Today’s stop is for Fred Holmes’s The Ugly Teapot. We will have info about the book and author, the complete first chapter from the book . Make sure to check everything out.
Happy Reading 🙂
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Bradbury loved her father so much that she worried about him constantly. After all, he was a photographer who traveled to the most dangerous places in the world.
To allay her fears, each time he came home he brought her silly gifts, each one with supposed magical powers: the Seal of Solomon, the Ring of Gyges, even Aladdin’s Lamp. It was that lamp Hannah found the most unbelievable, for it looked like an ugly teapot. Nevertheless, her father assured her it was real, and made her promise to save her three wishes for something very special.
Then . . . six months later . . . the unthinkable happened. Her father was killed while on assignment to Baghdad. And so on the day of his funeral Hannah did something she never thought she would ever do.
She took out that teapot and gave it a rub . . .
The Ugly Teapot by Fred Holmes is a timeless tale, filled with magic and adventure. More importantly, it will make you believe in the overwhelming power of love.
Hannah Bradbury opened her eyes, feeling forty, not fourteen. Every part of her ached: head, stomach, neck, back—which was weird because she had felt perfectly fine two seconds ago. Plus now she was freezing. That part, at least, made some sense, for it was cold outside and she was lying next to her cupola window.
But the weird part? —the seriously bizarre, mind-blowing part? —two seconds ago she had been lying in her bed across the room.
She pulled her father’s shirt tighter around her narrow shoulders and sat up. Her dog, Griff, was still asleep in her bed, just as he had been two seconds ago. And her furniture looked fine—chest-of-drawers, study desk, nightstand—right where they should be. At least they hadn’t moved like last time.
The only thing that wasn’t where it should be—other than herself—was her clock. It was one of those old-fashioned analog clocks—brought to her from London by her father—and night before last it had been moved from her nightstand to her study desk. Now it was back on her nightstand. And the time had changed. She had checked it before closing her eyes, and it had said it was midnight. Now, two seconds later, the luminescent hands pointed to 6:15 a.m.
She shivered as she swung her legs off the love seat. Keeping her thigh muscles tensed in case someone grabbed her legs, she let the toe of her left foot touch the floor first. The wood felt buckled and splintery and colder than usual, but nothing grabbed her legs, so she stood up.
She hovered next to the love seat for a moment, her hand gripping the wall for balance, then wobbled unsteadily to a pile of dirty clothes on the floor of her closet. She rifled through them until she found a pair of jeans that didn’t smell too badly, slipped them on, then took one of her father’s sweaters off a hangar and pulled it over her nightshirt. It was thick and warm and still smelled like her father. Thinking of her father made her smile, but that smile disappeared when she saw her reflection in the mirror on the back of her closet door.
She looked horrible: pale skin, dead seaweed hair, dark circles around her eyes. Her skin used to be tan, her hair the color of burled walnut, and everyone used to compliment her eyes. Now everything about her looked dull and lifeless. And she was weary, dead tired. She would have loved to climb back in bed with Griff, but morning would be coming soon, and she didn’t want to miss anything.
She returned to her love seat and sat down with her legs crossed. The advantage to living on the second floor of a three-story house in Green Park, Tennessee, was that on a clear morning you could see for miles. The disadvantage was that there were very few clear mornings in the Great Smoky Mountains. They were usually—well, smoky—and it often took the anemic sun half a day to burn off the fog.
Fortunately, the mist was already starting to lift from the cemetery below. Soft, grey wisps still lingered lazily among the tombstones, but they would be gone soon. A dove was cooing, and that meant the sun was about to peek over the mountains.
She was starting to think they were going to be late, when she suddenly heard the deep rumble of an engine. Seconds later a pickup truck chugged through the cemetery’s wrought iron gate. Hannah followed it with her eyes as it came, fog swirling around its tires, engine sputtering, tailpipe coughing. It stopped beneath the gnarly branches of an arthritic oak tree not far from her house. She watched it shake off like a dog after a hard rain, then heard its motor shut down. All became quiet again.
She used the sleeve of her sweater to wipe the condensation from her window, then pressed her nose against the wet glass. There were three men scrunched inside the cab. She didn’t recognize any of them, but the funeral home sometimes brought in men from other towns. One of them turned on a radio, and muffled music drifted up from their truck—country and western from the sound of it—the words lost in the distance.
