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Authors: Edward Eager

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BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
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"What country
is
it, do you suppose?" she said. "It can't be Oz, or it'd be all blue or yellow or red or purple or with emeralds."

"I don't care for the look of it," said Mrs. Funkhouser, joining her at the window. "It's not a convenient neighborhood. There's no supermarket. I want to go home."

"It's too late," said Barnaby, peering over their shoulders. "We're landing."

The meadows and caves were suddenly rushing nearer, and a crowd of people could be seen below, staring upwards.

John joined the watchers at the window. Susan and the round gentleman hung back, but a second later they went sliding along the floor. The combined weight of the others proved too much for the house's balance, and it slowly tilted, then tipped forward on its face. All the people fell on top of all the
other
people, and all the cats and kittens fell furrily and fussily and waulingly and scratchingly on top of
them.
The smallest kitten would have fallen right through the window, but Barnaby caught it in time.

"Everybody back!" he cried. "Distribute your weight or we'll crash!"

The others climbed up the slanty floor and placed themselves about the room till the house righted itself, and not a second too soon. There was a slight jar. Then all was still, but only for a moment. Following the jar came a roaring sound from without.

"The dragon!" cried Abbie in alarm.

"No," said Barnaby. "It's people, and I think they're cheering."

"Come on," said John. And he and Barnaby and Susan and Abbie and the round gentleman made their way out of the house.

Outside was a primrosey meadow, with an old-fashioned-looking village in the background. A crowd of peasants stood nearby. You could tell they were peasants by their peasant costumes. When they spoke, they spoke peasant, too.

"Hooray, hooray!" they said. "Be you come to kill the dragon and save us all?"

"Why, yes," said Barnaby. "At least I hope so."

The leader of the peasants came nearer and looked them over. "Well," he said, "leastways you be a change. Mostly we get princes. Mostly they come by horse, not house. Mostly they don't kill it, neither. Mostly they get et."

"
We
won't," said Abbie, hoping that she spoke the truth. "We brought our magic. We brought a wizard, too!"

"Magician, please," corrected the round gentleman.

The first peasant looked at him. Then he looked beyond him. "You'm brought a witch, too, seems like."

The four children followed his gaze. Mrs. Funkhouser was just emerging from the house. So were the cats. But the cats' nerves had been rudely shocked by the tilting and tipping of the house, and they were still arching their backs and hissing. Some of the more maddened ones were climbing up Mrs. Funkhouser's dress and clawing at her hair. To say that as a group they presented a witchlike aspect would be putting it mildly.

But Mrs. Funkhouser had heard the peasant's comment and resented it. "I," she told him, "am a respectable woman."

The peasant nodded. "Good," he said. "You be a
good
witch, then. That's the best kind."

"And now," said Barnaby, trying to sound more courageous than he felt, "lead us to your dragon."

"It be right there," said the peasant.

"Where?" said all four children, jumping.

"There, in the lair," said the peasant, pointing.

The four children looked where he pointed. Beyond the house was a cave in the rock that they hadn't noticed before. A huffing sound of breathing came from within, and with each huff a puff of purple smoke issued from the cavern's mouth.

"He sounds awfully
relaxed
," said Susan. "Do you suppose he's eaten her already?"

"No," said the first peasant, "he hain't. He feeds prompt at noon. 'Tis the custom."

"Mornings he goes a-hunting," said a second peasant. "All among the local maidens. 'Tis a curse on us."

"One a day he eats," said a third, "till the hero comes who'll kill the beast and rule the country. 'Tis the prophecy."

"Not many maidens left by now," said a fourth peasant. "Seems like the race may die out afore
he
does. 'Tis a problem."

"Today's maiden makes no never-minds, though," said a fifth. "'Tis a stranger."

"Nobody we know," agreed a sixth.

"So
that's
all right," said the seventh (and last) peasant.

Abbie turned on the crowd of peasants indignantly. "It is
not
all right!" she cried. "She is
not
a stranger! She's my little sister!" And before Barnaby could stop her, she ran to the mouth of the cave. "Fredericka!" she called wildly.

Within the lair Fredericka heard her sister's voice and struggled in the dragon's grip. "Help!" she called back.

"Hush now," said the dragon fussily, bending over her. "I never like it when folks scream. Spoils the taste going down and upsets my digestion, later."

"It
does?
" said Fredericka, considerably encouraged. And she screamed again, even louder.

"What a horrible sound! It must be eating her
now!
" cried Susan, holding her ears.

"No," said the first peasant, "it hain't. It feeds prompt at noon, and it feeds in public, to scarify us."

John looked at his watch. "It's three minutes to twelve," he said.

"We've got to do something fast," said Barnaby, turning to the round gentleman.

"Oh dear," said the round gentleman. "Now the time has come, I don't believe I
can
!"

But a new voice was heard. "Shame on you, Mr. Oswaldo," it said. "The one time your pesky magic might be some use, don't you
dare
back out!"

Everyone turned in surprise. It was Mrs. Funkhouser. Apparently beneath her cross exterior she had hidden depths, and Fredericka's cries had plumbed them.

"You save that little girl," she said now, "or take a week's notice from Tuesday!"

"Well, I'll
try,
" said the round gentleman, "but I doubt if I'll be much help."

"Of course you will," said Susan encouragingly. "It stands to reason. The book wouldn't have brought you in, otherwise. Or you, either," she added, turning to Mrs. Funkhouser.

Mrs. Funkhouser gave her a sharp look. "What book would that be?"

Susan looked at Barnaby, and Barnaby gave a little nod. "Well, you see we have this magic book," said Susan.

"We're not sure yet just how it works," said John.

"But it more or less began the whole thing," said Barnaby.

