"Joey! Wake up, it's Sunday!"
Those were some of his favorite words to hear, along with "How many cookies do you want?" and "You don't have to take a bath tonight."
Sunday was Joey's special day of the week. Sundays meant helping his mom conquer the house. Most kids in the third grade hated doing chores, but Joey loved it because he got to spend special time with his mom, who worked a lot during the week. On Sundays, they worked hard, but they worked together, starting with making a big breakfast of cartoon-shaped pancakes stuffed with chocolate chips or sprinkles and topped with whipped cream, of course. Joey's mom always coated hers with a layer of whip cream and the running joke was where it would end up each Sunday; sometimes whip cream got in her hair, sometimes on her face, and one time, she even managed to get it all over Joey's hair when she laughed at his joke with her mouth full.
Joey could smell the pancakes already as he tumbled out of bed and down the stairs, all ready to be his mother's protector against the dirty dishes and stinky laundry. He was proud when everything was clean and put away. The house seemed to sparkle and his mom couldn't stop smiling, plus they always ended up with their sides hurting from laughing so hard all day long. Monday always seemed a bit blue when compared with the fun of Sunday.
"Captain Joey," his mom called from the kitchen, using his favorite nickname. It made him feel strong and powerful, ready to launch a thousand armed planes (or scrubbing bubbles) on an unsuspecting enemy. As he came into the kitchen, he saw his mom armed with a giant bottle of laundry detergent and a stack of dryer sheets.
"After breakfast, Captain, we must attack the laundry first. It seems to be taking over the entire house!" she said, pointing to the giant pile of socks, underwear, pants, towels, and shirts flooding out of the laundry room into the kitchen.
"Roger, Sergeant M.O.M.," Joey replied and began wolfing down a Mickey Mouse pancake smothered in chocolate chips and whipped cream, laughing as his mom tried to spear a piece of a Pikachu pancake, but only managed to get whipped cream all over her sleeves.
As soon as breakfast was cleaned up, Joey and his mom began the assault against the laundry. Load after load of dirty, stinky clothes were thrown without mercy into the steaming water of the washer and were beaten around until they came clean. Straight into the dryer the loads went, only to be tossed around like mini rag dolls. When the laundry was under control, they began to clean the rest of the house, only stopping for a quick snack to refuel their energy and for Joey to watch his favorite cartoon.
"Captain Joey," his mom called as his show was finishing, "Report for duty! The army of clothes has surrendered, and we must fold them and put them away for good now."
With a grin, Joey raced into the living room and started folding like a madman. He had a feeling that if the kids at school could see him now, they'd make fun of him for sure, but he didn't care. He loved the smell of fresh, warm laundry, especially the towels and socks. There was just something about matching the pairs and folding them up into balls together that made him feel relaxed and happy. Maybe it was more the conversations he got to have with his mom that made folding laundry so great, but whatever it was, this was his favorite part of the day.
"Uh, oh, Captain, we've got a problem!" his mom shrieked, interrupting Joey's thoughts, as she held up the old two socks left: one long green one with a hole in the toe and a little white one covered with ducks.
"I'm not holding them hostage, if that's what you think, Sergeant M.O.M.," Joey replied, pulling out his pockets to show her.
"Well, then where could they have gone, Captain? Do you think they are on a spy mission? We better find them, and quick!" she replied.
They searched the house high and low.
They looked in the dryer. Nothing. Joey got down on his hands and knees and looked under the dryer. Nothing--but a dime, which he pocketed, and some lint. He walked the same path Sergeant M.O.M. had walked when she had brought in the army of clean clothes for "questioning" (and folding), keeping his eyes glued to the ground, but he found nothing but a shoelace, a leaf, and an old piece of his gum that had stuck to the bottom of a chair.
He looked under the chairs and couches. Only a stale potato chip and a pen. He even checked to see if Lucky, their dog, had grabbed the missing socks. But no luck, not even with Lucky, who was just chewing an old shoe.
"It's hopeless, Captain Joey," Sergeant M.O.M. cried as she flopped into a chair. "We'll never find those socks, just like we couldn't find my keys or sweater or your dad's favorite hat. They're all just missing!"
"I won't give up, Sergeant!" Joey said stubbornly, and set out to finish his mission. He didn't want today to end on a sad note; he and his mom had such a good time, he didn't want two missing socks to ruin it. He looked high (on top of the ceiling fans and the kitchen cupboards); he looked low (under beds, dressers, and rugs), but there was nothing. Not a trace. Not even a clue.
