CHAPTER ONE -
Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi Go to the Fair
There were three very good little girls called Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi, who did their best to behave, but they were also very curious.
The three sisters lived in the town of Happyville, in an old, tall, skinny house. Many, many years before, the house was lived in by an eccentric old lady who had, for reasons unknown, built her home on a funny-shaped lot between 14th and 15th Street in Happyville. She had always insisted that her address was neither 14th nor 15th Street and had, against the city’s wishes, constructed her own street sign that informed all that the address of her abode was #111 14th and 3/8th Street. The sign had never been taken down, and as the years passed the city reluctantly agreed to acknowledge the old lady’s naming of the street, much to her amusement. After her death, the home sat empty for over thirty years until it was purchased from the deceased lady’s estate by Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi’s parents, shortly after they were married.
Bob and Laura Edwards could not afford an expensive house, so, they took on the task of restoring the home. The house may have been old, but it was very comfortable, and the three girls loved it immensely. Their bedroom was on the top floor, and they shared the same room, as they had for as long as they could remember. It was a big room and took up the entire floor. The beds were neatly set in a row on one side: Itzi at one end, Mitzi at the other and Bitzi in the middle. On the other side of the room were their dressing tables and drawers, an old, upright piano and various toys, most of which the girls had outgrown but were too fond of to give away. On the other side of the room were the stairs that led down to the middle floor where their parents' bedroom was situated, as well as their father's office and their mother's sewing room. The bottom floor housed the kitchen and dining room as well as the living room.
The other side of the girls’ bedroom had a pull-down ladder that led up to the attic. Their father and mother had turned the attic space into a huge playroom and it was the girls' favourite part of the house. It was here they would play dress-up games and imagine they were heroines of old. One day they would be new settlers in the Old West, and the next day they would take turns playing Helen of Troy. It was not really necessary for Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi to play make-believe for their life was one exciting adventure after another, but still, they were clever, adventurous girls and found imagining great fun.
"I love Saturdays!" exclaimed Mitzi. She was the youngest of the three, a pretty little eight year old with blue, sparkling eyes and long, flowing golden hair. Her given name was Margaret though no one called her anything but Mitzi, not even her parents, unless they were very upset with her. She did very well in school; though, sometimes her teachers complained that she sometimes asked too many questions. Mitzi was very inquisitive and could be very wearying for her teachers. Nonetheless, everyone agreed that Mitzi was a pleasant little girl.
"Well, I have a feeling this Saturday isn't going to be much fun. We're grounded, remember?" Itzi said, looking at Bitzi. Itzi, having just turned twelve, was the oldest of the three and her real name was Isabella, named after a long-departed great aunt on her father’s side. She was, like her siblings, very pretty, though her hair was black as night and was cut much shorter than that of her two sisters. Itzi was every bit the adventurer that her younger sisters were but being the oldest gave her a sense of responsibility towards them as well, and it was her voice of caution and reason that kept them from getting in even more trouble than they already had. She had a temper that was quick to flare up, but was also quick to die out. Her Dad said, only half-joking, that she got this character trait from her mother’s side of the family.
Mitzi, like her sisters, was making her bed, but she also glanced up at Bitzi upon Itzi’s words.
"Hey, don't look at me!" exclaimed Bitzi. Bitzi was the middle child in the family and was a striking looking little girl with blazing red hair and a friendly freckled face, which was quick to smile. She had been christened Bernita, but no one outside of her family knew this fact. She was a very mischievous ten year old and usually the scrapes the girls got into were as a direct result of one of Bitzi's schemes. It was not that she was ever deliberately bad but her lively, scientific mind seemed to override common sense. Like the time she had got a remote control airplane for Christmas. She had taken it to a spot in Happyville on the edge of town, where it should have been impossible to get into trouble. However, a few hundred yards away from the field where Bitzi flew her airplane, was the power plant that supplied Happyville with its electricity. Bitzi noticed that the remote control plane received a boost in power the closer it got to the power plant. She started to experiment and flew the plane closer and closer to the giant electrical towers. Bitzi was having a great time steering the plane through the air but when it got too close to the power plant she found that the remote control did not work anymore. She watched helplessly as the plane crashed into the main electrical tower. There was a boom and a bang and sparks flew everywhere. And then there was silence. And then people started running out of the power plant to see what had happened. For over a day Happyville was without electricity.
“Don’t look at you? Why not!?" said Itzi, accusingly. "We're grounded because of you."
"It was a mistake. Anyway, you helped too."
Mitzi giggled. "Oh, Bitzi. We know it was an accident. But accidents always seem to happen to us because of you."
Even Itzi had to smile at the thought of all the scrapes and adventures they always seemed to get into. She tried to act mature, but she had to admit that she was as naturally curious as her two sisters.
Two weeks ago, Eddy Bolarnchuk had given Bitzi some firecrackers, and the girls had decided to use them to make a rocket ship. It had seemed quite harmless but like all of their plans it did not go quite the way it was supposed to.
They had imagined the rocket ship shooting straight in the air and landing back on their front lawn. Even their mom had not seemed to mind, but the rocket ship had not gone straight up. It went fairly straight at first, and was a mighty impressive sight, for the girls had spent a lot of time working on their spacecraft, but then it had started to turn. It flew over the Anderson's house, the Svenson's house and crashed spectacularly onto the roof of the Wong's garage. The garage had caught on fire, and by the time the startled girls had run over to inspect the damage, it had burnt into a blazing inferno. Fortunately, the Happyville Fire Department had quickly arrived on the scene and prevented the fire from spreading to the Wong's home. But their garage was burned down to the ground. As punishment, Dad had grounded the girls for a whole month, and they were forbidden to play with fire or fireworks until, as their father had put it, "they had pestilential children of their own.”
"Maybe if we're extra special good and quiet, Mom and Dad will let us play outside," Mitzi said. "I don't think they're really mad anymore. In fact, I heard them laughing about it a couple of days ago.”
