Floris Books challenged me to write a very short story about what Molly would be doing on Christmas Day, for their blog, and I wrote exactly 70 words which ended on a cliffhanger, but then I wanted to know what happened next. So, here is what happens next!
(I’ve written it quite fast, just as I saw it happen in my head, and I’m currently working very hard on edits of Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away, so I haven’t spent much time tidying this little tale. If you notice any silly mistakes, my apologies!)
Pawprints in the Snow
Molly’s paws make tiny dents on the crust of last night’s snow.
She had wished for a white Christmas, hoping to test her hare-speed on a new surface. She hadn’t wished for the beast behind her. The creature she’d found chewing her stocking this morning.
Now Molly hears heavy breathing and heavier feet. It’s catching up.
She feels hot breath on her neck; snow melts to water under her paws…
Molly leaps to the left, and her paws are back on cold crusty snow. She sprints and zig zags across the rugby pitch, trying to escape the heat and the heaviness, the flames and the fangs.
The noise of the feet falters, and stops.
But Molly can’t stop running, because now she can hear flapping above her. Her wide hare vision shows that her pursuer has lumbered into the air and is swooping down towards her.
Speed isn’t enough to beat this beast. Dodging and ducking won’t work either, if it can hover above her.
How can she beat a predator that can run and fly and melt the snow under her?
Molly sprints and leaps and sprints again, hoping to confuse it, hoping to escape its long claws and hot breath.
She was getting used to magic and monsters in the wild lands of the north, but she didn’t expect them to follow her south to the sensible streets of Edinburgh.
She especially didn’t expect to find a monster in her living room, chewing the end of her Christmas stocking.
When she walked into the living room, her first thought had been – don’t you dare eat my chocolate coins! Her second thought had been – I don’t want mum and dad to see this, and I don’t want this to see mum and dad. Her third thought had been – RUN! So she flung open the back door and shifted into a hare in one practised move.
It wasn’t until she was running down the back garden, drawing the beast away from both her chocolate coins and her parents, that she finally thought –
What’s a dragon doing in my living room?
But now, Molly wishes she’d found somewhere small to hide rather than somewhere wide to run. She’s circling and dodging and zigging and zagging across the school’s rugby field, and the dragon is swooping and diving and soaring above her.
But, so far, it’s not roasting her or biting her.
Molly realises it’s not a very big dragon. It seemed huge in the living room, but compared to the wyrm she’d met in Speyside in October, it’s really quite small.
Perhaps she could fight it off.
Not as a hare. Hares can only run and punch. As a girl. Girls can wield weapons.
So she runs for the nearest fence, dives between the black iron railings, and becomes a girl again as she skids along the icy ground.
That’s when she realises she’s still wearing her pyjamas, and rabbit-printed cotton doesn’t give much protection against ice or snow. Or dragons.
She leaps to her feet, grabs a long forked stick from the snowy ground and waves it at the pursuing dragon.
Who is no longer pursuing.
The golden dragon is perched on the tall spiked fence, back feet gripping the rail along the top, front feet tucked up almost like a squirrel’s paws. The metal fence is bending slightly under the dragon’s weight.
Molly shouts “Go away!” and waves her stick.
The dragon is the size of a lion, or a tiger. Much bigger than a dog, slightly smaller than a horse. Definitely smaller than the wyrm Molly chatted to in October. So Molly waves her stick again. “Go away!”
The dragon’s shoulders sag and its long spiky tail droops.
Then the dragon falls clumsily backwards off the fence, lands on the rugby pitch, and blasts a long line of flame from its mouth.
Molly backs off, planning to run the long way home, lock all the doors, and find the fire extinguisher from the kitchen.
But then she sees what the dragon is doing with the flame. The long thin precise flame is melting shapes in the snow that Molly had marked with her zig zag line of paw prints. The dragon is writing words in the snow.
HELP, CURSE-BREAKER, HELP ME
Molly doesn’t run away. She leans over the fence and asks, “You want me to help you?”
