The Dreaded Day
Our story begins with anxiety on a typical Central Florida day. One might think Johnny’s distress was caused by his younger sister, Bosephus, living in the next room. Their fourteen-foot-wide trailer was situated within the Withlacoochee River’s dank and wooded region, where ferns and poison ivy carpeted the ground between the scraggly oaks. But his sister wasn’t the problem. He didn’t mind having a sister or sharing the “crate” with her. You see, Johnny had a rare gift, the gift of kindness. Yet on this particular day, he was troubled by something else.
Bosephus came home from a hectic afternoon of sightseeing and eating. Everyone knew Bosephus loved to eat. Yet despite her voracious appetite and love for McDonald’s, she was thin. She had long stringy blonde hair and towered over her brother at six feet and three inches. But Bosephus’ most striking feature was her large size-fourteen feet. Large feet are hardly worth noting, but these were unique. In fact, they were often used to rescue her from the worst situations. But I would be getting ahead of myself if I told you more.
Johnny was a mere five feet, with a sizeable uncovered belly that attracted impolite stares from strangers. Indeed, it was a sight as it nearly dragged the ground as he walked. But this didn’t bother Johnny as much as the sweltering Florida heat. Since an exposed belly helps with cooling, a shirt two sizes too small was appropriate. Now, if all of this were not peculiar enough, Johnny also had one eye more prominent than the other. In fact, his right eye was almost twice the size of his left. But despite the appearance of everything going against Johnny, he was generally cheerful and smiled more often than his sister.
Johnny was writing in his journal the afternoon our story begins. “Tomorrow is the worst day of the year!” Johnny wrote. It would soon be April 1st, the most dreaded day for the Motz children. Johnny’s stress wasn’t because of the usual trickery and pranks inflicted by their pesky neighbors. Instead, April 1st was cleaning day at the Motz house, and this was what he feared. The rest of us might think having to clean only once a year would be fantastic, but Johnny felt awful. Getting through a tough challenge is more difficult when you rarely meet them. He knew this, but it didn’t seem to help.
The next day, Johnny reluctantly rose from his bed to hear his mother Bobita calling, “Jawwwneee, get on out here, boy!” Eventually, after a breakfast of fresh grapefruit, Johnny was ready to start. Bosephus, on the other hand, had been up since dawn and still eating. She had devoured a dozen fried eggs with maple syrup and six kid’s boxes of Fruit Loops. “Oh, Johnny, I’ve got a bellyache,” cried Bosephus, giving Johnny a look that told him he was on his own. Then, summoning his strength, he began working in the kitchen, an area of the crate that looked the cleanest by all measures.
The Motz house was covered in nearly two feet of trash with paths cleared so you could walk from room to room. The kitchen was tidier with only a foot of boxes, opened cans, rotten vegetables, and wadded paper. Johnny had loaded another bag with garbage when his mom came in. “Jawwwneee, how are you doin’ in here?” “Fine, mamma,” Johnny said. “Is that a dead cat in the corner?” she asked. “No, mamma, that’s a pair of Bosephus’ socks,” Johnny replied. “Well, pick them up, son!” barked Bobita. Suddenly, Johnny’s trash bag burst and nearly eight pounds of loose corn chips and bottle tops spilled out onto the floor.
Johnny stood dumbfounded, staring at his setback. “Ahhhh, don’t worry about it, just leave it,” Bobita responded matter-of-factly. It was a rare time when his mom used a soft tone when yelling was expected. Johnny was immediately relieved and realized April 1st had come and gone. The whole affair amounted to nothing and was over before lunchtime. Bosephus wandered into the kitchen at the opportune moment, pretending to help. But it was time for the two to head outside for the day. Johnny had thought thirty minutes of cleaning would make a sizable difference. But it all looked the same to him. Bobita shoved the kids along and said they could finish up next Spring. As the Motzes stepped out, they left behind the worst day of the year.
