Darla tiptoed into the hall and looked both ways, then zipped down the stairs. She didn’t make a sound. That’s because she was so-o soft.

           She slipped around the staircase and peered out the glass doors onto the patio.

            Her good friend—not her best friend—but her good friend was hovering outside the door. He shook his head and ruffled his feathers to let her know it wasn’t safe. Sure enough! It was the big brother. He’d never understand!

            Darla backed into the corner and waited.

            Actually Darla had permission for all this—but nobody would believe that Keri had sent her on this assignment.

            The big brother, whose name was Brian, slid open the door and ran in. He stopped short and looked straight at her as she slumped in the corner.

            “Keri’s doll!” He picked Darla up and slung her onto the sofa. “I’ll take you back upstairs after I get my snack. How’d you get down here?” He shook his head. “Are you a doll or a scarecrow? I can never figure out which.”

Darla knew he wasn’t really talking to her. He didn’t know she was alive. She giggled. “I’m both!”

Brian loved his sister, Keri. Sometimes he didn’t always show it. But he showed it a lot more these days since Keri was in bed all the time, too sick to get up.

He disappeared into the kitchen.

“Now’s my chance!” Darla hopped off the sofa and ran for the door.

Brian had left it open a crack and she slipped out!

“Thanks for the warning, Robbie!” she called to her friend. He was bundled up in a plaid scarf and she had always liked his orange checkered vest and brown hat. “Let’s go!”

They had very important business. Something that Keri would have been doing if she had the chance.

Darla looked up at the window above. Keri really shouldn’t have done it but she had gotten herself out of bed.

Well, maybe it was good for her. She could see the pretty blue sky and bright orange and red leaves. She had pushed the window up just a little, though it was hard for her these days because she was so weak. But she always liked to feel the cool October breeze.

The girl waved excitedly down to Darla and grinned at Robbie who fluttered about, chirping.

As he swooped down he squawked, “heads up! It’s Brian!”

Darla looked toward the door. The boy had a big brownie in his hand, but he seemed to have forgotten all about it. He was staring at the spot on the sofa where Darla had been. Brian looked on the floor, searched under the coffee table, and behind all the chairs.

“Come on!” Darla ran around the house with the robin flying above.” Let’s do it! Go on ahead, Robbie. Find me a good deed to do!”

For that was her mission. That’s what Keri would be doing. In the springtime, she would share flowers or help plant gardens or take some Easter cookies to neighbors who needed cheering up. In the autumn it was pretty leaves or—whatever she could find to do.

Darla stopped and scooped up a handful of the most beautiful red and orange leaves.  She knew who would like these!

Robbie swooped down and chattered in her ear. “Old Mrs. Bradley. She’s home and it’s time for her to get her mail soon!”

Darla pulled out some ribbon from her pocket and wrapped it round the stems of her leaves, making a pretty bunch. “Blue ribbon—she’ll know it’s from Keri.” 

She darted down the street. The gate was closed but she climbed right over while Robbie held the leaves in his beak. Then she placed them on the front step and hid behind a tree. Robbie lighted on a branch above.

Sure enough, the old woman opened the door and looked in her mailbox. Nothing.  Suddenly she noticed the bunch of leaves on the step and she smiled.

“Keri!” she said.  Then she stopped short. “Now how did she do this? She’s home in bed.” The old woman looked around thoughtfully, then shrugged. She picked up the bunch of leaves happily and off she went into the house.

“Now what?” wondered Darla as they took to the street again.

Next door, a little girl was out in the yard. She was running about as if she were looking for something. Darla didn’t want to be seen so she dived behind some bushes and watched.

“Did you find him?” called an older sister from the doorway.

“No. He’s too little to be out here! How’d the door get open, anyway? He could be anywhere!”

“I can’t help you look for the puppy. I can’t leave the baby. Just keep searching. He’s can’t have gone far.”

Robbie heard it, too. A puppy missing! He swooped off to look around while Darla checked the road. Thankfully there was no puppy there!

“Over here! Behind this big rock. He looks tired. He’s just little!” called Robbie.

“How can I get the little girl to go that way?” thought Darla.

Robbie flew over to the little girl and chirped and chattered. She just threw up her hand and waved him away, not noticing that he was a little different than most birds. He flew off, then returned, chattering some more. Darla ran over and poked her head up. Then she raced toward the rock.

The little girl saw the movement but she didn’t see Darla, who had ducked into the long grass, waiting.

“Smokey? Is that you?”

