Once upon a time, (all good fairy stories start like this, and this is a fairy story, even though there are no fairies in it;) once upon a time there was a princess. Now other fairy-tale princesses are radiantly beautiful, or astoundingly ugly, happy as a cat on a cozy lap, or mournful as a rainy afternoon, but Sarah -- that was her name -- was just okay-looking, just almost-pretty. And she was sometimes cheerful and sometimes a bit bored.
She lived in a castle too new to have a ghost and too small to get lost in. There was some gold -- on the picture frames -- and some silver -- the spoons and a coffee urn. Her father, the king, was very busy, always on the phone or closeted with important-looking people in dark suits. At supper, he would always ask, "What did you do today, Sarah, my pet?"
And Sarah always said, "Nothing, papa."
And her mother always said, "What do you mean, Sarah? We had a perfectly lovely afternoon, walking in the gardens and arranging the flowers, didn't we?"
"Yes, mamma," Sarah said, because she was a very polite little princess.
When winter came and the flowers died, the queen stayed inside and worked on her embroidery, but Sarah walked alone every afternoon, through the rose garden with all its bare thorny stalks, under the empty grape arbour, around the rhododendrons, and into the orchard. In the centre of the orchard, there was a fountain, with a statue of a faun and a little marble bench. One day, Sarah was sitting on the bench, waiting for it to be time to go in for supper, when she caught a glimpse of something shiny, all purple and pink, moving behind the statue. She jumped up and went to see what it was, but there was nothing. "Hello? Who's there? Where are you?" she called.
"Here I am, Your Highness, Her Majesty the queen sent me to call you to supper," said a voice, and Sarah turned and saw only the lady's maid, in a brown uniform.
"Did you see anyone else here?" Sarah asked.
"No, Your Highness, only your Highness. And Her Majesty the queen says to hurry, if you please, the king your father is waiting."
So Sarah went in to supper with her curiosity unsatisfied. But when her father the king asked, "What did you do today, Sarah, my pet?" she answered, as usual,
What did Sarah see? Well, I'm glad you asked. Under the apple trees, and around the rhododendrons, the gardener's assistant had been planting daffodil bulbs for the spring flowering. But, being only the assistant, he had been careless, and spilled half a bucket of bulbs on the path, where, instead of picking them up, he had just kicked them off under a handy bush. So he didn't look closely, or he would have seen that one was not a bulb, but an egg. An odd-looking egg, at that, striped, ever so faintly, in pale purple and paler green.
The bulbs landed under the bush and stayed there, but the egg was round and it rolled out the other side, and into a mossy hollow where a wintry ray of sunlight lit on it, and warmed it. Soon a crack appeared at the pointed end of the egg. Another crack opened, and another, and with a snap! the end fell off. And out crawled the last, the very latest, of the dinosaurs.
The egg had been buried deep in the clay where the sun never shone, for centuries, until a big back hoe excavated the hillside to make a housing development. There had been a bumpy ride since; it was dumped onto the riverside with a pile of rocks, to make a breakwater, washed down to a muddy bank and dug up to level out the ground on the daffodil farm, then bagged and trucked, and finally spilled on the ground and kicked. All it needed was a touch of sun to wake up the sleeping dinosaur inside.
While the new-hatched dino is yawning and stretching, and uncoiling his tail, we have a minute to look at him. He is still tiny, only about a foot long, not counting the tail, which is as long as the rest of him all together. His head is too small, but it makes up for that by its colour: a vibrant, eye-dazzling neon blue. His sides are purple, shading down into pink towards the tail, which darkens to a deep cherry-red at the very tip. His belly is striped, like the egg, in pale purple and green. And along his back there is a row of triangular fins covered in glossy green scales.
Whether this is the true colour of dinosaurs, or whether the long ages in the clay brought about some magic, we will never know. There are no other dinosaurs around to compare. This baby dino has no mother.
