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'The Land of Hungry Armadillos'


* Editor's note: One boy learns to be more careful about what he wishes for.

"Give some crayons to your sister," Gus's mother yelled from the kitchen. "Or I'll take them all away and no one will draw."

Wendy reached for the box of crayons. "Mom said to share."

Gus frowned as Wendy took the Rose Red, Boo-Hoo Blue and Slick Silver crayons. He watched as she reached for a sheet of paper.

"Go get your own," he said, slamming his hand down on the pile.

Wendy stuck out her tongue and walked across the room. Gus took a piece of paper and drew a land that had red mountains, a lake of bubbling goo and a line of hungry armadillos with wide-open mouths. In the center, he drew his little sister crying. He looked at his drawing and grinned.

"What in the world ... ?" Gus and Wendy's mother said.

Gus looked up and saw his mother pointing at the wall, where Wendy had scribbled a large, ugly crayon blotch. "I drew a cupcake," she said.

"Why did you do that?" their mother asked.

"Gus wouldn't give me any paper," Wendy said.

"Gus!" their mother said. "Why can't you share? You have plenty of paper. You can both go up to your rooms. And don't come down until you've decided to behave."

Gus stared out of his bedroom window. High up in the sky, a star winked. Gus shut his eyes and wished for a box of crayons and a pad of paper all his own.

When he opened his eyes, a tall creature with pointy ears and a long tail stood before him. The creature smiled a sharp-toothed smile. In his claws were the largest box of crayons and the largest pad of paper Gus had ever seen.

"Who are you?" Gus asked.

"I'm Zub," the creature said. "You made a wish and here I am."

"Zub?" Gus asked. "All those crayons and all that paper are for me?" He held out his hands.

Zub waved a finger. "They're all yours for a trade," he explained.

Gus laughed. "How about my little sister? Could you use her for anything?"

Zub smiled. "Oh, that would be a wonderful trade. I need help feeding my many hungry pets."

Early the next morning, Gus collected his pictures.

"Wendy?" he called out. No answer. He remembered how angry he'd been with her the day before and the deal he'd made with Zub. Oh, no, thought Gus. He searched the rest of the house. He couldn't find Wendy anywhere.

Suddenly Gus was no longer in his room. Suddenly he was no longer home at all. There was a flash of lightning and he found himself in a strange land.

As Gus searched for his sister and Zub, he happened upon more armadillos. A long line of the animals stretched far off into the distance.

Gus kept walking. He finally spotted Wendy at the front of the line. She was frantically mixing cupcake batter and pouring it into molds. She baked, iced and then passed out cupcakes to the waiting armadillos.

The hungry armadillos snatched the cupcakes and swallowed them in one large gulp. The minute an armadillo finished a cupcake, it scuttled away to the end of the line to wait for another.

Then Zub appeared, grinning a big grin.

Gus looked at him. "How long does Wendy have to do this?"

Zub laughed. "Until the armadillos are no longer hungry. But that will never happen. My armadillos are always hungry. All day and all night. Just like everyone else in my land, Wendy will have to do her job forever."

Gus turned to Zub. "What can I give you to let her go?"

"You and I have a deal," Zub went on. "You made a trade because you were a greedy, selfish boy who wasn't thinking about his sister. Well, now you have to live with your decision."

Zub climbed onto an armadillo's back and began to ride away.

Gus looked at his sister busily making cupcakes. It was all his fault. He chased after Zub and grabbed the armadillo by the tail. "I'll feed the armadillos!" he cried. "Let her go, and I'll feed them all forever!"

Zub put his finger to his chin.

"It's a deal. You're mine forever to feed the armadillos."

Gus shut his eyes, slowly reached out and shook Zub's claw. There was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder.

When Gus opened his eyes, he was face-to-face with a long line of armadillos.

Gus glanced around. His sister was gone. "Where's Wendy?" he asked.

Zub scratched an armadillo behind the ears. "She's back home. I always keep my end of a deal ... now you keep yours and feed my friends."

Gus reached for a cupcake to give to an armadillo. Suddenly his feet lifted off of the ground. He began to float.

"NO! NO! NO!" Zub cried as he jumped to grab hold of Gus. "That must have been a sour deal I made just now," he shouted. "You traded for bad to get the crayons and be rid of your sister. But then you traded for good to send her home. I should have known a trade for good wouldn't work."

Gus looked down. The armadillos snapped at Zub's feet. They were hungry. Zub hurried to mix more cupcake batter.

Gus soared higher. Then he fell and fell and fell until -- kerplunk -- he landed on his bed.

His sister was waiting for him.

"You're home!" Wendy shouted. She jumped up and down and gave her big brother a hug.

Gus hugged her and smiled. "I am home," he said. "I really am sorry I traded you to Zub. I just wanted my own crayons and paper and to draw by myself."

Wendy nodded. "Sometimes I don't like having you around and want things all for myself too," she said. "I forgive you."

She looked at her brother. "Do you still really want your own crayons and paper?" she asked.

"Yeah." Gus grinned. "But not as much as I want you for a sister."

From the Book: THE LAND OF HUNGRY ARMADILLOS by Lawrence David and illustrated by Frederique Bertrand. Text Copyright c 2000 by Lawrence David. Illustration Copyright c 2000 by Frederique Bertrand. Published by arrangement with Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

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