Read Return to Sender Online

Authors: Kevin Henkes

Return to Sender

DEDICATION

For Susan,

— — — — — — — — — — — — —

and in memory of
the Milwaukee Braves

CONTENTS

  
Dedication

  
1 • Dear Frogman

  
2 • Who Believes

  
3 • An Unpleasant Morning

  
4 • New Clothes

  
5 • Pimple and Squash

  
6 • More Proof

  
7 • A Father and Son Talk

  
8 • Rise and Shine

  
9 • Room 103

10 • An After-Dinner Discovery

11 • The Big F

12 • Floor Poison

13 • Passing Time

14 • A Change of Plans

15 • The Day Before Tomorrow

16 • On and On

Excerpt from
Junonia

Excerpt from
Olive's Ocean

About the Author

Back Ad

Praise

Books by Kevin Henkes

Copyright

About the Publisher

CHAPTER 1
Dear Frogman

I
T ALL STARTED
when Whitaker Murphy sent a letter to Frogman. “Honey,” said his mother, “I really think it's just a waste of time.” His father said, “Listen, Whit, it can't hurt to try. Just don't feel bad if you don't get an answer.” Molly, his little sister, screamed and said that she'd die if Frogman wrote back. That was all the incentive he needed.

Whitaker wasn't sure where Frogman lived, so he simply wrote the words

FROGMAN—SUPER HERO

in large capital letters across an envelope, put his own return address in the upper left-hand corner, stuck on plenty of stamps, and mailed it at the box downtown.

When Orson Pitt, the head clerk at the post office, saw the envelope, he grumbled and groaned. “It's things like this that slow up the service,” he muttered as he stamped
Return to Sender, Not Deliverable As Addressed
on the envelope. “Dumb kids.”

Then the letter was placed in one of the cubbyholes in the shelves above Barney Edwards's desk. He was Whitaker's mailman.

Barney first noticed the letter as he shuffled up the Murphy front walk. He saw the stamp. And he saw the words FROGMAN—SUPER HERO. He chuckled. Barney knew the Murphy children and he was certain that Whitaker would be terribly disappointed if he didn't get a reply, so he gingerly put the letter in his shirt pocket and continued on his route.

That night at home, after a dinner of three grilled cheese sandwiches, apple slices, corn chips, and cinnamon ice cream, Barney opened the envelope and read the letter. It said:

Dear Frogman,

Were you born a frog? Do you really live underwater? Is your skin
really
green? Or is it fake?

Your friend,
Whitaker Murphy

P.S. My sister Molly is afraid of you.

P.S.S. She thinks you are slimy and ugly.

Barney found some stationery, took out his old Remington typewriter, and wrote this reply:

Dear Mr. Murphy,

Yes, I was born a frog. Yes, I really live underwater, but just part of the time. And yes, my skin is
really
green.

Your amphibious* friend,
Frogman

P.S. I am not afraid of
Molly.

P.S.S. I am not slimy and ugly.

*Go ahead and look that up in your dictionary!

Just for fun, Barney signed Frogman's name in green magic marker. After addressing the envelope to Whitaker, Barney sprinkled a few drops of water on it, blurring the letters a bit, for a touch of authenticity. Then he set the envelope on the kitchen table, next to his vitamins, so that he wouldn't forget it in the morning.

The late-August sun was hidden behind Franklinville, Wisconsin's tallest structure—the water tower—by the time Barney turned the corner onto Kewaunee Street. Whitaker lived on Kewaunee—third from the corner—in the square blue house with the long, rambling porch. Ivy leaves, like musical notes, sang their way up and down and around the railings.

Whitaker and Molly were sitting on the porch steps, waiting for Barney.

“See, Molly,” Whitaker explained, pointing to the water tower, “it really is a spaceship. It's just disguised as a water tower.”

“I don't believe you,” Molly said as she dressed her doll and carefully brushed its golden hair.

Whitaker raised his hands in disgust. “Why else do you think it's painted silver or has that red light that blinks on and off at night, then?”

Molly looked at Whitaker. “Last time you scared me, Daddy told me that the light is so airplanes don't hit it in the dark.”

“WRONG,” Whitaker protested. He took the doll away from Molly and held it by its hair. “This dumb doll is really one of the space creatures. And tonight while you're asleep, it's going to turn green like Frogman and eat you!”

Molly didn't even try to get her doll back. She just ran into the house, shrieking, “MO-O-O-O-o-o-o-om!”

