Max and the Moonmaid

One sunny day, Max and his family took a picnic to the lake. They had plenty of sunscreen as well as their nets to catch tiddlers. Max threw some cake crumbs in as bait.

‘We might catch Grandma Jones if we’re lucky,’ he said.

Grandma Jones was an old catfish Max badly wanted to catch. He thought catfish were cool because, when he was little, he thought they were half cat just as mermaids are half people.

Max’s little sister Amy caught a water-bug. His dad said if they didn’t head home soon they’d probably catch a cold. They all groaned. Dad’s jokes were very bad. They were getting ready to leave when Max spotted something in the water.

‘It looks like a mermaid,’ he said.

‘There’s no such thing,’ said dad.

Max caught it in his net. Sure enough, it was a tiny mermaid.

‘It’s not possible,’ said dad, sounding less certain. ‘We’d better have a look online.’

Dad put away the picnic things and gave Max a jar for the mermaid. They had almost reached home when Amy knocked the jar over.

‘That’s a pity,’ said dad, sounding relieved. ‘Probably best to leave it there,’ he added. ‘We don’t know where it’s been.’

He hurried ahead with the picnic bag.

Max looked at the mermaid flopping about in the grass but before he could return it to the lake it turned into a girl.

‘Dad was right, it wasn’t a mermaid,’ said Amy.

‘Not a mermaid,’ said the girl, ‘but a moonmaid.’

‘I’ve never heard of a moonmaid,’ said Max.

‘Not many people have,’ said the girl, ‘but I’m so hungry, don’t you have anything to eat?’

Dad had finished the last pork pie so Max checked the coins in his pocket.

‘I’d best feed her,’ he told Amy, ‘tell dad I won’t be long.’

He took the moonmaid to the bakery. He had just enough for a doughnut. She bit into it and went a sickly green.

‘You should get some fresh air,’ said Max, ‘you’ll be embarrassed if you’re sick in the shop, I can tell you.’

The girl turned from green to red and then she turned into a dragon with long whiskers and sharp claws. She ate everything in the shop, including the baker.

‘Take me to the king,’ said the dragon, ‘so I can eat him and take his shape.’

‘We don’t have a king,’ said Max, ‘but we do have a mayor.’

‘Take me to him then. If you don’t I’ll follow you to your village and eat everyone there.’

Max was scared. He didn’t want the dragon to follow him. Maybe he could think up a plan before they reached the town hall where the mayor lived. ‘If I take you to the mayor,’ he said, ‘you have to give back the baker.’

The dragon opened her jaws like cats do when they vomit, and out came the baker looking very confused.

‘I’m sorry about the mess,’ said Max, ‘but I have to go.’

‘You should have that thing on a lead,’ said the baker as Max left with the dragon.

Max turned for the town hall, the dragon slinking alongside him. He needed a plan.

‘Is it easy taking someone’s shape?’ Max asked the dragon.

‘Dead easy,’ said the dragon. ‘I’ve changed into seven kings before now.’

‘What changed you back?’ asked Max.

The dragon laughed. ‘You’re trying to discover my weakness,’ she said, ‘but I don’t have any. I’m too clever to outsmart, too fearsome to fight. You’ll just have to do as I say.’

Max walked slowly, hoping to think up a plan. Soon they came to a village.

‘I’m thirsty,’ said Max, ‘I have to stop and get a drink.’

The dragon whipped her tail angrily. ‘Alright, but be quick about it,’ she said.

Max stopped at a water fountain to drink. She wants to go faster, he thought, so we’ll go slower than ever. It was a small plan but better than nothing.

‘I know a shortcut,’ Max told the dragon, ‘if we cut through this village we’ll get to the town hall twice as quickly.’

The dragon was pleased and followed Max without question. Leaving the village, they found their path blocked by cows crossing from the meadow to the cowshed across the lane, which they did every day before sunset.

‘You knew the path would be blocked,’ the dragon told Max angrily.

‘I didn’t, I swear,’ Max lied as the dragon stamped her feet.

He hoped the cattle would take a long time crossing but the farmer didn’t like how the dragon hungrily eyed his cows and he soon cleared the path, leaving Max to go on his way.

Max walked slower than ever, then he had an idea.

‘I have a stitch,’ he said, clutching his side. ‘I have to catch my breath.’

The dragon paced up and down. ‘This is taking too long,’ she said.

‘I can’t walk with a stitch,’ said Max, but the dragon wasn’t listening.

‘I think I can see your mayor’s palace from here,’ she said. ‘I’ll run the rest of the way.’

‘It’s too far,’ said Max, ‘but here we are at the lake again, if we row across we’ll get there in half the time.’

The dragon looked at the long path winding round the lake. ‘You’re right,’ she said, ‘we’ll go by boat.’

At the end of the pier, Max climbed into a rowboat and the dragon jumped in after. Now I have you, thought Max. He rowed the boat out until they were far from shore and he began to go slower and slower.

‘Hurry up,’ said the dragon, ‘or I will eat you and row the rest of the way myself.’

‘No you won’t,’ said Max, ‘your arms are too short for the oars. You’d be stranded without me.’

The dragon stamped her foot. ‘You tried to trick me,’ she said, ‘but it won’t work.’

With her tail, she dashed a hole in the side of the boat. The water came rushing in.

‘Now you’ll have to row fast,’ said the dragon, ‘or risk getting eaten by Grandma Jones, the catfish.’

Max was scared. He didn’t want Grandma Jones to eat him and besides which he couldn’t swim and so he rowed very fast. They were nearing the shore on the other side, the dragon getting ready to run off and eat the mayor. It would all be Max’s fault.

The boat filled with water as Max rowed and rowed but at last they reached the shore. The dragon leapt out but just then the moon rose above the hilltop and as its silvery light touched her the dragon turned, mid-leap, back into a tiny moonmaid and she flopped onto the grass.

Max stepped onto the shore.

‘That’s the last of your tricks,’ he told the moonmaid and he threw her into the lake.

Max turned for home but coming through the gloom he saw a torchlight. It was his dad come to walk him home.

‘Are you still looking for Grandma Jones?’ asked dad.

Max shook his head. ‘I’ve decided catfish aren’t cool after all,’ he said.