A car in the middle of a field of tall grass may not be an unusual site, but this was no ordinary car.
The sun was high in the sky and it was getting very hot on the beach. Mother called to Penny and her brother Mitch, "Come on out of the water children. It's time to go home".
Penny and Mitch left the warm waves reluctantly and joined their parents and baby sister Katie on the blanket by the water's edge.
"I know you were having fun my dears," said Mother, "but it's getting much too hot out here and I don't want you to get sunburned. We did have a lovely picnic though didn't we?"
Penny and Mitch had to agree that it had been a super day. The family had gone down to the sea shore early in the morning, loaded with shovels and buckets and a big picnic basket full of their favorite goodies. They had settled on a spot far away from the regular sunbathers. It was quite a walk, but it was worth it. They had almost the whole stretch of beach to themselves. Penny and Mitch had immediately gone exploring, looking for seashells, starfish and baby crabs. If they were very lucky they may even find the empty shell of a sea anemone. That would be a real treasure. Florida beaches are full of such bounty if you get there early enough in the morning.
After collecting some promising specimens, they ran back to the blanket, dropped their treasures and headed for the warm shallows of the Atlantic. They played for several hours, jumping the waves, or lying at the water's edge and letting the waves wash over them. They put on their snorkels and masks and floated on the surface watching the brilliant tropical fish darting here and there. They even tried to catch the tiny fish, but that was quite impossible. The fish would come right up to their masks and look in at them as if saying, "And who are you?" But the minute the fish felt a movement, they were gone in a flash - to return again seconds later. You had to stay really still if you wanted them to stay.
Around eleven o'clock their father called them in for lunch. They didn't have to be told twice because all that exercise had made them very hungry. Mother spread a tablecloth and set out some paper plates. Then she brought out cold chicken, ham sandwiches, potato salad and fresh tomatoes. Poor Katie! All she had to eat was baby food! She didn't seem to mind though. At least she shared the juice they all drank. And afterwards, father gave Penny some money and she and Mitch walked back up the beach to get ice cream from the vendor up by the road.
Back on the blanket, they ate their dessert and washed their sticky fingers in the sea. Then they set about building an awesome sandcastle, digging a long trench to the sea so that the water would fill the moat. They watched with delight as the waves ran into the trench, but the water drained into the sandy bottom and they knew it would be some time before the tide would be high enough to reach their castle. So they ran back into the water. There was just enough time for one more dip before going home. It's not wise to stay out in the Florida sun too long past noon. Even though they had lived in Florida for several years and were used to the heat, sunburn was always a possibility.
Now it was time to go, and Penny and Mitch helped to pack everything up for the trip home. When they reached the car they left the doors open for a few minutes while they stowed the picnic basket and other paraphernalia in the trunk. Oh my, but the car was hot inside! Even with the air conditioning on! Daddy had parked in the shade of a huge palm tree, but the sun had moved as the morning wore on and the car was in full sun by the time they reached it.
The heat and the busy morning made Mitch very drowsy, and it wasn't long before he was curled up in a corner, fast asleep. Katie had been asleep before they left the beach.
Penny sat looking out of the window, somewhat drowsy herself, but enjoying watching the passing scenery. The family lived about seven miles inland from the beach, and the area wasn't built up yet, so there were lots of fields and farms to pass on the way home. Penny saw a small orange grove and they passed a couple of dairy farms. One of the farms had the funny gray cows with the humps on their backs that she had learned were called Brama's. There were quite a few of them in this area.
The sunny day had turned a little gray. Penny knew from past experience that this was just a typical Florida day in spring, when storms pop up out of nowhere, stay for a little while, and then disappear, leaving the day hot and sunny in no time at all. A slight breeze started to play in the leaves of the trees they passed, and the Spanish moss hanging on the branches moved like heavy curtains in a draft. Then the rain came. One or two huge drops at first, and then a regular waterfall. Daddy had to slow down because it was hard to see through all that rain. Five minutes later the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. The sun came out in full force and the road steamed as the sun quickly dried up the wet pavement.
When they came to stop at a busy crossroad, Penny saw a field full of tall grass. She thought this was rather odd because most of the fields were neat and the grass was short. The grass was still shining from the rain and waving gently in the remaining breeze. And then Penny saw the car. Right in the middle of the field. "How very odd," she thought. "Who would put a car in the middle of a field?"
"Mommy", said Penny, "Why is that car in the middle of a field?"
"What car?" said Mommy.
"Over there. See?" said Penny.
Mother looked where Penny was pointing and saw the car. "Well honey," she said, "Farmers sometimes do that when their cars don't run any more. I really don't know why."
The traffic cleared and they continued on their way, leaving the field and the car far behind.
"But it looked so lonely," said Penny.
Mother chuckled. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about if sweetie. I don't think cars get lonely. They are not people you know. Besides, there are probably all kinds of creatures using it for a home. It probably isn't lonely at all."
Penny thought about this for a while. Then all of a sudden they were pulling into their driveway. Penny saw one of her friends down the street and asked if she could go and play.
"Okay sweetie, but don't go too far," said Mother.
"I won't," said Penny, and off she ran, forgetting all about the car.
Penny went to bed quite early that night. It had been a long day. First the picnic at the beach, then playing with her friends all afternoon. After dinner and her bath she was really tired and didn't put up her usual fuss about going to bed. To be truthful, she was really happy to slip between the cool sheets, rest her head on the soft pillow and think about what a great day it had been. She drifted gently into a deep sleep.
All of a sudden she sat bolt upright! She had heard a strange noise. Like a rusty cough. She was about to call out for Mother when she realized she was not in her bed! Most definitely not in her bed!
Instead of cool sheets, she was sitting on damp grass. And instead of her familiar bedroom walls, all she could see were walls of grass. She wasn't scared though. It seemed to be quite natural to be sitting in the middle of a field of grass, in the middle of the night. Then she jumped, startled, as she heard that noise again - the rusty cough!
"Who's there?" she asked as she spun around. Then she jumped again! Backwards this time, as she found herself face to face with 'The Car'! The very same car she had seen earlier that afternoon.
"Scuse me m' dear!" said the car. "Didn't mean to startle you."
Penny shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "I must be dreaming," she said out loud.
"No, no, " said the car. "Not dreaming."
"But this is ridiculous," said Penny, "Cars can't talk!"
"Well then!" said the car, rather huffily, "If cars don't talk, may I ask to whom are you talking?"
"Oh my goodness," said Penny hastily, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
"Hmmph!" said the car. And he gave a rusty shake, as though he was really quite offended.
"Really sir. Please excuse me." said Penny, who was normally a very polite little girl, "I didn't mean to be rude. But you must admit, it is rather unusual. Er, I mean, I've never heard a car talk before."
"Maybe you just haven't listened". Said the car, still a little put out. "Maybe I just won't talk to you any more."
"Oh please sir. I really am sorry,' said Penny remorsefully.
"Oh, alright!" said the car. "Why don't you sit down and we'll start all over again."
So Penny sat down and eagerly waited to hear what the car had to say.
(to be continued )