Jack 1: Down in the dumps day

In a grey room, in a cold, old house, one black, windy, winter night, Jack lay dreaming and crying. On his eighth birthday. His mother heard. She came upstairs and sat by his bed, stroking his hair.

 "Darling," she said, "I know it's been hard since daddy died. I miss him too, and I know you do, as much as I."

"Oh, mum," Jack replied. "Why has everything become so hard? Why can't we do the things we used to do? We were so happy!"

"I know, darling. We can't afford the life we had. We're living on dad's pension, plus what I can make in the supermarket. It's less than half of what we used to get. It's so sad."

"It's not the money, mum. I just feel as if, well, the fun's gone."

"I know. It has. And don't think I don't know how awful it is on birthdays. Your sister Jen feels the same. But at least we have our health and our love."

"That's all very well, but no fun....."

"I know. No holidays, no good times, nothing."

"Oh, mum, now you're sounding worse than me."

And he sat up and gave her a big hug.

That tore it. She couldn't hold back. He felt her sobs, and of course, that set him off too.

Then he looked at her and smiled. "Aren't we soppy, mum? This isn't going to help, is it?"

"No, but we're not heroes. It is tough. Anyway, enough. I'm tired. I've got to start work early tomorrow, and you're starting a new year at school. Good night, Jack." She kissed the top of his head and hugged him

"Good night, mum."  He pushed his face into the pillow as she turned off the light.

But he couldn't sleep. He lay wide awake. He was cold, even though he wore a pullover over his pyjamas. Since his dad had died, his mum turned the heating down low at night to save money. He tried to count sheep, but the shepherd standing behind them had his dad's face. So the sheep went and it was just bare numbers, to which he breathed in time. He could feel his body starting to relax at last, his eyes spending more time shut, when he heard a small sound, like a cat scratching, at the window.

At first he wasn't sure. He thought it might be a branch moving on the tree outside. But the scratching noise kept returning. He looked over towards the window, where the thick curtains let in hardly any light. The orange street light showed from time to time, when the wind managed to get through the cracks at the side of the window, to blow the curtain out slightly. For several minutes he looked, and was sure that he could see another colour showing every now and then. It was a kind of green. But he couldn't be sure. He got up, put his slippers on, wrapped himself in his blue duvet, and went over to the window. Half afraid, he opened the curtain slightly, and jumped back.

There was a little animal there. He couldn't see what it was. Nothing that he recognised.

He took a deep breath, thought to himself, "Well, things can't be much worse, I mustn't be scared." He returned to the curtain, opened it again, and took a good look. He realised what it was. It was a miniature dragon. It smiled at him.

Now I don't know if you've ever seen a dragon smile, but it's not the nicest sight. Why? Because that's when you can see their sharp, white teeth and their little snaky forked tongue slipping in and out of their mouth. Dragons think they're smiling, of course, but when they're big and they smile, you can understand why grown, strong, men run away. That's not to mention the smell of their breath, which can be pretty foul if they've eaten a few sheep lately, because the sheep stay rotting in their stomach for a few days while they are thoroughly digested.

But this dragon was so small that even though the smile didn't look too friendly and the smell was bit ripe, the rest of the dragon did look friendly. It was something about the way the dragon cosied up to the window rather than trying to smash it. The dragon scraped his wing against the window, and Jack recognised the sound. The dragon clearly wanted to come in. So Jack opened the window and the dragon flew in.

"Brrrr", it said. Not a night to be out and about, even though we have our own built in central heating. But I was running out of gas."

The dragon was mostly a mixture of dark and light green, with a bright red patch on the top of its head, and a red breast. A bit like a scaly robin. Except that it had a forked tail that was twice as long as its body. Except that it had two horns sticking out of its head just above its pointed ears. Except that it had bat wings, green with red veins.

"Who are you? Or rather, what are you?" asked Jack "I guess you are a dragon, aren't you."

"Ten out of ten for brilliance," answered the dragon. "Yes, you've got the animal type right, but I bet you can't guess my name!"

It smiled again. Luckily, Jack was getting used to that smile and the smell that came with it.

Jack thought for a bit. "That's unfair! You could be called anything. I don't even know whether you're a boy or a girl!"

"Actually, I'm a boy, but I could have been a girl tonight. We dragons can change, you know."

"That's weird. Anyway, I'm not going to play your silly guessing game. I'm called Jack. You tell me your name. That's fair isn't it?"

"Oh well, if that's the way you want it. I'm known as 4D to my friends."

