"Papa, can you tell us a story?"
A gathering was taking place. The sounds of bare feet echoed on the covered porch as the children ran to seek shelter from the angry skies.
Taking a seat, his chair faithfully squeaked every time he rocked back. Papa contemplated what tale he might share to entertain these fidgety creatures. The children settled in, some on a bench, others on the porch swing. The smallest boy laid down on his back, right on the wooden planks, acting silly chewing on a sprig of grass from the yard. A Jack Russell terrier jumped into the lap of one of the children. Everyone was now ready for a story. And with Papa, it wasn't just any ol' story; it was an adventure.
With a raspy voice and a slow pace, Papa began. "The air that day was tropical and heavy. There was no wind to speak of, and the sun blazed.
"Reeds swooshed and swayed, showing signs that there was a swimmer in the water. The swimmer was not a boy, or a girl. Not a man or woman, or even a dog! It was something much more. Larger, more..." Papa added extra emphasis, whispering the word "sinister!" while raising his bushy eyebrows.
A response of small gasps followed. Indifferent to Papa's expressions, the boy on the porch floor passively waited for the next bit.
"Deep in the Everglades, the shadow slithered through murky waters. Then BUMP! Not watching ahead, the shadow ran into a log!" Papa crossed his eyes, shaking his head while making a silly face. The children giggled.
"There was a heron, named Bleu, who was standing on that log, who flapped his wings to keep from falling in the water.
"'What's the big idea! Can't you see there's a log here?' the heron squaked."
Papa dipped his body, then rising for effect, continued.
"Slowly ascending from the murky waters, the eyes of the shadow looked left, then right, then straight ahead, seeing Bleu the heron standing there looking like he was getting ready to deliver the what for.
"The shadow apologized, 'Hey, sorry about that! Guess I wasn't paying attention.'
'Guess you weren't! Haven't you ever swam before?' Bleu sarcastically commented.
"The shadow made her way to a sandbar to rest in the sun. The heron's eyes grew larger, seeing he was being snappy with a sizable alligator."
There were roars of laughter from the small audience. "Snappy, Snappy the alligator!" one of the children squeaked, and they all laughed some more.
Papa interjected, "No no no! Her name was not Snappy, it was Ally. Plain ol' Ally. Anyhow, Ally rested and warmed a moment in the sun, then turned to Bleu with a very serious question.
'Hey, bird, have you heard...'
"It's Bleu'. The name's Bleu.'" Papa did his best French accent.
"'Nice to meet you Bleu. I'm Ally.'
'It's fine to meet you, Ally. Now you were saying...'
'Oh yes, I was wondering if you have heard about our supply of water, where we can find more? This spring season has been off to a pretty dry start. I've been worried.'
"Bleu was relieved; he was not alone in noticing the low rivers. 'Ally, you're right! Been flying this area my whole life and haven't had this much trouble finding water. No fish either. It's terrible.'
"Ally and Bleu contemplated ideas. They were both pretty hungry and reminisced about tasty fishes they once enjoyed. Ally decided she would go visit her cousin for a while to see if things were better there. Her cousin lived at the ocean, so figured they must have more water opportunities in that region.
"Bleu worried he wouldn't see his new friend again. 'Ally, if it's better there, do you think you'll stay?'
'Oh no, I couldn't, even if I wanted to! The deep waters where my cousin lives are much too salty, dries out my skin. I'll see if my cousin has heard of a deeper river close by. I'll come back to let you know what I learn!'
"Bleu was grateful and looked forward to Ally's return. Ally slithered off into the murky shallows. Bleu waved his wing, shouting, 'See you later, Ally!'"
Laughter erupted immediately. Papa was quite the jokster and certainly entertaining!
"A week later, Ally returned. Her visit to the ocean was nice. Listening to the waves and sunbathing with her cousin at the beach brought back memories of their days as young hatchlings. On the way home, Ally had to pass a grouchy swamp rodent, which turned out bad for the rodent because Ally was so hungry! With a full belly and in desperate need of a teeth cleaning - that swamp rodent was some tough meat - Ally stopped by the local Plover nest to request services from the hygienist on duty. Priscilla the Plover was on call that day. She had cleaned thousands and thousands of teeth in her lifetime. Swooping into the gaping mouth, Priscilla the Plover picked Ally's teeth until they were sparkling clean.
"Bleu happened to be passing by and was so happy to see Ally. He hopped on her back to go for a ride and learn all about her adventures travelling to the sea. While floating, Ally spotted a small fish in the murky waters. 'Ya hungry, Bleu?' Yes, Bleu was very hungry and grateful that Ally let him scoop up the small fish for his empty belly. Returning the favor, Bleu kept an eye out while on their ride, just in case a snack was close by for Ally.
"The sun was setting. Bleu would need to be getting back to perch in his tree soon, but off in the distance, he saw something.
"'Ally!' Bleu exclaimed. 'I think I see a treat, for you!'
"'Really? What is it?' Ally was so curious what Bleu could see from up there.
"'If my eyes aren't deceiving me, it could be a small feast!' Ally's interest now piqued, Bleu continued, 'It looks like a tasty group of children, sitting on a covered porch just up the way!'"
In that moment, Papa looked out past the yard to the pond. The storm had passed, the sun now beaming through the broken clouds, illuminating a beautiful heron just beyond the reeds. The bird looked like the captain of a tiny ship, approaching the shore.
Wild screams and stumbling over one another, the children all ran inside just as fast as they could.
The porch now peaceful, Papa rocked in his chair, enjoying the view. Trying to avoid thinking about that broken dock in the pond, which he'd been meaning to fix, Papa smiled to himself, once again a job well done entertaining the children.
Basking in the rays of light bouncing off the water, the heron majestically spread his wings. Papa liked to think it was Bleu, waving hello.