“Bennie, guess what? Guess where I stopped today?” “What?” “I beat level four on hard mode, and got three chainsaws!” “Whoa, seriously? You beat level four already?” Myrtle glared down at her book, trying to ignore the conversation. Her little brothers were at it again. And, despite her best efforts, she couldn’t seem to tune them out. “What about you? Where’d you stop?” “I’m on level nine. Five chainsaws.” “Whoa, five whole chainsaws? How’d you do it?” They had been doing this for the past two months, ever since Bennie got the Chainsaw Sharks video game for his birthday. Now Bobby was playing it too, and Myrtle had to keep asking them to stop talking about it. She frowned harder at the book, trying to focus. For as long as she could remember, Myrtle Belmont had been an adventurer. During the day, she spent her time mapping out their new house, and its acre-sized lawn. At night, she did her exploring in her books… or she would have, if she could concentrate. “How many chainsaws do you think you get by the final level?” “I dunno! What kind of shark do you think they’ll let you b‒” “Hey!” Myrtle snapped, a little harder than she meant to. Both brothers glanced up toward the top bunk of the three-tier bed, where she was sitting. The twins and their older sister looked almost nothing alike. They were seven; she was eleven years, six months, and fifteen days (yes, she was keeping track). They were short and rosy; she was tall and skinny. Even their hair was different: the twins were blond and curly, meanwhile Myrtle’s was black and stick-straight. The one similarity they shared was their faces: all had round cheeks, freckles, sharp noses, and brilliantly blue eyes. Myrtle also had a perfect set of pink lips, which were pressed into a thin line as she scowled down at her brothers. “I thought we were done talking about Chainsaw Sharks for the night?” she asked, raising an imperious eyebrow. Both boys groaned. “Uhoh… big sis alert…” “If only Sharkzilla from level three would come distract her for us…” “No more sharks!” Myrtle made an exasperated noise. “You’ve already talked about it all evening! I mean, I know you love your game, but don’t you ever think of anything else?” Bennie gave a bored shrug. Bobby looked curious and hopeful. “Like what?” “Like… something else exciting?” she shot a glance back at her book, to make sure she was still on the right page. “But we don’t know anything else exciting.” Bennie grumbled, throwing himself on his bed. “You could read a story,” Myrtle suggested. “What story?” Bobby looked up at her. “Can you read us a story?” Somehow, Myrtle had known he was going to play that card. And his puppy-dog-eyes were even better than the ones she could pull off. “...Fiiiine… go get your blankets.” The twins high-fived each other, and grabbed their blankets off their beds. Myrtle bookmarked her page, and made her way down to the overstuffed armchair in the corner of the room. The twins threw themselves down on the rug at her feet, both wrapped in their blankets. And both smiling expectantly. Myrtle realized the bookshelf was empty; they were still in the process of unpacking. “Okay… guess I’ll make it up this time.” She paused, thinking of all the exciting and scary things she knew of. “Have you ever heard of… the Horsedragon?” They shook their heads. “Okay, so the Horsedragon is pretty much a dragon. But then it’s got a looong horsey snout, a horsey mane and tail, and six horsey legs. And its mouth looks like this‒” she bared her teeth in the biggest smile she could manage, using her fingers to pull the corners of her lips back. “An a shmile like dish, shee?” The brothers giggled, and nodded. “What does the Horseydragon do?” Bobby asked. “Horse-dragon,” Myrtle corrected. “And what it likes to do is… uh… horde treasure. And chase its tail. And… hunt down tasty things to eat! Do you know what its favorite prey is?” The boys shook their heads. “The Horsedragon…” Myrtle didn’t blink, “Looooves… little boys who play Chainsaw Sharks.” Both brothers’ eyes went wide with horror. “In fact,” Myrtle continued. “One night, the Horsedragon found two little boys who play Chainsaw Sharks. Their names were Bennie and Bobby. The dragon found them sleeping in