Henry, Ho-Ho and a very Mysterious Illness

 

Henry's mother looked most concerned. She shook her head as she looked at Henry:

"You'll have to stay right here in bed today," she said. "I've spoken to Dr Munro and he says that all the children in the village are sick with this flu."

"What's flu?" asked Henry in a very weak voice, for he certainly didn't feel like going anywhere.

"Well," said his mother, looking up at the ceiling, "it's when germs get into your body and attack your insides and make you feel ill." Henry was none the wiser, though he certainly did feel rather ill and so was pretty sure that his mother was right.

"When I had the flu," continued his mother, "my grandmother used to give me mustard seeds and orange drinks to get me better." She pointed to the big jar of orange juice and a jar of mustard seeds by its side. Henry's mother was a great believer in her grandmother’s cures, though no one else seemed to have much faith in them.

"By the way, Henry, I don't suppose you know of someone called Ho-Ho do you?" Henry gulped; somehow it would be terrible if his mother found out about his friend Ho-Ho the elephant. "You see, Henry, there is a strange parcel downstairs addressed to him with your name on it too. It looks like one of Uncle Dennis's old tricks if you ask me!"

"Please let me see it," pleaded Henry, “I'll get it to him somehow". Any mention of Uncle Dennis always brought Henry to full attention. Uncle Dennis always seemed to be doing exciting things and somehow protecting Henry from a long way away.

"All right," smiled Henry's mother, kissing him on the forehead, "you won't be doing anything else today." Henry heard her walking downstairs. This was most mysterious, for Uncle Dennis rarely wrote to Henry without a very special reason, and he had never written to Ho-Ho. In fact Henry had never even met the mysterious Uncle Dennis, though he often thought about him and prayed that they would meet one day. "Here it is," she said at last, putting a very strange parcel on Henry's bed.

"Now do try to get some sleep, drink plenty of orange juice and swallow some of the mustard seeds. I'll try not to disturb you. Just bang hard on the floor if you need anything".

The door closed behind her leaving Henry staring at the parcel. It was about the size of a small cushion, very carefully wrapped with a strange blue thick string and the stamps were most peculiar, from a country that Henry had never heard of. Uncle Dennis was always full of surprises!

Henry must have dozed off to sleep, for the next thing he noticed was the tap, tap, tapping on the window. It was Ho-Ho tapping with his trunk.

"Ho-Ho, I can't come out today because I've got the froop." (Henry had got his words wrong again!) Ho-Ho looked puzzled and Henry couldn't help smiling.

"What is the froop?" asked Ho-Ho.

Henry tried to look grown-up, "It's sort of little things that get inside your body and bite and bite and make you hot and shiver and feel bad so you have to take mustard and orange."

"What sort of little things?" asked Ho-Ho.

"Well, sort of worms," said Henry trying to sound confident, but then remembering what elephants were really frightened of, "a bit like mice, but very, very tiny so they can live inside your body."

"That sounds terrible," said Ho-Ho shaking his head and looking very sorry for his little friend, "why doesn’t your body get rid of them?"

"It just sort of takes a bit of time," said Henry, "you get the mice, then your body gets them to leave and then you get better."

"Yes," said Ho-Ho, nodding wisely. Suddenly he noticed the parcel on Henry's bed. "Whatever is that?" he asked.

"It's a present for you from Uncle Dennis,” said Henry brightening, "shall we open it?"

Henry carefully slipped off the blue string; there were three layers of thick brown paper and then inside was a red box. Clearly written on it in big letters it read: "only to be opened outside."

The two friends looked at each other. Really Henry should have stayed indoors, but this was a special present from Uncle Dennis, and, well, things always turned out alright when Uncle Dennis was involved. The two friends nodded in agreement. In the blink of an eye, Henry had clambered down Ho-Ho’s trunk and was on the lawn underneath the damson tree, where they took the lid off the red box. Inside were a red balloon and a red envelope. Henry opened the envelope. It was one of those strange rhymes from Uncle Dennis;

Let the box lie under the tree,

The balloon lies on the lid you see,

Let your eye-lids close right over your eyes,

Dream your dreams and off to the skies!

"Right," said Henry, "help me back into my bedroom.” He went back to the house, climbed up Ho-Ho’s trunk and put the empty box under the bed covers, which made it look as though Henry was still lying there. "Oh, and I mustn't forget the mustard seeds and the Orange," thought Henry, remembering his mother's instructions.

Back under the damson tree, they put the balloon on top of the lid and sat and watched; nothing happened. "Now we must close our eyes," said Henry.

