Chapter 2

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….

CHAPTER TWO

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.

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Sneak Peek

Hello Gorgeous – it’s been a while….

I fancy myself as a bit of  writer.  Actually it has been my lifelong ambition to get published.  I’ve had no luck so far, but I keep on plugging away….

Part of the problem I think is that it takes me so long to get anything finished.  This is partly due to the fact that I have several stories in my head at any one time jostling for attention.  Also sometimes the line between perfectionism and OCD is very hard to distinguish.

What you are about to read is the first chapter of  something I have been writing since 1997.  I am currently about a quarter of the way through the 12th rewrite.  It is a fantasy story for younger readers entitled ‘DAISY AND THE DWARF DRAGON’.

If you like it (and you ask nicely), I might show you the next two chapters as well.

I hope you enjoy it……

CHAPTER ONE

THE MISCHIEF MOON

“Girls are stupid!”

The shrill chatter in the busy tavern was suddenly silenced and all eyes turned to the corner by the door where the gloom was so fond of loitering. Young Tam Norvik relished the reaction that his words provoked, so he repeated them with greater gusto.

“Girls are stupid,” he insisted. “They’re dizzy and weak and they have squeaky voices!”

The landlord of the Worm Tooth Tavern strode forward to confront this outburst of plain speaking. The shoulders ranging about his neck in mountains of brawn eclipsed the murky candlelight. He folded his arms and the boulders of his biceps strained at the stitching on his rolled up shirt sleeves.

“Tam, my dear little brother,” the big man spoke with a promise of doom rumbling through his rockslide voice, “would you mind keeping your noise down? It’s Ladies’ Night, and my customers don’t need to hear that kind of talk with their white wine and bingo. Why don’t you go outside and take some fresh air?”

“Why don’t you go and stick your head in a toilet?” Tam postured back. “It might just cover up the smell of your aftershave.”

Tam’s big brother Jed carried himself with a heroic poise in everything he did, whether he was chatting up the ladies in the pub lounge or rinsing out the spit bowls. He was the kind of man who seemed destined to have his likeness carved into marble someday – although he didn’t look quite as chiselled as he used to. A girdle of flab around his midriff stretched out the fabric of his barman’s apron like bread dough ballooning under a teacloth. The days when he used to dare his mates to punch him in the gut for bar bets were long gone. However, he still had his steel blue eyes, his dimpled chin, his spit curled raven hair and, of course, his shiny silver medal of valour – pinned on him by the king himself, as he never got tired of boasting. So he still managed to win more than his fair share of come-hither glances.

But his most striking feature, the one that really put the ladies in a fluster, was something he had only recently acquired. It was a hook hand fashioned from a genuine dragon’s tooth. It was a flat triangular fang, curved at the point, as broad as a cleaver and longer than a bread knife. There were intricate designs carved all over the surface of this monstrous ivory that served as a faithful record of Jed’s military service: all the battles he had fought, all the dragons he had slain and all the girlfriends he had dumped.

Tam imagined, rightly so, that most people would be quite upset at the loss of a hand, but not so his big brother. He appeared to revel in the fact that his greatest trophy from the war was now a part of his body, and he never missed an opportunity to show off and pose around with it, especially on a night like this with the pub heaving with tipsy war widows. Jed’s favourite party trick was to slice the tops off a line of beer bottles with a single swing of his hook before he poured out the drinks for his fawning female admirers. He had just been on the brink of breaking his record of thirteen bottles in a row when his focus had been flummoxed by Tam’s bold proclamation about feminine intellect.

Besides being good for impressing the ladies, Jed’s hook hand proved quite a versatile appendage when it came to tackling the daily chores at the tavern: Jed could chop wood with it, unblock the loo and slice up meat for the lunchtime sandwiches. But the domestic task to which Jed needed to deploy his hook at this precise moment was the disposal of one obnoxious younger sibling whose big loud mouth was cramping his style.

Jed snagged the boy by the scruff of his shirt and flung him out through the tavern door like a sack of rotten monkey nuts. Tam heard the ladies inside cheer, as he skidded along the pavement on his bottom. He picked himself up and took a moment to mutter something very unflattering about his brother before he skulked away into the night.

