Pictures in the Clouds
Long ago and far away, in a land beneath the clouds, there lived a simple watermelon farmer named Waldo. He was a distant cousin of the famous “Jack in the bean stalk.” That relationship made him very sad. He worked hard tending his melons and being good, but no one ever talked of Wally, it was always “Jack, Jack and the Beanstalk.’
Once, when his family went to Jack's farm for the summer holidays, he cut a leaf from the famous beanstalk and hid it in his knapsack. He thought that he would try to graft the stalk onto his watermelon tree at home and grow something just as big as Jack had done. Then, he would become rich and famous too. Maybe they would even make up stories about Waldo and the watermelon tree. That would be something that would make him very happy.
When Waldo returned to his own farm, he sewed the beanstalk leaf onto his watermelon tree with a thread that had been made from spider's webs and bee's ears. His great Aunt Eloise had woven it on a magical spinning wheel. Then, he watered it and watered it and waited and waited.
Sure enough, the tree started to grow. At first, the watermelons grew so huge on the tree, that he needed a wagon and three friends to carry each melon to market. His family was very happy. Soon, they had lots of money and were locally famous as watermelon farmers. He even had his picture on the front page of the Watermelon Patch Gazette. Waldo should have been very happy, but he wasn't.
As the tree grew and grew, so did his dreams. All he could think of were golden eggs and castles in the sky. When the tree grew tall enough, he climbed it and climbed it until he reached the clouds. When at last he broke through the top, he saw a magnificent castle, with turrets and colorful banners fluttering in the breeze. It was the home of the terrible ogres and trolls of the Western Skies.
Luckily for him, the ogres and trolls were away at a bowling tournament at the South Pole. No one appeared to be at home. Waldo looked here and he looked there for some valuable treasure to carry away. But there was nothing for him to find. The trolls had been very angry at his cousin Jack's theft of a hen that laid golden eggs. They had locked up all of their treasures in strong rooms, with heavy chains and padlocks. Waldo was very disappointed. The only thing he had found was a little black box with a window in the front and a small lever on the side.
As he was examining the curious box, a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon appeared in the sky. It was the castle watch-dragon. The trolls had left him behind to guard their treasures. It looked very angry. Waldo looked all around him for a place to hide, but there was no place to run. The dragon arched his wings and swooped through the sky towards Waldo. The dragon meant to breathe a fiery breath on him and swallow him whole. What could he do?
Just as the dragon was about to strike, Waldo stumbled backwards and his wind-milling arms pointed at the angry beast. His twitching fingers pushed the lever on the little box. There was a click and a mysterious flash of light. Much to its surprise and Waldo’s, the dragon was sucked into the window of the little box. It was a miracle! Then, there was a curious whirring noise inside the box. In a few seconds, a small card came out the rear of the box. On it was a picture of the dragon. What magic was this?
Needless to say, Waldo was dumbfounded, yet happy to be alive. Waldo had had enough of exploring and wanted to go home. He tucked the little black box into his pocket and ran like the wind for his watermelon tree. He scurried down it as fast as he was able. Then, he chopped the tree down so the ogres and trolls couldn't follow him. Now, all of that watermelon wood was also good for fuel, so he made even more money at the local market selling it to his neighbors. For the time being, he stowed the little black box away in a cupboard and forgot about it. It felt good to be home.
Waldo thought about the black box for many days, until he finally plucked up his courage. He took the box out from the cupboard, where he had hidden it, and inspected it. It looked harmless enough. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to try it out. He pointed the box at his favorite chair and pushed the lever. In a flash of light, the chair was gone. A whirring noise, in the box, was followed in a few seconds by a small card. It had a picture of the chair upon it. “Boy, this thing is pretty neat!” he laughed. Waldo began to point the box at objects large and small, all with the same result. Pretty soon, he had a large stack of cards with pictures upon them. But, his house, his farm and his watermelon trees were all gone. Oh no! What had he done? What Waldo couldn't know, was that the box was the home of the evil spirit of pictures. And the spell cast on each object was punishment for stealing the black box from the trolls.
Waldo wasn't very happy with his pictures. He wanted his farm and his house back. He thought that maybe if he got rid of the box, everything would return to normal, so he ran to the lake and threw the box into the deepest and darkest end. It sank to the very bottom. Then, he trudged back to where his farm used to be and curled up in the straw to sleep. “Maybe tomorrow will be better,” he sighed.
The next morning when he awoke, the box was right there along side of him! It had a spell cast upon it by the trolls. Who ever owned it could never throw it away. He must give it to someone who would gladly take it from him. That was easy enough, he thought. I'll go into the village and give it to somebody. I am sure they will take it and then I will be done with this pesky box. But everywhere he went, the story of the box and its evil powers, preceded him. People ran away in terror when he approached. Waldo was very lonely and very unhappy.
As night approached, he became very tired, so he built a fire in the hollow, near the Great Forest, and lay down to sleep. Just around midnight, when the moon was full, a rough hand shook him awake. He looked through sleepy eyes at the scarred and nasty face of Harry the Horrible. Harry was the meanest and nastiest of all the highway bandits. He was so bad that he even stole milk cartons from his mother. “Give me all of your valuables,” growled Harry, “or I will cut you to pieces.”
Waldo was very frightened, but he thought he saw an opportunity to give the box, and the bad luck that went with it, to someone who really deserved it.
“Here, Mr. Horrible Harry. Take this black box. It is very valuable and I want you to have it,” stammered Waldo. Now, even very nasty people like Harry are a little suspicious when someone gives in so easily, but his greed got the better of him. He took the box and went on his way into the forest, happy with a good night's work.
Well, pretty soon Horrible Harry discovered what Waldo had and was just as unhappy. He had a stack of little cards, with pictures of all his stolen treasures upon them, but all of his ill-gotten loot was gone. None of his old friends would come near him; not even his dog, snaggle-toothed Nell.
He wandered and wandered and wandered until he ended up in the distant hills of far away Africa. One afternoon, he was walking along a cliff. A rogue elephant, which was angry because he hadn't been given his peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, ran smack into him and didn't even stop to say, “excuse me.” The collision knocked Harry off the cliff, and he fell into the ocean far below. That was the end of poor Horrible Harry.
The box, as luck would have it, landed in the boat of an old Greek fisherman named Camera. Photographic Camera, or “Photo” as his family called him, was a very wise old man. After seeing what the box could do, he decided that he had better put an end to this evil once and for all. He thought and he thought and he thought. Then, he came up with an idea that he hoped might work. He placed the box before a large mirror and pressed the lever. In a flash of light, the evil spirit of pictures was dragged from the box, into the mirror, and then sucked back into the box. After a few seconds, a small card came out. It had a picture of the evil spirit of pictures upon it. Then, Mr. Camera tied a large rock to the picture and threw it into the deepest part of the ocean, so that no one would ever find it and be hurt again.
Mr. Camera, who was very wise indeed, used the idea of a flash of light and a mirror to invent something that would take a picture of an object without harming it. He and his sons Photo jr., Pocket and Movie, soon became rich and famous with this idea. Naturally, the invention was named after them. And that is how we came to have the modern-day camera. Now aren't you glad he figured it out rather than Waldo or Horrible Harry? It would be silly to think of taking pictures with a “Waldo” or a “Horrible Harry” wouldn't it?
Joseph Xavier Martin