When my kids ask me to tell them a story, I don’t get a lot of prep time, sometimes only a few minutes. So when I start to tell a story, I don’t always have an idea of where it’s going to go, and it doesn’t always go well. Every so often, I surprise myself with a story that shouldn’t have worked at all, but did…
Luke looked out of his window. The rain hadn’t stopped in four days. He sighed. He’d read every book in the house, played every game, listened to all of his music, drew a hundred pictures. He was bored. He wanted to go outside. He wanted to run and play. He wanted to play with his friends, go exploring through the forest, ride his bike, play ball out in the field. When he looked out the window, however, all he saw was water. The front yard was a giant puddle, the backyard a lake.
Luke sighed again. He sighed mostly to himself, and also for the benefit of his parents, in hopes they might solve his problem. They didn’t hear him. So he sighed louder. Either they didn’t hear him, or were ignoring him — he wasn’t sure which. He tried sighing louder still, but it came out as a grunt.
“If you’re bored, buddy, I could use your help cleaning up the workshop…,” Luke’s dad suggested.
“No thanks,” Luke replied, still staring out the window. Being bored was better than having to clean.
“Do you want to play with your LEGOs?” Luke’s mom asked.
“Not really,” Luke replied, still staring out the window.
The rain kept falling. Luke watched the water pour out of the downspout into their rain barrels. The barrels were overflowing at the top, spilling down the sides like a waterfall. Rain dripped from the power line where it curved before attaching to the back of their house. The bird house looked like it had just been plucked from the bottom of a pond. The water pooled, filling with hundreds of rings where the drops of water landed. It was as wet as wet could get.
And then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson. Luke saw Mr. Sorenson a lot, as he lived next door. Mr. Sorenson was a nice man, and Luke enjoyed talking to Mr. Sorenson whenever he could, because Mr. Sorenson never talked like any regular grown up. Mr. Sorenson also did things that Luke’s father described as “odd”, though Luke usually found them funny.
Mr. Sorenson was watering his plants. That would have seemed normal, except that it was raining. The rain could be ignored, too, if the plants were sheltered from the rain, which they weren’t. The strangest part, though, was that the plants were plastic, stuck in a box that was attached to the outside of the large treehouse in Mr. Sorenson’s backyard. Mr. Sorenson was out in the rain, watering fake plants. And to Luke, that was just weird.
“Mom? Dad? I’m going outside!” Luke announced, racing over to the closet next to the back door.
“Are you sure, honey?” asked his mom. “You didn’t like it the last time you went out!”
Luke didn’t answer. He knew that if he said why he was going outside, his parents might stop him. He quickly put on his bright yellow rubber boots and his bright yellow raincoat with hood. He opened the door and stepped out into the rain. It was cold, like the rain always seemed to be, but with its hood up, Luke’s raincoat kept him dry.
Luke trotted over to the short white picket fence at the edge of his yard. Mr. Sorenson stood on a short ladder, carefully pouring his plastic watering can over the equally plastic flowers.
“Hi, Mr. Sorenson!” Luke smiled.
Mr. Sorenson looked about, and quickly spied Luke. “Eh, Lucky!” he waved. Mr. Sorenson never got Luke’s name right. He was an older man, though not as old as Luke’s grandpa. He wore a wildly patterned red, blue, green, and yellow button-up t-shirt, a pair of long beige shorts, winter boots, and a pink toque over his scraggly white hair. He looked like he should be wearing eyeglasses, but never did.
“What are you doing?” asked Luke.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” Mr. Sorenson squawked, throwing his hands at the fake plants. “I’m watering my flowers!”
“But it’s raining!” laughed Luke.
“So? Plants need lots of water, and this rain ain’t nearly enough!” said Mr. Sorenson. Luke looked down at the puddle he was standing in.
“But they’re plastic flowers! They don’t grow!” Luke giggled.
“Says you! I’ve been raising these beauties for years. They’ve never looked better,” he smiled at the slightly faded green and yellow flowers. “Why don’t you come give ‘em a sniff?”
“Okay!” said Luke, and ran for the fence. He opened his own gate, ran around the corner, and through Mr. Sorenson’s open gate. He ran right up to the front of the treehouse.
The treehouse had always fascinated Luke. It was no mere treehouse. Luke’s friend Todd had a treehouse, which was only a small wooden box perched up in a v-shaped branch. Todd’s treehouse had a single doorway, with no door, and a hole for a window, with nothing else. It was cold when it was windy, and you couldn’t play in it when it rained.
