Thursday, July 9, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 13 (The End!)

Max gazed indulgently at the giant troll kneeling before him. The square stone in Max’s twig crown began to glow faintly with the same green light as the stone on the Staff of Truth. “I think I already know what you did, Malvin.”

Malvin burst into tears. “It’s because you’re so tiny,” he sobbed. “Your whole family is small, always has been. No reason under earth why you should be the rulers.”

“I think the Staff of Truth disagrees,” Keisha said.

“Yeah,” said Arty. “The green light doesn’t lie.”

Sure enough, the staff and its stone now were blazing bright, and so was the stone on Max’s crown. The intense green glow woke something in Max’s face that Arty and Keisha had never seen there before: wisdom and authority, tinged with the kindness and courtesy that had always been Max’s best qualities.

Rascal skittered to Malvin and snuggled up against his knee. He picked her up and put her on his shoulder, where she hunkered down and purred. 

“I should never have done it,” he moaned. “When you were a baby, I stole the Staff of Truth and the Crown of Authority, and I hid them in the Haven. Everybody thought your mother had lost them, and the two of you were banished from the Underside. There was a long period of disorder—horrible for trolls—but at last I told my mother where to find them, so she was hailed as our savior and anointed queen.” He sighed. “She never could get the stones to work right, and the smoke and the roots began to take over. The guilt has been eating me up.”

Rascal growled and gave a ferocious hiss, arching her back and glaring at Max’s tunnel. 

Something crashed into the boulder blocking the entrance. It shuddered but stayed in place. Another crash. Another, and then an earth-shaking thud, as the boulder fell over and a very disheveled Tilley Tartmore staggered out of the tunnel.

“Hounds! Get him!” Tilley shouted, pointing at Max. Four bloodhounds bounded out from a dark corner of the cellar where they’d been hiding. But as soon as the green light from the staff and crown hit them they hunkered down, whimpering. They crept forward and groveled next to Malvin, gazing up at Max with adoration.

“The staff seems to be in full working order now,” Malvin said.

Tilley marched forward and shook her finger at Malvin. “I’m going to tell everyone what you did! My doggie friends Phantom and Shadow saw you do it.” Why would anyone, human or animal, be friends with Tilley, Keisha wondered. 

“Too late,” Arty said. “He already told us.”

Tilley snarled and made for the stairs. As she hustled by, Keisha caught a whiff of something horrible—something, in fact, that you’d roll in if you were a dog. Ohhh, she thought. That’s why dogs like her so much. She smells like something dead.

“Come, hounds,” Tilley said from the stairs. Sure enough, the four bloodhounds followed.

“Tilley’s been nosing around the Underside for years,” Malvin said. “She’s been obsessed with avenging her father’s death. She threatened to tell everyone what I’d done if I didn’t bring Max to her, so she could then reign through him and create more havoc. I knew if I came up through a fissure, the smoke would come with me and absorb this place into the Underside, even if just for a few minutes. That’s why Max’s tunnel sent him to Tilley instead of the woods.”

He burst into tears again. “I’m so sorry. I’ll do anything to make amends.”

Heavy footsteps thundered down the stairs, and there was Mrs. Patterson. “Oh Max, dear. You are looking regal.”

He was also looking very sad. “Mama, I don’t want to be the High Stoniness. Can’t you do it, so I can stay here with Keisha and Arty?”

“I’m afraid the staff has chosen you, sweetie.” Mrs. Patterson patted her son on the shoulder. “Only you can fight back the smoke and the roots. But I think the time has come for better understanding between Under and Over. You’ll have to visit often for negotiations. I imagine Arty and Keisha will be the Overside’s ambassadors.”

Max looked a little more cheerful. 

She turned to the tearful Malvin. “We forgive you, dear. Now, the Wachters have prepared a special dinner, and have invited us all to join them.”

Keisha gasped and looked at her watch. They’d only been gone ten minutes. “How is that possible? It’s been hours.”

“Days,” Arty said. “At least, it felt that way.”

Mrs. Patterson chuckled. “Oh, the Underside has its own approach to time.  When you visit us, you’ll have to be careful not to return home before you left.”

