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The fire within, p.1
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       The Fire Within, p.1

           Chris D'Lacey
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The Fire Within


  THE

  FIRE

  WITHIN

  CHRIS D’LACEY

  For Jay,

  who had the first Snigger

  and will almost certainly have the last laugh

  I would like to thank the following for their

  help in bringing this book to life: Bat

  and Puff, dragons of the first

  flight, and Val Chivers,

  for kilning

  Zookie

  Contents

  Title Page

  Dedication

  PART ONE: THE SPARK

  WELCOME TO WAYWARD CRESCENT

  SETTLING IN

  MEET MR. BACON

  DAVID UNPACKS

  UNUSUAL THINGS

  A VERY SPECIAL DRAGON

  A VISIT TO THE LIBRARY

  GREENFINGERS GEORGE

  THE WISHING FOUNTAIN

  INSPIRATION

  SOMETHING TRAPPY

  IN THE ATTIC

  TO CATCH A SQUIRREL

  GOTCHA!

  SIGHTING

  BONNINGTON DISAPPEARS

  BIRTHDAY IDEAS

  THE WRONG SQUIRREL

  SQUIRREL IN THE HOUSE

  PART TWO: THE FIRE WITHIN

  A VERY SPECIAL PRESENT

  THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NUTBEAST

  IN MR. BACON’S GARDEN

  THE LAST DRAGON IN THE WORLD

  SEEKING GAWAIN

  DRAGON POX

  WRITER’S BLOCK

  DO NOT ‘DISTRUB’

  CONKER FOUND

  THE WILDLIFE HOSPITAL

  OH, SOPHIE

  DECISION TIME

  BYE-BYE, CONKER

  HELLO, GRUFFEN

  SNOOP

  THE FINAL WORDS

  THE SPOTTING GAME

  NATURE’S WAY

  DAVID RETURNS

  THE FIRE TEAR

  KILNING GADZOOKS

  MAINTAINING THE LINK

  A TREE FOR CONKER

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Copyright

  Clays are extraordinary, layered, crystal structures which have, built into them, what amounts almost to an innate tendency to evolve…. Clay has plans.

  Lifetide by Lyall Watson

  (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979)

  ORIGINALLY FROM AN INTRODUCTION TO CLAY COLLOID CHEMISTRY

  BY H. VAN OLPHEN (INTERSCIENCE PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK, 1963)

  4 Thoushall Road

  Blackburn, MA

  Mrs. Elizabeth Pennykettle

  42 Wayward Crescent

  Scrubbley, Massachusetts

  Dear Mrs. Pennykettle,

  Help! I am desperately in need of somewhere to stay. Next week, I am

  due to start a Geography course at Scrubbley College, and I haven’t

  been able to find any housing.

  I am scrupulously clean and as tidy as anyone of my age (20) can be.

  My hobby is reading, which is generally pretty quiet. I get along very

  well with children, and I love cats.

  Yours sincerely,

  Mr. David Rain

  P.S. I’m afraid I haven’t seen any dragons around lately.

  I hope this isn’t a problem.

  PART ONE

  THE SPARK

  WELCOME TO WAYWARD CRESCENT

  Well, here we are,” Mrs. Pennykettle said, pausing by the door of the room she had for rent. She clasped her hands together and smiled. “Officially, it’s our dining room, but we always eat in the kitchen these days.”

  The young man beside her nodded politely and patiently adjusted his shoulder bag. “Lovely. Erm, shall we take a look …?”

  “It used to be our junk room, really,” said a voice.

  Mrs. Pennykettle clucked like a hen.

  The visitor turned. A young girl was lolling in the kitchen doorway. She was dressed in jeans and a sloppy top and had wet grass sticking to the heels of her sneakers. “All our junk’s in the attic now.”

  “And where have you been?” Mrs. Pennykettle said.

  “In the garden,” said the girl, “looking for Conker.”

  “Conkers?” the young man queried. “Aren’t you a week or two early for them?”

  “Not ers,” said the girl, “er.”

  The visitor furrowed his brow.

