Chapter 1. The Rascal.
Once upon a time, there was a tiny boy who rode butterflies. They took him to flower fields where hundreds of them flitted about.
His favorite place was a field of tulips, whose shiny red petals looked like cups sitting atop bright green stalks. Small fairies called Posies lived inside them.
One day, the boy rode an orangey butterfly to the tulip field, fell off, and landed right in the flower-cup home of a Posy woman. She was quite surprised to see a boy fall out of the sky and knock over her furniture.
The boy stood up as quickly as he could. He was going to say sorry, but the woman’s appearance was so unusual, he just stared at her. Three things about her stood out:
– her hair, which was long, black, and straight;
– her clothing, a close-fitting suit that changed color from dark red to pale blue, depending on which way the light hit it;
– and her wings, which opened wide in surprise when the boy came crashing down.
Her wings were different from animals’ wings. They were like the petals of a white Easter lily: two pointed up, two pointed down, and one pointed to each side. When she closed them, they all folded down against her back.
After recovering from her shock and making sure the boy wasn’t hurt, the fairy fed him a raindrop and a seed-biscuit, which he ate with pleasure.
She asked, “How did such a little boy get so far from home?”
Because she looked so interesting, the boy wanted to impress her. So he made up a story (which was something he did a lot). “I was just flying around in the sky—you know, way up there.”
“Did you go as high as the treetops?”
“The treetops? Heck, that’s not high. I was up there with the sun. He needed my help.”
“The sun needed your help?”
“Yeah. He got stuck and needed a push.”
The fairy looked doubtful. “I’m surprised you didn’t burn up. The sun is very hot.”
“I’ll say,” said the boy. “I used to be a hundred feet tall, but when I touched the sun, I burned down to this size. My wings burned off, too. And the sun told me he wasn’t feeling so hot today! That was a fib. Me and him are going to tangle when I get back up there.”
The fairy raised an eyebrow. “I think maybe someone else is telling a fib.”
The boy only smiled.
“My name is Idoru,” said the fairy. She pronounced it EYE-doh-roo. “If I asked you your name, would you tell me the right one?”
“Sure! I’m Slip.”
“Well, Slip, I can’t help you reach the sun, but if you like, I could call a butterfly to carry you to Nockton, the town of the Smidgen people. It’s not far from here. The Smidgens look and talk just like you. Isn’t that odd? I’ll bet they would let you stay with them.”
“Okay, but can I come back and visit you?”
“Yes, whenever you like.”
Idoru fluttered up to peek over the rim of her tulip. She whistled a little melody. A bluish-greenish butterfly heard her call and landed on the flower.
Idoru went to her cupboard, took three poppy seeds from it, and put them in a net made of silkworm thread. She gave the bundle to Slip. “If anyone asks you why you went so far, you can show them these, and perhaps they’ll forgive you.”
Slip said, “Nobody will ask me that; I’m not from this Smidgen town you mentioned.”
“Oh, of course not. But take them anyway, just in case.”
Slip climbed a little ladder to reach the top of the flower. He mounted the butterfly’s back, and it rose into the air. He steered his steed in a big circle, so he could wave goodbye to the fairy. Then he aimed it toward a nearby hill.
“Back to Nockton, quick as the wind!” he said.
(It was strange, his saying “back” to Nockton, the Smidgen village, if he wasn’t from there.)
Now, butterflies are fun to ride, but they are not as quick as the wind. They move from side to side and up and down almost as much as they move forward. Anyone who is in a hurry should probably ride a dragonfly instead.
At one point, they came upon a patch of daisies, and Slip made the butterfly curve around them. Daisies are pretty, but they don’t smell very good. To a tiny person, they stink as bad as the inside of a cow barn.
The air was much nicer near Nockton, because it was built between a row of lilac trees and a patch of lavender. Slip landed at the end of the longest street in town. He thanked the butterfly, sent it on its way, and began walking.
He went slowly, taking big steps and pausing to look at each house he passed, as if he were watching for enemies. When he reached a dark green house, a person sitting on the porch said, “Hello.”
Slip turned quickly, reaching for the cowboy guns on his hips—but they were gone! Shoot, he thought, I must a left ’em on ma horse.
He relaxed when he saw that the speaker was a lady. “Howdy,” he said.
She smiled at him. “Would you like some lunch?”
Slip walked around in a circle for half a minute, tapping his lips, scratching his head, and folding his arms and frowning. “Okay,” he said. “If you give me something good, I’ll give you my poppy seeds. No eggs and no olives!”
“All right. Come inside and tell me where you found those seeds.”
“Now that’s an interesting story,” said Slip. He began walking toward the house, using his special two-steps-forward, one-step-back walk. That would confuse her if she tried to grab him.
When he reached the porch, he turned back toward the street and growled. He raised his arms in the air and pulled them back down slowly, squeezing his fists as tight as he could to make his arm muscles look bigger. He made an ugly face, too. He did it to scare away the invisible ghosts that he was pretty sure were following him.
He entered the house, went to the dining table, and sat down. He plunked the three poppy seeds onto the chair next to him.
