Here are the first two chapters of The Mystery of the Giant Kohlrabi. Enjoy!
Over the Edge
Road in Poor Condition. Do not use when wet.
Nero swiveled his head as the car passed the sign. “Uncle Peter should put up a sign.” He made his fingers into a rectangle. “World’s Largest Fruits and Vegetables: This Way.”
Mom took one hand off the steering wheel and slapped a mosquito on her arm. She glanced over her shoulder at him. “I told you. The plants are top-secret. If word got out, the farm would be swamped by reporters and scientists wanting tours.”
“Not if they had to find it first,” muttered Dad. He flicked open the map Aunt Lotta had sent.
Nero clicked open his seatbelt and leaned forward so he could see the map over Dad’s shoulder. The orange splotch was the pumpkin house. Around it were two gray lines, a long squiggle, and an arrow.
No wonder they were lost.
“Are you sure this is the right road?” he asked.
Dad turned the map sideways. “We took the third grid road after the dead tree and turned north where the old church used to be. It has to be right.”
Mom slammed on the brake. Nero slammed into the back of Dad’s seat.
“Sorry,” she said. “Hole in the road.”
The road sign wasn’t kidding. Nero sat back and clicked in his seatbelt while the car crawled forward.
“Can’t you text them for better directions?” asked his younger sister, Clementine, in the seat beside him.
Mom drove around the hole in the road while Dad poked at his phone. A bead of sweat rolled off his bald spot. “No service,” he said. He dropped the phone into his shirt pocket.
Nero sighed and watched the fields roll by. So much for “we’ll be there in no time.” It was sweltering inside the car. If there weren’t so many brainless grasshoppers bouncing off his window, he would have it open like Clementine’s.
His best friend Leon had laughed himself silly when Nero said his family was going to spend the summer helping his relatives pick vegetables. Leon’s family was going zip-lining in the mountains. But helping out on the farm would be okay. His cousins were awesome, or at least Twig was. Fern…well, she could hang out with Clementine.
If they ever found the farm. Nothing out there matched the chicken scratch on Aunt Lotta’s map. All Nero could see was flat fields, flat rows of trees, flat horizon, and a flattened grasshopper stuck between the window and the car door. Better do something about that before its head broke off and landed on him.
He pulled his Wonder-Gizmo out of his pocket and started unfolding the tools. It was an awesome gadget. Every time he opened it he found something new. “Mirror, compass, whistle; tweezers, toothpick, chopstick,” he muttered. The chopstick would work, but he might need to eat with it sometime.
Clementine pulled her hand inside the car. “Look! I caught a dragonfly.”
Nero didn’t look. “Toenail clipper, nose hair clipper, sheep shearer, bug zapper.”
“Bug zapper! That’s mean.”
Nero gave an evil laugh. “When one of Uncle Peter’s giant mosquitoes comes to suck your blood, you’ll beg me for it.”
“Uncle Peter doesn’t have giant mosquitoes, only giant vegetables.” Clementine made a cage with both hands. Her blonde hair hung like curtains as she bent forward. “Don’t worry about him,” she whispered to her dragonfly. “I’ll protect you.”
Nero unfolded a detachable arrow. Perfect. He opened the window a crack. Trying not to look at the grasshopper’s alien face, he nudged it away. It dangled by one leg for a moment, then slid down the outside of the window, leaving a yellow smear on the glass. Nero shuddered.
Road in poor condition. Do not use when dry.
So when could you use it—in a blizzard? Nero shook his head and folded the arrow and the other pieces back into his Wonder-Gizmo. Time for an Adventure, it said on the handle. Hmm. An adventure…ignoring ridiculous road signs. An adventure…getting lost in the barren prairie where all the trees in the next field were dead.
“Where did you get that gadget anyway?” Clementine asked.
“I won it at wilderness camp.”
Clementine snickered. “You?”
“Yes, me.” Nero put it in his pocket and turned his head toward his own window so she wouldn’t ask any more questions.
They passed the dead trees, crossed a dirt road and came to another, very dusty, sign. Road in poor condition. Do not use—. A round, splintery hole cut off the rest of the words. It looked like something had taken a bite out of it. Weird. What ate wooden signs?
Nero jerked upright. “What’s that whining sound?”
“Giant mosquito. Get the bug zapper!” cried Clementine.
“Swerve!” cried Dad.
A silver semi barreled down the middle of the road straight toward them.
Mom jerked the steering wheel. Nero’s seatbelt yanked on his shoulder. The car skidded across the gravel and lurched over the edge. The semi roared past in a cloud of dust.
Whoa. That was close.
“Idiot driver!” snarled Mom. She took a deep breath, then revved the engine. “Are we stuck on something? The car won’t move.”
“I’ll check.” Nero opened his door and stepped into a patch of scraggly clover that tickled his bare legs. The car wasn’t banged up, but its front wheels dangled above the ground. He knelt down and looked underneath.
Clementine’s sandaled feet thumped into the clover on the other side of the car. “Fly away, dragonfly!” she cried.
“What do you see?” asked Dad. His sandals, with socks inside, appeared next to Nero’s.
“We’re hung up on a stump,” Nero announced, standing up and ducking a dizzy-looking dragonfly.
Mom got out and pushed her sunglasses up on her nose. “How will we get the car off?”
Dad shrugged. They both bent over to look. Dad’s new cap with the laughing goose picture fell off into the clover. Clementine pounced on a grasshopper.
It was way too hot to stand in the sun. Lucky there were trees in this field. Live ones. Nero climbed up the side of the ditch to get into the shade while his parents figured out what to do.
The tree in front of him was very odd. Its bark was smooth and pale green, and wide leaves grew right out of its branches like fish fins. Each branch ended in a single dark green leaf as big as a tarp. Shivers trickled down Nero’s spine. The leaves were lined with white bones, and some had gaping holes like the one in the road sign. Above him, in the center of the tree, sat a huge green, bulging, alien…brain.
Nero leapt back into the ditch. As he stumbled against the hot car hood, he suddenly knew what he’d found.
Beyond the Broccoli
Dad’s hand hovered in mid-air, just above the mosquito on his cheek. He stared at the strange tree. “It does look like broccoli if you pretend you’re an ant.”
“I didn’t think Uncle Peter’s vegetables were that big,” said Nero.
“Maybe they really do live in a pumpkin,” said Clementine.
Mom reached through the window and pulled out her purse. “Let’s walk. Uncle Peter can lift the car out with his tractor.”
“Can’t you call them to come and get us?” asked Nero. It was really hot.
“No cell service anywhere around the farm,” said Mom. “It’s part of keeping things secret.”
Clementine put on her sun hat and Dad grabbed the bug spray. The semi’s dust cloud was gone, leaving the hard-packed gravel baking in the heat.
Nero patted the Wonder-Gizmo in his pocket as he headed to the road. Which tool would he use if he had to fend off a broccoli? The fork? He better not tell Leon he’d been spooked by a vegetable in broad daylight.
Grasshoppers arched around Clementine’s feet in the spiky grass next to the road. Nero walked on the gravel, away from the bugs and the creaky jungle noises coming from the giant garden. Were they from the plants, or from something that ate road signs and giant broccoli leaves? Suddenly he wasn’t sure he wanted an adventure.
“There’s a different kind of tree.” Clementine pointed at a much taller, bushier one. Its leaves were only as big as beach towels, but its long branches flopped in all directions. Both the trunk and the branches had long, spiky bristles.
“Tomato, I think,” said Mom, pushing up her sunglasses. “Yes, it is.” She pointed. “See that green ball?”
“Oh,” said Dad. “I thought that was a water tower. It…”
A rumbling noise from behind the tomatoes drowned out the rest of his words. Nero jumped. Then he smiled. It must be one of the farm machines.
