The residents of Sweet Town awoke in their normal fashion. People turned restlessly in warm, cinnamon-scented sheets as the morning light filtered through slanted gum stick blinds. Gummy bear alarms rang, and parents hurried to their soothing apricot baths. Children drowsily opened their eyes in lollipop-swirled bedrooms. Outside, a meringue sun inched up behind the chocolate mountains, engulfing the town with a lemon scent. Marshmallow clouds drifted in the sky, and fruit-flavored flowers peeked out from the cake crumb earth.
“Timothy, get down here or you’ll be late for school again!”
“I’m coming!” Timothy yelled.
His mother waited at the foot of the stairs with her arms folded. “I don’t want to get another call from your principal about you skipping school, do you hear me?”
“Yes, Mom,” he said, looking down at the floor.
His mother kissed his cheek, leaving a sticky imprint. “Have a wonderful day, darling.”
Timothy sighed and trudged down the hallway. Shutting the front door, he saw the Brownie Bus nearing its stop at the end of the block. He rushed down the sidewalk and up the stairs of the bus. As it chugged down the street, he found a coconut-covered seat behind the bus chaperones, Mr. Moonpie and Mr. Marmalade, Marzipan Middle School’s librarian and band teacher. The two old men were deep in conversation.
“Did you hear? Veggieville is thinking of waging battle on us again,” said Mr. Moonpie.
Mr. Marmalade leaned back, his eyes glittering behind thick, sugar-hardened glasses. “Really? Even after what happened last time?”
“What?” Mr. Moonpie asked, holding up a butterscotch ear horn.
“EVEN AFTER WHAT HAPPENED—”
Startled, Mr. Moonpie fumbled with the ear horn, which crashed to the floor. “Geez, there’s no need to yell,” he muttered. “But yes, I heard…” He trailed off when he spotted Timothy, and snatched up the butterscotch ear horn. He whipped around to Mr. Marmalade, whispering under his breath.
Timothy pressed his forehead against the window. All of Sweet Town’s citizens had black licorice hair, gumdrop eyes, and red taffy lips with a bright jellybean smile. But Timothy didn’t look much like anyone. He had bright orange skin and green, leafy hair. When he smiled, only dull brown beans showed through.
The bus stopped and a few of his classmates trickled on. Timothy hesitantly waved to Susan, the popular girl, and she smiled back, stretching the sprinkling of nutmeg freckles that dotted her nose. Timothy flushed, and a fine, sugary red powder appeared all over his body. Susan and her friends leaned toward one another in their seats.
“I can’t believe Timothy thinks we’re actually going to be his friends,” Susan said. Her entourage giggled. “He’s so…ugly!”
Timothy’s heart plummeted, and he sunk lower in his seat.
Mr. Moonpie and Mr. Marmalade began to talk louder over the crowded bus.
“He looks like he came straight from Veggieville and he doesn’t even know it,” Mr. Moonpie said, shaking his head.
Timothy sat up, confused. What on earth was Veggieville? He had never even heard of such a place!
Without thinking, Timothy ran off the bus at the next stop and rushed home. He ran past the Sweet Town Capitol, with its tapioca towers and rainbow-tinted windows, and the post office, with its manicured candy straw lawn. When he reached his house, he bounded through the front door and marched to the kitchen table.
“Timothy?” his mother asked, surprised. “What are you doing—”
“What’s going on, Mom?” he asked.
She lowered herself into the chair across from him. “What do you mean?”
“What’s Veggieville?” he persisted.
Her eyes grew wide and she flushed. After a moment, she looked up and attempted a smile. “It’s just a village over the mountains,” she said. “Nothing for you to worry about.”
“But I heard they’re going to attack us!”
“No,” she said, her voice breaking. She swallowed. “No,” she repeated, her voice clearer this time. “Of course they won’t attack us.” She wiped the sticky red powder from her forehead.
Timothy didn’t believe her. He grunted and shoved back his chair, and ran up to his room. He slammed his door so hard that it rattled in its frame, and a white yogurt chunk chipped away and fell to the floor.
That night Timothy had a hard time sleeping. Where was Veggieville, and why did people think he looked as though he belonged there?
