edna broke off a little piece and put one end in her mouth and the other one in her nose. Then she blew through it, and every time she blew she grew a bit taller.
'Look,' she said, 'you can blow yourself up with this thing.'
Montgomery broke off another piece and did the same, and soon he and Edna were as twice as tall as the other children.
Michelle and Jovana looked at them in disbelief, and Michael said, 'I don't believe it!'
'Go on, try it yourself!' replied Montgomery and gave them the stem.
'No, thank you,' answered the others. 'We'd like to stay the way we are.'
Edna and Montgomery enjoyed their new size and found out a lot of things they could do now. For example, they could jump across the river without getting wet and pick fruit from trees they weren't able to reach before.
'Let's play hide and seek!' suggested Jovana, and Michael and Michelle jumped up and looked for a place to hide. 'We're sorry,' said Edna to them, 'but we can't play with you right now. We have to collect fruits for dinner.'
'Great,' answered Michelle, 'then we don't have to look for them ourselves.' And with that she ran away, climbed a tree and hid between its branches. Michael darted off to seek shelter behind a bush, and Jovana closed her eyes and counted to twenty.
After they had played all day, Michael sought a place to hide while Michelle was counting. Suddenly he stopped and shouted, 'Here are strawberries!'
Michelle and Jovana were quite hungry as well, and so they sat down and ate strawberries when suddenly Edna and Montgomery came back.
'Don't eat before your dinner,' they said and dragged them away from the strawberries. 'You won't be hungry tonight if you eat now.'
'But we are hungry now,' answered Michelle.
'Don't contradict blown-ups,' said Edna and brought them back to the tent.
After dinner Jovana went out of the tent to light the fire.
'Stop that,' shouted Montgomery, 'this is too dangerous for children! A fire has to be lit by blown-ups.'
'But I lit the fire hundreds of times before,' answered Jovana.
'Then you're lucky nothing has happened to you so far,' said Montgomery and took the flint off her.
When they finally sat around the fire, Edna and Montgomery were discussing which fruits to collect for next day's dinner and where to gather them. The other children got bored, and Michelle asked, 'Can't we tell a story?'
'Don't interrupt when blown-ups are talking,' screamed Edna. 'Anyway, it's time for you to go to bed.'
'To bed?' said Michael. 'But it's so early!'
'It's far too late for you,' answered Montgomery. 'Now go to bed and don't make me angry.' 'And what about you?' 'We're blown-ups, we don't need as much sleep as you do.'
The following morning they woke up to another beautiful summer day. 'We're off to collect fruits,' said Edna. 'You can play whatever you like, but don't go swimming before we're back! It's too dangerous, and if anything happens, there'll be no blown-up around to help you!'
So Jovana, Michelle and Michael went down to the river, but they didn't enjoy themselves. Michael had found the bamboo stick and messed around with it.
'I can't take it any more,' he said and put it in his mouth. 'I'm going to be a blown-up, too!'
The others looked at him, and Michelle asked, 'Do you really want to be like them?'
Michael hesitated for a moment. 'No,' he said then and threw the stem into the water. 'Not really.'
So they played half-heartedly on the river banks and in the woods, although they all would have liked to go for a swim.
'Look here,' Michelle said suddenly, 'there's a balloon that's left from Jovana's birthday party!'
She threw it to Michael, but it dropped into a thorny bush, and with a broad grin Michael watched it shrinking until only a bit of blue rubber was left. He went to the bush and carefully picked two of the thorniest twigs.
When Edna and Montgomery returned, the other children ran up to them. 'Can we go for a swim now?' asked Michelle.
'I'm sorry,' said Edna, 'but we have to prepare dinner now.'
'Why aren't we having fun any more?' asked Jovana. Montgomery put his hand on her shoulder and answered, 'I know it's hard for you to understand, but life isn't all about having fun.'
'So what else is it about?' said Jovana. Montgomery scratched his chin and couldn't think of anything to say. Meanwhile Michael had sneaked up behind Edna and Montgomery and pinched them with the thorns. All of a sudden, the others heard a hissing noise and watched the blown-ups shrinking until they were as small as the other children again.
'You see,' explained Michael, 'it's all hot air, just like with the balloon. I'm going for a swim now who's coming?'
Jovana and Michelle ran with him to the river; for a moment Edna and Montgomery looked at each other and didn't know what to do, but then they followed the other children into the water.

6241 RT (2000 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig