| I didn't keep track of the children. A innumerable amount of bright eyes and runny noses had infested the place. Every time I opened the door, one of the shorter ones would run up and kick me in the shin, and a shy one would hand me a flower then run away, and one on all fours would wander to my feet and stare up at me as if I was an alien from Mars.
I was their next door neighbor, and I got to know them pretty well because one of the ankle-biters was always knocking on my door, asking to borrow something. They would then run home as fast as they could, and I was left to bring it over myself. At first the requests weren't that odd. Some flour, some eggs, some instant coffee "because Ma ran out and we don't wanna be around her when she hasn't had her coffee".
But things got weird when a towhead of indeterminate age banged on my door and shouted, "Mr. Neighbor? You got rocket fuel?"
I opened the door and peeked down at the kid. He was short, scrawny, his hair was mussed, and there were black smudge marks all over his face. He was grinning ear-to-ear. "Rocket fuel?" I asked.
"Yeah! See, Mary's gonna wish for a rocket, but everyone else's wishes are all used up so Mary needs rocket fuel for her rocket." The kid stood on tip-toes and gave me a conspiratorial look. "I'm gonna wish for my very own pet penguin!" he said, then spun around and ran home.
I was left staring dumbly after him. "What?" I asked, a little too late.
My curiosity got the better of me, and I walked over and knocked on their door. It was opened by the short one who kicked my shin every time. I immediately took a few steps back, but instead of her customary attack, the girl beamed up at me and whispered, "I'm gonna wish for a kitty-cat."
"Oh." I said.
The child ran off, not saying another thing, but she must have alerted Mary that I was there, because another child appeared out of nowhere. This one was a little taller than the shortest ones and a little shorter than the tallest ones. I guessed her age to be between six and nine, but I couldn't be sure. She stared up at me, and demanded, "Rocket fuel?"
"Um, I don't have any. Why do you need rocket fuel?"
She looked at me as if I had just asked her what color the sky was. "For the rocket, duh."
"Right. Do you have a rocket?"
"I will soon!" she announced, and scampered off.
I walked through the house, looking about. I asked one child who was busy running up and down the stairs if their parents around, but he simply shook his head and continued, up and down, up and down.
I found one of the older ones and asked where their mother was, and what was going on, anyway.
"Mom went to the store, and left me in charge!" answered the kid.
"Did NOT! She left me in charge!" shouted a voice from another room. I looked around but had no luck finding its owner.
I left the child and the voice to continue their arguing, and found another kid who was drawing with crayon on one of the walls. "What's going on here?" I asked. I was becoming concerned.
The kid stared at me. "Don't you know what day it is?"
"It's the eleventh! Of November!"
"It'll be eleven-eleven-eleven-eleven-eleven soon!"
"What are you gonna wish for?"
"A good babysitter for you guys." I mumbled.
I went back home, wondering idly if I should be staying and keeping an eye on them until their mother arrived, but I really didn't want to be in that house any longer than I had to. It was obvious that those kids were a few fries short of a happy meal.
At 11:11 AM that day, I couldn't help but think to myself just how disappointed every one of those kids would be. As excited as they were, it would be like finding out Santa Claus didn't exist. I shrugged and didn't think anymore about it. You had to grow up sometime.
The next week, a knock on my door and a demand for brown sugar had me walking over to their place again. The door was opened by their mother, who smiled at me warmly and thanked me for the bag of brown sugar. "It's been crazy over here lately," she admitted to me.
"Yeah." I said. I turned to leave, but before I could, the shin-kicker ran up to me and gave me her attack. Instead of running off immediately, though, she stopped and grinned at me. She was clutching a bundle of fur in her arms.
"Look, Mr. Neighbor! A kitty-cat!" she said.
"Great." I said, unenthusiastically. I said goodbye and turned again to leave, but something caught my eye and I froze. "Was that a..."
The mother nodded. "Oh. Yeah. We have a penguin waddling around the house. I have no idea where it came from."