It was a cold February evening and storm clouds were gathering. Drawn like gray curtains over the moon, they made the night sky even darker. And high up, forty thousand feet above the fields of the countryside, violent gale-force winds began to circle and play. Billions of raindrops plumped the blackening clouds, preparing to fall.
Far below, trees were tousled by the thickening wind that whistled through their branches. And in a grand country house called Briersville Park, lights twinkled at an upstairs window.
Molly Moon was sitting with her best friend, Rocky, on a Persian carpet in the TV room. Comfortable and leaning against red beanbags, they ignored the wind that was battering the windowpanes. Gusts sent down the chimney disturbed the flames of the wood burning in the hearth, but they didn't mind at all, for they were feeling cozy and warm. In their laps were brown Chinese-takeaway boxes with the remains of a meal of rice and wontons, and in front of them was the television, switched on.
"Ballroom dancing," Rocky said, tapping the TV controls and burping, "a history program, or gardening, or . . . or him?" As he spoke the screen changed channels, ending up with a suited man hosting a magic show.
"After the break," the magician was saying, "I will blow your minds, by reading your minds and someone from the audience here will be my . . . hmmm . . . victim!" The studio audience laughed. The showman winked at the camera. "So, see you later." And at once the commercials started.
"Looks good to me," Molly said. She stretched down to the black pug who lay quivering by her leg and scrunched its velvety ears. "Fancy some dumplings, Petula? Come on, don't be scared of the storm. We're all snug and safe in here." As Molly finished, a particularly aggressive gust banged at the window. Petula dived under Molly's legs. After a second or two the rattling subsided, and Petula looked up. On the television a very sleek pedigree Labrador dressed in a black dinner jacket and bow tie was eating his supper. Petula didn't understand about advertising. She didn't understand that this dog on the screen was there to persuade any dog owners watching to buy Champ to feed their pets. It looked like the Labrador was simply showing off and she thought that was funny.
Feeling better, Petula put her head in her paws and glanced fondly at her two human friends. Rocky, with his black skin and beautiful eyes, was definitely the most pedigreed-looking of the two. Molly was more of a mongrel creature. She was skinny with scraggly brown hair and closely set green eyes and a potato-shaped nose. The two of them had always been that way, right from when they lived in the orphanage together when they were little. Whatever Molly wore, she never looked well-groomed. To someone who didn't know her, Petula pondered, Molly really did look a most unremarkable person, which shows how deceiving looks can be. For the truth was, Molly Moon was the complete opposite.
Over the last year or so, Petula had witnessed massive changes in Molly. Only a short while ago, Molly, she knew, had thought of herself as useless. She hadn't been full of confidence like, for instance, a dog that could fetch the newspaper. But then Molly had found a book on hypnotism. Petula raised her hairy eyebrows as she thought of that amazing book. It had helped Molly reinvent herself. Molly had been like a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. Not a beautiful butterfly, but she had certainly grown wings. For now she was a brilliant hypnotist, a time stopper, and a time traveler. And Petula had had first-paw experience of Molly doing all these things. She sighed and scratched at a tickle in her ear as she thought of what they had been through together. It had certainly been unusual.
Petula herself had once hypnotized some mice; and another time, using a time crystal, she had actually made time stand still. But that had been a fluke. Even Rocky could hypnotize using his voice, Petula knew. But he wasn't a genius at hypnotism like Molly. Petula stood up and dipped her nose into the cardboard box to nibble at a dumpling, and three mooing cows flew across the TV screen.
Rocky was now singing along to the commercial jingle.
"Choc-o-late!" he sang, with the xylophone music and the woman's voice on the television accompanying him.
Every day is a chocolate date!
Molly reached her hand into the Yong takeaway bag. As she'd hoped, there were two small parcels in there, wrapped in crisp red paper. Fortune cookie read the black inked letters across the front of them.
"Here," Molly said, tossing one into Rocky's lap, and opening her own. Inside the packet was a brown sugary biscuit. Molly bit into it and, as she did, examined the fortune written on a strip of white paper that had fallen onto the floor.
"What does it say?" Rocky asked.
"It says," Molly replied, "'The leaf that clings to the branch will block new buds.'"
"Hmmm. Mine says, 'Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.'"
"Who writes these things?" Molly wondered as she munched.
"Well, that is the question," said Rocky in a strange eerie voice, pretending to be mysterious. "Who, indeed, writes our fortunes in the book of time?"
Molly laughed. Then a commercial on the television shattered her calm. A baby in a diaper was crawling through a jungle. He was dressed in a camouflage commando outfit. He crawled on determinedly, unaware that he'd narrowly escaped the jaws of a tiger. Intent on his baby mission, he crawled through the undergrowth, past an angry hippopotamus, under a venomous snake, and over a tarantula. Finally the baby arrived in the land of babies—a safe place, where the other babies were glad to see him. There, a deep voice boomed: "Use Podgeums diapers! Put your baby first—give him the support he needs!"