As Johnny and Bosephus made their way to the backyard, they were joined by their trusty mutt Jumbo. He was a ragged rat-sized dog sporting a long tongue that constantly hung from the left side of his mouth. He was even less intelligent than he looked. Johnny had tried to explain to Bosephus that this would not improve by feeding him Fruit Loops, but Bosephus wouldn’t hear of it. Yet despite his faults, Jumbo did have one thing going for him. He had a keen sense of smell and could always get a whiff of the Hearn girls from afar.
Beatrice and Isabella Hearn (or Bea and Izzy as they liked to be called) were sisters living nearby and, by no fault of their own, were pranksters just like their dad. They were constantly climbing trees, hiding behind bushes, and venturing out onto questionable trails leading into unknown regions of the woods. The older sister, Bea, often devised a prank to pull on Johnny and Bosephus. Izzy would take the lead in putting the gag together. Summer was when they would get into some of the most outrageous encounters with the Motzes – and this summer was no exception.
Bea and Izzy were walking that morning with their dog Bo. He was a loyal and intelligent German Shepherd with dark markings. But unlike Jumbo, his sense of smell was not particularly keen. This seemed to balance the canine equation between Motzes and Hearns. Bea noticed on the trail ahead an excellent spying tree. It had a large branch with thick smaller branches and dense leaves overhanging the main path near the Motz property. Still full from their lunch, Izzy and Bea slowly climbed up and over the trail and positioned themselves. “I sure love mom’s homemade whole-wheat tortillas and refried beans, but I don’t know about eating three before climbing this tree,” said Izzy. “Shhhhh,” whispered Bea as she pointed towards the Motz trailer. Izzy turned to look. Bosephus was bobbing up and down above a row of bushes in the distance. Johnny was obviously with her but could not be seen.
“What is it, Jumbo?” Bosephus said, lowering her voice and stooping behind a bush. Jumbo was slobbering frantically, as was his way when detecting a scent. “Quit droolin’ on my feet, Jumbo!” Bosephus said in a stern whisper. “Do you think the Hearn girls are nearby?” Johnny asked. “I’ll bet you your old jalopy they are!” said Bosephus. “What do you want to do, Bosephus?” asked Johnny. “I don’t know, get-em, I guess,” Bosephus replied without taking her eyes off the trail. “Okay, but what does that mean?” asked Johnny. “I don’t know, Johnny, come up with something,” she replied in her usual impertinent tone. “I know; let’s send Jumbo out on the trail after the Hearn girls,” Johnny suggested with some excitement. “Yeahhhhh, good idea Johnny,” Bosephus said, cupping her hands together and grinning. So off Jumbo went, with his little rat-sized legs a blur.
Jumbo rarely barked because he would choke on his own tongue. This fault made him surprisingly stealthy. So the Hearn girls didn’t know Jumbo was coming, but Bo did. Bo had spotted Jumbo and was waiting near the trail not more than a few yards from Bea and Izzy hiding in the tree. When Jumbo came around the corner, Bo snatched him up. Now Bo could easily crush little Jumbo in his jaws. But as I said, he was an intelligent dog. He carried Jumbo gently and took him far from the scene. Jumbo would not return until Bo was instructed to release him.
The girls had planned this prank for some time and were waiting for the right moment to spring it. Izzy pulled a stuffed dog from her backpack, which looked so much like Jumbo you couldn’t tell the difference unless you squeezed it. It even had a tongue hanging from the left side of its mouth. Bea told Izzy, “go down and set him up, and I’ll catch up to you.” So Izzy scurried down quickly and placed the stuffed dog on its back right underneath where they had been hiding above.
Bea pulled a gallon bag out of her backpack filled with six-month-old buttermilk that looked like cottage cheese with a severe problem. Few have smelled anything as horrible as the contents of that bag. In fact, the girls wore clothes pins on their noses while preparing. Bea carefully placed the bag in the tree and fixed the opening so it would be released by a connecting line. This line ran down the trunk into nearby bushes where Izzy was waiting. Bea slid down and joined her sister.
Bosephus and Johnny were also waiting impatiently behind their bushes. “Hey, Bosephus, since Jumbo doesn’t bark, how are we supposed to know if he finds them Hearn girls?” asked Johnny. “It was your idea, Johnny; how do I know?” Bosephus replied. “I guess we better go after him,” Johnny offered with some hesitation. So they came out from hiding and quickly followed the trail in pursuit of their dog. “I sure could go for a chocolate shake,” said Bosephus. “Won’t that just give you a bellyache?” her brother replied. Then, ignoring Johnny, Bosephus suddenly froze on the trail. It was then they saw their beloved Jumbo.
