"Give you on guess," the tenant muttered cheerlessly. He walked into the kitchen, his mouth turned down in a curve of disappointment. In his hand, he was flapping a letter. As he approached the kitchen table he pushed the letter under the snout of a dragon, which was sitting by a jar of raspberry jelly. "Here, torch that."
The little clay dragon remained unmoved.
On the far side of the table Mrs. Pennykettle's daughter, Lucy, remarked, "You mustn't say that to the dragons. They're not allowed to burn things, are they, Mom?"
"No," said Mrs. Pennykettle, glancing at the letter. "I take it that's another rejection?"
David nodded. "Complete with coffee stain. This makes fourteen now. And they all say the same. Dear Mr. Rain. Thanks, but no thanks. No one wants to hear about Snigger the squirrel."
Lucy immediately put down her sticks. She had been busy modeling a brand-new dragon, a handsome (if slightly bemused-looking) creature with wide, flared nostrils and enormous paws. She picked up the letter and frowned. "Well, I think it's the best story ever."
"You're biased," said David, peeling a banana. "I wrote it for you. You're bound to say that."
"It's not a bad rejection, though, is it?" asked Liz, reading the letter over Lucy's shoulder. "They do say your writing shows some promise. Perhaps you should forget about Snigger for a while and start working on something new?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Lucy, spinning in her seat. "The Adventures of Spikey the Hedgehog."
Through a mouthful of banana, David said: "I'm not writing about silly hedgehogs."
"But you said Gadzooks wrote ‘Spikey' on his pad. And he underlined it. Twice. Gadzooks is your special dragon. You've got to do what he says."
David sighed and let his gaze drift across the kitchen. It settled on the top of the fridge, where a so-called listening dragon sat: a studious-looking, bespectacled creature with ears like a couple of large rose petals. Dragons were everywhere in this house; Elizabeth Pennykettle made them for a living, in a room upstairs called the Dragons' Den. Gadzooks, the dragon that Lucy had spoken of, sat on the window-sill in David's room. Liz had made him as a welcoming gift when David had first moved into the house. In general appearance, Gadzooks was like most of the Pennykettle dragons: green and scaly with oval-shaped eyes and short, ridged wings. But in his left paw he carried a small white notepad and in the right he held a sawed-off pencil. He was special in the sense that, now and again, when David had been writing his squirrel story, Gadzooks had seemed to help things along by scribbling a word or two on his pad. The last thing he had written-some weeks ago now-was the word "Spikey." Lucy had immediately decided that this must be the name of a hedgehog she had once glimpsed in the garden. But David had refused to be so easily swayed. And as the autumn days had gradually lengthened, his mind had dulled to the possibility that there was any meaning to the word at all. Indeed, if the truth be told, he was slightly tired of the presence of dragons and embarrassed by the fact that he had once allowed himself to believe that they might, in some way, be real. So when he spoke again his manner was blunt. "Lucy, let it go. I love Gadzooks, you know I do. But he only writes things because I imagine him doing it. He's no more special than this one you're making."
Lucy sat back, looking incensed. "This is a wishing dragon. He can make things really happen."
Across the room there came a slight hoot of derision. But this time the dissent was not from David; it had come from the pottery expert, Liz. She walked over and inspected the dragon, looping her red hair behind her ears so it wouldn't trail into the still-soft clay. "You'll be lucky, my girl. To make a true wishing dragon takes years of practice-and careful naming. Mind you, you haven't done badly with him. His paws are very good. Excellent, in fact."