 

There was a beautiful bright full moon shining tonight. It was what Tam’s dad used to call the Mischief Moon, because there was plenty of light by which to get up to no good, and yet lots of long shadows to disappear into afterwards. It would have been a terrible waste to let such a perfect night slip by without raising some kind of havoc. So Tam resolved to call on his friends and invite them to join him in his festival mayhem.

In some ways Tam considered himself to be a very lucky boy, because he enjoyed the kind of freedom that his friends could not begin to imagine. Jed was the only responsible adult in the Norvik household, but he was kept busy all hours running the tavern and he had rarely even a moment spare to keep an eye on what his little brother was getting up to. So tonight, as on most nights, Tam was at liberty to do whatever he liked, wherever he wished, as late as he pleased.

Sadly, his friends were not so blessed because they all had mums to watch over them and spoil their fun. Each time Tam stopped at a bedroom window and peppered it with gravel, a little head peeped out to whisper any one of a number of feeble excuses:

“It’s past my bedtime…”

“I have homework to do…”

“My hamster’s got a fever!”

With the last house he visited, Tam found that the friend who lived there was still downstairs, and that gave him hope. He could see the boy through the kitchen window. Tam tapped on the glass. The boy jumped and spilled some of the drink of milk he had just poured.

“What?” The friend sounded annoyed as he poked his nose over the windowsill.

“What do you mean ‘what’?” Tam replied, making sure to sound even more peeved. “It’s playtime! I’m fed up with all this peace and quiet. I need to raise a racket before I go round the twist. So put down that cow juice and let’s go have some fun!”

“I can’t,” the friend frowned. “Not after last time. My mum says if I don’t behave from now on, she’s going to tell my dad as soon as he gets back from the war, and my dad eats dragon giblets for breakfast!”

“Your dad wouldn’t know a giblet from a gerbil,” Tam scoffed. “But I don’t think it’s your dad you’re afraid of, is it? I can see it in your eyes. I know the real reason you won’t come outside. You’re afraid of Daisy Crumb!”

The boy trembled at the utterance of that name. “But she always knows. She always finds out. She’s not natural. They say she’s some kind of witch and she can hear what you’re thinking before you even think it, and she’s got an army of giant spiders that do her bidding…”

“Grow a backbone, you maggot,” Tam snorted in disgust. “She’s got one manky old spider; and she’s not a witch she’s just a stupid girl. We can stand up to one stupid girl!”

“Melvin, who are you talking to in there?” A voice echoed through the half open kitchen door.

“No one, mum. I’m just putting the cat out.” The boy squirmed and closed the window without another word.

“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” Tam yelled, his angry breath fogging up the window pane. “Well fine. Have fun smooching your teddy bear, you big jelly!”

 

Tam marched down the main street, his stride blistering with purpose. He was determined to kick up the biggest hullabaloo this village had ever known. It would be a masterpiece of unparalleled high jinks. There would be panic, there would be outrage, there would be angry letters written to the local newspaper. Things around here would never be the same again once he unleashed…

And that’s where his brain bumped up against a brick wall, because he didn’t really have any clue about what he could unleash. His enthusiasm was boundless, but his imagination was underdeveloped. If only his friends were here. Then he could steal one of their bright ideas and pretend it had been his all along.

This was all that stupid Daisy Crumb’s fault. Tam tried to boot out his frustration on a battered old tankard he found wedged in the gutter. The rattle it made as it rolled over the cobbles did manage to rouse a couple of neighbours from their beds, but this was hardly the bonfire of scandal Tam was hoping to ignite. He used the kicks as punctuations to inspire him as he dreamed up a witty little rhyme. He planned to have it ready to spread around the playground as soon as the summer holidays were over:

“Daisy the Crumb… likes to suck on her thumb… Her face is as foul as an elephant’s…,”

Abruptly, the bounce of the dented metal cup was halted. A tall black pillar of rock stood in the way. Tam froze and he drew a shivering breath as if he’d just been knifed through with an icicle. Deep down Tam had known he would end up here sooner or later, whether he wanted to or not. As sure as a stone sinks to the bottom of a well, he had been drawn down to this place every single night since that horrible night when he had been told that his dad was dead.

