Annie’s Adventures

Annie’s Adventures: Chapter 1

It was New Year’s Eve 2007, approximately ten o’clock, and we were just getting ready to celebrate Christmas.

This may seem an odd time to celebrate Christmas, but on December 25, we had been stranded by snowstorms in Utah. Our parents had decreed that we celebrate our belated holiday on the eve of another holiday, and so we were about to enjoy a twofer. Or so we thought.

“But where are the presents?” asked Zinnia.

We were in the drawing room, which sounds like a room you draw pictures in but that we actually just sit in. On this night, we were sitting around a dying fire, waiting for something exciting to happen.

Betty came in with her dust cloth, which wasn’t exciting at all. Betty was our mother’s invention, a black and gold robot designed to make our life easier by doing the cleaning. But something had gone wrong with Betty’s programming.

“Why don’t you dust the floor under the tree?” Zinnia suggested to Betty. “That way, it will be cleaner there when our presents arrive.”

Betty took the dust cloth, which she had draped over one of her accordion arms, and with one pincered hook placed it upon her own head.

Do you see what we mean about Betty?

“Good job, Betty,” Zinnia said. Really, what else could one say?

“Bye, Betty!” we all shouted after her as she exited the room. Betty would probably now head outdoors to dust under the wrong tree.

The drawing room was our favorite room of the house. There was a grandfather clock and even a suit of armor propped in one corner. Daddy always said every home should have one—the suit of armor, not the clock. Daddy hated clocks. The walls of the room were made out of big slats of gray stone, which was cool in summer, but not so hot in winter.

“Perhaps Mommy and Daddy are waiting until we go to sleep, as usual,” Annie said to Zinnia, “and why do you always have to worry so much about presents anyway?”

“I don’t know why you have to be so bossy,” Durinda said to Annie.

“Because she’s the oldest,” Georgia said. There was something sneering about the way she said it, like she was thinking of staging a coup.

“Do you always have to sneer so much, Georgia?” said Petal in a rare stab at speaking out of turn. Petal was our shy girl.

“The mouse roars,” observed Rebecca snidely.

“I don’t think you should pick on Petal,” said Jackie, our peacemaker.

“And I don’t know why you have to stick up for everyone all the time,” observed Georgia. Then she sighed. “I’m bored.”

“How can you be bored?” Annie asked. “You got caught in an avalanche in Utah. Wasn’t that enough excitement for you?”

Georgia yawned. “It was just a tiny avalanche. I could have swam out myself if you’d only left me there another hour.”

“Excuse me,” said Marcia, staring into the rapidly diminishing fire in the fireplace, “but hasn’t anyone noticed something is missing?”

“Such as?” prompted Rebecca.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have said something,” Marcia self-corrected.

“Well,” said Georgia, “if you’re not going to say something, then why did you say anything at all?”

“No, not that,” Marcia said, growing impatient. “What I should have said was, ‘Hasn’t anyone noticed someone is missing?’ Or some ones?”

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me,” said Petal.

“Mommy and Daddy,” Marcia prompted. Marcia was the observant one among us. “You know, those adults we live with?”

We looked around and realized she was right.

When had we last seen Mommy and Daddy?

Turn the clock back about twenty minutes:

“I’m going to the woodshed for logs for the fire,” Daddy had said.

“I’m going to go fix a tray of eggnog for us all,” Mommy had said.

“How long do you suppose,” Petal asked now, “it takes a person to gather wood for a fire? Or pour ten glasses of eggnog?”

“Dunno,” Zinnia said. “I suspect five minutes for the first, perhaps another three for the second if you put the carton back in the fridge. So, five and three—eight. It should have taken them eight minutes.”

“But they were doing it simultaneously,” Georgia said, “not one after another, so they both should have been back within five minutes, tops, even if Mommy took a really long time putting the carton back. Even if she decided to bring us cookies too.”

