The following is the second chapter of my book ‘Daisy and the Dwarf Dragon’ in which I introduce the main character, a girl named Daisy Crumb.
More chapters may follow – meanwhile you can read the first chapter HERE….
TWO BITES OF TOAST
Daisy Crumb wore her chestnut hair very short these days. It was a radical change of image that had almost flabbergasted her mum into a fit the first time she saw it. However, as Daisy explained on that day when she returned from her first ever solo trip to hairdresser (once her mum had stopped hyperventilating), the three-foot-long pigtails that she used to wear simply didn’t look right on a volunteer police constable. Her new summer job required a hairdo that commanded respect.
Daisy was sitting at the kitchen table in her small but cosy cottage home. She had a triangle of buttered toast with a single bite taken out of it going cold in her right hand while her attention was focused on the newspaper she held folded in her left hand. She felt a tickle on her ear, but she was so engrossed in what she was reading that she ignored it at first, not even bothering to scratch her earlobe. She felt the tickle once more, and this time she glanced round to see eight gigantic hairy spider legs. A red kneed tarantula the size of a hand was perched on her shoulder!
Yet Daisy’s reaction to such a sight was not what might be expected. She did not scream. She did not leap from her chair and attempt to use her folded up newspaper as a club to bash the creepy-crawly into the floor tiles. Instead Daisy just smiled and offered the spider some breakfast.
“Hello Glenda, old girl. Would you like a bite of my toast?”
“No thank you,” the spider replied. “I’ve just noshed on a daddy longlegs… and not so much of the ‘old girl’ if you please. I’m fourteen; that’s just one year older than you are.”
“Yes, but fourteen is something like a hundred in spider years, isn’t it?” said Daisy, completing a quick calculation in her head.
To anyone who didn’t know better, it sounded as if Glenda was doing nothing more than clicking her fangs together. But these sounds were in fact a very sophisticated language that the spiders had created specially as a way to speak with their human friends on the battlefield. Daisy, being the daughter of a renowned army officer, could understand everything her spider friend was saying, and not only the words but also the subtle notes of emotion behind those words. So Daisy could tell that right now Glenda was somewhat miffed at having the subject of her age spoken about so flippantly.
“So what are we reading then?” Glenda said, sounding a bit brittle.
“Just the newspaper,” Daisy replied.
Glenda crawled down to Daisy’s elbow to get a closer look at what was on the page that had her friend so absorbed. “Battlefield Casualty Reports… Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer the cartoon page?”
“I’m just catching up on news,” said Daisy.
“News about your dad?” Glenda asked.
“Just news,” Daisy repeated.
“But mostly news about your dad,” Glenda said again. “I’ve already looked it over, love; there’s nothing in there.”
“These reports are a month old,” Daisy said with a wrinkle in her brow. “And it’s been two months since we last had any word from dad.”
“Well, he’s most likely got a lot on his plate right now,” Glenda reasoned. “You know, what with fire breathing monsters and mountains of boiling lava. Or maybe he’s just having a hard time picking out a postcard he likes.”
“Two months is a long time…” Daisy spoke with a flat voice the way she often did when her emotions were bubbling and she wanted to put a lid on them. “On the battlefield, two minutes can mean life or…”
“Stop it,” Glenda reproached. “I’ve told you before; you’ll make yourself ill fretting like that. You’re dad is coming home very soon. I can feel it in my exoskeleton. He is VERY good at his job. Trust me, I know; I was his battle companion from the first day he joined the army… right up to the day they forced me to retire.”
Oh dear. Daisy could tell where this was headed.
“Ninety-nine!” Glenda exclaimed. “I killed ninety-nine dragons. Do you know what an incredible achievement that is?”
“Yes, I do,” Daisy said patiently. “You’ve told me many, many, many…”
“One more kill and I would have been inducted into the spider Legion of Honour,” Glenda rattled on. “I would have had a platinum pension, a lovely big spider web in the country and all the bluebottles I could eat. It’s just not fair. I didn’t need to retire, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m as fit today as I’ve ever been. It’s just those stupid pen pushers and their rules! They could at least have given me a few more days, let me have a shot at getting my hundred. Instead I’m stuck here babysitting you.”