When he finished working out the kinks in his tail, the dinosaur looked around for something to eat. Some race memory, some instinct, made him think of giant hibiscus flowers, and insects buzzing in the shade of the mammoth ferns, but all he could see was moss and cold bare branches. Then he heard the water running in the fountain and set out to get a drink. This was when Sarah saw him, and frightened him, running and shouting. He hid quickly under the rhododendrons until she went away.
When he was sure no-one could see him, he went to the fountain and drank. Next, he ran back and forth over the moss to keep warm, until he found some half-rotten apples under a tree. He tried one: it was soft and full of holes, but it didn't taste too bad. There was a fat green worm in the core: it was delicious. He ate wormy apples until it was too dark to find them. Afterwards, he dug himself a hole in the moss and rolled up in it, nose to tail, shivering and wishing he was back in his warm egg. It took him a long time to get to sleep.
Sarah was out early the next morning, going for a walk before it rained, she told her lady's maid. Of course, she ran straight to the orchard. And of course, right away she noticed the bare patch where a dinosaur had torn up the moss to make a blanket. In the centre was a small green mound, gently snoring. Sarah poked at it with a broken branch and it spluttered and shook. The moss fell off to one side, and a bright blue head stretched out towards her, with the mouth wide open. Sarah jumped back. Was this a snake? Do blue snakes bite?
No, the creature was just yawning. He stood up, all purple and pink in the morning sunlight, shaking off the rest of the moss. His tail curved up behind him like a cartoon question mark. He looked at Sarah. Sarah looked at him. She came closer, carefully. He didn't move.
Then Sarah noticed the creature's eyes. The pupils were strange; not round and black, but rather a deep green spiral, spinning. They held her, and now she felt her own eyes spinning, too. The orchard went round and round, the sky wheeled over and under her; the whole world was spinning. Sarah felt sick.
Suddenly, it was over. The ground was solid under her feet. Her eyes were free again. Then the creature spoke. His voice was faint and papery, like a rustling in the leaves, but Sarah could understand him.
"Hello, Sarah," he said. "My name is Bix."
"Pleased to meet you, Bix," said Sarah. (She was a well-trained little princess.) "Welcome to my garden. But how do you know my name?"
"I looked into your mind, to learn how to communicate with you. I'm sorry if it made you dizzy."
"Who are you?" she asked. "Are you magic? Are you an alien? Do you come from Mars?"
"No," said Bix. "I'm a dinosaur."
"But there are no dinosaurs any more!"
"I know," said Bix. "I have no mother." His tail sagged to the ground for a second, looking like a piece of fat pink spaghetti, then it stood straight up in the air. "Maybe you can be my mother?"
"No," said Sarah. "I'm not a dinosaur. But I can be your friend."
"Thank you, Sarah. I need a friend. I'm lonely here. And I'm cold. And hungry."
"What do dinosaurs eat?"
"Well, some nice juicy dragonflies would be nice. Or water lilies with frogs on top. Or...but I don't see anything around here. Not even a banana tree. Bananas are healthy."
"I've got bananas in the castle," said Sarah. Why don't we go there? It's warm inside, too."
So Sarah led Bix through the orchard, and around the rhododendrons, into the bare rose garden. When they got to the gate to the castle lawns, she stopped. "What are we going to tell the grown-ups?" she said. "They'll call the newspapers, and the scientists. They'll take you to a lab and poke you full of holes. The papparazzi will be all over us. You'll have to go on TV. Do you want to go on TV?"
"No, no. Can't I just stay quietly with you?" Bix's tail flipped around to hide his head. He peeked out from under the cherry-red tip. "I don't want to go to a lab, either. Help me, please!"
"I don't know," Sarah said. "There are grown-ups everywhere." She leaned on the gate and looked at Bix for a long time. Across the lawn, a clock chimed. Nine times; time for breakfast. She would have to go in soon, before they came looking for her.
"I don't know," she said again. "Could you pretend to be a toy?"
"Like this?" Bix said. He let his tail droop and his knees sag.
"Yeah. Except for your face; can you make your eyes look like plastic?"
Bix opened his eyes wide and crossed them slightly.
