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Ten-year-old twins Lacey and Casey Nicefolk have always wanted to fly, but kids can’t fly . . . or can they? They can if they know the mysterious Sucoh Sucop, a man who claims to have an enchanted box that can transform any toy into the real thing! Before you know it, the twins, along with their droopy-eared basset hound, Floopy, are soaring cross-country in a real-live Wright brothers biplane, which they name Vin Fiz (after Casey’s favorite grape soda). But dangers lurk everywhere, and if the twins are to make ...
Ten-year-old twins Lacey and Casey Nicefolk have always wanted to fly, but kids can’t fly . . . or can they? They can if they know the mysterious Sucoh Sucop, a man who claims to have an enchanted box that can transform any toy into the real thing! Before you know it, the twins, along with their droopy-eared basset hound, Floopy, are soaring cross-country in a real-live Wright brothers biplane, which they name Vin Fiz (after Casey’s favorite grape soda). But dangers lurk everywhere, and if the twins are to make it all the way to New York, their courage will have to make heroes of them many times over. Thank goodness they have the magical Vin Fiz on their side!
The Mysterious Stranger
In a time still remembered, there was a quaint little village in California called Castroville. It rested in a valley near the Pacific Ocean and was built on artichokes. Actually, they were not used to build the houses. Artichokes are too soft and do not make good building blocks. They are an edible flower head that is cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Some people like them, some do not. Some call artichokes an idiosyncrasy-a funny word that means odd behavior-because they really are a thistle with stickers whose leaves taste good only when dipped in a yummy sauce.
Every farm and family in the valley harvested artichokes . . . almost every farm and family, but not all. There was one man who did not follow the beat of an artichoke drummer. Ever Nicefolk preferred to grow exotic herbs and spices, valued for their savory taste and wonderful smells, and sell them to gourmet stores and restaurants around the country. On his little sixty-acre farm, he planted and raised licorice, spearmint, mint, figwort, ginseng and many other varieties during the growing season. The only problem was that he did not have enough land to be profitable. One bad year without rain and the Nicefolks would lose their farm.
Ever Nicefolk may sound like a curious name, but he could trace his family tree back five hundred years to an ancestor known as Knot Nicefolk, who was a highwayman in merry old England. A highwayman, you might like to know, was a bandit who held up travelers and stagecoaches. You've heard of Robin Hood, I'll bet-he was a highwayman too. Mr. Nicefolk was a serious man who seldom laughed but had twinkling gray eyes and wore a crooked smile that moved back and forth across his mouth as if unable to settle in one position. He moved and talked slowly, traits that fooled some into thinking he was dull witted, when in fact he was very clever and smart. A good man, an honest man, he was known throughout Castroville for his dedication to growing herbs of extraordinary quality.
Ima Nicefolk was his wife and the mother of his two children. Unlike her husband, she was a jolly soul, always giggling and entertaining the children with funny games and cookies baked with sweet-tasting herbs. A small woman, she fluttered about, like a bird hopping across a lawn.
Then there were Casey and Lacey, who were ten-year-old nonidentical twins, since a boy and a girl cannot be identical. Casey was a blond boy with hair as yellow as marigolds, so his mother told everyone. He had sparkling green eyes that darted all about as if always searching for something. Lacey's hair was golden brown and gleamed like amber under the sun; she had eyes as blue as a robin's eggs.
They all lived in a two-story ranch house under a grove of palm trees without a lawn, since every inch of open ground was devoted to raising prize herbs. The farm was known as Nicefolk Landing because it straddled the Pajaro and Salinas rivers where they ran into the ocean at Monterey Bay. It was a fun place for the children to play-water to swim and row boats in, the rivers filled with fish and turtles and frogs. There was even a nearby railroad track where they could watch the trains roll by and wave to the engineers, who tooted their steam whistles, and to the passengers, who never failed to wave back. How they longed to board the train and see the country. Neither of the children had been more than twenty miles from the farm. The only times they got away from home were the one- or two-day camping trips they took in the surrounding countryside. There was a great, interesting world out there somewhere, and they wanted someday to see it. If only there was a way.
Casey was not overly fond of school. True, he did well, but he was more interested in exploring and building model airplanes and automobiles, of which he had more than a hundred hanging from the ceiling of his room. He loved all things mechanical and rode around the farm on his little motorized scooter. His teachers often wrote on his report cards, much to the irritation of Mr. Nicefolk, "Casey daydreams and does not apply himself."
Lacey, on the other hand, loved school. She diligently did her homework and excelled in English and mathematics. Outside of school, Lacey created scrumptious recipes with the farm's herbs and designed furniture that Mr. Nicefolk built and sold in town after the herb seeds had been sowed.
When harvesttime came, everybody pitched in to pick the herbs, which was all done by hand without machines. There were no animals on the farm, only a droopy-eyed, long-eared basset hound called Floopy.
After doing his homework, Casey helped his father tend the crops while Lacey helped her mother in the kitchen. Things around the farm seemed normal enough. But lately, there was a strange feeling in the air that seemed to come from the barn.
