Ava paused at the mouth of the cave to take in the panoramic view of Dragon World spread out before her. Cupcake, her bull terrier sat beside her and looked around as well, she also sniffed the slight breeze which tickled her nose. Scents of vegetables being roasted and spicy sauces cooking wafted up from the meeting camp below making Cupcake lick her lips in anticipation of tasty snacks and titbits to come. She yapped and wagged her tail vigorously, though Ava was quite aware of the dog’s wish for her to stop wasting time and get down to the kitchen as quickly as possible. Ava looked around for the small Scrap dragon who always accompanied her on trips to Dragon world and found him licking at an orange streak of iron oxide in a large pebble by the cave mouth.
“Come on Sprocket, Cupcake’s hungry for snacks and you can find plenty of tasty minerals when we get down to the bottom.”
They hurried down the path and while Cupcake followed her nose to the kitchen area to become best friends with the dragon in charge of the cooking, Sprocket scampered over to a promising pile of boulders. Ava walked over to the large red dragon standing at a writing desk carefully sorting and signing a stack of scrolls with a large flamboyant quill pen. “Good morning Llewellyn. You seem to be very busy with papers to sign. Do you have time for a chat?”
“With you Ava, I always have time to chat.” The huge dragon dropped a bundle of scrolls into a sack hanging from the side of the desk and placed a glass paperweight containing the image of a dragon breathing out a sheet of blue-white fire on the remaining stack of papers to prevent the breeze from scattering them far and wide.
Ava climbed onto a high stool and Llewellyn sat back on his haunches folding his arms across the top of his white scaled belly and resting his elbows on his knees. The girl felt totally at ease being close to the towering beast despite his sharp talons, mouth full of far too many sharp fangs and the spirals of smoke and steam rising from his nostrils. When she had first come through the portal from her world with her cousins and her parents she had been petrified of the fire-breathing monsters that had swooped down from the sky to greet them but the kindness and calmness of their telepathic greetings which had tickled her mind and made her laugh had completely overcome her fears. Now she felt confident and comfortable with dragons of all shapes and sizes and visiting their world was as natural as going to the shops with her mum.
“I’m glad you came today, I’ve something new to show you,” said Llewellyn, rubbing his hands together and causing his claws to click like castanets. “A group of Ground Owls has moved into the edge of the wood down by the river where the milk palms grow and the dinosaurs sent a message to say the young ones have just started leaving the nests. I thought you might like to see them.”
“Yes, please. What are Ground Owls? Can’t they fly?”
“They can fly but usually hunt their prey by running along the ground though they do nest in holes in trees like other owls. Their wings are quite small and only good for gliding not for flying and they climb up to their nests using the sharp talons on their feet and a claw on their wing joints.”
The Adults are about thirty centimetres tall but over a third of that is leg length so they are no bigger than sixteen centimetres when perched. The babies are no larger than a tennis ball when they first leave the nest. They hunt and eat beetles and their particular favourites are the Rino beetles, the large grey ones with the two horns on their heads.” “But they are nearly as big as my dad’s hand; surely the baby owls can’t catch them?”
“Oh, they can catch them but are not strong enough to kill and eat them so have to start with smaller beetles.” “I would love to see them. Will you take me over there?”
“I’m afraid I have too much work to do today. But the wind is in the right direction so you could get your Tri-ley and sail over. One of the young dinos will tow you back when you’ve had enough.”
“Good thinking. Thanks for the idea. See you later.” With that Ava jumped down from her stool and whistling for Cupcake and Sprocket hurried off to get her Tri-ley from the shelter.
Within minutes she had unfolded the three-wheeled vehicle, rigged the mast and sail and with Cupcake sitting at the front like a ship’s figure-head was bowling across the lilac coloured grassland following the dinosaur trail to the milk palms by the river. Sprocket was ahead and above riding on the twin jet flames from his tail ducts. He performed loops and spirals enjoying the lower gravity of this world and leaving a pink vapour trail to mark his passage. She was careful to give the woods a wide birth as she approached the area where the dinosaurs lived and sent a thought to Cupcake not to bark and frighten the gentle creatures. Ava applied the brakes and furled the sail then walked slowly over to where one of the long-necked herbivores was stirring a huge vat of palm milk with a long wooden paddle.
“Hello, have you come to see the owlets or to try our latest batch of cheese?” The dinosaur lowered its head to look Ava in the eye as it laid the paddle on a long smooth wooden table.
Ava smiled and reaching out rubbed the top of the creature’s head which she knew they liked, while Cupcake rubbed her head against one of its thick, scaly legs.
“I’ve come to see the owls but if there is cheese to try I would love some after I’ve seen them. I will be hungry by then as I had breakfast rather early.”
Sprocket had gone looking for his friends among the young dinosaurs and returned at that point with one who knew where the owls were roosting.
