It was a quiet morning at the House on the Corner. Spring had arrived in all its glory upon this first Saturday of May. With the snow gone, the grass rejoiced in the sun’s embrace, becoming a vibrant green, energized, and filled with life.
The flowers planted a few weeks prior endured a tough night or two of low temperatures but were blooming bright today. The blanket of grass spread across the front yard was doused in shades of red, yellow and white, as tiny flowers, tulips and daffodils mixed and matched. The raised front porch burst with blooms of violet and orange protruding from perched pots decorating the concrete edge.
This was the house where Isabella lived, all 4’6” of her. At 6-years-old and a whopping 65 pounds, Bella was the personification of an imagination realized. Her feet seemed always at the ready to jump into action. There was just no knowing when the child would go off chasing dragons, minions or unicorns.
At the center of it all was her front yard. This served as Isabella’s performance space. A stage of sorts, where she could rush out onto the porch and be greeted by walkers-by, neighbors, dogs, cats and whatever else might be creeping about for her daily improvisational engagements.
Once winter’s chilly embrace receded, Isabella could be found outside most all the time. One of her favorite activities was fetching the watering can off the gardening shelves to offer liquid refreshment to the many different plants residing in her yard. All around the porch’s edge, down the steps, and out to the sidewalk, Bella went from plant-to-plant, mumbling to them about ‘purple huffy snuggle bunnies’ or some such thing – watering each, sometimes too much, but better sloshy than not enough.
Placing the watering can under the spigot always triggered Bella’s imagination, sometimes she thought about riding in a boat, or feeding seals on a beach, swimming with dolphins or diving deep into the blue sea to make a house-call on a family of Hammerhead sharks. My the stories they could share over tea and crumpets Bella considered.
Anything was possible, but in that moment, it was pure Shangri-La simply running back and forth to fetch more water in her trusty “Dora the Explorer” watering can, and then scoot about her yard pouring away as she quenched each ones’ thirst.
Every so often she would pause to listen to the squirrels and birds chirping away in fevered conversations. Some even braved sampling seeds from the feeder not an arm’s length away, which Bella and her brothers, Gabriel, 15, and Jacy, 13, put out for the local wildlife to enjoy.
Buzzing about haphazardly were several plump bumblebees. How they flew with such rotund bodies and smidgy wings was a mystery to Isabella. They may not move fast but they sure do stay busy hopping from flower-to-flower. Between the birds, bees, crickets, squirrels and other assorted jeepers, creepers and crawlers, a musical symphony was performed for Isabella each time she stepped out the door.
“Sing my friends, and thank you for making me feel so welcome,” Isabella announced to her yard this Saturday morning.
Now all these critters were on fair notice to watch their behinds, because at the House on the Corner resided a serious mouser of a cat named Uni. He might be referred to as Colonel Uni if we were being formal or Ünst for short. Regardless of name, his reputation was widely acknowledged for being a calculating feline, and often shall we say, unpredictable.
Sometimes he was satisfied wiggling about on the sidewalk, scratching his back against the rough concrete exterior. But other times he was on the prowl and would swat at hovering bumblebees or put a few teeth holes in an unsuspecting garter snake. So beware nature, Uni is watching, always watching.
What set this morning off from others was Derby Day had arrived. That is the running of the Kentucky Derby, which comes each year on the first Saturday in May. Whether rain or shine, a magnificent field of thoroughbred horses gallops from the gates at Churchill Downs for what is known as The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.
Only 3-year olds can participate in this race, which is something Isabella always found funny because she had been 3 not that long ago. It made her feel that if those horses could run so fast at that age, she too could become a champion.
While all the fuss about starting positions and wagering were nonsense to her, Bella was impressed with how majestic and noble these creatures appeared. It seemed fitting that the winner should be given a blanket of roses for coming out on top in the “Run for the Roses.”