"What kind of name is that?"

"Well, it's short for something. Your name isn't really Jack, is it?"

"No, true, I'm really called John. And that's my second name. I didn't like my first name, and I'm not going to tell you what it is!"

"You don't need to. I know what it is. It's Maurice," said the dragon, with a hint of a sneer.

"Shut up, that's unfair," siad Jack. "But wait a minute, how did you know?"

"Ah, we've been watching you. We know all about you."

"Why?"

"That's why you need to know my full name."

"Go on."

"I'm called 'Down in the Dumps Day Dragon', you see. That's the 4D."

"Oh, I get it," said Jack, "You're here because your life is full of bad days and you've come here because you've found someone who feels worse than you. Me!"

"Exactly the opposite," said 4D. "We've been watching you from Cloud 9, where we live. We thought you needed some warming up and some cheering up."

"There's nothing you can do to make me feel better," said Jack, folding his arms and sticking out his tongue. "I feel rotten because I've lost my dad. And because my mum and sister are so sad. And because we're short of money. And because my room's cold, and..." He stopped. He realised he was sounding like a baby. "I bet you've never had anything like that in your life."

"Don't you believe it," replied 4D. "In fact, I lost both my dads last year."

"What do you mean?" asked Jack, "Both your dads? That doesn't make sense.

"Well, I did tell you, one of them used to be my mum."

"Oh, I get it," Jack said. But he didn't.

"How did they die?"

"Well, when dragons reach the age of five thousand, they disappear into a puff of smoke, and that's what they did last year. Dragons have to marry people exactly their own age, so they can go together."

"Oh dear."

"No, it's not sad, they had a good life, and we all knew when it would happen. We all gathered round to watch the spectacle."

"That's nice."

"Yes.... Anyway, to get back to my name. My job is to help children who have down in the dumps days. They're usually followed by seriously sad sleeps, or even no sleep. So I come and cheer them up."

"Well you could start by warming me up."

"Ah, that at least is no problem for a dragon, particularly now that I'm not using up all my gas trying to keep myself warm."

And 4D went to one side of the room and carefully pointed his mouth into the middle of the room and threw a blue and yellow flame right across the room, keeping it low so as not to burn the lampshade, and just short enough to make sure that the wallpaper didn't catch fire. It wasn't long before the room was as warm as toast. Jack put the duvet back onto the bed, and soon he took his jumper off as well.

"OK," said 4D. "Time for my next trick."

And before Jack could say anything, 4D emitted a series of gigantic puffs of smoke. The room filled, but it wasn't the kind of smoke that made you cough, more like steam. And when it cleared, the room was full of Jack's friends, and tables loaded with birthday party food, sausages on sticks, miniature pies, crisps, jellies, chunks of chocolate and glasses of fizz. And in the centre was an enormous chocolate birthday cake with eight candles on it, already burning brightly.

Everyone wore party hats, and once the smoke had completely cleared, they all started to sing Happy Birthday.

Jack turned to 4D. "You are a star!"

"No, a dragon. But we do live near to a star, though Cloud 9 isn't one of your earth clouds. It's a sun cloud. We can't afford to let our work be affected by the weather, particularly in your country. We'd get lost finding our way home among all the other clouds."

"I can believe that," said Jack.

"Anyway, it's time for me to go. And time for you to sleep."

And before Jack could say anything, 4D puffed out another enormous cloud, and when it disappeared, all his friends had gone and he was alone n his bedroom again. Jack started to feel sad again, but 4D looked at him sternly.

"No more tears, please. Just remember, we're here to look after you. My friends and I are keeping a watch. You can rely on us. But we're only human.

"Very funny!"

"Actually, no, we're not. Some of us are, some half and some not. But we like to help people who get better after we help them, not ones who just go on getting worse. There aren't many of them, because we're such brilliant helpers."

"Poor them."

"Well - I'm letting you into a secret here. We've got special ways of dealing with people who LIKE to be down in the dumps. But you're not one of them, are you?"

"No, of course not," said Jack, though he was beginning to wonder.

"Just remember, when things go wrong, we'll be watching. Every now and then, one of us will come to help."

"Wow, does that mean if I'm feeling rotten, you'll always come?"

"We're not that stupid. We know when someone's putting it on!"

Jack felt slightly ashamed that he'd given his thinking away so easily.

4D was already on the window sill. "Byeee....." he called as he flew out.

Jack rushed to the window and called out, "Who are your friends?"

"You'll find out, " 4D called, and he disappeared into the night.

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