She looked sternly at Max and Malvin. “When we’re with the Wachters, no throwing your food around. This will not be slop.”

Max and Malvin looked at each other. “Not slop?” Malvin whispered

“Mama,” Max said. “Do we have to?”

She winked. “Don’t worry, boys. I have a bucket of slugs to sprinkle over the food.”

Arty and Keisha raced each other up the stairs, hoping to claim whatever seat was farthest away from the trolls.

The End

-- Ellen

This is the final installment of MAX DOWNSTAIRS! We're going to take a break until school's back in session. Thanks to all the clever kids who contributed ideas for this story. See you in September for a whole new tale!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 12

With her small pointed teeth, the kitten gnawed in half the fat, dirt-covered root plastered across Keisha’s mouth. The root pieces tumbled to the ground. 

“A shadow,” Keisha gasped the answer to the third and final riddle. “A shadow is dark but made by light.”

Tilley’s face wrinkled into an angry frown. “Nooooo,” she wailed, falling to her knees. 

The Staff of Truth shook in her hand. It glowed a cool green.

The root attached to Mrs. Patterson’s lips shriveled and dropped to the ground. So did the root covering Max’s mouth.

Tilley Tartmore kept wailing. Long and loud. It was a foghorn was blasting in the clearing.

“You are amazing, Keisha!” Max shouted over the noise. “You are a Master Riddle Solver!” 

“Thank you,” Keisha said, spitting a little dirt from her mouth.

From Keisha’s shoulder, Rascal mewed.

“Well done, dear.” Mrs. Patterson yelled. “And well done, Rascal.”

Malvin gave her a quiet thumb’s up, then covered his giant ears with his giant hands. No one could think clearly with the noise Tilley Tartmore was making.

Poof! The tendrils of smoke holding Max prisoner to the throne disappeared. Poof! The tendril holding Keisha vanished. 

“What happens next?” Keisha hollered. She wanted to say, “How much longer is Tilley Tartmore going to wail?” but thought it would be rude.

“We show Tilley the truth,” Mrs. Patterson cried. She looked at Max and nodded her head toward the crevice where Arty crouched.

“Come out now, Arty!” Max thundered.

Arty leaped from the crevice. He held the stone high above his head. The stone glowed the same cool green as the staff. Arty launched the stone up in the air. 

The staff jumped free of Tilley Tartmore’s grasp. 

Eyes wide as saucers, Tilley closed her mouth and finally silent. 

Everyone watched the stone and staff.

The stone and staff collided mid-air. With a clunk, the stone affixed itself to the top of the staff. The staff, with the stone on top, descended, pierced the ground next to Max and stood straight up.

“Staff of Truth,” Max said, “show us what happened to Tilley Tartmore’s father.” Max pulled the staff free and thumped it three times on the ground.

A cloud of white smoke puffed up from the stone. In the smoke, a hazy scene unfolded.

A scowling man stomped through the forest, kicking trees and stumps and breaking branches. He threw stones at the squirrels and chipmunks. “Show me the opening!” the angry man bellowed. The animals scurried out of his way. A crow cawed and kept its distance. Suddenly, a fissure opened in the earth. The man stumbled. As he fell into the wide crack, the back of his head struck a jagged boulder. The man fell down, down, down to the Underside. Giant fireflies fluttered under him, softening his landing. Blood gushed from his head. Two trolls rushed to the man. They sponged his head and bandaged his wound. 
Poof. The cloud of white smoke above the staff disappeared.

“Oh,” Tilley Tartmore said softly. “Oh.”

“Can you see, Tilley, how we really are not the enemy?” Mrs. Patterson said.

Max thumped the staff three more times.

A lemony wind rushed into the clearing. It grabbed Keisha, Arty, Max, Malvin and Rascal. It spun them sideways and upside down and, finally, swirled them up, up, up into the Overside. The wind deposited the group in the cellar of Keisha and Arty’s house, right next to the stone garden.

Keisha ran a hand through her knotted hair. Arty clutched his stomach. He often got motion sick during car rides, and a wind ride was ten times worse. Rascal was a matted mess. 