He studied the giant tomatoes as they walked. If Uncle Peter let them have one, he and Twig could hollow it out to make a hot air balloon. But how would they make it fly? They could saw it in half to make a dinghy, if there was water to float on. Or they could cut it in lots of pieces to make shields to protect themselves from whatever ate that sign.
Just past the tomato tree, they turned onto a gravel driveway lined with four large, round silver bins with pointed tops. Beyond those stood the noisemaker – a rumbling, yellow machine with a square hole at one end and a spout at the other. Uncle Peter was stooped over the hole end, pushing in a thick orange log. Tiny orange pieces flew out of the spout onto a giant green leaf lying on the ground. The leaf looked like the ones on the broccoli tree, but without the holes. Long, thin orange boards with rough, hairy bark were piled up beside the leaf.
Uncle Peter had his back to them, and there was no use calling to him over the noise. They walked past him. The gravel driveway stretched through a field of clover and past a round shed that looked like a cantaloupe with a bright yellow door.
Nero elbowed Clementine. “There’s the pumpkin house,” he shouted into her ear. There were actually several pumpkins, connected by round, green, warty tunnels. Giant cucumbers?
“How did they hollow it out?” Clementine shouted in Nero’s ear.
“They must have pulled the gucky stuff out through the door,” Nero shouted back. If they’d kept the seeds, he could grow a giant jack-o-lantern at home in his yard. But then the big plants wouldn’t be secret.
By the time they reached the cantaloupe shed, they could talk over the noise.
“This is so exciting,” said Mom, sliding the elastic off her pony tail and putting it back on again. “We haven’t seen Peter and Lotta and the kids for ages. Twig is how old now? Thirteen?”
“Yup,” said Nero. “He’s two years older than me.”
“And Fern is two years older than me,” said Clementine. “Same as Nero.”
Dad twirled the pointy ends of his mustache. “Nice truck,” he said.
Nero snorted. Only Dad would notice a truck in front of a pumpkin house. Especially an orange truck. He was right, though. It was very nice: shiny chrome trim, double exhaust, wide mirrors, and a row of lights on the roof.
The door to the pumpkin house opened and Aunt Lotta rushed toward them, her flip-flops flapping. “Welcome! Welcome!” she cried, waving both hands. Her fluffy pink hair matched her flowered shirt, and even from a distance, she smelled like raspberries.
Just as she reached them, Uncle Peter’s machine stopped and the driveway jiggled. Nero had to take a step to keep his balance. Nobody else seemed to notice—or maybe they were just distracted by Aunt Lotta’s greetings.
Clementine disappeared into her enormous, squishy hug. All Nero could see of his sister was her purple sun hat and her legs sticking out below. He stepped backwards and stuck out his hand. Aunt Lotta pumped his arm, then Dad’s. Mom wasn’t quick enough. She got a squishy hug.
Uncle Peter bounded toward them as Mom was catching her breath. His wide smile matched his wide ears that stuck out under his farmer’s cap. The cap was like Dad’s except it had a pumpkin on it instead of a goose. “You made it!” he boomed, clapping Dad on the back and knocking him into Aunt Lotta. “Did you have any trouble finding us?”
“No, no trouble,” Dad lied as Aunt Lotta pushed him back toward Uncle Peter. “It’s a good thing Nero spotted your, ah, broccoli though. We couldn’t see your, ah, house through the, ah, tomatoes.”
Uncle Peter guffawed. “Yessiree, those are some tomatoes.” He squeezed Mom’s shoulder. “Hi sis. Hi kids. Great to see ya.”
“Hi,” said Nero.
Uncle Peter was so thin his pants slid down and showed the top of his underwear. The elastic had tractors on it. Beside him, Clementine giggled.
Aunt Lotta peered behind them. “You didn’t walk all this way, did you? Where’s your car?”