  Mrs. Pennykettle sighed and did the introductions: “David, this is Lucy, my daughter. I’m afraid she comes as part of the package. Lucy, this is David. He’s here to see the room.”

  Lucy chewed a wisp of her straw-colored hair and slowly looked the visitor up and down.

  Her mother tried again: “We did the best we could with the room. There’s a table in the corner, with a study lamp, of course, and a wardrobe we bought from a secondhand shop. The bed isn’t great, but you should be all right if you try to avoid the loose spring in the middle.”

  “Mom?”

  “What?”

  “Why don’t you stop twittering and show him?” With a huff, Lucy stomped down the hall to join them. “She’s not always like this,” she said to David. “It’s because we’ve never had a tenant before.” Before her mother could “twitter” in protest, Lucy reached out and pushed the door open. David smiled graciously and stepped inside. The fresh smell of lavender wafted through the room, mingled with the peaceful tinkle of wind chimes. Everything was perfect, exactly as described. Except …

  “What’s that?” David pointed to a bulge in the bed.

  Elizabeth Pennykettle groaned with embarrassment. She swept across the room and dived beneath the folds of the red patterned blanket.

  “That’s Bonnington, our cat,” Lucy said, grinning. “He likes getting under things — newspapers, blankets, all sorts of stuff. Mom says he’s always getting under her feet.”

  David smiled and put down his bag. “Bonnington. That’s a really good name for a cat.”

  Lucy nodded in agreement. “Mom named him after a mountain climber. I don’t know why; he couldn’t climb a beanbag. Well, he could, but we don’t have one. He mistakes the sound of the beans for cat litter, then he poops on there instead of in his box.”

  “Lovely,” said David, glancing anxiously at the blanket.

  With a rake of claws against fresh bed linen, Mrs. Pennykettle emerged clutching a brown tabby cat. Her curls of red hair, now in total disarray, resembled a rather bedraggled mop. She grimaced in apology, plopped Bonnington on the windowsill, and bundled him ungracefully into the garden.

  David moved the conversation on. “Are there buses to the college from here?”

  “Loads,” said Lucy.

  “Three an hour,” her mother confirmed, hastily replumping her hair. “And there’s room in the shed for a bike, if you have one. If you were stuck, you could always have a lift into town in my car — as long as you don’t mind sharing with the dragons.”

  “Oh yes,” said David, raising a finger. His mind floated back to the wording on the postcard in the newsstand window: MUST LIKE CATS AND CHILDREN AND …

  “Like him.” Lucy pointed to a shelf above a sealed-off fireplace. Sitting at its center was a small, clay dragon, unlike any that David had ever seen. It wasn’t a fearsome, fire-breathing monster, the sort of dragon that might capture medieval maidens. Nor was it a cutesy, cartoon sort of thing. There was a fiery pride in its oval-shaped eyes as if it had a sense of its own importance and knew it had a definite place in the world. Its tall slim body was painted green with turquoise hints at the edges of its scales. It was sitting erect on two flat feet and an arrow-shaped tail that swung back on itself in a single loop. Four ridged wings (two large, two small) fanned out from its back and shoulders. A set of spiky, flaglike scales ran the entire length of its spine.

  David picked it up — and very nearly dropped it. “It’s warm,”
he said, blinking in surprise.

  “That’s because —”

  “It’s been in the sun too long,” said Mrs. Pennykettle, quickly cutting her daughter off. She lifted the dragon out of David’s hands and rested it gently back on the shelf. A cone of sunlight fell across it.

  “There are loads of dragons in our house,” said Lucy, a bubble of excitement in her voice.

  David smiled and touched a finger to the dragon’s snout. For one strange moment he thought he could detect a layer of ash on the wide, flared nostrils. He ran a thumb across the glaze and decided it was dust. “Do you collect them?”

  Lucy shook her ponytail. “We make them.”

  “I make them,” said her mother.

  “I’m learning,” said Lucy. “Pennykettle Pots and Crafts. We’re famous. Mom sells them at the market on Tuesday and Thursday and Saturday afternoons. When there’s a craft fair at Scrubbley Garden Center she takes some there. Lots of people buy them.”

