Spread out under the big Texas sky, seven cousins waited with bright eyes and perked up ears to see if they were safe or dragon dinner. Aunt Abby took her time settling in on Auntie Janet’s quilt. First, a drink of cool water, then she fixed Ellie’s hair, kissed Imogene, growled at Bruce, hugged Jules, seriously examined Joshua’s cars and trucks, tidied Constance’s braid, and at last, after spinning Jude through the air, sat down.
“Aunt Abby,” Jules said. “What about the eyes glowing in the dark.”
“Blue and green,” Imogene said.
“And Max,” said Ellie.
“I’m carrying him,” said Bruce holding out his hands cupped together.
“He’s so cute,” Constance said pretending to pet Max.
“Boys aren’t cute!” Joshua, Jude, and Bruce said all together.
“Well, we better start the story,” Aunt Abby said.
“Once upon a time…”
“Who dares to enter my chamber?” a deep, dark voice said.
“Well, it’s really more our chamber,” said another voice.
“Oh right, sorry,” said the deep dark voice sounding less deep and dark. It cleared its throat while the green eyes blinked away and then reappeared. “Who dares to enter our chamber?”
“Quick!” said Max. “Make animal noises. It’ll frighten them away.”
“No it will—” the dark voice started.
Quick as a whip, Constance started making a high-pitched, very demanding guinea pig squeak. It echoed through the cavern. Max shone just enough for all six of her cousins to turn and look at her. Joshua laughed and began barking like a dog. Jules meowed loudly like a very annoyed cat. Ellie trumpeted like an elephant. Imogene cawed like a crow. With each noise, Max glowed brighter and brighter. Bruce growled like a big lion and Jude mooed like a big angry bull.
“I’m not cawing like a crow,” Imogene said.
“Oh, you’re not?” Aunt Abby said.
“Yes, I am,” she said with a smile.
Aunt Abby shook her head.
“I sound like this,” Bruce said with a wild growl.
“Very good. You sound very big and brave.”
Everyone clamored to make their animal noise as big and brave as possible. It took several demonstrations.
The chamber vibrated with the sound of wildlife. Max’s blue glow shined. Suddenly, a scaled, smoking, green nose stuck right into the circle of light.
The cousins shrieked and huddled together.
“Must you really be so loud? The eggs are sleeping, you know,” said another nose, this one a sky blue, appearing in Max’s blue circle of light.
“Wait! Eggs!” Jules said.
“Do you have Alchemist and Oceana’s eggs?” Bruce said stepping forward and holding Max high.
The light from the glowworm reflected off the green and blue scales of the two dragons somewhat smaller than Alchemist and Oceana. Their wings were not quite as wide and their heads were rounder and less pointy.
“Who are you?” asked Constance.
“Us?” said the green dragon. “Why I’m Cosmos and this is Zephyr.”
“Do you have their eggs?” Jules demanded stomping one foot.
Jude rushed to Bruce’s side raising one eyebrow in an intimidating glare.
“We’re here to rescue them,” said Joshua.
“It’s not nice to take people’s eggs,” said Imogene.
“We’re not afraid of you,” said Ellie.
Cosmos and Zephyr stared down at the line of seven brave children, who despite being smaller than them, much smaller, still courageously tried to help the parents waiting outside the cavern.
“Why should you be afraid of us?” said Zephyr. “We wouldn’t hurt you.”
“You wouldn’t?” Jules said with a frown. “Then why’d you take the eggs? Aren’t you bad?”
The others nodded and growled in agreement.
“Bad? Us?” Cosmos said. “No. These are our cousins. Alchemist and Oceana are our uncle and aunt. We brought the eggs in here to protect them from the evil boy who was throwing rocks at them. When we stepped in here we got trapped.”
“Then why’d you use your scary voice?” Imogene asked.
“Because we didn’t know you were seven brave children. We were afraid you were that mean boy again.”
Someone in the deep part of the chamber where Max’s light couldn’t reach laughed. He laughed a big, evil laugh.
The cousins hurried to the dragons huddling around their knees. Cosmos and Zephyr turned to face the laugh protecting the eggs behind them.
“Now I have all of you right where I want you,” said the laugher. He stepped into the light.
The cousins gasped. He was the biggest little boy they had ever seen. Twice as tall as Bruce with black hair and a snarling face.
