Peachtree is a town in Ocean End, a land almost unreachable by any travel. This unique isolation makes the people of Ocean End rather complacent, if not completely innocent of the troubles of the rest of the world. The inhabitants of little Peachtree are not much different. They carry on in their own schedules day in and day out without questioning the possibility of something more. In fact Peachtree is one of the least visited towns in Ocean End, even by people who live in nearby Oakville. Oakvillians protest that the people in Peachtree just don’t know how to treat a visitor, and this is more fact than opinion. Peachtreezians have quite forgotten any manners they may have been taught about hospitality, and even use the term ‘visitor’ so seldom that when anybody happens to mention it now-a-days it is whispered the way people whisper when they are saying something that they really shouldn’t be saying. So you can understand how it seemed the world was ending for the Peachtreezians when the centaurs came.
Centaurs had long been inhabitants of Ocean End ever since the train made it to Mount Pelion. The reason for their most recent move to Peachtree, however, was due to a new arrival in Ocean End. The Loch Ness Monster had recently set up residence in the mirror pond which is located in the middle of what until recently had been the centaurs area of habitation. Now, centaurs don’t live in water and usually prefer to substitute wine for it when they might want a drink. No, it wasn’t that the monster was in the lake, it was the groaning and grunting that the monster continually made every early morning, early enough in the morning to grate on the hangovers of all the horse-men who had passed out near by. So quiet little Peachtree, no one makes a sound in the morning Peachtree, no one ever travels to this town Peachtree started to look really good to their hangovers.
And on a powder blue Tuesday morning, Missy Egg heard a rumble coming from the hill to the side of which the town was situated. A rumble that was soon added to by loud bellowing voices as the herd neared the edge of the village. Missy Egg lived to the right of the middle of town in an Easter green cottage with a dandelion yard. Her duty in the town was to feed the chickens in her coop so they would produce eggs and those eggs could be taken to the bakery every morning. Missy Egg’s eggs all cracked open when the centaurs rounded on to her street and brought their booming voices with them. Cracked eggs can only make bread when you crack them over the mixing bowl. Missy Egg’s eggs did not crack over the mixing bowl. Without eggs, there would be no bread today, and without bread there would be nothing to put the jam on for tea. With nothing to put the jam on there would be no sales for Fanny Tang, the jam maker, and no sales would be no money in, no money in means that Fanny Tang couldn’t buy berries from the berry pickers, which also means no money for the berry pickers, or the parents of the berry pickers who sent their children out to stain their fingers in the bushes on the other side of town from the hill. No money for the parents was very bad indeed. And thus the first ruined day of Peachtree had begun.
The second ruined day of Peachtree began ruined because nothing that needed to be done, nothing that always was done, had been done the day before all because Missy Egg’s eggs had cracked. No baking, no jam making, no berry picking, no tea—because tea just cannot be had without bread and jam, no flour for the bread, no wheat for the flower, no milk, no creamed asparagus soup, and because he was quite starving—Albert Own didn’t even print the Peachtree paper. Worst of all was no sleep. No sleep was had by any of the original inhabitants of Peachtree, because the centaurs were drinking and singing and threatening to abduct several of the youngest girls in the town. The people of Peachtree had no idea how to reclaim their Wednesday when Tuesday had been so terribly terrible. As they congregated in the town center to the left of Missy Egg’s Easter green colored house to discuss the matter they found themselves being pelted with squash. Squash thrown by three very angry hung-over centaurs that had come to this town for morning peace and did not expect the murmur of discontent from the early waking residents.
Peachtreezians ran wildly about like geckos when the rocks are lifted. Each squash that landed sent a town citizen in another direction which was often smack into another town citizen. If the horse-men visitors to Peachtree hadn’t been so hung over they probably would’ve found the whole dance very laughable. They usually liked to make fun of people who were only minding their business and doing their ever-day things. Centaurs weren’t always very nice, you see.
Centaurs, at least these centaurs, never have much difficulty enjoying the lesser misfortunes of their two footed fellow Ocean End inhabitants. They find human concerns too taxing, because humans seem to be concerned with anything and everything whether or not anything and everything deserves concern. But this particular Wednesday morning, the erratic panicking of the Peachtreezians was not amusing to the horse-men because each and every one of them was sporting a tight fitting wine hangover due to their activities the night before. Wine hangovers are quite different from liquor hangovers, more acute in some ways and yet easier to bear in others. The three centaurs in question all liked to enjoy their wine hangovers lying down, preferably asleep; they had not foreseen how their appearance in the quiet little Peachtree would change the quiet morning routine of the Peachtreezians.
