The Christmas Cat – Chapter 3: The Golden Feather

“Well?” said the Cat. “What are you waiting for?”

“What about the dragon?” Myron said. He eyed the dragon nervously, watching its scales shimmer as its massive chest rose and fell.

“The dragon? Oh, that.” The Cat shrugged as only a cat can. “It’s asleep, the same as my owner. Don’t worry. It won’t wake up. Just bring me the magic, and then you can go home. Which one of you will do it?”

The boys looked at each other. Then they looked at the dragon.

“I’ll go,” said Myron. He looked at Micah. “Wait here. I’ll be back soon.”

Micah nodded, and watched as Myron walked over to the sleeping dragon

As Myron approached the dragon he could feel little beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead, and the heat from the sleeping beast radiated over him. He was shaking all over, and this time it was not from the cold.

But he also noticed that the dragon’s eyes were tight shut, and that it did not stir even when he came right up to it and stood by its head. It was a big beast — its head alone was longer than Uncle Matt lying down. Myron could see a solitary tooth poking over the dragon’s lower lip, and he could hear the deep rumble of its breathing, just as if it was a giant cat purring.

He looked back. Micah and the Cat were watching him from the far end of the hall. He looked past the dragon. The room beyond was even darker, and it was impossible to make anything out.

Moving as quietly as possible he tiptoed his way around the dragon’s head, not taking his eyes off it for a second. When he was past it he scurried through the door and into the dark room beyond.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. When they did he found himself in a room that looked like the inside of a church. Tall stained-glass windows surrounded him, and rows of pews ran from the back of the room to the front, where a narrow flight of steps ran up to what looked like a small cupboard high on the wall. But between him and the steps, shimmering gently like a see-through curtain, was the Veil the Cat had told them about.

Myron walked up to the Veil and studied it. It rose from the floor to ceiling, and stretched from wall to wall. It shimmered and moved just like a real curtain, but instead of cloth it was made out of light — bright, yellow-white light, like the inside of the Sun.

He reached out slowly and, after hesitating for a long while, he touched it. Disappointingly, his hand went straight through the Veil with no strange feeling whatsoever — it was as if there was nothing there. Feeling let down, Myron shuffled forward until his whole body passed through the Veil, holding his breath and squeezing his eyes tight as he stepped through the light and on to the other side.

There was no difference, just a tiny tingling sensation. When Myron opened his eyes again the Veil was behind him, and the long flight of steps lay in front of him. He glanced behind him, took a deep breath, and started to climb.

After a hundred steps he looked back, and was shocked to find he had hardly risen anywhere. Obviously the stairs were as magical as the rest of the house.

He toiled on. After three hundred steps he looked back again. The floor was further away now, and the cupboard at the head of the stairs was a little nearer. He pushed on, encouraged.

In the end he climbed more than five hundred steps before he reached the cupboard, puffing and panting. It was a very plain cupboard, just varnished wood with a brass handle. But all the same Myron’s heart was beating fast as he reached out to open it.

There was a flash of hot yellow-red light that nearly blinded him. He turned his head away, squeezing his eyes tight; behind his eyelids he could still see the light, burning brightly. But though there was light, there was no heat.

Slowly, cautiously, Myron turned back again and opened his eyes just a fraction. The light was ebbing away now; it was merely bright instead of unbearable, and if he squinted he could see inside the cupboard.

There was something there: something as long as his arm, and narrow at both ends. As Myron watched, the light faded to a soft glow, and he could see what it was: a single feather, reddish-gold, sitting alone on a shelf.

He reached in and took it. It was warm to the touch, and strangely heavy. Myron clutched the feather tight — this, he realised, was the magic the Cat was talking about.

He turned to go, but as he put his foot on the top step there came a heavy booming from somewhere deep inside the house, and a loud bell began to ring again and again — dong! dong! dong!

“Myron!” Micah’s voice called to him from the hall outside. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know!” Myron shouted back. “I’m coming!”

The ringing grew louder, and the floor began to shake. The Veil hissed like a snake and turned from gold to sharp, venomous green.

Micah was shouting again, but what with the shaking and the ringing Myron could not hear what he was saying.

“What?” he shouted. “What did you say?”

“… careful …!” he heard Micah say.

“Careful? Careful of what?”

The answer came to him with a roar and a blast of fire, as the dragon darted through the doorway with startling speed and reared its scaly head to the high ceiling.

Myron stood still, frozen in terror. The dragon was well and truly awake now, and its eyes blazed with inward fire as it swept the room with its gaze. Fire dripped from its jaws, hissing on the floor and making great black scorch-marks. Then it saw Myron, and its mouth opened wide, and it let out a ferocious roar that rang off the ceiling and shook the stairs.

The sound jerked Myron into action. It was no good standing still and waiting to be burnt to a crisp; he leapt down the stairs, taking them two at a time, the golden feather still clutched tightly in his hand.

Going down took less time than coming up, and it seemed like only a second later that Myron found himself facing the now-green Veil, with the dragon rearing tall on the other side. Before he had time to think the dragon darted down towards him, its mouth open wide and a blaze of fire rushing onwards, ready to burn him alive.

The fire did not touch him. As soon as the flames met the green Veil there was a sound like eggs hitting a hot pan and they dissolved into nothing. A second later the dragon hit the Veil head-on, and it recoiled with a howl as though it had been burnt and fell thrashing around on the far side of the room, beating at its snout.

Myron took his chance. He ran forwards, passing through the Veil with no resistance, and sprinted as fast as he could past the dragon and out of the room into the hall beyond.

Micah and the Cat were waiting for him. The Cat was as laid-back as ever, but Micah’s eyes were wide with fear.

“The dragon …! The dragon …!” Micah panted, pointing behind Myron to the doors. “It’s … it’s awake!”

“I know!” said Myron. “I’ve met it!”

“The feather!” the Cat broke in, leaping between them. “Do you have the feather?”

“Yes,” Myron said, holding it out.

A roar behind them made them all jump, and then everything became very confused. The Cat leapt up at Myron’s hand, and it must have been excited, for its claws came out and accidentally scratched him, making him drop the feather. As the feather fell to the floor the Cat twisted in mid-air and seized it in its jaws, then landed on all fours and sprinted off down the darkened hall, leaving the boys alone with the dragon.

Myron cried out and clutched at his scratched hand as a drop of blood fell to the floor.

“Wait!” shouted Micah, taking a couple of steps after the Cat.

But the Cat was gone.

Another roar shook the hall, and the boys spun round to find themselves facing a big, bad, and very, very angry dragon. It did not strike, but slowly lowered its head on its long, snake-like neck until it was looking straight at them. Smoke billowed from its nostrils, thick and black. The boys did not move. They could not move. They were absolutely frozen with terror.

That was when a new voice came from behind them, deep and commanding:

“Artaxezulus! Down boy! I said down! What’s all this commotion for, then? And just what do you think you two are doing in my house?”

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