their beds, and so it whisked them away to its underground lair.” “Where’s its lair?” Bennie asked. Myrtle paused. “Where all creepy things live.” “In the basement!” Bobby cheered. “Couldn’t Bennie and Bobby just fight their way upstairs?” Bennie asked, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, no,” Myrtle shook her head. “The Horsedragon had them trapped good. They couldn’t escape, even though they tried and tried. The only person who could save them was‒” “‒Myrtle Belmont!” Bobby interrupted. Myrtle paused. “The famous explorer!” Bobby insisted. “Myrtle Belmont! She can save them!” “Oh… yeah!” Myrtle agreed, warming to the theme. “Myrtle Belmont: Conqueror of the Third Bunk, Explorer of the Crawlspace, and Warden of the Laundry Machine!” Bobby was thrilled. Bennie looked dubious, so she kept going. “Lucky for the kidnapped boys, Myrtle was their sister. So when she woke up that night, and couldn’t hear them snoring like chain… woodchippers!” she barely stopped herself from bringing up tree-shredding power equipment. “That was when she got out of bed and went looking for them. She got her gear‒ her trusty hat and backpack‒ and then crept out of the bedroom to go search the house. “She checked their beds, the bathroom, the playroom downstairs… but they were nowhere to be found. That was when she saw the door to the basement was left open. Wide open.” The brothers froze. The basement door was never open. “Did she go down?” Bobby asked. “She went down the stairs,” Myrtle nodded. “And into the basement. Right into the lair of the Horsedragon. “Oh, and one more thing you should know about the Horsedragon: it can shrink and grow whenever it wants, since its body is normally too big to fit inside. When Myrtle came downstairs, the Horsedragon had shrunk itself so it could sleep on top of the basement shelves. But its body was still super long, like those little sausage dogs, and so it needed all the shelves to support it. “When Myrtle saw it, she demanded: ‘Where did you put my brothers?’ “The Horsedragon blinked, opened its green eyes, and stared down at her. ‘I put them where you’ll never find them,’ it said. ‘Even I can’t get them out of there. You see, I put them inside…’” Myrtle paused, struggling to come up with an unreachable spot. “The Vanding Mashing!” Bobby suggested. “The what?” “Vanding Mashing! With all the chips and soda… you put the coins in… the vanding mashing!” Myrtle and Bennie exchanged a look. Bennie opened his mouth to speak. “‒Yeah, the Vanding Mashing!” Myrtle interrupted. “I like that!” “‘I put them inside the Vanding Mashing!’ said the Horsedragon. ‘And if you ever want to see them alive, you’ll need to do exactly as I tell you to. Do you understand?’ “Myrtle said yes, and the dragon continued: ‘To get to the Vanding Mashing, you need to go outside the house, and then down into the Cobwebby Cellar. Make your way through the Cellar, and up into the Dining Hall. Even if you manage to make it through the Dining Hall, you’ll still need to face the Ancient Attic, and the Edge of the Known World, before you find the Vanding Mashing.’ “‘I can do it,’ said Myrtle. “‘You’d better,’ said the Horsedragon, uncoiling itself from the shelves. That was when Myrtle realized how very, very big it was. ‘Once you find the Vanding Mashing, I want you to open it and bring me what’s inside. Then you can have your brothers back. Understand? Now go.’ “But Myrtle hesitated a minute. ‘Horsedragons like to trick people. How do I know I can trust you?’ “The dragon raised its head and roared at her, its mouth as big as a bathtub. Myrtle didn’t wait for an answer; she ran all the way back up the stairs, into the living room, and slammed the basement door behind her. Then she locked it tight. “After that, Myrtle left the house by the back door, and went to find the cellar. She found that big trap-door hiding in the grass… remember when Dad pointed it out to us? He said it leads down to the cellar. And not just any cellar… the Cobwebby Cellar!” “Is it full of cobwebs?” Bennie asked, excited. Myrtle turned to him. “It was so full of cobwebs, there was barely anything else down there. Everywhere you looked: sticky white spiderwebs!” Bennie giggled. Bobby looked