Montgomery the Mouse scampered through the grass as quickly as his little legs could carry him. Open space like this made him nervous, especially on such a bright day, when it would be so easy for a bird of prey to spot him.

Why was it so bright, anyway? The last thing he could remember, he was in the cold early winter weather of Maine with all his friends, but now he was in hot, bright, summer sunlight, all alone. And even the sunlight didn’t seem right – it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once.

He wondered if this was a dream. Surely it was a dream.

“Montgomery! Over here!” It was Jerry. He was higher up on a hillside far away – at least twenty feet, which is a lot when you’re as small as they are. Luckily for Montgomery, mice can run fast when they need to.

As he sprinted he saw a shadow overhead – a large bird of some kind, which was his biggest fear. His heart beat faster than it ever had before, and he kept running. Keep going, he told himself. You can do it. But the shadow passed over, and as he risked looking up, there were no birds to be seen anywhere.

He made it to Jerry, and stood up on his back legs to hug his friend. They’d never hugged before, and it was about as strange as you might think a hug between a six-inch human and a mouse of roughly the same size would be. Then they kept running to find a bush they could hide under to keep them safe from anything flying overhead.

“So good to see you,” Jerry said with relief. “Have you seen Tommy? Where are we?”

“No,” Montgomery replied to his first question, concerned that his friend, Jerry’s brother, was missing. He looked at Jerry and saw the same worry on his face. “And I’ve got no idea where we are,” he continued. “I don’t remember much of anything. I know we were in Maine, looking for the X on the map, and the next thing I knew, I was on the side of that hill” – he pointed his nose to indicate – “right where any owl or hawk might get me.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on,” Jerry agreed. “But I’ll tell you one thing. That bird wasn’t like any bird I’ve ever seen. Biggest beak I’ve ever seen, and so many colors.”

“On its beak?” Montgomery asked, skeptically.

“Yeah,” Jerry replied. “Really weird. But it didn’t even seem to notice you. Or it wasn’t interested in you, I don’t know.”

That made Montgomery feel a little better, until he realized that it wasn’t that he did anything to save himself, it was just that the bird didn’t care about him.

“So now what?” Montgomery asked.

“Now we find Tommy,” Jerry replied. In his mind, that’s all there was.

“Yeah, but how?”

Jerry paused. “Yeah, that part I’m not so sure about.”

They both looked around, and briefly shouted out Tommy’s name, with no response.

“Okay, look,” Jerry strategized after a pause, “we need to find the highest place we can so we get a better view – it’s how I found you, after all. That tree’s the tallest thing around here.” He pointed to a large tree, a kind neither of them had seen before arriving here, with enormous long leaves curving out and down from the top of the curved trunk. It was growing from the ground on top of a huge rock formation, which was maybe forty feet or more high, with an enormous cave opening.

Montgomery ignored the cave opening, and worried more about the idea of the tree. Trees are where birds live, he thought to himself. Big birds. With big beaks. Even if that one didn’t want me, what about other ones?

Jerry felt the need to reassure his friend. “Look, I know the cave is kind of a scary thing -“

“What?! No it’s not, why would the cave be a scary thing?!”

“Umm,” Jerry started, and wondered halfway through if this was a bad idea, “because that’s where… snakes… live…?”

“Snakes?” Montgomery the Mouse replied, as if he was testing how the word snakes sounded when he said it out loud. He was already worried about birds of prey, and now he had to worry about snakes too?

“I mean…” Jerry tried, “maybe not here. Maybe that’s just a thing other places…” He looked at Montgomery, trying to gauge his reaction.

“Sure,” Montgomery the Mouse replied, not believing a word of it. Jerry noticed he was avoiding eye contact, and looked as if he was fighting with his own brain. After a few moments, Montgomery took a deep breath; he had decided how to proceed.

“Okay,” he responded, failing to hide his nervousness, and still avoiding eye contact. “Let’s do it.”