Itzi was about to reply when they heard their mother's voice calling up to them.
"Girls! Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes."
Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi, who were still in their pajamas, hurried to get dressed.
Their mother and father were downstairs, seated at the kitchen table. Mr. Edwards sipped a cup of coffee and read his newspaper while Mrs. Edwards finished preparing the breakfast.
"Honey?" she said.
"Hmmm.." he mumbled.
"Did you know the fair has come to town? It set up on Thursday."
"Hmmm," he mumbled again, not really paying attention for he was reading about the Happyville Hounds hockey team, which had lost for the fifth time in a row.
"Honey, I was thinking it would be nice to bring the girls to the fair." Mrs. Edwards was very persistent.
Mr. Edwards was suddenly not the calm man who had been nonchalantly reading the paper with unconcern only a few seconds earlier. He froze as if he had been turned to ice. He folded his paper, with great effort, and looked with wide, unbelieving eyes up to his wife.
"Are you serious?" he gasped.
"Yes, of course I am."
"We could make an exception. It's no fun for any of us to be cooped up in the house on a beautiful day like this."
“Yes, but.. but.. can you imagine what kind of damage our girls could do at a fair."
"We took them last year and they were fine."
"I know, I know. Miracles happen. But let's not tempt fate."
Mrs. Edwards smiled as she refilled her husband's coffee cup. "We always loved the fair when we were young. Remember the first time you kissed me?"
Mr. Edwards squeezed her hand. "Of course I do. It was on the Ferris wheel. You were the prettiest girl in all of Happyville - still are."
"So we'll take them?"
There was a moment of silence as Mr. Edwards had a brief daydream of his daughters wreaking havoc at the fair, but he banished it from his mind and tried to stay positive. It was a beautiful spring day, and he longed to be outside with his family.
“Couldn’t we go somewhere where the potential for disaster isn’t so great?”
Mrs. Edwards took a sip of her tea before saying, “My dear, with us beside them there won’t be any disasters. What could possibly go wrong at a country fair?”
Mr. Edwards sighed for he knew he was defeated. Though he would not admit it, he also really wanted to go to the fair. He put up a brave face, however.
"Okay, we'll take them, but they will not be allowed out of our sight."
"Whatever you say, dear," smiled his wife agreeably.
However, Mr. Edwards was not finished. He loved Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi as well as any father could, but he had had to rescue them from so many situations that he was not blinded to their faults.
"The Wongs have only just forgiven us."
"They did take it rather hard. But, it was only a garage."
Mr. Edwards scoffed. "Did you expect them to thank us for only burning down the garage and not their house?"
"Oh, come on. The insurance money will be enough to build another one."
"That reminds me. Frank Stevens, our insurance agent, told me that he won't be able to insure us next year. He says nobody in Happyville will insure us anymore."
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards' conversation was interrupted by the happy yells of the girls running down the stairs. They burst into the kitchen.
"Boy, am I ever hungry!" said Bitzi sitting down.
"Me too!" chimed in Itzi and Mitzi.
Mrs. Edwards smiled and placed a heaping stack of pancakes in the middle of the table.
"Pancakes!" the girls exclaimed. Pancakes were their favourite breakfast in the whole world.
"Your dad and I have another surprise for you too,” Mrs. Edwards said, “We've decided to take you girls to the Happyville Fair…” Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi gave a happy cheer. "However," she said loudly, "you must behave. Please, please, please behave."
"Last year when we went, nothing bad happened," pointed out Itzi.
Mr. Edwards coughed and then spoke. "That is true. But, since then you have burned down a garage, deprived the town of electricity for a whole day…"
"Dad, that wasn't our fault!" Bitzi argued. "Sammy Bolarnchuk told me that it was perfectly safe to …”
"The point is," said her father, interrupting her interruption, "that you girls, willingly or not, have caused an enormous amount of damage. You have been the lead item on the news more times than I choose to remember. It's very embarrassing you know."
Mr. Edwards was the news anchorman at WHPY, the local television station, and his colleagues at the network had no end of fun teasing him about his daughter's mishaps.
"We're terribly sorry, Dad," Mitzi said.
"Yes, we're very sorry," Itzi chimed in. "We promise to be as good as gold today. You don’t have to worry."
"I think it best that you girls stay close to your dad and me while we're at the fair," said Mrs. Edwards. "Then we really will have no cause for worry."
Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi wisely decided not to debate this point; for, they were happy enough just to go to the fair.
"Um, Mom, does this mean we're not grounded anymore?" Bitzi asked.
"Your dad and I have not yet decided that."
"Right, don't press your luck," said Mr. Edwards, nervously looking at Bitzi who with a fork, spoon and knife and a bit of pancake was setting up a bit of a science experiment. "When you have gone longer than a month without causing your mom and me grief, we might be willing to give you the benefit of the ...." Before Mr. Edwards could finish his sentence a fork with a pancake on it sailed across the table and smacked him on the head. He looked up to see Bitzi's guilty face.
"Oops, sorry Dad," she said.
"Hmm... doubt," he said, completing the end of his sentence, while inwardly willing himself to stay positive.
* * *
After breakfast was completed and the girls had thoroughly cleaned their rooms, the whole Edwards family packed into their station wagon and drove to the fair.
Mr. Edwards started to sing a song he had written on a family vacation long ago, called the Zookeeper Song.
“I’ve got a camel, and a monkey,
and a rhinoceros,
I’ve got a tiger and a chimpanzee,
I’ve got a great, big, giant menagerie
And they’re no trouble for me.”
The girls echoed the last line,
“And they’re no trouble for meeee.”
Mr. Edwards continued.
“I’ve got three girls in the house I live,
And we’re so very happy
But Itzi, Bitzi, Mitzi are bad little girls,
And they’re lots of trouble for me.”
Mrs. Edwards now joined in.
“And they’re lots of trouble for meeee.”