Max stood tall, clutching to his side the Staff of Truth with the stone on top. Over his leather vest and trousers, he still wore the long robe woven of fine, rosy-colored vines. He still wore the crown of twigs with a large square stone in the center. Only now the crown fit.

Malvin kneeled to the ground. “I have to confess what I did,” he said in a quavering voice.

Ingredients needed for the next scene: What did Malvin confess? Who is Max now? What do Keisha and Arty do next?


The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday, July 7 at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you want to, sign your first name to your idea so we can give you credit.

Come back next Thursday, July 9 to see what we wrote!
P.S. If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story! 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 11

“Yes, I devised three riddles, and as the riddler, I also get to choose the solver.” Tilley turned around slowly, glaring first at Mrs. Patterson, then Max, then Malvin, and finally at Keisha. She smiled a cruel smile and pointed the Staff of Truth at the young girl.

“You,” she said.

Keisha’s skin crawled. She wasn’t sure if it was the way the few remaining tendrils of smoke seemed to cling to her skin as if to hold her in place, or the fact that she had never been good at riddles. In fact, she was terrible. Arty was the clever one, while Keisha was agile and fast. Together, she and her brother made the perfect team. Without him, she felt like she was running a race she couldn’t win.    

What was it Mom always said? Do your best. That’s all anyone can expect of you.

The words wrapped around Keisha like a big hug. She could do it. She would do it—her very best even. For the Overside, the Underside, the Haven, her family, friends, even her maybe enemy, Malvin.

Keisha stepped forward. “I’m ready.”

Tilley smirked. “I’ll give you the easiest one first, just to be fair. What gets bigger, the more you take away?”

Keisha scratched her head. What gets bigger, the more you take away? What?

Her mind was a blank. Her mind was a blank. The harder she thought, the blank-er it got. The more you take away. It was as if the riddle had taken away all her brains and, in her skull, had left a huge…

“Hole!” Keisha exclaimed.

Tilley glowered but the Staff of Truth shook in her hand.

“Very good, dear,” Mrs. Patterson said. “The Staff of Truth likes your answer.”

Tilley waved a hand dismissively. “I said it was the easiest. There are still two and they are really hard. You’ll see. Riddle number two: What can you break even if you never pick it up or touch it.”  

Keisha throat seemed to close in on itself. She swallowed hard. That was hard. Arty was the one who broke things. He broke Mom’s window with a baseball he accidentally threw backwards. How does anyone throw a baseball backwards? And Dad’s mower when he put peat moss in the gas tank, that time they learned pioneers used to burn peat to heat their homes. There was only one thing Arty never broke, not to Keisha or anybody, and it wasn’t because he couldn’t touch it, even though he couldn’t …
“A promise!” Keisha blurted out.

Was it that her eyes were adjusting to the dark, or did the Staff of Truth begin to glow?

Tilley seemed to notice it. Her smirk turned upside down. But Mrs. Patterson was beaming. “You’re quite good at this, Keisha. You may have some troll in you. We love riddles.”

“Which is why you can’t help her!” Tilley screeched. She jabbed the Staff of Truth in Mrs. Patterson’s direction. A root leaped up from the ground and attached to Mrs. Patterson’s mouth like a leech.

“Never mind,” Tilley said. “I’ve saved the best for last. You’ll never guess riddle three. You’ll be trapped down here forever. What is dark but is made by light?

Keisha’s cheeks flushed with heat. Sweat dripped down her back. She didn’t know. She didn’t know what was made by light but is dark. Or was it the other way around? Where was Arty and his clever brain when she needed it. She looked to the crevice where her brother hid. The stone he held in his hand began to glow, all on its own. And it made the most amazing, most beautiful, and darkest thing Keisha had ever seen.

She had her answer. She turned to yell it out, when a large, fat, dirt-covered root slapped itself across her mouth.

“You have to let Keisha answer. That’s not fair!” Max said.

“No one said it was a fair game.” Tilley cackled and a root slapped itself across Max’s mouth.

Arty started to move in his crevice but Max shook his head violently. Arty froze.

Tilley turned to Malvin. “Well, it’s just you and me, Malvin. We’ve won.”

Malvin looked away from Tilley. His eyes met Keisha’s. They dripped with tears. He didn’t want to win. He wanted to help them but something stopped him. Something Tilley knew. Something that was stronger than a hundred roots.  

