Tao's Magic tricks




By Guy Bullock

Drawings by Tao and Amber Bullock

Text © G. Bullock 2015

Drawings © T. Bullock 2015

All rights reserved


Tao and the nasty neighbours

THE HOUSE next door to Tao’s had been empty for some time and Tao and her sister Amber would often slip through the fence and climb through a window that hadn’t been closed properly. It was a big house with a huge lounge, dining room, kitchen and even a study downstairs, and bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs. The lounge was just right for them to play games like indoor tennis. There was lots of space in the big empty room.

One day they were in the middle of a game, when a car drew up in front of the house, and a thin lady with a sharp nose and black rimmed glasses got out followed by a podgy girl of about eleven. They went up to the front door.

“Here Mom, I’ve got the key the estate agent lady gave us,” the girl said in a squeaky voice.

Tao and Amber stood still looking at each other in dismay. “Quick, let’s hide,” whispered Tao, but before they could move the front door opened and the thin lady walked in. “Priscilla dear, will you please fetch my notebook. I left it on the front seat,” she said; then she saw the two children.

She glared at Tao and shouted. “And what do you think you are doing here. This is private property. You have no right to break in where you don’t belong.”

“Sorry we didn’t know,” stammered Tao. “We live next door and we were just playing in here.”

“I don’t care if you live in Timbuktu or on the moon. You should not be here,” the lady said. “Now get out immediately and never come back.”

Tao and Amber stumbled to the door where the podgy girl called Priscilla was standing smirking at them. “Get out and don’t come back,” the girl repeated. “You’ve got a cheek playing in our property.”

“Sorreeeee!” said Tao sarcastically and they scooted through the driveway gate back to their own house.


Tao gets the blame

Next morning they were wakened early by the sound of a large pantechnicon truck arriving next door. They watched as workmen started moving furniture, stoves, fridges, a huge plasma TV, and all sorts of expensive things, into the house.

Then a big black Mercedes car drew up and the thin lady and her husband, who was dressed in a smart black suit and carrying a brief case, got out, followed by the podgy girl. The girl noticed Tao and Amber watching from the fence, and she pulled a tongue at them and went into the house after her parents.

It took nearly an hour to offload, there was so much stuff, and they could hear the sounds of furniture being moved around and at last the truck drove off. The next day workmen arrived and started painting the outside of the house, and other people came and landscaped the garden.

Priscilla was nowhere to be seen for several days but the man went off to work every morning looking important in the big black car.

Tao and Amber were playing in their garden one morning when they heard a squeaky voice on the other side of the fence. Tao went across and saw that it was Priscilla.

‘“Hello, my name’s Priscilla Burton,” the girl said. “What’s yours?”

She giggled when Tao told her. “That’s a funny name. I’ve just moved here with all my stuff. You can come and see what I’ve got if you like. I bet I’ve got more stuff than you.” She seemed to have forgotten they had already met.

They were on the way upstairs to podgy Priscilla’s bedroom when the thin lady noticed Tao. She looked her over suspiciously.

“Aren’t you that little girl who was playing here when we moved in,” she said sharply. “I thought I told you not to come back.”

“It’s all right Mom, this is my friend Tao. She wants to have a look at my bedroom and all my stuff.”

“Well don’t make a noise,” Mrs Burton replied. “And, little girl, just you be careful with Priscilla’s toys. They are very expensive and we don’t want them broken.”

Tao saw that the big house was beautifully furnished and there were maids dusting and cleaning. Priscilla’s room had a thick soft carpet and she had a big double bed with a brightly coloured duvet. There were cupboards and shelves all round stacked with dolls and books, her own LED television, computer and hi-fi as well as an ensuite bathroom. It made Tao quite envious. “My father works in a bank, so he has lots of money,” Priscilla boasted. “What’s your father do?”

“Well he’s a builder. He builds houses and fixes roofs and things like that. He has his own business.”

“Of course that’s not nearly as important as being a banker. Bankers are the people that look after money, and that’s what counts, isn’t it.”

She showed Tao some of her dolls and their sets of clothes.

“This one is my favourite,” she said proudly. “It’s handmade and imported.”

It was an expensive doll made of porcelain with a face that looked like a real baby and it was dressed in a long hand-embroidered gown.

“Here, you can hold her if you like,” she said and Tao gingerly held the doll for a few moments before handing it back to Priscilla who put it on a chair and started showing Tao some of her other things. She stood on the chair and reached up to get a book but the chair toppled and Priscilla and the doll crashed to the floor.

Tao felt a little guilty because for some reason she didn’t understand accidents often happened while she was nearby. An object would move mysteriously and cause trouble. But this time she was sure she had nothing to do with it. She had been on the far side of the room when it happened.

Priscilla gave a piercing scream as she lay writhing on the floor. She had landed on the doll, which Tao saw was broken into small pieces. “Ow, ow I’ve hurt my leg,” yelled Priscilla, “and look what’s happened to my favourite doll.” She sobbed loudly and called for her mother, who rushed into the room in panic.

One of the maids helped lift Priscilla onto the bed where she lay crying about her broken doll and sore leg.

“It was Tao’s fault,” she sobbed. “Tao pushed me.”

Tao was indignant. “That’s not true,” she protested. “Priscilla lost her balance while she was standing on the chair. It was an accident.”

Mrs Burton glared at her. “Priscilla would never say anything untrue,” she declared sternly. “She has been well brought up and is an honest girl.”

“Yes, it was Tao,” cried Priscilla. “She pushed me and I fell off the chair and broke my favourite doll too.”

Tao protested but it was no use. Mrs Burton wouldn’t believe her. “I take a very serious view of this, young lady,” she said. “You were invited into our home and you have taken advantage of our hospitality and injured my daughter and broken a valuable doll. I shall have to report this to your father. And I expect any damage to be paid for.”


Podgy Priscilla gets drenched

That evening after her father got home the phone rang. It was Mrs Burton, and she angrily told Tao’s father what had happened. She blamed Tao and demanded he must pay for the damage.

Tao told her Dad her side of the story. She said Priscilla was trying to blame her for something that was her own fault. In the end Tao’s father said there had been no one to witness what happened so nothing could be proved.

