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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Begin Reading

Mathilde didn’t want a demon. She wanted a pony.

“Ponies are expensive,” Mathilde’s mother said. “How about a nice little demon instead?”

“I don’t want a demon!” Mathilde stamped her foot. “Demons are ugly and creepy and they smell bad!”

“Ponies are hard work,” Mathilde’s father said. “You wouldn’t have time for your homework.”

“I would!” Mathilde said. “I’d work really hard and take good care of him!”

“Well,” Father said. “We’ll see.”

Mathilde knew what “we’ll see” meant. It was one of those special lies that only grown-ups were allowed to tell. When a grown-up said “we’ll see,” it really meant “never.”

It wasn’t fair. Becky Hamilton got to take riding lessons on weekends, and she never stopped talking about them.

Peter Voorhees brought his demon to school once. It was scaly and slobbery, not sleek and pretty like a pony. It got loose in the classroom and tried to eat Mathilde’s hair.

How could anyone think that a demon was better than a pony?

*   *   *

The day before Mathilde’s birthday in September, the sky was gray and drizzly all afternoon and the puddles swirled with little flat rainbows. On that day, something different happened.

“Mathilde?” That was Mrs. Pressmorton, the vice principal. Mathilde looked up from the floor, one galosh halfway onto her foot.

“Mathilde, your parents called to say you don’t have to take the bus home today. Your grandmother is picking you up from school.”

Mathilde’s heart began to beat faster. Nana? She thought. Nana’s here for my birthday?

She tried not to hope. She tried so, so hard, but little bits of hope started to creep in anyway. Nana always brought presents, even when it wasn’t her birthday. And—and this was the deepest, most secret hope of all—Nana lived in the big house in the country; the big house with the old barn and the great big field.

“Oh my goodness!” Nana said. She swept Mathilde up in a great big hug, just like she always did.

“Nana!” Mathilde definitely didn’t peer over Nana’s shoulder, looking for a pony in the back of her car. Not much, anyway.

“Look at you!” Nana said. “My little Matty-Patty’s all grown up! Soon you’ll be as tall as me!”

Mathilde giggled. Nana was almost as tall as Father, but that was another kind of lie grown-ups were allowed to tell. Mathilde didn’t mind. Especially if it meant she was old enough to have a pony.

Nana’s car smelled like grass and old books, but it didn’t have a pony in it, of course. The rain made blurry lines down the windshield while the wipers went squeak-squeak back and forth. Mathilde drummed her heels against the floor of the car and tried to imagine the squeak was the sound of her saddle shifting as she rode her pony through the rain. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost didn’t notice when Nana turned left instead of right at the corner with the big yellow restaurant.

“Where are we going?”

Nana smiled. “You didn’t think I’d come all this way and not bring you a present, did you?”

Mathilde took a breath so big she felt like she might burst.

“But my birthday’s not ’til tomorrow!”

“That’s true.” Nana gave her a great big wink. “But I won’t tell if you won’t. Besides, I think this is the sort of present you’d better pick out for yourself.”

Mathilde could scarcely believe it. After all this time and all this waiting, she was finally going to get a pony of her very own.

Becky Hamilton was going to be so jealous.

But when the car stopped, it was in front of a store that didn’t look like it had any ponies inside. The whole front of the store was covered in steel plates and the air smelled just a little bit like rotten eggs. It was very dark inside, but when Mathilde saw the rows of wire cages she knew she had been tricked.

“This isn’t a pony store!” Mathilde said. “This is a demon store!”

Dozens of demons looked over at the sound of her voice. There were little, slithering ones and great big horned ones, almost as big as Mathilde. There were skinny ones with wings and spiky ones with eyes that flashed different colors. There was even one with brightly lit smoke seeping from the sides of its mouth as it chewed on something she couldn’t quite see.

“Well, of course it is!” Nana said.

“But I don’t want a demon!” How many times would she have to say it? “I want a pony!”

“Ah.” Nana knelt down to put her hands on Mathilde’s shoulders. “Demons make wonderful pets, you know. When I was a girl, we had a Belgian Muncher on the farm. They’re smart as a whip if you train ’em right. Some can even talk. But do you know the best thing about demons?”

Mathilde shook her head, her lip quivering.

Nana leaned in very close and whispered in Mathilde’s ear. “They’re great for convincing parents that little girls are responsible enough to take care of a pony.”

Mathilde didn’t know what to make of this. Was it another grown-up lie? “Really?” Her voice trembled.

Nana smiled. “I’ve already spoken with your parents about it. If you prove you can take care of a demon … then maybe we can see about that pony.”

Mathilde looked at the nearest cage. The demon inside was walking around on tiny cloven hooves and merrily cracking a little barbed whip. It grinned at her with a mouth

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