Mr. Sorenson’s treehouse was huge, wrapping around the massive oak tree, a full ladder’s height off the ground. The house was short, big enough for Luke, with a low-sloped roof that extended out over a deck that went all the way around the house, creating a sheltered porch. The outside of the treehouse was painted white, with a little bright red door. The windows were real, also painted red, and even had glass. The door was about Luke’s size. Around the deck was a white railing.
The treehouse looked nicer than Mr. Sorenson’s house, a red bricked building with windows that were always closed, and curtains that were always drawn. The door needed a coat of paint. At night, the lights never seemed to be on.
“C’mon up!” said Mr. Sorenson, climbing up the ladder, and hunching down low to walk onto the deck of the treehouse. His back pressed against the roof overtop the deck. Luke followed up, and hopped up onto the deck, too. Luke could stand on the deck without any trouble.
“See, they love the rain!” said Mr. Sorenson, looking at the plastic flowers. They were stuck in a box full of dirt. The flowers were wet. The dirt was so soaked that it almost looked like mud.
“You’re silly!” giggled Luke. “Those can’t grow!”
“You don’t think so, eh?” asked Mr. Sorenson. “Are you a botanist?”
Luke kept giggling. “No!”
“Then how do you know they’re not going to grow?”
“Because they’re plastic! Plastic plants don’t grow. My grandparents have plastic plants that look the same every time I visit them!” laughed Luke.
“That’s because they don’t take care of them. Every plant needs water, sun, and food!” explained Mr. Sorenson.
Luke tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t stop. “Well, they look hungry to me.”
“Well, I’ll just have to get some plant food, then!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned to the door of the treehouse, opened the little red door, and walked in. After a moment, he called out: “Are you comin’?”
Luke had never been inside the treehouse before. He’d always wanted to go inside. “Coming!” he cried, and raced inside. He stopped just inside the door and stared. “This place is nicer than my house!”
The treehouse was a single room, with a large sofa on the left, bookshelves on either side of a small fireplace along the back wall, and a table and chair on the right. Two sets of shelves sat on either side of the table, lined with all sorts of boxes and bags and jars and canisters. A large patterned oval rug in rainbow colours lay in the middle of the floor. The walls were wallpapered with a dark purple, with a deep red trim at the top and bottom. The room felt cozy and inviting. Luke wanted to grab a book, curl up on the sofa, and listen to the rain hitting the roof.
He noticed that there were windows on all the walls, not just next to the door. He could swear that he could see a mountain out of the windows next to the fireplace, and a lake out the window over the table. He was too scared to move any closer to the windows so he could be sure.
And then he saw it. Or rather, he didn’t.
“Where’s the tree?” blurted Luke. From the outside, the house wrapped around the tree. Inside the house … there was no trunk in the centre of the room! Outside the house, branches came out of the roof. Inside the house, the roof was wooden beams, and no sign at all of branches.
Then Luke saw Mr. Sorenson crouched over a shelf next to the table. Or rather, he didn’t.
Unlike on the porch outside, Mr. Sorenson was standing straight up. Luke turned around and looked at the door. It was still Luke’s height, exactly what he’d seen before. But the rest of the room looked … bigger. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.
“What kind of crazy treehouse is this?” Luke asked.
“Threehouse,” corrected Mr. Sorenson, not looking away from the shelf. “Ah, here it is!” he exclaimed, picking up a box.
“You mean treehouse,” said Luke, correcting Mr. Sorenson. Luke corrected Mr. Sorenson a lot, though he had given up trying to get Mr. Sorenson to say his name properly.
“No, threehouse,” repeated Mr. Sorenson. “Read my lips. ‘Three’. ‘House’. Threehouse.”
“What’s a threehouse?” asked Luke.
“What’s a … what’s a threehouse?!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Goodness boy, don’t they teach you anything in school?” He looked at Luke, who still looked terribly puzzled. “I guess I’ll have to show you! Come with me,” said Mr. Sorenson, and led Luke back outside.
Climbing back out onto the porch, Mr. Sorenson first he leaned over to his flowers. “First, I need to feed my beauties.” He shook out the contents of the box onto the flowers. Small blocky bits in green, blue, and yellow fell onto the soil.
“LEGOs?!” Luke exclaimed.
“Plant food!” said Mr. Sorenson. “How else do you think I’m supposed to feed plastic flowers?”
“You’re weird,” said Luke.
“You listen to your parents too much,” said Mr. Sorenson, grinning mischievously.
“My mom told me she feeds her flowers with, um, fern and liner,” said Luke.
“Fertilizer,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “And that only works with real plants. That does nothing for fake ones.”
Luke scratched his head. It hurt a bit. “I’m confused.”
