Curled up together while the autumn storm raged outside, nine cousins listened to Aunt Abby’s story:
Once upon a time, a ghost named Bruce haunted an old abandoned barn out in a cow pasture. He liked the barn with its old tin roof and gray pine-board walls worn down by wind and rain. He liked the old field with its tuffs of grass and wild flowers in the spring. But, Bruce was lonely. Haunting an old barn and scaring away kids was all good and fun, but sometimes he wished the kids would stay. He wished they’d run and scream with him instead of away from him.
One day, a brown and white puppy dog came sniffing around the barn.
“Hello!” Bruce called, floating up.
The puppy raised its nose from where he’d been sniffing a pile of trash and growled at the ghost.
Bruce darted back in the window of the barn. After waiting a moment, he peeked out. The puppy barked again. Bruce flew up through the floor to the dangerous second story. He counted to five: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
After several more attempts to not be barked at involving the gutters, the empty trough, and a blue glass bottle, Bruce realized they were playing hide and seek. He thought and thought for the best place to hide from the puppy. The old watering can? The fox hole in the barnyard? The chicken coop?
He tried each one and every time, bark! bark! the puppy found him.
Around and around the barn the ghost and the puppy raced. Here! There! Under! Over! In! and Out!
“Jude! Oh Jude!” a Princess shouted.
Bruce and the puppy came to a sudden halt.
“Jude? Where are you?”
The puppy gave a cheerful yip and raced out of the barn and into the Princesses arms. She cuddled him up and he licked and licked her face.
“Where have you been, silly dog?”
With a giant wiggle, the puppy escaped her hug. He tugged on her beautiful pink dress leading her back to the barn yard.
Bruce wisped through a wall. Playing with the puppy had been fun, but if this Princess swy him it’d be all back to screaming and running away. Bruce decided to hide for real and wafted all the way up to the very tip top of the barn.
“What is it Jude?” the Princess asked.
Jude barked at the ghost. Nothing. He barked again. No ghost.
Suddenly, an orange and brown owl, hooting indignantly, darted from the top of the barn. She spread her wings and gracefully swooped around and around the princess until she lighted on the ground.
“He’s hiding up there?” She pointed with her wing.
“What?” the Princess said unsurprised by the owl’s ability to talk. She was, after all, a very wise and round owl why shouldn’t she speak. “Who are you?”
“I’m Imogene the Owl. Jude wants you to meet his new friend, Bruce the ghost, but Bruce is hiding at the top of the barn.”
“He’s sure you’ll be afraid of him.”
“I’m not afraid! My fairy god-mother, Ellie, made me unafraid of everything.”
The owl blinked her two large eyes at the Princess. She never ceased to be amazed at the silly gifts fairies gave their charges. “Very well, I’ll go tell him.”
“I’ll come too,” the Princess said.
She hiked up her very full skirt and tromped into the barn with Jude at her heels.
Imogene shook her head at the silly, unafraid Princess, beat her wings, and flew back up to the roof to speak with Bruce before the something bad happened.
The floor creaked and groaned under the Princess’s every step as she made her way to the stairs leading up into the gloom. Several boards were missing, but being brave, she climbed over these with Jude under one arm until she reached the dangerous second floor. A shaft of weak light fell across a ladder on the other side of the room.
“We must climb that ladder!” The Princess exclaimed.
Jude sniffed the floor. He didn’t trust it one bit, but the Princess hurried across.
Up in his hiding spot, Bruce listened to Imogene as she told him about the Princess’s fairy curse. Maybe, just maybe this girl could be his friend if she wasn’t afraid of anything.
A scream sounded from below.
Jude barked: hurry hurry!
Oh no! Bruce flew down from the top of the barn passing through walls, floors, hay, dust, nests, and droppings.
“Princess!?” he shouted.
Then he saw her feet dangling through the dangerous second floor. Dirt covered her perfect glass slippers and a cut bled on her knee. The boards had given way under her as she tried to reach the ladder. Worse yet, her scream had woken Joshua the Dragon who slept under the barn. He loved Princesses most of all for dinner and he was very hungry when her yells woke him from his long autumn nap.
Bruce charged through the floor and stopped in front of the Princess.
“Hush! Hush.” Bruce pressed his finger to his lips. “You’ve woken Joshua up.”