But it didn’t stop Rascal. The kitten pounced on the root across Keisha’s mouth and bit down.

Ingredients needed for the next scene: What does Tilley know about Malvin? What will the Staff of Truth do when its special stone is returned? Will the truth make a friend out of Tilley, or will she remain the villain? 


The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you want to, sign your first name to your idea so we can give you credit.

Come back next Thursday to see what we wrote!

P.S. If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 10

Tilley Tartmore picked up a large staff and thumped it on the ground. “Hee-hee! All the disruption you’ve caused. See what it uncovered? The Staff of Truth! And with it, power!” She thumped it again. 

Tendrils of smoke pulled Malvin up from the Haven and into the clearing. 

"And you thought you were safe there, but nothing escapes the Staff of Truth. Except, where is that sniveling boy?"

Malvin just shook his head.

“Ah well! I will summon him eventually. Meanwhile..." Tilly Tartmore gave another thump and leered at Keisha. "I decree this by the power of the Underside Patrol: Stepping on my grass, you miserable girl, is punishable by making your house troll my servant!”

“No!” Keisha said. “He didn’t step on your grass. I did. Besides, you step on ours all the time. What does that make you?” Rascal curled around her neck, hissing as if she could do something.

“It makes me one step closer to avenging my father’s death!” Tilley Tartmore turned to Malvin. “For doing my dirty work, for doing all the things to bring Max and those wretched kids to my territory – where is that boy? Anyway, here's a reward.” The smoke tendrils loosened around Malvin. He stumbled backward to a wall of boulders behind Max.

Keisha was about to cry. “Malvin? And just when I started trusting you.”

“I’m sorry. But she, she—”

A rumbling came from the distance, the roots and smoke forcing someone toward them.

“Mom?” Max said from his prison-chair.

“Max!” Mrs. Patterson walked forward like it was just another sunny day. How could she stay so calm? “Here you are!” Then she turned. “Hello, Tilley. We meet again. But really, do I need to remind you that we are not the enemy?”

“Oh, but you are. I saw it with my own eyes, your husband, in his troll form, standing over my father, bleeding and dead."  A scrape of noise came from behind Max. "What’s that?”

That was the slight noise of pebbles tumbling from a crevice in the boulder wall. And that was Arty, Max’s stone glowing in his hand. He pulled it back just before Tilley Tartmore spun around.

“Confound it!” Tilley Tartmore said. “More crumbling. Malvin! You WILL clean up this place.” She turned back around. “Now, where was I?”

“You were accusing my family of murder, the story you want to believe.” Mrs. Patterson turned to Keisha. “Here’s the real the story. Her father, a cruel man, demanded a house troll of his own, but none would live there. Attempting to kidnap one from the Underside, he disturbed a fissure and fell through.”

“Safely,” Tilley Tartmore said. “He fell into the Haven, where giant fireflies lowered him to the soft dirt. And your evil trolls—”

“Were trying to save his life,” Mrs. Patterson said, “after his head hit on a boulder.” She turned back to Keisha. “The trolls had almost stopped the bleeding when Tilley found a way down, interfered, and accused them of kidnapping and killing him.”

“Lies! All lies!” Tilley thumped the staff again.

Would that force Arty out of the crevice this time? Keisha held her breath. It didn't! Maybe the stone was protecting him. That gave her the courage to step forward. “If it’s lies, then show us. If that really is the legendary Staff of Truth, it will show what happened. You told us. Remember, Max?”

Max shook his head. “Only with the special stone. You know, the one with—” Tilley Tartmore had turned, eyes wide. "I mean the one that disappeared or something," he continued.

Tilley groaned. As she stormed back around, Max leaned toward the crevice as best he could and spoke softly. "It needs to stay hidden until we are free.”

Arty must have heard because he stayed in his crevice.

“But how do we get home free?” Keisha said.

Mrs. Patterson put a reassuring arm on her shoulder. “No worries dear. There is a way up. That’s the good news. The bad news, we’ll have to be clever. The person who brings anyone down here must have devised three riddles. If we answer them – and the Staff of Truth, even without the stone, will be the judge – we will be transported back up to the Overside.”