"Wow," Joey thought out loud, "those socks are very clever, but they will not beat me. Olly, olly, ox in free," he called, hoping they might think he was playing a game of hide-and-seek and come out of their hiding spots, but nothing happened. He strained his ears to hear and his eyes to see the slightest sound or movement, but there was absolutely nothing.
Sighing, he lay down on his bed and curled up tight into a little ball. That's how he got his name; his mom thought he looked like a baby kangaroo when he was first born, as he stayed curled in a ball and looked like he could fit into a pouch.
"I always get blamed for missing things. Where does it go? What are those socks doing right now?" Joey wondered out loud. "They always seemed like trouble makers," he mumbled as he drifted off to sleep.
"Pssst. Hey, Dewey, the coast is clear! The kid's finally worn out from looking for us! Now comes the best part!"
Suddenly, a long, green sock slid out from behind Joey's bookshelf, followed closely by Dewey, the ducky sock. A tinkling sound filled the air as the socks were joined by a pair of golden keys.
"Thanks for walking me home," the keys jingled. "I've got to let my mom know I'm back from cheer leading camp, so I better get going. You boys have fun fooling the people for me," she jangled as she jumped off the shelf and out to the hook in the kitchen where she lived with her parents.
The jingling noises woke Joey, but he only opened his eyes a tiny sliver, so they'd think he was still asleep. He couldn't believe what he was hearing! There were mom's keys that had been missing for a few days and the two socks that had escaped the earlier laundry attack. He wanted to open his eyes and trap the socks, forcing them to talk, but he decided it would be best to pretend to be asleep and listen carefully to see what else he could find out about these missing things.
"So, what should we do now, Charlie?" Dewey asked. "Is this the part where we get to play tricks on the big people?"
"Yup. You have a lot to learn, little one," Charlie replied. "Now we can go hide back in the dryer, where the little boy first looked. That's always funny to see their faces! They think they are going crazy! Or, we could find a really bizarre spot, like in the bathtub or the refrigerator. That would be hilarious! A sock in the fridge!" Dewey laughed so hard at the last suggestion that he snorted a bit.
"Sshhhh..." Charlie cried, "don't wake the kid, you silly boy! We can't have any fun if the kid is on to us!"
"I-I'm sorry, Charlie," Dewey sniveled. "I want to have fun. I'll be quiet, I swear!"
"Yeah, well. Just make sure you don't wake him up. Otherwise, we can't go to the hangout."
"The hangout?" Dewey's eyes got big as he squeaked out his answer. "I've heard mom and dad talking about the hangout, but I've never been allowed to go yet. Besides when I'm worn and laundry time, I've never even been outside of my drawer before. My brother Huey might be missing me. Plus, I'm still feeling a bit dizzy from the dryer ride."
"Calm down, kid," Charlie replied, cool as ever. "You'll be fine, you'll see. Everyone goes to the hangout sometime. It's where we go when the people think we're missing. Come on, I'll show you," he said, grabbing Dewey's elastic top as he drug him away from the hiding spot of the bookshelf and towards the bed where Joey was sleeping.
After a quick squawk of surprise out of Dewey, the socks soundlessly slipped off of the bookshelf and onto the floor. They snaked their way across the room towards his bed until they disappeared beneath it.
Joey couldn't believe his luck! Not only had he found the missing socks and keys, he also could follow Charlie and Dewey back to their hideout. What news he would have to report to Sergeant M.O.M.!
He quickly peeked over the edge of the bed and saw the socks rolling themselves into a tight ball against the wall. Dewey was having some trouble getting into a tight ball and he had to bite back tears because he was so scared about what was going to happen. Charlie kept whispering, "Just stay in as tight of a ball as you can and hold on. Everything will be fine, kid, just calm down."
All of a sudden, the wall seemed to shimmer and disappear, and the socks were swept into the shining hole. Joey blinked in surprise and when he opened his eyes again, the wall was just like normal.
Wasting no time, Joey scrambled under the bed. True to his name, he rolled and pulled himself into the tightest ball he could. Nothing happened. He squished himself together tighter and accidentally bumped his head against the wall. He started to feel tingly and was about to cry out for back-up from Sergeant M.O.M. when all of a sudden, he didn't feel like he was under a bed anymore.
Joey stayed still for quite a time, still feeling a bit dizzy and funny all over. He was not sure what had happened to him or if he was ready to find out where he was. Slowly, he opened his eyes, not sure what to expect.
