Zeb was a stuffed toy zebra, and he slept with Lily every night in her bed. He loved Lily more than anything in the world; for she cuddled and snugged him every night and he belonged to her. And most of the time he was happy. But sometimes he would be sad, because Lily was eight, and old enough to know the difference between a toy and a real thing. Some nights, when Lily was feeling poorly or sorry-for-herself, she would cry to her parents: ‘oh don’t leave me alone! Stay with me!’ And her parents would say: ‘but you’re not alone, Lily! You have Zeb.’ ‘Oh Zeb’s not real,’ she replied, bitterly. And Zeb heard her say this, and it made him sad all the way to the core of his stuffing.
One night Lily was sleeping and clutching Zeb under her arm, and the little toy was crying quietly to itself. Now it so happened that it was a full moon night, and a blue moon night at the same time, and the Charm of Toys was abroad at night. The Charm heard Zeb’s tears, and understood. ‘I shall make you real, little toy, but you may not like it.’ And Zeb, hearing the voice of the Charm, woke up properly. ‘I will like it! Oh if only I could be real!’ ‘Then this is what I will do,’ said the Charm, coming right inside Lily’s bedroom (for, you know, the Charm has no body, and can pass easily through glass and bricks). ‘I will gift you the spell to make you real; but I will gift you something else too. I will gift you the spell to make yourself a toy again—in case you don’t like it.’
Well, Zeb couldn’t say fairer than that! So he agreed, and the Charm gave him the two spells. And Zeb spoke the first spell immediately, because he so wanted to be real. And then he was! He became an actual zebra—not as big as the zebras you find on the plains in Africa (they are as big as horses you know; and when he was a toy Zeb was only eighteen inches from rump to nose). But in every other respect he was a proper Zebra: he had bones, and muscles, and zebra black-and-white-striped skin instead of cloth and stuffing, and at the end of his legs he had little hoofs hard as plastic. He was so excited he wriggled in the bed and woke Lily up. ‘Good gracious!’ she cried. ‘You’re real!’ And she hugged him, and together they tried to settle down to go back to sleep.
But it was hard—for Zeb found it much harder getting comfortable as a real creature than he had done as a toy: his legs got into awkward shapes and got sore, and his hard little hooves kept digging into Lily’s tummy. And he could not stop wriggling! ‘Please settle down, little Zeb,’ Lily pleaded. ‘For I have to go to sleep.’
And then do you know what Zeb did? He did a pooh, right in Lily’s bed! ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, afterwards. ‘I’ve never needed to do one of those before, you see. I wasn’t sure what it was until it came out.’ So Lily had to get up and fetch some tissues and clear that up, and then Zeb said he was hungry, so she put on slippers and a dressing gown and took him down into the cold dark garden to chew a little grass. Afterwards she brought him back up and got into the bed again. ‘Perhaps now we can have a little sleep?’ Lily said.
But worse was to happen—actual danger. For Lily had lots of soft toys at the end of her bed, and as Zeb scruffled and wriggled around on her bed, he brushed against them. Now because his spell was quite a new one, some of it spilled out and got into the fur and cloth of these other stuffed toys. And one by one they all came alive. The teddy bears became real bears—small, but just as likely to savage you with their bear-claws, and bite you with their bear teeth, and eat your flesh as any hungry bear in the real world would. The stuffed lion became a miniature real-life lion, and threatened to bite through Lily’s neck and spill her blood, just as any lion would do. She had a bit stuffed draught-excluder snake that turned into a real boa constrictor that slithered after Lily to squeeze her to death and eat her up in one gulp. How Lily shouted in fear! Her bed was suddenly alive with horrible real-life miniature predators!
Zed did what he could—kicking out at them with his hoofs, and biting with his teeth. But one miniature zebra is no match for three actual bears, one actual lion and hungry boa constrictor. So the little zebra had to think quickly. He had one spell from the Charm of Toys, and he could use it to turn one animal back into toy-form. But if he changed one of the bears that still left the other two, not to mention the others; and if he changed the lion or snake back then the three bears would tear Lily arm from leg and both from body. He had to decide, quickly. Do you know what he did?
He used his spell to change Lily into a stuffed toy. And there she lay, in the bed, a Lily-doll!
The hungry miniature animals roared with disappointment, for they could hardly eat cloth and stuffing! And instead they all turned their attention on Zeb, the live zebra. There was nothing for it, but to make a run for it. And this was how Zeb and Lily, a toy and real girl, changed places. If you want to know what happened next you’ll have to come back next week.