When the first light of dawn crept through Timothy’s gum stick blinds, he got out of bed and tiptoed downstairs. One of the stairs creaked and he paused, heart thumping. But his mother’s room remained silent, so Timothy ran down and out the front door.
He went to the Rocky Road River. Looking to make sure no one else was around, he slipped off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and sat with his feet dangling into the ice cream. Despite its name, the river changed flavors each day, and this morning it was a rich vanilla.
He sat on the bank, thinking. It’s funny, but he had never before wondered what lay beyond SweetTown’s borders. As far as he knew, no resident had even left the village. But Veggieville was out there somewhere. If he followed the river all the way through the mountains, what would he find?
Timothy stood and brushed off his pants, determined to find out. He headed upriver, and after a while, the ground beneath his feet started to look different. In between the cake crumbs scattering the earth, grass grew in thin patches. Timothy ran his fingers through the unfamiliar stalks, which felt silky to the touch. Soon the cake crumbs disappeared, and the ground was blanketed in green.
Timothy noticed something unusual poking from the ground, and reached down to pick it up. It looked like a lollipop, but instead of a rainbow-swirled center, it was speckled dirty brown. He sniffed it, and tentatively placed it into his mouth. His eyes popped open—it was a strange mixture of sweet, combined with something earthy he didn’t recognize. He had never tasted something so delicious! Seeing many of these strange lollipops growing about, Timothy plucked a handful and shoved them into his pockets.
The RockyRoadRiver ran through a valley between the MississippiMudMountains, carving out a trail for Timothy to follow. As he entered the valley, he was shocked to find the river was no longer a smooth vanilla, but rather was filled with water, rushing over a bed of smooth pebbles. Now more curious than ever, Timothy marched onward.
When he finally exited the mountains, he blinked in the sudden burst of bright sunshine. The sun was no longer meringue, but rather a glowing red beet with cauliflower clouds floating around it. Lowering his eyes, Timothy gasped at what lay before him—row upon row of green corn stalks up to his chest, and mounds of thick, packed earth with windows and chimneys spouting steam. But what especially surprised him were the people, laughing and carrying baskets of plump tomatoes and deep purple eggplant. They looked just like him, with pale orange skin and green, leafy hair.
Timothy’s knees weakened, and he had to steady himself to keep from sliding to the ground. He couldn’t believe this was truly possible!
A group of men headed into the village’s largest mound, with a sign hanging above the entrance that read “Veggieville Armory.” Timothy followed them and swung open the door, and was greeted by a dank and earthy scent. He blinked until his eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then looked up in wonder. The walls were covered in tiny, round peas, and lamps with flowering green leaves and twisted vines hung from the ceiling. On the building’s far side, hundreds of men were holding thin, green, pointy objects that Timothy had never seen before.
A man stood in front of the group, shouting orders. His face was scarred by deep wrinkles and pock marks, and his orange skin was chapped and leathery. The men responded by twirling and lunging forward. The moves seemed quick and deadly, and Timothy swallowed, wondering what lay in store for Sweet Town.
He went over to a fellow who was lounging against the wall. “Excuse me,” Timothy said, pointing to the strange objects the men were holding. “What are those things?”
The man removed a worn wooden pipe from his lips and blew a dark smoke ring into the air. “You mean the asparagus spears?” he asked.
“Oh,” Timothy responded, embarrassed. He cleared his throat. “And who’s that man giving orders?”
“Why, that’s Raymond, of course. You mean to say you’ve never seen him before?”
“I guess I must have forgotten what he looked like,” Timothy responded, flushing. His palms started sweating, and he wiped his hands across the front of his pants.
“Okay men, good work! Now go home and get some rest!” Raymond shouted. The men dropped their spears with a clatter and filed past Timothy into the sunshine, smiling and nodding as they went.
Raymond noticed Timothy by the door and walked over.
“Hello there,” he said. “I don’t believe I’ve seen you around before. My name’s Raymond.” He stuck out an orange, chapped hand.
“Timothy,” he responded, shaking it.
“So Timothy, did you come here to join our ranks?”
Timothy looked up, startled, but Raymond’s yellow kernel eyes were twinkling. He shuffled his feet. “I was, um, wondering…why are you practicing for battle?” he finished in a rush.