The dragon nods, and perks up a bit, its golden tail wagging like a retriever’s. Then it swoops low along the edge of the rugby pitch, melting the snow with a long pen-like line of flame.
HELP ME BREAK MY CURSE. CURSED BY ANGRY WITCH – IF I BURN ANYTHING ELSE THIS YEAR, I WILL BURST INTO FLAMES MYSELF, TURN TO SMOKE & BLOW AWAY IN THE WIND
Molly walks beside the fence, reading the whole long sentence. She frowns. “Burn anything else? What did you burn the first time?”
The dragon droops again. WITCH’S GARDEN SHED. ACCIDENT. HICCUPS
Molly nodded. “So you annoyed a witch, and she cursed you so that if you burn anything else in the next week, you’ll become smoke yourself?”
The dragon nods.
Molly shrugs. “So, just don’t burn anything…”
The dragon sighs, a little cloud of sparks. BUT I HICCUP AND COUGH AND SNEEZE AND SOMETIMES MY AIM ISN’T PREFECT. PERFECT. STILL LEARNING
“Then turn off your flames. Just til the end of the year.”
CAN’T. WHEN I BREATHE, I MAKE FIRE.
Molly remembers the questions she’d been set as homework on the curse-lifting workshop. “Did you say sorry to the witch?”
The dragon nods. SAID I HAD TO LEARN LESSON. AND CACKLED!
The dragon has now written on all the snow near the fence. So Molly climbs the fence, and walks with the golden dragon to a smooth white part of the pitch. Molly’s slippers flap soggily on her feet.
The dragon writes in the clean clear snow. I’M SCARED. MAKE ONE MISTAKE AND I’M SMOKE.
“Do you burn things deliberately?” asks Molly.
The dragon shakes its spiky sparkling head. NOT ANYONE ELSE’S THINGS. JUST MY TOAST AND MARSHMALLOWS. BUT … HICCUPS
“Is there any way to put your flames out and just not make any fire at all until the New Year?”
The dragon opens its mouth. Molly sees a bright orange flame burning at the back of its throat.
The dragon hiccups, a blast of flame jets out of its throat, and Molly drops to the ground, making a messy snow angel as she scrambles away.
The dragon writes OOPS
“Just as well you didn’t burn me, or that would have ruined both our Christmases.” Molly stands up and brushes snow off her damp pyjamas, her fingers tingling in the cold.
She smiles. “I have an idea! Would you let me try to put your fire out?”
The dragon nods.
“Ok, give me five minutes.”
As the dragon dances and skips around her, melting a spiral of clawed footprints into the snow, Molly makes snowballs, her fingers growing numb as she forms the icy shapes. Once she has built a white pyramid of snowballs, she says, “Open your mouth, please.”
The golden dragon opens its jaws wide. Molly stands as close as she can bear to the furnace heat coming out of its mouth. And she starts to throw snowballs in. Like one of those serving machines on a tennis court, she throws them in fast, one after the other, aiming for the back of the dragon’s throat, for the base of the orange flame.
She misses with one or two snowballs, some bouncing on the ground, one getting stuck in the dragon’s left nostril. But most of the snowballs hit the target.
The fire in the dragon’s throat fizzles and sizzles. Molly throws in even more snowballs. The fire gets dimmer and dimmer, then dies.
When Molly has used up all her snowballs, the dragon breathes out. And the air that hits Molly is warm, not flaming hot.
Molly nods. “Now you can’t make fire, so you won’t trigger the witch’s curse. If you feel your throat sparking up again this week, eat more snow. I’ll use you as snowball target practice again, if you want. So you can use the Scottish weather to get round the curse until Hogmanay.”
The dragon uses its claws to scratch in the bare grass of the pitch, where Molly had scooped up snow to make snowballs.
THANK YOU CURSE-BREAKER. THANK YOU!
As the dragon flies away, Molly shouts, “But don’t eat yellow snow. And don’t eat any snowmen either!”
Molly squelches home, in her soggy slippers, to see if there are any chocolate coins left in her stocking…
If you want to read more about Molly, and what she did BEFORE Christmas, have a look at The Beginner’s Guide to Curses!