“A speeding semi ran us into the ditch,” said Nero.
“And we’re hung up on a stump,” added Clementine. She bent down to study a grasshopper sitting on a stalk of clover.
“That whiny silver semi?” asked Uncle Peter. “I thought I heard it go by.”
“Eighteen-wheel curtain van,” said Dad.
Uncle Peter raised his eyebrows. “It’s been tearing around these roads a lot lately. Can’t think who it might belong to. Some curious farmer, probably. Did you get the plate number?”
“All we saw was dust,” said Mom.
“That’s all I ever see too,” said Uncle Peter, hitching up his pants. “Oh well. I’ll get the tractor and pull you out.”
Aunt Lotta wrapped her arm around Mom. “But first, come and have a nice, round ball of juice. I just cut down a raspberry.”
Clementine looked up from her grasshopper. Nero grinned. A ball of juice?One raspberry for all of them?
“Raspberry juice will be perfect on a hot day like this,” said Mom.
“You can meet Dr. Renard too,” said Uncle Peter, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “She’s just leaving.”
The orange truck’s motor purred into life.
“Oh yes, you must meet Pawky,” Aunt Lotta gushed, fluffing up her hair. “These are her plants, you know.”
“You mean she’s the scientist that engineered the giant plants?” asked Nero.
“The very one,” said Aunt Lotta. “She bought the land and the farm equipment for us, and she also pays us for testing the vegetables.” She pointed past the house toward the field of oversized plants. “She even made me those raspberries just because I like tarts.”
Two tall, skinny trees arched in front of the field. Lumpy red and yellow blobs hung among their jagged leaves. There was a regular tree behind the pumpkin house, but the raspberry tree was way taller. And way spikier.
Uncle Peter put his hand next to his mouth and leaned toward Nero. “Gotta watch the raspberry thorns. They could skewer you.”
Nero tried to laugh. Was that a joke or a warning?
“Pawky offered to make me a giant marigold too,” continued Aunt Lotta, “to plant beside the tomatoes. But I don’t like the smell.”
“It would have been a good idea,” said Mom. “The smell keeps slugs away.”
Aunt Lotta waved her hand. “What harm could a little slug do to a tomato as big as my stove?”
Dad held up his can of bug spray. “So this will be strong enough? I won’t need to fend off any super-sized bugs?” He winked at Clementine.
She ignored him and pounced on something in the clover.
“No giant bugs,” said Uncle Peter. “Guaranteed.” He slapped a mosquito on Dad’s back.
Then what had eaten the sign and made those holes in the broccoli leaves? Nero patted the bug zapper in his pocket.
The orange truck rolled toward them and stopped. A woman with floppy, blonde hair piled on top of her head leaned out the driver’s window. She wore jeweled sunglasses and dangly earrings that flashed in the sunlight. She didn’t look anything like the scientists on T.V.
“I see you’ve been picking beans, Peter,” she said.
“Yessirree,” said Uncle Peter, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops. “And I just shredded a carrot.”
Nero looked over his shoulder at the pile of orange…carrot chips glistening in front of Uncle Peter’s shredding machine. What would Uncle Peter do with them? Make a thousand carrot cakes?
“Excellent,” said Dr. Renard. Then her forehead crinkled above her sunglasses. “Bad news. The clay’s dropped another two centimeters.”
The grin disappeared from Uncle Peter’s face.
Nero glanced at Dad. Dad shrugged.
Aunt Lotta stepped up to the window. “Pawky, I want you to meet Peter’s sister Iris, her husband Horatio, and their two children, Nero and Clementine.”
“Hi,” said Nero.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” said Dad, tipping his goose cap. “You’ve done some amazing work here.”
Clementine looked up. “Ooooh,” she said. “Nice earrings.” A grasshopper leapt out of her hand and bounced off the truck’s side mirror.
Dr. Renard jerked her head back inside the cab.