After that no more was said but Mrs Burton was still angry. Tao kept away from the Burtons. A week or so later she was watering the garden near the fence when she was surprised to hear podgy Priscilla’s squeaky voice.

“Hello,” she said as if nothing had ever happened. “Where have you been lately?”

“I haven’t been anywhere. I’m surprised you are speaking to me after what happened.”

“What happened?”

“You said I pushed you,” said Tao angrily.

“I never did say that.”

“Of course you did.”

“Didn’t, didn’t, didn’t,” the podgy girl said stamping her foot. “If you say I did I’m going to get you into trouble.”

Tao was so angry she pointed the hosepipe at Priscilla and blasted her with water. The podgy girl shrieked and ran off soaking wet. Of course that led to another phone call to Tao’s father, and this time he had to apologise to Mrs Burton. Tao was told she was to keep away from their neighbours in future and not even look their way.

But this was difficult because although she tried to ignore Priscilla the podgy girl did everything she could to provoke both Tao and Amber. She would jeer and laugh whenever she saw Tao and shout, “There goes Skinny Little Toe, ha ha.”

When Tao and Amber were playing in the garden she would lean over the fence and make rude comments. “Ha ha, Amber Pamber can’t even tie her shoe laces, poor thing.”

Amber wanted to hit the podgy girl with her hockey stick but Tao said, “Just ignore her and she’ll soon go away.”

It was no use complaining to Mrs Burton, who thought Priscilla was an angel who could do no wrong, and Mr Burton was mostly away at work.

Not long afterwards they were playing catches with a tennis ball when podgy Priscilla looked over the fence and shouted, “I’m having a party, I’m having a party, and you’re not invited. Ha ha!”

When the two girls took no notice and carried on with their game the podgy girl went on, “I’m having twenty children at my party, but you won’t be coming. We’re having all sorts of good things to eat, but none for you. We’ll have a puppet show and clowns but you’ll not be allowed to watch. Ha, ha!” With that podgy Priscilla ran back into her house laughing.

“Don’t worry Amber,” said Tao. “We wouldn’t go to her silly party even if we were invited.”


Priscilla’s big party

Next day a lorry arrived laden with equipment for a marquee tent and a team of workmen started knocking poles into the ground and unfolding canvas. The big brightly coloured tent was put up not far from their fence, so the girls had a good view of what was going on. Soon afterwards another lorry arrived with trestle tables and chairs. The podgy girl saw them and shouted, “We’ll have professional caterers with all sorts of goodies. But not for yooou!”

The guests started arriving that afternoon and soon the back parking space was crowded with expensive cars. The mothers all went inside while the children began games on the lawn. Loud party music was playing and flashing coloured lights had been strung around the tent.

A team of party caterers spread cloths over the tables and laid out knives and forks and crackers and ice cream, jellies, plates of sweets, pies, sausage rolls and many other eats. At the head of a smaller table was a large iced birthday cake with candles and other ornaments. A platform and lots of folding chairs had been placed at one end of the tent for the puppet show. Clowns and a magician were also to perform.

Meanwhile Tao found a spot where there was a gap in the fence. She had a good view of the party and settled down to watch. The children finished their games and all trooped into the tent and took their places round the trestle tables. They helped themselves to the ice cream, jelly, pudding and custard, tarts, pies, cakes, fizzy cold drinks and all the other delicious eats, all talking and joking, laughing and teasing one another.

Priscilla sat at the head of the table next to the birthday cake, eating twice as fast as anyone else. Mrs Burton stood behind her making sure that podgy Priscilla got the best eats. The first thing to go wrong was when the time came to light the candles.

All eleven of them had been stuck upright in the icing. But the strangest thing happened when Mrs Burton tried to hold a match to the first candle. It toppled over and refused to stay upright no matter how often she tried. Everyone laughed, but Mrs Burton got angrier and angrier. “Alphonse, come here immediately,” she shouted to the head caterer. “These candles are poorly made. How dare you put such rubbish on my daughter’s birthday cake.”

“But madam I can assure you they are of the highest quality,” said the flustered caterer.

“Let me light them for you madam.” Alphonse tried to set the candle upright so he could light it, but it immediately fell over again. “I cannot understand this, madam,” Alphonse said. “There seems to be some magnetic influence here. Perhaps you have some electronic device nearby.”

“Absolute nonsense,” stormed Mrs Burton. “It must be the poor quality of the candles. I demand that you do something immediately.”

Alphonse hurried away to get some new candles. Meanwhile the children were getting impatient.

One naughty boy called out loudly, “I want some cake. Where is our cake!” He began banging on the table with a spoon and chanting, “Where’s our cake! Where’s our cake!” The other children screamed with laughter and joined in the fun. “Where’s our cake! Where’s our cake!” everyone shouted, and they all banged on the table together.

Mrs Burton shouted for everyone to be quiet, but she couldn’t be heard above the uproar, which only stopped when Alphonse arrived with a fresh set of candles. He replaced them all and furiously threw the old ones on the ground. With a trembling hand he tried to light a new one, but the same thing happened. The candle toppled over and no matter what they did would not stay upright.

This must be some sort of trick,” Alphonse said, “Perhaps it is the magician you have hired who has planted trick candles.” The bewildered magician was called but strongly denied he had done any such thing. The children were all getting restless again so Mrs Burton decided to cut the cake without lighting candles. But she was furious with the caterer for putting second grade candles on the cake.

She reached for a knife to cut the first slice. “Close your eyes and make a wish dear,” she told Priscilla. She looked down but the knife was not where she expected it to be. “Alphonse!” she shouted. “Come here at once. My man, first it was the candles, and now you have not supplied me with a knife to cut the cake. Get one immediately!”


The party goes wrong

Alphonse rushed away and came back puffing and panting. He put the knife down next to the cake and shuffled away muttering angrily only to hear Mrs Burton scream, “Alphoooonse, you dim-witted buffoon! Where is the kniiiife?”

“But madam I gave you the knife a moment ago,” a bewildered Alphonse replied. “You did no such thing,” spluttered Mrs Burton.