As his eyes focused, he first noticed that the space he was in was much larger than he had expected. There seemed to be things all over the place: puzzle pieces seemed to be dancing across the floor, along with a lawn mower and weed whacker who seemed to be dancing as well, if you could call it that. Instead, they just seemed to be spinning in a circle. Every once in a while, the weed whacker would rev up her blades as the lawn mower spun her around and then ended in a dip. It was a sight to see.
But there was more. An oven mitt and Lucky's old chew toy were busy catching up on the old times. Joey heard the oven mitt remark, "So, how is cousin pillow doing? I haven't seen him since the mom got new oven mitts."
"Well, he lost his wife to the dog, the same way I lost my best friend, Herb the penguin toy. Lucky ripped them both to shreds; stuffing was everywhere. It was horrible. I'm glad to be alive; I survived the attack of that dog with only a few scratches and one big hole," he pointed to his left ear, which was missing and stuffing was coming out of the hole. "I came straight to the hangout after that, where I've been hiding ever since."
Joey suddenly thought Lucky's current favorite toy, a stuffed monkey, and vowed to rescue it from this kind of fate. He decided that he would only give Lucky bones to chew from now on. Feeling bad, he scanned the room some more to see what other things had come to this hideout and find out why they were all here. He hoped it wasn't because they were all afraid of his family.
On the other side of the room, he noticed his dad's favorite hat, laughing like a hyena in the corner along with his mom's missing sweater and a scarf his grandma had given him last Christmas. They seemed to be reminiscing about a day that Joey's family had gone sledding.
"Ben, do you remember when the kid kept choking himself on you because his mom had wound you too tight around his neck? That was so funny!" dad's hat giggled to the scarf.
"Yeah, but Danny, you remember how awful that day was for me. That was the day I was permanently scarred and burned from the hot chocolate the mom spilled all over me!" Clarice, the sweater whined, using the sleeve to cover the brown stain that still proudly stood out on the front of her. "I know YOU had a good day, on top of the dad's head, totally protected from burning liquids and able to see all of the funny kids sledding, falling all over the hill," she said sarcastically to the hat, "but you could be a bit more kind about it."
Joey couldn't believe it! All of these things had been "lost" by his family a long time ago. But they weren't lost--they clearly were right here! But where was here?
He kept scanning the room, looking for clues. He didn't recognize the room as anything he had ever seen in the house before. The walls in here kind of sparkled, like the hole did under his bed.
He was so focused on the walls that he didn't notice he had crept out of the dark corner to get a better view. The noise in the room stopped as quick as Joey did when his mom found him sneaking a cookie before dinner. But as quick as the sounds had stopped, they started up again.
"Ahhhhh! A person!" one of the puzzle pieces squealed.
"How did HE get in here? What do we do? Abort, abort!" a troll doll screamed as he ran straight towards the wall. Just as he reached it, he curled himself into a ball and went straight through the shimmering wall. Others began to do the same.
"Wait!" Charlie, the green sock suddenly stretched himself out and spoke. "We must find out how he got in here. Kid, explain yourself before everyone goes crazy."
Joey didn't know what to do or think. A green sock with a hole in the toe was asking him what he was doing, when HE should have been asking the questions. "I-I don't know. I just watched what you and Dewey did and poof, now I'm here. But, I think you need to answer some questions, like, where are we? Or, how did we go through a solid wall? Or, why do you guys run away to this hideout?"
"Okay, okay, calm down, kid. I can answer all of your questions, but you must promise never to reveal what you have learned today. If you do, we will never be able to be happy again in our private hangout, and in order to make you happy, we must have a chance to do some things for ourselves," Charlie stated calmly as he gently grabbed Joey's hand with his elastic part and led him to a seat.
The seat giggled as Joey sat on him and he jumped, but everyone laughed, saying "Gerry is so ticklish--don't mind him!" Joey couldn't help but laugh as he wiggled his legs to tickle Gerry some more; he just couldn't believe he was tickling a chair or talking to a sock, but it was all really happening!
"So, where are we?" Joey began.
"You're in our hideout. Most humans don't have enough imagination to be able to make it through. You're our first person visitor since 1978, when a next door neighbor found us by accident when she was playing," Charlie explained. "We're in the land of things; this is where we come when we want to see each other or just get a break from being used all of the time. I mean, we like helping your family out, but we need vacations and family reunions and barbecues to relax, too, just like you guys do."
"You have families and barbecues?" Joey exclaimed.
"Most humans never realize that us objects have families and lives of our own," Charlie began. "For instance, Danny, your dad's hat, has been in the hangout for about a month now. See, he has been recovering from surgery. One of his seams was torn and your dad wasn't getting him fixed very quickly, so he came here to get better.
