Mrs. Levy was the first friend he'd made in his new neighborhood in Media, Pennsylvania. The unusual friendship began when she had been out picking tomatoes in her garden, and she had her basket in her right hand and some other stuff in the left. Kid Joey ran up and opened the screen door for her. It was on the side of her house, visible from the front sidewalk.
"Are you moving in down the block?" she'd asked, sitting her stuff on the kitchen table inside. Kid Joey stayed on the outside step, but answered through the screen.
"Yes. I'm Joey."
"Well, Joey, when my neighbors decided to rent their house rather than sell it, I was a little nervous, but you seem to be quite a gentlemen, so that must mean you're being raised right. It's nice to know you. I'm Mrs. Levy."
"If you run over and tell your mom where you'll be, you can come back and I'll send her over some of my home canned tomatoes."
"Okay, thank you." Joey said, and took off.
Back in a flash, Kid Joey followed Mrs. Levy down the steep, twisty stairs into her cellar. They were coming down to get some tomatoes, she'd said. Canned tomatoes. He wondered why she didn't keep her cans of veggies in the kitchen like Mom did.
When she pulled the string and the bare bulb flooded the place with light, he saw a small room with all four walls filled with shelves and every inch on the shelves filled with veggies and fruits.
Mrs. Levy was already filling her basket with jars of tomatoes and added a jar of peaches as well.
"I thought you said cans," Kid Joey said, helping her by carrying a smaller basket with a couple of her jars, which were even heavier than cans, he noticed, comparing the small basket's weight with the weight of Mom's grocery bags hold much more than two jars, at home.
"Canned means preserved, not just the container, Joey."
"Oh," he said again, then added, "I like peaches."
"Lucky guess," Mrs. Levy said with a wink. When they got back upstairs they sat their baskets on the table for a moment and Mrs. Levy looked for a bag. "I seem to be out of bags. Can you handle the basket with the jars?"
"Sure," Kid Joey said, nodding. "I'll take the big one, and bring the basket right back to you."
"Sound like a plan," Mrs. Levy said, and Kid Joey smiled.
"My dad always says that."
"Okay, you skedaddle."
Joey brought the basket right back just like he'd promised, and Mrs. Levy gave him a glass of sweet tea and some peanut butter crackers, joining him with a snack of her own at the table.
"You never saw jars of vegetables before?"
Kid Joey shook his head.
"Well, 'canned' means preserved, is all. Big companies use cans because they have the equipment to seal them properly. But when people can at home they use jars like the tomatoes are in. You can use the jars over and over again; you just boil them to get them especially clean. You have to get new lids, though, because you can only use them once."
"Oh," Joey said, munching.
"You know how jelly comes in jars? And pickles? Well, they are both preserved in jars."
"And spaghetti sauce? You can get that in cans and jars."
Kid Joey came back to hang out with Mrs. Levy often, and helped her up and down the cellar steps with her stuff. He helped her move freshly canned foods to the back of the shelves and stuff that should be used sooner to the front. And sometime during all that work he noticed a door on the space under the stairs.
It couldn't be a very big space, he thought, because the stairs were small and twisty, not very deep.
What could she keep in so tiny a space?
Kid Joey wondered about that until one time, on the way to the basement with a basket of canned, marinated mushrooms, he decided to satisfy his curiosity.
He found the door unlocked, and gently turned the glass knob. He'd never seen one of those before. Mrs. Levy's house was really old. It had a lot of cool stuff. The glass knob looked like a great big diamond. When he turned it the latch released and he opened the door up, shedding light into the little space under the stairs.
Kid Joey had been right, it was a tiny little space, but it was not empty by a long shot. It looked like doll furniture on the shelves there.
And there were openings on each shelf, like trap doors with ladders through them as if each shelf was a floor in a house.
Kid Joey bent to peer in at the bottom shelf, on which there was living room furniture. There was a little sofa and a coffee table and even a little TV. And it was on! How could a TV that little possibly work, he mumbled to himself.
"Because it's hooked up to cable just like yours, silly boy," came a squeaky but distinguished little voice from the sofa, sitting mostly in shadow.
After living so long at Grandma Crystal's in her kind-of old house, Kid Joey was used to basements and unusual circumstances, especially in her attic where her crystal ball was.
But the voice in the cabinet under the stairs startled him and he jumped.