The Peachtreezians’ routine was, as we have discussed, completely out of whack. It was so out of whack it seemed as though it would never whack again. There was nothing for the Peachtreezians to do except find another routine that would whack when the old one couldn’t any more, but they couldn’t focus on this task when squash constantly fell from the sky. Eventually the Centaurs got tired, or the residents of Peachtree ran far enough away to avoid the squash and the attack ceased. To avoid another unfortunate meeting interruption the Peachtreezians all crammed into Missy Egg’s small Easter green house to continue solving their monster of a problem.
“They must leave, there is no other way” said Albert Own the owner and printer of the Peachtree paper.
“But how do you make them go?” whined Fanny Tang with an expression as sour as her gooseberry jam.
To this no one had a reply. Albert Own and Fanny Tang both knew they could not simply tell the Centaurs to leave, it would not work. Missy Egg even knew this, as did Bob Shannon the baker, little Simon Trill a berry picker, all the Peachtreezians knew their visitors would not listen to any one from Peachtree telling them to vacate the town.
“Couldn’t we ask nicely? or maybe arrange a routine with them?” asked tiny little Olive Tang, a berry picker and Fanny Tang’s youngest sister. But no one answered Olive Tang because the people of Peachtree had a nasty habit of ignoring your good ideas if they thought you were too little to have them. So even though Olive’s great big good idea was probably the best option the Peachtreezians had at the moment it would never be tried because it did belong to little Olive. Olive felt very much dejected and insulted but she also knew that the grown ups that surrounded her sometimes needed to ignore the vast knowledge of little folk because if they admitted they didn’t know everything they would feel very lost. No one likes to feel lost, least of all a big grown-up adult.
The meeting didn’t bare much more fruit in ways to evict the Centaurs and was thus dismissed with everyone encouraged to stew on about it in the hopes of finding a grand solution to the problem. Tiny little Olive Tang still thought that her great big idea was a good one, and resolved in her mind to pull it off herself, no matter how small she really was. Tiny little Olive Tang shut herself in her room while she devised and cut and sewed and came up with the perfect way to put her idea in action. And when Olive came out of her room she was wearing a long purple cape and a tin can crown on top of her yellow brown curls. Still no one was paying attention to Olive Tang and they worked very hard at not paying attention to her as she walked with tiny little measured steps up the street just like a queen would walk if queens had to walk anywhere.
Olive Tang, dressed like miniature royalty, continued walking her tiny measured royal steps up the long center street to the horse-men’s camp at the end, right next to Stew Manny’s beef brown cottage with the lemon yellow roof, right on top of the carrots in the town garden and next to the squash that had been recently harvested. Although Olive Tang didn’t garner any notice from her fellow Peachtreezians, the Centaurs, still a little groggy but now awake in the afternoon, eyed her curiously. Olive came to a halt on the edge of last night’s bonfire remains and raised her small squeaky voice to ask, “who here leads the group?”
This question interested the Centaurs even more than the strange and brave appearance of the little girl. Not many people deigned or dared to talk to them face to face, so the miniscule two legged before them was a real novelty. Perhaps this is why they didn’t grab Olive and toss her about in the air the way that they had threatened to do to all the young female Peachtreezians last night. Or perhaps this particular group of Centaurs was all bark and no bite, or all whinny and no bite, as the case may be. One sandy haired and tawny colored horse-man spoke up, “Eh! Marshall, you’re the bossy one, doesn’t that make you the leader?”
A black haired dapple grey answered who Olive supposed must be Marshall, “Telling you lot what to do because you’re too stupid to figure it out for yourselves doesn’t make me the leader, it makes me the smart one.”
To this, Marshall received a weak and petulant shower of small pebbles from his comrades. He shielded his head with one arm and scooped up some of the fallen pebbles with his free hand, and as he sent them back in a spray to his friends he boomed, “Like you bunch ever would have got yourselves away from that groaning water worm on your own! All you do all day is drink and pass out you lazy nags!”