Raymond ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, Timothy, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Veggieville is preparing for battle with a village over the mountains called SweetTown.”
Timothy gulped. “But why would you attack Sweet Town?” he whispered.
“It’s a long story. Sweet Town is expanding, and our beautiful, flowing river is turning to ice cream closer to us here in Veggieville every day. And now our crops won’t grow, and the sweetness from the ice cream is making our children sick.”
“But can’t you do something else besides fight?”
Raymond shook his head. “I’ve asked the Sweet Town Founding Fathers again and again if we can build a dam across the river, but they always say no. Unfortunately, Timothy, SweetTown leaves us with no other choice.”
“Is there really no other way?” he pleaded.
“I wish there were, but I’m afraid not. We march out first thing tomorrow morning.” Someone called to Raymond, and he turned. “I’ll be right back,” he said, placing his hand on Timothy’s shoulder.
Timothy was afraid for his mother, who always kissed him goodnight with her sticky, taffy lips. He even thought fondly of Sweet Town itself, with its cheery streets and cozy graham cracker homes. Timothy knew he couldn’t stay in Veggieville if there was about to be a battle, even if people here didn’t whisper and call him ‘ugly’ behind his back. Being careful not to let Raymond see, he ducked out the door and ran toward the Mississippi Mud Mountains and to his home.
When Timothy arrived back in SweetTown, the sky was darkening and the sugar cookie moon poked above the horizon. He paused in front of his plain chocolate door, nervous about what his mother would say. After all, he had been gone all day. Just as Timothy was gathering enough courage to walk inside, the door swung open and his mother rushed out and yanked him into her arms. After a few moments she pulled away, her eyes flashing.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
Timothy swallowed. “I…I went to Veggieville.”
His mother gasped. She ushered him inside, and they sat at the kitchen table.
“Mom,” Timothy burst out, “why does everyone in Veggieville look like me?”
She looked down at her hands. “Timothy, there’s something I should tell you. It’s time.” She bit her bottom lip. “You see, thirteen years ago a strange-looking man traveled here to tell the Founding Fathers that the Rocky Road River was destroying his land. This man didn’t look like anyone we had ever seen before—he had orange skin, green, leafy hair, yellow kernel eyes, and brown bean teeth. He told me that instead of the hot fudge that runs through our veins and the gumballs that beat in our chests, they have ‘tomato juice’ running through their veins and ‘garlic cloves’ beating in their chests.”
Timothy’s eyes widened, but he stayed silent.
“When this man came to Sweet Town, everyone pointed and whispered because he looked so different. I felt just awful, and so one day I decided to start a conversation when he was sitting alone in the diner where I was waitressing. One thing led to another…”
His mother sighed, looking down at her hands. “Timothy, that man was your father.”
Timothy sat back, stunned.
“His name is—was—Raymond.”
“What?” Timothy burst out. “You told me my father was from SweetTown, and that he died when I was little! Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“I didn’t want you to think you were different,” his mother replied.
“But I’ve always felt different,” Timothy grumbled. “Just look at me!”
His mother looked away, hurt. “People here can be not-very-nice sometimes,” she agreed. “I still hear them whispering about me and Raymond.” She looked down at her hands.
Timothy’s voice softened. “So what happened to Raymond?”
She sniffed. “Well, he pleaded with the Founding Fathers to dam up the river. But they refused. He said if they didn’t do anything, Veggieville would dam the river itself. The Fathers grew so angry they imprisoned him. But I came to visit him one night, and while the guards were asleep I stole the cell key and helped him escape.”
“Did he return to Veggieville?” Timothy asked.
His mother began to cry. “I don’t know. I never saw him again.”
“Mom,” Timothy whispered. “I met a man named Raymond when I was in Veggieville.”
She slid lower in her chair. “You did?”
He nodded. “He’s leading the Veggieville troops here in the morning.”
His mother shoved back from the table, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She stroked his hair. “I’m really sorry, Timothy,” she said. “For everything.” And she ran up the pretzel staircase without even saying goodnight.
Timothy couldn’t sleep again that night. Instead, he snuck out of the house at dawn and raced toward the Rocky Road River. As he neared, he saw the Sweet Town soldiers standing in formation along the bank. Then he noticed Sweet Town’s weapons—bazookas that shot hard balls of cookie dough—and panicked.