The fair, run by a band of roving gypsies, took place in Smily Park, which was located right in the centre of town. The fair only came twice a year - once in the spring and once in the summer - staying each time for a few days.
It seemed as if the whole town had come out on this beautiful, sunny spring day. The girls squealed with excitement as their station wagon pulled into the fair's parking lot. Then everyone hopped out of the car and walked over the grass towards the screams of scared but happy people on some of the wilder rides, the barking of the vendors who tried to persuade everyone to play their games, and the whirring of all the machines in motion.
As exciting as all these wonderful events and games were, the thing that sparked the girls' imagination most was the hot air balloon ride, situated on the field next to the fair. It was a new addition to the fair, and the girls excitedly pulled on their parents' arms.
"Look Dad! Look Mom! It's a hot air balloon ride. Can we go and see?"
Mrs. Edwards looked at her husband who suddenly looked worried. "Yes, but we'll go with you," she said. Mr. Edwards took a deep breath and relaxed.
It was a very big hot air balloon, with a large smiling clown painted on its huge white surface. The basket looked large enough to hold their entire family. Two thick ropes tied to the ground kept the balloon from flying away. Though the fair was busy, no one was at the balloon ride.
Mr. Edwards walked up to the small, dark gypsy standing by the balloon and, stooping over, asked him a question. The gypsy looked up and gave a smile, revealing a perfect set of white teeth which seemed to light up his whole face. He beamed at the rest of the family standing to the side, and, taking a small notebook out of his breast pocket, wrote something down and showed it to Mr. Edwards. Mr. Edwards jumped back as if he had been hit. His face registered shock. He shook his head and turned to join his family.
"I've solved the great mystery of why no one is using the ride," he said. "It is far, far too expensive."
"Oh, Dad," pleaded Itzi. "Can't we go on?"
"I'm afraid not, girls.” Mr. Edwards shook his head. “It is just too much."
"How about if we don't have an allowance for two months?" asked Bitzi. "Then can we go?"
"You don't have an allowance anymore. Remember? You're still paying off the Linden’s for breaking their front window."
"Oh. Sorry, I had forgotten about that one," Bitzi said humbly.
"It doesn't matter.” Mrs. Edwards spoke up. “There's lots more to do at a fair beside going on a balloon. Come on, let's go on the Tilt-A-Whirl."
The family had a great time on the Tilt-A-Whirl, so much so that the girls forgot all about the hot air balloon. After the ride they sat down at a picnic table and had hot dogs and pop.
"Is it okay if we go off by ourselves?" asked Mitzi. "We promise to be good."
"Yes," said Itzi. "I'll make sure that we don't get in any trouble."
"Well, I don't know," Mr. Edwards said. "What do you think, dear?" He looked at his wife.
Mrs. Edwards squeezed his hand affectionately. "I think I would like to have you to myself for a while."
Mr. Edwards smiled and then turned to the girls. "Okay, you can go by yourselves, but... stay out of trouble! Do I have your word on that?"
"We promise," chorused the three girls together. Their parents, having finished their food, got up and left together
“Uh-oh,” said Itzi. "The Bolarnchuks are coming our way.
"Don't look at them," whispered Bitzi. "Maybe they won't notice us."
"Hey, it's Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi," said Michael, the oldest boy.
"Burn down any garages lately?" sneered one of them.
"Oh, be quiet Sammy," said Bitzi. "If Eddy hadn't given me the fireworks, it never would have happened."
The Bolarnchuks were the same ages as the girls. Michael was in the same grade as Itzi. He was a tall, friendly looking boy with blue eyes. Itzi thought he was very nice and good looking too though she would never admit that to anyone. Eddy was the middle child and was in Bitzi's grade. He was, like his brother, quite tall for his age. Like Bitzi, he had an inquisitive mind which often landed him in trouble. Bitzi thought he was the smartest boy in her class, but wished he wasn’t so rude. Sammy was the youngest of the brothers, and the shortest. He was in Mitzi's grade and sat beside her. He was usually a nice boy but had a tendency to be very pessimistic.
The boys went to the counter of the hot dog stand to buy themselves some food. While they did, the girls discussed what they were going to do next and decided that they were going to start with the Ferris wheel.
The Bolarnchuks, having gotten their food, sat down on the picnic table next to Itzi, Mitzi and Bitzi.
"Hey, Michael, what ride are we going to go on next?" asked Eddy.
"Let's go on the Ferris wheel," piped up Sammy.
"Oh, great!" said Bitzi sarcastically to her sisters. "Now we have to put up with them."
“Remember last year at the fair,” spoke up Itzi. “Eddy and Sammy threw peanuts at us every time their chair got higher than ours.”
"Let's go on another ride first," Mitzi said. "I know; why don't we go back to the balloon?"
"But we can't afford it," Itzi replied.
"I know," said Mitzi, "but it would be neat just to see it go up."
"Yes, let's go to the balloon ride," chimed in Bitzi.
Itzi agreed with her sisters, though secretly she would have liked to go to the Ferris wheel with the Bolarnchuks. She thought Michael Bolarnchuk had such a nice smile. The sisters rose to leave, making a point of turning their back on the boys.
"I'm surprised you guys haven't burnt down any of the tents yet," yelled Eddy to them as they walked away.
"Just ignore them," Itzi said to her sisters. "Those Bolarnchuks can be so infuriating."
The girls walked happily over to the balloon ride. They were excited and looked forward to seeing someone fly away. When they got to the ride, however, not even the small gypsy man was there. The giant balloon appeared lonely and menacing as it as it stood in the empty field. They walked up to the basket and noticed a small sign that said 'Gone for Lunch'. Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi looked at the massive balloon and sighed with envy. “Oh,” each one thought to herself, “how nice it would have been to go for a balloon ride.”
"I guess we can come back later,” Itzi said.
"Yes," Bitzi answered. "But I just want to see what the inside of the basket looks like." She ran to the outside of the huge wicker basket that was tied to the ground. There was a stepladder propped up beside it so people could get in without having to climb over the sides. Bitzi climbed the ladder and peered in.