They closed their eyes. At first all was silent, then Henry noticed a strange sound, faint at first,  like air rushing out of a punctured tyre and he began to feel little dizzy, almost like he was floating. "I think it is time to open our eyes, now Ho-Ho. Let's open our eyes together. I'll count to three and on the count of three, we will open them: One...Two...Three!"  The two friends opened their eyes and then opened them even wider with total amazement. They could not believe what they were seeing, for they were floating high up in the air. The small balloon had become enormous and they were both sitting in the lid of the box, which had become enormous too and was suspended underneath the balloon.

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 Henry could just recognize his house, which had become quite small from so high up. For a while the two friends were speechless, just enjoying a wonderful feeling of floating so high up, like being lost in a beautiful dream. "We must always trust Uncle Dennis," said Henry. Ho-Ho nodded; things certainly did seem to work well when they did trust him. As the balloon floated higher and higher, there seemed no need to talk. It was like ideas came into their minds at the same time. They were just wondering, drifting and dreaming, and trusting what Uncle Dennis had planned for them. The balloon seemed to know where it was going, just like Henry’s body knew how to cure itself. It was just a matter of trusting and watching and waiting for things to happen.

It seemed like they drifted for days, but the sun hadn’t stopped shining so it must have only been hours or minutes; time seemed so unimportant. Then the balloon began to slowly drop-down. Henry became a little worried as they were obviously floating over the sea, but soon a beautiful island came into view; they were going to land on a beautiful island!

The balloon slowly drifted onto a wonderful sandy beach and gently settled into the soft sand. This was indeed a beautiful island; the sea was so blue and the golden sands stretched as far as the eye could see. In the distance were some small boats and Henry thought he could see some fishing nets being pulled in. Up on the island, the trees were green; the whole place seemed like the way his mother had described Heaven to him. Presently he noticed four small children running towards them. They were happy, and obviously quite excited, pointing at Henry and Ho-Ho.

"Where are we?" Henry asked the children.

The children giggled.

"Do you know where we are?" asked Henry again.

A little girl stepped forward. "This is called Harmony Island," she said, smiling and waving her hand at the beautiful scenery. "And who are you?" she asked.

"I am called Henry, and this is my friend Ho-Ho the elephant," said Henry, trying to sound confident.

"You must be very hungry," said the little girl, looking concerned. "Come with us and we'll see if we can find  some food."

Henry and Ho-Ho were feeling very hungry. They stepped out of the balloon and followed the children. When the children heard about their amazing journey in the balloon they were most impressed and wanted to know everything about Uncle Dennis, Ho-Ho and all the adventures that had happened to the two friends.

"Perhaps you have been sent to help us," said a very little thin boy with big wide eyes. Henry couldn't help smiling; after all, how could these children possibly need help, living as they did on this beautiful island. They stopped to rest under a huge tree.

"Did you come all this way without any food?" asked the little girl.

"I've got some orange and mustard seeds," said Henry, producing his bottle of orange and his jar of mustard seeds. The children tasted the orange juice and thought it was beautiful; when they tasted the mustard seeds, however, there were yelps of horror - they couldn't believe that anything could taste so horrible! Henry and Ho-Ho couldn't help laughing at the expressions on the children's faces when they tasted the mustard seeds. 

"Why would anyone eat that?" asked the little girl.

"It's because Henry has got mice," said Ho-Ho wisely. The children were suddenly shocked. All their eyes fixed on Henry in total horror. Henry was rather embarrassed, "Well," he said, "it's more that I've got the froop and little things like mice get inside your body and bite you inside and make you hot and feel sick. And then your body finds a way to scare them away and you get better".

Since he had been in the balloon, Henry had begun feeling so much better. His mother was always right about these things, but perhaps in that magic balloon his body had been learning quickly how to scare off these “mice” inside his body.

Meanwhile, Ho-Ho had become very hungry and reached up into the big tree with his trunk, pulling down a huge bunch of bananas, which he shared with the children. The children were obviously very hungry and Henry couldn't help noticing how thin they were. They were absolutely thrilled with the bananas and the amazing elephant who could reach so high up into the tree. Even as they were eating, they seemed quite nervous, continually looking around as though they expected something bad to happen. Ho-Ho pulled down lots more bananas until they were all full up.

"That was wonderful," said the girl with total amazement in her voice. "You see, Ho-Ho, we can never eat our food in peace because of the mice." The other children nodded. "Our island is overrun with these strange mice that eat all our food. There is a lot of food on the island, but the mice eat it all and that's why we are always hungry."

