An Unexpected Danger
McGonickle gave a low grunt and turned over in bed. The bedsprings squeaked and strummed like the tinny ringtones of an early model smartphone.
“Too bad I only have a dumb phone,” thought McGonickle. “Someday, I will have de latest smart phone and everythin’ else I want.”
For the hundredth time, he wondered why his family and indeed his whole village were so poor. The answer was, of course, that they didn’t have much money!
McGonickle was only 10, but he already had big ideas.
His biggest was a square cage, almost filling his late dad’s potting shed at the end of the garden.
The cage was built of thick twigs, rods of iron and covered in chicken mesh, held together with baling wire.
It had a one-way entrance and was designed as an elaborate dragon trap of his own making.
His dream was to lure a small dragon inside, so he could tame it and ride it.
McGonickle had never seen a real dragon, but he was pretty sure that they existed someplace. And this part of Ireland was as good a place as any to find one!
He rolled over in bed again, accompanied by a short stanza on the bedsprings.
The sun filtered through the lace curtains of McGonickle’s bedroom window. They weren’t really lace. They were once just cheap blue linen, but they were now so full of rips and moth holes they resembled lace.
He ran his fingers through his thick red hair and rubbed his eyes.
In a moment, his mother would appear to urge him to get up for school. As usual, she offered him a cheap cardboard breakfast.
It was one of those tasteless but healthy cereals in a bright cartoony box.
But its contents might as well have been cardboard for its bland taste and texture.
The only good thing about it was the bright plastic figures of his favorite anime characters, which he collected and traded with other kids at school.
He couldn’t wait to get through and finish each packet, to discover new characters in their individual plastic jackets.
This day started like all the others, with a boring routine that never varied.
But it would end quite differently to affect not only McGonickle’s small world but also open the eyes of the entire population of planet Earth!
He dutifully disposed of his breakfast, followed by the brushing of his pearly white teeth.
He had an appealing gap between his two front teeth that made him look like a cartoon rabbit when he grinned, which he did often.
His face was peppered with freckles and his ears stuck out from his head like a two-seater car with both doors wide open.
“Don’t forget your homework,” McGonickle’s mom reminded him as he was halfway out the door. “And your lunch!”
“Another potato sandwich,” groaned Mac. (Let’s call him Mac from now on. It’s simpler).
A light rain drizzled down on Mac as he made his way to school with little enthusiasm. He had slept late and missed the bus, so he had to walk half a mile, taking a shortcut across a farmer’s field.
The school was at the far end of the small village town of Derridumdrum.
The school bell was ringing, and Mac had to run the last hundred yards to avoid a detention.
School was becoming weirder and weirder these days, and he wondered why he wasn’t learning anything.
Mac once imagined that he wanted to become a veterinarian, specializing in the care of large farm animals. He had a special liking for massive draft horses.
Those lumbering steeds are built for strength, not speed.
They pull the plows that cultivate the ground for potatoes. What would Ireland do without them?
Later, Mac developed an interest in atomic physics and cosmic abnormalities.
He wondered why the universe worked the way it does. And whether there were other habitable worlds “out there” to explore along with his own.
His thirst for knowledge and hunger for learning were ravenous.
It almost matched his appetite for food!
Lunchtime could not come soon enough for Mac.
Not that he was looking forward to another potato sandwich. But there was no use in looking backward to them.
He’d seen enough potatoes to last a lifetime!
His best friend, Donickle, shared his interest in dragons.
“Do you think that Miss Snickle was a dragon in a previous life?” ventured Donickle. “She has a way of breathing fire that’s quite scary!”
“Aye, but dat’s not fire, it’s onions,” replied Mac. “When she breaves over you and snarls because we’re not payin’ attention, the fumes can knock you over!”
“All you’d need is one good spark to ignite it, and den we’d see an actual dragon,” suggested Don.
“I’ll bring a lighter ta school tomorrow,” said Mac, knowing full well that he wouldn’t.
The day wore on, the students’ patience with their lessons wore thin, and the end of the school day brought a welcome stampede for the exits.
The school bus wheezed its way into the village, but it only got about halfway down Main Street before screeching to a halt.
Something out of the ordinary was happening!
It kept on happening for several minutes.
People were streaming into the streets, pouring out of houses and shops, and running in blind panic into the surrounding farmland. They were fleeing as if their lives depended on it.
Mac and his friends jumped down from the bus and headed into the crowd. They wanted to get a first-hand look at whatever was happening.