A plaque of weathered bronze on the plinth proclaimed its sombre sentiment:

THE BRAVEST BLOOD OF BEDIVALE,
WHOSE SPIRITS SLEEP HEREIN,
WAS SHED IN SELFLESS SACRIFICE
FOR COUNTRY, CROWN AND KIN.
TROPWULD
VILLAGE WAR MEMORIAL

            There were hundreds of names carved across all four faces of the monument. Tam stepped up to the monolith and brushed his thumb softly over one of the newest names to have been etched there:

CAPTAIN HUGO NORVIK
ROYAL HAWKS REGIMENT

            This was all dad had by way of a gravestone. They couldn’t give him a proper burial because they never found his body… there was nothing of him left to find once the dragons had done with him.

Tam stood there quite still for some time, numbed and blind to everything except the cold black stone.

Eventually, his focus wandered away from his dad’s name and to the empty space just beneath. He fished around in his pocket, and the first thing he brought out was a piece of chalk, just a powdery nub he’d lifted from class while teacher’s back was turned. He pressed the chalk against the stone and he scrawled:

Heidi Norvik, my mum.

            This was Tam’s neatest writing yet with no spelling mistakes or anything. He should have been proud of it, but all it did was make him feel more heartsick.

“They’re just going to make me scrub you out in the morning,” he sighed, “same as always. You and dad should be together forever!”

And then Tam surprised himself; because for the very first time, he had a bright idea all of his own. He could almost imagine that his head was glowing in the dark, and there was an odd yet pleasant fizzing sensation as if his skull was brimming to the eye sockets with warm ginger ale. So this was what it felt like to be a great big clever clogs – no wonder Daisy Crumb was always strutting around like she owned the place.

Once more Tam reached into his pocket and this time he retrieved a wad of coarse sacking cloth. He unwrapped it to reveal a small homemade knife. From the way he cradled it, one might have assumed it was a priceless relic; but to look at, it was really quite a shabby thing. The handle was just a scrap of metal snapped from an old cooking pot. Lashed to it with coils of tarred twine was a splinter of a bonelike material as long as Tam’s thumb and as broad as his fingernail, tapering to a needle fine point. It looked so fragile, as if it would shatter against anything tougher than a slice of stale bread. Yet with the merest pressure from the point of this flimsy blade, the granite face of the memorial stone crumbled as though it was no harder than a bar of soap. He traced the blade tip over the chalk marks and transformed them into a permanent inscription.

Tam stood back to admire his handiwork. I long moment passed in silence in which he dwelled on thoughts that were not for sharing. Then he cleared his throat and the down turned corners of his mouth curled up.

“Let’s see them make me scrub that one out!” he said with a sly grin.

The thrill of triumph soon diminished, however, and Tam was left back where he’d started; out on a night full of promise with absolutely nothing to do. He was faced with the very grim prospect of shuffling back home, back to wrinkly bingo wings of the war widows and his brother’s pickled onion aftershave. The very notion made him shudder.

He couldn’t go home now, not with the moon still so bright – the goose bumps on the back of his neck wouldn’t let him. This was a night like no other, he was sure of it. Something magical was going to swoop down and save him from the sinkhole doldrums of his life.

A loud whip crack suddenly ripped through the sultry peace of the late summer night. Tam took it for a crash of thunder at first, but it puzzled him that he had not glimpsed any flicker of lightning, and even he paid enough attention in class to know that you could not have one unless you first had the other.

He looked upward to search for the source of the noise… but the dream light of the moon drew his eye and mesmerised him to the point that he did not blink for a whole minute. If he had blinked, then the dark shape that streaked past the silver coin shine in the sky might have blurred by without him ever knowing it had been there.

He lost track of the object once it passed in front of the clouds that crouched in coal sack heaps along the skyline. However, from the direction of the faint echo of splintering wood, Tam felt sure that he knew precisely where the dark shape had landed.

Excitement quickened in his chest. He splashed through the mud puddles around the village pond as he raced as fast as he could go towards the rickety outline of the old barn. A shooting star had practically fallen into his lap and he was eager to claim his wish come true.