He hid behind a candy rock as the Veggieville troops approached in the distance. Timothy’s neighbor, General Frank, paced at the front of the Sweet Town troops with hands on his hips. He peered at the Sweet Town soldiers over the top of his cinnamon candy-studded sunglasses. “All right, men,” he barked. “Let’s show Veggieville who’s boss!”
“Fire!” he yelled, and a hail of cookie dough splattered the opposing troops. With a battle cry, Veggieville launched their asparagus spears at the Sweet Town troops. Timothy peered around the rock, his heart in his throat. Just then he saw a Sweet Town soldier capture Raymond in a cotton candy net, pushing him back toward the river bank. As Raymond tried to defend himself, he tripped over a stone and fell onto his back. The SweetTown soldier grabbed Raymond’s asparagus spear and began to lower it over his body.
Timothy couldn’t bear it. “Stop!” he shouted. “Stop, that’s my father!” As he ran out from behind the candy rock, Raymond looked up in fear and confusion. The SweetTown soldier faltered, spear in hand. “Stop!” Timothy shouted, running up and down the battlefield, waving his arms. He shouted until his voice was hoarse. “Stop!” Soldiers from both Sweet Town and Veggieville stood uncertainly around him, their weapons half-lowered.
Timothy halted, his chest heaving and his skin glowing a vibrant orange. As he leaned over to catch his breath, one of the lollipops he had picked earlier fell onto the ground.
“What’s that, boy?” General Frank asked curiously.
Timothy shrugged. “I don’t know; I found it by the Mississippi Mud Mountains.”
“It looks like a lollipop.”
“No, that’s a mushroom!” a Veggieville soldier interjected.
General Frank sniffed the object and put it into his mouth as Timothy turned to look at the troops. “Please, don’t fight,” Timothy said. He gestured toward Raymond, who in the commotion had hurried to his feet and grabbed his spear back. “Our land is making their village sick. Why can’t we let them build a dam?”
“Boy, this is delicious!” General Frank interrupted. He handed the mushroom lollipop to the man standing next to him, who took a hesitant lick. “You found this between SweetTown and Veggieville, you say?”
Timothy nodded, confused.
“I bet we could make a mint off these…” General Frank pondered.
Raymond stepped forward, his hands held up in peace. “Wait, now. If it turns out these…mushroom lollipops are really valuable, then what harm is there in letting us build a dam?” he asked. “If we don’t, they might also be destroyed.”
General Frank pursed his taffy lips, and nodded. “I suppose we could think about it. We’ll have to discuss it with the Founding Fathers first, of course.”
Raymond nodded, and his soldiers put down their spears.
General Frank reached forward and took Raymond’s hand, giving it a brief shake. “We’ll give you word of our decision within two weeks. But I’m not making any promises.” He wrenched his hand away. “Now let’s move out, boys!” he shouted.
The Sweet Town soldiers headed back, chattering excitedly. Timothy stayed rooted to the spot. He couldn’t believe he had actually succeeded in stopping the battle! He let out a relieved laugh.
His mother ran toward him, her face flushed and her hair in disarray.
“What were you thinking, coming down here? It’s so dangerous!” She looked up and glimpsed Raymond. She halted, trying to smooth her hair.
Raymond’s mouth dropped open. “Patricia?” he asked, taking a step toward her.
She gave him a wide jellybean smile. “Raymond,” she whispered. “I always hoped I would see you again.”
General Frank turned back to Timothy, jerking his head in the direction of Sweet Town. “Well, boy?” he asked, his mouth full of mushroom lollipops. “Don’t you want to go back home?”
Timothy looked to where SweetTown lay in the distance, and to his mother, who was still staring at Raymond. He swallowed a hard lump in his throat. “No,” he said. Turning from General Frank’s surprised expression, he grabbed his mother’s hand and pulled her toward Raymond, who grinned and held out his hand.
“What do you say, Patricia?” Raymond asked. “Shall we give it another shot?” Timothy squeezed her left hand. She nodded and slipped her right hand into Raymond’s.
The three of them paused for just a moment, hearts pounding, before turning toward Veggieville and their new home.