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The Boy Who Would Not Sleep

by De Kenyon

In the woods, Nickolas’s father tells him stories to pass the time as they cut down trees…but one story, he won’t tell. Not until Nickolas grows old enough to hear it. Finally, the time comes: the men in Nickolas’s family were always good at cutting things, but in older times, they were too good, and did monstrous things, eventually angering a local dragon.

The dragon cursed the men of their family to fall into a deep sleep that lasts from fall to spring, like a bear’s. And in their dreams, they must serve the dragon.

More than that, Nickolas’s father will not say.

Now, Nickolas is eating enough for many men…and getting sleepier with every step. The townswomen think it’s funny, but Nickolas has made up his mind: he will not sleep.

No matter what the cost.

(Ages 11-13.)

When Nickolas was a young boy following his father into the woods in order to carry his water while his father cut trees, his father would tell all kinds of stories of dragons and knights and fighting, and Nickolas enjoyed those stories very much. However, there was one story that his father would not tell him.

Nickolas would beg for a new story, and his father would say that he only had one story that he hadn’t told him yet. “But Nickolas, I am saving this story for you, and when it is time I will tell you.”

Nickolas grew older and older, and his father showed him how to use the ax to strip off branches, to cut away bark.

But he would not let him cut down a tree, not by himself. “There will be time,” his father said. “After you hear the story.”
“Soon?” Nickolas asked.

At first, his father had laughed and said, “Not so soon,” and told him the old stories again.

But then it changed to “soon,” and then “very soon now,” until finally his father said, “Now it is time to hear the last story, Nickolas, during the noon meal.”

They worked all morning, until finally it was time to eat. Every mouthful felt like it was going to choke Nickolas, for he could barely swallow.

“Once upon a time,” his father said, because that was the way he started his stories, “our family was cursed by a dragon.”

“A dragon!” Nickolas said. “I don’t believe it.”

“You better watch out for what you believe and what you don’t believe, young man,” said his father, who smiled until the tips of his teeth showed. “It will only get you in trouble. If I tell you our family was cursed by a dragon, then that’s what happened.”

“Yes, Father,” Nickolas said.

“Our family was cursed by a dragon for being…more than a little rambunctious. Wild. You see, when our family was young, we had no patience, no love of family, nothing but a desire to cut trees, to cut and cut and cut. Our family was so mad about cutting trees that we cut down the whole forest.”

Nickolas was surrounded by trees, trees so tall and thick that it seemed like the sun set hours early and rose hours late, it was so shaded and dim. Yet he knew better than to argue with his father that day.

“This was many, many hundreds of years ago,” his father added. “And the trees have all grown back.”

“Obviously,” said Nickolas, which earned him a pinch on the ear from his father. “Ow!”

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