“I could be wrong,” said Annie, “but I think it’s a little early to file a missing-persons report.”

“But they should have been back at least fifteen minutes ago!” Zinnia said, clearly starting to panic. “More, if you consider the time we’ve spent talking since we realized it was twenty minutes since they disappeared!”

“Well,” Annie corrected, “that’s not technically true. We noticed—”

“I noticed,” Marcia briefly cut in. “—at the twenty-minute mark,” Annie went on. “But that doesn’t mean that’s when they disappeared. It merely means that’s when we noticed—”

“I noticed.”

“—they weren’t exactly here anymore.”

“This is no time for petty squabbles about time,” said Jackie. “What do you think we should do?”

“We should look for them, of course,” Annie said. “There’s no doubt some simple explanation, and when we find it, Georgia can go back to being bored and Zinnia can go back to worrying about presents.”

“Okay,” said Durinda. “Where should we start?”

“The kitchen?” Annie asked as much as answered.

This seemed sensible to us, mostly because going to look in the kitchen was a lot less scary than going out into the dark night to look for Daddy in the woodshed.

So we rose as one. Even though it seemed a safe thing to do—go to the kitchen to look for our parents—we walked with caution, as if we might find an ax murderer there. In fact, before leaving the drawing room entirely, Annie grabbed the silver spear from the suit of armor’s grasp.

“Insurance,” she whispered.

“Mommy!” we all called softly as we tiptoed. “Daddy!” we called, in case he’d snuck in the back door.

In the kitchen, where we all ate breakfast together in the mornings before school, there was the usual boring kitchen stuff. There were the sharp knives, all still thankfully in their blocks; we checked. There was the tile floor that was so much fun to skate across, and the big picture window that looked out over the hill. There was even the talking refrigerator Mommy had invented. But there was no Mommy, no Daddy.

Immediately, Annie crossed to the fridge. She opened the door slowly.

“Fully stocked larder,” the talking refrigerator said. “No need to shop.” The refrigerator was always saying things that didn’t matter to us, since we didn’t have to do the shopping. It was always encouraging us to eat more too. The refrigerator thought we were too skinny.

We ignored the talking refrigerator as Annie pulled out a half-gallon carton and held it up for all to see. In big, cheery red and green letters, the carton read Eggnog on the front.

“It hasn’t even been opened,” Annie said.

“Then where did Mommy go before?” Rebecca asked. “And where’s Daddy? And what do we do now?” Fear had replaced her testiness.

“We search the rest of the house, of course,” Annie said.

And so we did.

We moved through the house: the bedrooms, six bathrooms, closets, the tower room, the seasonal rooms—we won’t talk about the seasonal rooms right now, but we did go through them. We even checked the basement, although Petal didn’t want to on account of the spiders.

Still no parents.

Last, we checked Mommy’s study, but only briefly poking our heads in. It was a room we were normally forbidden to enter.

“What now, Sherlock?” Georgia addressed Annie.

“We check out the woodshed, of course,” Annie said.

And, suddenly, fear was back for everybody.

It is one thing to look for your parents inside a house when you fully expect to find them somewhere, but it is quite another to venture outside when you are pretty sure both your parents have mysteriously disappeared.

Still, what else were we to do?

“I’ll get everyone’s coats,” Durinda offered, “boots too.”

“I’ll get the knives,” Jackie said, “for everyone.”

“But aren’t you supposed to be our pacifist?” Marcia observed.

“I’ve got my spear,” Annie said, ignoring Marcia.

Outside, it was easy enough to follow in Daddy’s footsteps; we were guided between the trees by the light from the moon. The footsteps went in one direction—toward the shed—with no return.

Carefully, we placed our booted steps in the holes he’d left in the snow.

“I’ll go in first,” Annie announced as we neared the woodshed. This was a very brave thing to do—also good timing, since none of the rest of us were feeling that brave right then. And, you know, she had the spear.