So that was it. Now Henry understood the looks of horror when Ho-Ho had explained about the froop and his mice. He felt very sad that the mice had stopped the people of the island from being happy. But why had the mice stayed away when all the children were enjoying Ho-Ho's bananas?  As if she had been reading his mind, the girl clapped her hands and jumped up.

"The mice are frightened of you," she explained. "If you will stay with us and guard our food, the mice will leave us in peace. Please, please, please stay with us for ever on the island."

Henry and Ho-Ho looked at each other. They certainly wanted to help the children, but even though the island was like heaven, they didn't want to stay trapped there forever as they had lots of things to do and lots of friends they would like to see again.

They decided to go for a walk into the island and think it over. The children were talking excitedly together as Henry and Ho-Ho disappeared into the forest. They walked for miles and miles in deep, deep thought.

"What can we do?" said Henry with tears in his eyes. "We can't leave these poor children to the mice, but we can't stay trapped here forever either." The very thought of not seeing his friends and his home again made Henry very sad indeed.

"Uncle Dennis wouldn’t send you to prison," said Ho-Ho with a confident laugh, "there must be some other way." Henry knew that his wise old friend was right.

The two friends sat down and Henry carelessly peeled the banana he had brought with him, took a bite and put it down on the floor, deep in thought. Suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes and as they looked up, dozens of strange looking mice appeared. They were nothing like the mice that Henry had ever seen before. They were a strange orange colour with pink whiskers and yellow teeth. Ho-Ho was terrified, lifted Henry on to his back and sped off in the direction they had come, leaving the mice greedily eating the banana.

They finally stopped for Ho-Ho to get his breath back.

"We can't leave the children to those mice," said Henry, “they are horrible!”

"But I'm scared of them," said Ho-Ho, "and they certainly don't seem very scared of me". In a flash Henry had the answer; the mice wouldn't come out when they were with the children, so it obviously wasn't Ho-Ho that scared them. There was only one answer...it was the mustard seeds!

 

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By the time Henry and Ho-Ho had returned to the children, the whole village was there. Everyone seemed very happy around the big campfire with the smell of fish cooking and no sign of the mice. As Henry and Ho-Ho came out of the bushes, everyone began to clap and cheer. Finally they all sat down on the grass and the girl asked Henry what they had decided to do, begging the two friends to stay on the island forever. Henry told them all the experience of the mice stealing his banana and how they weren’t at all afraid of Henry or of Ho-Ho. When he told them how frightened Ho-Ho had been of the little mice they all laughed at such a ridiculous idea of a big elephant being scared of such tiny creatures. Ho-Ho blushed, but joined in the laughter. Henry then explained that it was the mustard seeds that kept the mice away. The children nodded, having tasted it they could certainly understand why!

There was a murmur as the people discussed Henry's story. Finally the little girl stood up:

"What we must do," she said, picking up the jar of mustard seeds, "is to plant these seeds all over the island, and then we will be safe from the mice. The island will belong to our people again."

The people cheered and, after the meeting, immediately set to work planting the seeds all over the island.

 

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And that is exactly how Henry and Ho-Ho saved Harmony Island from the mice. As they floated off in the balloon, Henry was sure he could see thousands of tiny mice racing down to the beach and swimming into the sea where they would be safe from the mustard. Then gradually the whole island disappeared into the distance and just the feeling of peace, dreaming and drifting and feeling good remained.

He dreamt about the island and the mice; it almost seemed like his body had been cleared of his mice, just like on the island where they had been driven off into the sea. He looked at his best friend Ho-Ho and knew that between them they could solve almost any problem. He didn't know whether he was asleep or awake as he drifted in the magic balloon, but he did know that things happen for the best.

Sure enough the balloon brought them back to the safety of their own garden and as he climbed in through his bedroom window, it looked as though he was still asleep in bed, but of course, it was the box he had put under the sheets. Then he drifted off into a very deep sleep totally exhausted by his adventures.

 

                  **********************

 

Henry’s mother was drawing the curtains in his bedroom.

“It is really amazing how quickly you have got better,” she said. “Every time I looked in yesterday you were fast asleep, so I didn't disturb you. It must have been the mustard seeds that made you better! What I don't understand is whatever happened to the jar and the bottle of orange juice!”

Henry smiled. He knew where they were, and he knew there was a place where he would always be welcome, where Ho-Ho and Henry could go whenever they wanted and if ever they needed help...Harmony Island!

 

©bernard shevlin

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Author’s Note: Could a story like this help your child when he/she has an illness? We know that the immune system changes with emotions and responds to suggestions and placebos. Try it and let me know if there is any difference! (bernardshevlin@fenetre.co.uk)