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Dexter Charming and the Trouble with Jackalopes

Suzanne Selfors




  Dexter Charming and the Trouble with Jackalopes

  A Little Cottonhorn Story

  By Suzanne Selfors

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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  Dexter Charming, son of King Charming, liked to study in the Common Room of his dormitory at Ever After High. It reminded him of the sitting room back at Charming Castle, where, until coming to this school, he’d spent most of his life. Stone arches graced the vaulted ceiling, and crystal chandeliers provided perfect light for reading. A fireplace offered warmth on cold days, and on warm days a cooling spell provided a steady breeze. And, just like at home, mirrors were scattered over every inch of wall space. The main difference between the two rooms was that at Ever After High, a boarding school for the sons and daughters of fairytale characters, trees tended to grow inside, sometimes poking right through the roof. The Common Room’s tree, a grand oak, was currently home to a pair of nesting starlings that screeched at students if they got too close.

  Dexter made sure he was as far from the noisy nest as possible. He’d chosen an overstuffed chair in the corner, right next to a picture window that looked out upon the Enchanted Forest and surrounding countryside. He stretched his long legs, his high-top sneakers resting on an elaborately carved coffee table. His hands gripped a leather-bound volume of Chemythstry for Beginners, the required reading for his Chemythstry class. Though Dexter was a techie and spent a great deal of his time gaming on his computer, building robots, and attending Tech Club meetings, he still preferred reading from a page rather than a screen. So instead of crownloading his hextbook onto his MirrorPad, as most students did, he’d checked the dusty old volume out from the library. Sometimes tradition was a burden, like when his parents expected him to fulfill his destiny as a hero, but sometimes it was a comfort, like the feel of an old-fashioned, printed book.

  He turned the page, then pushed his tousled brown hair from his eyes. He’d already taken off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves, but even though the fire wasn’t lit, he felt too warm. After all, heat radiated from the furry creature who had wedged himself next to Dexter. The creature lay on his back, his long legs stretched to the end of the chair. A pair of black-rimmed glasses was perched on the creature’s nose—the same style worn by Dexter—and he was also reading a book, which was propped on his furry belly. But his was not about chemythstry. It was an old tome about a lovely place called Mr. McGregor’s garden.

  In a nonfairytale world, it would be strange to see a rabbit reading a book. But this particular rabbit had been chosen for Dexter because of his keen intelligence. Over the years he’d picked up many skills, such as addition, subtraction, and reading. It would also be strange to note that a pair of antlers grew from the rabbit’s head. To the students at Ever After High, however, this was a normal sight. Even the dragon flying past the window didn’t cause anyone to raise an eyebrow. But the girl riding on the dragon’s back had definitely caught Dexter’s attention.

  “There goes Raven,” Dexter whispered as the dragon and rider swooped low, then disappeared from view. Mr. Cottonhorn, the jackalope, didn’t much care about the girl. He preferred to focus on his book. The story about a garden filled with sweet peppers, tender turnips, and baby carrots was much more interesting than a girl with dark eyes and an evil destiny.

  Dexter’s stomach growled. He reached out and grabbed two thronecakes from a golden platter—one for himself and one for Mr. Cottonhorn. The creature’s nose wiggled. Then he delicately nibbled the pastry with his big front teeth. Since becoming Dexter’s official “pet,” he’d developed a sophisticated taste for all things royal.

  A few minutes later, their peaceful reading was interrupted as Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, stomped into the Common Room. “Ugh!” she exclaimed. Her long black hair was a windblown mess, and her spiderweb tights were torn.

  Dexter closed his hextbook and scrambled to his feet. “Hi, Raven,” he said with a shy grin. He adjusted his crown, for it had slid off kilter, as it tended to do. Then he glanced at the dirt stain on her cheek. “Are you okay?”

  “I’m trying to train Nevermore to fly above the tree line, but every time she sees a sheep—whoosh!—she goes into a dive and almost kills me!” She eyed the thronecakes. “Near-death experiences make me famished!”

