Scaredy Bat and the Fool’s Gold

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Muffled fiddle music streamed through the backstage area. Ellie kneeled on the creaky floor in front of a wooden prop trunk.

     “This is bad. This is really, really bad!” she said. “We need a leprechaun gold pot for our raffle. I can’t believe I forgot to buy one!” She pried open the squeaky lid and began digging through the mounds of clothing and props inside. She coughed as a cloud of dust puffed around her. “There must be something in here.” 

     Tink picked a broken umbrella out of the box. “Can’t we say there was a mistake and offer just the gold coins?”

     “Yeah, the coins are the best part!” Fez added. “Who doesn’t love chocolate coins?”

     “No way!” Ellie said. “I promised a pot of gold, and that’s what people are expecting. If they’re disappointed and we have to give that raffle money back, we won’t have enough for our field trip to Sunperch Tower.” 

     Jessica plucked out a poofy pink dress peppered with moth holes. 

     “How old are these stage props?” she asked. Before anyone could answer, Ellie pulled out a cast iron pot.

     “Ah-ha!” she exclaimed. “Found a leprechaun pot.” She blew the dust off the black pot, and the sparkly purple rim glimmered. 

     Tink squinted at the find. “Technically, that is a witch’s cauldron. You can tell from the small feet on the bottom. It might even be a special one since it has that purple rim.”

     Ellie wiped the dust off her round glasses. “Technically, we only have ten minutes before the draw, so this will have to do. Fez, scoop the coins in here, please.” She handed it over and dusted the purple pot sparkles off her hands. 

     Fez started to scoop the chocolate coins on the cart’s green tablecloth into the pot. “You sure we can’t just forget the raffle and eat the chocolate?” He suggested. His rosy cheeks rounded as a big smile pulled at his lips.

     “No way!” Ellie said. 

     Fez sighed. “Fine. But why do they get to have some?” He pointed to two small hands reaching up from under the cart. Ellie whipped back the cart’s tablecloth, and the two girls squished underneath screamed. 

     “Penny, get out of here!” Ellie commanded her little sister. “Mom said you’re not supposed to have any more chocolate today.” Penny and her friend Libby crawled out from under the cart, their lips smeared in chocolate like bad lipstick. They giggled as they dashed away, their matching braids with ribbons bouncing behind them.

     Fez’s stomach growled as he plunked the last of the coins in the cauldron. “Done! Can we go get a snack now?” 

     Ellie nodded. “Sure! We have a little time before the draw.” They wheeled the cart out onto the stage decorated in shimmering streamers and strings of shamrocks. Green lights cast a soft green glow on the students and parents enjoying various games around the gym.

     As Ellie took a lap around the scene, a gush of pride filled her stomach. She could hardly believe the fundraising night that she and her friends had planned was such a big success. 

     She passed a giggling crowd of boys as they spun around dizzily in silky green blindfolds. Each held a clover stem in one hand. One by one, they stumbled over to the wall to try to pin it on a clover. The sweet smell of vanilla and raspberries wafting through the air brought her to the bake sale next. Towers of iced cupcakes decorated in sprinkles lined the table with signs that read ‘brownie’, ‘soup of the day’, and ‘tree bark tea’. While they looked like regular cupcakes, they transformed after one bite. Ellie watched as Penny’s friend Libby tried to sneak a taste of one. With a puff of smoke, it turned into a twelve-layer wedding cake that pinned her to the ground. 

     “Dad! DAD!” Libby cried, struggling under the mound of white cake that was bigger than she was.

     Ellie shook her head, moving on to the next booth—a dunk tank with a blow-up pool of green goo underneath. On the platform above was Ellie’s father with pointy green shoes, a lime tail coat, and a hat with an oversized buckle. 

     “Take your best shot, ladies!” he dared the two witches holding tennis balls. 

     The one with short graying hair and a round nose missed the red dunk button with three throws. But the one with long brown braids beamed the button in one try. Mr. Spark plunged into the pool of green gunk with a SPLASH! Green goo speckled the witch’s cape coats as they cackled with joy. 

     “Great job, Tia!” said the graying witch. 

     “Thank you, Dora,” said Tia, tossing her braids back dramatically. Their cackling stopped when Tia pointed to the pot of gold on stage. They excitedly skittered over to get a closer look and Ellie’s heart leaped. She loved that they were excited about the prize. 

     Finally, Ellie reached the snack table lined with baked goods, veggie trays, foil-covered sweet treats, and a tall chocolate cake with green icing. Fez was already there, holding chocolate in one hand and silver foil wrappers in the other. He dumped his garbage in a bag Ava held open for him. 

     “Thank you!” Ava exclaimed. “I’m making a new line of clothes using recycled material and trash. I can really use more shiny items, so these are perfect!”

     “That’s so cool!” Fez said with a mouth full of chocolate. 

     A few minutes later, Mr. Bramble’s voice echoed over the speakers. He motioned to the plain black cauldron sitting on the cart. 