That immediately drew laughter from the voice. Kid Joey blushed without realizing it as he bent to see who (or what?) was there. Maybe there was a room on the other side of the cabinet and someone was just playing a joke on him. But when a light was switched on and the living room shelf was flooded with light, Kid Joey stood fast in spite of what he saw sitting on the tiny sofa, legs crossed, lifting the tiny remote off the end table and turning the TV off.
"You're a…wait. You can't be! You're a…"
"Dragon. Yes I am," came the distinguished voice.
Kid Joey's head tilted as he decided whether or not to believe his eyes as the tiny scaled creature stood and walked to the edge of the living room shelf, rolling his red eyes.
"You sit on a sofa and watch TV?" Joey said, surprised at this idea.
"And occasionally drink root beer and eat popcorn. What do you do in your leisure time, sir?"
Kid Joey's eyes widened. "I…um…."
The dragon smiled, enjoying the boy's mix of astonishment and disbelief. "You go on adventures, right?"
Kid Joey backed up a step, wondering how the dragon could know…
"Yes, yes, of course I know, Kid Joey, all about Grandma Crystal's attic and Gramps Blaze's magic fishing rod that caught you a fish float. Why should that surprise you? I mean really - you just found a dragon under the steps. You think my having powers to read your mind is so much more a stretch?"
"You know my name - and Gramps' and Grandma's."
"And it's about time we made our acquaintance official," the dragon stood and walked in a most dignified manner to the edge of the shelf and gave a little bow. "Sir Winston Howard Ignatius Pendragon, at your service, sir."
Kid Joey was looking puzzled again which put another amused smirk on the dragon's face, but he held back the chuckle for it was bad form to laugh at someone during introductions. It could wait.
"Most of my friends call me WHIP."
"First letters from each of my four names. W-H-I-P."
"Oh, I get it."
"My mother used to call me Winnie when I was very small, but my dad said that wasn't dignified and would never do for a fire-breathing dragon. Besides, there's some pooh bear or some other silly creature named Winnie, I believe. One wouldn't want to get us confused."
"You breathe fire?" It was all Kid Joey had taken away from WHIP's comments.
"How else would I pop my popcorn?"
"In the microwave?"
"Pffft! Sissy way to do it if you ask me!" When he snorted at the microwave suggestion, a puff of smoke escaped his nostrils. The dragon picked up a kernel from the little bowl on the table beside the sofa, snorted a flame and tossed the kernel up into it. POOF! Popcorn. One kernel filled his hand and he took a little bite.
"Wow!" Kid Joey said.
"Put a weenie on a stick and we have supper."
Kid Joey laughed at the little fellow.
"Little fellow? My dear boy, I assure you I am only this size because of Lady Evelyn Snodgrass, daughter of the Earl of Devonshire."
"I was a young knight in the service to the earl and Lady Evelyn fell in love with me. I was rather a hottie in those days. Anyway, I was betrothed…"
"Engaged - about to marry Princess Gwendolyn of Manfred and the earl was disgruntled…"
The dragon shook his head. "Don't they teach the Queen's English anymore in these American schools?" he asked, somewhat impatient.
"Well, the English in America would belong to the President, not the Queen, right?" Kid Joey suggested.
The dragon sighed. "I suppose; I suppose. Very well then, we'll get back to the story. The earl, unfortunately was a powerful wizard and changed me into a dragon."
"Indeed. Had I known of his secret capabilities I would have held up a mirror when he aimed his magic wand at me, and it would have reflected back onto him. But how I ask you, could I have known?"
"What a mean thing to do!"
The dragon smiled. "Not so bad. I followed knights and leant a hand with their adventures."
"Weren't you afraid they'd step on you in their armor?"
More rolling of dragon eyes. "My dear boy, do you think this," he tilted his head back toward his living room. "Is all there is to me?" He snorted again, producing another puff of smoke out his nose. "Grab that basket over there. We need to go outside."
Kid Joey held the basket by the dragon's living room shelf and he hopped in.
"Let's go, young man. Day's a-wasting," said the dragon, pointing the way.
Up the twisted, creaky steps Kid Joey carried Sir WHIP, the little dragon.
Or so the boy thought.
Upstairs Mrs. Levy sat at her kitchen table, with her cup of tea, some peanut butter crackers and a crossword puzzle just like always - as if she didn't have a fire breathing dragon (granted a teeny one, but still) under her cellar steps.
"Well I see you two have finally met."