Jumbo was lying on his back a few yards ahead on the trail, and his tongue was hanging out unusually. In fact, Jumbo’s tongue touched the ground behind his ear. It was so disturbing to the Motz kids that they immediately panicked. “Oh Johnny, it’s our Jumbo!” Bosephus cried. They started to run towards their dog when Bosephus yelled, “Johnny, you go get momma; I’ll save Jumbo and meet you back at the crate.” “But Bosephus…” Johnny started but was interrupted. “I said now, Johnny!” barked Bosephus. So Johnny turned around and headed back to the trailer. Bosephus ran up, crouched over the little dog, and spoke softly, “Oh, Jumbo, did that mean ole Bo do this to you?“
A few minutes later, Johnny ran in and came back outside with his mother in tow. “Momma, Bosephus is with Jumbo, and he’s in trouble!” cried Johnny. “Is that so?” Bobita replied calmly. It was then the two saw Bosephus and their trusty mutt approaching slowly. Bosephus’ head hung low, and her hair had the most beautiful sheen, Johnny thought as she walked into a sunlit opening behind the Motz property. Jumbo was leaping up from behind as if to try to lick the back of her head. But, of course, he was too small to reach the top of the towering Bosephus.
Something unexpected happened Johnny will never forget. He stopped breathing. “Go get in the hose right now!” cried Bobita. “Yes, momma,” said Bosephus. As Bosephus got nearer, you could hear her mumbling, “those Hearn girls…” Johnny stared at her with great concern, seeing the swarm of flies buzzing around his sister. “Quit your gawking!” Bosephus snapped. Then, as she moved downwind, Johnny started breathing again.
Later that summer, after Bosephus recovered from the mishap with Jumbo, she convinced Johnny to head down to the pond for a swim. There were many such places in the area, but one, in particular, was a favorite spot for the Motzes. The pond was known as The Gator Hole. Of course, the name was only a joke because everyone knew there were no alligators in this particular hole. At least, nobody had ever seen one there. Johnny and Bosephus reached the pond early that morning. The air was still, and a layer of fog hovered a few feet above the water’s surface. This would soon clear, leaving the sun and the heat to entice Johnny and Bosephus to jump in. Eventually, they did.
A sandy parking area was not more than a hundred yards from the swimming hole. The Hearn girls had just arrived with their dad to try a new contraption. Bea and Izzy were excited as a large rectangular item was pulled from the trunk and lowered to the ground. There was a little red switch on the side, which Izzy flipped on. At first, you could only hear a low hum that sounded like an electric amplifier when plugged in. Then there was a hissing sound like air leaking from a truck tire. Next, the strange rectangular shape began to move and grow. It stretched out lengthwise and began to change shape. In no time, it grew to be a colossal alligator lying behind the car. Standing right next to it were Bea and Izzy beaming with excitement.
“Are you girls ready?” their dad asked. “Yes!” they both replied in unison. Bea reached down and pulled a zipper along the left side of the alligator, just behind the front legs. She unzipped it back to the hind legs, over the back, and then up to the front legs. Izzy lifted the scaly flap of skin up and over the tail. Inside was a padded and plush area for one sizable person or two smaller individuals to lie down and stretch out. Your feet rested close to the mouth, and your head relaxed comfortably on a pillow near the rear. Both girls climbed in and snuggled together on their backs. “Okay, do you remember all the controls girls?” their dad asked. “Yes, we’ve gone over everything at least ten times, dad,” they exclaimed, exaggerating slightly. So their dad zipped the top flap back into place, creating an airtight seal.
Inside the alligator, Bea turned on the computer and cabin lights. They were a dim red so as not to shine through the eyes, yet bright enough to see each other and the other control switches. Next, Izzy activated the internal air conditioning and breathing system. This was important because it was already ninety degrees out and very warm inside. Soon their cabin was filled with fresh cool air, and the environment was so comfortable they both thought of napping. But the Hearn girls were too excited for napping!