Then another truck came through the cemetery’s gate—a large panel truck, towing a backhoe. It followed the same route as the pickup, and parked beneath the same withered tree. The country and western music was turned off, then the occupants of both vehicles exited reluctantly. There were six men all together, stamping their feet and sipping coffee from steaming mugs, obviously in no hurry to get to work. The three men from the pickup wore overalls—one tall, one short, one with a beard. The three men from the panel truck were all dressed differently. One had on shorts, one was wearing slacks and a sweater, and one wore a heavy coat.
The one wearing shorts was shivering, and it looked to Hannah like everyone was making fun of him. He waved off their jeers and went to unhitch the backhoe’s trailer from the rear of the panel truck. By then everyone else had finished their coffee, and sweater-man helped shorts-man roll the trailer out of the way, while coat-man and tall-overalls opened the panel truck’s back door. They crawled inside and emerged seconds later lugging an olive-green awning that they passed off to short-overalls and bearded-overalls. They then went back inside for a ratty, maroon carpet that they gave to shorts-man and sweater-man.
The last items off the truck were two racks of scarred plastic chairs, followed by several tall, thin stands decorated with floral wreaths. All of these items were stacked beside the tree, then coat-man hopped on the seat of the backhoe, turned the key, and the engine roared to life.
Hannah felt the window vibrate against her nose, and leaned back. She refused to cry. Even now she prayed everyone had been wrong, that her father wasn’t really dead, and that he would walk into her room any second and say, “Morning, Scout, how’d you sleep?”
But no one, not even Hannah, could deny the finality of his grave. Graves were official. Graves required paperwork and death certificates. Graves had to be filled. And as she watched the backhoe’s claw go up and down, up and down, ripping open the earth, bile rose into her throat. She managed to swallow it down, but it came back quickly, and this time she couldn’t stop it.
Several hours later, she was lying in her bed exhausted from throwing up. A metal trash can waited patiently on the floor next to her, but her stomach had nothing more to give. At her feet was Griff, staring at her sympathetically with his big, chocolate-brown eyes.
The workers had stopped for lunch a couple of hours ago, but had finally returned to their work, the backhoe chugging even louder than before—THRUMP, THRUMP, THRUMP!
“Oh Griffer,” moaned Hannah, “please make them stop.”
And at that very moment—at that precise instant—Griff sat up on his haunches at the end of her bed, cocked his head to one side, lifted one of his floppy ears in her direction, and said to her gently inside her mind, Have you forgotten about the lamp?
Hannah glanced down at him. It was an accepted fact that he was a dog of many talents, and one of those talents was telepathy. She asked him, “What lamp?”
The one in your closet, of course, he replied. The magic one.
“Oh,” she said, “you mean that lamp.”
The lamp she had forgotten was one of several “ancient artifacts” her father had brought home from those dark and dangerous places he visited. Each supposedly had magical powers, although she had yet to see any of them demonstrate that power. This hadn’t deterred her father. Over the years he had brought her one “priceless relic” after another, which she had promptly relegated to the top of her closet.
The most recent of these gifts was a magic lamp he had brought her from Baghdad six months ago. The problem was that it didn’t look like a magic lamp. It looked like a teapot, and a particularly unattractive teapot at that: short and squat as an old lady, with an abnormally long spout, and a plethora of dents and scratches. But despite its ramshackle appearance, her father had insisted it was—of all things—Aladdin’s Lamp—which at the time had drawn a monstrous laugh from Hannah.
“Ha, ha, ha, you must think I’m still four years old!” she had laughed. “Come on, Dad, seriously? —it looks just like an old, ugly teapot!”
And to this very day, Hannah’s opinion had not wavered.
I know it sounds crazy, said Griff inside her mind, but remember your dad telling you to save your three wishes for something important? Well, what could be more important than resurrecting him?
Hannah frowned. “You don’t honestly expect me to use that teapot to bring my dad back to life?”
Griff snorted. First of all, it’s not a teapot, it’s a lamp. And second of all, what do you have to lose?
“My dignity,” replied Hannah.
