Deep in the forest, nestled between the trees, a dome-shaped warehouse of wood and glass seems to sprout from the soil. Inside, a multi-colored kaleidoscope of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and nuts grows from end to end. Just outside, a menagerie of forest creatures, from lizards and chipmunks to monkeys and birds, mingle and shop at the trendy outdoor marketplace.
Perched high up on a branch, an elderly parrot startled by a howler monkey in transit, lets out an embarrassingly high-pitched squawk. A red feather drops from his wing and drifts toward the tables of carefully arranged fruit, where two hedgehogs sample pineapple on sale.
A gust of wind blows the feather toward the premiere check-out line, marked by a golden silk rope entwined with gold leaves and a dazzling golden carpet. A few well-to-do squirrels, apes, rabbits, and ring-tailed lemurs chat amongst themselves, complimenting one another on their designer jewels, eccentric hats, and lavish leaf-lined coats. The feather grazes the nose of a well-dressed gibbon. His super-sized sneeze throws him back into the mud, ruining his silk jacket and propelling the feather toward the regular checkout line.
The wait is abnormally long today, made even longer by a combination of the annual Purple Thursday Mega Sale and a missing orangutan salesclerk who called in sick. It doesn’t take long for the waiting animals to lose patience, whip out their phones, and begin to complain on Whisker, Tropland’s most popular social network.
The red feather glides toward an elegant, grey-haired chipmunk waiting in the growing line. As she catches the falling feather, her oversized red coat knocks over a basket of cherries from a table.
“Let me get those for you,” a calm, chivalrous voice speaks from behind her.
She turns to see a handsome, well-dressed chipmunk picking up the spilled cherries. His ocean-blue eyes catch her attention.
“Thank you.” She squints as she takes in his gracious smile. Something about him seems a little familiar. “Have we met before?”
“Oh, I suppose I have one of those cheeks,” he replies, adjusting his plum-colored blazer.
Everything about this chipmunk exudes sophistication and class: from his snazzy suit, blue vest, and red bowtie, to his youthful light-brown fur and the distinguished gray stripe running from his forehead to his nose. Well, almost everything. On his nose sits a pair of circular eye-glasses with a purple vine holding the damaged left frame together.
A young chipmunk by his side snatches the final cherry, tossing it back on the table.
“Thank you. Is this your grandson?” the female chipmunk asks kindly.
“GREAT-grandson,” the small boy pipes up as he plays with his green yo-yo.
“Of course, forgive me,” she replies, taking a few seconds to break her gaze.
“Rockford T. Honeypot,” he says, extending his paw. “This is my great-grandson, Theo.”
“Heyooo!” belts out the boy, climbing up to his great-grandfather’s shoulder, leaping off with a triple backflip.
“THE Rockford T. Honeypot?” she gasps, shaking his paw. “Shouldn’t you be in the premiere checkout line? I’ve heard so many stories about you.”
“Oh, dear. I’m just an ordinary chipmunk from Kona Valley.” Rockford lets out a nervous chuckle and smooths his hair down awkwardly. He looks away, struggling to find something to comment on. “Say, I just love the scent of fresh jasmine flowers in full summer bloom, don’t you?”
“Ordinary? There’s nothing ordinary about you, from what I’ve heard,” she persists, her eyes sparkling.
“And what did you hear? I’m as ordinary as lemon pie.”
“Can we go now?” complains Theo, hopping onto the cherry table. “How much longer do we have to wait? I’m hungry! Do they have lemon pie?”
Rockford grabs him by the scruff of his neck and places him on the ground.
“Be patient, Theo. Paws on the sod, now. We talked about this.”
“Can’t you just say the ground? Cheeps, you’re old-school, Great-granddad!”
“Age is a privilege, my pint-sized Honeypot,” Rockford says, wiping off dirt from Theo’s navy-blue shirt. “Oh, where are my manners? What is your name?”
“Who, me? Well, my name is Rosalina,” she replies.
