“The Ashfords are coming this afternoon,” said Mum. “We’d better get tidied up. I’ll do down here. You go and sort out your rooms.” Reluctantly David and Jenny went upstairs.
“I’ll help with your room and you help with mine,” suggested Jenny. David hated tidying his room and thought this was a great idea. As they pulled the duvet straight and piled toys back into the cupboard they chatted about the Ashfords.
“We haven’t seen Millie and Billy for ages,” said David. “It’ll be smashing.”
“But what about Daisy and Lily?” warned Jenny. “The last time they came Dad had to redecorate the lounge. How do you suppose they got that paint so far up the walls?”
They stood silently, remembering the terrible mess that the twins Daisy and Lily had made in just a few minutes while nobody was looking. Then David added in admiration, “Yes, and it went right across the carpet too.”
“That was a long time ago,” said Jenny. “They’re bigger now; perhaps they won’t be so naughty.”
But unfortunately bigger didn’t mean better!
When the doorbell rang David and Jenny hurtled downstairs to greet their visitors. The little group stood in the hall while everyone said hello.
“I’ve got a new game,” said Millie to Jenny, holding up a bag.
“I’ve got a new crane,” said Billy to David, showing him a huge box.
“I’ve got something much more exciting to show you,” thought David, glancing up at the hall cupboard, where he could just see the tip of Tag’s nose, “but he can wait.”
“Come upstairs,” said David and Jenny at the same time to their friends.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” suggested Mum, leading Mrs Ashford towards the kitchen.
Daisy and Lily were left standing in the hall. Daisy nudged Lily and pointed through the open door of the lounge, where she could see an old friend. Curled up on a cushion, deeply asleep, was a grey cat. “Watch him jump,” whispered Daisy, tiptoeing across the room. She bent over Boris, took a deep breath, then clapped her hands and shouted “Boo!”
Boris leapt up as if he’d been jabbed with a poker, saw the hands and the face looming over him, and raced for the door. But he had reckoned without Lily. She jumped in front of him and forced him to swerve away. He dashed across the room to the dark spot behind the sofa. But his safety was short-lived. With a whoop Daisy jumped on to the sofa, grabbed a cushion and threw it down into the space where Boris was hiding. Bull’s-eye! Out streaked Boris, ears flattened, tail streaming behind, looking for somewhere else to hide. But it was not to be. Pursued by Daisy and Lily he fled round and round the room. Everywhere he went he was followed by heavy feet and grabbing hands. Eventually, in desperation, he leapt for the curtains, clawed his way up and squeezed through the crack at the top of the window. Daisy and Lily threw themselves on the floor, giggling.
From the hall Tag had heard the thumps and bumps coming from the lounge. He had no idea what was happening, but now it had gone quiet he thought he’d investigate. He fluttered down and pushed open the door with his nose. He peered around the room.
There were two children – smaller than David and Jenny – lying face down on the floor, playing with a toy. The movement caught the eye of one of the children, who turned and said, “Look!”
Two faces stared at Tag.
“Here dragee, dragee, drageeee,” came a wheedling voice. It sounded friendly, and Tag waddled over. A hand reached out to stroke him and he swished his tail in pleasure. Another hand caught hold of his tail and held it – not hard, but not quite gently either. He tried to pull it away but the hand tightened. Then the two girls started to feel him over from head to tail. They tugged at the crest down his back, and fingers prodded him in the ribs. He didn’t like this at all and tried to wriggle away. But the hands on his neck and tail held him firmly and a voice said, “Oh no you don’t! You stay here.”
He felt some fingers on his ear. They pinched and pulled, and he squeaked in protest.
“Ooh, it makes a noise. Do it again, dragee!” These words were accompanied by another tug, and this one really hurt. He squeaked again. How could he get away? Perhaps he could surprise them by suddenly flapping his wings. He tried, but the hand round his neck only got tighter. “Wings,” said the other voice. “Let’s see how big they are.” And while two hands held Tag down, two more tried to stretch his wings outwards.
But they were not gentle, and Tag let out a shrill cry of pain.
Outside, on the windowsill, Boris was congratulating himself on escaping. He remembered the last time the twins had visited, when they had tried to lift him up by his tail. Only David’s arrival had saved him.