"Perfect!" said Sarah. "Whenever you see a grown-up, don't move, and look like that. I think it will work. Now let's go, it's late."
They went out onto the lawn and towards the castle. Not to the front door, where the butler would be watching; not to the side door where Sarah's lady's maid waited for her; past the double doors off the parking lot where the lawyers rushed in and out with cell phones at their ears; around the corner, past the kitchen doors where the cooks would be dashing around with steaming dishes of scrambled eggs and trays of buttered toast; past the gardener's entrance; past the garages; back, farther back, to a small forgotten door, where the weeds pushed through the cracks in the walk.
Nobody had used this door for a hundred years: it was the door to the dungeons. Nobody but Sarah: she had discovered it last summer, and found the key, a great shaft of rusty iron hanging on a hook. It had taken a long time to unlock the door, and she had left it that way; as if she knew that someday she would need a secret entrance to the castle.
Now she pushed it hard, with two hands. The wood was swollen with winter dampness, and the door stuck at first, then it opened, creaking, into a dark passageway. Inside, with the door shut, it was pitch black, but Sarah knew the way, and Bix came along behind, holding the hem of her jacket in his mouth. Straight ahead they went, then around a corner to a large stone room surrounded by cells with heavy iron bars. Tiny windows in the cells let in a cobwebby daylight. On the other side of the room, stone steps led up, around a corner, up again into a black corridor. At the end, Sarah stopped.
"Now," she said, "I think I'll carry you. Pretend you're a toy." She picked Bix up --"Oof! You're heavy," she said -- and opened a door into a hallway with lights, and linoleum on the floor. Voices came from an open door at the end, but Sarah turned off, up another flight of stairs, down another hall, across a marble lobby, up more stairs, wide and carpeted. Down the next hallway, two girls in white aprons came out of a door, carrying rumpled sheets and towels. They curtsied when they saw Sarah, and went away swiftly. Sarah pushed the door open.
Sarah's room was full of stuffed toys; teddies on the armchairs, Barbies around a three-story dollhouse, jungle animals on a shelf over the computer, Winnie the Pooh on the bed with Paddington, and a huge floppy dog on the rug. Bix would fit right in. While Sarah went to breakfast, he settled down in front of the fireplace, warming his toes and eating bananas from a bowl he found on Sarah's night stand. Luckily, he ate the peels, too, because he'd just finished the second banana, and was deciding whether to try a peach or an orange, when the door opened, and a woman pushed a big vacuum cleaner into the room. He barely had time to freeze, and make his plastic-eyed face, before she saw him.
"Another doll," she said. "What does she want with another doll? She's got too many already." And she picked up Bix by the tail -- he blinked, but she didn't notice -- and threw him into a box in the closet, on top of a heap of Mickey Mouse dolls. Then she slammed the door and left him in the dark, listening to the rumble of the vacuum, then to the silence.
Of course, Sarah rescued him when she came back from breakfast. She had a bun in her pocket, with a slice of ham in the middle. The ham was good, but Bix couldn't eat the bread; it was too dry, like old moss. He had just taken a bite of an orange, when Sarah heard her mother's voice in the hallway, and "Quick!" she said, "Hide under the bed! Mamma can't see you; she'll want to know who gave you to me." And she crammed him under the bed, orange and all.
The queen didn't leave until Sarah's governess came to do schoolwork with her. Then the lady's maid came, to call Sarah to lunch. While she was gone, the chamber maid came to dust. After lunch, the governess returned, then the lady's maid to dress Sarah for dinner, then someone to tend to the fire, then the king to tuck Sarah in for the night. Bix spent most of the day under the bed, trying not to move, even though his neck was stiff and his tail went to sleep.
The next day wasn't much better, nor the next, nor the next. But Bix learned to hide in the closet, with the door open only a crack, and Sarah put fruit and sandwich meats in a basket on the bottom shelf for him. And he was warm, and dry -- it was raining hard most of the time outside. And at night, after everyone in the castle was in bed, he could tiptoe out and climb under the quilts with Sarah, and they could whisper together until she fell asleep.
