Penny & Alba


Well…all the McCutcheon

neighbours living on Oak Street

were very friendly. All of them,

that is, except the lady on the right. If there was

a weed in the lawn she complained.

If a ball went onto her grass she was furious.

If there was a school concert and the kids

were practicing, she raised a ruckus.

Since all the other neighbours were so nice,

it made Mrs. Fairweather seem even worse.

Both Penny and Alba thought a better name

for her would be Mrs. Stormybum but their

parents put a quick end to that.

“She may not be as friendly as we’d like but

she’s entitled to her own space,” said Mr.

McCutcheon. “I bet she’s more frightened of

you than you are of her.”

“Remember she’s pretty old and sometimes

it’s harder for older people when all the

things change around them,” agreed Mrs.


Reluctantly, Penny and Alba could

understand what their mother was saying.

Mrs. Fairweather’s house had been the

original farmhouse in the area and her father

had sold off all the rest of the farm when

their first home had burned down. They had

needed the money to rebuild. And when you are used to

having a lot of privacy and living in an orchard, it must

be hard to see the fruit trees chopped down to make

room for a subdivision. On the other hand, Penny and Alba

loved having neighbours on all sides. It meant that there

were lots of kids to play with. There was always a game

going on from morning to night and always lots of

excitement and noise-just what a kid likes and just what

an older lady might find disturbing.

Now, Mrs. Fairweather was very independent. Every

morning she was out watering her flowers at the crack

of dawn. Every Monday her washing was hung out in

the back yard. Everything was done on a fixed schedule.

Though she didn’t cut her own grass anymore, she

followed Billy Adams around the yard as he cut the

grass and pointed out every blade he missed with the

lawn mower.

On Monday after school, Penny and Alba were playing

ball in the backyard. Alba shouted “Go out for a long one”

and Penny ran backwards to catch the pop fly. Before she

knew it, she had backed into the hedge between her house

and Mrs. Fairweather’s and was blocked by the dense

cedars. The ball bounced off of the hedge, ricocheted off

the McCutcheon garage, into a paisley house dress hanging

on their neighbour’s clothes line and dropped into Mrs.

Fairweather’s beloved flower garden.

“Holy cow and rats” said Penny. “That’s our only ball.

There’s no way I’m going over into that backyard to get


“Let’s wait ’til Billy cuts the grass and he can throw it

back to us” agreed Alba.

And almost like he had heard them, Billy came through the

garden gate with his lawn mower and started cutting.

Hiding in the bushes the girls whistled at Billy and got his


“Hey, can you throw us back our ball?”

Billy looked over his shoulder to make sure that Mrs.

Fairweather wasn’t watching from the house and he

flipped the ball back over the fence. It was only then

that Billy realized how strange it was that Mrs.

Fairweather wasn’t out in the yard saying, “You missed a

spot here.”

In fact it was so peaceful that Billy felt uneasy when he

had finished the yard before anyone came out to order

him about. Somehow the yard felt very different and

empty as he swung the rusty gate shut.

“Oh well,” he said, “I guess Mrs. Fairweather must be

out of the house.”

The next day, as Penny and Alba were walking to

school, they couldn’t help but notice that the flowers

beside Mrs. Fairweather’s front porch were drooping a

little and that for the first time that they could

remember, the morning paper was still lying on the front

sidewalk. After school when they were playing ball in the

backyard Alba said “Go out for a long one.”

Penny replied, “Hey remember what happened

yesterday. Let’s not let that happen again.”

Even before she had finished saying it though, she

looked into Mrs. Fairweather’s backyard and observed

that something seemed out of place.

And as she was thinking that thought, the rain started to fall.

Penny and Alba tore into the house and ran up the stairs

into their bedroom. Looking out the window they saw the

rain come down in sheets.

“Well at least the flowers will grow” said Alba, trying to

be philosophical.

Penny said, “Looks like Old Mrs. Stormybum’s laundry is

going to get another wash, too.”

They both giggled quietly because they knew that it was a

mean name and also because they would get into trouble if

they used it in front of their parents. As the two of them

started to play cards Penny looked out the window again at

the clothes on the line. The wind was starting to blow

harder and some of the clothes started to fly off the line.

“Something’s wrong,” said Penny. “We’ve got a mystery

alert. Alba, what’s wrong with this picture?”

Alba scratched her head. “I give up. What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Fairweather is very particular about everything,


“You got that right” agreed Alba.

“Well, would anyone particular about their good clothes

leave them on the line over night and not take them

inside in a torrential rain storm?”

The girls stared at each other, raced down the stairs,

and went to look for their mother who was busy on the

computer in the basement.

