It sits in a wooded sanctuary known for superstitions involving mythical creatures known as Spores.
The Spores befriend Olly and discover they must work together to protect both of their homes.
1. AN ENDING TO BEGIN THE STORY
Oren Appleton was walking back to his house on Oak Hill after his customary Saturday visit to downtown Littleton. Since the death of his wife, the walk into town offered him the chance to talk with real people after toiling away on his house projects all week. With his hands full of supplies from Sawyer's Hardware, he walked up Oak Ridge Road, the only paved road that led up to his house – which sat dead center atop Oak Hill.
It was a warm summer evening and the sun was setting. He stepped to the beat of a show tune he was whistling. A very quiet whistle, slightly off-tune and off-beat, accompanied Oren's – it came from the leather satchel hanging over his shoulder. This duet made Oren smile.
He was so focused on the tune and his whistling partner that he didn't hear the engine of the vehicle approaching. It approached quickly, and accelerated as it got closer to Oren. It was the crunching sound of the gravel directly behind him that made Oren turn. It was the last thing he would see and hear, as his body flew through the air and onto the ground. The force of the impact threw his body off the road and into a gully 15 feet away. Life had instantly left Oren. Without hesitation, the vehicle shifted into reverse and drifted back down the road and out of sight.
After ten minutes, the leather satchel next to Oren rustled with some movement, and the leather roping that had been cinched at the top of the satchel started to unravel from the inside. Very slowly, a small creature pulled its body out of the bag, stood, and slowly looked around to see what had happened. The creature was about the size of a common salt shaker you would find in a diner, and resembled a mushroom, but with a slightly thicker stem. Just like a mushroom, it seemed to wear a maroon and white mushroom cap on top of its head. Its arms and legs fit so snugly into the stem, that if it was standing upright and perfectly still in the woods you wouldn't know it from a garden-variety mushroom. Its small black eyes and a hardly-discernible mouth gave it a childlike and friendly expression. The skin had turned a bluish tint from the accident but gradually faded back to its normal off-white color as it shook off the impact to its body.
With a slight limp, it stepped away from the sawdust-filled satchel and toward Oren's face. It knew instantly there was no life left in Oren, and it slumped with sadness before it started off into the woods with what sounded like a sniffle.
Five minutes had passed and the creature came back from the woods to Oren's body, dragging a large clump of pink and white clover flowers behind. It slowly plucked the flowers off the stems, and arranged them in a circle all around Oren's head while whistling the rest of the show tune that he and Oren had started together. When the supply of clovers ran out, it stood silently for a moment and then walked off into the dark woods of Oak Hill. The forest was oddly silent and still.
2. THE CRAZY HERMIT ON THE HILL
The “crazy hermit on the hill” was dead. Rumors of the cause of his death had passed through town faster than the announcement of the fake Littleton gold rush of 1850.
“Crazy hermit” was just one of the many names the townsfolk in Littleton, Massachusetts used when describing Oren Appleton, my grandpa. It wasn't the kind of crazy that would scare people, because he was actually quite a peaceful soul... but he was always very awkward in his interactions with people, much like me. For that reason, people just seemed to want to steer clear of him... and that's exactly how my grandpa normally liked things.
Oren Anthony Appleton was his real name, but I had called him “Poppy” for as long as I could remember.
He had many other given names, all of them seemingly related to his strange behavior and appearance.
Mr. Carell, the postal carrier, called him “The Mushroom Man,” because of the boxes my grandpa mailed out every first Saturday of the month. Mr. Carell only guessed that the boxes contained mushrooms because of the holes in the sides of the boxes and also because they were always stained with dirt smudges. They also smelled of sawdust, dank earth and moss. Each box had the word “FRAGILE” scrawled on all sides in bold red marker.
Mr. Carell assumed that only fragile mushrooms could require such careful packaging, and carry that pungent smell. The packages were addressed to be delivered to many different cities around the United States, but he distinctly remembered one city in particular was a popular destination for the boxes – Littleton, Colorado. He thought it was odd that mail would go from one town of Littleton, in Massachusetts, to another Littleton on the other side of the country. In similar fashion, with each box Oren shipped out, a heavier box would come back to Oren, but sent by registered mail.
I had heard from my dad that some of the meaner kids in town mocked my grandpa, calling him “Dorky Crocket” - because he always wore the same odd, handmade frontiersman-style hat when he strolled into town. But my grandpa's hat wasn't made of raccoon fur like Davey Crocket's... it was his own unique, nature-inspired creation that just screamed for him to be put in the looney bin.
