Life had been hard for little Pelva Shrapnik and her baby brother Titi.
Three years ago they’d become orphans after their parents died in a tragic mishap. While collecting rare seasonal mushrooms on the steep hillsides near their tiny Serbian village, Zoran and Lena Shrapnik accidentally fell to their deaths. Shortly before this awful event, Pelva and Titi’s only other living relative in town—Aunt Magdalena—had moved to America to live with a man she’d met on OKCupid.
Since the only church in town had been abandoned years ago due to dwindling funds and sparse attendance, local charity services were scant to nonexistent. Pelva (who was now nine years old) and Titi (four) were reduced to begging for meals on the hilly, winding cobblestone streets of their quaint mountain burg. Sometimes they had to dig through garbage to find a few stray cold potato peels. Other times they’d gnaw on discarded scraps of boiled cabbage. Many days they went without any food .
Both Pelva and Titi—who never spoke, although he giggled a lot—hated asking for help. In exchange for food and occasional shelter, they offered to do anything—sing, dance, shine shoes, clean houses—anything, really, except picking mushrooms. Of late, Pelva channeled her stubborn creativity into knitting small animal figurines from the yarn she’d found while dumpster-diving near a local brewery. She and Titi would go from door to door, trying to sell these adorable colorful elephants and kittens she’d dutifully woven in the hopes that she and her brother would walk away with at least a few spicy meat patties or even some warm hand-me-down sweaters.
Sadly, though, the generosity was always temporary. On the rare occasions that townsfolk let them stay the night, they never wanted them to stay for good. For reasons unknown to Pelva and Titi, their parents were widely despised in their village. There were dark rumors about a stolen cow and exactly what the Shrapniks did after stealing it, but long before they died, Zoran and Lena Shrapnik were pariahs. So was Aunt Magdalena, who’d done her best to earn the title of Town Whore—and there was plenty of competition.
Other children in town mocked and bullied Pelva and Titi for being dirty, homeless orphans. The sole villager who was consistently kind to them was an older and very hairy man named Marko, who worked in the kitchen of the local hospital. Marko worked the night shift four days a week, and on every one of those nights the Shrapnik orphans could count on him giving them whatever he could spirit away from the hospital pantry without fear of being fired. Sometimes he brought them full meals. Other times he could manage nothing more than a half-cup of chicken broth. He would have offered to let them stay at his shack on the outskirts of town, but it was a cramped, smelly room that also housed Marko’s disabled mother, so there was simply not enough space for two children, however small they were.
On this particular night, Marko was beaming as he sneaked outside the hospital kitchen to meet Pelva and Titi at their appointed time. He carried two huge steel trays with meals fit for his little “Prince” and “Princess,” which were his pet names for them. Tonight’s meal featured chicken and gravy, diced potatoes, beets, asparagus, dinner rolls, butter, and hot tea. Best of all were the piping-hot slices of cherry pie with whipped cream. Marko knew how much the kids loved sweets.
As they greedily finished up and were wiping their mouths, Marko leaned in to whisper.
“My little Prince and Princess, I have good news for you. The hospital tonight is almost empty—not enough sick people,” he said, laughing. “But there’s a woman who was just discharged an hour ago. There’s a nice big bed in her room. If you can promise to be very VERY quiet, I can get you in that little warm room so you can get a few hours of sleep.”
The children jumped up and promised to be as quiet as the angels in the heavens.
Titi was asleep within five minutes. But Pelva’s stomach started grumbling—that had been a BIG dinner—and she felt restless. A girl can only look at stethoscopes and tongue depressors for so long before she gets bored. Pelva slowly peeked out of her room and saw that the hospital corridor was empty. Being only a twelve-bed facility in a mountain village operating on meager funds, they also dimmed the lights late at night to save on electricity costs. She figured she could probably walk around without being detected.
Pelva closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and made the sign of the cross. Then, stepping lightly, she darted down the corridor and into another random room.
As she squinted through the room’s near-total blackness to get a look at the snoring patient, she realized it was her worst enemy—Mira Jankovic, headmistress of a local school. Miss Mira been particularly cruel to Pelva and her brother, encouraging the other children to laugh at their misfortune. Pelva vowed to avenge Miss Mira for the time she forced Titi to walk shoeless through the snow to fetch a bucket of water for the schoolhouse.
Pelva tiptoed toward the hospital bed, turned around, and with all the gumption and muscular strength she could muster, squeezed out the loudest fart she’d ever farted. She aimed it right at Miss Mira’s face.
The flatulent blast was so loud that it woke Mira up from a morphine-induced slumber. She screamed, causing Pelva to bolt out of the room and straight back into her room with Titi, where she desperately roused her brother from sleep and told him they had to leave immediately. Since the three hospital staffers on duty had rushed to Miss Mira’s room, Pelva and Titi scampered undetected in the other direction, out through the kitchen exit.
Marko chased them outside. “Stop! STOP! What happened! What did you do?”
Gasping for breath, Pelva said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Marko. I got bored and started snooping around. I walked into Miss Mira’s room, and seeing that mean woman made me so angry, I farted in her face. It woke her up.”
Angry and flustered, Marko told the children to go to his shack and stay with his mother for the time being. He had a few hours left on his shift and had to do damage control at the hospital.
