A little bit of context: this is a story for children that I made up for Barney while he was sitting in the bath. It’s a bit random, because I was making it up as I went along, and the ending’s a bit sudden, because bathtime was over and I couldn’t concentrate on story and towelling down simultaneously. I’ve tried to keep as close to the original vocal version as possible in this write-up. Barney enjoyed it, anyway.
Once upon a time there was a dragon called Percy. He lived on the top of a very tall mountain. Not right on the very top where the rocks are all pointy and sharp, but a little bit further down in a cave that was dug a long long long time ago.
Like most dragons, Percy was friendlier than you’d expect. He spent most of his days fast asleep in his cave, only leaving it at night to hunt for food.
Because of course dragons have to eat like everyone else, and their favourite food is ornitranks.
Now you might be saying “There’s no such thing as an ornitrank!”, which is almost as silly as saying there’s no such thing as a dragon. Of course there are ornitranks – otherwise what would all the dragons eat? See? Silly.
You don’t know about ornitranks because you never see them. Like dragons, ornitranks only come out at night. They are nasty, bad-tempered, spiny creatures, a little bit bigger than a pig. They snort around in hedges and bushes looking for hedgehogs and bushhogs to eat. They are noisy and smelly and probably the most unpleasant animal around. But they are food for dragons, which just goes to show that everything’s here for a reason.
On the night of this story, Percy woke up at teatime (that’s your teatime, which is the same as his breakfast time) and yawned and stretched his wings. He had a good scratch, then wandered out to the front of his cave to watch the sun going down. He smiled a big dragon smile and decided to go straight out looking for ornitranks for his tea.
So off he flew, over the mountains and down to the valley. It was getting dark quickly, and he knew that the ornitranks would be coming out of their smelly underground dens, hungry for hogs. He licked his lips as he swooped down.
But there were no ornitranks around. Puzzled, he flew right up to the other end of the valley; but there were none there either. Percy flew up and down the valley, and all over all the mountains, for an hour or more but he couldn’t see a single ornitrank.
Something was wrong, but he had no idea what. He decided the only thing to do was to ask for help, so he swooped down to the village and landed in the square.
It was quiet in the street. There were one or two lights on in one or two houses, but by far the loudest and noisiest place was the village pub on the corner. All the lights were on there, and Percy could smell all the people crammed inside having fun. He plucked up his courage and, using his smallest claw on his smallest front foot (about the size of a tree), he tapped gently on the pub’s door.
The door fell down flat – bang! – and after a second a few puzzled faces peered around the doorframe. All of them looked at the door, looked at the dust, and stared out into the night. And all of them slowly realised that a dragon was standing there, waiting to gobble them up. They screamed and disappeared back inside the pub.
Percy sighed. He didn’t wait for them to come back, but turned around and with just a couple of swoops of his wings, hopped to the other end of the village.
He landed in a quiet little lane with just a few houses on it. Only one house had a light on in the window, so he carefully approached and knocked on the door.
The door fell down flat – crash! – and after a second a little boy’s face appeared around the doorframe. The little boy was called Barney, and he wasn’t very big or very old, but he wasn’t afraid of dragons.
“He – hello?” he said. “Can I help you?”
“YES PLEASE,” he roared, and the porch above what was left of Barney’s door was blown away by the force of his voice. He didn’t mean to roar – it’s just that, being a huge dragon, it’s hard to whisper.
Barney brushed bits of brick and wood off his head, and asked Percy what was wrong.
“I’M HUNGRY, AND -“
Barney ducked as the chimney pots came crashing down around him, and interrupted.
“Please could you try and whisper more quietly?” he asked. “It’s just that my mum and dad will be cross if they think I’ve knocked half the house down.”
Percy nodded and whispered as softly as he could.
“I’m hungry, and I’ve been looking for ornitranks, and I can’t find any of them. Not a single one. And that’s just strange.”
Barney’s eyes went wide.
“Ornitranks! Well, no wonder you can’t find any!” he said. “The farmers rounded them all up last night. Every single one in the valley, and every single one from the mountains too. They’ve put them all together in the big barn at the far end of the village.”
Percy was astonished. Why did the farmers want the ornitranks?
“To make soup,” shrugged Barney.
“Soup? What, to eat? But that’s mad! MAD!” he roared, and a window fell out of its frame to one side of the ruined front door of Barney’s house. Barney cringed a bit and made a “please be quiet” look with his eyes.
“What’s so mad about it?” he asked. Quietly.
“Well ornitranks are magical creatures,” said Percy. “They’re fine for dragons to eat, but humans can’t eat them. If a human eats even the tiniest bit of ornitrank, they’ll die.”
“They were going to have a soup party,” he said. “Tonight. In the village pub.”
Percy jumped, and the whole lane shook.
“There’s no time to lose! Quick Barney, jump on my back! We have to stop them serving that soup!”
Barney scrambled up on to Percy’s back. The dragon swished his huge wings and they were up, up, up in the sky. The village disappeared below them, swallowed up by the endless darkness of the valley. Only a few lights twinkled – mainly from inside the village pub.
“HOLD ON TIGHT!” yelled Percy as he pulled into a dive, plunging headfirst towards the ground at top speed. Barney clutched on to some of Percy’s long neck hairs, his eyes shut tight. At the last possibly moment, Percy pulled up and swung out his wings, and they glided to a smooth landing outside the pub.
The door was still lying flat, and from inside Percy and Barney caught the smell of hot, fresh soup.
Percy lay his head down flat on the ground, just outside the door, and he and Barney yelled at the top of their voices: “DON’T EAT THE SOUP!”
The pub’s walls collapsed outwards with an enormous crunch. All the tiles flew off the roof and landed in a field. Every single person in the crowded pub froze – many of them holding spoonfuls of steaming soup up to their mouths. Dust slowly settled over everything and everyone. Then someone said: “There’s a dragon there.”
They ran. Everyone dropped their soup bowls and legged it, disappearing through the gaps where the walls used to be, screaming at the tops of their voices, “Help! A dragon! Help!”. A massive urn, holding gallons of soup, got knocked over and sticky ornitrank soup glooped out across the floor, sliding out between the piles of rubble and disappearing down the drains in the village square.
Barney sat on top of Percy and smiled.
“Well done Percy! We’ve done it!”
“Not quite,” said Percy, and flapped his wings again. Barney just got a glimpse of the remains of the empty pub collapsing upon themselves as they swooped up into the sky again, across the village, and down towards the barn. Percy landed outside it and Barney jumped down. He ran to the gate and pulled it open – and had to leap out of the way as a thousand angry ornitranks stampeded out, leaping the fences and disappearing off into the valley.
Barney climbed down and stood in front of Percy as they watched the last of the ornitranks disappear into the dark.
“Now you’ll have plenty of ornitranks to eat,” said Barney.
“Yes,” said Percy. “Just as long as the people here don’t start dreaming about ornitrank soup again. You’ll spread the word, won’t you? Warn everyone that ornitranks are poisonous for people?”
Barney nodded, and shook hands with the tip of Percy’s smallest claw. Then with a swoosh, Percy soared into the air and flew back to the far end of the valley, far away from the village, to start his hunt for ornitranks. It was going to be a long night, and he was very hungry.