Goods Bought Here
and Sold There
That was the sign on Peddler Polly’s cart as her horse pulled her up Main Street. Peddler Polly looked around and smiled.
“I’m sure glad to be back in Taletown,” she said. “Imagine—a town where everyone tells stories!”
Peddler Polly parked at the town square. Over on Town Hall she saw a notice.
STORY SWAP TODAY
Bring a story
(if you still know one)
“If you still know one?” Peddler Polly puzzled.
“Hello, Peddler Polly,” came a sad little girl’s voice.
“Well, it’s my old friend Penny! Do you have a good story for me? I’ll gladly trade for something from my cart.”
Penny sobbed and sniffed. “I have hardly any stories at all! No one in Taletown does. We’re all losing our stories!”
“Losing your stories? Whatever do you mean?”
“We start to tell a story,” said Penny, “and then it’s gone! We can’t remember it anymore. Come to the Story Swap this afternoon and see.”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS. . . .”
Another cart had parked on the square. Its sign said,
DR. SEBASTIAN SPELLBINDER
In the cart stood a man with a topcoat, top hat, and goatee, surrounded by piles of wooden boxes.
“You’ve heard of a storyteller,” Dr. Spellbinder told the gathering crowd. “And you’ve heard of a storybook. Well, I’m here to show you something finer still: The brand-new, patented Spellbinder Storybox!”
“Oh, Peddler Polly!” cried Penny in delight. “He’s selling stories!”
Dr. Spellbinder held up one of the wooden boxes, showing a pane of glass on one side. He flipped a switch and the glass came to life. Tiny characters moved across the pane, and tiny voices came out.
“It’s ‘Cinderella’!” yelled someone in the crowd.
Dr. Spellbinder turned a knob, and a different moving picture appeared.
“That’s ‘Puss in Boots’!” called someone else.
He turned the knob again.
“And that’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’!”
“Never again will you have to ask for a story,” called Dr. Spellbinder. “And never again will you have to imagine the pictures! Who’ll be the first to buy a Spellbinder Storybox?”
“I’ll take one!”
“So will I!”
“I’ll take two!”
Before long, Dr. Spellbinder’s cart was empty. The town square was covered with children and grownups, all staring blankly at the little boxes.
“I don’t like the looks of this,” muttered Peddler Polly.
When Peddler Polly arrived at the Story Swap that afternoon, Town Hall was packed. The room was buzzing with talk about lost stories and Spellbinder Storyboxes.
Finally, Mayor Bertha Bigwig took the stage. She glanced nervously around her. “Welcome to the Story Swap. It is my honor to tell the first story: ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin.’”
From her seat by an open window, Peddler Polly heard a soft whirr and a sucking noise.
“Life in the town of Hamlin was pleasant,” began Mayor Bigwig. “Or it would have been, if not for the . . . the . . . .” The mayor turned pale. “I’ve lost my story!” she cried, and ran from the stage. A horrified murmur rose in the room.
Milton Marbles, the schoolteacher, tried next. “My story is ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.’”
Again Peddler Polly heard the whirr and the sucking.
“There was once a poor widow who had an only son named . . . named . . . . Oh no!” He fled the stage in tears.
Next came Penny. “This is the myth of ‘Pegasus.’”
Peddler Polly heard the noises once more.
“A long time ago in Greece, there was a horse called Pegasus. This horse was special because . . . because . . . because . . . .”
“Stop the Swap!” cried Mayor Bigwig. “We can’t afford to lose any more stories. It’s the end of storytelling in Taletown!”
As excited talk filled the room, Peddler Polly thought she heard a cackle out the window. She looked and saw a man with a topcoat and top hat hurry away from the building. He carried a large wooden box covered with switches, knobs, and dials, with a long hose attached to it.
“It’s Dr. Spellbinder!” said Peddler Polly. “I’d better look into this.”
Peddler Polly hastened from the hall. She followed Dr. Spellbinder from a distance as he left the town and made his way into the hills.