Boris’s thoughts were interrupted by a faint cry, and he looked round to see what had caused it. Through the window he saw the two children holding Tag down on the floor. He heard Tag squeak again. Boris realised they were tormenting his friend, just as they had tormented him. That wouldn’t do! He must get back in to help. But how? He looked up. He had squeezed through the open window to escape, but there was no way he could jump up there and get back in. There was only one way – Boris jumped down and raced for the cat flap.
Daisy and Lily had decided to make Tag fly, and were getting clumsily to their feet, still holding firmly on to him. Suddenly, with a blood-curdling yowl, a grey whirlwind streaked across the floor and launched itself straight into Daisy’s face. Boris’s head hit her nose with a bump, and she jerked backwards, letting go of Tag.
Boris had already moved on to his next target. In one bound he landed on Lily’s back, ran up to her head and balanced there. Lily let out an exclamation, let go of Tag and reached up. He scrambled away and leapt for safety on the back of a chair.
But Boris was now in trouble. A pair of hands had grabbed him from behind, and with a cry of triumph, Daisy held him up in the air, helplessly wriggling.
“No you don’t, you nuisance,” she cried. “Come on Lil, let’s give him a swing.”
Tag looked on in horror as Lily took hold of Boris’s tail and Daisy held on to his front paws. Now it was his turn to help. Well, they had wondered if he could fly – he’d show them!
He launched himself, just as Boris had done, straight up at Daisy’s face. But this time Tag sank his talons into her clothes, clinging tightly and flapping his wings wildly in front of her eyes. Startled, she let out a shriek and let go of Boris, then started to beat at Tag with her hands. In his fury he forgot himself, and allowed a trickle of smoke to escape from his muzzle.
“Lily!” cried Daisy to her sister. But before Lily could move, Daisy’s foot slipped on a toy that was lying on the floor and she started to fall backwards. Her arms windmilled as she tried to keep her balance, and her hand knocked into a vase that was standing on the table. It fell to the floor with a crash. Daisy landed on her back with a scream. It was so loud that the mums came running from the kitchen and the other children came dashing down the stairs. They crowded into the lounge to find Daisy lying on the floor in a pool of water, surrounded by flowers and bits of vase. She was beating her hands and feet on the carpet in a tantrum.
“Horrible animals,” she said. “They ought to be locked up.”
“What animals?” asked their Mum.
“That nasty cat and that horrid dragon,” shouted Daisy.
“Dragon?” queried her Mum.
“Yes, it flew in my face and it flapped and flapped and flapped,” howled Daisy.
“And tried to burn her hair off,” added Lily.
David looked around, saw Boris cowering in the darkness at the side of the sofa, and saw Tag peeping out from underneath. He had an idea what had been happening and knew that, like all bullies, Daisy and Lily were not so happy when the tables were turned. His thoughts were interrupted by Mum, who put her hand heavily on his shoulder and leant close to him.
“Have you been scaring them with stories about your dragon?” she hissed.
“No, I’ve been upstairs with Billy,” he replied, shaking her hand off. Mum’s voice cut through all the babble:
“I made some blackberry ice cream when I heard you were coming,” she said. “Who’d like some?”
The crying stopped and everyone piled through into the kitchen. David knelt on the floor to coax Tag out from his hiding place. The dragon clung to him as if he’d never let go.
“Never mind,” whispered David. “I’ll introduce you to Millie and Billy – they’re nice. But let’s get some ice-cream first.”
The rest of the day passed much more smoothly. Tag watched while they played with Millie’s game, and he helped load things on to Billy’s crane, but Daisy and Lily seemed unwilling to leave their mother’s side, which suited the other children just fine.
When it was time for the Ashfords to leave, everyone gathered in the hall to see them off. David sat on the stairs, with Tag on his shoulder.
“There it is again!” wailed Daisy, pointing at David, and she and Lily started to scream.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing them for some time,” said Mum with relief as the car disappeared. “I was nervous all the time they were here, in case they repeated their trick with the paint.” Then she said to David, “Perhaps that pretend pet of yours does have its uses. I must say you talk about it just as if it were real. Perhaps you should try writing some stories about it. The one for today could start: ‘The Ashfords are coming this afternoon,’ said Mum.”