“A pleasure to meet you,” smiles Rockford, wiping more moss from Theo’s shoulder. “Theo, you look just like Chester, your grandfather, when he was your age. You know, this line hasn’t moved, and we may be here for a short while. How about story time?”
“Story time? I’m not a pup. I’m eleven years old, if you knew anything about me,” sasses Theo, rolling his big eyes.
“Is that really Rockford T. Honeypot?” whispers a woodpecker a few animals back.
“As in Honeypot, Inc.? He disappeared years ago,” murmurs a squirrel to a young monkey with long, golden hair and a tail twice as long as he is tall.
“He’s famous? Lemme get a closer look!” gushes the monkey as he bounces over numerous animals to get closer to Rockford.
“Not just famous; he’s arguably the most successful and wealthiest animal in all of Tropland! I heard he even dated Cleopatra, the red fox heir to the Egyptian forest,” says a weasel to the chipmunk waiting in line next to him.
“My cousin’s friend’s aunt’s manicurist told us she used to see him at Hollygrove parties with the hottest Golden Age celebs!” mutters the chipmunk to a capybara, a beaver-like rodent five times his size.
“For reals?!” says the capybara. He tosses a few smaller chipmunks onto his back so they can have a better view. “I’m game for story time. Let’s hear it!”
The animals shift out of their single-file line in order to form an audience closer to Rockford.
“I must admit, it’s been a few moons since I’ve been back here,” says Rockford, wiping debris off a broken tree stump with his handkerchief. “Theo, don’t eat those nuts until we pay for them.”
Theo spits four peanuts back into his basket. “Great-granddad. Nobody cares.”
“Quit being a weasel! We wanna hear the story!” shouts a voice from somewhere back in the crowd.
“I resent that!” protests a weasel. “But I totally want to hear the story too.”
The animals chatter amongst themselves, eagerly waiting to hear what the famous chipmunk has to say.
“You don’t know much about me, do you?” Rockford whispers to Theo.
“Um… nope. We’ve only talked, like, three times,” the boy grumbles back.
“I’ve been gone for a while and take full responsibility for my actions. However, considering what day it is, and why we’re here, how about we make the best of it? Will you do that for me?”
“Fine. Tell your story.” Theo sits near Rockford, fiddling with his yo-yo.
Rockford smiles slyly and stoops to give Theo a rock from the forest floor. “Think you can hit that purple sign on the green-hut wall?”
“The one that says thirty-nine? Obviously,” booms Theo, who snatches the rock and, with all his might, tosses it directly at the center of the sign.
“Dunk! Nice one,” Rockford approves, wiping his paws.
“You’re so weird. It’s your fault if I get in trouble!” snickers Theo.
“Did you know I built the very first Green-Hut Market with your great-grandmother? Our company, Honeypot, Inc., owns all the Green-Hut Markets in Tropland, including market forty-two for the bigger animals across the river.”
“Really?” interrupts Rosalina.
“Really?” echoes Theo, cracking another peanut shell.
“There are a few things about my life that may surprise you, some of which I’ve never told anyone before.”
“Yes! Origin story!” shouts the capybara. “All the best superheroes have origin stories.”
“What else?” asks Theo.
“I learned to cook using fire with Tropland’s finest chef. Flew across the great forest from coast to coast on wild hawks. Travelled to a hidden garden, where I learned ancient secrets from a species of chipmunk thought to have been extinct. Oh, and revolutionized Tropland’s food and transport systems.”
“Meh. Wanna see a new trick?” says Theo, throwing his yo-yo down and snapping it back with his other paw. The string gets caught on a branch and nearly breaks. “Dang! It’s the lightning bolt. One of the hardest tricks.”
“Lightning bolts can be tricky.” Rockford adjusts his glasses. “I’ve seen many in just about every type of storm. From floods to fires, I’ve lost as much as I’ve loved. There’s a good lesson to be learned about this yoo-yoo trick.”
“Alright, tell the story, Great-granddad!” Theo exclaims, fixing his string. “And it’s a yo-yo, not a yoo-yoo.”