At last Dr. Spellbinder disappeared through the mouth of a cave. Peddler Polly followed him in and stopped in astonishment. The huge cave was filled with mechanisms and contraptions, all of them noisily pulling or pushing or pulsing or pounding.
Dr. Spellbinder stood at a workbench covered with Storyboxes and other strange devices. He set down the big box he was carrying and patted it fondly.
“Three more stories to put in my Storyboxes!” he said. “And all thanks to my brilliant invention, the Spellbinder Story Sucker. Soon I’ll steal all the stories in the world! Then everyone will need a Storybox, and I’ll be rich, rich, RICH.”
“Not if I can help it!” said Peddler Polly.
Dr. Spellbinder spun around. “Peddler Polly! What are you doing here?”
“Putting an end to your evil plans, Spellbinder!”
“You’ll never stop me, Peddler Polly!” Then Dr. Spellbinder grabbed the Story Sucker and sprinted from the cave.
Down the hill sped Dr. Spellbinder, while Peddler Polly puffed in pursuit. Without the Story Sucker, Peddler Polly was faster.
“You won’t catch me so easily,” yelled Dr. Spellbinder. He lifted the lid on the Story Sucker and reached in. “See how you like this story, Peddler Polly.”
He threw something behind him. There was a flash of light, and out of nowhere a huge crowd of children appeared, coming uphill toward Peddler Polly. They were led by a man in a many-colored costume, playing on a pipe.
“Well, I’ll be!” said Peddler Polly as she pushed past the startled man and pressed through the crowd of mesmerized children. “It’s a catchy tune, kids, but I wouldn’t follow a pied piper!”
Dr. Spellbinder was far ahead, but Peddler Polly ran hard and gained on him.
“One good story deserves another!” called Dr. Spellbinder, reaching into the Story Sucker.
Another flash, and Peddler Polly saw a boy chopping down a gigantic beanstalk. “Heads up!” called the boy as he took to his heels.
Peddler Polly looked up and stopped just in time. A huge man tumbled from the sky and landed with an earth-shaking crash just before her.
“Didn’t know stories could be so dangerous,” said Peddler Polly as she ran around the giant. She waved to the boy and called, “Thank you, Jack!”
Dr. Spellbinder had vanished behind a hill, and Peddler Polly panted after him. As she rounded the bend, she gasped. Tied to a landing platform was a lighter-than-air balloon, and Dr. Spellbinder was climbing into the basket.
“Oh, no!” cried Peddler Polly. “Now he’ll get away for sure! Unless . . . unless . . . .”
“It’s all over now, Peddler Polly,” yelled Dr. Spellbinder. He untied the rope and the balloon floated into the air. “But I still have one more story, and it might as well keep you busy.”
“If it’s the one I think it is . . . ,” murmured Peddler Polly.
Dr. Spellbinder threw it to the ground. Another flash, and there stood a horse with long and graceful wings.
“Pegasus!” cried Peddler Polly.
She ran and leaped onto the horse, and dug in her heels. The horse flapped its wings smoothly and rose in the air. Up and up it spiraled, until it was flying circles around the dismayed Dr. Spellbinder.
“Guess you forgot your mythology, Spellbinder,” said Peddler Polly. “Didn’t you know Pegasus was a flying horse?”
Peddler Polly rode in close, grabbed Dr. Spellbinder, and flung him across the horse’s back.
“My Story Sucker!” cried Dr. Spellbinder as the balloon floated away with his invention.
“I don’t guess you’ll need it where you’re going,” said Peddler Polly. “For a crime like shutting up stories, a judge is sure to shut you up—unhappily ever after.”
* * *
A few weeks later, when all of Dr. Spellbinder’s Storyboxes had been opened and the stories returned to their tellers, the people of Taletown held a big storytelling festival on the town square.
“And our special guest for today,” announced Mayor Bigwig, “is Peddler Polly!”
“Hooray!” cried Penny, and everybody cheered.
“Well, thanks,” said Peddler Polly. “And now I’ll tell a story called ‘Peddler Polly and the Story Stealer.’”
And that’s a tale they’ll always tell in Taletown.