Sunday, September 20, 2009
Magic Max and the Sad Sitar
Chapter 1: The Day of the Dancing Shoes
Max was a young boy who lived with his mother in a big town in the West Country of England. Their house was on the corner of a very ordinary street, and Max’s room in the house was an ordinary room. There was nothing about the room or the house that would make you think it was a magic place. But there were some unusual things about it that might start you thinking that it maybe wasn’t all as ordinary as it looked.
For one thing, there were so many musical instruments.There was a piano, and a violin, and a harmonium and a guitar. There were several kinds of recorders and flutes. There were all kinds of drums and whistles. There was even a mandolin. And there was a very special pair of dancing shoes.
The dancing shoes had been brought one morning by the postman. They were in a parcel that was wrapped in many layers of brown paper, and it all took a long time to unwrap. Inside the paper was a small white box – like a normal shoe box, only a bit smaller – and inside the box were the dancing shoes. Max knew the shoes were for dancing, because it said so in his grandfather’s letter that was inside the box.
Max’s grandfather lived in India, and he often sent presents to Max. The presents always came with a letter, and Max’s mother read the letters to him. This time the letter said:
Whatever you do, keep dancing. These shoes will help you do it.
Must go now, as the tigers are trying to eat the little teaboy again.
Lots of love,
Max tried on one of the shoes. It was a funny shape, with a long curved point at the front – but it fitted his foot perfectly. Then he tried on the other shoe – and then something very funny happened.
It began very slowly.
It began with a twinkly feeling in his toes. And the twinkly feeling became a wriggly feeling. And the wriggle grew into a jiggle. And the next thing that Max knew, he was dancing. In fact, it was the shoes that were dancing, and he was dancing along with them.
And then Max heard the voice.
‘Where do you want to go?’ asked the tiny voice.
Max looked around the room, but he couldn’t see anybody. But Max was a very polite boy, and he thought it would be rude if he didn’t answer. So he said: ‘I don’t know where I want to go.’
‘Well, what sort of dance do you want to do?’ asked the voice.
Max thought for a bit. His Daddy had taught him an Irish dance. His Daddy was in Ireland right now.
‘Maybe I should do an Irish dance?’ he said.
‘All right,’ said the tiny voice. ‘Hang on tight – here we go!’
Suddenly, Max started dancing much faster. His feet were moving so fast that he couldn’t see them any more. He was dancing so fast that his movements made gusts of wind blow around the room. The sheets lifted off his bed and the carpet floated off the floor. The windows blew open and the door banged shut. And with one final big gust of wind Max took off. He flew straight out of the window and drifted over the street. And still he was dancing faster. He rose above the houses and looked down on the rooftops and the chimney pots and waved goodbye to them. And then he soared up into a cloud, and for a while he couldn’t see anything at all.
When Max came out of the cloud he was flying over the sea.
‘Where are we going?’ he called out.
‘That’s the Irish Sea down there,’ called the voice. But the noise of the wind was so strong that Max could hardly here it.
‘Where?’ he called again. But they were already over the land again by this time. When Max looked down he saw a great blanket of green as far as his eyes could see.
‘That’s Ireland!’ called the voice.
Max had been to Ireland with his mother and father. But he had never looked down at Ireland from the sky before. He saw swirling rivers and green meadows and rolling hills. And when he screwed up his eyes he could make out tiny dots that could have been cows or horses or people.
‘So where do you want to go in Ireland?’ asked the tiny voice.
‘I don’t know,’ said Max. ‘Please take me somewhere nice.’
Suddenly rhe dancing shoes began to move much more slowly, and Max began to drop out of the sky. He glided down, down, down, till he was floating just above the treetops of a forest. And then he came to a clearing in the forest, and his shoes almost stopped dancing – they just tapped and wiggled very slowly – and finally he slid down to the ground.
He found himself in a glade surrounded by trees of enormous height. The trees looked so big, Max thought they must be thousands of years old. At the centre of the glade was a long mound of turf, like a big table, and around the table were logs that were roughly cut to the shape of stools.
‘It looks like a dinner table,’ Max thought. And as he was feeling peckish he moved towards the table to see if there might be something to eat on it. And there was! There was a big pile of scones, and plates of cream and jam.