There was a camera in each of the alligator’s eyes. Attached inside the top flap of the alligator was a flat screen displaying what these eyes could see. The mechanical creature had simple controls. In front of Izzy, on the right side, was a joystick to move the alligator forward. If you pushed it a little, he would crawl. Push it a little further, and the alligator would sprint! Of course, you could also move the stick to go backward, left, and right. In front of Bea was a similar control. More on that later.
“Okay, let’s go, Izzy,” Bea said with excitement. Izzy pushed the stick forward, and the gator began to move. Their dad was standing in the machine’s path, and you could see him giving a thumbs-up on the view screen. The gator crept slowly and looked just like the real thing. It was huge at nearly twelve feet long, with giant jaws. Izzy maneuvered the gator onto the trail leading to the water hole. As they approached, Bea turned on the external microphone which could pick up the slightest sound. Over the speakers in the cabin, you could hear splashing and yelling…” Watch this, Johnny!” and then a “splash!” Izzy looked at Bea with her eyes about to pop out of her head and said, “No, you don’t think….” Bea interrupted, “Oh, that’s them!” Izzy pulled the stick back and slowed the alligator to a stealthy crawl and finally to a stop.
Using switches under the view screen, the girls zoomed in with the alligator eyes until they could see the Motzes clearly. Johnny did a cannonball right next to Bosephus. “Jawwwneee cut that out! Are you tryin’ to drown me or somethin’?” Bosephus barked, gurgled, and then spit a stream of water from her mouth. Johnny slowly emerged with his giant right eye visible above the surface well before his left. As he continued to rise out of the water, both eyes were followed by a grin. “I’m just having a little fun, Bosephus,” said Johnny. “Well, maybe there’s not enough room in this waterhole for the two of us,” replied Bosephus. “Fine, fine, Bosephus, I’m getting out anyway to have an orange; you want one?” asked Johnny. “Nah… momma’s dropping me off at MacDonald’s later,” replied Bosephus, licking the corner of her mouth. Meanwhile, Bea and Izzy were making their move.
Izzy navigated the alligator to the pond’s far side, where a patch of dense reeds and lily pads blocked the view from the other side. Slowly the alligator descended into the water and submerged. The computer flashed: “You have thirty minutes of air at this depth.” Bea checked her screen and said, “Everything looks good, Izzy; no leaks and plenty of battery power.” Slowly the alligator descended to nearly twenty feet near the bottom of the water hole. The sensitive alligator eyes could barely make out the surface. They were still too far away from Bosephus to see her. Izzy pressed a little switch located on the side of her control stick. This caused the alligator to sweep its tail from side to side in a swimming motion. Now they were moving steadily towards the other end of the pond.
“Hold back, Izzy, I see her!” Bea said as she monitored the alligator eye screen. Izzy pulled back on the stick. Now it was Bea’s turn to take over. First, she held down a button on her controls to release water ballast out the head of the alligator. The machine slowly floated up from the bottom, with the head of the alligator leading the way to the surface. Then Bea pulled back on her control stick, and the giant alligator jaws opened wide. The teeth were huge, each about the size of a chicken egg. They were bright white but not too sharp to really harm anyone. As the alligator approached the surface, the computer screen flashed the depth, ten feet, nine feet, eight feet…Then Bea reversed the ballast to slow the ascent so that the gator’s head very slowly and carefully approached Bosephus.
They were now inches away, and her feet were so huge on the screen you could see her toenails. Then Izzy pressed a button that released a little cabin air that bubbled up next to Bosephus. “Izzy,” Bea said with a grin. Izzy just smiled back. Upon seeing the bubbles from shore, Johnny said, “Bosephus is that necessary?” “I didn’t do anything, Johnny,” Bosephus replied in a defensive and somewhat concerned tone. Then Bosephus looked down into the depths of the pond and let out a scream so loud that Johnny dropped his orange. “AGHHH, Johnny, it’s a gator!” she yelled.