The lady came from the kitchen and gave him a bowl of some sort of mush. It looked awful, but it tasted good. Slip expected it was probably poisonous, but his stomach was made of steel and could not be defeated by any poison.
“So,” said the lady, “are you going to tell me where you got the seeds?”
“Today,” said Slip, “I was on a mountain.”
“Mount Pungle Hooby.”
“I’ve never heard of that one.”
“I was at the very top of it… in a snowstorm!”
“Oh, no!” she said. “Without your jacket?”
Slip snickered, because he knew the lady didn’t like being cold. “I don’t need no jacket!”
“You don’t? What were you doing up there?”
“I was… wrestling snakes!”
The lady covered her mouth with her hands. Slip laughed, because he knew that all ladies hate snakes.
“And then… a flock of bumblebees attacked!”
“Yeah, and me and the snake stopped wrestling, and we said, ‘If we don’t team up, we’ll both get stung to death.’ So I grabbed an acorn and tossed it in the air, and the snake whipped his tail around and batted it into the sky, and it hit a bumblebee and knocked him out.”
“Wow!” said the lady.
“So I kept chucking acorns, and the snake kept batting them, until the bumblebees were all dead!”
The lady was obviously impressed. “You’re such a big, strong hero.”
Slip smiled proudly, but his smile quickly turned into a frown. He remembered that when the lady said things like that, she sometimes tried to grab him.
“But what does that story have to do with poppy seeds?” she asked.
“Oh, the bumblebees were carrying them back to their nest. They dropped them when we knocked them down.”
“Do you know what that story deserves?” asked the lady.
Slip jumped and ran for the door, but the lady caught him. She looked like a Smidgen mother, but she was really a troll! With her troll strength, she squeezed him, trying to make his head pop off like a dandelion baby’s. But Slip was tough, and his head stayed on. The troll lady mashed her mouth all over his face, trying to eat him, but her teeth couldn’t break his iron skin.
The worst part was that when he looked out the window, he saw his archenemy standing on the porch. The creature was peeking in and watching him, pointing and laughing and mocking his struggles.
After a while, the troll lady realized she couldn’t break Slip, so she gave up and let him go.
“Look: Petal’s here,” she said. “Come back for dinner when the sun gets low.”
Slip quickly exited the house and ran to the sidewalk. His enemy followed him from the porch. She was magically disguised as a little girl, but that didn’t fool Slip. She was smaller than him, but much hairier, with a mane like a lion’s.
Here’s a secret about monsters: every monster has a secret name, and if you know it, you can control the monster by saying it. Slip knew the secret name of every monster in the world—except this one. He was close to guessing it, though; he could feel it.
He said, “Go away, Bungle Hootoo!”
The creature roared. “Don’t call me that! My name’s not Bungle Hootoo!”
“Prove it, Bungle Hootoo.”
He thought he had her there. But she was a crafty one. She said, “If you promise never to call me that again, I’ll give you some candy.” She held up a bag.
Slip’s eyes went wide when he saw the “candy,” as the creature called it. It wasn’t candy at all; it was purple monster chow. If Slip ate it, it would make him stronger… and the creature would have that much less to eat.
“Okay,” he said.
“Or Bunga Howdy, or Smungle Jumbo, or any of those other stupid names you make up. All right?”
Slip sighed. It was a hard deal to make. He couldn’t control the creature if he didn’t discover her secret name. But if he didn’t eat some of her purple monster chow, she would eat all of it and grow so strong that she could knock down the whole town while Slip was sleeping.
“All right,” he said. He stepped forward to get the chow.
The creature stepped back. “Wait. If you pull my hair, I’ll hit you with a rock.”
Slip said, “Why don’t you ever wear your hair in a braid?” He had a vision of himself grabbing that braid and pulling it, making her head ring like a bell. What a joy that would be!
“‘Cause it’s not quite long enough. My mom had to cut it when I got that sticky pollen in it. Which you threw at me.”
Slip wanted to say, “Oh, yeah? Did you see me throw it at you?” But when he heard the word pollen, he thought of flowers (because pollen is a dust that flowers make), and that gave him a new idea. If he could lure the creature to the tulip field… yes! He had a plan, and if it worked, he could be rid of her forever. But to lure her to her doom, he would have to pretend to be friendly.
“Pull your hair? Who, me?” he said. “I wouldn’t pull your hair. I was just thinking that if it was in a braid, it wouldn’t get blown around by the wind as much when you’re flying.”
“Flying? What do you mean?”
Slip held out his hand for another piece of purple monster chow, and received it. He popped it into his mouth. So sweet, so chewy. He could already feel the extra strength entering his limbs.
“I mean when you ride butterflies. You know.”
“I don’t ride butterflies.”
“You don’t?” Slip pretended to be surprised. “Then how do you get over Bramble Hill when you want to see the tulip fields?”
The creature was cross. “I don’t go over Bramble Hill, and I don’t go to the tulip fields. And nobody rides butterflies.”
Slip held up his hands, palms outwards. “Whatever you say. Well, I gotta get going. I’ve been on the ground too long. I need to get back up in the air. See ya.”
He ran off and didn’t look back, even though the creature yelled, “Wait!” after him.
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