‘I wonder if anyone would mind if I just took one of them?’ Max said to himself. He was a very honest boy, and he would never steal anything – but the cakes were very tempting. And it looked just as if someone had put them there for him.
After a little hesitation, Max sat down on a stool at the end of the table nearest the scones. He was just about to reach out and take a scone, when he was startled by a voice.
‘What are you waiting for, young fellow?’ said the voice. ‘Those scones were baked according to a recipe of your Great Grandmother. She was a famous woman for scones, and used to bake them for old Queen Mary.’
Max pulled his hand away from the plate. On the opposite side of the table was a little man. He was a full grown man with a long twisty beard, but he was only about half Max’s height.
‘Oh, thank you very much,’ said Max, as he looked at the little man with astonishment.
‘My name,’ continued the little man, ‘ is Bryan Brew.’
‘That’s a funny name,’ said Max.
‘Yes, it’s a very funny name,’ said the man, with a nod of his head. ‘Will you have a cup of tea?’
‘No thank you,’ said Max, ‘I don’t usually drink tea.’
‘I drink it all the time,’ said Bryan Brew. ‘That’s why they call me Bryan Brew – because I’m always brewing tea!’
As soon as the little man had finished saying this, a teapot appeared at his elbow. And a cup and saucer appeared in front of him. He poured himself a cup of tea slowly and carefully, while Max munched at a scone.
All this time, Max was looking closely at the little man. He had a tall pointed cap on his head, and was wearing a green leather jacket with shiny buttons. His trousers were made of a rough brown woolly material, and his boots were bright red.
‘Do you live here?’ asked Max.
‘Live here?’ said the little man, with a chortle, as if he found the question very funny. ‘Of course I live here! In fact, I am the King of this country!’
‘Oh,’ I am sorry, said Max. ‘I didn’t know you were a king. I hope I haven’t been rude.’
‘Not at all’, said the King . And he put another scone on Max’s plate.
‘Did you know my Great Grandmother?’ asked Max. ‘You said she was famous for making scones.’
‘Know her?’ asked the King. ‘Of course I knew her. Everyone in Ireland knows about her. And I know your father too!’
‘Do you!’ asked Max, and his eyes grew wide with astonishment. ‘And do you know where he is?’
‘Sure’’ said the King. ‘He’s over at Inchnagree playing in a gig.’
‘I want to go and see him,’ said Max.
‘But you don’t want to go right now, do you?’ said Bryan Brew. ‘We all like you so much, we are hoping you will stay with us.’
For the first time Max noticed that they were not alone. There was another little man sitting on the King’s left side, and another little man sitting on the King’s right side. The three little men were all dressed the same, and they all looked exactly the same.
‘Well,’ said Max, ‘It’s very kind of you, but I don’t want to stay very long.’
‘Don’t be in a hurry to go,’ said the three little men, all speaking together. ‘Have another scone!’ And all three of them reached forward and put scones on Max’s plate.
Max was feeling a bit full by this time. But he didn’t want to be rude, so he took another of the scones and munched at it. He was looking at the three little men. They reminded him of a story that his Grandfather had told him about Irish fairies. He tried to remember the Irish name for fairies.
Bryan Brew screwed up his little eyes and peered at Max. ‘What are you thinking about, young fellow?’ he asked.
‘I was just trying to remember the Irish name for fairies.’ said Max.
The three little men all laughed aloud.
‘He thinks we are leprachauns!’ they all said together. And at the same moment two more little men appeared at the table – one on Max’s left side, and one on his right side. All five of them were laughing together, and they all looked exactly the same.
‘He thinks we are leprachauns!’ they all said again.
‘Are you leprachauns?’ asked Max.
‘Yes!’ they all said together. ‘We are all leprachauns. All of us!’ And at the same instant another twenty or thirty little men appeared at the table, and all the places were occupied.
‘Well,’ said Max, ‘ Thank you very much for the scones. But I think I would like to go now.’
‘Oh, you can’t go now!’ cried out all the leprachauns. ‘We can’t let you go. You might go and tell the Big People where our treasure is!’
‘But I really want to go,’ said Max. And he felt a tear growing in the corner of his eye.
‘No, no, no, no, never!’ cried the leprachauns. ‘We like you so much – we want you to stay with us!’ And as soon as they said it, another hundred leprachauns appeared – till the whole glade was full of running and jumping leprachauns.