 

Spending all day in a smoke filled pub was not without its drawbacks. Having sprinted all the way from the Memorial Green, Tam was wheezing by the time he reached the barn and he needed an interlude to recover his breath.

Once the coughing had subsided and he was able to stand upright again, Tam nudged the barn door. It wasn’t locked. There were so many holes in this ramshackle building that locking it would have been pointless anyway, even if there was anyone around who still remembered where the keys were.

Tam was familiar with almost each one of those holes in the roof, having been responsible for a fair number of them. So he knew that the big one with the beam of moonlight glimmering through it was brand new. There were strange sounds coming from the shadows behind a pile of broken water barrels, screeching and scratching and flapping that made Tam suspect there might be some kind of large bird trapped back there – perhaps a seagull that had taken a wrong turn.

But then there were other more perplexing sounds: a whip crack like the one Tam had heard outside, except not as resounding. There was a metallic tinkling similar to, but much brighter than, the tinkling of the coins whenever Tam raided Jed’s tip jar for stink bomb money. There were also hints of an uncannily human voice – a voice uttering swearwords, no less. Some of the swears were ones not even Tam had heard before. He made a mental note to look them up later.

Then the stench struck him like a slap in the face with a puke bucket. Anyone else might have been floored senseless by this cloud of foulness. Fortunately, being a little boy, Tam possessed a naturally high tolerance for bad smells, built up over a lifetime of detention stink bombs and being obliged to inhale his brother’s aftershave.

Warily he ventured further in, but his efforts at stealth were confounded each time a floorboard groaned under his tread. The straggly bits of straw that knotted around his muddy boots were no help either, almost tripping him up several times.

Then a deathly silence descended. The thing in the corner stopped moving. Tam also froze where he was, not daring to take a breath, fearing that even the sound of his heartbeat might give him away. It took him a moment or two before he latched on to the fact that his presence in the barn was not the big secret he assumed it to be. To his dawning horror he realised that he had wandered straight into the spotlight of the moon, and the thing squatting darkly in the corner could see him as plain as day!

Tam considered that perhaps he had strayed a little too far out of his depth and maybe it was time to go home to bed. The bingo ladies would still be in the lounge, cackling and flapping like a henhouse riot, and his brother would be dousing himself with his third bottle of cologne of the night. But these notions made Tam’s flesh creep far less than the surge of dread that now clutched at him when he glimpsed those huge unblinking crimson eyes smouldering back at him like hot wounds branded into the dark.

Tam lifted his heel, but his boot was not allowed to move more than half a step backwards before both his ankles were snared by a ropy tendril that whipped his feet out from under him and brought him low, slamming him painfully onto his back.

The tendril rasped as it coiled ever tighter around his feet, threatening to saw all the way through the boot leather and into the flesh. Tam was hauled across the floor, and the great pit of shadow in the corner seemed to gape wide in hungry anticipation.

A frightful grin fractured the dark. Rows of teeth were revealed, cone like and twisted. Tam felt Talons pressing against his cheeks. The spiky nails did not push so hard into his face that they caused the boy any actual pain. Yet in a way this was even more horrible, because Tam had a sense that he was being toyed with, like a trapped mouse before the cat bites its head off.

“Hello. Who do we have here?” Black drool dribbled from the teeth, and a forked tongue licked at the curtains of oily slaver that bubbled with belches of rotten egg breath. “Never mind, I’ll just call you ‘supper’.”

But Tam was not a feeble little rodent (despite what Daisy Crumb might have people believe). He was far from defenceless… although he was a bit slow, and he only remembered that he was still holding his treasured homemade knife when he felt the sting in his palm from gripping the handle too tightly.

He lashed out with his blade. It struck something flinty and threw out a spray of sparks that briefly illuminated the hideous shape cringing behind what appeared to be a pair of huge yellow batwings.

“No, please don’t hurt me,” the thing snivelled. “I wasn’t really going to eat you. I was just fooling around. Can’t you take a joke?”