He had crafted the hat out of the steamed and hand-shaped bark of a white birch tree. He adorned the brim with an abundance of small pine cones and it was topped with rust-colored pine needles perched straight up into the air. On the front of the creation was a dried pink flower from a rare American chaffseed plant. He tied all of this together with long pieces of wild grapevine, wrapped several times around the hat. Out the back, falling down past his shoulders, was a bundle of dried brown fescue grass, which resembled a tail.
His clothes did not stray far from his creative hat theme. He always wore the same outfit to town. His pants were baggy and moss-green colored, barely held up with a belt made of grapevine. The knees seemed a lighter shade of green because they had been worn away – apparently from kneeling in the dirt.
His shirt was like a pajama top, light brown and always stained with dirt and sweat marks. Basically, he always looked as if he had been wrestling rabid animals in the dirt. I always imagined he looked like a peasant character taken straight out of a medieval storybook.
He also carried a handmade leather bag, which always hung at his side. Among other odd things (younger kids joked that he carried magical potions), it was rumored that he carried some of the mushrooms he had grown, because the pouch had neatly-punched holes around the top allowing fresh air inside.
His attire made him stand out like a sore thumb in town... but, you would need a keen eye to ever see his camouflaged outfit anywhere in the woods surrounding Littleton. It was just one more way he could achieve his goal of going unnoticed when he wanted.
He wasn't always this dirty and disheveled. When grandma was alive, she wouldn't have ever let him leave the house looking like this.
At one time, my grandpa was an esteemed professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard, which is a mouthful for me even now at 15. I started calling him by his nickname of “Poppy” because that's what Grandma said his college students had called him.
Their nickname for him, “Professor Poppy,” made sense because back in the day Grandma always placed a bright red poppy in the lapel of his tweed jacket. It was the same tweed jacket, complete with leather elbow pads, that he wore every single day to class.
Poppy had grown up in Littleton, and he and Grandma decided to stay there when he earned his professorship. It was only a 30-mile drive between Littleton and Harvard, and Littleton offered a lot more nature and fewer people than the busy university town of Harvard.
Poppy and Grandma had been living in their small farmhouse out in Bumblebee Meadow, which is where my dad was raised. With Poppy's success at Harvard, he and Grandma were able to eventually buy a bigger piece of property, which the town called the “Oak Hill” property.
My dad was able to see the Oak Hill house for the first time when he helped Poppy and Grandma move there from Bumblebee Meadows. He came back and described the Oak Hill property to me and my mother.
Dad said, “There is a beautiful oak tree forest on one part of the property, and the oaks seem almost as large as the giant sequoia in California. It had all of the landmarks that I remember exploring when I was a kid.” He went on to mention a few of the landmarks, and seemed rather excited about “a huge rock that jutted out of the hillside and looked over the entire town.”
He said the townspeople call it Lookout Rock.
“The house itself is a nice two-tone green Victorian, with three stories, steep-gabled roofs, a big turret, and a nice porch that wraps around the lower floor. Pops is going to have to spend a lot of time keeping that thing from falling apart,” Dad said.
My dad was a woodworker, so he was overly excited when talking about all of the decorative, dark oak trim inside the house. He was also enamored by the stained-glass windows wrapped in hardwood oak frames. He went on to talk about the grounds.
“There is a beautiful, white-trimmed conservatory-style greenhouse across a courtyard off the back of the house, with flower gardens. Mom is going to love working on those gardens while Dad is teaching at the university. There are walking paths around the property, one of which leads to an old, dried-up waterfall.”
After Dad went on for at least another half hour, my mom said she wished she could see it. With Mom and Dad trying to make ends meet, and Mom's salon seeing most of her customers on the weekends, it would be hard for both of them to take time away to go back to Littleton to see the new house.
Unfortunately, just two years after moving into the new property, Grandma's health started to decline and she wasn't able to get out of her room, let alone into the yard to keep up or even enjoy the gardens. Her death was rather sudden after she had fallen sick, and we didn't even have a chance to visit her before she passed. It turns out Grandma and Poppy knew she had a very severe case of cancer that spread rather quickly. It was Grandma's wish that Poppy did not tell anyone, not even my dad, as she didn't want people to fuss over her, and there wasn't much hope of her getting better.