She was so angry her glasses came off and dangled from one ear. She poked Alphonse in the chest with a quivering forefinger. “I have had enough, my man, do you hear! Enoooough! If a knife isn’t here within five seconds I shall personally punch you on the nose. “

The knife was brought by a shaken-up Alphonse and this time he handed it directly to Mrs Burton who was still quivering with anger. She snatched it and started to cut the cake, but the knife had flown onto the ground. “Sorry madam, it has slipped from your hand,” said Alphonse and he bent to pick up the knife. He reached for it but as he was about to grasp it the knife slithered under the table.

Alphonse crawled after it on all fours, but it kept sliding out of his reach. “Alphooooonse, what are you doing, you madman,” shrieked Mrs Burton.

Only Alphonse’s broad bottom was sticking out from under the table. Almost demented with fury Mrs Burton kicked it with her pointed shoe. Alphonse roared with pain and bumped his head against the underside of the table, which crashed onto its side. The birthday cake, jelly, ice cream, pudding, custard flew onto the ground in all directions.

Then pandemonium broke loose. Children ran screaming all over with their mothers rushing around trying to restore order. But it was no use. There was general panic and someone yelled, “Fire, fire!” which caused more confusion. Tables were overturned, plates and dishes smashed, table cloths trampled underfoot. There was a stampede as everyone tried to get out at the same time and children tripped over the ropes holding the tent upright. Down came the marquee on top of Priscilla and Mrs Burton who were still inside.

“Help, help, get us out of here,” came muffled cries from under the canvas. To make matters worse it started to rain in torrents, and sodden children and mothers ran about squelching through puddles with their hair plastered down and soaked clothes sticking to their bodies.

Tao crept back into her house before anyone saw her, and innocently asked her mother what all the noise was about next door.


Lucy gets Tao into trouble

All was quiet at the Burtons’ home after the caterers had cleaned up the garden and carted away all the damage. Priscilla stopped worrying the girls; she was too upset and Mrs Burton had to spend several days in bed taking pills to calm her nerves.

The holidays ended and the two girls went back to school each day. But there was more trouble for Tao. In her class was a large girl called Lucy Tarbottom, who often annoyed Tao. Lucy had ginger hair, freckles, a snub nose and piggy eyes. She was always bossing other girls around, and trying to get them into trouble.

She had a loud voice that could often be heard in the playground shouting at girls smaller than herself. Lucy was not a clever girl and hated hard learning work, yet she always got quite good marks in tests, and somehow always handed in her homework. Tao was puzzled how nasty Lucy managed to do this and she found out the ginger girl did it by using a simple method. She cheated.

Whenever there was a test she managed to sit next to one of the clever girls. When the teacher wasn’t looking Lucy would force the clever girl to show her the answers. The other girl was scared to refuse in case Lucy and two of her friends caught her in the playground. And Lucy always managed to get someone to do her homework for her. Everyone was afraid to report the nasty girl.

Tao was one of those who got good marks and one day during a maths test she saw the ginger girl was sitting at a desk next to her.

“Now girls this is an important test and I hope you all do well because these marks will count in the year end finals. So please settle down, and do your best,” said Miss Bloomer their class teacher. “I want no talking.”

Tao was concentrating on her work when she felt someone nudging her arm. It was the nasty girl trying to get her to show her the answers. Tao moved farther away and went on writing. Soon afterwards she felt another nudge and she turned angrily and whispered, “Please leave me alone.”

The ginger girl glared at her and made threatening signs, which Tao ignored. The next thing Tao knew was that the other girl had put up her hand to call the teacher, who came across, annoyed at the interruption.

“Please, miss, I can’t get on with my work because Tao is pestering me. I think she is trying to ask me for answers.”

Everyone stopped writing and stared. “Is this true Tao?” Miss Bloomer demanded. “This is a serious accusation. What have you to say for yourself?”

“It’s not true at all,” said Tao. “I’ve been busy writing all the time.”

“Well I don’t know which of you two to believe. But one of you must be lying,” the teacher said severely. “However we can’t interrupt the test. I want both of you to bring your books and papers and sit at my table where I can watch you. We can get to the bottom of this later. All you other girls get on with your work.”

Miss Bloomer made both of them stay behind after the bell rang for the lunch break. But she couldn’t decide who to believe. She let them off with a stern warning that they both would be carefully watched in future.

“Hey, skinny girl, you are going to pay for this,” the ginger girl hissed as they left the classroom. “You’ll be sorry!”


Amber to the rescue

During lunch break next day Tao was sitting on a bench at the side of the playing field eating a sandwich and talking to one of her friends when Lucy and two other girls who always hung around with the ginger girl, walked up.

“Oh, so this is where you have been hiding, Skinny,” said Lucy in an unpleasant tone. “We have been looking for you.”

“I always sit here at lunch break,” Tao replied and went on eating her sandwich.

“Yummy, look she’s got strawberry sandwiches,” said one of the girls called Belinda. “I love strawberry jam. I’m sure you won’t mind if I have one,” and she snatched the lunch box and helped herself.

“Lucy wouldn’t you like one too?”

Tao stood up and tried to retrieve the box, but Belinda passed it to the other girl called Gloria, who threw it to Lucy. They started tossing the box from one to another, jeering and laughing. They got tired after a while and Lucy said, “Shame you can have your lunch Skinny,” and handed the box back. But the box fell to the ground. “Whoops, sorry,” the nasty girl exclaimed, and she tramped on it, squashing the sandwiches into the grass.

Then they formed a circle round Tao and started pushing her from one girl to another. Some other girls who were playing nearby saw what was happening and crowded round but none tried to help.

Meanwhile Tao’s sister Amber who was playing with hockey sticks saw what the bully girls were doing and she raced across the field waving her hockey stick. Before anyone realised what was happening she swung her stick and hit Belinda hard on the shin. The girl fell down on the grass yelling with pain.

Without pausing Amber whacked the next one on the ankle and then swung the stick and bashed Lucy on the knee. The terrified ginger girl screamed and tried to get away, hopping like a kangaroo with Amber chasing after whacking her all the more.