Usually Bella watched all the pageantry unfold on television with her dad. Frankfort is less than an hour away from where the race takes place in Louisville, but oceans of people descend upon Churchill Downs and Bella imagined how easy it would be to get swept away by the crowd and excitement.
One day she would go to see the horses, but for now she was content watching from the front yard as neighbors gussied up in their finest duds, packing to make the drive to Louisville. My goodness the ladies sure did wear funny hats. One had fences going around the top, while another had different colored polka dots. Those would make funny kites if only strings were attached.
“How do those things not blow away?” Isabella questioned, as she sat on her stoop watching folks load into cars.
Besides, on Derby Day there was a huge party to enjoy right in her hometown at the Downtown Derby Celebration. Frankfort was festooned with colorful spring flowers and banners hung of jockey silks in varying shades from lampposts and buildings, fluttering, as if to trumpet the arrival of spring in the state capital.
On this morning Bella and her family were wide awake bright and early, filling backpacks with snacks, drinks, a stuffed animal or two, and some Band-Aids (you just never know), prior to making the short trek across the river to the city’s annual celebration of all things Derby.
It is a bonanza of kid entertainment, with a Derby Dash foot race in the morning and real pony rides offered in the First Christian Church parking lot. Isabella is particularly fond of bouncy castles and they have huge ones by the train depot and a giant bouncy slide in the same parking lot by the ponies.
Bella would hop-hop-hop, fall, jump, hop, bounce, skip, tumble and go-go-go till she couldn’t bounce any more. Sometimes the bigger kids didn’t see her because she was smaller, and they would knock her over, but even that was fun because Isabella could bounce and trounce and flounce just like Tigger in “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
Having seen the ladies earlier this fine morning in their funny hats, Bella got a charge out of crafting her own kite-worthy Derby chapeau. At the hat-making station there was lots of rolling of paper, taping and gluing, fixing and fastening of all sorts and means, until her very own super special Derby hat was complete. Bella decorated it with pink & black polka dot ribbons, black bows, and two big yellow sunflowers were pasted on the front. She was looking pretty fancy with her new hat and pink “Hello Kitty” sunglasses.
Next was a fishing game, with prizes no less, a stick-pony race, tons of food, and breakfast drinks or Mint Juleps for all the big people. Bella’s daddy was fond of breakfast drinks. The stronger the Bloody Mary the better, especially when lots of kids are running around screaming like Captain Insano.
And we can’t forget the annual “Pedal for the Posies,” a midget bike race down Broadway. All these big people in stockings, wigs and ill-fitting costumes, furiously pedaling down and back on little-kid bikes. Watching them try to pedal so hard really made Isabella chuckle, especially when the occasional contestant would wobble over and take a tumble.
“Isabella, come on sweetie, it’s time to get our stuff together and head home,” said daddy. “The Derby will be coming on soon, and we need to get back to see all the pretty horses.”
“Okay, just one more bounce, please, please, please…???,” begged Bella.
“One more, but we have to get going after this one,” daddy agreed.
To Bella it seemed like she could keep bouncing all day. Bounce, bounce, bounce, romp, romp, bounce – her legs never got tired. One more time down the bouncy slide and that would do. It’s harder than it looks getting down that thing, and all those big kids need to get out of her way.
“I’m only 6 you know,” exclaimed Isabella as she jetted down the slide. “W-E-E-E-E!”
Once her parents had everything packed up, and the big brothers were wrangled back into the fold, the happy clan commenced their walk back to the House on the Corner. They went over the Singing Bridge, which is one of Bella’s favorite spots. The bridge talks to her and reminds her to look below where the Kentucky River moseyed down its path.
“There’s something about that river I like,” Bella said aloud only to herself. “It’s so big and quiet. Where does all that water go?”
It was a pleasant walk home, and when they arrived the sun was shining down on the flowers, bees were buzzing and there was Uni right outside on the sidewalk waiting for their return with a big, “Meow!”
“Isabella you can stay outside if you like,” said daddy. “I’m going to let Essie out and we can take her for a walk.”