“Oh, well thank very much, Glenda; I love you too,” Daisy said, finding that it was her turn now to have her feelings hurt.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Glenda clicked with contrition. “You know you mean the world to me. It’s just that I was so close. And I certainly don’t know of any humans who ever killed even half as many dragons as I have. Yet they still get medals and awards and whatnots. At the bare minimum they could have given me an honorary mention – maybe a nice certificate to hang on the wall, but noooo! It’s prejudice, that’s what it is; pure and simple.”
Daisy looked surprised at this statement. “Is that what you really think?”
“Oh without a doubt,” Glenda stated. “They’re all jealous of me because I’m just too damned beautiful.”
Daisy spluttered into her tea and choked on a chuckle.
“Easy now,” said the spider. “Don’t get any tea stains on that tunic; it’s a borrowed item.”
Glenda then heaved the arachnid equivalent of a wistful sigh. “Oh well, I can’t dangle around here moping all morning. I’ve got work to do. I’ll see you at the station. Put that newspaper down and finish your toast.”
She twirled down from the table on a strand of web. As she lowered herself to the floor, the gold star that was painted on the back of her abdomen was kissed with a marmalade glow by the morning sunshine sparkling in through the kitchen window.
Glenda scuttled across the stone tiles towards the spider flap in the door. On the way she brushed past a slipper. The foot inside that slipper recoiled, and the person attached to the foot reacted precisely in the way one would expect a person to react at the sight of spider the size of a hand.
“EEEEEEEK!” Daisy’s mum teetered on her heels. She hurled the metal spatula she had in her hand and it only just missed Glenda as she disappeared through the flap.
“Daisy! For pity’s sake, if we must have that ghastly thing in the house, the least you could do is keep it on a leash!”
“I can’t do that, mum,” Daisy responded, taking a second bite from her toast. “Glenda’s the acting Chief of Police. Until dad gets back she’s my boss.”
“Well then keep it out of my kitchen,” Mrs. Crumb simmered. “Otherwise the next time you see her she’ll be stuck to the bottom of my frying pan.”
“Mum, you can’t threaten a police officer,” Daisy rebuked. “I could arrest you for that.”
“It wasn’t a threat,” said Mrs. Crumb. “I am merely pointing out that accidents can and will eventually happen. Now shut up and finish your toast.”
Daisy’s mum was always busy, always moving. Sleeves rolled up, hair pinned back, bustling along like a starched white whirlwind. She was an inch shorter than Daisy – a fact that each of them had just started to notice very recently, but neither of them had remarked on it yet. Mrs. Crumb had always been a petite and wiry lady, but anyone who mistook her for some frail and timid little housewife would very quickly learn to regret such an assumption.
She had a saintly heart but her mood was prone to turn grouchy, especially in the mornings and especially ever since Daisy had started her new summer job. She cleared away the plate that held a second triangle of toast which had cooled beyond the point of being edible, and she replaced it with two more triangles fresh from the grill with curls of creamy butter melting into them. Then she muttered the same question she had muttered each morning for the past three weeks:
“Why did you have to go and join the police force?” Mrs. Crumb refilled Daisy’s teacup and wiped up the overspill before it even had time to dampen the grain in table top. “Don’t I have enough grey hairs from worrying about your dad all the time? I don’t need anymore from you! Why can’t you get a nice safe summer job? I’ve just heard that Mrs. Paston up the road is looking for a new child-minder. You could go and work for her.”
Daisy peered over the top her newspaper and angled an eyebrow. “And what makes you think that babysitting the Paston twins would be any less dangerous than rugby tackling a twenty stone burglar? Besides, it’s not as if we’re living in the capital city of crime here; the most dangerous thing in this village is the shepherd’s pie at the pub.”
Mrs. Crumb turned to the washing up in the sink. “Well I’m just saying. At least you get paid for babysitting. What kind of a job is ‘volunteer’ constable anyway? You risk your life and you don’t even get compensated…” And she continued to grumble in that vein amongst the clatter and splash of plates and suds.
Daisy did not comment further. She understood that mum needed to let off a bit of steam from time to time.
“Well, I’d best be off.”
Daisy put down her half eaten toast and stood up to get her lunch bag. She paused at the mirror by the coat stand to check that that her uniform jacket was free of creases and that the silver star and brass buttons she had stayed up half the night polishing were smudge free. The tunic was the smallest size that could be found in the station cupboard; but it was made to fit a man so it was still too big for her. The hem reached all the way down to her knees. Mum had done her best to shorten the sleeves, but as this was a borrowed item and would need to be returned at some point, no permanent alterations were allowed.