"Yes, Lady June. I was just taking the boy outside to get a look at him in the light," the dragon spoke to Mrs. Levy as if they were old friends.
"Lady June?" Kid Joey wondered out loud.
"Sit down and have a cookie while I tell you some things you need to know," Mrs. Levy - Lady June Levilier, to be precise - invited Kid Joey, nudging a chair out from the table with her foot for him to rest upon.
Cookies worked for him.
"There are rules, Kid Joey, even for dragons. You know, you can't leave America, Sir WHIP."
"Of course not."
"There's still that matter of Sir Donovan."
"Yes, yes, but he's all the way across the fair Atlantic in Ireland now, I believe, the big sissy."
Well, you did set his woods on fire." Lady June smiled, apparently remembering.
"He tried to stab me with that pathetic sword of his!"
"You could have just made it hot so he would drop it. Melting it was overkill, don't you think?" Lady June pursed her lips, her chin tilted down, waiting for an answer as she would wait for an explanation from a mischievous child.
"Don't presume to scold me, Madam."
"You had the clear advantage, my friend. He was so much smaller than you."
"Smaller than WHIP? I mean, Sir WHIP?"
"Please get on with the rules, Lady June; I want to take this fine young man outside and show him what it means to be a friend of mine."
"No breathing flames larger than four feet, especially in woods or yards with lots of trees and bushes. And only one-foot flames inside, and smaller than that around furniture. By the way, I smelled that popcorn. My jar is getting low, would you mind, a little later when you get back…"
"Of course, Lady June. It's the least I can do," WHIP said, bowing inside the basket.
"Get back? Where is he going?" Kid Joey asked, as if talking about the size of the flames his friend was allowed to breathe was a common, everyday event.
"Where are we going, you mean," Sir WHIP said, and Kid Joey's brows rose with the suggestion.
"Alright, to save time, just be careful about the fire and don't wander too far away," Lady June said, walking them to the door. "I'm sure the two of you can find plenty of adventure right here in Pennsylvania," she said, letting Kid Joey out. Sir WHIP held onto the edge of the basket to maintain balance, as Kid Joey entered the side yard, and headed around back where they would be out of sight of passersby on the street.
"Sit me in the grass over there, Kid Joseph."
"Kid Joey," he corrected. "No one calls me Joseph except my mom when she's really…disgruntled," Kid Joey said, using the word he'd learned from his new, scaly friend.
The dragon smiled. "I can only imagine."
Kid Joey sat the basket in the grass in the middle of the yard as he'd been told, and watched as the dragon vaulted over the side, up to his knees in the well-manicured plant life.
"Back up a little, boy, give me some room!" the tiny dragon said, about two feet away from Kid Joey's sneakers already.
"I don't want to lose you…" Kid Joey teased.
"Nobody likes a smart-alek, Joey," the dragon said, and suddenly, before Kid Joey's astonished eyes, WHIP began to grow. With three seconds he was as tall as Kid Joey.
But he kept growing…taller, taller, taller until his head was at least eight feet in the air. Kid Joey almost toppled backwards as his chin lifted, his eyes following his friend's growth. All the while his jaw dropped and his eyes popped with astonishment.
Sir WHIP gazed down at his little friend with large, red eyes and smiled. "Impressed yet?"
Kid Joey nodded in stunned silence.
"Well, get ready," WHIP said, his voice booming, echoing off the back of Lady June's house. His red eyes closed as Kid Joey's somehow got even wider.
Yours would too if you saw your very large dragon friend grunt, flex his shoulder muscles and suddenly sprout enormous, leathery wings.
"You can fly??? You're a flying, fire-breathing dragon?" Kid Joey whispered, completely floored.
And Sir WHIP's laughter boomed. He ducked his head down, rested his chin on the ground, and said, "Climb aboard, dude. It's adventure time." Kid Joey climbed onto his friend's head and Sir WHIP raised it up in the air. Kid Joey slid down his long neck and ended up straddling the dragon's shoulders as if he were riding a horse bareback.
"He we go!" Sir WHIP announced, and with a few flaps of his wings he and Kid Joey were airborne!
Suddenly the rules about travel made perfect sense to Kid Joey. He wondered what adventures Sir WHIP had in store for them, as he waved back to Lady June before Sir WHIP carried him out of her sight.
And into faraway places Kid Joey could only imagine…
The End (for now).
TD - 10/4/2015