One of the teachers heard the commotion and gave the alarm. Five staff members hurried across the field and the hockey stick was confiscated.

The three injured girls were carried off to the sick bay to have their sore legs bandaged, and they were allowed to go home early.

Tao and Amber were sent to the Headmistress’s office to explain what had happened. “We can’t allow this sort of thing to go on, no matter what reason there is for it,” Mrs Baggybroek said severely. “You might have permanently injured those girls. And how am I to explain this to the girls’ parents.”

It was decided to give Amber a black mark. “A black mark is very serious and could affect your whole future,” Amber was told. “If you get three black marks you could even be expelled.”


Trouble in the school bus

The three bully girls were off sick for several days and when they came back they avoided Tao and Amber. Miss Bloomer meanwhile marked the test papers, and was surprised to find that Tao had done well, but Lucy had failed.

She called Lucy to her table. “I find it odd that you have done so badly when you usually do quite well. Have you any explanation?” Lucy was flustered. “I think it was because Tao upset me Miss.”

“It’s very strange that Tao has excelled yet you have failed,” said Miss Bloomer. “I see no reason why Tao should have asked you for answers, since she already knew them. In future I shall watch you very carefully, and if you continue to do poorly I shall report to the Headmistress.” Lucy went back to her desk, glaring at Tao, who pretended not to notice.

Tao and Amber usually caught the yellow bus to and from school. The driver was a bad tempered man called Aristotle, who had a hooked nose and thick black eyebrows. If anyone spoke loudly he would growl, “Hey youse shutupa, otherwise youse can get offa my bus.” He was always smoking while he drove, even though it was not allowed, but no one dared report him.

On the way home the two girls sat next to each other, and made a start with their homework. Someone prodded Tao in the back and when she turned around she saw it was the ginger girl, who didn’t normally catch that bus.

“Hey, surprise, surprise Skinny girl. Bet you didn’t expect to see me here did you.” She spoke softly in case the driver heard. Then Tao noticed that Gloria, another bully girl was also on the bus sitting on the other side of the aisle. Lucy poked her again with a sharp pencil. “Ow, that hurt,” said Tao. Aristotle looked round suspiciously but carried on driving. “That’s for telling on me in class,” Lucy hissed. “And here’s one for you too little Stick.”

Tao got up. “Come Amber let’s go sit at the back.” They changed seats and Tao hid her face behind an exercise book. Then the sharp pencil somehow flew out of Lucy’s hand and stuck into her ear. The startled girl looked ridiculous with a pencil sticking out from her ear-hole, and the girls nearby giggled loudly.

Another pencil amazingly flew across and stuck up her nostril, then another one stuck into her other nostril and another into her other ear hole. Lucy stood up with pencils sticking out and wobbling from

her ears and nose. She tried to pull them out but they stuck fast. The other girls in the bus allshrieked with laughter.

Gloria was wearing a new white school hat, which her mother had just bought for her. For some reason her hat came off and fell into the aisle. Horrified that her new hat might be trampled on, Gloria tried to pick it up but the hat slid farther along towards the driver. Gloria crawled after it on hands and knees. Each time she grabbed at it the hat slid away. Then finally a sudden draught of air lifted it onto the bus driver’s head.

Aristotle jammed on brakes and brought the bus to a stop. He stood up wearing the girl’s wide brimmed school hat firmly on his head. The girls screamed with laughter at the ridiculous sight.

“Wat is thees? Whosa hat is thees? Wat is all thees noise een my busa?” He tried to rip the hat off his head but it seemed to be stuck. He danced about wildly tearing at the hat. Then the cigarette he was smoking came loose and stuck in his nostril.

A loud rapping sounded at the door, which was opened by a fat policeman. “What’s going on here?” he demanded, astounded at the sight of a bus driver dancing about wearing a girl’s hat and with a cigarette stuck up his nose.

Aristotle was arrested and another driver took over. Lucy was taken to a doctor to have the pencils removed. Gloria’s hat was ruined and she got into serious trouble with her mother.


Butterflies and bulls

Tao always enjoyed school holiday visits by her cousin Erica, a tall thin girl of sixteen, with a freckled face and glasses, who loved dashing about catching butterflies. Tao often went with her searching for rare species. Erica would race frantically about with her butterfly net.

Erica had a large collection at her home in the city, mounted in a glass cabinet. There weren’t many butterflies where she lived but there were thousands in farmers’ fields near Tao’s house. Tao and her cousin set out one morning soon after breakfast, Tao wearing a knapsack full of bottles to hold the ones they caught, books with names and pictures of butterflies, Erica’s notebooks, lunch boxes and cool drinks.

Most of the fields were fenced, with notices warning people to keep out. Some of them said “Beware dangerous animals. Enter at your peril.” Tao had already been warned to keep away by a burly farmer, with hairy arms and a red face, called Ronnie Hogsworthy, who chased her away when she was collecting nettles to feed her rabbits.

They were walking along the road chatting, when Erica froze. She grabbed Tao’s arm and silently pointed.

“What?” said Tao. “I can’t see anything.”

“There, on the grass, on the other side of the fence. That blue butterfly. Oh, my gosh I think it’s a Blue Swallowtail. I’ve got to have it for my collection. Here, hold my jersey,” she said shaking with excitement. “I’m going after it.

“Tao clutched the bright crimson jersey and watched Erica climb the fence and with her net on its long handle at the ready creep towards the butterfly, which was sunning itself on a blade of grass. Just as Erica was about to swoop on it the blue swallowtail flitted away, Erica running desperately after it. The butterfly took fright and refused to settle; It zig-zagged across the field, Erica panting behind.

There were some trees at the far end of the field with cattle grazing. One of them, a large black bull with a ring through its nose, started to take an interest in the strange two-legged creature running across its territory carrying a long stick.

It came out of the shadows and snorted loudly, pawing the ground. Erica, busy keeping her eyes on the swallowtail, didn’t notice the enraged animal, until Tao yelled a warning. Then she dropped her butterfly net and ran for her life, the snorting bull almost on her heels.

