Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gryphon and Tiger and the Vanishing Books

One day, not long after Harvest Festival, Gryphon and Tiger went to Town Library because they needed new books to fuel new dreams. On the way they saw their good friend Eagle, who had taken her friend Boy to the Library and left him there while she did some shopping. Eagle loved books too, but she was too big to fit through Town Library’s big brass doors.

Gryphon and Tiger opened the big brass doors of Town Library, and entered. The Library had a very high ceiling, and stacks and stacks of books that climbed very high toward the skylight in the roof. People had to climb ladders to reach some of the books, and the ladders slid laterally on long steels tracks, clackity-clack; and the whole place smelled of rich paper and woolen blankets and cups of hot tea on cold winter days.

But all was not well in Town Library, for Gryphon and Tiger found their friend Boy wandering among some rarely visited and closely packed bookshelves near the back of the Library. Boy was ten, and had pretty blue eyes and long blond hair, and his clothes were very dainty, and he was very proud of them. But today his clothes were askew and his hair was mussed, and tears fell from his pretty blue eyes.

Tiger gave Boy a hug. “What’s the matter?”

“All of my favorite books have vanished,” Boy said. “The one where the brave girl finds the stolen gold and kills the evil dragon, and the one where the brave girl beats the miserable mean prince at jousting and becomes Queen of all the realm, and the one where the dreamy boy becomes friends with unicorns and they work a magic spell on him, and he gets to become a girl.”

“Maybe someone else,” Gryphon said, “has checked out these books.”

“Yes,” Tiger said to Boy, “there might be other dreamy girly-boys who want to read those books, too.”

“No,” said Boy, “the books aren’t checked out. I asked Town Librarian, whose son is named Darien, what sort of barbarian would steal such fine books.”

Tiger said, “Someone perhaps opposed to librarians?”

Gryphon said, “In that case, I’d look for a mean libertarian.”

Boy shook his head. “Here’s a clue I found.” And Boy showed Gryphon and Tiger a page from one of his favorite books. The page had been ripped from the binding without any care and then been chewed up. The marks of very large teeth left holes in the page.

“Those are the marks of wolf teeth,” Gryphon said.

“Why would a wolf eat books?” Tiger said.

“Let’s set a trap and find out,” Gryphon said.

The three friends ventured deeper into the Library, past where a sign on a rope said, “Don’t go;” where the oldest of old books were stored and waited and hoped that someday someone might want to read them again. The light between the old, dusty shelves was dim, and Gryphon said it was the perfect place for a wolf to hide.

Tiger was fretful. “Do we have to use my favorite book as bait? That’s the one where the bad boy is sent to his room and then goes to a place where he finds wild things.”

“This book-eating wolf has taste,” Gryphon said, “and only eats quality books.”

Gryphon, Tiger, and Boy set the trap and then hid very close by to wait. Before long they heard the slow thump of big padded feet, and the harsh hiss of hot steamy breath, and the slurpy-delicious licking of black lips by a long pink tongue.

Gryphon, Tiger, and Boy popped out just in time, because the wolf was about to eat Tiger’s favorite book.

“Stop!” Tiger cried.

The wolf cringed back. “Don’t hurt me!”

“You’re not a very brave wolf,” Tiger said. “Who are you?”

“And why,” Boy said, “have you eaten all of my favorite books?”

“I’m Book Wolf,” the wolf said, “and I eat books because I love to be filled with lovely dreams.”

“But Book Wolf,” Tiger said, “you’re supposed to read books, not eat them.”

“Are you sure?” Book Wolf said. “Those two words sound very much alike.”

“Positive,” said Tiger.

Book Wolf shook his big furry head. “Maybe I’m just dyspeptic.”

“Dyslexic,” Boy said.

“That’s what I said,” Book Wolf said.

Gryphon said to Book Wolf, “You’re not from Town, are you?”

“No,” Book Wolf said. “A wizard from Little Farm Village brought me here so I could eat all of the best books in Town Library!”

“What wizard?” Tiger said.

“Follow me,” Book Wolf said, “and I’ll show you.” And Book Wolf led Gryphon, Tiger, and Boy back even further in the Library, where the books were very dusty. The books were so old that they didn’t even have those funny little numbers that librarians put on book spines so children can find the books they love.

Book Wolf took Gryphon, Tiger, and Boy to a room that was very small but also very, very tall, and it had its own skylight high above. But the skylight had been painted over with grey paint, and the walls of the tall room were painted over with more grey paint. On the shelves were books that were so old and boring they had turned grey, too. In between the shelves in the center of the room stood a man in long grey robes with long grey hair and a long grey beard, and on top of his head sat a pointed grey cap. He stood over a table with a toy village atop it, with little toy children on the toy village streets. The village was grey and the streets were grey, and the man was using his magic wand, topped with a cobwebby grey star, to turn each of the colorful little village children grey, one by one.

“So that’s what’s wrong,” Gryphon whispered to his friends. “It’s Wizard Dreameater.”

“Are you sure?” whispered Book Wolf. “I could swear he told me his name was Wizard Eggbeater.”

Boy shivered, and said, “Who’s Wizard Dreameater?”

“Wizard Dreameater is a very small wizard,” Gryphon said, “with a very small mind filled with lots and lots of very small rules he thinks everyone should follow.”

“I bet he doesn’t like girly-boys,” Boy said.