“That’s right!” said Max. “Tilley Tartmore, we’re ready. Riddle number one. Go!”

Ingredients needed for the next scene: What riddles will Tilley Tartmore use to challenge them? How can Arty safely come out of the crevice and attach the stone so everyone will see the truth? And Malvin: Is he a friend or a foe?

—Jody (with help from story ingredients provided by Elijah T, Gracyn, and Tucker E. ... Thanks!) 

The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you want to, sign your first name to your idea so we can give you credit.

Come back next Thursday to see what we wrote!

P.S. If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Max Downstairs--Episode 9

Coughing and choking, Keisha struggled against the smoke tendril tightening around her waist. It pulled her deeper and deeper into the body of the smoke. She couldn’t see, could barely breathe. The burnt-toast smell was everywhere. Rascal huddled against her neck, tiny body convulsing with the effort to catch a breath.

The tree roots kept heaving underfoot. If I fall down, I’ll never get up again, Keisha thought. We’ll both suffocate.

But wait . . . was there light up ahead?

“Bring her here,” said a raspy voice echoing through the smoke. “The kitty too.”

The root under Keisha’s foot heaved up so she had no choice but to lurch forward, the smoke tendril supporting her so she wouldn’t fall. Root after root propelled her onward, until she could just make out a giant shape looming through the haze.

Two more steps and the smoke had almost cleared. There before her was a massive throne, made of roots and the skulls of small animals, as well as the same kind of stone Max had used in his garden at home. Two enormous smoky-colored dogs sat on either side. The one on the left had a white blaze on its forehead.

Keisha gave a gasp, which sent her into a coughing fit. Because sitting on the throne, looking miserable and extremely uncomfortable, was . . . .


He had on his usual vest and trousers, but also a long robe woven of fine, rosy-colored vines. He wore a crown of twigs with a large square stone in the center. The crown was too big for him, and looked as if it might drop down over his eyes any minute.

Tendrils of smoke encircled his waist, wrists, and ankles, tying him to the throne so tightly he could barely move.

Keisha doubled over coughing, tears streaming from her eyes, Rascal’s claws digging into her shoulder.

“Ask her where the boy is,” said the raspy voice. “And the big lug who came up through the fissure.”

Keisha wiped the tears from her eyes in time to see Max furiously shaking his head at her. She straightened up. “Arty’s home.”

Max nodded encouragingly.

“You’re lying.” The voice said. “My dogs say all of you went into the tunnel.” Where was that voice coming from? It sounded familiar.

“You can never trust a dog,” Max said. The left-hand dog, the one with the blaze, turned to give him an evil stare. “Especially the man-eating ones.”

The left-hand dog padded over to sniff at Keisha’s knee. Rascal hissed. The dog backed away and gave a series of yips.

“Phantom says the girl smells of lemon,” said the voice. “So she’s been near the Haven. Phantom, take Shadow and try to find out if the others are there.”

The dogs loped off into the smoke.

“Now, Max, Your Stoniness,” the voice said, “you must decide what to do with the girl and the kitty. And I suppose it’s time I showed myself.”

A figure, much smaller than Max, stepped out from behind the throne, wrapped in a cape made entirely of smoke.

She had a pointy nose, her lips pursed in a permanent scowl.

“You’ll never step on MY grass again,” Tilley Tartmore snarled.
– Ellen

Ingredients needed for the next scene: Why is Max tied to the throne? What is Tilley Tartmore doing there? What’s been happening to Arty and Malvin all this time? 

The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday June 16, at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you want to, sign your first name to your idea so we can give you credit.

Come back Thursday June 18, to see what we wrote!

If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 8

One of the dogs, the most ferocious one, pushed its pointy head through the gap between the large boulder and the wall. Saliva drooled from its snapping jaws. Its sharp teeth gleamed. The ropey muscles in its neck strained as it growled and tried to lunge through the opening.

The boulder shifted. Just a fraction. 

Keisha and Arty sucked in a scared breath and stepped closer to each other. 

“That bloodhound is going to break through,” Keisha said in a shaky voice.

“And get us,” Arty finished in a shakier voice. 