She managed to clamber over the concrete fence in time and the bull bellowed loudly and stood pawing the ground with lowered horns. There was a furious shout and a red-faced farmer came running across the field. “Hey you two, I’ll have you arrested for trespass.” He didn’t seem scared of the bull and came puffing and panting up to the fence. Mysteriously, possibly through a sudden breeze, the bright red jersey Tao was holding floated over the fence and wrapped itself around the farmer’s neck.

He struggled to get rid of it, then he noticed the bull was taking a strong interest in the red jersey. He dashed away with the bull chasing him. It almost caught him but he managed to dodge back and forth until he reached a gate and they disappeared from sight.

During the chase the jersey had fallen. “Don’t worry I’m a fast runner,” said Tao. She climbed over the fence, sprinted to the jersey and on the way back also retrieved Erica’s butterfly net.

Erica wanted to go back to find the Blue Swallowtail, but in any case it had flown away. Grabbing their things they hastily left, in case the farmer came back. Erica was puzzled though. “I wonder how my jersey got tangled up with that farmer. Well anyway, just as well it did or we might have been in trouble.”


Trouble with an angry farmer

After lunch Tao noticed a battered pick-up bakkie stop at their gate and the red-faced farmer painfully climbed out. He had one arm in a sling, a bandaged knee and a black eye.

“Wow,” gasped Erica, “It’s that farmer. Quick, where can we hide?”

There was a tool shed at the back and the two girls hid inside. Meanwhile the farmer limped to the front door and knocked loudly.

“Oh, Mr Hogsworthy,” said Tao’s mother, wondering what the trouble was. “Have you had an accident?”

“Yis, madam, I think you could say that,” the farmer said angrily. “I’m looking for two girls what was near my farm this morning. Do you have any suchlike here?”

“Well, I have two daughters,” Tao’s mother replied, looking puzzled. “One of them is upstairs reading. I’m not sure where the other is.”

“I would like to take a look at ’em. Just to make sure they’s not the two what I’m looking for.”

Their mother called Amber and she came down, cross at being disturbed. “No that’s not ’er,” said Mr Hogsworthy. “Them what I’m after is quite a bit older and there was two of ’em.”

“Well I don’t think you will find them here,” said their mother doubtfully.

“They was both thin and one had glasses,” the farmer persisted.

.”Oh,” said their mother, “I do have a niece staying here, but surely it can’t . . .”

“P’raps she’s one of ’em,” the farmer interrupted. He peered into the room and spotted the red jersey Erica had left on a chair. “Hey, I seen that there jersey before,” he exclaimed. “One of them was wearing it.”

Neither of the girls could be found but the farmer was determined. “They must be hereabouts,” he said. “Look I got my dog Sally here; she’ll soon sniff them out.”

Tao and Erica were hauled out from their hiding place.

“Lucky I wasn’t finished off by that there bull,” said Mr Hogsworthy. “As it is I dunno how I’m going to get through me work on the farm with all these here injuries.”

“Well you girls, I don’t know what to say,” said the bewildered mother.

“We just wanted to catch a butterfly,” said Tao. “We didn’t know about that bull. We don’t know why it should have chased Mr Hogsworthy.”

“It went for me because of that there red jersey. But I reckon it all come through trespassing. And trespassing is serious. We can’t ’av it. It’s agin the law.”

“I’m truly sorry, aunt,” said a dejected Erica. “It was my fault, not Tao’s. I can get my Dad to pay for any damage.”

The farmer shook his head. “Money can’t help milk the cows, feed the chickens an’ make me butter. If you want to put things right you must give a hand on the farm. Hard work will be punishment enough.”


Trouble with cows

Next morning Tao and Erica were woken early by the sound of Mr Hogsworthy’s truck, and then a knock on the door. “Oh, no,” groaned Erica. “It’s that farmer come to fetch us, just when I want to go butterfly hunting.”

“No time for breakfast,” said the farmer, as Tao went half asleep to answer the knocking. “Them cows is waiting to be milked.”

They said goodbye to Tao’s surprised mother and were bundled into the rickety truck and went bumping and bouncing along the road to the farm. They drew up to the farmhouse, an old building that needed painting, and were greeted by the farmer’s wife and two children, Charlie an untidy boy of about fifteen dressed in a blue overall and his sister Connie, about a year younger wearing jeans and heavy black boots. “I’m glad you’ve come to help. We need more hands to get through all the work here,” said Mrs Hogsworthy.

“They can start with the milking,” grunted the farmer as he limped into the house to have coffee. Connie led them to the milking parlour, a dilapidated shed nearby. “You know how to milk cows, don’t you?” she said. When they said no, the girl groaned. “Fat lot of help you’re going to be. Reckon I’d be better off on my own. Well come on, s’pose I’ll have to teach you.”

They changed into overalls that were much too big, disinfected their hands with strong soap and followed Connie into the milking section. The cows were in an enclosure nearby. In the milking shed were pens with bars, and Connie herded one of the cows into the first pen and sat down on a stool. “Okay stand there and watch how I do it,” she said impatiently. “Haven’t much time to show you so you’ll have to learn quick.”

It looked easy enough but when Tao came to try she found it was messy and difficult. Erica was also battling. “Yuck, this isn’t fun at all,” Erica said, squirting frothing milk into a pail, and spilling a lot of it. Tao’s cow was a difficult one and kept kicking. She had filled half a pail when the cow kicked it over. Connie jumped up and cuffed Tao on the head. “What’s the matter with you? Look you’ve wasted half the bucket,” she shouted.

“Hey” said Erica. “You mustn’t do that to my cousin. It wasn’t her fault.”

“Want to make something of it, city girl,” sneered Connie, and she shoved Erica against a railing. At that moment Tao’s cow kicked the pail, which landed upside down over the farm girl’s head, milk splashing over her clothes. She looked like a robot with a tin head.

Connie stumbled blindly round the parlour her arms flailing as she barged into objects, muffled yells coming from inside the bucket. The cows took fright, knocked down their gates and bolted through the door. All the other cows waiting outside panicked and the herd stampeded into the fields.

