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The 44 Dragons
by Margo Fallis
Part One - The Dragonslayers - Chapter 5

All the shops stood in a row, lining both sides of the street. Each added a splash of color and variety to the small alpine village. “William’s Butcher Shop is ugly. Why did he paint it brown? It looks like spoiled raw meat. The Chocolatier’s Shop is much prettier. I like the pink and white striped awnings hanging from the roof and over the front windows.”  Gretel observed the plate of chocolates painted on the front window of the shop. The pink exterior with white trim invited all who walked by to enter and taste the delicacies inside.

           Once again they headed around to the back door. The backs of the shops were painted with drab, dark colors. The dull, weather-warped wood looked washed out and faded and in some spots peeled off. Trashcans lined the walls from the back door all the way to the next building. Bluebottle flies flew around them, making loud buzzing noises. After moving bags of smelly rubbish out of the way, the three entered the shop. They gasped with delight at the change surrounding them. Golden paper-wrapped boxes of chocolates, spilled and scattered, covered the linoleum floor. A dozen dragons, several of each color, hovered over the chocolates, gorging themselves with caramel, strawberry cream, coconut flake, chocolate fudge, and vanilla custard filled sweets; their mouths, smeared and streaked with brown. Clawed hands reached for more.

            “How did they ever get inside this place? There are no open windows.” Marti scooped the dragons into the bags. When he picked the last one up, Helga Streiff, the owner, barged into the back room.

            “What is this? What do you have in those bags? Are you trying to steal my chocolates? Just look at this mess. You greedy children! And you, Marti? You should be ashamed of yourself.” She shook her head, awaiting an explanation.

“I’m sorry, Helga. I bought some wild African birds and they got out of their cages. When Crispin and Gretel went to my cottage, the birds escaped. We’re trying to capture them. They came in here, but don’t worry, they’re in the bags, safe and sound.”

            Another dragon squirmed its way out of the bag. Helga was about to say something, but Marti pushed the horned head back down. He reached into his wallet. “Here is some money for the damaged chocolates. Will this do?”

            Helga ripped the money out of his hand and counted it. “How did they get into my shop? Oh well, it doesn't really matter; just get them out. You stay and clean this mess up. This money will do. I'm still very upset. I want free cream and butter for a year. Those birds of yours did a lot of damage to my shop. I suggest you take them back to their cages and lock them up!”

Marti agreed and Helga disappeared through the door. He let out a quiet sigh. “Gretel, you stay and clean up the chocolates. Crispin and I will take these twelve back to the cave and then come back to help you. But first there’s something I must do.”

            He went to the door and pushed it open a crack. Helga knelt in front of a glass case stocking several white chocolate truffles into piles of similar types. Marti couldn’t see who it was, but another person sat on a chair in the corner of the room, mumbling a few unintelligible words.

            Helga stood up and shouted, “What do you mean dragons? Marti came because his wild birds got loose. I didn’t even know birds liked chocolate. They were the ugliest birds I’ve ever seen.” The man mumbled again. Helga shouted louder. “Don’t tell me I’m a fool. Get out of my shop now! Dragons? You’re the fool. There’s no such thing as dragons.”

            Marti held the door and with great care, closed it. “Gretel, stay here. Come Crispin. We must hurry and get the dragons back to the cave.”

            Gretel looked at the messy room. Gooey caramel dripped from the light bulbs. Cherry cream coated the taps in the porcelain sink. Peanut butter stuck to a marble slab used for dipping the chocolates. “This is a big mess, Marti. Why do I have to do it? It will take me hours to pick up all those chocolates and put them into the rubbish and wipe chocolate claw marks off the walls.”

“Never mind, Gretel. I’ll stay here and clean the mess up. Since I’m here, I’ll help myself to a chocolate or two.” Crispin picked one off the floor. “Not this one though.” He tossed it into the rubbish.

            “Thank you, Crispin. Gretel, you can come with me. I need your help.” Marti handed her a few of the bags. “We must hurry.”

            Marti and Gretel struggled with the dragons. After dragging the heavy bags up the path and pulling them through the grass, they arrived at the cottage. “How will we get the dragons through the door without letting the others out?” Gretel feared having to chase them again.

            “After eating all those raw sausages, I’m sure the others will sleep for hours.”  They lugged the bags of dragons down the steps into the cave and released them. The twelve baby dragons flew around the cave, showing their joy at being home again before joining the others in a long nap. “I wonder how Crispin’s getting along.” Marti looked at the sleeping dragons. “They’ll be all right. Let’s go and see if he’s cleaned up that mess yet.”

Hurrying back to the shop, Marti and Gretel stood surprised, yet delighted, when they found the back room cleaned up.

Crispin sat on the floor, nibbling a chocolate truffle.

Marti brought his fingers to his lips. “Shhh.” He looked up front. The room appeared empty, except for Helga. She stood on a stool polishing the front window with a rag, humming to herself. Relieved, he closed the door and sat on the floor next to Crispin.

            Gretel plopped down next to Marti. “Good job, Crispin. It looks nice. Helga should be happy now. How’s the chocolate truffle?”

“Here. Have one.” Crispin handed Gretel a confection. “Do you want one?”  Marti nodded and opened his hand. Crispin put a truffle in the center of his palm. “My favorites are the milk chocolate truffles, but the white chocolate ones are good too. Do you like dark chocolate, Marti? I hope so, because that’s what I gave you.”

            “Dark chocolate is fine, Crispin.” He smiled and then popped the truffle into his mouth.

            They sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the smooth, creamy chocolate. “How many dragons do we still have to find?” Gretel tried to count them in her mind.

“If we caught sixteen the first time and found twelve more in here, that leaves sixteen dragons still missing,” Crispin said.

            “That’s right. We still have to find sixteen more of the creatures. Let’s get on with it; time’s running out.” Marti stood. He mumbled, “Free cream and butter for a year. Who does she think she is, commanding me like that? Hmph! Those dragons had better be worth it.”

            Gretel slipped her hand into his. “They are, Marti.”

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