Izzy turned the alligator tail back on to quickly swim up the remaining inches, and Bea pushed her control stick forward, closing the jaws around Bosephus’ left foot. Then Bea reversed the ballast, so the alligator sank like a rock plunging the flailing Bosephus into the depths with it. As they dropped, the Hearn girls laughed uncontrollably, letting go of the controls. Everyone twisted and turned over several times as they descended, and Bosephus knew she was in the grips of a death roll. But a few seconds later, Bea regained herself and released the jaws letting Bosephus go. After all, she couldn’t breathe down there like they could. Bosephus broke the surface like a Trident missile and shot up into the air so high you could almost see her feet.
Johnny thought Bosephus was walking on water for a second, but she quickly sank back into the pond and paddled wildly to the shore. He grabbed her and helped her out. “Johnny, a gator bit my foot!” Bosephus cried. After Johnny looked her over, he said, “I don’t see any marks; Bosephus, are you pulling my leg?” “No, Johnny, but that gator was pullin’ on mine!” she cried. Johnny nodded skeptically. Bosephus had cried wolf too many times for him to buy what she was selling.
Izzy and Bea navigated back to the other side of the pond and exited the water. Maneuvering the alligator back along the path, they reached their dad, where he rested on the hood of their car. The girls unzipped and climbed out quickly, laughing uncontrollably. Izzy flipped the red switch off, and the alligator hummed and shrank. Within a few minutes, it was back to its rectangular shape and loaded into the trunk.
Of course, Bea and Izzy were dry and showed no signs of having been in the water. This worked out nicely because Bosephus and Johnny came walking up the trail just then. “Hey guys,” Bea said. Bosephus muttered to Johnny, “It’s those Hearn girls.” “Did you have a good swim?” asked Izzy. “Bosephus saw a gator,” Johnny said with some enthusiasm. The sisters didn’t say a word but looked at each other and smiled. Recalling how the gator sounded as if it were laughing at her in the depths, Bosephus, too, was silent. Then she regained her thoughts, realizing all of the excitement had made her hungry.
It was mid-morning, and Bosephus had worked up quite an appetite. Bobita had promised to drop Bosephus off at her favorite lunch place once they were done swimming. But the encounter with the gator cut their day short. So Bosephus was ready to eat and told Johnny he’d have to make other arrangements. “Johnny, I need a ride to MacDonald’s…right now!” said Bosephus. “Okay, Bosephus, but I’m low on gas,” Johnny replied. “We’ll get some later,” said Bosephus, more concerned about eating than knowing whether there was enough fuel. So they walked home and cleaned up. After changing from the swim, they went to the backyard where Johnny kept his jalopy, an old, green, rusted-out, beaten-up junker. Bosephus took the opportunity to remind Johnny how unreliable it was. But Johnny ignored her and thought it was not that bad.
They climbed in, and Johnny turned the key. Nothing happened, just silence. “Oh, here we go, Johnny,” said Bosephus sarcastically. Johnny frowned and gave the steering column a little whack. The jalopy shuttered and backfired several times. Finally, a large plume of white smoke appeared behind the car, and they were off. The most reliable quality of the jalopy was the backfire. Riding in Johnny’s car was like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, except for the rhythm and sing-along. This morning, however, the ole jalopy did just fine. The golden arches were in sight, and Bosephus smiled as she rarely did.
Turning off the car was almost as challenging as starting it. As Johnny and Bosephus swung open the doors to MacDonald’s, a final backfire was heard from the parking lot. The smell of cheeseburgers hit Bosephus in the face so hard she almost tripped as she darted towards the line to place her order. She was famished, and you could hear her muttering under her breath, “come on, come on,” her impatience growing by the second. “That’s not going to make the line move any faster, Bosephus,” whispered Johnny. “That’s my belly talkin’ Johnny, and there’s no stoppin’ it,” Bosephus replied. Looking down, Johnny wondered what she knew about bellies.