Mr Hogsworthy came out the house, hopping on one leg. “What’s going on ‘ere?” he roared. “Connie, you stop that caper. This is no time for fun and games.”

“Help! Get this off of me,” Connie shouted from under the bucket. Her brother Charlie came running in, his face white. “The cows have bolted” he told his father. “How’re we gonna get the milking done?”

‘“Turn me back for one second and everything goes wrong,” bellowed Mr Hogsworthy. “What’s the reason for all this ’ere mess.”

They managed to get the bucket off Connie’s head and she emerged, her hair plastered down with milk. “It’s those two girls to blame,” she said fiercely. “They’re so dumb they don’t even know how to milk a cow.”

Mr Hogsworthy glared at Tao and Erica. “You two is bad luck.” He growled. “Trouble follows you wherever you go. I want you out of the milking shed afore you cause more damage. Best you help Charlie in the pig sties.”


Charlie and the pigs

“Okay you two, come along of me,” ordered the grinning farm boy. “Let’s see how you get on with smelly hogs.”

They were given heavy gum boots several sizes too big, and followed Charlie to the pig shed a good distance from the homestead.

“Phew, what a pong,” said Erica holding her nose, as they entered the shed, which had rows of pens, large white sows and their squealing piglets lying on straw beds, feeding troughs at one end. Outside the shed in a muddy fenced-off yard dozens of other hogs were rooting for food and rolling in the mud.

“It’s dinner time for the sows,” said Charlie. He showed them the pig swill in large barrels, smelly waste food that had been collected from restaurants and hotels. “You can have some for breakfast if you’re hungry,” the boy joked. They were shown how to shovel the swill into wheelbarrows and load it into the troughs in the pens. It was

heavy smelly work.’

Charlie made himself comfortable on a bale of straw and sat smoking and watching the girls toiling away, now and then shouting for them to get a move on and strop slacking.

“What a lazy boy,” Erica complained. “He sits there smoking his cigarette while we have to do all the work. I wish he could be taught a lesson.” After a while Charlie dozed off, his half-smoked cigarette still in his mouth. Erica went for a load of swill while Tao had a short rest.

The cigarette somehow slipped out of the farm boy’s mouth and plopped onto the bale of straw. It lay there for a while smouldering then a small flame flickered. In no time the flame grew bigger and a plume of smoke drifted into Charlie’s nose. He woke and leaped to his feet. By this time the hay was burning fiercely, and Charlie raced wildly around looking for a bucket of water.

“Hey you girls” he yelled. “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you warn me the bale was on fire? Why can’t you do your work properly?”

They tried to help find buckets but it was too late; the fire had spread to a nearby hayrick. They watched the burning rick helplessly.

“Wow,” said Charlie aghast. “My Dad will blow his top when he sees what you girls have done.”

“What nonsense,” Tao exclaimed. “You shouldn’t be sitting on hay while smoking a cigarette.”

The farm truck roared up and an angry Mr Hogsworthy heaved himself out. “Charlie!” he shouted. “What in the name of blue blistered bananas is going on?”

“Gee, Dad, I dunno how the fire started. Maybe it was one of these girls playing with matches.”

Mr Hogsworthy looked at his son suspiciously. “You haven’t been smoking again ’ave you Charlie?”

Tao said quickly, “Yes he has Mr Hogworthy. Look there’s a packet of cigarettes sticking out his pocket.”

“So is that true me lad?”

“Well, er . . . But I swear smoking is not what caused the fire,” he said glaring at Tao.

The rick was almost burnt out, just a charred heap of cinders left with smoke curling out. The cause of the fire was still a mystery, but the farmer had his suspicions.

“One thing I do know,” he said, “you girls bring bad luck wherever you go. I dunno what to do with you next. P’raps you can help my Missus with the poultry. There’s eggs to collect and clean and I don’t know what all.”

A grumbling Charlie was left to feed the pigs and the farmer’s wife took them to the laying shed, where rows of brown hens in wire cages were clucking noisily and hundreds of eggs were ready to be collected. Tao asked if the hens were happy, because they seemed cramped in their small wire compartments. “They’re quite content,” she assured them. “All hens care about is getting their food and water.” It was nearly lunch time when they finished and the girls were hungry, not having had breakfast.

The farmer was relieved there had been no more disasters. “I’ll be happy to be shot of you two,” he said. “You are nothing but trouble. You best be getting back to yer ’ome. And I don’t want to see either of you anywhere near my farm again.” He limped off, leaving them to make their own way home.


Aunt Gertrude and the butterflies

“What an ungrateful lot and they didn’t even give us breakfast,” Erica complained. “It’s their own fault if a few things went wrong, though I can’t understand how it all happened,” she added looking suspiciously at Tao.

They felt better after a good lunch of roast beef, followed by ice cream and coffee. Amber who had been visiting a friend wanted to know where they had been. “Glad I wasn’t with you,” she said. “I hate smelly pigs.”

But some bad news awaited Tao. “You’ll be pleased to hear Aunt Gertrude is coming to visit,” her mother said. Tao wasn’t pleased at all; Aunt Gertrude had visited them several times before, and she was forever complaining the girls were too noisy.

Her aunt was a fussy grey haired woman. She was secretary of the Anti-Cruelty League in her town, and was always on the lookout for anyone she thought was cruel to animals or insects. She once offered to give the girls a reward if they reported anyone they saw being cruel.

Aunt Gertrude arrived next day in a small green Beetle car loaded with suitcases. She also brought notebooks, a camera and even a tape recorder. Tao’s mother and the girls helped unload and carry her luggage to the guest room.

“Well, Carrie, how nice to be in the country,” said Aunt Gertrude. “And you girls are looking well. I do hope you will be quiet during my stay. I get such dreadful headaches when there is noise.”

They had tea and cakes and Aunt Gertrude went to her room for a nap. “I’m quite exhausted,” she complained. “Driving always brings on my migraines.”

After breakfast next morning the three girls decided to go butterfly hunting, and were on the way out, Erica carrying her butterfly net and Amber and Tao carrying bottles, notebooks, and other equipment. Aunt Gertrude was reading a newspaper. “Oh, Erica dear,” she said, “are you going fishing for tadpoles with your net?”