Darla jumped up and ran on, then hid in the piles of leaves. Little by little she and Robbie led the girl toward the big rock. The little puppy had gone to sleep and didn’t hear a bit of it!

Robbie landed on the rock and chirped loudly. 

“I know I saw something moving around over here,” said the little girl. “Why do you keep showing up, bird? Oh, where’d you get that hat? I never saw a bird with a hat. And a scarf!”

She shook her head as Robbie swooped away. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t really seen a bird with a hat!

But she did see something else. The little gray puppy was just waking up. He barked happily.

“Smokey! How did you get way over here! It’s a wonder I ever found you in all these leaves. Come on into the house and get warm!” 

She picked him up and carried him toward home, looking around one more time and up into the sky, wondering that she’d come this way. She thought she’d seen something over and over again—like a little tiny scarecrow’s hat. But it must have been the wind blowing leaves around. And how silly that she thought she’d seen a bird all dressed up in a scarf and vest!

“What next?” asked Robbie. “I don’t see anybody else that needs a helping hand.”

“I don’t know,” said Darla, catching her breath. They wandered through the neighborhood and soon reached a field full of pumpkins. She sat down on one as she thought about what to do.

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There was a real scarecrow nearby. She was squashy and little enough for Keri to cuddle but this scarecrow was tall and prickly, filled with straw. He was busy protecting the pumpkin patch.

“What’s got you so down?” he asked.

She looked up suddenly. “Why, I didn’t know that you were alive, too. I’m out doing good deeds for my friend, Keri. She’s too sick, this year. But I can’t think of anything else to do.”

“I know Keri. She comes by to visit Grandma and Grandpa Carver.”

“Of course! That’s it!”

Everybody liked the old couple. Everyone in town called them Grandma and Grandpa.

Darla chattered on. “They have three little grandchildren. When Grandpa Carver owned this field, he carved pumpkins for them every fall.”

“He lives just over there.” The scarecrow pointed to the little red house across the field. “The new owner lets him take as many pumpkins as he wants, of course. But he can’t walk out here anymore or carry pumpkins much. I saw him standing there and looking at the pumpkin patch the other day. He still wants to carve pumpkins but I don’t think he has anyone to get them for him.”

“That’s it! Thank you, Mr. Scarecrow. I’ll take them. Just three you say?” She picked up a medium sized pumpkin.”

“Oh, but how can you take them? You’re so little?”

“I’m just a doll—so they’re not heavy for me.”

But as she ran through the grass holding the pumpkin over her head, it was so big and awkward that it was harder than she thought. But she made it to the back step of the farmhouse.

She ran back for another pumpkin—and then one more.

“Whew! They weren’t heavy but they were hard to carry!”

“Good job!” chirped Robbie. “But what about Grandma Carver. Keri always takes her flowers.”

“I’ll run back and get some. There’s mums in our yard.” Darla sped home and picked several big, beautiful orange flowers and ran back.  She was glad, since she was a doll, that she could go as fast as she liked and not get tired.

“There.” She arranged the pumpkins on the back step and laid the flowers there, too. Then Robbie pecked at the doorbell. They heard it ring inside. Darla hurried to hide, but peeked around the corner of the house.

It was a while before anyone opened the door. They knew it was Grandpa Carver, for his wife was recuperating from an operation and sat in her chair all day.

He looked all around—and finally down. “Oh my!” he exclaimed. “Keri was here! She’s at it again—spreading good cheer. She knew I couldn’t get out to get my pumpkins this year. But wait—she’s stuck in the house herself….”

He looked about curiously, then slowly, slowly, picked up each pumpkin and took it into the house. It was hard for him to bend and walk—but he looked so happy, especially when he made one final trip for the pretty flowers for his wife.

“Mission accomplished,” Darla told Robbie. “Let’s go home and report!”

“Keri will be so happy.”

When they got home, Darla found that Keri already knew. Mrs. Bradley had called and so had Grandma Carver, while her husband happily carved funny faces on the pumpkins for his grandkids.

“I can’t tell how,” Keri was saying into Mom’s cellphone. “It’s a secret.”

 Darla jumped up on the bed. Keri waved to Robbie outside the window, then he flew off to his own business.

“Tell me all about it. Look at you—all dirty—and leaves stuck in your hair! Let me clean you off before Mom sees. Brian is very suspicious. What fun you must have had! And I have good news—the doctor says I can get up soon!”

Darla relaxed as Keri hugged her and snuggled up to hear her adventures.

What a fun autumn day this had turned out to be.