Following Mr. Bandoofernen
by Kevin J. Doyle
Lloyd loved family walks in the park. He’d play chase with his mom and then talk to her about something cool – like how school next year will probably, no, definitely be harder than last year. Other times, he and his dad would kick a soccer ball back and forth. Except lately, his dad usually spent their walk time pushing his little sister in a stroller while feeding her popcorn. Or chasing her across the grass to try and stop her from fish flopping into a pond. But no matter what, every one of their family park walks ended with ice cream from Gus’s Snack Shop, which was always awesome! Yes, it was only fun, games, and cool treats until one day, just a short while ago, one of these outings changed Lloyd’s life for good.
He and his family had headed out to a new park near their house. It had only been open a couple of weeks, and they’d already been there at least eight times. It was, by far and without a doubt, the best park Lloyd had ever visited. But on this day, it was somehow even better. The birds, ducks, squirrels, and frogs he could see and hear seemed to be more… talkative. Excited even. And all the flowers, trees, and plants were bursting with fuller color than ever before. The reds were hotter, the blues swayed like ocean waves, and the greens were velvety soft. The yellows and oranges exploded like permanent little fireworks that never burned out. It was as if all the play equipment had been tidied up and there was a shine throughout the whole place. In the air was a feeling of anticipation, as if nature herself and all the wildlife were waiting for something. Or, perhaps, someone.
Not too far along their walk, Lloyd’s mom had someone important from work call her, so she had to talk on her cell phone. And it just so happened to be an afternoon when Lloyd’s little sister was not enjoying popcorn, would not laugh at their dad’s bad singing, and wouldn’t even run across the grass. Which meant his dad would be on carrying duty for the whole walk. So Lloyd was just strolling along behind everyone, using a stick to trace a line in the mud beside the sidewalk.
It was then when he first saw an odd character in a dark blue suit skipping along under some nearby trees. The man also wore a ruffled white dress shirt and a thin dark blue tie. His shoes were old, beat-up, black and white checkered sneakers. He had a scruffy brown beard and a bad case of bed-head. Lloyd stayed on the sidewalk but did his best to follow the interesting fellow. However, he quickly learned that tracking this guy was going to be a tough task.
The man did not stick to any path and seemed to know nothing about straight lines. He could hop from rock to tree to bush to tree to rock to bench and back to the ground without missing a beat. He never disturbed anything about the plants around him and was always extremely careful to avoid stepping on any flowers. Lloyd wasn’t certain, but he was pretty sure the trees, bushes, and bright blooms were turning to watch the strange guy pass by. Lloyd thought he could even catch glimpses of the surrounding plants smiling and bowing a little. Sometimes, the man would be skipping along the top of a rock wall, which was near to the sidewalk, so Lloyd would jump on the wall and hop along behind him. Occasionally, the guy would peek over his shoulder at Lloyd, but he’d never stop moving.
Was he supposed to try and catch him? Lloyd thought about that question and several others. What was the man doing in the park? Where was he going? What would happen when he arrived there… where ever “there” was? Lloyd’s mom was still on her work call, and his dad remained distracted by his fussy little sister. So he just kept following the blue suited fellow in hopes of finding some answers. Then suddenly, things took a weirdly magical turn.
The man jumped from a flower bed onto a tall rock and then did a front flip onto a wide branch of a tree. The tree he landed in responded by shaking like a wet dog to release a shower of apple red, sunset orange, and sandy yellow leaves. The guy caught some of the leaves in mid-air and used a stick to scribble on each one before releasing them to float to the ground. Lloyd ran about under the tree branch and caught each falling leaf with writing on it. There were seven of them. By the time he’d gathered them in his hands, the fellow was on the move again. He hopped down from the tree to a park bench, cart-wheeled over a rose bush, did a spin jump over a small cluster of short pine trees, and continued to crazily move through the park. Tree to rock to ground to bush and on and on. Lloyd clutched the leaves to his chest and kept on following the odd little character.
Luckily, they soon came to one of the park’s big ponds where Lloyd’s mom and dad decided to pause and rest. His dad continued trying to entertain his whining little sister, and his mom sat on a bench so she could focus on finishing up her work call. Lloyd looked up as the blue suited man leaped from tree branch to tree branch until reaching the opposite side of the pond. Then he splish-splash-belly-flopped right into the water and swam about with the birds, fish, and frogs as if they were all best friends! Here, too, it seemed all of nature was gathering around the odd little guy, greeting him and laughing with him. The fellow also began pulling various kinds of food from his pockets and tossing some to the surrounding critters. Lloyd just knew those must be magic pockets because none of his coats could instantly produce flies, bread bits, fish food, and bird seed. He watched the man joyfully wade around in the pond and feed the animals for a moment before realizing it was a good time to sort out the mystery of the leaf writings.