But…as much as she fought against the idea…once Griff had planted the seed, it began to grow. She couldn’t stop thinking about all of the weird things that had been happening in her room since her father’s death—chairs knocked over—lights turned on and off—and now, just this morning, teleportation! Was her father trying to communicate with her? Was he trying to remind her of her three wishes? Sure it sounded crazy. Sure it sounded absolutely, totally bonkers. But Griff was right about one thing. What did she have to lose?
“All right,” she said. “I’ll try it.”
Uh oh, said Griff. He perked his ears toward her door. He could hear a snail crawling through a thunderstorm two miles away. You’ll have to wait. Your mom and Dr. Overton are coming.
Then Hannah heard them, too. They were in her hallway, whispering conspiratorially as they approached her door. The ancient floorboards creaked beneath their shoes as her mother, Vivian, entered first, looking thin and gaunt in her threadbare dress. Dr. Overton followed close behind her, tall, stoop-shouldered, a red carnation in the lapel of his black wool suit. Hannah had last seen him the day she had been told of her father’s death. She had started throwing up soon after, and he had run a series of tests, draining enough blood from her to feed a large family of vampires.
“How many times has she vomited today?” Dr. Overton asked Vivian, worry in his voice, as he approached Hannah’s bed.
“I’ve lost count,” replied Vivian, as if Hannah wasn’t there and couldn’t answer for herself. “And she’s been complaining of a terrible headache.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Overton, frowning at the rumble of the backhoe leaching through Hannah’s window.
Vivian, more popularly known as V, shrugged helplessly, “I’ve spoken to them. They’re being as quiet as possible.”
Dr. Overton focused on his patient. “Sorry you’re still feeling poorly, Hannah. Let’s start with your tummy. I want you to tell me if it hurts when I press on it.”
He had always spoken to Hannah as if she was ten years old, but she had never held that against him. He was a nice man who rewarded her with a free sucker when he was done. He wouldn’t today, of course—not with her throwing up—but she still rolled onto her back and surrendered her stomach to his stiff fingers. He immediately began poking and prodding and when he pushed on the center of her stomach, she gasped.
“There,” she said, “right there. That’s where it hurts.”
“Okay,” said Dr. Overton, sitting up straight and running a wrinkled hand through his wispy white hair. “Now, tell me about your headache. From one to ten, how would you rate it? One being hardly painful at all. Ten being stabbed in the eye with a hot poker.”
Hannah didn’t hesitate. “Stabbed in the eye with a hot poker.”
“Hmmm,” said Dr. Overton. He removed a thermometer from his scruffy medical bag, inserted it in her mouth, then felt of her pulse while consulting his watch.
V hovered behind him nervously. “Did you get her test results back?”
“Yes,” he replied. “She’s underweight, but other than that, her tests came back normal.”
V’s sallow face turned grim. “Then why is she still throwing up?”
Dr. Overton released Hannah’s wrist. “It’s most likely stress related. But she could be developing an ulcer. Why don’t you bring her by my office tomorrow morning and we’ll run some more tests.”
“Should she skip the funeral?” V asked Dr. Overton.
Dr. Overton removed the thermometer from Hannah’s mouth, glanced at it, then put it back in his bag. “Well, she doesn’t have a temperature, so I’d say that’s up to her.” He looked down at his patient over the top of his Ben Franklin glasses. “She can stay in her bed and miss her father’s funeral—which I promise will only make her feel worse in the long run—or she can hop up, put on her nicest dress, and go say goodbye to her daddy.”
Hannah’s voice turned panicky. “I can’t do it. I’ve thought about it all morning, and I just can’t. Please don’t make me go, Dr. Overton.”
He laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, no one will force you to go. Right, Mrs. Bradbury?”
“Of course not,” said V. “I’ll tell everyone she’s not feeling well, and she can stay home. I’m so sorry to have bothered you, Doctor.”
“It was no bother,” said Dr. Overton, standing up and scru¬tinizing her. “You look like you’ve lost weight yourself. How are you holding up?”
“I’m having a hard time sleeping,” V told him, as they exited the room.
Hannah listened to her mother’s tired voice as she and Dr. Overton descended the stairs. Dr. Overton’s response was lost under the grumble of the backhoe. Then the next thing Hannah knew, everyone was leaving. Her front door slammed, and she heard her brothers fussing in the front yard. Lanny was five, Ricky twelve, and Lanny was crying. His mother said something comforting to him, then Hannah heard a series of car door slams. This was followed by two engines roaring to life—first Dr. Overton’s, then her mother’s. Her mother’s was easy to recognize with its squeaking fan belt and misfiring engine. Both cars rounded the corner at the end of her street and faded into the distance.