awed. Myrtle continued: “Myrtle took one look around the cellar, but knew she had to go through it. So she pulled her hat on tighter, and slipped past the webs.” “All of them?” Bobby asked. “Nope!” Myrtle shook her head. “Have you ever tried to slip past spiderwebs? There’s no way she could have made it without getting caught in a few. By the time she climbed out of the cellar and into the house, she had spiderwebs plastered all over her boots and hat!” “She should wipe them on the rug,” Bennie suggested. “And she did,” Myrtle nodded. “No tracking webs all over the house. But when she tried to brush off the ones on her hat, they coiled into a sticky string. There was no point in throwing that away, so she put the string in her bag. “Now she had to face her next challenge: the Dining Hall! It wasn’t just the Dining Room, mind you. That’s what she thought it was at first, and that she could just walk through it easy. But she kept walking… and walking… and walking… and the room didn’t end. It was a hall you couldn’t just walk across.” “What did she do?” Bennie asked. Myrtle thought for a minute. “She tried different ways to get through the room. She skipped through it, somersaulted through it, danced through it, but nothing worked. Finally she tried walking backwards, and that seemed to work. She was able to reach the end of the Hall, where all the food was waiting for her on the table.” “Did she eat any?” Bobby interrupted. Myrtle looked appalled. “Are you kidding? The food was all standing up, waiting to meet her… of course she didn’t eat any! She got to say hi to the corn, hug the bread sticks, hi-five the broccoli. And the turkey was the last one waiting, crisp and steamy. The turkey’s ghost appeared and spoke to the brave adventurer: “‘Take my wishbone with you. You’ll need it for your battle.’ “Myrtle didn’t know what battle he was talking about, but she took the turkey’s wishbone, put it with the sticky string, and thanked the ghost. After that, she climbed up the stairs. Do you remember what the next trial was?” The two brothers nodded. “The Ancient Attic.” “Why was it ancient?” Bobby asked. “Because it had been left alone,” Myrtle said, “for a long, looonnng time. There was so much dust up there, poor Myrtle kept sneezing! And there were all these old toys, left there by the family who owned the house… I bet ghost kids like to play with them. Myrtle didn’t have time to play, though. She had to save her brothers, so she kept walking.” “She didn’t play with any of the toys?” Bennie asked. “Actually… she did play with some of them.” Myrtle amended. “She found a bag of marbles that looked like cats’ eyes. And since she figured she was going to need them for the battle the turkey mentioned, she put them in her bag with the string and the wishbone. “After that, she fought through the dust to reach the window. You know why she went there?” Bobby didn’t. But Bennie did. “She was going to slide down the clothesline!” Myrtle nodded. “She was going to slide down the clothesline. Because one end of the line is attached just outside the attic window, and the other is down in the orchard; so all she had to do was to find a clothes-hanger, and then zip down the line with it.” Bobby laughed and clapped his hands. “Did she land on her feet?” Bennie asked. Myrtle nodded matter-of-factly. “Explorers always land on their feet. She kept her hat on, too, even though the wind tried to knock it off. Once she was on the ground, she took off running through the orchard, toward the Edge of the Known World. Which… was basically the edge of her yard. “As she reached the edge of the orchard, she could see the Vanding Mashing stuck in the top of a hill. And guess who was waiting by it?” “The Horsedragon!” Bennie gasped. “Yes. It was the Horsedragon, all grown-up into his real size, which was big enough to squish the shed if he stepped on it. He probably could have squished the Vanding Mashing too, but he wanted what was inside it. And when Myrtle got closer, she realized her brothers really were trapped inside the Vanding Mashing!” The boys gasped. “The Horsedragon waited as Myrtle came nearer. Then he said: ‘It’s about time you showed up. Now, open up the Vanding Mashing!’ “‘Why can’t you open the Vanding Mashing?’ Myrtle asked. ‘If you could trap my brothers inside it, can’t you take out what you want?’ “‘I can only warp things inside the Mashing,’ said the dragon. ‘I can’t warp anything out of it. That’s why I trapped your brothers inside it; so that you could get into it for me.’ “Myrtle looked at the Vanding Mashing, trying to see if there was a way she could break her brothers out. She tried pressing the buttons, but it didn’t work. All the while, the dragon was breathing hot breath down the back of her neck. She and her brothers were getting so scared.” “She should use a crabit card!” Bobby suggested. “Grownups use crabit cards to work vanding mashings!” “–Myrtle remembered that,” Myrtle nodded. “She ran over to a convenient pile of old boxes that just happened to be full of wallets, and she searched and searched until she found a credit‒ I mean crabit‒ card. She used it to start up the Vanding Mashing, making it light up and beep expectantly. All it needed was the code, which would open the glass and let the brothers out. And where do you think the code was?” The two thought for a minute. Bennie was the one to find the answer. “Inside the Mashing?” Myrtle grinned. “It was inside the Mashing. So Myrtle couldn’t see it, but her brothers could. They read it out to her, and she pushed the right buttons in the right order. And then the glass on the front slid open, and her brothers fell out!” “And they all hug each other!” Bobby said. “They’re so happy to be free!” “Oh! But the Horsedragon?” Bennie pointed out. “He’s still waiting for what was inside the Vanding Mashing.” “Yep,” said Myrtle. “He still was. So they looked back inside the Mashing, and found‒” “A nasty old horseshoe!” Bobby laughed. “...The Horsedragon wasn’t too happy about that,” Myrtle shook her head. “He doesn’t like horseshoes, especially rusty old ones. He thought they were trying to trick him.” “Then he got ready to attack,” said Bennie. “But now that Myrtle had her brothers with her, they were ready to fight! They whipped out their water pistols‒” “Yeah, water pistols!” Bobby agreed. “And they squirt him in the face! Pssshhh!” “And the dragon gives an angry roar!” Bennie added, giving an angry growl. “Did Myrtle have a weapon too?” Bobby asked, turning back to his sister. “She was working on it,” Myrtle said. “She’d finally realized what the string, the wishbone, and the marbles were supposed to be: it was a slingshot. So while her brothers were fighting the Horsedragon, she built the slingshot and got it ready to fire. “Then, when the Horsedragon started running for her, she shot him!” “Right in the eye!” Bobby cheered. Myrtle winced. “How about his big head instead? It made a sound like‒ ‘thunk!’ The dragon squeezed his eyes shut and snarled. And then he ran towards them, tearing up the earth with his claws.” “But he started shrinking at the last minute!” Bennie cut in, wringing his hands with excitement. “And just before he could reach them, they stepped aside and let him run into‒” “The Vanding Mashing!” Bobby squealed. “And the glass snapped shut behind him, trapping him inside!” “Now he was tiny and stuck,” Myrtle agreed. “What did they do?” “They pushed him off a cliff!” Bobby exclaimed. “How about a hill instead?” Bennie suggested. “The big hill behind the Vanding Mashing, all covered with bumps; and the dragon roared every time he hit one of the bumps!” “YEAH!” Myrtle roared with delight and tackled her brothers, knocking them back onto the carpet. “Take that, Horsedragon!” The three lay there for a minute, laughing and crying. “We should do this every night!” Bobby giggled. “We should,” Myrtle agreed. She helped them stand up, and ushered them back to the bed. “And after that, the three kids packed up their things and went back home, where they had a victory feast before bed. With lots of cake. And after that, the Horsedragon didn’t come back to steal Bennie and Bobby ever again.” As Bennie climbed up the ladder, she tucked Bobby in his bed. “And if he did come back,” Bobby whispered. “They’d be ready for him.” “Together,” Myrtle agreed, grinning. Then she turned off the light, and left them to dreams that were, for once, not full of sharks. Or chainsaws.