Poppy kept her wish, even though he knew it would cause issues with my dad later. Poppy was right in worrying that keeping this secret would cause problems. Dad was quite upset that Poppy didn't let him know the full details until after the funeral. I think that is why Dad and Mom had not gone back to Littleton to visit with Poppy since the funeral – they were both quite upset with him.
Of course, their anger meant that Poppy's visits to Medina also ended. Poppy and I had gotten closer every time he visited me. During his visits, Poppy would take me on hikes up to Whipp's Ledges, teaching me everything he knew about nature. He taught me about all of the plants I could eat and those I had to avoid (as if I would ever be stranded alone in the woods and would need to live off the land in Medina, Ohio).
He often emphasized this warning by pretending to eat the poisonous ones and then acting out the worst deaths I had ever seen acted out – floundering and lurching all over the ground, pretending to foam at the mouth.
He would quiz me on the names of all the different types of mushrooms hanging on the forest stumps. My favorite lessons involved looking closely at moss piles under a plastic microscope he always carried with him. He would push on the moss in the sunlight and have me watch all of the bugs come running out. I was amazed by these tiny magical kingdoms that comprised just one square inch of our huge world.
Even though I shared his geeky, nature-loving side, our hikes weren't all just nature lessons. He would take big, floppy leaves and fashion them around his waist and mine, and we would play “Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook” together. His favorite part was swinging on the grapevines, pushing from tree to tree, and landing on our pirate ship (which was just a large log covered in moss).
He would help me decorate the ship with all of the coolest pirate decorations. There was a ship's wheel he had crafted out of a vertical tree branch holding up a rounded piece of thick bark. The four cannons were simply rotted, hollowed-out logs – pointing from the ship in all directions.
There was a dead-man's walking plank fashioned out of a piece of wood leveled on a few large rocks he had rolled next to the log. My shirt would act as the pirate flag raised high above us on a tall branch. According to my t-shirt logo, my ship would be forever known as the “Adidas”. We would play until one of us would fall off the ship during a sword fight and hurt ourselves.
3. PROFESSOR POPPY
Poppy was always young-at-heart and had an imagination beyond anyone I knew. This imagination definitely got him in a little trouble. Just after Poppy and Grandma moved onto Oak Hill, Poppy lost his teaching position at Harvard.
When it happened, my grandma called my dad out of concern for Poppy. After the call, I overheard Dad tell mom, “Poppy started claiming there were creatures living out in the woods that had never before been seen by human eyes. It would have been one thing to claim there were plants, or even insects that hadn't been discovered – that would be believable. But he claimed these newfound creatures talked to him, and had names and personalities like us.”
“He became so adamant that they existed, he started to make it the topic of almost every class. Some of the students felt he had gone off the deep end, and decided they were not getting a decent education from him, so they reported him to the dean of the school,” Dad said.
I heard my parents talking about how the Dean and his colleagues always liked my grandpa, and they wanted to give him a chance to explain himself, to give up his crazy talk, and continue teaching. But when they asked him to stop talking about his “discovery”, Poppy became angry that nobody would believe him, raving about how his peers were blind to his new discoveries.
Not long after this, they decided to ask him to present even the slightest proof of the creatures. In an odd twist, and only a day later, Poppy seemed to calm down and change his story, telling them it was all just a prank.
With this admission and a zero tolerance for lying, the university had no other recourse and they had to let him go – not just for the good of the students, but also for the reputation of the school.
I remember my mom and dad talking about it when it happened. In addition to the loss of grandma, losing his teaching position would surely be too much to handle.
They really thought Poppy would be lost without his prestigious title at Harvard, and he would miss the interaction with his students.
Although they were still mad about Poppy hiding my grandma's ailment, my parents kept tabs on Poppy by checking in with his old friend, Harry Sawyer, in Littleton. Poppy and Harry were of similar age and had grown up together in the small town. They were best friends for as long as my dad could remember. Harry reassured my parents that Poppy was just fine, and seemed to be even more excited about life and his field of work lately.
My parents were still concerned by Poppy's apparent lack of concern over grandma's death and his lost professorship. They were convinced that senility or some other brain-changing disease must be taking over. They also had no clue as to how he was still paying for the Oak Hill property with the loss of his teaching job.
Harry said, “Poppy comes into town on Saturday mornings to pick up food and other supplies. He always comes straight to my store. I'm there every Saturday morning to share a coffee, doughnut, and small talk with him. He seems to always have enough cash to cover his expenses.”
Harry told them that mushroom farming seemed to be Poppy's new hobby. After grandma's death, Poppy seemed to