At the same time, Hannah heard the backhoe in the graveyard give a final chug and go silent. Her father’s grave was finally ready. Now all they needed was his body.
She turned her head on her pillow and looked at the clock on her nightstand. It said 2:15—forty-five minutes until her father’s funeral.
If she was going to stop that funeral…it was now or never.
She threw off her sheet and jumped from her bed, telling Griff, “Go sit by the window. If you see anyone coming, let me know immediately.”
Griff scampered to the cupola window and climbed up on the love seat. Meanwhile, Hannah took the chair from behind her study desk and dragged it to her closet. Standing on it, she was still too short to see what was on the top shelf, but she could feel what was there—the Seal of Solomon, the Ring of Gyges, Pandora’s Box, and so many others. She fumbled blindly among these cheap curios until she found the teapot buried beneath the Golden Fleece of Colchis. She lifted it out, then clambered down from the chair and carried it to her bed. Sitting cross-legged on her mattress, she cupped her hands around its scarred metal and, ignoring the painful knot in her stomach, glanced at her clock.
It was now thirty-five minutes until her father’s funeral.
By now, her mother would be greeting mourners at the door of the sanctuary. Reverend Grant would be standing stoically by her side, clutching his Bible. Mrs. Jordan would be playing something depressing on the organ. Hannah’s friends and neighbors would be clustered around her father’s flower-draped coffin, speaking in hushed whispers as if afraid of disturbing him…
Hannah glanced at her clock again. Fifteen minutes had gone by. How? It had only seemed like a few seconds. Anxiety gripped her heart. What should I do?
I think you’re supposed to rub it, said Griff, speaking calmly inside her head.
She glanced over at him. “I know that,” she whispered, with a touch of irritation. “I just don’t know which side I’m supposed to rub.”
Does it matter? he asked.
“Probably not,” she replied—but who knew? It wasn’t like magic lamps came with a manual. All she knew about them was what she had read in storybooks. “Jeez, I feel like such an idiot,” she told Griff. “If you tell anyone about this, I swear I’ll never speak to you again.”
Who would I tell? he replied. No one can hear me but you.
Which was true. Hannah took a big breath and let it out slowly. “All right. I’m going to do this. Here goes…” She gave the teapot a quick rub on its right side. Nothing happened.
Try the other side, said Griff.
Hannah rubbed the left side, but once again, nothing happened.
You must have done something wrong, said Griff.
“What?” asked Hannah, grief settling over her like a heavy blanket.
I don’t know, said Griff. But I do seem to recall you have to make a wish in order for it to work.
The truth of that gave Hannah a cold slap in the face. In her excitement, she had totally forgotten to actually wish for anything. “Crap. You’re right. Okay, I’ll try it once more. But if it doesn’t work this time, I’m throwing it in the trash.” Hannah drew in a deep breath, placed her hand on the side of the teapot, not caring which side, then said while rubbing it, “I wish my dad was alive again.”
There was a moment, short as a heartbeat, when nothing happened at all. Then, suddenly, everything around Hannah seemed to freeze. It was as if the earth was holding its breath. Then Hannah’s bed began to shake, slowly at first, then more and more violently, while Hannah held on for dear life. Then came a crack of thunder so sharp and blisteringly loud she dropped the teapot and clasped her hands over her ears. At that same moment, smoke shot from the teapot’s spout and went spiraling around her room. It quickly grew into a powerful tornado, pushing aside furniture and slinging pictures from Hannah’s walls. She sprang from her bed and ran for her door, but the tornado was fast—vampire fast—and it cut her off. Then POOF! it disappeared, leaving behind a man.
The man looked at Hannah. Hannah looked at the man— and confusion quickly overcame her fear. There had to be some mistake. The man looked nothing like a genie—no green skin, no puffy pants, no turban. He wore a three-piece, charcoal-grey suit, his hair perfectly coiffed, his fingernails trimmed and neat, and had it not been for his flaming red eyes, Hannah might have mistaken him for a TV preacher or a lawyer.
“Who are you?” she asked him.
