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In my book, Wandering Time, when Zoe and Alison wander, strange things can happen. In the Tower of London, Alison begins to sing this song she learned in camp. Suddenly, they are in a different reality with the ghost of Anne Boleyn.
Princess Pru and the Dragon
In a far-away land live a king and queen whose only daughter is brave but not especially beautiful. She has too many freckles, her teeth are going to need braces, and her hair sticks out like a dandelion puff. Her name is Prudencia, but when the royal parents are not around, which is most of the time, the village children call her Pru.
Pru is not the sort of princess who would wait for a prince to wake her from a hundred years sleep or rescue her from danger. She usually wears a frayed sweat-shirt and jeans. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book about magic or dragons, she can be found running around with the wildest of the children over roof-tops and through alleys, in and out of secret entrances and passages in the castle and the town.
The day a real dragon flew in from the west, the villagers stared up at the sky, at the golden, glinting shape getting larger, until they could tell it was no bird, and larger still, until its shadow in front of the afternoon sun covered everything like a cloud.
Of course, no one these days believes in dragons. But the curls of smoke that rose from the creature’s nostrils, the flapping of leathery wings, and the scorching smell caused people to abandon the square and hide inside their houses. Everyone except Pru. She was sure it was a dragon. Watching from behind a dumpster, she saw it land on the flat roof of City Hall, smooth its scales, and blow a blast of fire into a row of poplar trees beside the building. It spoke in human language, in a voice that rang like a bell and could be heard all over town.
“Bring me the princess! I’m hungry!”
Pru paused and took a few deep breaths to keep from shaking. Then, crouching low, she sneaked up a back stairway to the roof of City Hall. From behind a shed, in a voice that trembled only slightly, she called to the dragon.
“Pardon me, oh mighty dragon, we are honored by your visit to our humble village.” She never paid attention to princess manners, but the fairy-tales she read had taught her how to speak to dragons.
“What century is this?” thundered the monster, rattling the roof and causing her insides to shake.
“This is the twenty-first century,” she answered, a little steadier.
“Bother!” groaned the dragon. “I’ve overslept. No wonder I feel so bad. I ate a cow and some sheep, but I need a princess!”
Pru peeked around from behind the shed. She noticed the dragon’s metallic scales were tarnished. Several had fallen onto the roof. The creature’s color, which had seemed golden in the sun, now looked pale.
“You do look poorly,” she said. “Do you really eat princesses? What for?”
“That’s how it’s done!” The dragon roared, but this time only a few sparks shot out. “Drat! It’s getting worse,” it grumbled. “First the knight in armor fights me. When he loses, I eat him and the princess, and I feel much better.”
It sniffed. “You smell like a princess, but you don’t look like one. What are you?”
“Things are different now.” Pru avoided the dragon’s question. “There aren’t any knights or dragons. I didn’t think there ever were real dragons.”
She stepped out from behind the shed and took a good look. “Maybe it was the armor you needed, not the princess. I was anemic once and they made me take iron pills. Iron is metal. I bet you need a lot with all those scales!”
“Hmm,” rumbled the monster. “No knights and no dragons? How could I have slept that long? Tell me where I can find metal.”
“That’s easy,” answered Pru. “If I climb on your back and show you, will you promise not to eat me?”
“I’m sure you’re not the right sort of princess. You’d probably give me a stomach ache. Climb up behind my head,” it said, stretching out a front leg for Pru.
The dragon’s smile made her nervous, and it wasn’t exactly a promise. But it was a chance to ride a dragon. Pru scrambled up the leg and seated herself on the dragon’s broad neck, wrapping her hands around one of its jutting spines.
Lifting its wings, the dragon rose into the sky. Pru watched her village get smaller and smaller below. “Yipee! I’m flying!” she yelled.
As they flew over the highway, brakes squealed and cars screeched to a stop.
“That’s metal, isn’t it?” roared the dragon, veering downward.
Pru could see the frightened faces of people inside the cars.“Not those!” she screamed. “Look over there.” She urged it past the highway to the edge of town where a field was strewn with abandoned cars. They landed in a litter of paper and trash.
The dragon’s long curved claws tore chunks from a rusty Volkswagen. Its teeth, like spears, crunched the metal. Soon it had devoured the whole thing, and Pru could see golden color return to its scales. Belching, it shot a plume of flame, setting fire to a patch of dry weeds.
“Much better,” roared the dragon. “I won’t eat you.” It turned its great body and lunged, shining, into the sky. Arching its neck at Pru, it flew west, where the sun had begun to set.
