Paul has no friends. One day he meets Henry, a talking earthworm in the vegetable patch at the end of the garden. Adventures soon follow.
My name’s Paul. I’m nine and I don’t have any friends at school, always the first one on the bus and the last off. I’m not particularly shy, but it seems all the kids in class know each other and play on the same teams. It just happened. I’m the odd one out. Jim’s in the same boat. We’re in the same class at school. He’s number two on the bus, but he lives five miles away and it’s too far away for me to get to his house. I tried to sneak out one day on my bicycle. Dad caught me. I lost all TV privileges for an entire week.
Mom and Dad have their own business, which they do from home. I don’t know what they do, but it involves a lot of phone calls. I asked if Jim could come around to play and got a flat no as my answer. The only person who talks to me is our gardener, Horace. He’s full of stories. Elves, gnomes, water sprites, he’s seen them all. I’d always catch him saying, “Cheerio.” Then he would look at me and wink. “You’ve just missed them.” I think he’s just speaking to himself.
Then one day, it all changed.
I’d come home from school and had finished my homework. As usual, there was nothing to do. Dad said the TV was too noisy and I was told to go out and play. At least the sun was shining and I wandered down to the end of the garden. This was the vegetable plot. Horace had let the Brussels sprouts go wild. He said it was good for spring greens. I was kicking stones, minding my own business, when I heard a faint voice.
“Hello, big guy, can you help?”
I looked around. Nobody was there.
“Are you ignoring me? I’m down by your feet.”
I stepped back and looked down. A big brown worm was swaying half in the soil and half out. I raised my foot.
“Be careful with that huge boot. It could hurt me. My name’s Henry. I’m friendly. What’s your name?”
I carefully placed my foot back down again away from the worm. I’ve lost it. Talking to a worm is worse than talking to a gnome, but nothing tried. “My name’s Paul.”
“The sun’s really bright today. I dry out quickly in this heat and I need to cross over the concrete path.”
I looked around and noticed an orchid flower lying on the floor. “Try this on for size.” I dropped it on his head.
“Wow, that’s good. I can feel the difference.”
Henry pulled himself out of the soil and stretched out to start across the path. He kept his head up and seemed to contract then elongate, stop and pull his rear up, and stretch again. When he was at full length, Henry measured seven inches, but when he scrunched he bulked up to almost half an inch in diameter. He reached the soil on the other side of the path and stopped.
“Thank you. I promised Horace I would aerate the ground over here. It makes it easier for him to dig.”
“You know the gardener?”
“Yes, he has some tall stories about gnomes. Who believes in gnomes these days? I know I don’t. When one of the garden gnomes starts to talk, I’ll eat my hat.”
“You’ll eat the orchid?”
“Why not? I can’t take it with me when I burrow. But this time, I’ll just leave it here. I think it’s good for another couple of days. See you tomorrow. I enjoyed talking to you.”
“Yes, as soon as I get home from school, I’ll head down here. You can help me with my homework.”
Henry switched around and started to eat his way into the soil. Very soon, all that was left was the orchid hat sitting on the ground. I stood there staring at the flower. Did that just happen? I don’t know much about earthworms... it’s about time I found out.