Barns are fascinating buildings that have their own spirit and soul. This one was built by Grandpa Nicefolk's own hands from stone he had found in the nearby rivers, until the barn was bigger than the house! The sides had arched windows, and the roof had two fanciful cupolas on either end and a weather vane in the shape of an old sailing ship perched on the peak. The interior was huge and open. Beams and braces supported the typical barn roof with a flattened top half and a steep lower half. It was filled with bins where the herbs were stored after they were harvested until the family packed them into sacks for shipping to their buyers.
The scent of the herbs as they dried rose and swirled throughout the barn, mingling to create a hundred different fabulous smells that tickled the noses of all who inhaled the aromas.
People these days avoided the Nicefolk farm as if there was a hex about the place. It was a sense that something was not quite right, like when you get goose bumps on your arms. What almost no one knew, including Mr. and Mrs. Nicefolk, was that the house and field were not hexed. It was the barn that gave off unusual vibrations after a very strange hired hand had left for the harvest season. Those who entered the barn felt their skin tingle. Ever and Ima Nicefolk simply became used to it. Only Casey and Lacey knew the barn's secret.
It all began one year earlier, when a wandering field-worker stopped at the farm. He came down the road between the herb fields, leading a donkey that pulled a small two-wheel wagon whose contents were covered by a red canvas tarpaulin. He came to a halt in the front yard, walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. Floopy came running across the porch, barking in a deep, melodious tone like a foghorn. Suddenly he stopped and walked up to the stranger, sat on his haunches, tilted his head quizzically and stared as a friendly hand stroked him between the ears.
"Most strange," said Mr. Nicefolk, who opened the front door and peered out. "That dog has never taken to a stranger."
"I have a way with animals," said the stranger softly.
"What can I do for you, friend?" asked Mr. Nicefolk.
"I'll help around the farm and work in the field if you can use a good hand."
Mr. Nicefolk shook his head. "Sorry, I can't afford to pay a hired hand. Times are hard, and I have too little acreage to make a profit."
"I won't charge you. I'll work for free except for food and a place to sleep."
Now, Ever Nicefolk was a man who took pride in tending the farm with just his wife and children, but it was an offer he could not refuse, especially since the herbs were due to be harvested in a few days and he needed every cent to feed his family. He was also two months behind on the mortgage on the farm and was afraid the bank might take his hard-worked land away, land that had belonged to his family for four generations.
"Take him on," said Ima Nicefolk, studying the stranger's body that was as skinny and gaunt as the trunk on a tall palm tree. "He doesn't look like he'll eat much."
An extra pair of hands would be welcome, thought Mr. Nicefolk. A kindly man, he took pity on the stranger, who looked as if he hadn't eaten since last Valentine's Day.
The stranger was unlike any man the twins had ever seen. He was tall, a foot taller than their father, and his rough hands with long, bony fingers hung down nearly to his knees. He was as quick in his movements as Ever Nicefolk was slow. His head turned from side to side, whipping his long gray beard back and forth like a child's swing. But his black eyes stared straight ahead with the intensity of a pair of headlights on a car.
To Lacey and Casey he looked like an understuffed scarecrow.
His appearance wasn't the only thing the Nicefolks found unusual about the curious stranger. His donkey was as white as one of Mrs. Nicefolk's bedsheets, and the cart the animal was hitched to had been painted a gleaming gold.
When asked his name, the stranger replied, "I'm called Sucoh Sucop."
"That's an odd name," said Ever Nicefolk.
"It's the only one I've got," answered Sucop.
"You can take your meals with me and the family, but you'll have to sleep in the barn. And mind you, don't light any lanterns or candles. I don't want my barn burned down."
Sucop stared at the stone walls and shook his head. "Not much chance of that."
Ever Nicefolk nodded toward the wagon. "I'll give you room and board to bring the herbs to the barn with your wagon and mule."
Sucop smiled and patted the donkey. "Hear that, Mr. Periwinkle? These good folks are going to pay us to bring in their crops from the field."
Mr. Periwinkle lifted his head and brayed.
Then, without another word, Sucop set out for the barn, followed by Floopy, who had taken an obvious liking to him, and Mr. Periwinkle, who pulled the cart. Lacey laughed and said, "Didn't any of you recognize his name?"
"It's dumb, that's all I know," said Casey, watching Sucop until he disappeared through the big barn door.
"He's nobody I ever heard of around these parts," Mr. Nicefolk said, shrugging.
"Sucoh Sucop is hocus pocus spelled backward," Lacey said triumphantly, having outthought the rest of her family.
Mrs. Nicefolk straightened her apron. "I do declare. No wonder he turned his name around."
Casey was not sure he liked the newcomer. He often thought things out for minutes, sometimes hours and even days, before making up his mind and drawing a logical conclusion. But Casey decided that Mr. Sucop posed no threat and that he would treat him with courtesy. After all, Ever Nicefolk always told his children that courtesy toward others did not cost a nickel.
Posted April 7, 2006
My 10 year old son has a hard time keeping his interest in books, this one he kept reading without me have to sit over his shoulder. This is an adventure that takes the kids from California to New York.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 3, 2006
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