In the old days is wasn’t unusual for Daisy to be rooted in front of this mirror for half the morning, almost a prisoner of her own reflection as she tried to tame her unruly tresses with ribbons and hairpins. Now, ever since the clippers had done their work, all she needed was a quick run through with a comb. It was bliss.
Within minutes she was all set to go, but then she hesitated. She felt compelled to return to the mirror and examine her reflection once again. Perhaps the sunlight was glancing off at an odd angle, but it seemed as if the crease in the middle of her brow was still there, even though she had stopped frowning some moments ago. This couldn’t be; she was too young for wrinkles!
She tried to make her expression as neutral as she could and rubbed a moistened finger across her forehead. The sunlight was muted slightly by a small cloud that drifted by and the crease disappeared, leaving Daisy to wonder if she really had seen what she’d thought she’d seen. She decided in the end that it was probably just a stray eyelash. She needed to get going; she could not to be late.
“I’ll see you later mum,” Daisy called back from the doorway. “Do you need me to pick up anything from the shops on the way home?”
Mrs. Crumb said nothing. She simply stood motionless with her shoulders hunched over the sink.
“Mum?” Daisy said with concern, stepping back indoors.
Mrs. Crumb turned round. Her lower lip was wobbling.
“Uh-oh,” Daisy muttered.
“Please don’t go,” Mrs. Crumb cried and she threw her arms around her daughter, clutching her close. “Stay home today,” she beseeched, “just for today. I have a terrible feeling about today.”
“You have a terrible feeling about every day,” said Daisy.
“Every day you’re out there on the streets with hoodlums and cutthroats is a terrible day – but today feels especially bad. Something monstrous will happen if you go out today – I’m convinced of it.”
“Mum please,” Daisy implored. “You need to calm down; you’re getting soap suds on my epaulettes.”
“I can’t help it,” Mrs. Crumb said, nearly sobbing. “You’re my baby, my treasure, my one and only snugly bear.”
“Mum…” Daisy squirmed and tried to prise herself out from the soggy embrace. “I’m not wandering off on a perilous quest to the edge of the world; I’m just going round the corner. Please let go, because if I have to go shuffling down the street with you clinging to my leg people will stare.”
At last Mrs. Crumb relinquished her grip and she dabbed at her eyes with a corner of her apron. “All right… I understand. You’re growing up and sooner or later every little chick must leave the nest.”
Daisy rolled her eyes.
“But before you flutter away and leave me bereft, please do me one small favour; take this with you.”
Mrs Crumb went to retrieve something from the pantry, and when she returned Daisy was astonished to find a sword being placed into her hands.
“Mum!” Daisy gasped. “Did you jimmy open dad’s weapons closet?”
“‘Jimmy’ is not a word for ladies, Daisy,” mum replied coolly. “You see, this is what happens when you spend all your time mingling with criminal elements.”
“Don’t dodge the subject,” said Daisy. “Oh good grief, you’ve only gone and sharpened it too.”
“Wore out three stones from the rockery,” said Mrs Crumb with conspicuous pride. “Took me most of the night to get a decent edge on it.”
“So that’s what the scraping sound was,” Daisy reflected. “I thought we had mice.”
“We did have mice, but your creepy friend ate them all,” Mrs Crumb mumbled.
Daisy handed the blade back. “I can’t take this.” .
“But you need something to defend yourself,” Mrs Crumb insisted.
“I am not going to roam the streets armed with a lethal weapon,” Daisy put her foot down. “Take this back where it belongs.”
“All right.” Mrs Crumb’s shoulders drooped in apparent resignation – yet Daisy could tell she wasn’t going to get away that easily.
“But if you won’t take a sword with you, how about carrying this instead?” The substitute presented to Daisy was her own hockey stick.
“Mum…” Daisy shook her head with a weary groan.
“I know you’ve had your heart set on a truncheon, but I think this is much better. If any ruffian tries to manhandle you, just crack him one right across the bean.” Mrs. Crumb swished the stick through the air with unsettling enthusiasm. “Maybe a sharp jab in the dingle-dangles too for good measure…”
“Mum, what you are describing is grievous bodily harm,” Daisy sighed, “and I’m supposed to prevent that kind of thing.”
“Please just take it,” Mrs. Crumb said her eyes wide with pleading. “It will make me feel better.”
Daisy could spare neither the time nor the energy to argue, so she went ahead and took the hockey stick. She had practice in the afternoon anyway.