"Neat!" she said.
"Bitzi! Get down from there. We're supposed to stay out of trouble," said Itzi, giving a worried look over her shoulder.
"I'm not doing anything wrong," Bitzi answered. "Wow, look at this!" she said, indicating the inside of the basket.
"Let me see!" Mitzi squealed.
"Mitzi! Don't!" Itzi argued. "Both of you are going to get us all in trouble."
Mitzi ignored her sister and put her feet on the ladder. While she climbed the ladder, Bitzi clambered into the basket, stood up and poked her red-haired head over the side.
"Itzi!" she spoke excitedly. "It's like a little house in here. There's a basket of food and some propane tanks and lots of other neat stuff. Come on up and have a look."
Itzi was bursting with curiosity. She started to climb the ladder and pretty soon all three girls were in the basket. Itzi glanced above her and saw a steady flame shooting into the giant balloon, filling it with hot air. She had read once that balloons could fly for hundreds of miles on one tank of propane, and there were four large ones situated along one side of the basket. She mentioned this to her sisters but they were more interested in playing one of their make-believe games than talking about propane.
"We could pretend that we're poor settlers and this is our little straw house," said Mitzi.
Bitzi nodded in agreement. "Yes, and this basket is the only food we are going to have for the month." She opened the basket which revealed a mouth watering smorgasbord of fruit, sandwiches and drinks.
Itzi shook her head. "We can't eat that food. It would be stealing."
"Oh, we won't eat it. We're just pretending."
And so the three girls forgot where they were and lost themselves in a pretend world where they were three poor sisters and their mother and father had died, leaving them penniless and alone.
It was quite a warm day and the girls were wearing jackets. They decided to take them off and hang them on the hooks that were in the inside of the basket. There were ropes around these hooks but the girls untied them so they could hang up their jackets.
"What were those ropes for?" Mitzi asked innocently as she sat down beside her sisters.
"I don't know," answered Itzi as she stood up, for she had a slight cramp in one leg. She peered over the edge and her face went white.
She spoke softly. "I know what those ropes were for."
"What?" asked Mitzi.
"They kept the balloon from flying away."
“What!!!” Mitzi and Bitzi scrambled to their feet. They stuck their heads over the side of the basket and looked out with a mixture of wonder and fear. They were no longer on the ground but about twenty feet up and rising. The small gypsy man was directly below them, yelling and waving his arms frantically as his balloon floated away. The giant balloon slowly drifted over the fair, barely clearing the tents and rides at first but climbing steadily. It was headed in the direction of the Ferris wheel which had momentarily stopped, to let people off, leaving only the Bolarnchuk boys, who were sitting in the very top seat. They swung their seat back and forth in a rowdy manner, but suddenly stopped when a large shadow blocked out the sun. There, like an enormous monster, was a balloon heading directly for them.
The Bolarnchuk boys stopped their rowdiness, and screamed.
* * *
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were enjoying a relaxing afternoon as they strolled arm in arm through the fair. The couple decided to try the bumper cars and joined the line-up for the ride. They had almost forgotten all about their daughters, but suddenly Mrs. Edwards turned to her husband and asked, “I wonder where the girls are?”
"I imagine they are on another ride somewhere," answered Mr. Edwards nonchalantly. It had been a very pleasant day for him and he felt more relaxed than he had for months. He was looking forward to getting into his bumper car.
It was at that moment that Mrs. Edwards chose to look skyward. She gave a gasp and tightly clutched her husband's arm. "They are on another ride."
"Oh, that's nice. Which one?"
"That one," she said, pointing to the sky.
The pair of them looked up to see the three little faces of their daughters peering over the side of the basket which was heading straight for the Ferris wheel.
"Wha...." started Mr. Edwards but he could not finish his sentence.
* * *
"We're going to hit the Ferris wheel!" screamed Mitzi.
"Hold on!" yelled Itzi.
And then the great, big basket collided with the top of the Ferris wheel. There was a crunch of metal as one of the poles from the giant wheel caught onto the bottom of the basket. The girls screamed, but despite their fear looked over the side to see what damage had been done.
The Bolarnchuk boys were the only ones left on the ride. Some of the other fairgoers, safely on the ground, considered this a good thing. The Bolarnchuks did not.
Sammy wailed, “Mommy!”
Eddy just kept yelling, “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!”
The Ferris wheel was tilted to one side and it appeared very likely it was going to crash to the ground at any second.
The three brothers stared up to see the scared faces of their schoolmates staring out from the basket.
"You! You three are crazy! Absolutely crazy!" yelled Michael.
"We're very sorry about this," Itzi said.
"Sorry!" screamed Eddy.
"What are we going to do?" wailed Sammy, but, as the words left his mouth, the sound of sirens were heard and they saw the big Happyville firetruck speeding towards the fairground.
"Yeah!" Michael cheered. "We're going to be rescued!"
His words had barely left his mouth and there was a terrifying sound of ripping metal. The boys screamed in terror as they were sure they would go hurtling down to the ground. Instead, the Ferris wheel tilted even more and was now precariously perched at a forty-five degree angle, held up only by the balloon.
The three Bolarnchuk boys held on for dear life as the amusement ride swayed terrifyingly.
"Michael!" yelled Itzi. "You guys have to climb down!”
Michael realized that she was right. The metal pole that had caught itself in the bottom of the basket had begun to work its way loose. Soon the Ferris wheel, and the Bolarnchuks, would go crashing down to earth. And that would be the end of the Bolarnchuk boys.
"Eddy, Sammy, come on!" he yelled hurriedly, grabbing his youngest brother and forcing him out of the swinging seat. "Sammy, go as fast as you can! And don’t complain!” he barked, as the pessimistic Sammy opened his mouth to protest. Sammy and his brothers had spent large parts of their summers climbing up and down the large trees of Happyville and despite his grumblings he scooted down the large wheel with relative ease.