He laid the seven leaves out so he could see what was written on each. Lloyd thought a couple of the images might be “I”s, “L”s, or “O”s, but none of it looked like any writing he’d ever seen. A loud splash distracted him, and he looked up to see the man do a back flip cannonball from the edge of the pond back into the water. As before, Lloyd was almost certain all the surrounding birds, ducks, turtles, and frogs were actually clapping and laughing. Suddenly, Lloyd heard someone chuckle. He looked back and forth, but there was no one nearby. Then, as he looked back down at the leaves, one of them blinked! Lloyd stood up in surprise and immediately recognized what was on each leaf. They all had different parts of a face drawn on them!
There were two leaves with eyes, on one was a nose, two of them had ears, one had an upper lip, and on the last was a lower lip. Lloyd arranged them all so the face was in proper order, and both eyes came to life – staring right up at him. Then, it spoke in a cheery voice with a slightly windy, breezy sound to it.
“Thank you so much! I didn’t know if you were ever going to figure me out. What’s your name?”
“Lloyd. What’s yours?”
The leaf face’s eyes grew big and round as its lips twisted into a thoughtful expression.
“I don’t know!” it said. “I’ve only just been made, you know!”
“I’ll call you Mr. Crinkles,” said Lloyd. “I’ve always thought leaves sound crinkly as they brush across the ground. Like crunching potato chips!”
“Wonderful!” said the leaf face. “I’ve never had a name. I feel most important now. And you are quite important too, as you must know.”
“Me? Important? Why?” asked Lloyd.
“Well, Mr. Bandoofernen doesn’t come around a park to visit just anyone. You must be very special to have been chosen,” Mr. Crinkles said.
“Mr. Ban-doo-fer-nen! What a funny name,” said Lloyd. “As for me, well I’m just Lloyd. I didn’t know I was special. Chose me for what?”
“To protect the park, of course!” replied the leaf face.
It explained to him that Mr. Bandoofernen was an extraordinary person whose job was to choose a kid to look after each park in the city. He’d been keeping an eye on Lloyd and had picked him to take care of this new place because Lloyd had shown himself to be careful around the plants and had always taken care to not disturb any flowers. The man had also determined from Lloyd’s actions that he was observant, clean, kind, and loved animals. Mr. Crinkles went on to tell Lloyd about how Mr. Bandoofernen had a unique magical relationship with nature, and he’d passed a little of this power on to him.
“You are now able to draw your own leaf faces,” Mr. Crinkles said. “Just as Mr. Bandoofernen did with me. The leaves will tell you the needs of the various animals, plants, and trees living in the park.”
The leaf face told him he could stand beneath any of the park’s trees and it would recognize him and shake some leaves out for him. Lloyd was to catch seven of them and use a stick to draw the parts of a face on each. Then, once the leaves were on the ground, the face would blink to life and tell him all he’d need to know about the park.
“So how about it my friend,” continued the grinning leaf face. “Will you be our park protector?”
“Yes, of course!” said Lloyd.
“I thought so!” Mr. Crinkles replied. “Following Mr. Bandoofernen is an exceptional privilege. He only picks those who are worthy. Ah, looks like your family is preparing to head out. I better blow off. See you next time!”
The leaf face smiled, winked and scattered away on a breeze.
Lloyd was amazed at all he had heard. He looked up and saw his dad putting his little sister back in the stroller and watched his mom put her phone away. Lloyd did not want to leave the park, though. He wanted to talk to some more leaves! He looked around and noticed the surrounding trees were now bowing towards him and waving their branches. Lloyd grinned back, knowing he’d return soon to find out if any of them needed anything.
But… where was Mr. Bandoofernen? He was no longer in the water. In fact, all the turtles, birds, frogs, and fish were now swimming on Lloyd’s side of the pond. They seemed to be looking at him expectantly. Lloyd slowly reached into his jacket pocket and was surprised to magically pull out a handful of bread crumbs! He tossed them to all the critters and they happily gobbled up the snack before squawking, croaking, and swimming off to their homes.
A rustle in the tree above him caused Lloyd to look up. And there was Mr. Bandoofernen, doing back handsprings all along a big wide branch. He stopped directly above Lloyd and then smiled, bowed and waved. Next, the funny little blue suited man caught the feet of two passing birds and soared off into the air! Lloyd watched him disappear in the perfectly blue sky.
“Come on, Lloyd! Time to head to Gus’s Snack Shop!” called his dad.
Lloyd skipped off to catch up with his family. Some other day, maybe he’d tell them about following Mr. Bandoofernen and how he’d agreed to become the park’s protector. Perhaps he’d even introduce them to a leaf face. But, those things could wait. Because right then – it was ice cream time!
1. How did Lloyd and his family always end their walks?
2. What did Lloyd notice about the plants as he was following the strange man?
3. What did the leaves that Lloyd had collected from the blue-suited man have on them?
4. What had Lloyd been chosen for?
5. What kind of powers had Mr. Bandoofernen given Lloyd?