Rascal mewed the shakiest meow ever and buried her head in Keisha’s shoulder.

“Not on my watch.” Another boulder on his shoulder, Malvin stormed past the kids. A few feet from the gap and the ferocious bloodhound, the large troll skidded to a stop and launched the boulder into the air. 

The bloodhound yelped and pulled in its head. 

The boulder landed right in the gap, sealing the opening.

"Let's get going," Malvin said.

The group began walking. Keisha carried Rascal. 

Fluorescent white rocks lined the tunnel, lighting the way.

When they reached the last rock and the end of the tunnel, Keisha and Arty looked around and blinked. 

“I thought the tunnel led to the regular woods,” Arty said, gripping the stone in his pocket. 

“Not anymore,” Malvin said. “Now it’s all Underside.”

Thick, warm, dry smoke swirled around them and tickled their throat. It smelled like burnt toast. It was dusk and getting darker by the minute. The ground was uneven with bumpy roots. The roots moved, making it tough to balance. 

“These roots grab you and slow you down,” Malvin said, kneeling so Keisha and Arty and the kitten could climb onto his broad shoulders. “We don’t have much time before they know we’re here.”

“Who?” Keisha asked from the left shoulder, then coughed.

“Quiet,” Malvin hissed. “Everything in the Underside has ears, even the trees.”

From Malvin’s right shoulder, Arty squinted into the falling darkness. “I don’t see many trees. It’s mostly just smoke.” He coughed.

“Smoke is the worst,” Malvin whispered. “Smoke is the most dangerous.”

“But where are we going?” Keisha whispered. She coughed again.

“To the safe place.” Malvin sniffed, his large nostrils flaring. He took three big steps forward. He stopped. He stuck his nose in the air and sniffed again. He took three big steps to the left. He stopped.

“Don’t you know where it is?” Arty asked. 

“The safe place changes every day,” Marvin said. “It’ll be faster if we all sniff. The more of us sniffing, the stronger the smell.” 

“Smells don’t work like that,” Keisha said.

“They do in the Underside,” Malvin said. “Today is a lemony smell. Like lemon bars or lemon butter cookies or lemon pound cake.” He took three more steps to the left.

Keisha and Arty sniffed. The kitten clung to Malvin’s neck and wiggled its cute little nose.

“I smell lemon,” Arty said. 

“So do I,” Keisha said.

“Let’s go.” Malvin took off running. Keisha and Arty sniffed and steered by tugging the troll’s ears. He ran through the dusk and the smoke, his large feet squelching the wriggling roots. He ran so fast, wind whistled through Keisha and Arty’s hair and Rascal’s fur.

Finally, when the lemony smell was so strong, Keisha and Arty could taste it on their tongue, Malvin stopped running.

“We’re here,” he said, standing completely still.

Fireflies sparkled in the dark, clear air. The smoke had disappeared. The wriggling roots were gone. The ground was dirt. Trees stood tall in the near distance. The smell of lemon was overpowering.

“Where?” Arty asked, frowning.

“At the safe place.” The words were barely out of Malvin’s mouth when the ground yawned around his feet. The troll and the kids on his shoulders and the kitten on his neck began to sink. “This safe place is under the Underside. Hang on.”

Down, down, down.

The ground was swallowing them up. 

The stoned burned in Arty’s pocket. 

When only Malvin’s shoulders were above ground, Rascal mewed and jumped.

Keisha jumped off Malvin’s left shoulder to grab the kitten.

“Keisha!” Arty called.

In a flash, Malvin with Arty on his right shoulder sunk lower and disappeared from sight. The ground closed up.

Keisha picked up the kitten and cradled her. “Rascal, where are they? What are we going to do?” Tears pricked at her eyes.

A lonely tendril of smoke wisped along the ground. It wound around Keisha’s ankle, then up her leg and around her waist. The tendril thickened and tightened. It was as strong as rope. It tugged Keisha away from the clear air and back toward the swirling smoke and the smell of burnt toast. 

Keisha opened her mouth to scream, but could only cough.


Ingredients needed for the next scene: What happens to Keisha? What happens to Rascal? What does Arty do?

