This is a story about a little girl named Ashley who had curly blond hair that all the grownups thought was adorable, green eyes that flashed when she was out of temper, and who was very grown up for being only eight. It’s also about her brother, Jeremiah, who had dark reddish brown hair like Grandmother’s that curled up on the ends, green eyes that turned almost blue when he was happy, and who was very smart for being only nine. Their very best friend was Sheila-the-Wonderdog, who was black on the top, the color of Mother’s buttercream on the bottom, and was the bravest dog in all the world. Ashley, Jeremiah, and Sheila-the-Wonderdog all lived with Mother on Bear Creek Farm. They had many exciting adventures there, and this is one of them.
Chapter One: The Tree Fort
It was a fine summer morning at Bear Creek Farm. As Ashley looked out her bedroom window, the sunlight was so thick and golden that it made her think of Farmer Lee’s clover honey. An altogether perfect day, she thought, to climb to the very top of the tree fort with Jeremiah and find animals hiding in the white puffy clouds scattered across the sky. The tree fort sat snugly between the three largest branches of an ancient oak tree. The rough brown trunk was so big it took four children holding hands to go all the way around it. The branches went up so high that Ashley sometimes wondered how the clouds didn’t get caught in them. This was Ashley’s favorite place on the farm. She loved the old tree. She could sit in it’s branches for hours. In the springtime, the leaves were bright green. When she laid along the branches it was like floating on a sea of swaying emeralds. In the summer, Mother allowed the children to spend the night in the fort. She would string twinkle lights on the branches so it wouldn’t be too dark. Ashley always thought the lights looked like a cloud of softly glowing fireflies as she drifted off to sleep. In the fall, the children would take turns burying each other in the deep drifts of red and gold and brown leaves. Sometimes they would throw great piles of them high up into the air and dance as they drifted down, with Sheila-the-Wonderdog dashing around in circles and barking madly. And in the wintertime, huge drifts of snow would gather on the roof of the fort and on all the tree branches. Ashley thought the snow sparkled just like diamonds in the sunlight. And the fort was the very best place to hide in and throw snowballs at people.
Ashley shared her plan for the day at the breakfast table with Jeremiah, who happily agreed. So, as soon as they had finished the last little bit of cereal, they hurried off to do their chores. Ashley skipped over to the chicken house, humming happily to herself, while Jeremiah took Sheila-the-Wonderdog and ran off to the barn to feed their cow Rosie. Sheila went along to make sure Rosie didn’t get too frisky when Jeremiah filled her manger with sweet smelling hay from the hayloft. Jeremiah thought that his job was more important because, “Mother sells the butter, you know.” But Ashley didn’t care. She loved Mother’s chickens. When they were inside they looked black, but after she opened the door and let them out into the sun, their feathers sparkled with green and blue flecks just like someone had sprinkled glitter all over them. Mother said that they were special and had named them all after queens.
After Ashley finished filling the water and feed tubs she went back inside the chicken house. This was her most favorite part. Very carefully she put her hand into the first nesting box. She felt all around inside until her hand touched the cool, smooth, roundness of an egg. She put it gently into her wicker basket and continued down the row of boxes. Some of the eggs were a pale green and some of the eggs were sky blue. Ashley was very proud of their pretty chickens and colored eggs. She and Jeremiah had gone with Mother last week to welcome a new family to the neighboring farm. There, she met the daughter, stuck-up Macy Adams. Ashley told Macy about the chickens and said, “Our eggs aren’t ordinary brown or white eggs like yours. It’s like having Easter every day!” After carefully gathering all the eggs and taking them inside to Mother, Ashley skipped over to the oak tree in the far corner of the yard.
The fort had a ladder that went right up to the blue door, and windows on the other three sides with green shutters that could be closed against the wind and rain. A rope was attached to the wall under one of the windows. The other end of the rope was tied to the handle of an old wicker basket. The children liked to have snacks or sometimes even lunch in the fort. They would put all the goodies in the basket at the bottom of the tree and pull it up to the fort with the rope. Jeremiah had wanted to name it “Fort Bearus Creekus” because it made it sound like someplace in one of Mother’s history books. Ashley thought the name rather silly and wanted to call it “Castle Fairy Bear”, but Mother liked Fort Bearus Creekus and said it sounded ‘educational’ whatever that meant, and so the name had stuck.
As Ashley climbed the long wooden ladder up to the fort her imagination was already at work. She was no longer Ashley-of-Bear Creek Farm, she was now Princess Ashley-of-Castle Fairy Bear. Princess Ashley was climbing to the top of her tallest castle tower to escape her arch enemy – the evil Prince Jeremiah!
“I don’t think he’s going to like this game,” she thought, and giggled to herself.
Just then, Princess Ashley heard a rustling in the leaves above her.
“Rats,” she thought, “the evil Prince Jeremiah finished his chores before I did!”
“Evil Prince Jeremiah,” she said to the leaves in her most princess-y voice, “I, Princess Ashley, command you to come down from my tower!”
There was no answer from above, just more leaves rustling.
“Evil Prince Jeremiah,” she said again in an extremely annoyed princess-y voice, “you must follow my commands!”
This time there was nothing but silence.
“Jeremiah, don’t be mean,” she said crossly, stomping her foot. It wasn’t easy to stomp her foot while standing on a wooden ladder halfway up a tree, but somehow she managed.
“What are you all mad about, Ash?” asked Jeremiah.
“Why didn’t you ans…” Ashley stopped mid-word. She suddenly realized that Jeremiah’s voice had come from below her, not above her. She looked down and there he was, standing at the foot of the ladder with Sheila-the-Wonderdog at his side.
“But I thought…” she began and then stopped because she heard the rustling noise from above her again. Then, as fast as her eight-year old legs would move, she scrambled back down the ladder, all thoughts of cloud animals and evil princes forgotten.