Max was beginning to get frightened. But just in time, he remembered something that his Grandfather had written in the note that came with his dancing shoes.
Whatever you do, keep dancing. These shoes will help you do it.
As soon as he remembered his Grandfather’s letter, Max felt a twinkling in his toes. The twinkling quickly grew into a wriggling, and the wriggling drew into a jiggling. The next second, Max jumped up and began dancing.
‘Dance with us! Dance with us!’ called the leprachauns – and they began rolling about and jumping about and dancing.
‘Sorry,’ said Max. ‘It was very nice to see you, and thank you for the scones, but I have to go now.’
‘No, no, no, no, never!’ called out the leprachauns, and the ones nearest to him grabbed hold of his sleeves and pulled him down.
‘Sorry,’ said Max – ‘But I really have to go! - And his shoes began dancing faster and faster. He began to float upwards.
‘No! Stay with us! Stay with us!’ called the leprachauns, and they reached out to try to catch him.
But Max was already rising into the sky. He waved to the leprachuans as he sailed away over the trees.
‘Thanks again for the scones!’ he called out.
‘Come back! Come back!’ called the leprachauns. But Max had already flown out of sight.
‘Where to now?’ asked his dancing shoes.
‘To Inchnagree,’ said Max. And away they flew.
They flew for another ten minutes. Sometimes the shoes slowed down a little bit, and Max flew lower over the fields and hills of Ireland. And sometimes the shoes danced a bit faster, and then Max flew up high with his head in the clouds. When the shoes began dancing very slowly indeed Max knew they must be getting close to Inchnagree. A little while later he popped out of the clouds and he saw the town beneath him. He saw the river and the rowing boats on the river. He saw the church with the big square tower. And he saw the Big House with its lawns and gardens. Right there, in the middle of the garden, was a crowd of people. And there was a band playing music. And there was….Could it be?…..Yes! There was his Daddy, holding his guitar and singing into a microphone!
Max did a skip and a jump with delight, and in the next second he did another little jump and landed on the grass in front of the stage where his Daddy was playing.
‘Oh Lordy Lordy!’ his Daddy cried when he saw him. ‘It’s my little Max! Where did you come from?’
‘I just came to see you,’ said Max. ‘I was with the leprachauns.’
‘You were with the leprachauns!’
‘Yes,’ said Max. ‘And they tried to catch me!’
‘That was a narrow escape!’ said his Daddy. ‘You must be hungry. Did you have any dinner?’
‘No,’ said Max, ‘But I had lots of scones. My Great Grandmother baked them.’
‘Well, now that you are here, you must do a dance for us. Do you remember that Irish dance I taught you?’
‘Of course I do,’ said Max. ‘I’ve been dancing it all day. Didn’t you see my new shoes?’
Max’s daddy noticed the new shoes for the first time. He whistled.
‘Oh Lordy Lordy! That’s a very smart pair of shoes, Max. Did you say they were dancing shoes?’
‘Yes, Granddad sent them from India. They’re magic!’
And just to show everyone how full of magic the shoes were, Max did a dance. It began as an Irish dance, and it ended as an Irish dance – but in the middle of the dance the dancing shoes did all different sorts of dances – African dances and Chinese dances; and Bushman dances and Aboriginal dances; and Old-Fashioned dances and New-Fangled dances – and every dance you could think of.
When he had finished, Max sat down on the grass, and the people cheered and clapped. They went on cheering and clapping for a whole minute, and they all declared that Max was the best dancer in all of Ireland.
Max’s Daddy picked him up.
‘You look a wee bit tired, young fellow,’ he said.
‘I am,’ said Max.
‘Then I think you had better be flying home, or your Mother will be worried about you.’
‘Yes,’ said Max, ‘I suppose I had better go home.’
He gave his Daddy a big hug, and his Daddy gave him an even bigger hug.
And then the shoes began dancing again, and he zoomed into the air.
Max circled once and he looked down at the crowd of people waving at him. His Daddy was waving his guitar.
Max gave one final wave goodbye. Then his dancing shoes speeded up, and he soared away high over the Irish Sea, and he didn’t stop going till he slipped through the window of his bedroom and landed on his bed.
Sion is a writer, and a dear friend. Many thanks for this story!