"And your mom's keys have just made the cheer leading squad at their school, so they were gone for a week to practice at cheer leading camp," continued the green, holey sock. "Dewey is here so he can see his Aunt Clarice, the sweater. They live in different drawers, so they rarely get to see each other.
"The puzzle pieces are here for a geometry convention, but they are usually here. They're afraid of the dark and with being locked up in a box all day, they need a break. They also seem to think it is funny to wait until a person has most of the puzzle done and then disappear," Charlie rolled his eyes as he said the last part.
"I know!" Joey cried. "I spent two weeks last month looking for the nose and eye of the puppy puzzle I was trying to finish, but I never could find those two tricky pieces! Is that what you meant about 'playing tricks on the people'"?
Charlie ducked his head. "Yeah, but you weren't supposed to know about that. Now all of the fun has been ruined. We aren't trying to be mean, we just need some kind of entertainment every once in awhile, just like you do, Joey. For you and the other people, it would be just like watching sports on Trey, the TV."
"I guess that makes sense," Joey replied, still trying to wrap his head around all of this crazy new information.
"You know, though, Joey, we always keep an eye out. We know when you really need us, and when that time comes, no matter what we are doing, we come back. We might turn up in the last place you ever expected to find us, but we'll be there," Clarice the sweater crooned, as she gently patted him on the arm.
"That's good to know," Joey said, starting to feel more normal about talking objects who play tricks on him and his family. He had never thought about it, but things DID deserve to have fun and lives of their own. Joey's family and friends made him feel safe and happy, so why shouldn't these clothes, toys, and machines have that, too?
Holding out his hand to Charlie and then to the rest of the room, Joey said proudly, "I'm glad to have met you all today and learned so much. I promise your secret will be safe with me as long as you promise to always be there when we really need you. I better get back, though. I don't think my mom will think it is funny if I am missing for too long!"
The objects laughed and waved goodbye (or as best as they could as some didn't have hands), and Joey curled back up into a tight ball against the glimmering wall. He started to feel a bit funny again, but he quickly opened his eyes this time to find himself back on his bed.
He couldn't wait to tell Sergeant M.O.M.. Joey had promised the objects not to tell about what he had learned, but he was just so excited he couldn't help himself. However, he made himself promise not to reveal their tricks or how to get to the hideout; at least part of their lives would remain a mystery to everyone but himself.
"Joey," his mom said, coming into his room, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, "You were missing in action, Captain Sleepy-pants! These dishes are getting out of control; I need your help!"
"But, Sergeant M.O.M., you won't believe it! I traced the missing socks back to their hideout, and I found your keys and sweater and Daddy's hat and Lucky's toy!"
"You mean you dreamed you did all of that," Mom said with a smile.
"No! I really did! There were puzzle pieces and my scarf from grandma and they were all talking about memories they had with us and about their own families and vacations and stuff!" Joey declared firmly, starting to wonder why Sergeant M.O.M. wouldn't believe what he saw. He looked around for some evidence to prove it to her, but he'd forgotten to bring those stray socks home!
"It's okay to dream or play imagination, sweetie," Joey's mom said as she got up to leave the room.
Joey thought hard and suddenly remembered the last thing Clarice said to him. He quickly scanned the room high and low.
"Wait!" Joey exclaimed, pointing to the ceiling fan. "Look, Sergeant M.O.M., just as I told you--there are the missing socks!"
Looking up, Sergeant M.O.M. got a look of disbelief on her face. "Good work, Captain Joey! Mission accomplished," she said as she got up on the bed to get the socks down. But, as she did, Joey heard her mutter, "Now, how in the world did these get up here?"
As she pulled Charlie and Dewey down, Joey could swear that he saw the big green sock with the hole in the toe wink at him.
Charlie and Dewey were reunited with their brothers in the sock drawer.
Mom found her sweater when she was getting the Christmas decorations out. Dad found his favorite hat when it mysteriously reappeared under the sink in the bathroom. Joey found the scarf from his grandma one day while he was cleaning out the dishwasher.
Lucky didn't get his stuffed monkey back, even though Mom swears she saw it in his underwear drawer one day, but he did get a lot of new bones to munch on rather than the stuffing from a helpless toy.
There was peace through the house, for the war with the laundry and dirty house was over, at least for this week, and everything missing in action was accounted for.
Captain Joey couldn't stop smiling.
He knew the secret. And if anything went missing again, he'd know where to find it.