Storytime: Doodle.

October 5th, 2016

It was homework, the dreariest of all possible works, that brought such trouble to Melanie.
And to top it all off, her pencil was a stub. She hated pencils; they always did this, no matter how promising they started.
So she went looking for a pen. And to be fair to Melanie, she looked in the kitchen drawer first; and she looked in her room second; and she looked under the couch third, and THEN she did the thing she knew she shouldn’t do and she walked into her mother’s study.
Melanie’s mother was a magician and had told her never to do this many times very sternly. But that had been a long time ago, and besides Melanie just wanted a pen, which she found sitting on the desk and immediately took.
Now THIS was better than a pencil. A firm, stern blue line, unwavering with usage and wear. Her answers made no more sense to her, but they were so much surer in their stance. In fact, it was almost a waste to see them used on such trifling things as homework, and inch by inch, bit by bit, Melanie began to doodle.
She drew their house; a big old apartment building half-missing from when Melanie’s mother had learned their landlord was sucking out his tenants’ happiness with a demon; and she drew her class – herself and a bunch of other people of some kind – and she drew a dinosaur.
She didn’t intend to. It began with an eye, which flowed into a snout, which poured into a body, and dribbled away into a long slim tail. It was a modern dinosaur, and so she gave it a thick tight coat of feathers to warm it and cool it and colour its (ink-blue) sides. But the part Melanie was most proud of were the eyes, which she shaded so especially well that they shone with luster. She could almost see them blink, which made her almost perversely disappointed when they did.
They blinked again.
Then the whole dinosaur stretched – a big-cat stretch – and it yawned and it turned its head to peer at her. Its breath was soft and strong between its teeth, and it smelled of old meat and fresh dew on ferns.
The front door creaked. Melanie’s mother was home, and already calling for help with the groceries. And by the time Melanie turned back to her workbook, it was empty except for a few half-chewed shreds of numbers scattering the bottom of the page.

School the next morning was a dreary thing. A rainy day, a morning scolding over the state of her homework, and a breakfast that was mostly apples. By the time math class began, Melanie was thoroughly disgruntled. Division! Before lunch! And her with only a borrowed pencil to work with and a longing for her mother’s pen, which was safe at home tucked under her bed. But she swallowed her angst with stoic grace, and she began to math.
A number started. A framework of complicated bits surrounded it. And bit by bit, it was peeled away to reveal a fresh new shining product.
It would have been satisfying if it wasn’t one of ten and it wasn’t dull and it wasn’t long and it didn’t make Melanie’s head hurt.
But she persisted, and she focused, and then, halfway down the page, she felt warm breath against her wrist.
She pulled her hand back with a start, just before the long, narrow snout of her dinosaur poked it across the edge of the page, sniffing quietly. The rest of it followed on silent three-clawed feet.
Its eyes were even brighter than she remembered. And they were looking right at it.
It stepped towards the edge of the page – the near edge – and Melanie grabbed the sheet and stuffed it in her desk and stifled her own shriek all at once before she remembered she was surrounded by her fellow students and the teacher was looking right at her.

One severe talk later, class was over and gym began.
Melanie did not like gym. There was a rope she had to climb, and a ball she had to throw. Neither liked her, either.
She stood on the ground, watching as Lizzie climbed like a monkey, and she seethed with a dull-bladed envy that nearly made her stomach stop churning. The dinosaur had been gone when she gave the homework to the teacher. But then again, the dinosaur had been gone yesterday, when her mother came home.
The rope called, and the teacher called her name.
Up went Melanie, hand over hand, higher than any kite she’d ever managed to fly, which she hadn’t. Up towards the big glowing sky above that was the gym lights, which made her squint a little no matter how dim and fuzzy and in need of cleaning their screen was. It was like a little forest of mould and fuzzy lint and dirt in there; a jungle in miniature. Not THAT miniature, mind you. It was nearly as big as she was. It was nearly big enough to fit her whole dinosaur, which was there all along, watching her again.
It opened its mouth and hissed at her, and Melanie did the sensible thing and let go.

There was another talk. It was more serious. Notes were produced, exchanged, and sent home with Melanie, who found her dinner devoid of dessert and with a side of lecture instead.
She went up to her room with a stomach screaming for thwarted sugar and a head dancing with nerves. Twice, now. Twice. And the second time not even on paper. She never should have taken that pen. What if it was lost? What if it was missing? She’d have to tell her mother and she’d have to run away from her own dinosaur all her life.
Trembling, fearing which might happen, cringing at the invisible teeth that MUST be about to close on her fingertips, Melanie reached underneath her bed and up against the mattress and sagged under the weight of ten thousand tons of relief.
Yes, the pen was still there.
Tomorrow morning she would get up early before her mother – an easy job – and put it back on her desk and everything would be fine. And by saying this to herself, it was already fine.
For the first time that day, Melanie felt safe and calm. Her room was soft and warm and filled in the glow of her lamp. VERY filled. She couldn’t remember the last time it had shone like this; had her mother changed the bulb? It was as lustrous as an electric pearl.
Her lamp blinked.
And, in that very slow way that happens all at once and quickly, Melanie saw that her room’s walls were feathers and its ceiling was a mouth and floor was claws and its eyes, its beautiful eyes, were on her.
If Melanie had taken any time at all to think, things might have gotten very bad indeed. But instead, all that came out was a scream: “MOOOOMMMY!”
The eyes flinched and there was a crash and a bang and Melanie’s mother was in the room before the door finished opening. But her magic had come in before she had, and it made her ten feet tall. The air crackled like rice cereal with too much milk and the dinosaur hesitated just for a moment in the way Melanie hadn’t and by then it was much too late for it.
“Come down to the kitchen,” said Melanie’s mother. The pen was smoking in her hand like an old cigarette. “Now.”
So they did.

The first thing that happened was Melanie’s mother put her pen away.
The second thing that happened was Melanie’s mother brought out cookies.
And the third thing that happened was a lecture.
“Melanie, I am severely disappointed,” said her mother. “You should have come to me immediately and ‘fessed up and this whole thing would’ve been over in ten minutes. Remember the time you told me you didn’t know who ate the whole box of cookies?”
Melanie flinched.
“Yes, they’re the same thing. Magic is, after all, nothing more than an organized sort of lying. And you have done a very good job of it for an amateur.”
“The pen is a pen, little fidget. A nice pen that you shouldn’t have borrowed without permission, but a pen. Until you took it and let your imagination wander away, that is. Now this is going in my safe, and YOU are going to have to learn magic properly. The safe way.” Melanie’s mother pinched her nose and shook her head. “But we’ll do that tomorrow. Once you’ve finished your math.”
And that was how Melanie’s troubles truly began, for now her homework was twice as long.

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