Marshall then paused, and seemed to gather himself as he turned to Olive, “Phillip is the oldest of our small band, he has seen many things and would be our leader if we had one among us.”
To this Olive heard behind her a rather tremulous sigh, like the kind of sigh grandma’s and grandpa’s make when they have to get up and explain something to a new generation that they have explained several times before in their life. When Olive turned around she saw a grey haired, kind of reddish-brown horse-man slowly getting up from his place of rest. Except for the grey in his hair and the patchy worn appearance of his coat, Olive didn’t think he looked all that old, he was still as strong looking and robust as any of the others.
“As I have been nominated, what can I do for you little one?” Phillip asked.
Olive leaned her yellow brown crowned head way back so she could look at Phillip’s face as he towered above her so, and said in as queenly a tone as she could muster, “I come on behalf of my town to welcome you to Peachtree and arrange with you a schedule by which we can all live.”
This received grunts and mutters from the rest of the Centaur group, but Phillip simply nodded slowly and raised his eyebrows way up so they almost touched is grey hair line. “What kind of schedule do you think we could live by?” he asked, emphasizing the ‘you’ and the ‘we’ to make little Olive feel as though she was very much on the spot.
“Well, surely you couldn’t have thought that you could be welcomed to a town and not expected to contribute?” Olive said very bravely. Not wishing to waste the opportunity to speak, though, she hurried on, explaining, “Everyone in this town has a job, something that we do to keep the town running and keep everyone happy. I’m sure if all of you had a job in the town that helped everyone else, then there would be no disturbances in the mornings that would aggravate your hangovers.”
At the last phrase of little Olive’s little speech the growing discontent among the Centaurs ceased. It appeared as though Olive had found the right thing to say, even though she only had a small idea of how horribly they hated to be disturbed when they were hung-over. To Centaurs, or at least these particular Centaurs, hangovers were an object to be enjoyed in agonized dreamy silence as much as wine was a drink to be enjoyed with raucous gaiety.
“So, if I am to understand you well little one,” Phillip said,” if we contribute in some way to you, you will give us peace and quiet in the morning?”
“Quite right,” said Olive.
“Perhaps then we could find some job that we could offer this town,” said Phillip, though the mention of ‘job’ received another disapproving murmur.
Although Olive’s meeting with the Centaurs started much more fruitfully than she had even hoped for, hashing out what they might be able to do to contribute to the town was like running in quicksand. Every suggestion that Olive could pull out of her little brain didn’t please the Centaurs. They didn’t want to help plow the wheat fields or turn the wheel at the mill. Olive was surprised that even though they were all very well muscled, none of them had any inclination to use those muscles at all. And all the ideas the Centaurs came up with, Olive knew, were perfectly unacceptable for the town. Peachtree did not need a polo team, nor did they need anyone to smash up the squash at harvest. As the sun began to set on Wednesday after the rottenest Peachtree Tuesday ever, Olive and the Centaurs agreed to call a halt to their meeting for the day and pick up again after everyone’s hangover had stopped hanging around.
Wednesday night though did not hear much celebration and raucous noise from the Centaur camp. Rain had descended on Peachtree. It washed through the streets, pounded on the windows, and crept up on the doorways threatening to encroach on indoor spaces. Water spilled off every available surface, and kept the Centaurs from lighting their bonfire, and from dancing around it.
When dawn broke over the mountain that shaded poor little Peachtree, Missy Egg’s dandelion yard lay low in the ground, and all the Peachtree roads were muddy and squashy. So squashy were the roads that Peachtreezians could hardly walk on them without their feet being sucked back into the dirty surface. But still they tried to return to the routine that they lost so thoroughly on Tuesday. Around 1 o’clock in the afternoon little Olive Tang wandered away from the rest of the berry pickers and hurried home to get her cape and crown. She had decided that even though the meeting had gone so well the day before, and she and the Centaurs had not discussed why she was gussied up in such a fashion, she should maintain the pretense of authority just in case.
So back up the street little Olive Tang walked toward the centaur camp. This day, Olive did not walk slowly, nor did she pace up the very center of the street the way she had the day before. It wasn’t because of the mud that she avoided the center of the road either. Yesterday, Peachtreezians ignored Olive because they did not want to admit that she was right. Nothing had changed in that respect today, instead, Olive was afraid of being caught away from the berry bushes when she was supposed to be doing her part of the town work. It is very bad to abandon your chores for no good reason. No one in Peachtree would be able to see that Olive’s reason was indeed a very good reason, because they didn’t want to admit she was right.