“Metathusala the Magnificent,” he replied, with a slight British accent. “Genie Extraordinaire, at your service.”
“You don’t look like a genie,” observed Hannah. “Where are your poofy pants?”
“Gone the way of leisure suits,” he replied. “And you, young lady, are to be congratulated. Most children your age no longer believe in magic. When they look at the lamp, all they see is an ugly teapot. You saw it for what it really is.” He gave her a smile that wasn’t quite friendly. “Good for you.”
Hannah felt a tinge of guilt. She hadn’t really thought it was a magic lamp. Nevertheless, she was struck by a sudden realization. “Oh my gosh…are you telling me…I-I mean, are you saying…I’m ACTUALLY going to get my wish?”
The Genie hesitated. “Yes, well, about that…trust me, ask for a billion dollars instead.”
“But I want my dad!” protested Hannah.
“Yes, I understand, sentimentality and all that, but just so you know, I’ve been asked to resurrect fathers a dozen or so times over the last several thousand years. Of course, most people ask me to bring their mothers back from the dead—or their cats or dogs—even their hamsters. Fathers? —not so much. But the bottom line is this—never once have any of these resurrections ended well. There have always been…complications.”
“What kind of complications?”
“Oh, you know, the usual. Besides, what would you tell your friends?”
“Yes, the ones attending your father’s funeral at this very moment. Imagine their surprise when he starts pounding on the inside of his coffin, begging to be let out? They will think the zombie apocalypse is upon them. And when they realize it isn’t, that it is just your father alive again, they will ask how you pulled off such a miracle. And what will you tell them? That you have a magic lamp?”
“Because they will murder you for it. And it is a pity really. Everyone knows you cannot become master of the lamp by killing its present master, but I have yet to see that stop anyone from trying.”
“That’s crazy,” said Hannah. “My friends wouldn’t hurt me.”
He gave her a condescending smile. “I can tell this is going to be a short relationship.”
Hannah groaned with frustration. “Look, can you bring my dad back or not?”
“Certainly I can. I am Metathusala the Magnificent. I can do anything. I know everything.”
“Then do it.”
“Even if it means placing your own life in desperate peril?”
“Yes,” replied Hannah with measured firmness.
The Genie shook his head and grumbled, “They never listen to me. Why do I even try?” Then Hannah saw a change come into his scarlet eyes. Something new was there. Was it pity? If so, he continued anyway, “Very well. Of course there are some rules you must follow. Rule Number One: Do not ask me for more than three wishes. Rule Number Two: Do not ask me for more than one item per wish. And Rule Number Three: Any violation of Rules One and Two shall result in the immediate, and permanent, termination of all wishes, even if said wishes have already been granted. Do you agree to abide by these rules?”
“I do,” said Hannah quickly. “I agree. Absolutely.”
The look in the Genie’s eyes turned resolute then, a decision made. “All right then,” he said. “Your first wish is hereby officially granted. Your father is alive again.”
Hannah had no idea what to expect next, and was surprised by what did. The Genie disappeared. Poof! Gone. No goodbye. No see you later. No word on when she could expect to see her father.
And at that precise moment in time, she was 14 years, 33 days, 13 hours and 41 seconds old; far too young to have just made the most dangerous decision of her life. Indeed, had she known the heavy price that ugly teapot would soon extract from her, would she have quickly thrown it away? Oh no. She wanted her father back, and would pay any price to have him. Besides, it was already too late. She had made her first wish. And even if she had thought to look back to where she had once been, she would’ve no longer been able to see from whence she had come.
This is Fred Holmes’s first fiction novel, having previously ghost-written a nonfiction book, LETTERS FROM DAD. He is known as a writer and director of films and television, working primarily in family films and children’s television. His work can be seen on Mary Lou Retton’s FLIP FLOP SHOP, BARNEY & FRIENDS, WISHBONE, HORSELAND, IN SEARCH OF THE HEROES, and many other shows, for which he has won two Emmys and three CINE Golden Eagles, among numerous other awards. He has also directed three feature films: DAKOTA, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Miramax, HARLEY, also starring Lou Diamond Phillips, distributed by Lionsgate, and HEART LAND, a Bollywood feature film shot on location in India. He lives in the southwest United States, and can be found online at www.flholmes.com.