  Dexter didn’t know about such things. He’d lived a pretty comfortable life. And while his parents always encouraged him to be brave, he couldn’t remember any near-death experiences. But it was quite possible that in his future role as a rescuer of damsels, he’d face dangers like the kind he always read about in graphic novels—teetering towers, sinister sorcerers, and dragons who weren’t as nice as Nevermore. Time would certainly tell. “Would you like a piece of thronecake?” Dexter offered.

  “Would I? You bet.” Raven grabbed one. Then she plopped herself onto a couch. “I keep telling Nevermore that she can’t go around stealing sheep. You’re so lucky you have a jackalope who likes eating vegetables and livestock.” Mr. Cottonhorn lowered his book and blinked at Raven over the rim of his glasses. “And he looks so cuddly. You can’t cuddle with a dragon. Well, you can cuddle with Nevermore when she shrinks, but you have to be careful because her scales are as sharp as glass. And if she sneezes or coughs, she spouts fire, and that can burn your face right off.” She reached out and patted Mr. Cottonhorn’s head. “He’s so soft, just like a bunny.”

  Dexter glanced at his companion. Mr. Cottonhorn was not a bunny. He was a jackalope, a unique creature who possessed superior jumping capabilities and a keen intellect. Along with reading, Mr. Cottonhorn could detect sounds from great distances and dig holes faster than any other creature at Ever After High. But Raven could have called Mr. Cottonhorn a hamster and Dexter wouldn’t have corrected her. In his eyes, she could do no wrong.

  He was smitten.

  Raven was different. She was tall and skinny and often slouched in a way that wouldn’t have been accepted in the Charming family. Her dark eyes and jet-black hair gave her a somber look, and the way she questioned tradition made her seem rebellious. It would have been easy to dismiss her as another brooding villain. But Dexter had discovered that Raven was a constant surprise. He’d found her to be kind, empathetic, and often funny.

  Mr. Cottonhorn suddenly sat upright and thumped his hind foot, a sign his kind used to signal that danger was lurking nearby. A large face was pressed against the Common Room’s picture window. “Oh my wand!” Raven said. She wagged a finger at her dragon, whose wings flapped gracefully as she hovered outside. “Be careful with those wings. If you break another window, Headmaster Grimm will be furious.”

  Nevermore stared at the half-eaten piece of thronecake. A little string of drool emerged from her mouth.

  Raven shook her head. “No more sugar for you, Nevermore. You know it gives you a bellyache, and it’s time for your nap.” She pointed out the window, toward the forest.

  Nevermore frowned, then turned and flew away. As she did, the tip of her wing knocked a brick loose, sending it tumbling to the courtyard below.

  “Great. More damage. Last week she squished a hedge. Yesterday she tried to swim in the unico
rn fountain and broke it. And she’s always stepping on the flowers or setting them on fire. Groundskeeper Green Thumb said that if my pet ruins one more plant, I’ll get dungeon detention.” Raven sighed. “What does he hexpect? Nevermore’s as big as a house, and she shoots fire from her mouth. Groundskeeper Green Thumb probably wishes I’d received a kitten or a fish. Or a cute jackalope.” She smiled at Mr. Cottonhorn. He ignored her—he’d gone back to looking at his book. “Hey, maybe we could trade,” Raven said to Dexter.

  Mr. Cottonhorn looked up and began thumping his hind leg again. Raven chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t take you away from Dexter. Besides, that would probably mean breaking one of the headmaster’s rules, and I’ve done enough of that lately.” She ate the rest of her thronecake. “Well, I guess I’d better clean up that mess.”

  “I’ll help,” Dexter said. “Come on, Mr. Cottonhorn.”

  But Mr. Cottonhorn shook his head. Dexter glanced at the page. There was a drawing of a farmer with a rake, chasing a white rabbit. “Oh, I see why he doesn’t want to stop reading. He’s at the exciting part where Mr. McGregor chases Peter from the garden.” Dexter began to follow Raven from the Common Room. “See ya later,” he called.

  Mr. Cottonhorn wiggled his nose.

  The next afternoon, Dexter was in his room trying to memorize the periodic tables for chemythstry—H for hydrogen, CA for calcium, DR for dragoniun, and so on. Mr. Cottonhorn was sitting on the carpet, playing Find the Carrot on Dexter’s MirrorPad. He’d just reached level six when someone knocked on the door.

