"Oh my goodness," Grandma Crystal said, staring at the headlines of the online newspaper, Chestertown Spy. "Look at this!" She turned her laptop so Ro and Jo could see.
"Grandma, isn't that Fountain Park, where the Farmers' Market is?"
"Yes that certainly is Fountain Park, but I don't know if the Farmers' Market will happen tomorrow with all this going on!"
Ro and Jo pulled their chairs up close to the table until they both could see the picture and read the story that Grandma Crystal was so upset about.
"Wow! All you can see is the fountain! Everything else is covered with sheep!" Ro said, beginning to read the article below the picture. "They might not have the Farmers' Market tomorrow if they can't make the sheep go back to wherever they came from!"
"That would be terrible!" Jo said. "All the farmers, bakers, sewers, wood carvers and artists wouldn't be able to sell their stuff. The fruit and vegetables would go bad before next week."
"True. And all the people that come to the Farmers' Market to shop would waste their time and their gas," Ro agreed. "Maybe we could do something to help," she suggested, looking at her magical brother and waggling her eyebrows, giving him a hint that she was suggesting something Team RoJo-ish.
Jo got the hint. "Oh, we could do something to help," he said, nodding sagely.
"What are you guys up to?" Grandma Crystal asked, tilting her head, looking at them with great suspicion.
The children smiled innocently, and Jo said, "You'll see," in a mysterious tone of voice that made Grandma Crystal even more suspicious. She rolled her eyes. "You guys be careful," she said as they headed for the attic. She knew what they were up to. "If you go where I think you're going, don't forget to wear your hoodies," she called, and they both called "okay!" from halfway up the stairs.
Once in the attic, with the hoodies they'd gotten from their duffels, they hurried to the crystal ball. When they were at Grandma Crystal's they brought the ball with them from the fort. It seemed at home here in Grandma Crystal's attic where it had lived so long before Grandma Crystal had turned it over to Ro and Jo to pursue their adventures.
Already, as if it knew before Ro and Jo had even reached the attic, the crystal ball was filled with swirling, magical mist that began to clear just as Jo and Ro reached the table upon which it sat in its silver, mystical moon stand to keep it from rolling away (and it most certainly would, that crystal ball could be tricky!).
The children watched as the mists cleared and little by little Chestertown – particularly Fountain Park – appeared. Just like in the picture in the online newspaper, there were sheep everywhere! All over the park where Grandma Crystal and all of her Farmers' Market friends set up their tables and sold their wares.
"Holy moly!" Ro said, watching the sheep mill about, nibbling at the grass, baaing at each other, talking in sheep language.
"We've gotta do something," Jo said, smiling in spite of the dire situation. He liked sheep, thinking they're kindof puffy and cute.
"Yep. You ready?" Ro said, and when Jo nodded she took his hand and they stood facing the crystal ball. "Do your thing," she said softly to the sheep-filled orb.
Gradually they faded out of Grandma Crystal's attic and into Chestertown's Fountain Park…
…and Jo ended up straddling a sheep and sitting on it as if it were a small, fluffy pony!
Ro laughed behind her hand, not wanting to embarrass her brother or hurt his feelings, but funny was funny and that's how he looked sitting on that sheep!
Soon they both giggled hysterically, and then, remembering the serious mission that they were on, Jo climbed off the sheep, who baaed.
"I hope I didn't hurt your back," Jo said to the sheep, that swung its head left and right and said, to Ro and Jo's amazement, "It's okay. It was an accident."
"You can talk??" Jo gasped, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Are you really all that surprised?" Ro said to her brother. "I mean, we've seen all kinds of magical creatures. Sheep talking isn't such a biggie."
"Well there goes my claim to fame!" grumbled the sheep. "I was going to go to a TV producer in a few weeks and reveal my talking ability! I guess you blew that for me!" the sheep complained, sounding pretty darned grumpy.
"Oh no! I didn't mean for most people, just us. Jo and I – and our family and some of our friends – have seen all sorts of magical creatures. A TV producer wouldn’t have a clue. You're good to go," Ro explained to the sheep, who nodded, fully understanding everything she said.
"Well that's different, I guess," the sheep said, his attitude immediately changing back to his usual pleasant self.
Jo, seeing how nicely Ro had communicated with the sheep, decided to get right to the point. After all, the Farmers' Market started early in the morning, and they had less than a day to shoo all the sheep from the small town park – and that was a lot of sheep shooing, I'll tell you!
"Why are all of you guys here in Chestertown?" he asked the soothed sheep.
"Well, you know how it is, one or two sheep come up with a great idea, and everybody else piles on."
Ro and Jo listened politely, but were still confused. Ro asked, "What great idea was that?"