Princess Pru walked back to town. People stood in groups around the square, arguing about what they had seen. Some said it was a flying saucer. Others claimed it was a large bird. Some even said it was an illusion, a trick of the light, or a solar flare. Only Pru knew.
Jaden hung his head and slunk off the field in disgrace, feeling the other boys’ eyes on his back. He’d failed the physical fitness test. They’d tease him in the locker room.
“Jaden, Jaden.” The P.E. teacher intercepted him as he tried to sneak away. “I’m sure you can jump farther than that. Heck, anyone can jump farther than that
Jaden probably could jump farther, if he didn’t freeze as soon he tried. His feet practically stuck to the ground.
Next morning at breakfast, Jaden was idly staring at the writing on the cereal box when he saw the ad: Your wish come true! Send one dollar with your name and address to receive a genuine magic ring. Just what he needed! He found the last dollar from his allowance, begged an envelope and stamp from Mom, and dropped it in the mailbox.
After another two weeks of misery in P.E. class, a small package arrived, addressed to Jaden. Rushing to his room, he tore it open. The instructions were simple: place the ring on your finger, close your eyes, and wish for the one thing you want most.
The ring looked cheap and flimsy, but he slipped it on his finger, closed his eyes, and whispered, “I want to jump farther than any other kid at school.”
Poof! He opened his eyes. The ring was gone. What was happening to his arms and legs? He watched in horror as they twisted and shrank. The skin on his hands thinned, glistened, and – turned green! Each hand had only four – fingers? toes?
Help! Mom! he screamed. What came out of his mouth was “Riddup!”
Startled, he jumped clear across the room. It was an amazing jump, farther than any other kid could jump. But it didn’t matter now.
He was a frog.
Jaden didn’t come when his mother called him to dinner. “Jaden,” she said as she opened the door of his room. It looked empty. “Jaden? Are you hiding?” Something wriggled under the bed covers. “No more games. It’s dinner time.” She pulled back the covers and squeaked when a small green frog jumped at her in one mighty leap. “Riddup! Riddup!” it croaked.
She started back and the frog landed on the floor. Why would Jaden bring a frog home and leave it loose in his room? Without water. The poor thing looked half dried out. It stared up at her with startled, frightened eyes. Wasn’t there something familiar in those eyes?
“You belong outside,” she said. Scooping up the frog, she carried it, wriggling and squirming, downstairs and out the back door. She gently set it in the bird bath. “There you go. Find a nice creek or pond. Now where is that boy? Jaden!” she called again.
The water felt wonderful on Jaden-the-frog’s dry green skin. His mother always knew what to do. But what now? The ring was gone. Maybe the spell would wear off. Or maybe he was asleep, and this was all just a bad dream.
As he sat on the edge of the bird bath, thinking these thoughts, a black bird, big and glossy, circled and swooped toward him. Its bright black eyes gleamed hungrily. With one frantic hop Jaden landed on the grass. A second hop took him under the hedge where he cowered, hiding as best he could.
“Caw! Caw!” called the bird, landing in front of the hedge, pacing and peering in. Jaden scooted farther back, his heart beating wildly. He held very still until the crow flew off.
Jaden took a relieved breath. What should he do now? A quiet slithering nearby made him turn. A garter snake was gliding toward him, tongue flicking in and out. He remembered a picture of a frog being eaten by a garter snake, its legs dangling from the snake’s mouth!
In three large jumps (he certainly could jump now) Jaden landed on the back porch and hid in an empty flowerpot. It was getting late. He cowered in the pot, trembling.
The back door opened, and his mother came out again. “Jaden, dinner!” she called “Darn! Where is that boy?”
This was his chance! He jumped out of the pot and onto her shoulder. Here I am, Mom! “Riddup! Riddup!” he croaked in her ear.
“Yikes! Oh! It’s you little frog.” She lifted him and held him in front of her face. The eyes were so familiar. And blue! “Hmm. I wonder. You showed up when Jaden disappeared. But Eew! Gross.” She grimaced. “Oh well. Here goes.” Puckering, she kissed Jaden’s froggy lips!
Poof! His limbs stretched; the bones straightened and unwound. He was standing on the porch in front of his mother, delighted to be a boy again. He told Mom what he’d done.
“From now on, no playing with magic!” she said, hugging him.
Ever after, Jaden did stay away from magic. But he could still jump, farther than anyone else at school! It felt almost like flying. The coach patted his back and said, “I knew you could do it.”
And all the other boys wanted him on their team.