Annie threw the door open hard, like a cop on a TV program who’s about to make a bust. It was such a bold move. We were proud of her.

Bravery, boldness—all for nothing. Daddy wasn’t in the woodshed any more than Mommy had been in the kitchen. Wherever our parents were, wherever they had disappeared to at approximately ten o’clock in the night on New Year’s Eve, they weren’t in the woodshed.

Back to the house we trudged, through our father’s steps, cold and dejected now. Worried too.

We removed our coats and boots and laid down our weapons. Except for Annie. She was enjoying holding that silver spear an awful lot.

“What do we do now?” Petal asked, rather petulantly we thought. “What’s happened to Mommy and Daddy?”

“They’ve disappeared, obviously,” Georgia said.

“Or else they’re dead,” Rebecca put in.

“Stop frightening Petal and Zinnia,” Jackie said evenly.

“Well, aren’t you frightened?” Georgia demanded.

Jackie tilted her head to one side and considered this. “Yes and no,” she finally said. “I think we should have some eggnog and think.”

“You get the eggnog,” Annie instructed Durinda and Jackie, “while I stoke the fire.” At that last, she removed a log she’d hidden in her coat while we were all out at the woodshed. She’d taken it without us noticing—we were that worried about Mommy and Daddy—although we had noticed she looked rather larger. And we were thankful of course that she’d thought to bring the log. The fire was nearly dead.

Once we were all gathered back in the drawing room, the fire nicely stoked, our eggnogs finally in hand, it was time to worry again.

“What do you think happened to them?” Petal asked.

“Maybe it’s all a surprise,” Zinnia said excitedly. “Maybe all this time they’ve been getting our presents, arranging them on a flying sleigh or something, and any moment now they’re going to land on the roof, and—”

“I think they’ve just disappeared,” Georgia said flatly.

“Or else they’re dead,” Rebecca put in.

“I wish you would all stop—” Jackie started to say, but she never got a chance to finish because right then Marcia screamed.

“That stone on the wall!”

“What?” Durinda asked, concerned, acting just like Mommy would.

Marcia pointed. “That stone in the wall! It wasn’t like that when we were in the room before! It’s never been like that! It’s sticking out!”

We all thought that Marcia had gone crazy from all the stress. But Durinda, still acting like Mommy, followed the direction of Marcia’s finger to the offending stone. Where Durinda looked, we all looked, and that’s when we saw: one of the stones had been disturbed!

Annie made her cautious way over to it, spear in hand. We all followed close behind her. We may have been scared but we were curious too.

Annie pried the stone the rest of the way out, revealing a secret hiding spot none of us had known about before. And in the hiding spot was the note that would change our lives. You may have seen this note already—in fact, we’re sure you have—but it was a pretty important event in our lives and we hope you won’t mind if we reprint it here and now:

Dear Annie, Durinda, Georgia, Jackie, Marcia, Petal, Rebecca, and Zinnia,

This may come as rather a shock to you, but it appears you each possess a power and a gift. The powers you already have—you merely don’t know you have them yet. The gifts are from your parents, and these you must also discover for yourselves. In fact, you must each discover both your power and your gift in order to reveal what happened to your parents. Have you got all that

The note was unsigned.

“See?” said Zinnia. “It says gifts. I knew there would be presents!”

“I don’t think this means those kinds of gifts,” Annie said.

“What do you make of this?” Durinda asked.

“It means Mommy and Daddy really have disappeared,” Georgia said.

“Or else they’re dead,” Rebecca put in.

One tear swam out of Petal’s left eye as another ran out of Zinnia’s right eye, and Jackie put her arms around both.

Then eight sets of very similar brown eyes looked at one another, wondering what we should do next.

As the grandfather clock struck midnight, marking the New Year and turning us all over into 2008, Annie turned to Georgia and spoke.

“You said you were bored. Well”—she nodded—“I suppose we’ve all got plenty of excitement now.”