  “Hello,” Raven said when Dexter opened the door.

  “Uh, hi.” Dexter’s face got so hot his glasses fogged. Raven never visited his room. He immediately regretted that he hadn’t made his bed and that he hadn’t picked up the pile of dirty socks that was emitting a pungent odor. “What’s up?” he asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

  “I’ve got an idea I wanted to run by you. Can I come in?”

  “Sure.” Dexter quickly moved a stack of comic books so that Raven could sit in his desk chair.

  “Well, the thing is, I’ve been having trouble with my spells.”

  “Really?” Dexter said, acting surprised even though he wasn’t. Everyone at Ever After High was well aware that Raven’s magic tended to backfire when she tried to use it for good. Her destiny, as daughter of the Evil Queen, was to wield powers beyond imagination, and using those powers for good went against tradition.

  “I need to master my multiplication spell for Magicology. Everyone else is doing inanimate objects, like apples or tiaras. But I need to get a really good grade, since I’ve had so many backfiring spells lately. I thought I’d try to multiply a living creature. That’s supposed to be really difficult.” She looked down at Mr. Cottonhorn.

  Dexter gulped. He’d do anything for Raven, but this didn’t sound good. “You’re going to multiply my jackalope? Mr. Cottonhorn looked up from the MirrorPad. His long ears twitched.

  “Sure, I thought about multiplying Nevermore, but can you imagine the trouble that might cause? Raven raised her hands. “I haven’t fully figured it out, but I think the spell goes something like…‘There’s a little jackalope sitting on the floor. One is good, but I want one more.’” A blue flash erupted from Raven’s outstretched fingers. “Uh-oh,” she said. “That wasn’t supposed to happen.”

  Dexter couldn’t believe his eyes. “What the hex?” Mr. Cottonhorn started thumping his hind foot.

  Dozens and dozens of little fluffballs had suddenly appeared. And each one had a tiny pair of antlers sprouting from its head.

  “Why do I have such bad luck?” Raven asked, cradling an armload of baby jackalopes. “I wasn’t trying to cast the spell. I was just trying to see if I could remember it. And I only wanted one more jackalope.”

  Dexter had counted thirty-five, but when he opened the closet, he found a dozen more fluffy creatures. And even more were hiding under the bed. Unlike Mr. Cottonhorn, who preferred his meals served on china plates with linen napkins, the little rascals began chewing on everything—computer wires, bedposts, and comic books.

  “Where did I go wrong?” Raven wondered. “‘There’s a little jackalope sitting on the floor. One is good, but I want one more,’” she repeated, as if to herself, but a flash of blue lit up the room again.

  “Oh no!” Dexter cried. His bed was covered with a new batch of babies. “Uh, Raven, could you please stop saying that spell?”

  “I’m sorry. I was just trying to figure it out. It’s only supposed to make one jackalope.” She slumped into his desk chair. “Ugh! I’m so tired of my spells backfiring.”

  Mr. Cottonhorn began to hop in circles. He was not one bit pleased. He was a tidy creature who kept his nest clean and his carrots in a special basket. But these babies were causing a disaster. Some were digging holes in the bedding while others were gnawing the wood trim.

  “Can you reverse the spell?” Dexter asked as he tried to save his comic books.

  “What? I couldn’t do that. Reversing the spell would mean…” She frowned. “It would mean making them not exist. That would be pure evil.”

  Dexter agreed. Even though the baby jackalopes were as destructive as a swarm of locusts, they were super cute. But all that eating meant a lot of pooping. His plush carpet looked as if it had been sprinkled with miniature troll chips! “What are we going to do with them?”

  “I don’t know.” She petted one of the jackalopes that sat in her lap. “If Baba Yaga finds out I messed up another spell, I’ll get a fairy-fail for sure.”

  Dexter wasn’t just a prince. He was a Charming prince, which meant that one of his many purposes was to rescue helpless damsels. At least, that was what he’d always been told. And even though Raven never seemed helpless, at this moment she was technically a damsel. “When our cat had kittens, we put them in a basket and took them to the village and found people to adopt them,” Dexter remembered. “We could do that.”

