On a small island, near a large harbor, there once lived a fisherman's little daughter (named Samantha, but always called Sam), who had the reckless habit of lying.
Not even the sailors home from the sea could tell stranger stories than Sam. Not even the ships in the harbor, with curious cargoes from giraffes to gerbils, claimed more wonders than Sam did.
Sam said her mother was a mermaid, when everyone knew she was dead.
Sam said she had a fierce lion at home, and a baby kangaroo. (Actually, what she really had was an old wise cat called Bangs.)
Sam even said that Bangs could talk if and when he wanted to.
Sam said this. Sam said that. But whatever Sam said you could never believe.
Early one morning, before Sam's father left in his fishing boat to be gone all day, he hugged Sam hard and said, "Today, for a change, talk REAL not MOONSHINE. MOONSHINE spells trouble."
Sam promised. But while she washed the dishes, made the beds, and swept the floor, she wondered what he meant. When she asked Bangs to explain REAL and MOONSHINE, Bangs jumped on her shoulder and purred, "MOONSHINE is flummadiddle. REAL is the opposite."
When the sun made a golden star on the cracked window, Sam knew it was time to expect Thomas. Thomas believed every word Sam said.
At the same time every day Thomas rode his bicycle down the hill to Sam's house and begged to see her baby kangaroo.
Wherever Sam sent Thomas, he went. He climbed up trees, ran down steps, and scoured the beach, but he never found Sam's baby kangaroo.
While Thomas searched, Sam sat in her chariot and was drawn by dragons to faraway secret worlds.
Today, when Thomas arrived, Sam said, "That baby kangaroo just left to visit my mermaid mother. She lives in a cave behind Blue Rock."
Sam watched Thomas race away on his bicycle over the narrow strand that stretched to a massive blue rock in the distance. Then she sat down in her chariot. Bangs came out of the house and sat down beside Sam. With his head turned in the direction of the diminishing Thomas, Bangs said, "When the tide comes up, it covers the road to Blue Rock. Tide rises early today."
Bangs stood up. Slowly he stalked away from Sam toward Blue Rock.
She was so busy thinking that she was unaware of thick muddy clouds that blocked out the sun. She was almost knocked off the doorstep when a sudden gust of wind drove torrents of rain against her face.
Sam leaped into the house and slammed the door. She went to the window to look at Blue Rock, but she could see nothing through the grey ribbed curtain of rain. Sam stood there looking at nothing, trying to swallow the lump that rose in her throat.
The murky light in the room deepened to black. Sam was still at the window when her father burst into the house. Water streamed from his hat and oozed from his boots. Sam ran to him screaming, "Bangs and Thomas are out on the rock! Blue Rock! Bangs and Thomas!"
As her father turned quickly and ran out the door, he ordered Sam to stay in the house.
"And pray that the tide hasn't covered the rock!" he yelled.
At last she heard her father's footsteps outside. She flung open the door and said one word: "Bangs?"
Sam's father shook his head.
"He was washed away," he said. "But I found Thomas on the rock. I brought him back in the boat. He's home now, safe in bed. Can you tell me how all this happened?"
Sam started to explain, but sobs choked her. She cried so hard that it was a long time before her father understood everything.
Finally, Sam's father said, "Go to bed now. But before you go to sleep, Sam, tell yourself the difference between REAL and MOONSHINE."
From SAM, BANGS, AND MOONSHINE by Evaline Ness. Copyright 1966 by Evaline Ness. Reprinted by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, Inc.