“Can I take your order, please?” asked the teenager behind the counter. “Yeah, yeah, you betcha!” said Bosephus. She continued, “I want a dozen cheeseburgers, seven orders of fries; five large cokes; six apple pies, and a fillet-o-fish.” “Will that be all,” replied the cashier. “Johnny do you want anything?” asked his concerned sister. “I’ll just have one of your cheeseburgers Bosephus,” replied Johnny. So Bosephus turned to the cashier and said, “Make it thirteen cheeseburgers.“
The cashier looked both puzzled and amused. “That will be $57.60,” he said. “$57.60!” yelled Bosephus – as if she were genuinely surprised. “That’s right,” replied the cashier. Bosephus dug deep into her pockets and pulled out a wad of bills. After unrolling and counting, she told the cashier, “How about eight bucks?” But before the cashier could respond, Bosephus swung around and looked at Johnny. After all, she knew where this was heading. “Johnny, I need to borrow fifty dollars,” Bosephus pleaded. Knowing she had neither the inclination nor the capacity to pay him back, Johnny said, “Okay, Bosephus, I’m feeling generous today.” After handing the cash over, they carried the food trays to a nearby table.
Johnny had been saving for six months, and now fifty dollars had disappeared before his eyes. He sat there with a vacant stare as he watched Bosephus devour one cheeseburger after another. Nearby families watched and whispered to their kids taking advantage of the teaching opportunity. Then, finally, an employee stopped by to ask if everything were alright. Bosephus replied, “Yeah, yeah, delicious!” as she shoved a handful of fries into her mouth.
Chewing on his cheeseburger, Johnny looked over at the family next to them. He winked his giant eye. The mother was not impressed. “Don’t stare, kids,” the mother said softly. Then suddenly, the chewing stopped. “Oh Johnny, oh Johnny, I’ve got a bellyache,” Bosephus whined. She gasped, squinted, held her stomach, and continued, “I’ll be right back… don’t touch my pies.” Johnny just shook his head. About five minutes later, Bosephus returned with a big grin on her face. She began right where she had left off, quickly finishing the rest of her meal. Johnny swallowed the last of his cheeseburger and asked if she felt better. Again, Bosephus grinned but didn’t reply.
Just then, they were approached by a tall figure wearing MacDonald’s attire and a loose tie. “Excuse me,” the manager said. He continued, “Miss, did you use the girl’s restroom?” Bosephus, not glancing up from her meal, said, “Yeah, what’s it to ya?” Johnny was clearly disappointed and told Bosephus to be respectful. “The toilet overflowed, and water is spilling out into the dining area,” said the manager. “Well, that sounds like a gen-u-wine problem,” replied Bosephus. The manager looking frustrated, asked Johnny and Bosephus to leave immediately. There was a pause, and then Bosephus looked up at the manager and said softly, “Before we leave, I have another little surprise.”
The manager was unimpressed, “I‘m not interested in any ‘surprises,’ so please leave now.” At this, Bosephus hoisted her left leg to the tabletop, exposing her gargantuan foot. A pink flip-flop slipped off and dropped onto a cheeseburger wrapper. Then, with her bare foot before the manager, she began to flex her big toe. It was hypnotic. The manager was so mesmerized by the large toe moving back and forth that he didn’t notice the foot’s proximity as it moved toward him. Bosephus was about three inches from the manager’s face when he suddenly drew back, closed his eyes, and passed out cold onto the floor. A totally-calm Johnny said: “Time to go, Bosephus.“
The two hurried out of the restaurant and hopped into their jalopy. “Bosephus, you know you’re not allowed to do that,” said Johnny as he started the engine. Bosephus shrugged and said, “What’s the point in having toxic toe-jam if you can’t use it in situations like this, Johnny?” It was a little-known fact outside the Motz family; Bosephus had her toe-jam tested at the University of South Florida. The researchers had never seen anything like it. They said it had a chemical composition between Limburger cheese and sarin gas.
Back in the jalopy, Bosephus remembered fondly her visits to Tampa for testing and how there were MacDonald’s everywhere. Johnny frantically tried to navigate out of the parking lot when he heard a crunching sound coming from the passenger’s side. He turned to Bosephus and sighed. His sister shrugged and said as she chewed, “You didn’t think I’d leave my pies there!” Then, after a puff of smoke and a trusty backfire, they were off.
Based on the original bedtime stories told to the girls when they were very young. The illustrations are from a few years later.