  “Oh, that’s a great idea. Then no one has to know about my messed-up spell.” She picked up a tan baby jackalope and pressed her nose against its wiggling nose. “Who can resist these things? They’re adorable. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t try to multiply my dragon.”

  “We’d better hurry, before someone else sees.” Dexter grabbed a laundry basket, and they began to collect the mini jackalopes. But he could only find five. He looked around. “Wait a minute,” he said. “What happened to the others?”

  Mr. Cottonhorn stood in the doorway and pointed with his long ears. Raven had left the bedroom door open. A trail of destruction led down the hall and through the archway, into the Common Room, where the starlings had started squawking. Laundry basket in hand, Dexter hurried down the hall, Raven at his heels. Yes indeed, the jackalopes were hopping right through the Common Room. The two princesses who sat in front of the fire hadn’t noticed the fluffballs. Apple White, daughter of Snow White, was busy hexting on her MirrorPhone, and Holly O’Hair, daughter of Rapunzel, was reading a book. A third princess, Briar Beauty, daughter of Sleeping Beauty, was taking a nap on the couch. The jackalopes disappeared down the stairway at the opposite end of the room.

  Not wanting to draw attention to the situation, Dexter managed to tiptoe past, but Raven stepped on a squeaky floorboard. Apple glanced up. “Hi, Raven,” she said in a chirpy way. “Hi, Dexter. I don’t know why those birds are making so much noise. It’s very distracting. I’m trying to have a conversation with Daring.”

  “It does seem distracting,” Raven said, trying to block Apple’s view of Dexter. The starling parents swooped at the laundry basket. Dexter batted them away as he headed for the stairs.

  “Hey, look,” Holly said. “Someone dropped troll chips on the floor.” She reached down and picked one up. She inspected it, then flicked it away. “That is so not a troll chip. Gross!”

  “Well, bye,” Raven said.

  “Charm you later,” Apple called.

  “That was close,�
� Raven told Dexter as they bounded down the stairs. Mr. Cottonhorn took the lead, following the trail of chewed-up carpet and wood trim down one hall, then another. Then he skidded to a stop. A small hole had been chewed through one of the walls. It was the same size as a baby jackalope. Dexter handed the basket to Raven, then dropped to his knees. “Where does it go?” she asked.

  He peered through the hole. The smell of dirt and manure filled his nostrils. “You’re not going to like this,” he told her. “But I think the hole leads to Groundskeeper Thumb’s greenhouse.”

  Raven threw her hands in the air. “Oh no! First Nevermore sits on some flowers. And now I’ve unleashed a bunch of hungry baby jackalopes into his greenhouse. Poor Groundskeeper Thumb! He’s going to be so upset. And I’ll get dungeon detention for the rest of my life.”

  Dexter gulped. Was this his chance to be Raven’s hero? He stood, repositioned his crown, and declared, “Not if we get there first!”

  The greenhouse had been built along the school’s southern wall, to allow for maximum sun exposure. A big sign on the door read NO RABBITS ALLOWED. Because Mr. Cottonhorn was not technically a rabbit, Dexter ignored the sign. He pushed open the glass door. A wave of humid air swept over them.

  “Wow, it’s warm in here,” Raven said.

  The greenhouse was made entirely of glass. Its ceiling reached five stories high, tall enough to fit a variety of fruit-bearing trees and vines. Butterflies flitted between sparkling flowers. Honeybees collected pollen for their hive, which conveniently dripped honey right into glass jars. And watermelons, root beer melons, and orangeade melons grew along trellises. Buckets, hoes, and rakes were set in the corner. A pair of gardening gloves lay on the ground.

  “Looks like Thumb’s not here,” Dexter said, which was a huge relief. If the gardener didn’t like rabbits, he certainly wouldn’t like a bunch of baby jackalopes hopping around his garden.

  The jackalopes had dug a tunnel under the glass wall and into the greenhouse, but the babies were nowhere to be seen. “Where are they?” Raven asked as she stepped beneath an arbor that was heavy with grapes. Mr. Cottonhorn stood on his hind legs, wiggled his nose, and pointed his ear at a sign that read VEGETABLE GARDEN.