Sparky was sitting on the table reading the latest edition of Magical Creatures Monthly. He was studying a tempting-looking chocolate cake recipe by a dragon from Wisconsin, when with a loud pop and a puff of pink smoke, a small rectangular object landed on the doormat.
‘What was that, Sparky?’ called Alys from where she was busy cleaning her cauldron.
The diminutive dragon flew down to inspect the recent arrival. ‘It’s a Magical Messaging Machine. How exciting!’ He poked it gently with a small purple claw. ‘Oooh,’ he exclaimed through a shower of excited sparks as the screen sprang into life.
Alys hurried over. The Magical Message Machine pinged loudly and the large friendly face of George the Dragon filled the screen.
Alys and Sparky exchanged glances. Even though George had made a huge mess of Alys’s herb garden when he’d visited, and hadn’t actually turned out to be one of Sparky’s relatives as he’d claimed, they’d felt rather sorry for him when he had to be returned to the Home for Delusional Dragons. It was good to see him.
‘Listen both of you,’ George said, leaning even closer to his side of the screen. ‘I want to make it up to you for barging in on you like that.’
Alys smiled. ‘No harm done, George.’
‘Nothing which Alys couldn’t put right with a wave of her wand,’ added Sparky.
George held up a big blue paw. ‘I have a gift for you. It should be arriving about now.’
There was a gentle thud on the doormat accompanied by a cloud of dust. The retired cauldron sneezed, clearing the dust to reveal a tray containing six silver seedlings in little green pots.
‘Dragon Snaps,’ George explained. ‘Pop them out in your garden. They’ll be ready to harvest in ninety-nine minutes. I’ll call you back then, toodle-pip!’ The screen went blank.
‘Come on, Alys,’ excited steam issued from Sparky’s nostrils. ‘Let’s plant them.’
Soon the little Dragon Snaps were sitting comfortably in the soil. ‘All we need to do now is wait,’ said Alys. ‘What shall we do?’
‘We could make a cake.’ Sparky flew over to the table and brought back the recipe he’d been reading. ‘Looks good, doesn’t it?’
Alys grinned. ‘Let’s do it!’
‘Of course,’ replied Alys. ‘I can cook conventionally.’
Sparky raised a purple eyebrow but said nothing.
The time flew by as they measured and mixed and finally popped the cake in the oven. Sparky glanced out of the window. ‘Look!’ he pointed with a chocolate-covered paw.
The silver seedlings had grown into tiny trees. Hanging from their branches were dozens of strange-looking objects.
Just then the Magical Messaging Machine pinged. It vibrated agitatedly on the table until Alys picked it up. George’s face appeared. ‘Are they ripe yet?’
Sparky took off through the kitchen door and returned clutching a rectangular-shaped pod. ‘Go on, open it,’ said George excitedly.
Alys took the pod and carefully split it open. Inside was a playing card with a picture of a dragon on the front and some numbers and symbols beneath it. Alys turned the card over. The words Dragon Snap Collectibles™ shimmered in silver.
‘There are lots of different dragons to collect and it’s a game too!’ George grinned toothily.
‘Awesome!’ said Sparky through a shower of excited silvery sparks. ‘How many cards are there, George?’
‘It’s impossible to say. They just grow…’ George paused, noticing Alys’s expression. ‘They’re perfectly legitimate. I have a wizard contact who cultivates them in Seattle. He’s given me a license to import the seeds. All I need is somewhere to grow them. There’s no garden here at the Dragon’s Home.’
‘Collectible cards that grow on trees, Alys,’ said Sparky. ‘You were talking about growing the business, weren’t you?’
Alys grinned. ‘Why not, we’ve nothing to lose. They might attract a new set of customers.’ Sniffing the air, she whirled around and snatched open the oven door. Alys sighed and picked up her wand.
George continued. ‘I can supply you with the seedlings, you can to the rest…’
‘…and we can split the profits!’ Excited amber smoke issued from Sparky’s snout.
‘That looks tempting,’ said George, eyeing the cake with its glistening chocolate frosting from the screen. ‘You’re obviously a very accomplished cook.
Alys smiled at the compliment. ‘I’ll send you a piece, George.’
Sparky glanced at George’s beaming face and winked at Alys. ‘He may not be my uncle, but he can be our business partner, can’t he?’
Alys unpacked her latest doormat delivery from Acme’s Ingredients for Witches. It was a bumper order as she’d used the voucher she’d been given as a reward for capturing the bogus Dragon Inspector.