The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday June 9 at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you want to, sign your first name to your idea so we can give you credit.

Come back Thursday June 11 to see what we wrote!

If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Max Downstairs: Episode 7

“I don’t think that troll is Max’s brother,” Arty whispered. He moved up a few steps up the stairs.  

Keisha followed. “Me either. Did you hear what he said when he came out of the fissure? ‘Where is the little creep?’ I thought he meant the cat, but now I think he meant Max.”

Arty swallowed hard. “Mrs. Patterson was really specific about how to call Max, using the top stone of the third mound of the third ring of stones, or we might unleash the Underside’s powers.”

“Or its dangers,” Keisha said.

Arty looked at Keisha. Keisha looked at Arty. “We have to get out of here now,” they both said.

They turned to sprint up the stairs when three very scary things happened: 1) a dog howled at the top of the long stairs; 2) Mom called out in her Mom warning voice, “How dare you enter our basement!” 3) someone roared, “Where is it!?!?”

That someone was Malvin.

The dogs at the top of the stairs howled again. The animals pawed and clawed at the stairs so viciously, Arty and Keisha felt the vibrations all the way down where they crouched. Malvin said Max had sent the dogs to keep the police at bay, but it felt much more as if they were straining to get at the children, or the troll, or both. Why would Malvin mislead them?

They didn’t have time to find out. The dogs began bounding down the stairs.

“We’re trapped!” Arty said. He pulled Max’s stone out of his pocket. Keisha shook her head.

“We have to find Max. Only he can tell us what to use that for.”

“How?” Arty said.

The sound of steps and scrambling was getting closer and closer.

“Max’s tunnel to the forest,” Keisha said.

The two children flew down the stairs. They paused momentarily when they  reached the bottom. Malvin had been busy. He had rebuilt the stone garden. One stone was clearly missing, like the piece in a puzzle. Malvin was bent over on all fours in a corner, digging furiously. His cat squeezed between one of his huge arms and body, digging with him. Did they think the stone was buried there? Or were they trying to dig their way to the Underside? Was that even possible?  

Arty stuck his hand in his pocket and gripped the stone. Now more than ever he didn’t want to show it to Malvin. The giant troll seemed more and more as if he hadn’t come from the Underside, but somewhere else. Somewhere much, much worse.

“We need to get out of here.” Keisha grabbed her brother and pushed him past Malvin, who was so busy digging he didn’t even notice. Not even the cat noticed. The brother and sister slipped into Max’s tunnel. They grabbed the huge boulder resting just inside the passageway that Max always carefully rolled into place when he left , but neither of them could move it. They tried together when the most deafening noise erupted in the basement.

The dogs had arrived. They charged toward Malvin. He whirled around. He was a horrible sight. Grime caked his face, and tears streaked through it.

Arty looked at Keisha. Keisha looked at Arty. Malvin might not be a friend, but he might not be a foe either. And he was scared, very very scared.

“This way!” Keisah held out a hand to Malvin.

He grabbed it and jumped into the tunnel, his cat on his heels. The dogs followed, their breath so close now Arty could smell mealy worms and rotting meat. One opened its jaws and lunged.

Malvin grabbed the boulder the siblings couldn’t move. As if it were a frisbee, he chucked it at the dogs. They skittered backwards. The boulder slammed into the tunnel opening. Dust went flying. They all doubled over coughing. When they finally looked up, though, the tunnel wasn’t pitch black. Malvin had thrown the stone so hard, it slammed right through the hole, not closing it, but only partially blocking it. The dogs were already forcing their heads through the small opening.

“Run!” the troll roared.

~ Stacy with the help of some very clever Anonymous readers. Thank you!

Ingredients needed for the next scene: What do the kids learn about Malvin? Do Malvin and kids find Max? What do they discover at the end of the tunnel?

The Recipe: In the comments to THIS EPISODE, give us your best ideas to answer our questions. We’ll collect your answers Tuesday at 11 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) and will use as many as we can to write the next scene. If you'd like, sign your first name so we can give you credit for your idea.

NOTE: Come back next Thursday to see what we wrote!

P.S. If we don’t take your suggestion this time, be sure to keep playing—we need your help to cook up a good story!