“Follow my son and your dragon and they will lead you to the owls.” said the large dinosaur and the four friends set off. They moved slowly and quietly through the trees of the wood till they came to an open glade with three old rotten logs laying in the middle. Sprocket signalled for them to lay down and inch forward right to the edge of the clearing. For some minutes nothing happened and there was no movement in the clearing, then a fluttering blur dropped from one of the trees and there was an adult Ground Owl perched on one of the rotten logs.
The bird stretched as tall as it could, its head turning right round till it faced backwards then back the other way full circle to check for danger. Satisfied that all was safe it gave a high pitched screech then began running on the spot on top of the log.
The wood was obviously hollow as the bird’s efforts produced a low drumming sound and soon three other owls fluttered down and joined in the strange running dance and increasing the drumming sound.
To say that these birds flew down would be stretching a point, what they did was more of a slow and controlled fall. Their stubby wings flapping so fast they were like a blur on each side of their bodies but did not enable them to gain or even retain height.
More screeching and chirping could be heard from overhead and suddenly a small fluffy ball dropped from the tree which overhung their hiding place, hit the grass, bounced twice and rolled to within half a metre of where they lay. Two large black eyes appeared in the fuzzy ball and blinked twice then two legs with clawed toes spread sprouted from the top of the ball and with a quick flip an angry owlet stood before them. It ruffled its feathers, spread its short wings and hissed loudly. The bright yellow, hooked beak was clearly visible as were the sharp climbing claws on the wing joints. Having declared its dissatisfaction with its landing and, the world in general, the chick turned and ran off towards the logs and other owls.
Ava found it almost impossible not to laugh out loud at the sight of the tiny owlet running. Its wing stubs spread for balance, its short tail wagging from side to side head thrust forward. The long stick thin legs high stepping rapidly as it covered the ground at an amazing speed.
Other fuzzy balls were dropping from trees around the glade till eventually a dozen of the comical fluff balls were darting and zig-zagging across the clearing. Finally, four adult females joined their chicks and began to herd them towards the fallen logs.
Ava slowly rolled to the left so she could get her small digital camera from her pocket them rolled back and raised the viewfinder to her eye. Adjusting the zoom and focus she was about to take a picture when a tiny flashing icon caught her attention. She quickly lowered the camera and pressed the button to engage silent mode then raised it again and proceeded to record the chick’s antics.
Through the powerful zoom lens, she could see the effect that the adults drumming feet were having on the rotten log. Out of one end of the fallen tree was pouring a stream of worms, grubs and beetles which had been disturbed by the bird’s actions. The chicks and female owls fell upon this feast, stabbing with beaks and talons and running after the faster insects. One chick pounced on a large Rhino beetle and began pecking at its armoured shell. The beetle reared up on its hind legs and the chick losing its balance and grip rolled off in a flurry of legs and feathers. Before the small owl could regain its feet the beetle turned, charged its foe and began to toss the fuzzy bundle about with its two horns. The chick was squeaking pitifully till its mother dashed up, flipped the belligerent beetle onto its back and plunged a lethal talon into its soft under parts. As her chick righted itself she tore off the beetle’s under-casing and shared the feast with her young one.
They watched the chase and feeding for another quarter of an hour then carefully backed away from the clearing and returned to the milk palm plantation.
The long table was covered with wooden plates and dishes containing a wonderful selection of cheeses, dips and piles of crisp dried leaf crackers.
“Find yourself a place and tuck in. There is a bowl or double baked hard biscuits for your dog and some tasty mineral rich rocks for Sprocket. So help yourselves. They had a long slow lunch followed by paddling in the shallows of the river to collect fresh muscles for the dragons who particularly liked the shells to crunch. As the red sun began to sink toward the horizon Ava tied two ropes to the front post of the Tri-ley and a pair of young dinosaurs harnessed to the vehicle and Sprocket and Cupcake aboard she set off back to the camp by the cliff.
On arrival at the camp, she released and thanked the young dinosaurs who nuzzled her with their scaly noses then galloped off home. Cupcake helped her pull the Tri-ley back under cover then she spent half an hour showing Llewellyn the pictures and movies she had recorded of the Ground Owls and laughing at their strange ways.
It began to get dark as the sun set and Lanterns were being put up all around the camp by small dragons, so Ava wished the large red dragon goodbye and accompanied by dog and dragon climbed the path and returned through the portal in the cave.
When she came out of the lift door into the pithead yard it was still early afternoon. Sprocket flew off to Pudding founders Lane while Ava and Cupcake headed for the museum.
She found Dave in his workshop/office at the back of the building and asked him if he would print some large copies of some of her shots and copy the movies onto a flash drive so she could watch them on her TV at home. This he did while Ava made tea and passed some broken ginger biscuits to Cupcake. That sat sipping tea and munching biscuits while the printer wired away producing the colour images which Dave laminated for her to protect them from damage. Clutching a cardboard tube containing the prints under her arm the girl and her dog made their way back home and arrived just before her dad and in time for tea.
What an adventure and the prints would look great on her bedroom wall.
Do you want to know more about Bryan Pentelow and his Sprocket Sagas collection? Then reach out to him at his favorite haunts.