The dingy, dreary street was still there, with its two rows of dingy, dreary houses. The houses were still abandoned and derelict, their doors and windows boarded over with rough planks of wood. Weeds grew tall in the sooty back gardens, and the fences that separated the properties sagged and rotted in the damp air.
Nobody had wanted to live there—not since Basil Tramplebone had moved in to the biggest and nastiest-looking house at the far end of the street, right down by the railway tracks.
And still they didn't want to live there, even months after Basil's death, when he and his pet bat, Cuddlebug, had fallen from their high attic window and splattered on the pavement below, and the nasty house itself had collapsed into a pile of rubble. There was still something about the street that made prospective house buyers turn away and go look for somewhere to live in another part of town—preferably a part of town that was as far away from that dingy, dreary street as possible.
And now, today, on this warm, late summer's evening, it seemed at first glance that the street was as empty of human life as ever. But if you looked a little closer, particularly there, down at the far end of the street, where a great rotting pile of black rubble—that had once been Basil Tramplebone's horrible house—lay by the side of the road, you might have noticed some movement.
On the pavement, in the shadow of the great rubble heap, two dark figures sat on a pair of folding camp stools. They held open umbrellas over their heads, and they huddled together under the rain that dribbled down on them.
The rain that dribbled down on them—but on nothing else in the street.
Elsewhere in the dingy, dreary street, the early evening sun cast a golden glow over everything. But over the two huddled figures there floated a strange object—a small black cloud in the shape of the figure eight. This odd-looking, little double cloud dribbled a constant stream of water over the two black umbrellas and the huddled figures beneath them.
Wrathmonks! Members of the third—and most feared—branch of sorcery. First among the sorcerers were the Wizards, who were kind and friendly and usually very secretive, living private lives and not bothering anybody very much; then the Warlocks—proud, ambitious, and a little greedy, perhaps; and last came the Wrathmonks, the most terrible of all the magical beings, for they were insane. Besides the small movements made by the two Wrathmonks as they sat quietly talking to each other, there was other movement, too. Another pair of figures was scrambling about on the huge pile of dirty rubble. Their heads were down and their backs were bent and their hands were picking over the bricks, as if they were looking for something. Every now and again they would cast anxious eyes in the direction of the two figures under their umbrellas and then, just as quickly, they would avert their eyes and continue their search.The pair of searchers were men, both in rough working clothes and heavy boots, with cloth caps on their heads. They looked frightened and exhausted—and a little puzzled, too.
They had been searching for a very long time and now, for a moment, each man took a few seconds to rest. They both stopped quite near to each other, and both straightened their aching backs and tried to rub a little of the dirt from their sore hands.
"Did I tell you to ssstop, Robert?"
The first man jerked at the sound of the hissing voice. He looked fearfully down at the figures on the pavement. One of them—a short, round, fat little blob of a person—had folded his umbrella and stood up from his camp stool and was now glaring at him from under hooded eyelids. The eyes were like two little black holes in a smooth expanse of white, white skin. There wasn't a single strand of hair on the shiny round head. The ears were small and round and lay close to the skull. The nose looked like a little ball of white wax. A pair of pale, pudgy lips occupied the lower half of the face and, below them, the chin sloped backward so that it looked as if he had no chin at all. Below the nonexistent chin was a nonexistent neck and, below that, a well-pressed black suit, a white shirt, a black tie, a pair of black leather gloves and, on the small feet, a pair of shiny black lace-up shoes.
"Well, Robert? I asssked you a quessstion, Robert."
The man on the rubble pile shook his head fearfully. "No, Mr. Gristle, sir—I wasn't stopping, Mr. Gristle, sir. I was just taking a breather, Mr. Gristle, sir. Won't happen again, Mr. Gristle, sir."
Griswold Gristle twisted his mouth into the semblance of a smile.
"No, Robert, it won't happen again. And would you like me to tell you why it won't happen again, Robert?"
Robert swallowed hard and whispered, "Oh, yes please, Mr. Gristle, sir.""Well, Robert—it won't happen again because, if it does, you won't be taking a breather, as you call it, ever again. You won't be taking a breather, Robert—because you won't be alive, Robert, you'll be dead—and dead people don't do all that much breathing, you sssee. Hee hee." Griswold's fat little body jiggled up and down a couple of times, and a wheezing sound slipped from his mouth. "Hee hee. Do you follow me, Robert?"
Robert nodded, lowering his eyes to the ground. "Yes, sir, Mr. Gristle, sir. Very, very sorry, Mr. Gristle, sir. Beg your pardon, Mr. Gristle, sir. Won't happen again, Mr. Gristle, sir."Measle and the Dragodon. Copyright © by Ian Ogilvy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Measle and the Dragodon by Ian Ogilvy
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