"Let me see it," said Mrs. Funkhouser and the round gentleman, both speaking at once.

Susan started to answer. But at that moment the steeple bells in the nearby village chimed noon, and the dragon emerged from its lair. And her words were drowned in a gasp.

The children had had only a fleeting glimpse of the dragon before. Now as it paraded up and down, displaying itself to the crowd, they saw its scaly scarlet sides and its hideous hungry jaws and its calamitous wreathing tail, and their hearts sank.

"Don't just stand there.
Do
something!" Fredericka called to her friends and relations, from the dragon's grasp.

Susan roused herself. "I will," she said. And she handed the book to the round gentleman.

If you have understood about the book so far, you will know that for each person its power was different, because to each person it was the particular book that person had always longed to find.

So that while for the five children it was a magic story with them
in
it, for the round gentleman it was something else again.

"
'Wishful Ways for Wizards
!'" he read, from the title page. "Why, this is wonderful! If I'd had this when I was in vaudeville, I needn't have retired in the first place!" He turned the book's pages, sampling its contents. "'How to Turn Day to Night,' 'How to Tell Chalk from Cheese,' 'One Hundred Easy Card Tricks'!" he read.

"Don't just
skim
! Find the right place!" called the captive Fredericka.

"To be sure," said the round gentleman shamefacedly. "I was forgetting. 'How to Shrink a Dragon.' I'm sure I saw it here somewhere. Now
where...?
" He leafed through the pages.

"Oh, for pity's sake let me!" said Mrs. Funkhouser, taking the book from him. But of course once in her housewifely hands, the book was a book of another color.

"
'Helpful Hints for Homemakers
,'" she read. "'You take your skillet...'"

The dragon, annoyed at this interruption, glared in her direction, and its gaze fell upon the book's title.

"That isn't what it says," said the dragon. "It says, '
Dreadful Deeds for Dragons
.' And I want it!" It set Fredericka down, keeping one claw on her for safekeeping, and stretched its other claw toward Mrs. Funkhouser.

"Don't look at
me,
you nasty creature, don't!" said Mrs. Funkhouser, snatching the book away. "Oh, you would, would you?" she added, as the dragon shot out an angry tongue of flame and a cloud of smoke. She consulted the book. "'To put out an oven fire, use salt,'" she read. "That ought to do it. Fetch the salt, somebody."

John ran into the house.

"Stop interfering," said the dragon. "Do I have to eat you, too? Oh, very well!" And it opened its cavernous mouth.

Then it hesitated. Mrs. Funkhouser looked as if she would be all gristle. Fredericka undoubtedly would prove more toothsome. Should he save her till last or eat her first, as an appetizer?

But he who hesitates is often lost.

While the dragon was making up its mind, John came running out of the house with the salt box, and Mrs. Funkhouser shook it full in the dragon's face.

There was a hissing sound, and the dragon's fire went out.

I have heard it said that when a dragon's fire is put out, the dragon is rendered harmless. This is not true. Because what / say is, what about the teeth? They would still be there, fire or no fire. In this case they were, and the dragon now showed all of them in a snarl of fury.

At the same time, having its fire put out hurts a dragon's pride and lowers it in its own esteem. And since a dragon's belief in itself is part of a dragon's power, it is lowered in the public eye, also. In this case by about ten feet. It had been a forty-foot dragon to start with; so the change made quite a difference.

The crowd cheered.

The dragon trembled with rage and frustration and snapped at Mrs. Funkhouser. But it was not yet used to its new size, and its coordination was poor. So was its aim.

"Bite
me,
would you?" said Mrs. Funkhouser, dodging it easily. She consulted the book again. "'For bites, stings, et cetera, use household ammonia,'" she read.

Barnaby did not wait to be asked but went rushing into the house.

"This is undignified," said the dragon. "Either get a sword and fight me properly, or withdraw from the combat!"

Mrs. Funkhouser did not deign to answer. Barnaby was back by now with the bottle from under the sink, and she took it from him and emptied it in the general direction of the dragon.

The dragon sneezed and sputtered and coughed. Otherwise, it was not physically hurt. Its hurt went deeper. To be salted and ammoniaed by a domestic housewife is humiliating to a dragon and makes it feel small.

And when a dragon feels small, it
is.

Small, however, is a relative term, which means that it can mean many things. A small lion is bigger than a large flea.

As for a small dragon, it is about the size of a large dog. And such now proved to be the case.

The crowd cheered again.

"This is monstrous," said the dragon, looking over its shoulder to see what size it was
this
time. "You are breaking
all
the rules. St. George would have shown more consideration!"

"My turn now!" cried the round gentleman, dancing up and down with impatience and trying to catch a look at the book. "'To Shrink a Dragon'—I know I saw it somewhere..."

But the next turn proved to be the cats'.

 

When the dragon had first come out of its lair, all the cats and kittens had hidden behind Mrs. Funkhouser's skirts. Now, as the fumes from the ammonia reached their sensitive nostrils, they said "Pig-whiff!", put back their ears, and peered out.

What they saw seemed to be a large (and unusually ugly) dog at bay. As such, it was fair game for taunting. The cats had already had an extremely nerve-wracking morning, and they were in no gentle mood.

They stalked forth, lashing their tails.

You may have heard that an elephant is afraid of a mouse. With dragons and cats it is very much the same. I think it has to do with claws and scales. The one might so easily scratch off the other. You may have noticed your own cat with your mother's nylon stockings. It is the same principle.

The dragon saw the cats coming and shrank in fear. And once it started shrinking, it couldn't seem to stop.

It shrank from the size of a large collie to the size of a medium-sized poodle. The cats stood around it in a circle, glaring and spitting. The dragon took one look at them and shrank in fear again.

BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
6.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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