“Stay away from me!” Tam warned. He found his feet again and backed away towards the barn door, making sure to keep the knife in plain sight. “See this? It’s a dragon bone knife. My dad gave it to me. It can slice through metal, chop through stone and even make a dent in my big brother’s shepherd’s pie. So it’ll carve you into dog food no problem, mate. You’re messing with a Norvik boy, and we kill monsters!”

“There’s no need to be so pugnacious, young man,” said the thing, attempting a light-hearted chortle. “We’ve just got off on the wrong foot, that’s all. I’m just a harmless traveller passing through. I’ll be on my way now.”

“Not so fast.” Feeling a bit bolder, Tam halted his backwards progress and instead advanced on the creature; partly to intimidate, but also because his fear had now given way to curiosity and he wanted to get a closer look.

“You’re no traveller,” Tam challenged. “Who are you really?” Then he paused and rephrased his question. “What are you?”

The thing was whimpering in the grey area between the shelter of the barrels and the glare of the moonlight, so Tam couldn’t see the whole of it; but he could see enough to know that even though it could speak the human language perfectly, by no stretch could it be described as a man.

Tam estimated that the creature was slightly taller than he was – at least it would have been if it wasn’t cowering so pathetically. The whipping tendril turned out to be a long thin tail covered with rough scales and thorny spikes. One of the creature’s two wings was raised like a shield to hide much of the rest of its body. At the wrist joint there was a vestige of a hand from which two long fingers and a thumb protruded. They bore the vicious talons that had threatened to shred Tam’s face only a moment ago. There were three more much longer fingers that stretched out and twisted like gnarled old branches. In between these digits there hung tattered membranes of leathery mustard skin. If this really was one of a pair of wings, then they were so ragged that Tam had a hard time believing they could carry this thing very far at all… Maybe that was why it had crashed in the first place.

The creature peered over the top of its wing and blinked at the boy, not quite pulling off the soulful puppy dog look it was clearly aiming for. “All right,” it sighed. “You’ve caught me out. I confess. I’m not really a traveller. What I am in actual fact is… a fairy.”

“Do me a lemon!” Tam sneered. “You don’t look like any fairy I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh?” said the creature, lowering its wing a little more. “And how many real fairies have you actually seen?”

“Um… well, none,” Tam admitted.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” the creature said graciously. “You’re ignorance is entirely natural. You see we fairy folk are keenly bashful. For centuries we have been putting about the myth that we are frilly little things that flit about on butterfly wings. That way, if we do get spotted, people don’t recognise us for what we are and that stops them from pestering us for wishes…”

Tam immediately lowered his blade. “Wishes?” he gasped. “You grant wishes?”

“Oh dear,” the fairy groaned. “Me and my big mouth. All right, for a plucky young chap such as you, I shall make an exception just this once; as long as you promise not to tell another living soul.”

“Oh I swear,” Tam declared, earnestly crossing his heart. “Not a word to anyone!”

The fairy lowered its wing further until its teeth were visible again, grinning so broadly now that the corners of its mouth almost met at the back of its head. “So tell me my boy, what are your greatest heart’s desires?”

“Gold!” Tam said without hesitation. “Lots of gold! A barn full of gold… No, wait… a barn made of gold. Turn this barn into gold!”

“Steady on there,” said the fairy creature. “My powers are a bit shaky right now; I’ve just crashed though a roof, remember? We’ll come back to that later… but for now, how’s this for starters?”

Tam flinched with fright when the creature stretched out its claws towards his ear. The boy made a motion to brandish his knife again, but the motion of the fairy’s hand was magically swift. Before Tam could lift the blade to elbow height, he was dazzled by the sparkle of something round and yellow and shiny.

It was two inches across and looked like something he was more accustomed to pilfering from a sweet shop. But when he snatched from the creature’s claw and felt the weight of it in his own hand, Tam realised that this was no foil covered chocolate treat. This was real, honest to goodness gold.

“According to tradition, you have two more wishes left. Do you know what you’d like, or would you prefer a little time to think about it?”

Tam stashed the gold away in his pocket and he started to speak, “Can you…?” but he stumbled on his words.

There was a wish his heart desired to be made true more dearly than anything in the world – but he didn’t know if he dared breathe it out for fear that the answer would most likely be ‘no’.