“Well, yeah, you’re thinking too hard,” smiled Mr. Sorenson.
Luke nodded. That sounded like good advice. He looked back towards the closed red door. “Can we go back inside?”
“Of course we can!” said Mr. Sorenson. He turned back to the door, and knocked with a rap-rap-raprap-rap. Then he turned the door handle and ushered Luke inside.
The sofa was gone, and a bed lay in its place. A large comfy chair sat on the other side of the room where the table and chair had been. The bookshelves were replaced with a dresser and a small table with a wash basin on top of it. The rug was rectangular and white and very fuzzy. The walls were light blue with a white lace pattern. Out one window he saw a dozens of skyscrapers, out another window he saw a huge bridge, while out of another he saw endless farmland and a big red barn. The only thing that looked familiar was the fireplace, which sat in the same place.
Luke looked as puzzled as he felt. “How…? What…?”
“What? Have you never seen a bedroom before? You do have a bedroom, don’t you?” asked Mr. Sorenson.
“Well… yes, but not in… the same room… as my, uh, living room,” said Luke, pausing only to figure out how to say what he was seeing.
“No, no, no! This is not the same room, Lucky! This is my bedroom. The last room we were in was my living room. Honestly, can’t you tell the difference?”
“But … we only went outside and came back in!” protested Luke.
“No we didn’t.”
“Yes we did! When you go into a different room, the other room is still where it was!” said Luke.
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Sorenson. “And so is my living room.”
“Where?” asked Luke.
“There!” said Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the door.
“But that goes outside!” said Luke.
“No, it goes to my living room,” said Mr. Sorenson. “I’ll prove it to you!”
Mr. Sorenson ushered Luke back outside again, and closed the door. Then he knocked on the door with a rapraprap-rapraprap, and flung it open. Luke walked back through the doorway.
In the centre of the room was a huge white bathtub, sitting on huge clawed feet. One end had large brass taps and a brass faucet, the other end was raised and curved, looking almost like the back of a large chair. There was a toilet over where the bed and sofa had been, a towel rack where the table and comfy chair had been. The fireplace remained again, but was alone on the wall. There was a desert sand dune through one window, a jungle through another, and igloo through a third.
“Oops!” exclaimed Mr. Sorenson. “Sorry about that. This is my bathroom.”
“It’s a nice bathroom, Mr. Sorenson … wait, how did you get a bathtub in this room?!” blurted Luke.
“House,” corrected Mr. Sorenson. “It’s in my threehouse.”
“But … this is impossible!” shouted Luke.
“Bah! That’s what grown-ups say! Nothing is impossible if you’re willing to believe that it’s possible,” said Mr. Sorenson.
“You can’t have three rooms in the same house!”
“Of course you can! Your house has more than three rooms, and you don’t have a problem with that!” said Mr. Sorenson.
“That’s not the same thing!” said Luke.
“I just use my rooms better than you do,” said Mr. Sorenson. “That’s why it’s a threehouse.” He pushed Luke towards the door again. “Otherwise I’d had a really hard time living here.”
“You live here?” asked Luke.
“Well, of course I do! Where else do you expect me to live?” asked Mr. Sorenson.
“What about your real house?” asked Luke, pointing in the direction of the large brick house.
“That thing?” asked Mr. Sorenson, pointing to the house with disgust.
“Don’t you live in that?” asked Luke.
“Goodness, no! That’s just for guests. I hate going in there. Too many rooms to clean! I hate cleaning rooms,” said Mr. Sorenson.
“Me, too,” added Luke.
“Okay, now let’s see if I can get the right room this time,” said Mr. Sorenson, and balled his hand into a fist.
“Can I try?” asked Luke.
“Sure, why not?” said Mr. Sorenson. “I think you need to knock with a ‘tap-tap-tap’. Can you do that?”
“Sure!” said Luke. He stood in front of the closed door, and knocked with a rap-rap-rap. Then he opened the door and they walked in together.
The room had shelves all the way around the outside, filled with every toy Luke could have ever desired. A TV hung from the wall where the fireplace had been. A small table sat in the middle of the room, on which sat a snack of cheese, crackers, and apple juice. Luke walked over to one of the shelves, and picked up a soft stuffed rabbit.
“Why do you have a room full of toys?” asked Luke.
“I didn’t know I did,” muttered Mr. Sorenson, looking around. He picked up a few toys himself, put them back down, and walked to the table. He stared at the snack for a moment, then picked up and munched on a cracker. He put his hands on his hips, frowned, and said: “Well, darn!”
“What’s the matter?” asked Luke.
“Now I’ve got a fourhouse!”