‘One item’s missing,’ said Sparky, consulting the delivery note. ‘Distillation of Edelweiss is out of stock.’
‘That’s the ingredient I was particularly waiting for. I need it for my Special Skin Cream for the More Mature Witch.’ Alys frowned. ‘Does it say when they’ll be getting more stock?’
The diminutive dragon shook his head. ‘Isn’t there anywhere else you can get it from?’
Alys shrugged. ‘It’s imported from Switzerland. Edelweiss grows in the Alps there.’
‘We could try contacting the manufacturers,’ suggested Sparky.
Alys took a dark blue bottle from the shelf and examined the flower-shaped label. There’s a doormat address here. I suppose I could try sending them a note.’
‘Or we could visit,’ said Sparky through an excited puff of purple smoke.
‘That would be an adventure! We’ve never been abroad.’
‘We went to Scotland for the Dragon-Flame Games last year,’ Sparky reminded her.
‘That’s not abroad.’
‘Well, it was foreign,’ retorted Sparky. ‘If it hadn’t been for the Babel-Fish Charm we’d have never understood what anyone was saying!’ He flew across the room and hovered by the door. ‘Shall we go then?’
Alys hesitated for a moment then, snatching up her wand, she joined him on the doormat.
They found themselves looking up at huge flower-shaped emblem which hung over the front doors of a large building. All around them were green fields carpeted in alpine flowers with snow-capped mountains beyond.
The doors opened to reveal a short, white-bearded man wearing a red hat, whose appearance reminded Alys of a garden gnome. ‘Welcome to Edelweiss Paradise,’ said the little man grandly. ‘My name is Otto.’
‘We came to buy some of your Distillation of Edelweiss,’ said Alys brightly.
Otto smiled, but then his face fell and his shoulders sagged.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Alys, while Sparky, who was perching on her shoulder, snorted out a concerned stream of violet smoke.
Otto stared at the diminutive dragon. ‘Please. Come inside.’
They followed Otto into the building. The walls were lined with a series of copper vessels connected by a maze of pipes leading up from a central smoke-stained pit. Further along was a bottling area, with a line of the familiar dark blue bottles standing on a long table.
The factory, however, was silent.
‘What happened?’ asked Alys.
Otto walked over to the fire pit. ‘The Eternal Flame which has fired our production for two hundred years has gone out. We’ve tried everything to rekindle it, but…’ Otto shook his head sadly. ‘Our village is desperate. We sold the last of our stock a month ago and this is our livelihood.’
Sparky sprang up and hovered over the pit, tiny flames issuing from his snout. He landed on the edge and looked up at Alys.
The young witch nodded and took out her wand. ‘Initio incendio!’ Alys commanded.
Sparky took a deep breath and blew a great golden gout of flames at the centre of the pit.
A blaze of bright blue flames poured forth from the tiny dragon’s mouth. Alys enunciated her incantation again. The flames glowed white-hot and with a whoosh the pit was ablaze. Alys and Sparky withdrew as the flames shot up towards the roof, then died down to a steady, healthy crackle.
‘You did it!’ Otto exclaimed. The factory doors flew open and a group of small gnome-like people flooded in, all whooping and cheering.
The retired cauldron quivered with pleasure as Alys draped a fresh garland of fragrant alpine blooms around her rim.
‘Maybe we should travel to foreign parts more often,’ called out Sparky as he flew over to admire the flower-shaped Medal of Honour which stood proudly on their bookshelf.
The Cutesy-Pie Snow-People were the craze of the century that Christmas. Their sweet little faces and animated features melted the hardest of hearts, and by mid-December every garden, balcony and complex had their own little Cutesy-Pie.
Everyone feared what would happen to the cute little creatures come the thaw. People cleared spaces in their freezers and banded together to rented chill-rooms to accommodate them for the warmer months.
But as the snow melted the Snow-People hardened. They began to grow taller and slimmer. They lost their sweet expressions and threw off their quirky hats. People stared out at them with a new fear. Were their cute little Snow-People going to turn on them?
Then one morning as the sun rose and cast its strengthening rays over the land, the Snow-People took to the air, rising up, glinting in the sunlight like so many ice angels.
They banded together and flew north.
Satellites tracked the angels’ progress; the feed was live-streamed into every home. People watched and waited. Then, as the first light dawned over the northern pole, the angels descended. Their bodies merged with the melting glaciers and re-froze the recent permafrost.
Together the Snow-People undid the damage of decades.