“Girls!” he muttered to himself, as he was immediately grabbed by two burly firemen and taken to a safe spot away from where the Ferris wheel seemed certain to crash.
Eddy followed close behind, and was very embarrassed when he was pounced on by his mother as his feet touched the ground.
“My baby, my baby,” she wailed as she tightly squeezed her middle child.
Eddy could see a couple of his classmates sniggering at the scene and was very glad when the firemen pried him out of his mother’s arms and led him to the spot where they had taken Sammy.
The fair’s activities had come to a standstill. The rides and tents had quickly been evacuated by the rescue teams, and now the fairgoers huddled in a big crowd on the edge of the fairground watching the plight of Michael as he began his descent.
All seemed to be going well but when he was just about halfway the Ferris wheel gave another ominous groan and tilted even further on its side, throwing the poor, unfortunate Michael around like a flag in the wind. He held on desperately by his fingertips to the underside of one of the swinging metal chairs and tried not to look down at the ground below. Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi watched the drama below, temporarily forgetting their fear, as Michael, grunting and groaning, hoisted himself up and began his descent again. He gave a giant sigh of relief as his feet touched solid ground and the crowd which had been watching the scene with a series of ‘Oohs’ and ‘Ahs’ cheered spontaneously as Michael was seized by another fireman.
The cheers were quickly silenced, however, for a mere five seconds after Michael had been pulled to safety the Ferris wheel gave one more grating sound and then detached itself. People screamed as the large metal wheel came hurtling down. It hit the ground with a thunderous boom, wiping out rides and tents. The tents caught on fire and within a minute it seemed the entire fair was either destroyed or burning. The fairgoers, despite being a safe distance away, ran in panic to further distance themselves from the fairground.
Mr. Edwards stood beside his wife looking at the carnage of the burning wreckage in front of them. A WHPY news truck pulled up and he could see his colleague Scooter McBob hop excitedly out of the truck with a microphone in his hand.
He put his head in his hands. "What could possibly go wrong at a county fair?" he said.
CHAPTER TWO -
Itzi, Bitzi, and Mitzi Go For a Balloon Ride
The girls watched the destruction of the Happyville Fair with a mixture of horror and curiosity.
"We're going to be grounded forever." Itzi shook her head sadly.
"I would say grounded is an entirely inappropriate word," Bitzi said, looking at the earth now far below them.
"I wonder how you land this thing?" Mitzi asked, taking time to look up at the large balloon above her.
"The flame pushes the hot air into the balloon. I imagine if we shut off the flame, the balloon will eventually go down." Bitzi had been studying the balloon and had figured out how it worked.
They all looked silently at the fair, which by now was just a tiny dot. The wind was blowing very hard and the balloon travelled at a great speed. They flew directly into the course of the Bigglestooth Mountain range, a large, foreboding group of mountains that lay forty miles west of Happyville.
"We'll be over the mountains in less that two hours," said Mitzi, staring at the snow covered peaks ahead.
"I'm freezing." Bitzi rubbed her arms.
All of the girls were dressed for a warm, spring day and the frigid air was blasting through their thin jackets.
"Let’s look in those boxes," suggested Mitzi, pointing to two large boxes in one corner of the basket. She knelt down and opened the lid to one of them.
"Voila!" she exclaimed, happily holding up a warm blanket. The kids eagerly began rummaging through the boxes. They contained two large thick blankets, emergency flares, a small box of tools, and an instruction book on how to handle the balloon.
Bitzi picked up the book eagerly. "This will tell us how to land the balloon!" she cried. She opened the book, scanning over the table of contents. "Yes, here it is! Chapter Six. How land the baloan."
The others huddled around Bitzi, draped in the blankets they had found in the bottom of the basket. The balloon had been steadily rising and the closer they came to the mountains, the colder it became. Itzi read aloud for all of them. "Thing first, nob is fur persun to maik baloan go sumwear. Sure you put left go down yes. Pressur valf for up way maibe down."
"What does that mean?" Mitzi asked.
"It means the person who wrote this instruction manual didn’t speak English," answered Bitzi.
“We’ll just have to figure it out ourselves,” Itzi said. She grabbed the control knob and turned it. At least, that is what she tried to do. But the knob would not budge. She closed her eyes and strained as hard as she could but still it would not turn. Bitzi then tried with the same results.
"I know what to do," Itzi declared, and she walked over to where the toolbox was and picked up a small hammer. She started to hammer at the knob. The others stood by, watching her, waiting hopefully. The knob still did not turn.
"Oh, give it here!" Mitzi said testily, snatching the hammer from Itzi. She raised it and with all of her might swung at the control knob.
It moved this time but not in the way the girls had hoped - it broke off. They looked with horror at the metal knob as it lay spinning on the floor of the basket and then to the flame, still shooting strongly into the balloon.
“Why did you do that?” Bitzi exclaimed. “Now we’re going to keep flying forever. We’ll probably float away into space!”
“I didn’t see you trying to help,” answered Mitzi, guilt written on her pretty face, as she stared at the knob laying in the bottom of the basket.
"Stop arguing," Itzi said. "That won't help. We won’t fly into space. We’ll run out of propane before that happens. Now, we may not be able to control the flame anymore but I’m sure we can still control the direction. Our only hope is to guide the balloon between the mountains."
"Itzi's right," Bitzi piped up. "We have to get over those mountains.” She pointed to the fast approaching peaks. "Our best chance is over there," she said, indicating a large chasm between two mountains. "Where's that stupid instruction book?"
The girls huddled around the book that explained how to steer the balloon. Bitzi read in a slow, deliberate voice, “Hot air baloan nokan steird no way but go wit wind. Ownle up down nut sydes.” The children looked at each other helplessly.
“That means we can’t do anything, right?” asked Mitzi.
“No, we can’t do anything,” admitted Itzi, and stared out of the basket with a look of real worry. By now the mountains were very close, only about two miles away.