"What was it like in the egg, Bix?" Sarah asked. "Can you remember?"
"Just dark; dark and warm. But I was asleep most of the time."
"How big will you be when you grow up?"
"I don't know."
"My governess gave me a book about dinosaurs. She says they all died of cold."
"So would I, if I wasn't in here with you."
"I'm glad I found you, Bix."
"So am I."
December came; the rain turned to sleet, then to snow. The lawns and the rose garden and the orchard were buried deep, and the fountain froze. Bix had never seen snow, so Sarah opened her window one night, and Bix stuck his head out. "It's beautiful," he said after a while, "but I'm..." His eyes closed and he laid his head on the snowy windowsill. Sarah pulled him in quickly, and warmed him up at the fire, wrapped in her softest blanket.
"I'm cold-blooded," he said when he woke up. "I would freeze out there."
"We'll go out in the summertime," said Sarah.
But it seemed that they wouldn't be able to wait until the summer. Bix was growing. He was just a baby dinosaur, and he had a lot of growing to do. Every day he was bigger. And hungrier.
"What an appetite Princess Sarah has lately!" said the cook.
"Sarah, my pet, you must have a hollow leg!" said her father the king.
But though Sarah carried up both pockets full of meat after every meal, and ordered bowls of oranges and bananas, and huge basins of popcorn (Bix liked it with chili powder) Bix never got enough. And he was getting too big to hide under the bed. Once he got the hiccups when the queen was in the room, and the whole bed bounced so, that Sarah had to pretend to be having a coughing fit. Then she had to take a horrible-tasting medicine for a week.
In the closet, Bix hid himself under the Mickey Mouse dolls. They couldn't take the risk of the chambermaid seeing him anymore, because who ever heard of a shiny, multi-coloured, plastic-eyed, dinosaur doll that grew?
"We have to talk to a grown-up," whispered Sarah one night. Bix was on the floor beside her bed; he didn't fit under her covers any more.
"But they'll put me on TV."
"And all the scientists will poke at you. I know, but what else can we do?"
"When is summer coming?"
"Not for a long time. It's not even Christmas yet."
Bix laid his head on Sarah's pillow and she put an arm around his neck. The firelight flickered on the tears on Sarah's cheeks.
Suddenly she sat up. "I know!" she said, too loudly. "I know," she whispered. "There's one grown-up who can help. And he won't tell anyone. I know he won't!" She kissed Bix on the nose, and lay down again. "Go to sleep, Bix," she said. "Everything's going to be fine."
The next morning, before breakfast, Sarah wrote a letter. "Dear Santa," she wrote, "I need to talk to you. I have a problem and I need your help. Please come to my room in the castle on Christmas Eve. I'll be waiting for you. Love, Sarah." She thought a minute, and added a P.S.: "I don't need any presents. Please come and talk to me." She folded the letter and put it in an envelope and addressed it to Santa Claus, North Pole. When she went downstairs, she gave the letter to the butler.
"Send this by courier. It's urgent," she said.
"Immediately, Your Highness," he answered.
Now you know and I know that Santa is very careful not to be seen on Christmas Eve. I'm sure Sarah knew it, too, but that's how she knew he would understand Bix's problem. Santa has never let any scientist examine his sleigh or his reindeer; he could protect Bix.
On Christmas Eve, Sarah's mother, the queen, and Sarah's father, the king, came up to hang her stocking over the fireplace in her room. She had her own tree, just a small one, hung with many coloured glass balls, purple and pink, neon blue and green, and a deep cherry-red, in honour of Bix, although she couldn't tell her parents that. Her mother the queen read the Christmas story, and her father the king sang Silent Night and all the verses of Good King Wenceslaus. (He couldn't hold a tune, but since he was the king, no-one had ever told him.) And all the time, Bix stood scrunched as small as he could make himself in the closet. He was so big now that Sarah had to push hard to shut the closet door. Finally, they set out the cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and tucked Sarah into bed.