“I’m busy with someone on-line right now, but you had

better go into her yard and pick up the clothes” she said

when the girls explained their dilemma. “She must have

forgotten her washing and gone out of town for the night.”

Now the rain was really coming down in sheets. In fact the

sheets of rain were coming down so hard the sheets on the

line were also coming down and the girls knew they would

have to put on their slickers to stay dry. Normally they

would only wear the slickers until they were out of sight of

the house and then stuff them into their school bags but

today it was raining so hard that they wore them even with

the hoods up. They figured they were probably going to be

killed by Mrs. Fairweather when she saw them in her

backyard anyway so they might as well die dry.

By the time they got to the backyard the laundry was

strewn all over the place and it took ten minutes to get it

rounded up. The only thing left was a sheet that had blown

up into the apple tree outside her second story window and

after carefully placing the clothes in a basket on the back

deck Penny and Alba climbed the apple tree to try and

get the sheet down.

“Boy are we going to get it. The sheet is ripped and

she’s going to blame us for sure,” said Alba. “Come on,

let’s get it down before I get any more soaked.”

Penny couldn’t help but look into the second story

window as she was climbing down. As she peered in, it

seemed strange to her that the bed wasn’t made.

Wouldn’t Mrs. Fairweather have made her bed before

going away? Surely she was that type of woman who

would leave everything perfectly tidy. And as they

closed the garden gate behind them Penny noticed that

two days of papers were now blowing all over the front

yard. When they got back to their driveway, Mrs.

McCutcheon was just driving away in the car. She had left

them a note to say that she would be at the school board

meeting for the evening and that they were to call if they

had a problem.

Both girls peeled off their wet clothes, got into warm

PJ’s and drank the hot chocolate that their mother had

left for them. Her note said “Thanks for helping Mrs.

Fairweather, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it even if she

doesn’t say so out loud.”

Mrs. McCutcheon was no dummy. She knew what

Mrs. Fairweather was like but she also was very

supportive of Mrs. Fairweather and always kept an eye

out for her. She took her Christmas treats and offered to

bring her things every time she went to the store.

“That’s the way I’d like to be treated if l were living

alone in a big house by myself” she’d say in an old witches

voice trying to make light of a very difficult situation. The

girls were beginning to understand that one day their

parents would be older and they would help take care of

them, too.

Alba and Penny sat in their rooms doing their homework

and Penny looked out the window at her neighbour’s


“Wouldn’t you leave some lights on if you were going

away,” asked Penny. “It looks totally deserted.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want to spend the money” replied


“I know she’s tight with her money, but she’s also very

careful,” said Penny. “Something’s wrong. I wish Dad

and Mom were home.”

“Come on, we’ve got to investigate. Get your clothes

on and grab a flashlight,” exclaimed Alba

“Are you crazy? Go back out into the storm and check

out Mrs. Stormybum’s house. Not a chance. I’m staying

here” replied Penny.

“OK suit yourself, chicken lips,” challenged Alba. Well

normally the girls didn’t fall for that kind of taunting.

Scaredy-cat never worked but chicken lips always did

and the two sisters were instantly ready to be the

McCutcheon sisters- ‘Big time detectives.’

Outside, the bushes were waving in the wind casting

shadows on the houses from the flickering street lamps.

The sky exploded with light as a shot of lightning struck

a hydro transformer a couple of streets away, plunging

the street into pitch darkness.

“Great night for a horror movie,” said Penny.

“Yeah. Look at me.” replied Alba in a ghoulish voice. “I’m

the monster who’s going to suck out all of your blood” as

she shone the flashlight up from under her chin.

A gust of wind whipped the branches of the oak tree in the

McCutcheon front yard against the house, making a

sound that reminded Alba of fingernails on a

chalkboard. She began to feel a little less brave and a

lot more uneasy.

“What are we doing here?” she said quietly. “It’s raining.


We’re not allowed out when Mom and Dad aren’t home.

Mrs. Stormy bum is going to yell at us and get us into

trouble. And we don’t even like her. Earth to Penny,

have we gone nuts?”

“Something’s wrong Alba. Something’s happened to

Mrs. Fairweather and we’re the only two who can help

her. If we get yelled at I’ll take the blame” said Penny

bravely. “Go home if you want but I think she’s in


Well, the girls often disagreed, but when it came down

to the crunch, sisters are sisters and they would do

anything for each other and trusted each other’s

instincts. By this time they had reached the Fairweather

front porch and shone the light through the living room

window. The curtains were just open a crack and they

couldn’t see anything in the room.

“Come on, let’s go around the back, maybe we’ll get a

better view.”