It was hard for Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi to remember the warm, spring day they had played in only a few hours earlier. The balloon sailed into the black clouds that surrounded the towering peaks. Snow flurries whirled around their heads, and the wind began to blow ever harder. They huddled together, both blankets wrapped tightly around them.
The girls fell silent, deep in their own thoughts as they approached the mountains. The wind began to howl noisily and the snow began to fall thickly.
Soon, the girls could only communicate with each other by yelling at the top of their lungs.
The balloon got closer and closer to the mountains, heading for the opening Bitzi had talked about earlier. It seemed to be their only chance. Though they were very high up, some of the mountains still loomed above them. The gap they were hoping to get through was like a large 'V'.
"We’re not high enough!" Itzi screamed.
"Hold on!" yelled Bitzi. "I think we're going to crash!"
The balloon entered the gap at a good speed and the girls’ hopes rose. It appeared they had made it through when suddenly the balloon stopped. It had wedged itself securely between two large, snow-covered rocks.
"We're stuck!" cried Mitzi.
The others looked over the edge and wondered what on earth they were going to do now.
* * *
Happyville's entire rescue teams were on duty, trying to put out the fire and clean up the damage that the girls had caused.
Scooter McBob had come over with a microphone and camera with the intention of interviewing his work colleague but Mr. Edwards told him very firmly that he would not be doing interviews at this time. He also shot down the idea that he himself would do the reporting from the site of the fair while Scooter would replace him as the news anchor for the evening. Scooter was shocked that anyone would ignore a direct order from their boss, Larry Griffton, and was also upset that he was denied a chance to takeover from Bob Edwards. Scooter was convinced that he would be a far better anchorman than Mr. Edwards.
The Edwards had also been accosted at the fair by Mr. and Mrs. Bolarnchuk, the parents of Michael, Eddy and Sammy. Mr. and Mrs. Bolarnchuk were not used to escapades such as the Edwards had experienced time and time again and they did not handle it well. They did not want to discuss rescue attempts. Mrs. Bolarnchuk was crying loudly about how ‘those terrible Edwards’ girls’ had jeopardized the lives of her precious sons and Mr. Bolarnchuk kept shaking his head and saying over and over again, "I can't believe it!"
After detaching themselves from the Bolarnchuks, telling Scooter ‘no!’ yet again, and explaining briefly to the fire chief (who they knew far too well) what had happened, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards had driven to the airport to try and get a small plane to go after the balloon.
Things appeared hopeful as they entered the airfield gates, but, despite the presence of three shiny planes sitting on the tarmac, there were no pilots to fly them. Then they phoned Chuck Davids, the helicopter pilot for the television station. They were sure Chuck would help them. But Chuck had left on Friday for his parent's house and wasn't expected back until late in the evening.
To make matters worse, Mr. Edwards had to still do the news broadcast at six, and he was well aware of what the top news story was going to be. He got in his car and drove to the station, wishing for the umpteenth time that his girls were not so curious.
He arrived at the station, and walked in the direction of his office. The office beside his was that of Andy Feinstein, his producer. He could hear the voices of Andy and Larry Griffton, the station’s owner.
“Scooter got some great footage at the fair,” Andy said.
Mr. Edwards could not see Larry Griffton but if he could have he would have seen his boss rub his hands together with glee. “Everyone in Happyville will be watching tonight!” Larry exclaimed.
Mr. Edwards gave a polite cough and knocked on the open door of Andy’s office. Andy and Larry both abruptly ended their conversation, and looked guiltily at Mr. Edwards.
“Ah, Bob, we, uh,…we were just talking about your daughters. Terrible, terrible thing…and, uh…, we just think it’s terrible,” stammered out Andy.
“Yes, terrible,” agreed Larry.
“Very terrible,” chimed in Andy again. Andy was very nice man but he also got very excited when there was a big news story, even if it involved Mr. Edward’s children. He, like Larry Griffton, was secretly very thankful for Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi. Life in Happyville was never dull with them around.
“And don’t you worry about the rescue,” said Larry. “Nobody at WHPY will sleep until your daughters are safe again!” Larry Griffton had a look of anxiety on his face, but Mr. Edwards knew him well and was not convinced of his boss’s concern. Larry was a big, overweight man with a perpetually red, sweaty face, which he would dab with an ever present oversized white handkerchief that he always had clutched in his left hand. He had three loves in his life; WHPY, money and his daughter, Gertrude, though not necessarily in that order.
“Uh…thanks for caring,” Mr. Edwards mumbled unenthusiastically.
“Gertrude couldn’t stop crying,” Larry added, “She told me that Bitzi is her best friend in the whole world.”
Larry’s only child, Gertrude, was in Bitzi’s class at Happyville School. Bitzi was a friendly girl and did her best to be nice to everyone, but Gertrude Griffton was very, very hard to like. She had even once stole a report that Bitzi had written and submitted it as her own. Gertrude’s father thought that his daughter was practically perfect, and he would never have believed a bad story about her. For now though, he wasn’t thinking about his daughter, but how the rescue of Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi would help his station. He wiped his forehead and looked sincerely at Mr. Edwards.
“I’m going to make the rescue of your daughters my personal mission,” Larry said.
Mr. Edwards looked at his feet. “That’s great,” he answered, “uh…I’ve got to go and do the newscast now.”
“Bob,” Larry said with a fatherly look at his anchorman, “I was very disappointed to hear that you refused to do the newscast from the fair. I realize that your daughters are involved but…the news must come first!”
Mr. Edwards clenched his fists and tried not to be angry.
Andy Feinstein, glancing at Mr. Edwards, put his arm around him and led him out of the office. “Bob is right,” he said to Larry, “It’s time we got ready to do the broadcast.”
A few minutes later Mr. Edwards was seated behind his desk, ready to read the news.
Andy held up five fingers and began his countdown to the news broadcast.