"There were half a dozen of us eating weeds in Old Man Gusset's yard the other day, and got to talking. That's all we ever eat – weeds. Farmer Amos rents us out to his neighbors to eat up the weeds and stuff in their yards. We can eat as much as we want, but it's always the same stuff.
"The other day he was talking about which crops he was harvesting, which vegetables he was going to sell and which he would be canning for the winter. We all started to drool when he was talking about the vegetables; right guys?" he cast a backward glance toward his friends crowded in behind him, and they all nodded. Ro and Jo could hear them mumbling, "right…yeah…that's what happened…he's tellin' the truth there."
"We know all about Chestertown – we chew up weeds in all the yards around here. We even helped out right here in Fountain Park last fall when the town wanted a green alternative to using tractors and mowers that run on gas," the sheep continued.
"So you're only here for the vegetables?" Ro asked when the sheep stopped to take a breath and collect his thoughts.
"Sure. What else would we have walked all this way for?" the sheep replied.
"You can see that there's no room for the farmers to set up their market in the morning, right?" Jo asked.
"Yeah, we can see that. But when we started into town, there were only seven of us. Some others started following us out of curiosity, and we don't know where those silly goats came from!"
Ro giggled. "They're probably sick of weeds too. Our Nana rented some goats from Farmer Jim last month to gobble her yard a bit over on Knight Island."
"This whole thing was supposed to be a nice little outing to the Farmers' Market for some veggie treats, and it's turned into sort of a sheep protest march against lack of variety in our diets."
Ro and Jo smiled at one another. Even sheep were concerned about nutrition these days.
"I can see the sheep's point, but if you all try and hang out in town together, the Farmers' Market won't be able to set up, there will be no vegetables here, and you will have defeated your own purpose," Ro said, very reasonably.
"That's true, but the whole thing is out of control. How can we get through to all these sheep at once?" the sheep said, his eyes sad and desperate.
Ro and Jo shook their heads, and Ro said, "What a mess."
Then Jo perked up, smiling and said, "messes are kindof my thing," to his sister, wiggling his fingers, and she smiled back at him, totally getting what he meant.
She turned to the flock of sheep (she had to turn almost all the way around in a complete circle to get all of them to look at her and listen) and said, "Okay, listen up! Jo and I understand that you would like more variety in your meals, right?"
Excited baas and nods from all the sheep – and mind you, that was a lot of baaing and nodding!
"Okay! You understand that if you stay here, all of you, that the farmers can't bring their vegetables here, and you will have to go home and eat weeds, right?"
The baas sounded confused. Ro continued. "If you all turn around and go home now, when we come with Grandma Crystal to the Farmers' Market tomorrow morning, we will explain to all the farmers that you would like some vegetables along with your weeds. I'm sure they will understand."
"Suppose they won't give us the veggies? Then we're all back where we started! We should protest!" came from the middle of the herd of fuzzballs.
"No! We should give the farmers a chance! Let the kid talk to them!" another voice from the middle of the group.
"If the farmers don't cough up the veggies, we'll come back here next week and protest, with even more of us!" a third voice shouted from somewhere toward the back of the flock.
The baas were less angry, and almost all the sheep nodded in agreement.
"Okay, young lady, you can have your chance to talk to the farmers. Thank you for helping us out," the sheep that had been talking to Ro and Jo all along said.
"What's your name?" Jo asked the sheep.
"Sherlock," the sheep replied and Ro snickered.
"You mean like Sherlock Holmes?" she asked, recognizing the name from some books that Poppop had at his house.
"The very one. My mama used to nibble on Sherlock Holmes books all the time when Farmer Amos stored them in the barn. She said they tasted intelligent."
Ro and Jo giggled, and shook their heads at what silly Sherlock had to say.
"What are you laughing at?" Sherlock said, sounding insulted. "I think that's why I can talk – why many of us can talk – because our parents ate books whenever they could and absorbed all those words and all that knowledge!"
Jo nodded, his lips pursed, thinking that over. "I never thought about it that way before. You may have a point."
"Maybe instead of fixing food, tonight, we'll just bake up the recipe book!" Ro said, her voice still a little giggly.
Sherlock rolled his eyes and said, "Whatever," knowing the children weren't taking him very seriously. But that was okay. If they got him vegetables and talked to all the farmers tomorrow, they could poke a little fun at him. He wasn't a baby afraid to laugh at himself.
Ro bent to scratch behind Sherlock's ears, and petted him gently. "We didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Eating books just sounds so weird, that's all. Maybe we should change the way we do our homework. Instead of reading our assignments, from now on we'll tear them out of the books, dip them in a little ranch dressing and gobble them up, huh Jo?"
Jo smiled. "worth a shot. A lot faster – and tastier! – then reading them!
