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I rarely get nervous about living alone because I have a dog. True, he’s middle-aged and fat, but he’s a fearsome barker.  He has startled many a newspaper boy and fundraising cookie-pusher. He is knee high (my knees) and he is very grumpy.  So really, it’s like living with a small hairy troll.  The screen door is the bridge over which none shall pass without his permission.  He is however, remarkably lax with children. One sniff and he’s all, like, whatever.  He doesn’t realize that children are the most devious home invaders of all.

The devil blows yet another get-rich-quick scheme. Illustration by Karel Franta.

Take this weekend.  I was toiling at the computer when yonder sounds the doorbell and the furious barking of the dog. I often ignore the bell. I’m busy novelling, after all.  This time I open it thinking it might be my neighbor who knows darn well I’m home.

Lo and behold, three sprigs of people-like creatures stand babbling before me.  Kids are born capitalists, so I almost instinctively decline.

“Sorry, no CASH”, I shout as if they do not speak Old Person.  This time I see, however, that they’re peddling Books- my weakness.  And Lazlo (the dog) has thundered out and sniffed them and is now peeing on the Camellia bush and no longer protecting me or the house.  So I look in the bag and of course it’s full of used, crappy, snot smeared kid books like Hanna Montana Learns to Knit and The ABCs of Something Hideous like Barney.  Meanwhile they are clamoring in kid gibberish that the books are a quarter each. Probably I’m the first person to open the door that day.

They are raising money to buy candy. I can tell by the lackluster glint in their eyes and the jerky hyperactivity that crams them all into the tight space in front of my door.

I’m about to get the hose to spray them off the porch, but then I see that there’s this one book, a big book of fairy tales. The kids get very excited as I look at it, assuring me it will tell me ‘my birthday story’.  I see that there is a short fairy tale for everyday of the year. Cute. The tallest girl shows me her story- The Little Glass Fairy.  Then the shortest boy shows me that his story is How Prince Bajaja Fought the Nine-Headed Dragon. Where the heck are these stories from, I wonder?  So I give the little mobsters .50 because it’s such a big book and I am indeed generous.

Once safely ensconced behind the screen door, I look up my own birthday story and discover that it’s about a shoemaker who hooks up with the devil and cons kings by possessing their daughters so the shoemaker can pretend to cure them.  The devil needs cash? Not exactly multi-headed dragons or glass fairies, but it’s weird enough I do not feel cheated.  This is no pre-chewed, fretful parent approved kid pabulum. Curious about the origin of these odd tales, I check the details. It’s actually called The Book of Goodnight Stories and was written by Vratislav Stovicek and illustrated by Karel Franta. It was printed in Czechoslovakia in 1982.

The novel I am working on just happens to involve Prague and fairy tales. Once again I am humbled to admit that the dog knows magical creatures when he smells them much better than I do.