The girls giggled. “No, we’re going butterfly catching,” said Tao. “Erica is a butterfly collector.”

Aunt Gertrude’s face clouded. “I don’t understand, dear child,” she said. “How do you collect them?”

“I catch them in my net,” explained Erica. “I have a display cabinet of specimens at home. It’s quite a valuable collection.”

Aunt Gertrude shook her head. “But surely you don’t mean you have a cabinet of live butterflies?”

“Oh no, of course they are mounted specimens.”

“You can’t mean, I’m sure you don’t mean, that they are dead butterflies, dear girl,” said Aunt Gertrude in horror.

“Well, yes,” said Erica. “We have to kill them before we begin the mounting process.”

“You kill them!” Aunt Gertrude couldn’t believe her ears. “How do you kill them?”

“It’s quite easy really. I carry a bottle of poison with me and after I catch them I pop them into the bottle. They die quite painlessly really. They quiver a bit at first then as soon as they are quite dead I take them out and keep them in a special box. They have to be mounted before they go stiff.”

Aunt Gertrude got unsteadily to her feet. “This is ghastly,” she gasped. “What inhuman, barbaric behaviour.” She shuddered. “I can hardly imagine the suffering of those pitiful creatures. How do you mount them?”

“We stick pins through their bodies and hold them down on boards so their wings are stretched out until they are properly dry,” explained Erica patiently.

Aunt Gertrude put her hands to her ears and closed her eyes. Erica was bewildered. “They are only butterflies,” she said.

“Only butterflies! Only butterflies! Dear girl don’t you realize what horrendous agony those poor creatures go through!” spluttered Aunt Gertrude. She made up her mind. “I absolutely and completely forbid you to continue this contemptible, odious hobby. I will not tolerate it,” she stormed. “I will break that net in half like a twig if you dare use it again. Now put all those horrid things away and go for a walk and admire the beauty of nature.”


Aunt Gertrude and the buzzing bees

“Hey, do you think Aunt Gertrude has gone bats?” said Erica. They had put away their butterfly equipment and sat outside deciding what to do next. “Best we ignore her,” said Tao. “Hide all your stuff in the shed and we can sneak it out. She will never know.”

They found a field full of flowers well away from farmer Hogsworthy and managed to net some colourful and rare species. They sneaked back making sure to avoid Aunt Gertrude, and Erica found a table in the shed where she could mount the butterflies.

At lunch Aunt Gertrude said, “I’m so glad you girls have given up that horrid hobby. It is so much healthier to hike in the countryside enjoying the beautiful scenery. I would gladly join you if it weren’t for the dreadful allergies I suffer from, caused by pollen borne in the air. You girls are fortunate to be immune. I have a terror of insects; even a single sting could have serious consequences.” “Why would a sting be serious?” asked Tao. “It could cause a person like me to suffer from anaphylactic shock.”

“Wow,” said Tao. “How awful.”

“Even the sound of insects buzzing terrifies me, dear child,” she said. “Alas, it is a cross I have to bear.”

After lunch Aunt Gertrude rumbled into town in her Beetle to buy some special foods to strengthen her lungs and pills for her headaches and allergies.

Tao and Amber sneaked into the guest room while she was away. They were amazed at the dozens of bottles in the cupboard containing pills of every colour and shape imaginable, and liquid medicines enough to fill a chemist shop. On a table were books on how to cure all sorts of illnesses, notebooks and stacks of pamphlets about animal cruelty, her camera and tape recorder.

“Let’s borrow the tape recorder,” said Tao. “Aunt Gertrude won’t be back for hours. She’s having her hair done.”

At the bottom of the garden was a bee hive in the trunk of an old tree. Tao usually kept well away for fear of being stung. But she wondered what the buzzing would sound like on the tape recorder. It was dangerous to go too close, so she got a long pole, tied the recorder to the end of it and held it next to the hive. The bees obliged by buzzing extra loudly.

“Wow, that sounds cool,” Tao said when they listened to the recording. They put the recorder back in case Aunt Gertrude returned early.

“I think I shall turn in early,” said Aunt Gertrude after supper. “I find arguing with young hairdressers so tiring. And country chemist shops never seem to have the brand I want.”

The girls watched television then went to bed, planning a butterfly hunt early next day. Tao could hear their aunt snoring loudly in the next room. It was an irritating sound and kept her from falling asleep and she lay awake wondering if she should knock on the guest room door to complain. Then she remembered the recorder lying near her aunt’s bed. She could visualise it clearly even the switch to turn it on.

A loud buzzing started in the next room. Aunt Gertrude carried on snoring for a while, then suddenly the snoring stopped and the only sound was the buzzing. Aunt Gertrude leaped from her bed, knocking over furniture as she scrambled about in the dark trying .

to turn on the lights.

She uttered a loud cry and Tao heard the bedroom door fly open and her aunt fled downthe passage in her nightie shouting for help.

“Bees, bees!” she shouted, “I am being attacked by a swarm of bees in my bedroom. I think I have been stung,”

Everyone was roused by the uproar, and they all came stumbling out in their pyjamas. Meantime the buzzing mysteriously stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

Tao’s mother tried to comfort her sobbing sister. “Where are the bees?” she asked. “How badly have you been stung?” While Aunt Gertrude sat in the lounge shivering in her nightie a thorough search was made.

“But Gertie, there are no bees in your room!” Tao’s mother exclaimed.

Aunt Gertrude stared open mouthed. “No bees? But that’s impossible. I heard them with my own ears. I couldn’t see them in the dark, but they were there. I’m sure I was stung.”

But no sign of a sting was found. They coaxed Aunt Gertrude back to bed, and she took several pills to calm her nerves and a big pink sleeping pill. “I’m sure they were here,” she said as they put out the lights. “They must have flown away out the window.”

She spent the next day in bed. “I am utterly prostrated by the experience,” she said weakly. “I have never been more terrified. The swarm flew at me with that terrible buzzing. The memory will haunt me for the rest of my days.”