"Now go to sleep quickly, so Santa can come," her father said.
"Yes, papa," said Sarah.
As soon as they had gone downstairs, Sarah popped out of bed and went to open the closet door. "Whew!" said Bix. "I was suffocating in there!"
"For the last time," said Sarah.
Then they sat down to wait. They waited and waited. "Don't let me go to sleep," said Sarah. The clock ticked. The fire died down, and they waited.
"He's not coming," said Bix.
"Just wait," said Sarah.
And when the last spark had gone from the grate, and Sarah's eyes were closing even though she kept pinching herself, there was a scuffling noise overhead, and a swooshing in the chimney, and a thump! of big boots on the bricks, and Santa stepped into the room.
"Now, Sarah, what's the trouble?" he said.
"It's Bix," said Sarah.
Santa looked at him. Bix was as tall as Santa now, and bigger around even than Santa's big belly. "I see," said Santa. "Hmm." He walked around to look at Bix from the other side. "Can you hold your breath?" he asked.
"For a few minutes, I can," said Bix.
"Well, Sarah," said Santa, "I have an opening for a toy maker at the North Pole. Bix would be perfect for the job."
"But it's cold there! He'll freeze!"
"Not in my workshops, deep underground. It's warm and bright, and there's lots of room for a young hungry dinosaur. And games and dancing, and plenty of company, elves and reindeer, Mrs. Claus and I. How about it, Bix? Will you go with me?"
"I'll miss you, Sarah."
"I'll never forget you, Bix." Sarah put her arms around his neck, and cried a bit onto his purple scales. Bix wrapped his tail around her and hugged her tightly. Then he let her go.
"I'm ready, sir," he said.
"Hold your breath now," Santa said. He put his hand on Bix's blue head and gave a nod. Whoosh! Bix was gone. Whoosh! Sarah was alone. There was a thump and a bump on the rooftop, and then silence. Sarah went to bed and cried herself to sleep.
Sarah was very quiet that Christmas. There were presents: a pearl necklace from her father, the Narnia books from her mother, and mountains of chocolates and games and art supplies from the governess, the butler, the lady's maid, the cook, and the chambermaids. She thanked everybody politely, and sat looking out the window at the snow.
"What's wrong with Sarah?" asked her father.
"The princess has lost her appetite," said the cook.
"Don't you like your presents, Sarah?" asked her mother.
"Yes, mamma," said Sarah. She picked up the first Narnia book and pretended to read. But the blue cover reminded her of Bix, and the tears in her eyes made the letters blurry.
Three days later, Sarah was sitting at her window, waiting for summer to come, when her lady's maid came to tell her there was a parcel for her in the mail, and his majesty the king desired that she come downstairs to open it. In his office, her father handed her a letter, postmarked at the North Pole. She tore it open, quickly.
I must be getting old. I forgot to fill your stocking last night. Please accept my apologies. I am sending your present in tomorrow's mail. I hope it is what you wanted.
We are all well here at the North Pole; a little tired after last night's work, but cheerful. I have a new toy maker here, called Bix. He sends his love.
Until next year,
Sarah's father, the king, read the letter over Sarah's shoulder, and wondered. Sarah's mother, the queen, read the letter over her other shoulder. She wondered, too.
"Is there a parcel?" Sarah asked.
A security guard came over and gave her a package. He had been checking it over thoroughly. He had never seen a package from the North Pole before, and you couldn't be too careful.
Sarah ripped off the brown paper, and the pink and purple wrapping paper. Inside was a cell phone. A cell phone? Her own cell phone? Who would she call?
"Was that what you wanted, Sarah?" her mother asked.
"I guess so, mamma," Sarah said.
That night, after Sarah was in bed, her phone rang. "Hello?" she said.
"Hello, Sarah, it's me, Bix."
"Bix? Where are you?"
"In Santa's workshop. We get free long distance from here; Santa says I can call you every day. Did you have a good Christmas?"
"I was lonely," Sarah said. "But not now; never any more."
Susannah Anderson, 2012