Pelva and Titi walked two miles through the snow and gently tapped on the front door of Marko’s shack. An annoyed voice beckoned them to come in.
Although Marko’s mother’s monstrous bulk took up most of the bed, Pelva and Titi squeezed in on either side and quickly fell asleep.
But Pelva’s chicken-and-gravy-fueled flatulence continued through the night. Blissfully asleep, his mother inhaled it all.
At daybreak, the sound of Marko’s crunchy boots awakened his mother and the children. He was covered in sweat and breathing deeply. He tossed another log into the wood-burning stove, put some water on the stovetop to boil, and sat on the cabin’s creaky wooden chair.
“It is a miracle,” he muttered. “A miracle from God.”
“What is a miracle?” Pelva asked, slinking out of bed and walking over to Marko.
“Miss Mira. It is a miracle. She no longer has the cancer. She grabbed a steel bedpan, coughed up her lung tumors, got dressed, and left the hospital. She is no longer sick.”
Just as he finished saying this, his mother awoke. She yawned, stretched, got out of bed, and walked outside the shack toward the outhouse in back.
It was the first time she’d been able to walk in over ten years.
“MOTHER! My mother can WALK!” Marko shouted. “This, too—it is a miracle!”
He looked at Pelva. “How can this be? Both women were in the same room with you, and now both women are no longer sick! Did you pray for them?”
Pelva shrugged and shook her head no.
Marko paused. “Did you…you…did you fart on my mother like you did to Miss Mira?”
Again she shrugged. “Mr. Marko, I just slept next to your mother in that awfully tiny bed. I know one thing—I did not fart on her on purpose like I did with Miss Mira. But I was asleep—maybe I farted, maybe I didn’t.”
Marko looked at her in awe. “You—you are a miracle child. Come with me—back to the hospital! Titi, you stay here and make sure my mother is OK.”
Titi giggled as Marko and Pelva walked back to the hospital. Stirred by news of Miss Mira’s miracle cure, a throng of villagers had already gathered outside.
“She is here,” came the muffled whispers from the crowd. “The miracle child is here.”
Marko marched with Pelva back to the hospital administrator’s office. His name was Goran Ziranovic and he was a kindly man with a long, spindly goatee.
“Is this the girl?” he asked Marko.
“Yes,” Marko nodded eagerly. “This is the girl. She cured my mother, too. My beautiful mother can now walk!”
“Pelva, I would like to do something for me,” Dr. Ziranovic said, leaning toward her.
“I want you to come with me to room seven. There is a very sick man there.”
Together Marko, Pelva, and Dr. Ziranovic marched down the hallway into room seven, where a gray-skinned elderly man wheezed through his life-support machine.
“Do you see this man?” Dr. Ziranovic asked. “This is Mr. Stankovic, the local librarian. He has Stage Four testicular cancer. We expect him to die in a few days. Miss Pelva, I am going to stand outside with Marko. It will be only you and Mr. Stankovic alone in this room. I would like you to fart your best fart on him. We will treat you to a nice hot breakfast as soon as you are done.”
And fart on him she did. Then Dr. Ziranovic peeled off a large bill, gave it to Marko, and told him to take himself, Pelva, Titi, and his newly ambulatory mother to the local ale house for breakfast. Dr. Ziranovic told them that when they were finished, they were to return to the hospital.
It took two hours for them to finish breakfast—Marko’s mother was a big woman—but as they walked back up toward the hospital, a huge crowd greeted them like local heroes.
“It is her!” went up a shout from the crowd. “It is the miracle girl! It is the girl who can heal the sick by breaking wind!”
Marko helped his mother and the children push through the crowd, up the hospital steps, and into Dr. Ziranovic’s office.
The good doctor was smiling. “It is confirmed! Mr. Stankovic no longer has the cancer! Little Pelva, your body contains miracle gases that can heal the sick!”
Dr. Ziranovic laid out his grand plans to offer Pelva and Titi permanent residence at the hospital if she were willing to share her miracle gases to heal sick townsfolk. They would eat three hot meals a day prepared by the finest Serbian chefs. They would have their own bedrooms and freshly laundered clothes. They could have any toys they wanted. No more begging. No more cold nights sleeping outside as the howling mountain winds crept over their shivering bodies.
As the good doctor spoke, Pelva stared out the office window at the jubilant crowds outside who were pressing their faces against the glass trying to get a peek at the miracle girl. Up until this morning, they all hated her. Now they were willing to beg her to stay, to give her all the things she needed but that they’d always denied her.
“Mister doctor, I would like a moment alone to speak with my brother,” Pelva said quietly.
“Of course, my darling,” Dr. Ziranovic smiled. “Take a walk through the hospital and have a talk with little Titi. Marko and I will be waiting here for you.”
Pelva grabbed Titi’s hand, briskly walked out the office, down the corridor, down a flight of stairs, and out through the hospital’s back entrance.
“We must go now, Titi,” she said to her mute brother once they were outside. “Our bellies are full. We must now leave this evil town. I have a wonderful new talent that I’d like to share with the world. We will find success and happiness, but it must not be in this town that has been so cruel to us.”
And with that they were on their way toward a newer and happier life. With each step, the town of their birth grew smaller in the distance. After the way they’d treated her and her baby brother, she didn’t even feel they were worth farting on.