“O…Okay,” Jerry confirmed.

Montgomery the Mouse took a deep breath, and started the trek. Jerry stood looking at where his friend had been a moment earlier and marveled at his friend’s courage, before turning to follow him.

Jerry found he had to work hard to keep up, perhaps because Montgomery the Mouse had four legs, or perhaps Montgomery was just nervous and wanted this over as soon as possible.

As they made their way up the hillside and approached the rocks, Jerry kept turning around to take in some of the amazing views – valleys with crystal blue water running through them, luscious green grass and huge leaves on trees he had never seen the likes of before. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He wanted to believe Tommy was right to want to go on this adventure, but he couldn’t believe that until he knew that Tommy was safe.

Montgomery the Mouse reached the bottom of the rock formation first while his friend lagged behind. An image kept popping into his mind of a python sticking its head out from between the rocks and saying in a deep voice, “hello, lunch.” He tried to push it out of his mind as much as he could, but it just kept coming back – different colors on the snake, or a different voice, but always a snake, and always those words.

He was so focused that he didn’t even realize Jerry was far behind him. He looked up and found the best path for the first part of the climb. With another deep breath, he started to climb.

Montgomery didn’t even hear his friend Jerry from below, calling out, “Hey, Montgomery! I think I just saw Montgomery the Moose! Way off in the distance. Sounded like he was being attacked by something, but now they’re walking together… Montgomery? Montgomery, can you hear me?”

But Montgomery couldn’t hear him. He was scampering as fast as his little legs could carry him, when all of a sudden, he heard a sound he’d never heard before coming from inside the cave. The sound stopped him in his tracks. He stood as still as a statue, petrified that whatever made the noise would find him.

Down below, the sound had the same impact on Jerry. His eyes focused on the cave.

The noise was a loud exhale of air from nostrils, like you would hear from a horse, if the horse were forty feet long, covered in scales, and with wings and a tail.

“Oh. Right,” Jerry said to himself. “Dragon.”

A low growl came next, like a cat’s purr, but a thousand times louder. Montgomery the Mouse wasn’t exactly put at ease by anything that sounded like a cat, and Jerry, at six inches tall, wasn’t a huge fan of cits either.

“Montgomery,” Jerry whispered to himself as he saw his friend stuck in place on a rock in front of the opening.

More noises came from inside – some grunting, but mostly sounds of movement. These were gentler, though, and subsided after a few moments. Both Montgomery and Jerry stayed where they were – Jerry kept looking at Montgomery and hoped he would look back to know that Jerry was there too, but judging by what he saw now, he wouldn’t have believed that the mouse was real and alive if he hadn’t seen him move a few minutes ago.

After a couple of minutes of silence, Montgomery finally turned to look at him, and Jerry decided he could risk climbing up. He moved as quietly as he could, and kept an eye on the spaces between the rocks.

When he reached his friend, they silently acknowledged each other, and both started to climb further. Their climb up the rocks was soon interrupted by something that was sitting on the rocks. A shoe. A sneaker, to be exact. And the sneaker wasn’t alone. There was another one close by. And both sneakers had socks inside. And feet.

The owner of the feet (and the socks and the sneakers, as well as the other clothes the owner was wearing) was a human hipster male, who sat lounged back with his elbows on the large rock. He looked at Montgomery and Jerry and spoke softly to them.

“You should be careful, y’know. There’s a dragon that lives in this cave.”

Jerry and Montgomery exchanged looks and then looked at the human hipster male, saying with their eyes that he was endangering them all. The human hipster male seemed to understand their look.

“Eh, it’s alright,” he sat up and waved his hand in the general direction of the cave to show he wasn’t concerned. “The dragon’s not gonna harm me. But he is pretty terrifying, you know. Around here we call him The Scary Stanley. But I’m safe. You on the other hand…?” He looked at them as if to say that it was up to them.