Tiger shook his head. “Nor boy tigers who fall in love with boy gryphons.”

Wizard Dreameater looked up and said, “Who’s there?”

Gryphon, Tiger, and Book Wolf stepped forward into the grey light.

“They caught me, master,” Book Wolf said, and he hung his head bashfully.

“Worthless wolf,” snarled Wizard Dreameater. “You’re too fond of dreams! Once you had eaten all of the dangerous and good books in Town Library, I was going to make you grey, too!”

“But,” Book Wolf said, “I already have grey fur.”

This answer puzzled Wizard Dreameater, for it was far too complicated for his grey little mind to sort out.

Gryphon ruffled his wings in an irritated way and said to Wizard Dreameater, “What are you doing to all of our best books?”

“There are too many dreams in Town,” Wizard Dreameater said, “and too many children dreaming them. Dragons and pirates and wild things and wolves! And nobody in these books follows my rules! Why, see here; this horrible book has Little Red Riding Hood carrying a bottle of wine in her basket for Grandma!”

“How shocking!” said Gryphon, who of course didn’t mean it.

“How dreadful!” said Tiger, who didn’t mean it, either.

“How ridiculous,” said Boy, who meant it very much.

Book Wolf snickered behind his paw.

“These dreamy children,” Wizard Dreameater said, “must learn to live by the rules and stop dreaming all the time! If this keeps up, the children of Town will grow up to do what they want to do and not what I say they should do!”

“That’s not right!” shouted Boy, which startled Gryphon and Tiger, for Boy never, ever shouted. But Boy hated it when anyone threatened his dreams.

“The children of Town love dreams,” Tiger said to Wizard Dreameater, “because dreams tell us that life is more than grey little villages and grey little people.”

Wizard Dreameater shook his head, stood up as tall as he could, raised his magic wand with its cobwebby grey star, and proclaimed, “The One Way…is Grey!”

Boy was so upset that his lavender neckerchief had almost come untied. He stomped his foot and shouted at Wizard Dreameater, “You’re wrong! There’s more than your way to the world! And you can’t make us believe that grey is the truth!”

“It is!” cried Wizard Dreameater. “Come closer, Boy.”

Boy stepped away from Tiger’s side toward Wizard Dreameater.

“Be careful!” Tiger said to Boy.

Because he lived in a world wrapped in grey, Wizard Dreameater failed to see the shadow of worried Eagle pass over his grey-painted skylight.

“You,” Wizard Dreameater said to Boy, “are filled with dreams, and think that life can be any lovely thing that you want. And a vicious Eagle stole you from your loving Mother so you could live with Aunt, who even lets you be a girl sometimes!”

“My Mother tried to crush my dreams,” Boy cried, “but Eagle wouldn’t let her!”

“It is an abomination!” cried Wizard Dreameater. “Before long, boys like Gryphon and Tiger will want to get married! It is not the Grey Way!” Wizard Dreameater raised his grey and cobwebby wand, and shouted at Boy, “Prepare to become Grey, little fiend!”

Gryphon saw this and became enraged, which is a very dangerous thing to do to a gryphon. He shrieked and flared his wings wide, and prepared to attack Wizard Dreameater. But it was a mistake, for the room was so small that Gryphon’s wings got stuck, and pressed Tiger and Book Wolf so hard against the bookshelves that they couldn’t move.

Boy looked about with his wide blue eyes; he was alone.

Wizard Dreameater laughed so loud that he didn’t hear Eagle cry out far, far above Town Library.

“Ha-ha-ha!” said Wizard Dreameater. “Life never goes the way you think, Boy. That is why you must follow the rules!” And he prepared to fling a grey spell at Boy.

But with a crash, the skylight above shattered, and sunlight spilled into the room around a swift black shadow that belonged to Eagle, who had heard Gryphon’s shriek and then knew where to find her missing Boy. Gryphon freed his wings with a mighty pull and swept them about, and used his wings to protect his friends from the falling glass. Eagle dived down and knocked Wizard Dreameater off his feet, then grabbed him with her talons and slammed him up against a bookshelf.

Eagle snarled at Wizard Dreameater. “Don’t ever threaten my good friend,” she said, “the Boy filled with dreams.”

And with a swift move of her head, Eagle did something to Wizard Dreameater with her beak that we won’t describe except to say that when the wizard’s blood splattered over the grey books and the grey toy village and the grey toy children, the grey spells he had cast were lifted, and the tall little room was no longer grey. Book Wolf thought he even saw the little colorful toy children dance with joy. But Book Wolf shook his head and figured it was just an illusion caused by his dyspepsia.

Then Book Wolf hugged Eagle and thanked her for saving the eggs in Town Market, which confused them all until they overheard Book Wolf telling a reporter from the Town Chronicle about the horrible fate of Wizard Eggbeater.

Boy made sure the reporter got the correct name.

Book Wolf now guards Town Library and protects the books and their dreams, and watches over the children who read the books and then dream. Boy taught Book Wolf how to read books better so his dyspepsia didn’t make the letters dance around on the page so much. And Book Wolf now eats only dull and pretentious books, but every time he does, he rubs his sore tummy and says, “Those bad books give me dyslexia.”

Eagle donated new copies of Boy’s favorite books to Town Library, and Town Librarian had a new brass door built just for Eagle, because it would have been very expensive to repair the shattered skylight every time Eagle wanted to read a book.

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