"Four. Three. Two. One."
Mr. Edwards stared straight ahead, looking directly into the camera. He was reading from a teleprompter beside the camera. A teleprompter is a TV monitor in which words are scrolled down which the broadcasters read when delivering the news.
"Good evening. I'm Bob Edwards and this is the WHPY news at six. Our top story today is the Happyville Fair disaster,” Mr. Edwards closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and continued. “It seemed like an ordinary, peaceful fair, where nothing could go wrong. But something did go wrong. A runaway balloon, pirated…PIRATED?!” Mr. Edwards was not happy with the choice of words used by the people who wrote the news. He calmed down, and reminded himself that he was on television. “A runaway balloon,” he continued, “that was…accidentally taken by three girls who have been identified as Itzi, Bitzi and Mitzi Edwards, created a horrible disaster, the likes Happyville has never seen before."
Mr. Edwards had a knot in his stomach as he read the words in front of him describing the exploits of his daughters. He knew it was his job so he kept reading but he found it very hard to do.
"Let's now go to our man on the scene, Scooter McBob." The screen beside Mr. Edwards' head on the television showed a man at the fair site. As soon as the red light indicated that he was no longer on the air, Mr. Edwards lay his head on the desk in front of him. He was very tired and embarrassed, but even more so he was worried about his daughters. He knew they were capable, smart girls but yet, they had been heading in the direction of the Bigglestooth Mountains, and that was dangerous. As he lay there with his head in his hands and his eyes closed he could hear the droning of Scooter McBob's voice, as he reported from the fair.
"Yes, hello, this is Scooter McBob at what used to be the site of the Happyville Fair. As you can see behind me, the infamous Edwards girls have reduced it to a pile of ashes and rubble."
Scooter was a small, excitable little man with extreme overbite and a tendency to get too dramatic when he was covering a news story.
"As good luck would have it, Mrs. Templey of Outland Drive captured the entire horrific scene on her camcorder."
As Scooter spoke, the picture switched from his face to a grainy, shaky picture of the balloon crashing into the ride, the tilting of the Ferris wheel, the dramatic escape of the Bolarnchuk boys, and the incredible disaster that followed when the Ferris wheel crashed down to earth. The film ended here for Mrs. Templey was stampeded by frightened fair goers fleeing the scene.
The screen switched back to Scooter. "It is truly a black day in the history of Happyville," he said cheerfully, enjoying the story thoroughly. "What was once joy and happiness is now despair and destruction. We interviewed some of those who have been affected by this awful event."
The picture on the screen now switched to Scooter McBob holding a microphone in front of a crying lady, clutching a tear-soaked hankerchief in her hand.
"Now, now, Mrs. Bolarnchuk," said Scooter in a soothing voice. "Why don't you tell us what happened in your own words."
"Well," choked out Mrs. Bolarnchuk. "Clarence and I had just come from the ring toss where Clarence had won an elephant."
The camera moved to show Mr. Bolarnchuk holding a large pink elephant, then back to his distraught wife.
"Our boys were on the Ferris wheel when those terrible, terrible girls stole that balloon. We were shocked. They're such ... good boys. Always doing good ... and helping others."
Scooter turned to Mr. Bolarnchuk. "This is Mr. Bolarnchuk, the father of the three boys. And what do you have to say about the sad affair?”
"I can't believe it," said a shaken Mr. Bolarnchuk.
His wife interrupted and shook her finger. "What kind of parents would raise girls like these!?"
The screen behind Mr. Edwards' head went blank and the camera light came on in front of him again. Mr. Edwards still had his head in his hands, lost in thought.
“Bob!” Andy whispered fiercely.
Mr. Edwards did not move.
“Bob!” Andy spoke even louder.
Mr. Edwards still did not move.
“Bob!!!” Andy was now yelling.
“What!?" Mr. Edwards snapped, raising his head. His hair was messy and his eyes were wide.
"You're on the air, Bob," said Andy.
Mr. Edwards looked guiltily at the camera. "Oh.” He cleared his throat. “In other news from Happyville, we bid a fond farewell to Mr. Timothy Formulo, the science teacher of Happyville School, who resigned yesterday. Mr. Formulo would give no reason for his sudden resignation but only said, "I want to live to see my thirtieth birthday." Sources from Happyville School say that Mr. Formulo had narrowly escaped injury when an unnamed student had caused a catastrophic explosion in his classroom.”
Mr. Edwards went red for he remembered that it was Mitzi who had blown a hole in the wall of Mr. Formula's classroom while working on a science experiment.
“Now, let’s get an update on our weather with Ronny Hadley,” Mr. Edwards said, glad for another break.
A middle-aged man with a very tanned face, a badly fitted black toupee and a large bushy moustache, beamed at the camera. Ronny Hadley considered himself a serious meteorologist and was convinced that no one could predict the weather with the accuracy he could. He called himself Right-on Ronny, but no one else did. The rest of Happyville called him Rainy-day Ronnie or Ronnie Hapless and the people in the town liked to joke that if you expected the weather to be the exact opposite of what Ronny Hadley did you would never be wrong.
“Don’t worry about the Edwards’ girls,” Ronnie said, “for the direction that the balloon sailed in will have nothing but great weather for the next few days.”
Now Mr. Edwards was really worried.
After he left the station, Mr. Edwards went to his home. He entered the door and knew immediately from his wife's face that there had been no news of the girls. They sat down together on the couch as Mrs. Edwards recounted her last few hours to Mr. Edwards. She had made about a hundred phone calls and was able to report that she had finally had success in tracking down Chuck, the station’s pilot, at his parents’ home. Chuck was on his way back to Happyville to help. The phone rang and Mrs. Edwards sprang from her seat and picked up the receiver.
"Hello. Hi, Chuck. Good. We’ll see you there in twenty minutes." Mrs. Edwards hung up the phone.
"Well," she said, "this proves that I really am the best mother in the world, if I’m agreeing to sit for hours in a plane with Chuck Davids!”