“Go on,” the creature encouraged him gently. “Don’t be afraid. You can tell me anything; I’m your friend.”

Tam suppressed a shiver. “Could you make my mummy and daddy alive again?”

The creature tilted its head and looked sideways at the boy. “Possibly… but I may need a bit of time for that one. Is there anything else?”

Then Tam remembered his third greatest heart’s desire:

“What if I wish for revenge?”

The fairy rattled its thorny tail. “Then my boy, you and I can do business.” Somehow that smile found space to grow even wider, appearing to expand into the very air surrounding it. “Who would you like me to punish?”

“Daisy Crumb!” Tam spat out the name as if it were a grubby little fly that had buzzed into his teeth. “She’s made my life a misery. She thinks she’s the dog’s conkers just because her dad’s the chief of police.”

“And where is her dad right now?” the fairy asked.

“Oh he’s far away at the edge of the world fighting in the war. He’s a captain in the king’s army as well as being the chief of police. He’s a bit famous, actually. He’s killed a lot of dragons.”

“Has he indeed…?” the fairy looked thoughtful as it stroked the spike of bristles that protruded beardlike from its chin.

“My brother’s killed a lot of dragons too,” Tam said, keen to underline that Daisy’s dad was nothing special. “He’s got a medal, a big silver one! I’m going to kill some dragons as well when I’m old enough, get them back for what they did to dad – that is if the war’s still going on by then. They’re saying it might all be over by the end of the year; most of the monsters are either dead or pushed back into the fire. It’d be just my luck to miss out on all the fun…”

“Tell me more about this Daisy Crumb person,” the fairy said, refocusing the conversation.

“Well, she’s a girl!” Tam declared, as if this one fact alone should be enough to get Daisy tried, convicted and hanged.

“My word,” the fairy gasped.

“She’s a busybody, always poking in her freckly nose where it doesn’t belong,” Tam complained. “And she’s always getting patted on the head for it. And now they’ve only gone and made her a bloomin’ constable. A girl copper of all things! Can you believe that?”

“Scandalous,” the fairy shook its head.

“Yes, yes it is” said Tam, his heart lifting as he unburdened himself. “And that’s not even the half of it…”

For the next hour or so, Tam sat and ran through the great litany of sorrows that Daisy Crumb had brought into his life. His fairy friend sat patiently and listened, slotting in a kindly murmur of “Oh dear,” or “How terrible,” whenever the boy paused for breath. However, when talk turned to the subject of Daisy’s pet, the creature grew noticeably ill at ease.

“A spider, you say?” the fairy stammered.

“A tarantula,” Tam confirmed, “a great big hairy one with red knees. Daisy calls it Glenda. That’s a stupid name for a pet, don’t you think? And it’s a stupid thing to have as a pet too – but then what else can you expect from a stupid girl?”

“I quite agree,” the fairy nodded. “You are a very shrewd young fellow to see this Daisy person and her creepy-crawly for what they really are. From what you’ve told me, these pompous frauds are well overdue for a lesson in humility.”

“Great, let’s get started,” Tam bounced with enthusiasm.

“We’ll get started in the morning,” said the fairy. “It’s getting rather late, don’t you think?”

“I’m not tired,” Tam said brightly.

“Well as it happens, I am quite exhausted,” the fairy told him.

“Oh,” said Tam. “All right then. I’ll be back here bright and early in the morning.”

“Not too early,” said the fairy. “Oh, and be a good lad and bring me some breakfast, would you? My magical powers should be back to something like their best once I’ve got a hearty meal inside me.”

“No problem,” Tam beamed. “I’ll sneak out a couple of boiled eggs when my brother’s back is turned…”

“Meat,” the fairy said. “I like meat – preferably raw.” The fairy creature playfully tousled the boy’s hair. “Now, no more dawdling, you little scamp; off home with you and straight to bed. You’re going to need all the sleep you can get. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”

Tam skipped all the way back home. It was a bit of a girly thing to do, but there was no one watching, and he felt that on this one occasion he was entitled to indulge himself. His heart swelled with a certainty that after tonight, things in this village really would never be the same again. His magical new friend from the Mischief Moon was going to make sure of that.