‘Yes, yes, yes, high-five to that,” Bella said with excitement, exchanging repeated up-top hand slaps with her brother Jacy.
Out of the house bounded Essie, like a caged rabbit. She was wound up like a shot of quadruple strength coffee, hence her name being short for Espresso. She might be small, but that dog came on fast. Essie liked to run figure eights around Isabella as she feebly attempted to catch but its shadow.
Gabriel, the oldest brother, put the dog on a leash to go for a stroll. Essie was still a puppy, and didn’t always listen to what she was told, much like Isabella, so in Essie’s case a leash was best when going on walks.
“Let’s go guys,” shouted daddy. “Do we really need to take a Nerf gun and all this stuff you won at the festival on a dog walk?”
It was kind of a ridiculous question really. Of course they did. Bringing along zombie defense weapons on dog walks became second nature after one watched enough episodes of the “Walking Dead.”
And away the five of them strolled down Campbell Street. Then something happened none of them expected. The trees on the sloping hillside leading down to their street began to shimmy and shake.
“This is not good,” said Bella. “Why is everything shaky?”
As the movement grew closer the ground began to rumble. There were footsteps, one right after another with each louder than the last. Boom! BOom! BOOm! BOOM! Big footsteps, and they were coming straight at ‘em.
Isabella was scared and grabbed her father’s leg. Yet Essie stood fearless. In fact the little terrier scooted out in front of her family and barked angrily at the growing clamor approaching.
Suddenly the sun was gone and no sounds could penetrate the whooshing of leaves and cracking of timber as the “BOOM-BOOM-BOOM” surrounded them.
Isabella looked up but could only see darkness in the eclipsed sun. The trees whirled about in a furious wind as whatever was in there now was upon them. Bella’s legs were frozen in place. She couldn’t run even if she wanted to.
Bursting through tree limbs in a rush of destruction came a humongous giant. He was not unlike the fellow that resided at the top of the beanstalk who harassed Jack. He was tall as the sky and wide as a dinosaur. Aside from being terrifyingly large, he was dressed rather dandily, wearing a green felt vest with white flowing silk sleeves, and trousers tucked into knee-high brown leather boots. Gold buttons on his vest protruded from his gorged belly.
Those trousers looked mighty tight from where Isabella was standing. Maybe that was why he appeared so disagreeable she thought.
“Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the flesh of a Kentuckian,” bellowed the giant. “It’s meats I seek to fill my knishes, something tasty, something fresh, something wiggling in its flesh. You five bites look just right to add some flavor to my fricasseed delight.”
The four family members looked at one another in bemused puzzlement, like when Bella runs around the house naked trying to paint the cat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that specific pursuit of happiness. It’s harmless enough, but intervention is required. Now this giant situation was a whole other matter.
Out of the stunned silence came a random question from Jacy, “What is a knish?”
That was a fair question really, since at least three of them didn’t know the answer.
“Imagine a pastry filled with meat and baked till brown,” the father informed his kids. “I promise you none of us would enjoy life from the inside of a knish.”
“I says we crushes and mushes them so their bits all get mixed. I loves to have blended flavors in me knishes,” was the comment heard coming from beneath the giant.
For it turns out the big fellow was not traveling alone. Out from between his legs came two unlikely and unwelcomed henchmen: The Big Bad Wolf, who had clearly made the knish comment, and the Abominable Snowman.
“Well if that doesn’t seem stranger than Darth Vader in a pair of red high heels,” said daddy perplexed. “What sort of craziness is this now?”
The snowman looked similar to the one seen on television at Christmas, with his round body and bow tie, but he had a mean face with nasty dark coal eyes, a scraggly carrot nose and pointy teeth. He just snarled at everything. I suppose being in Kentucky on Derby Day might make a snowman feel abominable. It was a smidge warm out for snow demons.
Bella did not like that wolf one bit. She’d heard lots about him. He hides in the woods and tries to eat Riding Hoods, chases pigs and blows down their houses. He is no good at all.