“Clementine!” said Mom, grabbing Clementine’s arm. “I’m so sorry.”
Dr. Renard reappeared at the window wearing a tight smile. “Welcome to the agricultural test station. Are you staying long?”
“They’ve agreed to stay the rest of the summer and help us with…well, everything,” said Aunt Lotta, beaming at Mom and Dad.
As long as Twig was involved with the “everything,” Nero was fine with that. He looked around. How come Twig and Fern hadn’t come out to meet them?
“That’s what families are for,” said Mom.
Dr. Renard put the truck into gear. “How very lovely. I do hope you enjoy the vegetables.” She waggled her fingers at them. “Well, time to trot.”
An image of the truck’s wheels bouncing up and down like horse hooves popped into Nero’s mind. It didn’t work. Oh well, scientists were supposed to think differently. That’s how they thought up their brilliant ideas.
Aunt Lotta waved vigorously as the truck rolled out of the driveway and disappeared behind the tomato tree. “Such a wonderful woman,” she said. “I don’t know what we would have done if she hadn’t turned up after our hardware store in Yorkton burned down. She even brings us supplies like eggs and milk and toilet paper. I hardly have to go to town.”
“Can I have earrings with jingles for my birthday?” asked Clementine, freeing her arm from Mom’s grip.
“We’ll see,” said Mom. She ran her fingers through her ponytail. “I wonder how she gets her hair to puff on top of her head like that.”
“Hair clips,” said Aunt Lotta. She raised one eyebrow at Dad. “And some of that stuff Horatio uses on his mustache.”
Dad twirled the ends of his moustache again. He claimed it made him look like the famous author Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but Nero suspected he was just making sure he didn’t run out of hair entirely.
Mom spread her arms and took a deep breath. “Well, I’m ready for that raspberry juice.”
“With a big slice of rutabaga pie,” added Uncle Peter. He rubbed a big circle on his stomach. “We had a marvelous rutabaga last year.”
Dad’s eyes went round. “Ru—” he choked out. Mom stepped on his toe.
“You don’t like rutabaga pie?” asked Aunt Lotta. She sniffed. “The children devour it for breakfast.”
Nero and Clementine exchanged glances. Wasn’t a rutabaga a kind of turnip?
Mom gave all three of them her eat-it-and-like-it look.
Dad forced a toothy grin. “Rutabaga pie will be just…grrrreat!”
Aunt Lotta sniffed again. Mom took her arm and steered her toward the pumpkin house. Dad took a deep breath and followed.
“Coming, you two?” asked Uncle Peter.
Nero thought quickly. If he distracted Uncle Peter, could he get out of trying the pie? “Uncle Peter, do you need any help shredding another carrot log?”
Uncle Peter grinned. “Do you mean, do I need any help making carrot sticks?” He waggled his eyebrows.
Clementine looked up from her latest grasshopper. “Carrot sticks? That’s funny.”
Uncle Peter tousled her hair. Unfortunately, he was now walking toward the house. Clementine had hopped to her feet and was trotting next to him.
“Uh…can you show us how to shred one?” Nero asked. He had to jog to keep up with Uncle Peter’s long legs.
“Well, that depends,” he said to Nero.
“On whether we can get another one out of the ground. When it’s dry like this they stick to the dirt. If you pull on one, all you get is leaves.”
Nero glanced up at the blue sky. “The TV at the motel said it would rain tonight.”
“We can try tomorrow then,” said Uncle Peter.
The path in front of the pumpkin house was made of creamy white, oblong stones.
Clementine giggled. “Are those giant pumpkin seeds?”
“A thousand uses, once you have some,” said Uncle Peter.
Time was running out. “Ah, will you show me the tractor?” asked Nero. Any monsters in the garden would stay away when Uncle Peter was around.
“Sure thing,” said Uncle Peter. He opened the door and motioned them inside. “Right after pie.”