"Your tummies would be sick from all that paper. I understand you get a lot of homework."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Ro said. "Okay, back to the point. You guys all have to skedaddle, right now, and go to your farms. We will talk to the farmers tomorrow morning, and by tomorrow afternoon you'll be eating high on the hog!"
"Wait! What's that about eating hogs? Sheep don't like bacon! Gives us heartburn! We're vegetarians!"
"No! No! It's just an expression! It means…oh, never mind! I just meant you'll be eating well – lots of different veggies, just like you want," Ro explained.
The sheep all nodded, understanding, and calming down. As they promised, they all turned toward the street and started making their way out of the park.
But all of a sudden, after a few moments, the whole flock stopped moving. They were stuck! When they all tried to get down the street at once, they didn't fit!
"Oh no!" Ro and Jo said at once. "What are we going to do now?"
Jo thought about it for a few seconds, and then snapped his fingers as an idea struck him. "I know!" he said to Ro, and then turned to the sheep and shouted, "okay, listen up again!"
The sheep turned back toward the children and stopped their grunting and baaing, hoping to hear an answer to their problem.
"How many here belong to Farmer Amos?"
Baas bellowed out, and Jo could see several sheep's heads stretching up above the crowd. When Jo saw them, he raised his arms to shoulder height and began wiggling his fingers in the air.
Suddenly all of Farmer Amos' sheep rose up out of the flock and floated in mid-air above their friends. At first they baaed in panic, never having had all of their feet off the ground at the same time before, but then, realizing they were safe, they baaed in amazement, kind of liking being able to fly!
When the sheep seemed comfortable enough floating up in the air, Jo began to move his hands in a shooing gesture, in the direction of Farmer Amos' farm. His sheep began to float in that direction, like big wooly balloons, and with Ro planting her visions of the sheep in his head, Jo brought the animals safely down onto the ground again in Farmer Amos' yard.
All the rest of the sheep in the park started baaing in excitement, all wanting to be next to fly.
Ro and Jo giggled as the puffy animals crowded around them. "Okay, you guys need to relax and give us some breathing room," Jo said. "Everyone will get a turn, I promise!"
The sheep calmed down as they'd been told, still excited about flying, but trusting Jo to keep his word.
And sure enough, little group by little group, all the sheep got to fly.
"Okay," Jo said, "I got them all home before dark."
"Yes, you certainly did," Ro said. "Now we have to get us home before dark, or Grandma Crystal will worry."
They held hands and closed their eyes, and the crystal ball mists swirled about them. They felt their feet lift off the bricks of the Fountain Park path, and then they knew they were in Grandma Crystal's attic. It was warmer there, and they smelled a little dust, old books, and whatever Grandma Crystal was whipping up for dinner which smelled wonderful.
The next morning Ro and Jo, just like they promised, talked to all the farmers at the market.
"Well now! I wondered where all those critters got to yesterday! And then they all came back! Weirdest thing ever!" Farmer Amos blurted, a laugh blasting from him at the end of his last sentence. "Sheep are crazy. But you say they want more vegetables?"
"Yes sir, that's what they said," Jo replied.
"Well aren't you polite, calling me 'sir' and all," the farmer said, smiling at Jo and ruffling his hair. And then what Jo had said sunk in. "What do you mean 'that's what they said,' son? Sheep can't talk."
Ro nudged Jo, annoyed that he'd blown the sheep's secret. She answered for her brother. "He meant that when we were here yesterday, the sheep seemed hungry, and they ate some vegetables out of our hands. They seemed to like the vegetables very much. It seemed to us like they were all here waiting for the Farmers' Market to happen. What else would sheep be looking for at a Farmers' Market but vegetables?"
"Nice save," Jo whispered out the side of his mouth to Ro so that only she could hear.
"I see," Farmer Amos said, rubbing his chin, thinking over what he'd been told. "Well, seems logical to me. I guess I can understand why sheep would get tired of eating nothing but weeds. It would bore the stuffins out of me too, I guess. I guess when I get home I'll dish out some veggies for the critters."
"Thank you, Farmer Amos! I'm sure your sheep will be much happier!" Ro said, relieved and delighted that Farmer Amos had listened and decided to give into the sheep's request.
As Ro and Jo made their way around the entire Farmers' Market, talking to every single farmer who had sheep living on their farms, they became happier and happier, because they knew all their new, wooly friends would be having vegetables and even fruits for supper.
Everyone had kept their promise, Chestertown Farmers' Market was saved, and sheep for miles had happier tummies!
Ro and Jo high-fived in Grandma Crystal's attic on Saturday afternoon after Ro had entered the story in the Family Journal.
And then they went downstairs to help Grandma Crystal turn Farmers' Market veggies into a giant salad for dinner. Yum!
TD – 9/17/2016