Bella’s daddy put his hand on his daughter’s head and bent down, whispering in her ear, “Don’t worry baby girl, it’s all going to be okay. Your big brothers and I will protect you.”
She didn’t feel so scared after that.
“What weapons do we have on hand?,” asked Dadji (Bella’s word for her father).
“I have the wood sword I won at the Derby festival,” said Gabriel.
“My Nerf Zombie Strike Blaster is fully charged,” Jacy exclaimed, racking the slide to load a dart in the chamber.
Isabella’s trinket of choice was a pink and black racing starter flag with a pointy end at the top of the wood handle. She won it that morning for running so fast and loved waving it about.
“That’s plenty of fire power,” whispered Dadji. “Gabriel hold your sword down against your leg so those creepy critters don’t see it, and Jacy get the barrel of your zombie gun pointing down toward the street and put your arm over the scope.”
“Isabella you are our secret weapon. Can you be a brave little girl and come out here in front with Essie and wave that flag wide and high? Your cuteness is so grand it will blind these foolish beasts. Giants and wolves see little girls as irresistible morsels, too delectable to pass up,” said Dadji.
It made her tummy feel woozy to go stand out there, but her father, Essie and both her brothers were right there, so Bella stood tall and waved her new flag, and sure enough the goofy old giant and his buddy the wolf came trudging over.
“That tiny mite sure looks scrumptious,” said the giant. “I bet she rates five muttons on my taste-o-meter. Good as a mess of lagoon fairies they is.”
“No,” said the wolf. “That mini-delight is mine’s. I shall eat her up and don her flower hat to trick her mom into thinking I’m her precious. Then we will see who gets double brunches on this fine day.”
“I’m not for eating,” Bella blurted out with a stern look on her face. “But gaze upon my hair fine fellows. It’s like pure spun gold. If you come but a bit closer you will see this to be true.”
The giant and wolf looked at one another, curious about the girl’s comment.
“Usually they don’t speak,” muttered the giant. “They just scream and run about till we pick ‘em up and squishes them.”
But he was intrigued by the brightness from which her hair glowed in the sunlight. Anything shiny was enough to distract the giant’s attention, so the towering behemoth bent down.
Bella implored him to peer closer. “Come look how my hair glows Mr. Giant,” she enticed.
The giant crouched down nearly on his knees, bending at his waist to lower his huge frame to Isabella’s minuscule level. She was so small compared to the giant that he had trouble focusing his lazy eyes on her exquisite hair. The glare didn’t help as the sun lit her locks into a brilliant golden hue – it was like ‘spun gold.’
“You do smell lovely,” said the giant. “I think a taste would help me appreciate your beauty even better,” he said as a thick stream of drool escaped his mouth and splashed on the roadway below. He reached his clumsy hand down to try and grasp the child, already in a feeding frenzy anticipating the flavor burst to come.
At just that moment Bella seized her opportunity and plunged her pointy racing flag into the eye of the giant.
He instantly snapped to attention, standing upright and clasped both hands over his wounded eye, as if a bee had placed its stinger spot-on in his peeper. He yelped and groaned, cursed and stammered as he listed backward. The wolf and snowman looked on in shocked surprise.
The sneaky ‘ole wolf instinctively lunged toward Isabella to try for an irresistible nibble. Gabriel and Jacy had steeled themselves for the anticipated attack. Flanking out from behind Dadji they both took action amongst the commotion, bringing their arms to bear.
Jacy raised his Zombie rifle, quickly acquiring the airborne wolf through his scope and fired repeatedly striking the creature several times with automatic battery-driven fire. This knocked the pesky wolf off his track but still he continued clawing his way toward Isabella before her father tackled him and forced his growling snout into the pavement.
Gabriel raised his sword and pursued the stumbling giant, bravely striking at its leg until the colossus was covering his damaged eye with one hand and holding his bleeding calf with the other, causing him to hop on one leg.