“Give me the dragon eggs!”
“Never!” shouted Cosmos.
“They’re not yours.”
“They will be mine!”
Jules counted heads. “Bruce,” she whispered. “There are seven of us and only one of him.”
Bruce counted heads. He nodded. Very carefully he set Max on Cosmos’ shoulder. “Jude, count to three.”
“Jude can’t count yet,” Bruce whispered.
“In the story he’s a little older,” Aunt Abby whispered back.
“Am I older?” Bruce said.
“Older and a little taller.”
“Me too?” Jules said.
“Yes you, too.”
“One. Two. Three,” Jude said.
“Charge!” shouted Ellie.
Constance, Joshua, Jules, Ellie, Bruce, Jude, and Imogene rushed the big, bad boy. They knocked him over onto the floor, kicking and punching him.
“Animal noises,” Max said.
Growling, barking, mooing, squeaking, meowing, cawing, and trumpeting filled the chamber.
“I surrender. I surrender,” moaned the bad boy who didn’t seem so big anymore.
“Huzzah!” shouted Cosmos in triumph.
“Hip, hip, hooray!” said Zephyr.
“We did it!” said Bruce.
“Hurry, we need to take the eggs back to Oceana and Alchemist!” Jules said.
Cosmos and Zephyr took the bad boy by the arms. Jules and Constance grabbed up one black egg, while Imogene and Jude gathered up the other one. Bruce took Max back to light the way while Ellie and Joshua kept an eye out for any other bad children who might spring from the shadows. Max led them out by a different tunnel even the young dragons could pass through. They reached the cave entrance where they had to come through in cousin pairs instead of sibling pairs and stopped.
“How do we get out?” Ellie asked.
“Just asked the cave nicely to open,” said Max. “It’s always better to try being polite first before breaking things.”
“They weren’t polite to me,” grumbled the bad boy.
“Because you, sir, were already being bad,” Max said glaring at him. Turning to everyone else he said, “Now dear friends, I must remain here in the cave. The outside world with all its sunshine is no place for a glowworm. Come visit any time.”
Bruce set Max on a little ledge in the cave walls. Each of the girls kissed him on his cute little head.
“Off with you now,” he said gently.
“Mr. Cave sir,” Jules started. “Please open.”
“What if it’s a girl?” Constance whispered.
The Cave opened wide, wide enough for even Cosmos and Zephyr to get out.
“I guess it was a boy,” Joshua said with a smile.
Oceana and Alchemist rushed forward with shouts of joy. They took their eggs and resettled them in their nests before kissing and hugging their nephew and niece.
“You two,” Alchemist said staring down at the bad boy who looked even smaller out in the sunlight, “take this boy home to his parents, and tell them the trouble he’s in.”
Cosmos and Zephyr told the seven cousins from Texas good-bye and marched the bad boy off into the forest.
“Well children, it’s time I take you home to your own beds,” Alchemist said.
“We can never tell you how grateful we are for all you’ve done,” Oceana said. She kissed each of the cousins on the head, even the boys.
“Now! Home,” Alchemist said. He gathered the children on his back, and, with a few beats of his mighty wings, took to the sky.
The door to their room opened quietly. Outside Jules’ window the street light still shone in the warm night. The cousins all kissed Alchemist nose in farewell and climbed into their respective beds and sleeping bags.
“I’ll leave you each seven pieces of paper with a door drawn on them. If you ever need me and my help, all you must do is tap the door with your finger and say my name. I will come on swift wings.”
They all quietly hugged Alchemist again as they soberly accepted the drawings of vine-covered doors with dragon doorknobs.
“Sleep well,” Alchemist whispered and disappeared.
The seven Texas cousins stared up at the ceiling each silent, thinking, none of them sleeping.
Suddenly Ellie sat up with a wide grin. “That was awesome.”
Laughing, they all agreed.
“The end!” said Aunt Abby.
“That was awesome,” Bruce said. “We took down that bad boy.”
“Yes, we did!” said Jules emphatically.
“We got Oceana her eggs back,” Constance said.
“We’re heroes!” Joshua exclaimed leaping to his feet and swinging an invisible sword.
Jude and Imogene joined him in the pretend sword fight squealing and laughing.
“Tell us another one,” Ellie said.
Aunt Abby groaned. “Don’t you ever get tired of stories?”