“Who’s Joshua?” The Princess asked between gasps as she tried to keep from falling through the hole.
“He’s the dragon that lives under the barn.” Bruce tried to grab her hand but he kept floating right through her.
“What’s a dragon doing here?”
“Waiting to eat people.”
“Oh dear.” The Princess wasn’t afraid of Joshua the Dragon, she was far more worried about trying to explain to her parents how she ripped her dress and then got eaten. They wouldn’t be happy with her. “You have to find a way to help me up.”
Bruce zipped around and around thinking who could help. Think. Zip. Think. Zip.
The Princess slid further down into the whole.
Joshua the Dragon growled and climbed towards her.
Jude barked and barked chasing after the zipping, thinking ghost only to run back and bark at the dragon, and then tug on the Princess’s sleeve.
“I’ve got it!” Bruce flew like the wind out of the barn.
Faster and faster he floated. Bruce passed through trees, houses, and even a cow until he came to the creek where the water nymph, Constance, lived.
“Constance!” he called. “Help! Help!”
Out of the creek, rose a silvery girl with long locks of hair that flowed behind her when she swam. In her arms, a little nymph boy with big eyes sucked on the empty shell of a snail.
“What is it Bruce?”
“The Unafraid Princess fell through the floor and woke Joshua up and now he’s going to eat her!”
“That silly dragon always forgets he swore to stop eating princesses years ago.” Constance set the little nymph boy down. “Stay here Rook, until I get back. And no teasing the fish!”
Together, Bruce and Constance hurried back to the barn, passing back through trees and houses, though Constance made him go around the cow, instead of through it, much to the joy of the cow. Back in the barn, Constance, with the help of Jude, pulled the Princess up through the hole and onto boards that were safer.
“Just because you aren’t afraid,” Constance said. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make wise decisions. Didn’t Ellie the Fairy explain that?”
As Constance said her name, Ellie appeared.
“You called?” she said.
Joshua roared. The whole barn shook.
“My goodness. What is that?” Ellie peered down into the whole.
“That is Joshua the Dragon, which your Princess woke up because she’s not afraid of anything.”
“Well, not exactly—” the Princess started to explain, but Ellie loudly interrupted.
“Why would you go and do something like that?”
“I didn’t mean to wake him up.”
Joshua spread his wings and flew up into the room breaking the dangerous second floor to bits. Ellie fluttered out of the barn with the Princess who was still not scared. Constance grabbed up Jude and hurried out of the dragon’s way with Bruce behind them. Interrupted from her afternoon sleep by all the racket, Imogene came to see what had happened.
“I smell a tasty Princess!” Joshua snapped lashing his tail. “And I’m HUNGRY!”
Everyone stared at the big green dragon.
“No.” Bruce said. “No. You can’t eat her.”
“Why not?” Joshua growled. Smoke drifted up out of his large nose.
“Cause she’s my friend. And her dog is my friend.”
“Isn’t Imogene the Owl your friend, and Constance the water nymph, and Ellie the Fairy?”
Bruce looked around at not just the Princess and Jude, but also at the others gathered to help him.
“Don’t forget me!” a small voice said. “I’m your friend too.” Out of the barn fluttered a small moth with wild hair.
“Hello Remi,” Joshua said. He blew a soft puff of air at her to help her over to Bruce.
“Thank you, Joshua,” she huffed quite out of breath.
“All of you are my friends?” Bruce said.
“Of course!” Ellie shouted.
“But I’ve felt so lonely.”
“Maybe it took the unafraid Princess to remind you that you have lots of friends,” Constance said.
“Are you really going to eat me?” The Princess reminded them of why they were all here.
Joshua opened his big great mouth. Rows and rows of teeth gleamed in the sunshine. Smoke billowed up out of his throat.
“No.” He clamped his mouth shut. “No. I just remembered I promised not to eat any more Princesses.”
The unafraid Princess ran over and gave him a great big hug.
“I knew there was nothing to be scared of.”
“He thinks that since we’re all here, we may as well play a game of hide-and-go-seek.” Bruce translated.
“We should!” Ellie yelled.
The dragon, nymph, fairy, princess, moth, owl, and puppy darted back into the old barn while Bruce closed his eyes and started to count.