“Leave my baby sister alone you friggin’ nimrod,” screamed Gabriel as he lashed at the giant’s leg with his wooden blade.
The ground shook from his hopping, till the giant lost his balance and stumbled backward, falling into a tangle of electrical wires, giving him a frightful shock, before the cables snapped from the telephone poles, wrapping him up tight. His tumble caused a tremendous rumble, and knocked neighbors near and far right out of their socks.
Two intruders were down, but one danger remained.
The Abominable Snowman snapped his wood pipe in half as his foolish accomplices went down to defeat. Speaking in an eery cadence he proclaimed, “If dirty deeds need doing right I simply must do them myself!”
With that his dark coal eyes narrowed, and a focus came over the snow monster as he took aim at Isabella, and blasted her diminutive leg with his laser freeze vision.
It was so cold and stung her mightily, causing Isabella to drop to the ground with a scream of pain. Suddenly brilliant neon blue freeze ray blasts were firing off in all directions.
Releasing the wolf from his clutches, Dadji crawled over and placed his warm hands on the spot where Isabella was struck. That made it feel better. Right then the snowman fired a double blast that hit true, striking Dadji in his back. It’s full force knocked him against Bella and he was stunned as the frostbite took hold inside his chest, preventing him from being able to breathe momentarily.
Jacy put some Nerf suppression fire on the snowman, striking him repeatedly, but this only angered the creature. His bottom two sections didn’t move a twitch but his head spun around backward with icy speed to face the direction of this pesky assault.
Jacy immediately realized his dilemma, and uttered, “Monkey Biscuits,” as the snowman lit him up with an icy ray.
Gabriel tried to advance from the flank as his brother was hit, but was foiled in mid-advance with a strike of cold lightning, causing his trusty wooden saber to go flying from his hand.
“Motherpussbucket, my dumplings have been freeze-dried,” Gabriel shouted as the blast froze his blue jeans solid.
All four of the family members were on the ground moaning, except for Essie, who kept barking as the snow creature approached Isabella and Dadji.
Glancing Essie’s way, Abominable said, “nice doggie, want a treat?,” as he smiled glibly, then knocked the brave pooch halfway across the street with a cold shot from his frosty black eyes.
Looking down at Isabella and her father the snow beast mockingly sneered, “who’s your daddy now?”
“I’ll see you melted in the street you miserable excuse for a snow cone,” Dadji replied.
Abominable glared narrowly at that comment. He reached up and pulled the scraggly orange-haired carrot from his face that served as his nose and whacked Dadji across the face, bloodying his nose, then crammed his sniffer back into place. This only infuriated Dadji further as he dove into the bottom layer of the snowman, throwing him off-balance.
Thankfully the giant’s fall had gained the attention of Bella’s mom and that of GiGi & Pop-Pop, her grandparents who lived next door to the House on the Corner. All looked out upon the action transpiring on the street in horror.
With the whole family, including their puppy, wounded from freeze rays, the wolf approached thinking easy-pickings were here to take.
“The dinner bell is a ringing for meeeees,” the wolf ruefully cooed, “and little miss golden hair you are the first item on my menu.”
Just then GiGi & Pop-Pop opened their front door and turned Quincy the Wonder Dog loose on the unsuspecting man-eater. With blazing fast speed, the black Australian Shepherd streaked to their aid and seized upon the wolf, knocking him down and sinking his teeth into the evil predator’s tender flesh. This caused the wolf to yelp in pain as he sprung up and ran for the hills.
Abominable grimaced in disgust at this additional setback and focused his freeze ray eyes in an attempt to take out Quincy, when Maia, Isabella’s mom, came storming out of the House on the Corner, approaching from Abominable’s blind side.
The snowman didn’t see her until she was upon him. He rotated around to find her smiling at him with her fierce blue eyes sparkling.
Putting his nastiest coal-toothed sneer on, the snowman stated, “I think you are about to find this no laughing matter Mommy-kins.”