Aunt Gertrude and the battery hens

Aunt Gertrude soon recovered from her ordeal. “I really must carry on distributing my pamphlets,” she said briskly. “I must do my bit to protect suffering animals. Perhaps you girls can help me. I’m sure your mother will approve of your helping a worthy cause.”

Before the girls could protest she said, “Let us make an early start. You girls can help me load the car.”

They piled stacks of flyers on the seats, Aunt Gertrude made sure she had her notebooks and camera and they drove off to the village.

“You girls know the best places,” she said. “Perhaps we should split up. Each of you can take a pile and hand out to passers-by and car drivers. I shall pay personal visits to shops and houses.”

It was hard work because most people were in a hurry, but slowly they managed to hand out most of the pamphlets. Aunt Gertrude returned after canvassing the shops. “Well done girls,” she said. “We have had a most successful morning. I think we should now visit some of the farms. Farmers often neglect their animals. Perhaps you girls have visited a farm lately?”

“Well . . .” Tao began, but Erica nudged her. “We have hiked past farms,” she said, “but they don’t like trespassers,”

“I would not be a trespasser,” said Aunt Gertrude indignantly. “I have every right to inspect farms as a member of the Anti-Cruelty League.”

They drove past Farmer Hogsworthy’s gate, and the girls tried to distract their Aunt’s attention, but she stopped the car.

“I’m sure your mother sometimes buys eggs here,” she said. “I think we should visit them. If there is any difficulty I shall say we wish to buy eggs or milk.”

They opened the gate and drove to the farmhouse. The girls crouched in their seats while Aunt Gertrude knocked on the front door which was opened by Mrs Hogsworthy.

“Oh, good afternoon, I wonder if it would be convenient for me to look around your farm,” said Aunt Gertrude, putting on a bright smile. “My two nieces and I are so interested in farming and we are fascinated by the animals. Perhaps we could buy some of your produce.”

Mrs Hogsworthy looked dubious. “Well, I don’t know about that. My husband is strict about visitors.”

“Oh, I assure you we will be no trouble.”

But Mrs Hogsworthy insisted she would have to ask her husband. “He’s in the milking shed and wouldn’t take kindly to being interrupted,” she said.

Just then Mr Hogsworthy arrived. “’Ere, ’ere and who are you?” he grunted. “Don’t you take no notice of the sign on me gate?”

Aunt Gertrude apologised for not having read the notice. She said she would pay a good price for milk.

“I don’t usually sell on me farm,” he said. “But I might allow it just this once.” He led the way to the milking shed and Aunt Gertrude had a good look inside while the farmer fetched a carton.

On the way back Aunt Gertrude noticed the poultry shed. The large sliding door was shut but she could hear hens clucking. She had a sudden suspicion that the shed contained something she had long campaigned against.

“Oh, I would so love to buy a dozen of your lovely fresh farm eggs,” she said. “Could we pop in for a moment and collect some?”

“Nobody but staff is allowed in there,” Mr Hogsworthy grunted. “You can wait here and I’ll see what I can do.” As he slid open the door Aunt Gertrude’s suspicions were confirmed. The farmer was using the hated hen battery system. She quickly took her camera and edged towards the door, just as the farmer was coming out.

“’Ere, ’ere,” he shouted, “just what do you think you’re doing? I don’t allow photos. What’s yer game lady? Gimme that there camera.”

“I shall do no such thing,” she exclaimed. She tried to push past him to take a picture, but the farmer angrily barred the way and closed the door.

“You cannot intimidate me, my man,” she said. “I am an official of the Animal Anti-Cruelty League. I shall expose your evil practise. Those poor hens are crowded like prisoners in a Nazi death camp. It is a crime and against all humane principles,” she.

she cried bristling with anger.

“Yer must be off yer rocker lady,” said the farmer, flushing an angry purple. “Crazy old bird. ’Oo are you calling a Nazi? I’ll ’ave the police on you.”

“I shall take a photo whether you like it or not,” stormed Aunt Gertrude. “I shall call my two nieces to assist me.”

She marched off towards her car and returned with the reluctant girls. The farmer’s face turned from purple to red and then back to purple.

“Youse two again!” he yelled. “I want you off my farm.” He called for his son Charlie, who was driving a tractor in a nearby field. Charlie parked and came running, smirking at the sight of the two girls. “I want these people off the farm, even if I have to set the dogs on ’em,” roared farmer Hogsworthy.

“I shall not leave until I have a photograph,” said Aunt Gertrude determinedly. “You girls, open that door,” she ordered.

Tao looked at the parked tractor with interest and on the dashboard she saw a button labelled “ignition”.

At that moment the tractor’s engine spluttered into life and the machine moved off across the field and began turning in a circle. Charlie sprinted after it and farmer Hogsworthy watched aghast as the runaway machine headed towards the milking shed.

The girls slid the henhouse door open, Aunt Gertrude took several pictures and they hurried to the car and drove off as a loud crash and yells of fury erupted in the distance.


Bye bye Aunt Gertrude

Next day Aunt Gertrude was up early, all her ailments forgotten. After breakfast she wrote busily in her notebook, preparing an article on battery hens for the Anti-cruelty League monthly newsletter.

“I shall expose this wicked system,” she told the girls. “Thanks to you I have photos to illustrate my article.” She rang the office to tell them she was returning early to arrange for her article to be published. They all helped load her car and stood waving as she drove away. Tao’s mother said it was disappointing her sister had to shorten her visit, but she was secretly relieved to see her go.



Tao Bullock is twelve years old and she and her sister Amber aged nine love drawing with pencils and crayons. She would like to be an author or an artist one day. Amber enjoys riding horses and hopes to be a vet when she grows up. They live near the Drakensberg mountains in Natal, South Africa.

Perhaps you would enjoy Amber’s Moonlight Adventure, also available from Amazon as a print book or as an ebook from Amazon, Kobo, Shakespir or many other sites, some free. Just look on the internet. They are also busy with another Tao book, Tao’s Adventures on the Moon.



Tao's Magic tricks

  • Author: Guy Bullock
  • Published: 2015-11-03 18:40:12
  • Words: 9989
Tao's Magic tricks Tao's Magic tricks