     “Attention, attention! I hope you are all enjoying our St. Patrick’s Fun Night. If you can pause what you are doing, we are about to draw the winner for the pot of gold.” Mr. Bramble picked up a hat with all the names in it and reached inside. “And the winner is… Penny Spark!” 

     Penny squealed with joy as she ran up on stage to collect her pot of gold coins. She reached out her hands to grab the prize, and POOF! Mr. and Mrs. Spark both turned into leprechaun statues. Along with half the other people in the room. 

     “What just happened?!” Tink asked. He ran over to Mr. Bramble’s leprechaun statue on stage and gave him a light tap. He was solid concrete. While some kids cried looking for their parents, others ran around gleefully, stuffing their mouths full of candy. Libby was among them, having recovered from the wedding cake incident. 

     “This is a disaster!” Ellie cried. “This night was perfect, and now it’s ruined. We need to figure out what happened so we can transform everyone back.” Jessica blocked her ears as small kids screamed with joy as they wrapped a green streamer around her legs. 

     “And fast! These kids are out of control,” she added.

     “Wait, it’s only kids that didn’t transform!” Ellie said. “All the adults turned into statues.”

     “Well, not quite all of them,” Tink whispered. He pointed to Dora, the witch with graying hair. 

     “Then that’s our first suspect,” Ellie said. Dora softly knocked on a leprechaun statue as the mystery team approached. “Tia? Tia? Are you in there?” she asked. She grunted as she tried to pick up the statue. “Why are you a million pounds?”

     “Excuse me,” Ellie said. Dora jumped so high that her head grazed one of the streamers.  

     “Yes?” she asked, smoothing out her cape jacket. 

     “All the adults just turned into leprechaun statues. All the adults except for you,” Ellie said. 

     Dora crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying I had something to do with it?” she asked. 

     Ellie gulped. “Umm, no, Ma’am. I just want to know why you aren’t a leprechaun.”

     “Yeah, you’re clearly an adult,” Fez added. “Your hair is grey-”. Jessica elbowed him. “I mean, your hair is great! Because all adults have GREAT hair.”

     Dora squinted at Fez as he gave an awkward smile. “Look, whatever magic did this probably didn’t affect me because I’m a witch,” she explained.

     “Can you help turn everyone back with magic?” Jessica asked.

     The woman shook her head. “Afraid not. I’ve tried a few things on my friend Tia and so far, nothing works. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I would like to keep trying. I’ll let you know if I figure something out.” The mystery team left Dora with the statue.

     “Okay, I think maybe we need to try this from a different angle. What happened right before the adults transformed?” Tink asked. 

     “Penny won the pot of gold,” Fez said. 

     “Then that’s where we need to go search for clues!” Ellie declared. They found Penny sitting on the stage with the pot of gold in her lap. She was sniffling with her head hung low.

     “Are you sad that your parents are statues?” Fez asked. “Because we’re going to save them!”

     “Yeah, Mom and Dad are going to be just fine,” Ellie reassured. 

     Penny lifted her head and a tear streamed down her cheek. “It’s not that. It’s this silly gold! I broke one of my fangs on a coin.” Penny opened her mouth and revealed a blunt stump where her left fang used to be.

     Ellie hugged her little sister. “It’s okay. The dentist will fix it.”

     Penny’s eyes bulged. “No way. NO WAY! I’m not going to a dentist.” She hopped off the stage and dashed under the bake sale table. 

     The coins clanked as Fez ran his hand through them. “I ate a few of these earlier and they were soft. There is no way Penny should have chipped a tooth.”

     Tink pulled a coin out of the pot. “You’re right.” He lightly bit on the coin, but it didn’t leave a dent.

     Ellie tried to peel off the foil. “These aren’t chocolate coins—they’re real coins! Someone swapped them for the chocolate ones.”

     A loud babbling sound echoed through the gym as Libby swung on a cluster of streamers. A large smear of chocolate covered her mouth.

     “And I know exactly who would want to steal chocolate,” Ellie said. “Libby! Come here.”

     Libby hopped off the streamer and ran circles around Ellie. “What? What? What?”

     “Did you steal the chocolate coins?” Ellie asked.

     Libby laughed. “No.”

     Jessica put her hands on her hips. “Then why do you have a big chocolate smear across your face?”

     Libby stopped then started spinning on the spot. “Because I ate the whole chocolate cake over there!” She pointed to the snack table, fell on her bottom, and started laughing. Her teeth were brown and green from the icing. “And I don’t need no stinkin’ chocolate coins. I’ve got these!” She pulled a handful of chocolate and green foil wrappers from her pocket. 

     “Ooo, do you mind if I take your garbage?” Ava asked, holding open her collection bag. 

     Libby threw the candy in the air like confetti. “Take it all!” she yelled before running off pretending to be an airplane. 

     Tink crouched down to help Ava pick up the wrappers. “I feel like some people shouldn’t have sugar.”

     Ava gave a fangy grin. “I think so too. But at least she had some good foil wrappers!”

     “Ava, why are you so calm right now?” Jessica asked. “You do realize half the people in here mysteriously turned to statues?”