Mr. Edwards smiled, but knew exactly what she meant. Chuck Davids was his oldest friend. They had gone to elementary, middle and high school together. Chuck had a big heart and was a loyal friend but to be enclosed with him in a small space for hours and hours was going to be a trying experience. The pilot was a solidly built man, with a great, big beard, and he had a tendency to talk very, very loud. On top of this, he smoked cigars, and had a habit of drinking pop, during and after which he would let go with ear-splitting belches. He also, despite the tactful help from his friends, smelled terrible; a combination of stale cigar smoke and body odour.
It was Chuck who had encouraged Mr. Edwards to apply for the job at the television station. After high school, Mr. Edwards had gone to college and had got a degree in journalism, but he had not been able to find a job in that area, so for years he had made a living as a used car salesman. Chuck had surprised everyone by getting his pilot’s license after high school, and, because he had agreed to work for very cheap, had got a job with WHPY. The previous anchorperson, Doris Lightman, had got a very high paying position in a big city, and left an opening at the station. Chuck had practically pushed his friend to try for the job.
“Come on!” he had said, “you’re a good-looking guy, you speak all fancy like, and you’ve got a degree in journalism.”
Bob Edwards did not like selling cars but he had a family to support so he did his work cheerfully. He did not think there was even the remotest chance he would be able to become the new anchorman but with Chuck and his wife’s encouragement he had gone to the station and asked if he could have an interview. The interview had gone very well, and Larry Griffton and Andy Feinstein were surprised how polished and professional Mr. Edwards was, for he was very inexperienced. What really had made the difference, though Mr. Edwards did not know it, was that his daughters had already a reputation as Happyville’s biggest newsmakers.
“We’ll have the inside scoop to every big story,” Andy had exclaimed.
Larry had agreed, and, of course, was also pleased that Bob Edwards would cost him a lot less than Doris Lightman.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards grabbed their coats and flew out the door. They headed directly for the Happyville Airfield, where the station's helicopter was kept. They had expected to see only Chuck, but standing beside him, handkerchief in hand, was Larry Griffton, the owner of not only the television station but the helicopter that he and Chuck stood by.
Standing next to Chuck and Larry was Brady Reynolds, a cameraman for WHPY. Brady had a camera in his hand and he filmed the Edwards driving up in their car, and now followed their movements as they met Chuck and Larry.
Mr. Edwards approached Chuck and shook his hand, also glancing at Larry. "Thanks for meeting us here, Chuck,” he said, and after a slight pause, “and Larry."
"No problem, Bob! Mr. Griffton and me,” Chuck took a swig of his pop, and gave a loud burp, “we’re determined to help out and bring your girls home safely.” Chuck was an old family friend and Mr. Edwards had no doubt he spoke the truth, at least about his desires to see the girls rescued.
He wasn’t so sure about his boss’ intentions. Larry gave an insincere smile and dabbed his sweaty forehead, all the while looking not at Mr. Edwards, but the camera. “That’s right,” he stated. “The station, and especially me, are behind you one hundred and ten per cent. In fact, I’ve insisted that tomorrow Chuck and you begin a search party to find them, in my helicopter.” Larry gave a short cough and motioned to Brady to stop filming. He said in a lower voice to Mr. Edwards, “I’ll have to take the cost of the fuel out of your pay but the important thing is to bring them back safely!”
“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Edwards answered sweetly, standing next to her husband. “But, why can’t we go today?”
“Larry says we can’t fuel the copter until tomorrow morning.” Chuck gave an apologetic shrug.
“That’s right,” Larry said, “Nothing can be done about it. But first thing tomorrow morning, the search begins!” Larry would not, of course, disclose the real reason that the copter could not fly out. He had hired a man to paint the WHPY logo in giant letters on the side of the helicopter that evening. Mr. Griffton was sure that the publicity for the rescue operation was going to be enormous, and he wanted to make sure everyone knew who was responsible.
“Oh, another thing,” added Larry, “We’re going to send along a cameraman - you know Brady Reynolds,” Larry pointed to Brady Reynolds, “to capture the happy moment when you and your daughters are reunited.” Mr. Griffton had confided in Andy, the station’s producer, that if they could capture the rescue on film, it would be their most watched show ever.
Brady Reynolds was a tall, morose stringbean of a man who answered every question with short one or two word answers like, ‘I dunno’ or ‘I guess’.
He was a big fan of country music and perched on his head was a cowboy hat. Brady also had the infuriating habit of singing country songs under his breath. Mr. Edwards heard that he got the job as cameraman because he was the nephew of Mr. Griffton’s wife.
“Thanks for your help, Chuck,” said Mrs. Edwards, turning away from the station owner and smiling at the pilot. She was going to give him a hug, but he smelled so bad that she changed her mind. “You’re a good friend.”
“Well,” Chuck boomed, “friends help each other!”
“Yes, that’s true,” replied Mrs. Edwards. “Remember how you stayed at our house when yours collapsed?”
“Uh… Laura”, said Chuck in a quieter voice, pausing, not quite sure how to answer. “It was your girls who made it collapse.”
“A minor point, Chuck,” she said, “We would have offered you help anyway.”
“Uh…yeah…that’s true,” he stammered.
“So,” interrupted Mr. Edwards, “what time will we meet in the morning?”
Chuck looked at Brady. “We’ll be taking off at eight o’clock! If you’re late I’ll twist you into a pretzel!”
“I’ll be there,” mumbled Brady, and then turned around and got into the passenger seat of his uncle’s big, shiny car.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards got into their car and sped away.
“We’ll probably get a call when we arrive home that the balloon has landed safely in some town,” stated Mrs. Edwards confidently.
Mr. Edwards gave a rue smile. “They might land safely, but first, if I know my daughters, they’ll land in the busiest area and create all sorts of trouble!”
For the first time since this tragedy had begun, the Edwards were able to share a laugh together.