By Liliane Grace
Sam wanted a knight suit. He wanted one desperately. His best friend Keith had a knight suit. Liam had two. Even Jodie had one. And everyone knows that girls can’t be knights.
When he had asked Mum about it, she had mumbled “There isn’t any spare money for a knight suit right now.” (There were six pins in her mouth – she was busy sewing a mermaid costume for his sister Suzy’s ballet concert.) “We could make one,” she suggested, taking the pins out of her mouth. “I’ve got lots of this silver fabric left over and you could make a helmet by wrapping some foil around your bike helmet...”
But Sam wanted a real knight suit. He wanted gleaming chain mail. He wanted a visor that would go up and down. And he wanted a steely sword with its own scabbard. Not another plastic one. Not even another home-made wooden one. He wanted a real one.
One day Sam’s step-brother Nick came by for lunch. Sam was riding his old trike around and around the front yard when Nick arrived in his noisy green Holden.
“Yo, little bro!” he called. He always said that. He gave Sam a high five. “Look what I found for you.”
He opened the boot of his car and lifted out a two wheeler. “She’s a bit rusty and she’s got the odd dent, but she’s still a beauty. Going to hop on board?”
Sam looked at the bike doubtfully. “Does she have training wheels?” he asked.
“You don’t need training wheels!” Nick grinned. He slapped the seat. “Hop on.”
Sam sat down gingerly and Nick gave him a push off. The wheels turned a little way, wobbled ... and he fell off.
Sam rubbed his elbow. “I can’t do it.”
“That was only your first try. Don’t give up yet.”
But even after his second and third and fourth tries, Sam was still falling off.
“Try again after lunch,” Nick said cheerfully. “I can hear Mum calling us in.”
Mum and Dad were very happy to see Nick because he had been overseas for three months. When everyone had stopped talking and hugging and laughing, Nick brought out a canvas bag full of photos to show them. Sam squeezed in close.
“This is the mountain we climbed,” Nick said, tapping one point in a snow-topped range. That was some mountain... We stayed overnight in this camp ground…Went white water rafting here. Talk about cold – brr! … That’s Ben and his girlfriend Sally. I met them in England. Sal got caught in some rock climbing gear halfway up the face... had to go up there and rescue her.”
After lunch Nick helped to wash the dishes and then he told still more stories.
“You’d have loved the castles, mate,” he said to Sam. “This one had a moat and drawbridge. And inside there were suits of armour everywhere. Take a squiz at that.” He spread a few post cards on the table and pointed at one of them.
“I want a knight suit,” Sam said longingly, admiring the shining statue.
“I’m going to be a mermaid!” Suzy announced, twirling in the kitchen.
“Sam’s been wanting a knight suit for a long time,” Mum murmured.
“All his friends have one,” Dad grumbled.
“But I can’t have a real one because it’s too expensive,” Sam explained. “Oh well.”
“I could make him one, of course,” Mum reminded everyone. “Suzy, go and get your mermaid costume to show Nick.” Suzy clattered out immediately.
“But it wouldn’t be real,” Sam pointed out.
Nick looked from one to the other. “I used to want a knight suit,” he said, “but then I decided that I’d rather be a knight.”
“I can’t be a knight,” Sam objected. “I’m just a kid. And anyway, they don’t have knights anymore.”
“I don’t know about that,” Nick said. “What do knights do?”
“Kill dragons,” Sam replied promptly.
“What are dragons?”
“Scary creatures that get in your way.”
“Seems to me you’ve got a few of those in here.” Nick tapped the side of Sam’s head.
Sam looked puzzled.
“You’ve got a really powerful “I CAN’T” Dragon living in your mind. They’re the most powerful type of dragon in the world. D’you know why?”
Sam shook his head.
“Because they’re invisible.”
“So how do you kill them?” Sam asked breathlessly.
“By watching your words. Any time you say “I can’t”, that’s a win for the “I CAN’T” Dragon. But every time you catch yourself, you’re spearing that “I CAN’T” Dragon right down the middle.” Nick made a gruesome gurgling death rattle and fell off his chair. For a few minutes he lay still on the floor, then he dragged himself over to Sam and stared into his eyes. “Then it’s dead and you’ve won.”
When the dishes had been put away, and Suzy had showed off her mermaid costume, everyone went outside.
“Let’s give that bike another go,” suggested Nick.
Sam straddled the bike... and wobbled straight off – CRASH!
“I can’t do it,” he mumbled, rubbing the other elbow this time.
Nick jumped. “Don’t let that dragon win! There’s a powerful ‘I CAN’T’ Dragon trying to scare you into giving up. Don’t let it!”
Sam took a deep breath. “All right, I won’t,” he said. “I can do it.”
Nick held the bike for him while he climbed aboard, then walked him along the grass a little way, but when Nick let go of the bike, Sam wobbled and crashed.
“See, I can’t do it!” Sam’s face was burning. He wanted to run away and hide.
Nick held up a hand. “Ssh! Don’t say that. “I CAN’T” Dragons only win when you give up. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make, an “I CAN’T” Dragon only wins if you give up. So... Never. Give. Up.”
“Okay,” said Sam. He stood tall. He felt somehow stronger. A little shiver of excitement ran along his spine. “I CAN do it,” he declared. He threw his leg over the bike and perched on the seat.
Nick gave him a push off – faster than before – and Sam pedalled as quickly as he could. This time he got half-way across the yard.
“I did it!” he beamed.
Nick staggered and crashed to the ground with a ghastly death rattle. Then his head popped up again. He was grinning. “So much for that I CAN’T Dragon. On ya, Sir Sam.”
*** This story was awarded Third Prize in the Charlotte Duncan Children's Short Story Award, 2010.***
Note: Parents who don't like the 'death theme' might choose to use the word 'tame' instead, as suggested in this enthusiastic feedback from father and Values Journey Founder & Trainer, Peter Ernest:
PETER ERNEST, www.valuesjourney.com