  “I bet,” said David, with a nod of admiration. “Do you make them here?”

  Mrs. Pennykettle pointed at the ceiling. “I have a small studio in one of the bedrooms.”

  “It’s called the Dragons’ Den,” Lucy said mysteriously. She put her hands behind her back and swung her shoulders. “You’re not allowed to enter.”

  “Lucy, don’t tease,” her mother chided. Turning to David again she said, “I’ll gladly show you around once you’ve settled in — well, if you decide to take the room, that is.”

  David ran a hand through his mop of brown hair. Dragons. It was certainly different from his last place, where all you got were spiders and the occasional mouse. “It’s perfect,” he said. “Just what I want. If you and your dragons will have me, Mrs. Pennykettle, I’d like to move in right away.”

  “Call me Liz,” she said, holding out a hand. “We’d love for you to stay. Wouldn’t we, Lucy?”

  Lucy wiggled her nose. “That depends — on the other thing.”

  “Other thing?” said Liz. “What other thing?”

  Lucy smiled directly at David and said, “Do you like—?”

  SETTLING IN

  Peas?” said Mrs. Pennykettle, cutting in again. “We’re having shepherd’s pie for dinner. Could you eat a few peas?”

  “Erm, yes,” said the tenant, looking slightly confused.

  Lucy squared up to her mother and hissed, “Mom, you know I wasn’t going to say peas!” She made a grumpy-sounding hmph! and turned on her heels. “I’m going out to look for Conker again.”

  “I don’t think so,” said her mom, catching hold of her shoulders. “You’re going to help me peel potatoes.” She pushed Lucy to the door like a shopping cart. “We’ll leave you to settle in, David. If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to call. Dinner in about an hour, OK?”

  “Great,” he said, smiling politely, still wondering what Lucy had been intending to say. Instinct warned him not to ask. Instead, he pursued a more urgent matter: “Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?”

  “Top of the stairs, turn left,” said Liz. “Remind me to find some towels for you later.”

  David nodded. “I’ll be quick.” He glanced at Lucy as he stepped into the hall.

  “It’s not fair,” she complained, folding her arms.

  “Kitchen,” said her mom.

  And that was that.

  With a shake of his head, David started up the stairs. If first impressions were anything to go by, life with the Pennykettles promised to be an interesting, if slightly unusual, experience. Proud-eyed dragons. A dippy cat. Wind chimes at the window. Someone called Conker — whoever he was. And now this …

  He slowed to a halt at the top of the stairs, his eye drawn to a sign on a door across the landing:

  DRAGONS’ DEN

  It was hand-painted, gold and green, with bright orange flames leaping up around the lettering. David drummed his fingers on the banister rail. The desire to have a peek inside was enormous. But the door to the studio was firmly closed, and if Liz came up and caught him sneaking, it would be good-bye Mr. Rain — and no shepherd’s pie, either. Casting temptation aside, he went into the bathroom and switched on the light.

  There he met his second dragon.

  It was sitting on the toilet tank. It was bluer in color than the dragon downstairs — to tone with the bathroom, he thought. It had smaller wings, a longer snout and a rather peculiar, alert expression. It wasn’t warm like the other but it did have a faintly rosy smell as if its glaze had been specially painted to carry some sort of freshening scent. David turned it to face the wall. No way was he going to unzip himself — not with that thing watching.

  By dinnertime, Liz and Lucy had forgotten their tiff and David was made to feel fully at home. He had two large helpings of shepherd’s pie, a slice of cheesecake, and a glass of ginger beer. The peas, he declared, were the best he’d ever tasted. Afterward, everyone moved into the living room. Bonnington, his best seat taken by the tenant, even curled up in David’s lap.

  Lucy Pennykettle talked nonstop. She wanted to know everything about the tenant. More importantly, she wanted the tenant to know everything about her. David listened patiently. He learned all about Lucy’s progress at school, what her friends were going to think of her mom having a tenant, and what Lucy was going to be when she grew up.

  “Less of a chatterbox than you are now, I hope,” her mother put in.

  “I’m going to be an acrobat,” Lucy announced. “I’m going to wear a leotard and swing on a trapeze. Do you want to see my handstand?”