Whitaker was too absorbed in tying knots in the doll's hair to see Barney, who was already approaching the porch. “Boy, oh boy,” Barney said, “it looks like Molly saw a ghost, or a spider, or Frogman, or . . .”

Whitaker turned around quickly and got to his feet, dropping the doll. “Frogman? You know him, Barney?”

“Well, not personally. But it seems to me I've heard of him.” He paused. “I'll bet you want the mail.”

“Only if it's for me,” Whitaker answered anxiously.

“Let me see,” Barney said. “There's a postcard from your Aunt Nancy and Uncle Iggie. They're traveling in New York. The picture's of that famous Miss Liberty statue.”

“What else?” Whitaker asked.

“Well, I see what appears to be a phone bill.
And
. . .”

“What?”

“One for you.”

Barney held out the envelope to Whitaker. Whitaker snatched it excitedly. He tore open the envelope and saw the signature of his hero, written in what he thought was a perfectly disgusting shade of green. “Wow!” he shouted. He dashed inside the house, letting the screen door slam. “MO-O-O-O-o-o-o-om!”

Barney smiled. He finished reading the postcard, and put it and the phone bill in the mailbox. Then he whistled his way down Kewaunee, the water tower looming in the distance.

CHAPTER 2
Who Believes

“S
EE? I KNEW HE'D
answer me!” Whitaker said, as he held up the letter so Mrs. Murphy could read it while she scrubbed the remains of burned scrambled eggs from a frying pan.

“Well, there has to be a catch,” Mrs. Murphy reasoned. She plopped the pan back into the dishwater, wiped her hands, and took the letter from Whitaker.

“Be careful with it,” Whitaker said, wondering if his mother's hands were perfectly dry. Hoping that they were.

“The postmark is smudged—so that's no help,” she said. She reread the letter aloud and examined the signature. “Oh, Whit, I don't know about you. Are you sure you just didn't get someone to do this for you?”

“Yes. I'm
sure.
Barney brought it. You can even ask him.”

“Well, I don't know. We'll have to let your father take a look at it when he comes home from work. I have a feeling it's just another one of your tricks.” She paused, then added, “At least I
think
it is.”

Whitaker sighed. He took the letter from his mother and carefully held it in his open hands as he walked down the hallway to Molly's room. He thought that he
might
have heard his mother shout from the kitchen, “And Whitaker, please don't scare your sister with that thing.” But he pretended that he hadn't.

After making Molly cry three times, Whitaker went to his room and closed the door. Lying on his bed, he studied the letter. Then he reached for the dictionary his parents had given him on his last birthday. It sat on the bookshelf beside his bed—dusty from neglect. Following the A's until he came to the word “amphibious,” Whitaker read the definition: “able to live both on land and in water.” Wow, Whitaker thought.

He traced the signature with his finger, imagining himself right alongside Frogman, fearlessly hopping to the rescue of the oppressed—knocking out Black Beetle and Sergeant Snakehead and The Army Ants with that rapid-fire tongue. Then, together, they'd triumphantly croak a victory song, silhouetted against the orange glow of sunset. The pictures in his head danced him to a late-morning nap. He dreamed of wars and insects, and of course frogs.

That night when Whitaker showed the letter to his father, Mr. Murphy's brow wrinkled in puzzlement.

“I'll be darned,” he said, shaking his head. “It looks like that hero of yours really
is
super.” He held the letter up to the floor lamp that stood next to the sofa where they sat, taking full advantage of the light.

“I don't think Mom believes it's real,” Whitaker whispered.

“It's real all right. But I wonder where it came from.”

“Dad,” Whitaker impatiently explained, as if the whole world should have known, “it came from Frogman, who is on TV every Saturday morning, who I think I saw last week in the creek by the spaceship at Horlick's Field, who—”

“Wait a minute, Whitaker James,” Mr. Murphy interrupted. “I don't question the fact that Frogman is on TV every Saturday morning. And I admit, I didn't discourage you from writing to him—although maybe I should have. But you never saw a six-foot frog with a cape in the creek at Horlick's Field.
And
that spaceship is a water tower. Nothing else.”

Molly, who had been hiding behind the sofa listening, suddenly popped up. “I told you, Whitaker. I told you,” she said. She jumped onto the sofa and crawled into Mr. Murphy's lap. “Tell him again, Daddy.”

“Tell
her
that this letter is real,” Whitaker said. “Dad, you said it was real.” He turned toward Molly and added, “And if little sisters touch it, they get warts.” He brushed the envelope against Molly's cheek, picturing her face covered with a thousand enormous green pimples.

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