     Ellie agreed. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

     Ava stood up. “I’ve lived in Brookside long enough to know that weird stuff happens. You guys will fix it, and then it will be normal again. So why panic?”

     “Or maybe you’re so calm because you stole the chocolate coins,” Ellie said. 

     “What?” Ava asked. “How do chocolate coins relate to people turning into leprechaun statues?”

     “We don’t exactly know yet,” Tink admitted. “But I think Ellie is wondering if you stole the chocolate coins for their wrappers. We know you’re collecting wrappers for your clothing designs.”

     Fez leaned toward Ava and whispered, “If you did steal them for the wrappers, can I have the chocolate?”

     “Fez!” Ellie, Jessica, and Tink said in unison. 

     Ava laughed. “If I stole them, I totally would share the chocolate. But I figured whoever won the pot of gold would just give me the foil. To most people it’s just garbage. Besides, if I was going to steal something, it would have been the sparkly cauldron. It’s sooo pretty!”

     Ellie turned to the pot on the stage and gasped. “That’s it!” She ran back up to the pot of gold in the plain black cauldron. “Whoever took the chocolate coins replaced the whole cauldron. This one is just plain black—there is no sparkly purple top.”

     “That’s a good find!” Jessica cheered. “But why would someone want the old stage prop?”

     “I don’t know why, but I think I know who,” Ellie answered. “Follow me!” She led her gang back to Ava.

     “Can you please go ask that witch over there if she has any candy wrappers?” Ellie asked. 

     Ava wrinkled her nose. “I can, but she doesn’t.”

     “I just need you to insist she does,” Ellie said. “Make her flip the palm of her hands up to show she doesn’t have a wrapper.” Ava agreed.

     Fez took a bite of a cupcake. With a puff of smoke, it turned into a brownie. “I’m confused.”

     “About the plan or the cupcake?” Jessica asked. 

     Fez shoved the brownie in his mouth. “Both!” 

     “Just be happy that you didn’t pick a soup cupcake,” Tink joked. They followed Ava over to Dora.

     “Excuse me, do you have any candy wrappers?” Ava asked.

     “No, sorry,” Dora said, trying to lift the statue of her friend. 

     “Are you sure?” Ava asked cheerfully. “I think I see one in your hand.”

     “No, I don’t eat chocolate,” grunted Dora.

     “Then why do I see a wrapper under your palm?” Ava insisted.

     With an annoyed groan, the witch turned to Ava. “Look, I don’t have any wrappers. She flipped up her empty palms and purple sparkles glimmered in the light. 

     “Ah-ha! But you did steal that witch cauldron!” Ellie exclaimed. “The proof is all over your palms. And you lied before. You said you didn’t turn into a statue because you’re a witch. But your friend is a witch and turned into a statue, which means you probably did this to steal the cauldron.”

     Dora’s pale cheeks flushed red. “Oh, this is just… I was just…” Everyone continued to stare at her. Finally, she rolled her eyes. “Fine! I swapped the cauldron with a plain black one because I wanted the purple one. I was just going to swap out the coins, but that hyper little girl Libby kept sneaking by to steal the chocolate and I didn’t have time.”

     “So you turned people into leprechaun statues?” Fez asked. 

     Dora shook her head. “No, that pot is filled with fools’ gold. That means that whatever bad thought the next person that touches it has will come true. The girl that won it must have thought about all the adults in the room becoming statues.” She rolled her eyes. “Typical kid. I was outside at the time—that’s why I didn’t turn into a statue. I’ve been trying to get out of here, but I couldn’t leave my friend.”

     “How do we reverse all of this?” Ellie asked. 

     Dora sighed. “You can’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. But it usually wears off in twenty minutes, so give it a bit longer. And if you want the cauldron back, it’s in my car.”

     Libby ran across the gym with streamers flying behind her. The icing on her shoes left footprints along the litter-covered floor. 

     “If you can help me clean this up and fix the damage to the gym, you can have the cauldron,” Ellie said. “Otherwise, the whole fundraiser will have been a waste and there won’t be enough money for our class to go to Sunperch Tower.”

     Dora perked up, “Deal!” With the wave of her finger, the floors were spotless and the decorations were once again hung neatly. In the middle was a bouncy castle that all the hyper kids immediately flocked toward.

     “Woah, I wish I was a witch,” Fez said. Penny crawled out from under the table. 

     “My tooth is fixed! My tooth is fixed!” she said. “I don’t need a dentist!”

     “Why, what happened to your tooth?” asked Mr. Spark.

     “Dad!” Penny cried, giving him a big hug.

     “Woah, careful there,” he said with a stretch. “My back is feeling a bit stiff.”

     Mrs. Spark walked over. “Funny, same with my neck. When did we get a bouncy castle?”

     Ellie wrinkled her nose. “You don’t remember?”

     Mr. and Mrs. Spark looked at each other. “We remember that Penny won the pot of chocolate gold,” Mrs. Spark said. Libby zoomed by pretending to be a horse. 

     Mr. Spark laughed. “And by the looks of it, she shared it with Libby.”

     Libby zipped back across the gym. “HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!”

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