  “Of course he doesn’t,” said her mom.

  Lucy shrugged, undeterred, and said to David, “I’m going to save animals as well. Do you like animals?”

  “I like cats,” he replied, even though Bonnington was giving him a cramp.

  A sparkle entered Lucy’s eye. “Do you like squirrels?”

  “Lucy, it’s past your bedtime,” said her mom.

  Lucy frowned and glanced at the clock. “Do you?” she pressed, nudging David’s toe.

  “Lucy,” said her mom, “you’ve talked him half to sleep as it is. He doesn’t want to be pestered about squirrels.”

  Lucy said hotly, “I was only asking if he liked them, Mom.”

  “The red ones are pretty,” David put in, trying to defuse the argument a little. By now he’d figured out that squirrels were “the other thing” Lucy had been wanting to ask about earlier.

  Surprisingly, Lucy looked at him in shock. “Don’t you like the gray ones?”

  “Lucy, if you want a story tonight you’d better get up those stairs right now.”

  “Please say you like the gray ones,” Lucy whispered. Her bright green eyes were wide and pleading.

  “I like the gray ones,” David obliged her. Then, lowering his voice a little he asked, “Is Conker a squirrel?”

  “Yes!”

  “Bed. Now.” Liz dropped her magazine and pushed up her sleeves.

  Lucy seemed to take this as a final warning. She grabbed her sweater off the couch and hurried to the door. “Night, night,” she chirped, and pounded up the stairs.

  As her footsteps faded into the distance, David glanced sheepishly at Liz and said, “Sorry, was I not supposed to mention … y’know?”

  Liz smiled and shook her head, partly with amusement, part exasperation. “Lucy loves wildlife, particularly squirrels. This morning we agreed that if you took the room she wouldn’t pester you about them for at least a day. Her timing was a little off, as usual. I was trying to spare you, as it’s your first night.”

  “I don’t mind,” said David. “She’s quite funny, really.”

  “Hmm, you say that now,” said Liz. “I guarantee by the end of the week you’ll be wishing that Noah had never let them on the ark.” She stood up and tugged the curtains shut, taking care not to topple a gruff-looking dragon that was standing on top of a small speaker.

  David ran a knuckle down Bonnington’s back. “It’s very leafy around here. You mus
t see lots of squirrels.”

  To David’s surprise, Liz gave a shake of her head. “Not now. Not since the oak tree’s been gone.”

  David lifted an eyebrow. “You had an oak? In the garden?”

  “In the Crescent. Next door to Mr. Bacon’s. He’s our neighbor, on this side.” Liz pointed at the chimney wall. “It was cut down a few months ago. We got a note under the door, saying its roots were damaging the road. It didn’t look all that bad to me, but someone must have known what they were doing, I suppose. Lucy was devastated. Cried for days. When the tree went, the squirrels went, too. She’s been looking for them ever since.”

  “Conker,” said David, latching on. “She was looking for him when I arrived.”

  “Yes, he’s the only one she’s seen so far. I think they’ve scattered all over. There’s nothing in the Crescent for them now.”

  David’s eyebrows narrowed a little. “So, why is Conker still around? If the rest have scuttled off, why hasn’t he?”

  Liz stooped to gather Lucy’s shoes. “Lucy says he’s hurt and can’t get away.”

  “Hurt?” David sat up a little straighter. Bonnington, wakened by the sudden movement, gave a fishy-smelling yawn and dropped to the floor.

  Liz opened the door to let the cat out. “He’s only got one eye,” she said.

  MEET MR. BACON

  The following afternoon, the bulk of David’s things arrived. It all came in boxes — lots of boxes — delivered by a van marked DONNELLY’S PEST CONTROL SERVICES. Brian Donnelly was the father of one of David’s friends, though no one in Wayward Crescent knew that. There were some snooty looks from a few of the neighbors, who all seemed to be wondering why a pest control van had pulled up outside the Pennykettle house.

  Elizabeth Pennykettle took no notice. She even stood guard beside the van while David and Mr. Donnelly carried the boxes inside.

 
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