But all the blinds were closed at the back of the house.

Mrs. Fairweather didn’t like the sun streaming in and

fading her furniture.

“I don’t see anything. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

said Alba.

“Wait a second,” replied Penny. “Let’s check out the

second floor from the apple tree.”

But by this time the tree was soaked and the branches

were very slippery.

“Be careful not to slip” Alba warned her sister.

They shinnied their way up to the branch where they

had been the day before and shone the light through the

window and all around the floor.

“I don’t see anything, Alba” said Penny as she turned

around to talk to her sister. When she looked back at

the bedroom a lightning fast object jumped up on the

window frame, startling Penny and causing her to lose her

grip on the tree.

“Hold on,” cried Alba “I’ve got you.”

Alba barely did catch her because Penny was wet and

two years older and quite a bit bigger than Alba.

Fortunately Penny was able to grab another branch and

climb back to the window to see the face of a pitiful

black cat meowing on the other side.

“That settles it,” said Alba. “Something is wrong. Mrs.

Fairweather might not like kids much but she loves that

cat. She’ s never left it alone without food . I’m calling

the police!”

Within a minute the girls had slid down the tree and

were back in the McCutcheon kitchen calling the

Centreville police station. They were lucky that the

phone was still working even though the main house

hydro was out and they immediately asked for Sergeant

McGillvray because he was an officer who trusted them.

I guess a lot of kids do some pretty dumb things but the

girls had learned in the past that he would always take

what they had to say very seriously. And he did this time


“I’ll be there in a couple of minutes” he said. “That’s

showing good observation techniques, kids.”

And true to his word, Sergeant McGillvray arrived with

lights flashing on his squad car shortly before an

ambulance pulled into the Fairweather driveway. The

girls told him everything they had done. Trusting the kids,

the sergeant didn’t waste a minute. He tried all the doors

and windows and finally broke a back window to get into

the house. Three minutes went by with no word from inside

and the girls started to worry that they had imagined

everything and that they would get into trouble for having

an overactive imagination. The ambulance drivers were

snickering to themselves because they had gone on many

‘kid originated’ wild goose chases before and they didn’t

have the same faith that Sergeant McGillvray had in

these kids.

Suddenly there was another shot of lightning. This one

illuminated the faces of Mr. and Mrs. McCutcheon as

they drove into their driveway, back home from the

school board meeting.

Terrified to see the flashing lights in their neighbour’s

driveway and their kids out in the torrential rain, Mrs.

McCutcheon jumped out of the car even before it had

stopped and ran across her neighbour’s soaking lawn

towards the girls shouting “What’s going on?”.

“Maybe you ought to ask your girls” said one of the

ambulance attendants and they all laughed.

“Looks like a case of overactive imagination” the other

one snickered.

But before she could talk to her kids, the front door of

the Fairweather house flew open and Sergeant

McGillvray shouted at the men to get a stretcher and

oxygen up to the bedroom right now. Within seconds

the ambulance attendants were sheepishly racing up the

staircase into the second floor bedroom and within

minutes Mrs. Fairweather was in the ambulance headed

for Centreville hospital.

“Looks like your kids are heroes” said Sergeant

McGillvray”… again. Best kid detectives in the whole


Mrs. McCutcheon said, “I’1l have someone board up the

broken window at the back and get in touch with her


Sergeant McGillvray added. “It looks like she’s going to be

OK but she fell and broke her hip and couldn’t get to the

phone. She could have suffered for days if your kids hadn’t

cared about her. She’s lucky to have such good


Both girls looked at each other because they certainly

didn’t think that they were good neighbours to Mrs.

Stormy … Mrs. Fairweather. But like with a lot of things,

piano practice included, you don’t have to like it to

know it’s important to do.

Just as Sergeant McGillvray was locking the front door,

the lights went on all over the neighbourhood and Alba

shouted “Wait a second” and ran into the house.

Mrs. McCutcheon called after her, “Alba you can’t go

in there, you’re trespassing.”

And sure enough she was, but Penny knew that Mrs.

Fairweather would have approved because in a minute

Alba came out the front door carrying Rufus, Mrs.

Fairweather’s cat.

Alba said, “You almost broke my sisters neck when you

scared her, but I like you anyway.”

We’ll take care of the cat until Mrs. Fairweather gets

out of the hospital and we’ll let her know that her cat

will be OK,” Mr. McCutcheon said to Sergeant


Sergeant McGillvray locked the door to the house and

watched as the McCutcheons strode across the lawn to

their home. He wished that everyone had such good

neighbours and knew that he would have lots more

adventures with his two favourite detectives, Penny and