“You look chilly SnowPoke. How about sucking on 1800 watts of super conducted heat,” replied Maia, as her eyes narrowed and she raised a gleaming Revlon StyleMaster Turbo hair dryer.
Stretching from inside the house and out across the lawn was the bright orange extension cord that Bella’s mom used to reach her intended target. As Maia’s thumb paused a half-instant below the on-switch, the snowman’s dark coal eyes grew wide. With one flick the blast furnace ignited inside the gun-shaped dryer and the turbo jet engine sent fire-level heat into the face of the snowman, melting a hole clean through his rotund nugget.
Momentarily his thin stickly arms made thoughtless circles as they searched for an answer to why he was missing his top unit. But that moment passed as Maia turned the heat on the snowman’s torso, reducing him to a puddle of mush.
This brought the giant to his feet, snapping the cables that entwined him, and off he stomped into the tree-lined hills following his slinking wolf friend.
“All my babies are hurt!,” Maia exclaimed. “What happened out here?”
“Do you know we have three of the bravest kids to ever walk upright,” Dadji declared, “and both these two rough and tumble doggies are nothing short of superheroes.” “Come here Quincy. You and mommy saved all our behinds. If you two didn’t bust some serious moves out here today the five of us were going to be served on a buffet line fit for monsters.”
Quincy walked into the carport and bit the handle of Bella’s red Radio Flyer wagon and pulled it over to where the family members were scattered on the pavement. Dadji rose and delicately placed Isabella and Essie into the bed of the wagon.
“You really are a wonder dog,” Dadji said as he gave Quincy a pat on his head.
Together once again, the tattered family headed back to their House on the Corner. Gabriel remained concerned with the persisting numbness still causing his bits & pieces to tingle, most likely because this might interfere with his ability to play Minecraft to the best of his abilities.
“I got first dibs on a hot shower,” said Gabriel. “Hey I want a shower too,” Jacy screamed back.
“Everybody will get to warm up guys, relax,” Dadji responded. “How about we don’t start fighting with each other the instant after surviving a battle with a giant, a wolf and a friggin’ snow demon.”
“How’s your leg Bella?,” Dadji inquired.
“It H-U-R-T-S,” she told him.
“I know it does baby girl. We’ll get you cleaned up in a minute, and then we can kick back and watch the horses do their thing in the Kentucky Derby. I think we’re going to need to put some medicine on your boo-boo though, to make it better. Is that okay?”
“I can take it. I’m a big girl.”
“Guess what else Bella? You get a great big Band-Aid for your leg. A BIG one.”
“Really,” said Isabella, as her face lit up with excitement. “Can I have a Hello Kitty Band-Aid?” she asked.
“Baby you can have any Band-Aid you like.”
“I like Hello Kitty. She’s pink.”
“Then Hello Kitty it is.”
“Hey Dadji,” inquired Isabella.
“Yes my brave girl, what is it?”
“Does that mean I get a piece of candy, too? At the doctor I get a lollipop and a sticker for when it hurts.”
“You must be feeling better if you’re asking about candy,” implied Dadji.
“I am feeling better. My leg still burns, but we went HOUSE on that nasty ‘ole wolf and his creepy friends! It was really scary, but we did it! I have awesome brothers, the best mom & dad, and this brave little doggie,” declared Bella as she picked up Essie and gave her a big hug.
Looking her daddy straight in the eye, a bewildered wonderment percolated from the girl’s expression, and Isabella asked deliberately, “The question is, what adventure will we take on next?”
# # #
In memory of Quincy, who passed away in 2017. He was one of a kind, a true ‘Wonder Dog’ and an honorable member of our family.
This tale began as a bedtime story I dreamt up for my daughter Isabella. Thanks to her for the continued inspiration she provides, and to Maia, Gabriel, Jacy, Mom and Pop, who tolerate my adventures and helped make writing this bedtime story possible.
Happy Kentucky Derby everyone!