“Uh, we don’t want any trouble, sir,” Montgomery the Mouse answered.

“We’re just looking for a friend of ours.”

“Really?” the human hipster male replied, excited to hear that answer. He sat up and looked at them intently through his glasses. With his hands on his knees, he interlocked his hands. “Is this friend of yours, by any chance, a moose?

Montgomery and Jerry were both taken aback by this. How could he know about Montgomery the Moose? 

Just as Jerry was drawing breath to respond, a strange thing happened. The human hipster male seemed to flicker for a moment, as if he weren’t really there, like a hologram or a recording. He noticed it, and saw their surprised reactions to it too.

“Ugh, okay, this is all part of the problem, you see?” he said, but they didn’t see at all. “Here, is this better?” And with that his body shifted shape and size, shrinking down from a six-foot human hipster male to a small light-purple dragon, with childlike proportions – smaller wings than could sustain it in flight, a short tail, and a head that seemed to be mostly made up of its two big friendly eyes. 

“Aah!” both Montgomery and Jerry panicked.

“Ooh, was that too much?” the baby dragon asked. He paused, but both Montgomery and Jerry had terrified looks on their faces as if the dragon was about to eat them. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the baby dragon said. “Okay, how about this?” His shape and size shifted again, this time back to being the human hipster male, but this time just six inches tall, to stand alongside Jerry. “Is that better?” he asked, after the transformation.

“Look, I’m just looking for my brother,” Jerry said, wanting to just make it through this. “I don’t know where he is.”

“Oh, I bet he’ll show up,” the Jerry-sized human hipster male said with a smile. He flickered again, and sighed with disappointment when he saw it happen. “Okay, I guess I should tell you. I’m The Scary Stanley.” He looked at their faces to see how they reacted to his revelation. Strangely, they seemed less scared now than they did before. He looked disappointed again. He pleaded with a sigh, “please tell me you’re scared.”

Montgomery and Jerry looked at each other, unsure of what to say.

“Um, yeah, really scared,” Montgomery replied, even though he was feeling much calmer now with this six-inch human hipster male calling himself The Scary Stanley than at any time since they arrived in this strange land. The Scary Stanley gave a great smile of appreciation, and looked at Jerry.

Sensing his cue, Jerry said, “Oh… yes! Terrified!” The Scary Stanley beamed, and Jerry felt he should continue. “I mean, wow, yes, you are really scary. Wow. No wonder everyone calls you Scary Stanley.”

The Scary Stanley,” The Scary Stanley corrected, losing all his happiness. “Ugh, you’re not scared of me. But you should be.” With that, his body launched into the sky and returned to the form they had heard inside the cave – a fully-grown forty-foot long scaly purple dragon with enormous wings, huge claws, and teeth larger than either of the two friends.

Terrified once more, Montgomery and Jerry ran into a crack between the rocks. They looked up at The Scary Stanley, who seemed to be having a hard time flying – his wings looked clumsy, and he kept getting closer to the hillside before haphazardly flying up again. He clearly felt bad for scaring the two small creatures so much, and was shouting out “I didn’t mean to…” crash… “I’m really sorry…” crash… “I just wanted to show you…” crash. And with the final crash, he lay on the hillside, moaning in pain. After a few moments, he changed into the six-inch human hipster male again, still lying on his back and moaning.

Jerry was the first one to come out and see if he was okay. Montgomery the Mouse stayed back at first, but slowly came out too.

“I’m sorry,” said The Scary Stanley between moans. “I didn’t mean… to scare you. I mean, yeah, obviously… I did, but not that much. Oww, that much scaring… really hurts.”

“Can we do anything for you?” Jerry asked.

The Scary Stanley thought for a moment. Then he nodded.

Between deep breaths, he said, “We’ve been looking… for the moose… called Montgomery. He can fix… everything. The reason weird things keep happening… is that magic… is broken.”

Click here for Chapter Twenty-Two.

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