With less partying the night before the centaurs had less of their hangovers and were less groggy than they were on Wednesday about this same time. Olive walked right in and was immediately greeted with a list of things that the centaurs would not do, delivered by the black haired Marshall’s mouth. The centaurs refused to hoe in the garden, would not harvest the wheat, could not pick berries like the berry pickers owing to their height and big hands—they would just squish all the berries, and they refused to pull carts down the road like common horses.
“That’s all well and good,” said Olive, “but carts wouldn’t go anywhere anyway on these sticky muddy roads.”
And Olive and the centaurs continued on with their brainstorming and arguing over what they could possibly do to be a part of Peachtree. All the centaurs were arguing except Phillip, who sat silently with a thoughtful look on his face. And then his thoughtful look turned into a lazy grin and he said, “Little one,” and at his voice all the other centaurs quieted down, but didn’t stop talking completely. Phillip continued, “We never have problems on muddy roads, often the dirt just needs packing down because it has been lifted up by the water of the rain storm. We could trample your roads down again, so that your carts will go and your feet won’t stick.”
And Olive liked that idea very much. “Could you do that every time it rained?” she asked. Phillip agreed and the rest of the centaurs agreed except for the sandy haired tawny colored one that mumbled and grumbled until Marshall said, “it’s just running around you great dummy, how can you complain about that?”
So the entire herd of centaurs ran about Peachtree’s streets until they were again solid. The noise that this caused brought many of the busy Peachtreezians out of their houses and shops to wonder at what was going on, but they soon noticed that the roads were firmer and solid and would not suck at their feet as they walked on them. No one said anything to the centaurs and none of the centaurs said anything to any of the original inhabitants of Peachtree—they simply finished their work and went back to their camp. Olive stashed her cape and crown and slipped back in line with the other berry pickers hoping that no one had noticed her absence. After a few minutes of unnoticed picking, she was sure that no one had.
Without any communication it took the Peachtreezians a little while to realize that their problems had been solved to an acceptable if not perfect level. After running about so much all day the centaurs were only energetic enough to party for half as long—though they did not feel the loss; and the Peachtreezians were able to sleep a little better and a little longer, but they still complained. It wasn’t until it rained again that the people of Peachtree realized that the centaurs were doing something to help out. It just so happens that it rains a lot in Peachtree. The clouds around the mountain top come down and wash out Peachtree’s valley at least twice every week. Every time the clouds come down now, the centaurs party a little less in the rain, and in the morning, though not early, they trample down the road again after which they are a little too tired to party hard again. The Peachtreezians get some extra rest and are paid back for their hospitality on the rowdier nights with streets made navigable after every rain.
Now, the Peachtreezians wake up just a bit later than they used to. Missy Egg feeds the chickens in her coop and takes their eggs to the bakery to be made into bread with the flour and the milk by Bob Shannon the baker, and Fanny Tang buys her berries from the berry pickers and makes jam for the bread to have with tea in the afternoon. Sometimes the centaurs have tea as well—though this is usually their first meal instead of their third. And as the day winds down in Peachtree and Albert Own delivers the Peachtree paper, wine sometimes gets into the cups of the people of Peachtree who stand too close to the centaur’s bonfire. And even though they may tease, no centaur ever picks up a young girl and tosses her about while they dance.
Peachtree, a town in Ocean End, the least visited town in Ocean End is populated by two legged and four legged people. This small community takes care of itself very well without the help of any one or any force outside the town boundaries. This could explain the deplorable way Peachtree inhabitants ignore the world and the people outside of Peachtree, including any person who might visit. Peachtreezians do not treat visitors very welcomingly because they have visitors so seldom that all the town inhabitants have very well forgotten how to treat a visitor at all. But if a visitor should happen to stumble upon little Peachtree on a rainy day, if that visitor could stand not to be welcomed, he would be advised to try the jam—which is very tasty, on the Peachtree bread—which is always fresh, and to watch the centaur stampede on the morning after rain—which happens at least twice a week. Noise in the morning, however, will be met with flying squash.