When I reached the big bronze ring, I stopped, and looked very carefully all about. The water was still and black and all I could hear was the sound of it slapping against the quayside.
“Dragon!” I tried again. “Sea-dragon! I’ve come to help you.”
There was a sound, but it wasn’t a sound like the splashing and squeaking noise that the little dragon had made. The sound went a bit like this: snickety-snick. Clickety-click.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand upright. What – or who – could be making such a sound?
There it came again. Snickety-snick. Clickety-click. And another strange sound came too. The sound of many legs scuttling.
Perhaps you could hide behind this great big bronze ring, but I was all tied up with my mam’s biggest shopping bag, and I didn’t get it together in time. And then, suddenly, appearing from the gloom, came the strangest sight I’d ever seen. At first glance, it looked like a man, very tall and very skinny. But then, as it he got closer, I could see that this man had the claws of a great big crab on the ends of his arms, and extra legs on each side for scuttling with. He was wearing a very smart suit and a bow-tie and the claws where the things that were doing the clickety-clicking and the snickety-snicking.
I froze in horror because I knew exactly who this was. My mam had told me loads of stories about this man. This was Mr Crabs. Everyone in the bay knew about Mr Crabs. He was a ruthless businessman, who conned money out of all the good folk, and was so greedy that he’d stop at nothing. But he was also known to have a huge and horrible appetite. One of his favourite things to eat was money, which is why he always needed more of it, but he was also known to eat other things. Things like children. Children like me.
Mr Crabs stopped when he saw me. “You’re very small and skinny,” he said, looking sorrowful.
“Yes, I am,” I said, hopefully. You might think I was being brave, but I was actually absolutely terrified. My heart was hammering in my chest and I could hardly think straight.
Mr Crabs delicately took a handkerchief out of his suit pocket and tucked it into his shirt-front. “But even so, I’m going to have to eat you,” he said apologetically, getting out a knife and fork.
“Oh no,” I said, “no, please don’t do that!”
“And why should I not?”
I couldn’t think of a reason. What would you say to stop a half-man, half-crab from swallowing you whole? Maybe you can say it very loudly and firmly now – just in case he’s listening.
As for me, I couldn’t think of anything that inspired, apart from –
“I would only be a very small meal. And I don’t think I’m very tasty.”
“That’s a shame,” said Mr Crabs. “But when human children are disrespectful enough to wander into my domain at night, I always have to eat them. So, excuse me, while I start. Which bit of you shall I nibble first? Ah! An elbow, I think. I do love elbows.”
“Wait!” I said, desperately. “I’m not here to wander. I’m here to help. There’s a creature who’s lost and needs to go home, and that’s why I’m here. I’m not being disrespectful – SIR.”
Mr Crabs stopped trying to poke me with his fork and seemed to be listening.
“What kind of creature?” he said.
“It’s a small sea-dragon,” I said. “I’m going to put it in this shopping bag and carry it to the barrage, so I can release it into the Bristol Channel, and it can go home to the Islands of Summer where it belongs.”
Mr Crabs suddenly dabbed at his eyes with his handkerchief. “That is a heartbreaking story,” he said. He seemed to be on the verge of making a decision. Finally, he spoke again. “Well, I never do this. I am known for being quite ruthless. But, on this occasion, I shall let you go free – un-nibbled and with all your bones and body bits intact. Isn’t that nice of me?”
“Oh yes,” I said hastily, “very nice.”
“Don’t you dare tell anyone, though,” he said. “I don’t want the news to get out that I’m not as bloodthirsty as they all think I am.”
“Of course,” I said.
“Now,” said Mr Crabs, “if you go down to the waterside, I believe there’s someone waiting for you.”
And he put the knife and fork in his pocket and off he went, snickety-snick, clickety-click.
Sure enough, the dark water was broken now by a small scaly head and two big dark sad eyes. As quickly as I could, afraid that Mr Crabs might change his mind, I went down to the waterside and knelt.
“Hi, little dragon,” I said, “I’ve come to rescue you. But I’m afraid you’re going to have to get into my shopping bag, so I can take you to the barrage and set you free in the sea.”
The dragon looked at my mam’s big shopping bag suspiciously.
“I promise I won’t tie the top,” I said. “I just need something to carry you in. You’re rather – large.”
You see, even though the dragon was much smaller than any other dragon I could imagine, it was still the size of a small dog. And its tail was extremely long and cumbersome. So when, eventually, I managed to coax it into the bag, the tail was still hanging over the edge and I kept tripping over it. But finally, I had it all tucked in the bag safe and sound.
“Right then, let’s go,” I said, and the dragon squeaked in agreement. I lifted the bag onto my shoulder – and I nearly dropped it. The dragon was so heavy! This was going to be a long and hard journey. I just hoped we didn’t meet any other creatures on our way to the edge of the sea…