Mr. Covingham’s Secret

garter snake

How I imagine Mr. Covingham appears

Five-year-old Zooey’s eyes fluttered. She felt especially warm and cozy wrapped up in all of these blankets in front of Gerliliam’s fireplace. She opened her eyes just long enough to see that her four siblings were still sleeping all around her and that made her feel safe. The fire was the only light in the room, and since the dragon lived under a tree, she couldn’t tell if it was still dark outside.

Then she felt something moving against her arm and a small head protruded from the covers.

“Mr. Covingham,” she whispered not wanting to wake the others. “I thought you’d gone home.”

She had only met the blue and orange striped garter snake last night, but already she felt like they were really good friends.

“I intended to Zooey, but it was still so cold and rainy out. You know how we snakes don’t do well in the cold.”

“I’m glad you decided to stay. I wanted to get to know you better.”

“And I you, Zooey,” replied the friendly and refined reptile. “Thank you for keeping me warm last night. Even with the fireplace, the nights are frightfully chilly in these parts.”

At that minute, the little girl remembered that her clothes, all of the children’s clothes, had been ruined in last night’s terrible thunderstorm before they found shelter in Gerliliam’s home. The dragon said he’d wash them all, but that meant they had to sleep in nothing but thick blankets. Normally she wouldn’t feel embarrassed being undressed in the same room as a snake, but Mr. Covingham was certainly no ordinary snake.

Then she heard a small noise at the door to the study. It was Gerliliam, their host. She forgot for a moment that he was a dragon and was startled, but then remembered how kind and gentle he’d been to her, to all of them, her sisters Mandy and Paris, and her brothers Taylor and Jake.

The dragon was still dressed in the same clothes as last night when they met, or at least they looked the same. A checkered brown waistcoat under which was a starched white shirt. The bow tie was a simple black, however the frames of his spectacles (could they be bifocals like Grandpa Grant’s?) looked golden, but they could have just been reflecting the firelight.

Gerliliam held one finger to his mouth and puckered the front of his snout together.

“That means quiet,” Mr. Covingham whispered in Zooey’s ear.

She put a finger to her own mouth and pursed her lips so he’d know she understood.

The old, grey dragon disappeared for a moment or two and then returned with piles of clothes. At first Zooey supposed they were her clothes, her’s and her siblings’, because Gerliliam said he would launder them, but as he got closer and put them on the nearby sofa, she saw they were different. Then he sorted through them and picked out several pieces, including socks and some sort of short leather boots. He laid them down near her and motioned with his hands that Zooey could put them on.

She wanted to ask what had happened to the clothes she had on last night, but everyone else except Mr. Covingham was still asleep.

The dragon sorted through the pile again and put a set of clothing near each of the Davidson children. When he finished, he lowered his large head near her and whispered, “I’ll be making breakfast now. Get dressed whenever you like. Oh hello, Mr. Covingham.” The dragon smiled which was the only time he made Zooey nervous since his teeth were large and pointy.

Then he retreated from the room, presumably to toddle off to the kitchen. Zooey wondered what dragons had for breakfast. The tea with biscuits and strawberry jam last night had been really good.

“I have a secret to tell you,” the snake hissed in her ear. She giggled in spite of herself because his tongue tickled. Then she realized what he’d said.

She turned to look into his eyes. “What secret?”

“Please don’t let Gerliliam know I told you, but you’re not the first human children to find their way into his forest.”

“We’re not? Where are they?”

“Far away I’m afraid and I believe our friend the dragon will decide to send you to them.”

“But can’t we go home?” Now that Zooey was wide awake, she remembered more about the storm last night. How one minute, all the kids were with Mom and Dad, and the next, they were lost in the dark woods outside with rain pouring down on them and thunder and lightning everywhere. Why couldn’t she remember how they got there and what happened to Mom and Dad?

The snake noticed the expression on her face. “Now Zooey, I know you want to go home, but Gerliliam couldn’t send the other two children back home either. That’s why they had to leave the forest and go with Shay.”

“Who’s Shay? Can he take us home?”

“She, actually, and I don’t know. I only know that if there’s any hope, it’s with her.”

“Ahem.”

Both Zooey and Mr. Covingham looked up and saw Gerliliam standing over them. They had been so engrossed in their conversation, they hadn’t heard him come in.

The dragon seemed larger than Zooey realized, and maybe a little annoyed.

“Mr. Covingham, I believe I’ll need some company in the kitchen. I usually don’t prepare breakfast for more than just myself, well and maybe a guest or two.”

“Me?” The logic of Gerliliam’s request baffled the garter snake for after all, he was a snake with no arms and hands to help with the cooking.

“Indeed. Zooey, please excuse us.” The dragon was gentle when he picked up Mr. Covingham, but he was also determined that the snake come along. Once he had again stood up, this time with the snake in his arms, “I believe your brothers and sisters are stirring. Don’t dawdle. We have a big day ahead.”

With that, the dragon turned and left again taking Mr. Covingham with him.

“Hey, what’s this?”

Her nine-year-old brother Taylor was sleepily mumbling to himself as he stretched out his arms and discovered his new clothes. His twin sister Paris made some funny grumbling noises and then rolled over onto her other side, bumping into seven-year-old Jake who woke with a start. The oldest, thirteen-year-old Mandy was already sitting up, holding her blankets tight and high up around her neck.

“Good Morning, Zooey. Were you talking to someone?”

She didn’t know how to answer Mandy. Yes, she’d been talking to Mr. Covingham about a secret and Gerliliam might have overheard. But was it a secret she could tell her family or something she had to keep between her and the snake?

On the heels of this morning’s flash fiction piece The Whisperer and then the expanded version, I decided I would share part of a draft of part of a chapter from what I hope to be the first of three novels about Zooey and her siblings. I’ve already got Mandy’s personality roughed out, and now I am expanding on Zooey, but I’ll still need to do more with Taylor, Paris, and Jake.

This should all serve to provide you with an inside look at how the adventure begins and hint at some of the mysteries ahead for the Davidson children (and anyone surfing in and reading this please note the copyright information in the footer of this blog).

I’m having good fun with this. Hopefully, it’ll also be good reading.

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9 thoughts on “Mr. Covingham’s Secret

  1. James, this is wonderful plot development. The fantasy part is not forced and feels quite natural. I think you are on to something. This, if developed well, could easily be Narnia-esque.

    Like

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