“Watch you step, chillen,” said Klutch, the bus driver. “Stay together and don’t panic.”
At first, it was not clear what was driving the crowd. Then he noticed something truly scary.
A huge black bull as tall as the church steeple was ambling down the street, snorting at the terrified townsfolk as they scurried out of its way.
The bull was five times larger than a normal animal and it took up so much space in the narrow street that its hairy sides scraped the village shops on both sides as it stomped along on enormous hooves.
Mac grabbed his friend Don, and they both joined the crowd seeking escape in a nearby cornfield.
They ran as fast as their little legs could carry them, which wasn’t very fast.
They didn’t stop until the pair of them and most of the townspeople were safely out of the danger area, with one or two stragglers bringing up the rear.
Out of breath and terrified of the hulking beast, they looked back and tried to make sense of what they were seeing.
“I’ve heard of selectiff breeding and growff hormones,” gasped Mac. “But dis bull is somethin’ else!”
“Where diddy come from, and how diddy get to be dat size?” gasped Don.
The danger didn’t seem to deter some members of the crowd.
They couldn’t resist taking a stack of selfies and smartphone pics of the bull and the fleeing inhabitants of the town. In a way, this was a smart move. They were documenting history!
The monstrous bull kept coming, and it towered above the shops and rooftops.
Mac and the crowd retreated further into the cornfield, where they were hidden by the tall stalks.
Back in the village, the bull’s horns became tangled in the overhead power lines.
With a shake of its head, it brought down the wires with a shower of electrical flashes and sparks.
This made the beast angry, and it pawed the ground, smashing up the cobblestones under its mighty hooves.
“We’re not safe here,” the town mayor shouted hoarsely. “It can follow us out into the field. We had better seek shelter.”
On the far side of the cornfield, they stopped to take stock of their situation.
“Is everyone safely out of the town?” the local cop asked, looking around wild-eyed.
“I’m not going back to find out,” said ‘Jangles’, the mayor.
He was called Jangles because of the tinkling sound his mayoral chain made as it swung from around his neck.
Mayoral chains are a formal, full-dress type of regalia. Jangles’ chain had 25 links, each featuring the engraved name and term of each successive mayor.
Jangles never took his chain off, so you could always hear him jingling, coming and going. Rather like a cat with a bell on its collar!
“I suggest we all strike out for the neighboring village,” said Jangles. “It’s just over that hill! We should be prepared in case any more of these giant animals appear.”
“Someone should go back and check door to door to get everyone out to safety,” said ‘Buckets’, the local fire chief.
“Are you volunteering?” asked Bobby, the cop. “There is no stopping that bull if he decides to gore you!”
“I’ll go,” said Mac. “I’m small enough to sneak into town without the bull seeing me. If dere’s anyone left in town, I’ll find ‘em!”
“Nobody is going anywhere!” said Bobby. “It’s coming on to nightfall.”
“We’ll raise the alert in the neighboring village and send someone into town at first light to see if the situation is any clearer.”
“Whoever may be left in town should remain holed up in their houses until morning,” said Jangles. “Their best move would be to stay put and wait for rescue.”
And with that, the Ickle townspeople completed their brief journey from the farmer’s field to the adjoining township of Ballybraggard.
The evacuees assembled outside the town hall and did a rough head count to see who was present and who was missing.
Mac wondered whether his mother had made it out of the village and was relieved to see her waiting for him at the hall door.
“I wanted to return to the village to see if you were alright,” she gushed. “But they wouldn’t let anyone turn back. They said Klutch would get all the kids off the bus safely and bring them here. I’m so relieved!”
“Were you frightened by the bull?” asked Mac. “Did he chase you?”
“No, I was caught up in the crowd as they ran past our house,” admitted Mac’s mother.
“I joined the chase because everyone urged me to run from the danger.”
“You shoulda seen him, Mam. His horns spanned the whole street, and he stood taller than de rooftops.”
“That’s a lot of bull,” admitted Mac’s mother.
“Everyone line up inside the hall and collect your mattress!” announced Jangles, the mayor, in a voice as loud as a bullhorn. “Find a place to sleep.”
The mattresses turned out to be straw palliasses—rough hessian sacks filled with straw, courtesy of the village farmer.
They also gave the village evacuees a bowl of brown soup, which looked like dishwater and was only slightly tastier and more nutritious.
Sleep came slowly to the bedded-down villagers. Emotions were still high, and conversations continued well after the lights were out.
At last, the night was quiet, except for the assorted snores and wheezes from the sleeping villagers.