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RED

By Merrylea Bullock

Drama

Chapter 3

I feel unusually optimistic when I get home. Maybe this whole thing is worth it. I mean, that poor animal never hurt anyone and it'd be nice to have a pet...

That's before I enter my bedroom.

My curtains look like they're burned, there's grit and dirt all over my bed (not to mention dog doo all over my floor) and all my stuff has been knocked off my dresser by the animal, who is up there now, sniffing curiously at my mother's ring.

“Get away from there!” I wave my hands and it jumps off, more from surprise than obedience. It growls as it hits the floor, then disappears under my bed.

I bury my head in my hands and allow myself one loud scream of frustration before cleaning up my room. I vacuum the bed and wash the floor, but nothing much can be done about the curtains...I'll just have to hope Wood doesn't ask about them.

The creature is on its back legs now, still sniffing at the ring. I sweep it into my hand and check it for damage.

This ring has been handed down in my family for generations...I think it was my great-great grandmother's grandmother's or something. It’s got a red stone in the middle of the gold band and it was always given as an engagement ring, as my family has a history of never being exactly wealthy. It's all I have of my mom now and I sometimes daydream of giving it to Melissa. So, obviously, I didn't want any animal sniffing it and chewing it up.

I pushed it down again, avoiding a snap by the narrowest of margins and pocketed the ring. “Okay, if we're gonna get along, there's gonna have to be some boundaries.”

It sits down and cocks its head, as if it's really listening.

“Okay, first off, I know it's not ideal to be shut in my room. I'll take you outside sometimes, probably at night, but in the meantime, I'll put down some newspaper, okay?”

It licks its nose.

I realize suddenly how crazy this is, but for the first time, it's paying attention to me, and no one's around to see, so I continue.

“Second, stay off my bed, okay?”

It lifts its lip and a rumble sounds in the back of its throat.

I sigh. “All right, you can go on the bed but...don't mess it up too much.”

The lips goes back and the rumble dies down. It really does seem to understand me.

“And lastly, leave this ring alone.” I pull the ring out of my pocket and the animal's eyes grow wider as it stares at it. I pocket it again and the creature blinks. “Just don't mess with it...please? It's special. And you owe me something for saving your life.”

It seems to think a moment, then turns in a circle and lies down.

“Okay, thank you. I'll go get you some food.”

As I close the door, it seems that the animal wags its tails.

But I could just be hoping.


“Hey!”

I curse under my breath. It was a good thing I had decided not to take the animal out tonight. “Hey, Owen. Cheryl.”

They're obviously drunk, leaning on each other and giggling like a couple of little kids. “Hey, Dash, there's a party goin' on at Sabrina's,” Owen slurs and sure enough, I can hear party sounds coming from a block away. “You should come.”

“Yeah. You don't have enough fun!” Cheryl presses her hips against mine. “You should come.”

I take a couple of quick steps backwards. If there's one thing I don't need to deal with tonight, it's Owen Chessy and Cheryl James. “I...I'm just running to the grocery store. I've got a track meet tomorrow.” I eye my escape routes. If I ran now, they probably wouldn't even remember it in the morning.

“Well, while you're there, get some more beer!” Cheryl holds up her almost-empty can and collapses on Owen, who falls to the ground.

I step over them carefully and start to jog (which means I move at the speed some kids do when they run) towards the library. It usually stays open until eleven...very convenient for kids who put their projects off until the last minute.

I walk in the door and smile. I like it here. When I was little, this served as my sanctuary when I got teased past my limit. I know every kids' book they have, and most of the young adult ones, too.

“Hello, Dan.”

I give the librarian a smile and wave. She's relatively new, only started working here about a month ago, and I still can't get her name. Still, she knows me, just like all the others do. I'm here at least twice a week.

“Anything I can help you with?” She asks with that silky, quiet voice all librarians seem to have. She's pretty too, in a slender, long-haired, middle-aged kind of way.

“No, just...got some research.”

She nods and smiles and I head over to a computer in the corner, where no one could see what I'm working on – just in case anyone actually wants to.

I log in and hesitate. It's hard to know what to search for, seeing as the creatures aren't supposed to exist. As far as I know, they don't even have names, except for the nicknames their abusers give them, which are far from polite. I think a minute, then type in fight results: Chartreuse.

There's about ten thousand results, but the top ones are boxing matches, and further down there's wrestling, kickboxing, and even records of famous disputes settled in violent ways. There are image results too, but those are mainly just the color chartreuse, or pictures of my home town.

I go to the search bar again, adding the word gym after my entry.

Many less results come up, as the gym closed thirty years ago, but they're all official statistics of old matches that happened while the gym was still open.

Not a word about the animals.

I log out of the computer and sigh. Old fashioned research. Yuck.

It's a lot harder to look through all the research books, especially as I'm not sure of the name of my topic. I'm almost done scanning the nonfiction shelves when I hear the librarian call out.

“Dan? Do you need any help?”

For a minute, I consider saying yes. It wouldn't necessarily make her suspicious, I could just say I'm trying to find out more about how my parents died...

“No, that's okay. Thank you.”

“Okay...”

I finish the nonfiction shelves and loop around to the back, where I rarely go...I'm not even sure what kind of books they have there.

Old ones, apparently.

The whole aisle smells like old paper and all the bindings of the hardcover books are weathered and cracked. There's an old encyclopedia and some legends of King Arthur or someone like that and a lot of books that don't say anything on the side. I open those to the front page, but most of them are just old stories.

Finally, near the end of the shelf, next to the back exit, I find a book with a strange word on the cover. It looks like it's in another language, maybe Japanese, and I'm sure I could never pronounce it, but underneath the fancy gold lettering, there's a picture of a sphere, red on top, white on the bottom. I've seen those things before, scattered around at the gym during fights. I open the book, almost scared.

A lot of the pages have been torn out and many of those that remain are scribbled out with a marker. Still, I can see some cartoony pictures of strange creatures, some I recognize from the fights and some I've never even heard of.

Finally, I come across a picture of the creature presently sitting in my room. The picture had six tails and the description underneath had been largely blacked out. The few words that are visible are rare, fire, ember, and evolution: fire stone.

“Huh.”

Well, it's odd, but I don't know what I expected. Maybe a long-lost owner's manual or something that had instructions on how to take care of them. Still, I'm lucky I found anything at all.

“Dan?”

I hear footsteps coming around the bookshelf and hurriedly shove the book back into place.

“Yeah?” I straighten up and try to stop sweating.

“We're closing soon.” She gives me a look...not so much suspicious as concerned. “Did you...find what you were looking for?”

“Well, I was looking for a topic to do my paper on, so I was kind of doing research on what to research.” I force a laugh. “I think I found a good one, though.”

“Okay.” She smiles, evidently believing me and goes back to the front desk.

I walk out into the chilly night, hands jammed into my sweatshirt pocket, wondering how I ever became such a good liar.


“Okay, here. Cold chicken. Count your blessings I'm such a generous soul.”

It does pause before eating the chicken to blink warmly at me, almost a animal-like smile. Then, of course, it attacks the chicken like it insulted its family.

“You know what?” I say absentmindedly, watching it eat. “You need a name.”

It pauses again to make some kind of weird purring noise...fallpix, or at least that's what it sounds like.

“Is that your name?”

It kind of cocks its head and goes back to eating.

“Well, no offense, I'm going to pick a new one. You mind?” It flicks an ear, but makes no other response. “Okay, then.”

I know it's a girl, it's rolled over enough for me to see that, but I don't want to name it anything cliché, like Fluffy or Mitzi or something. I consider naming it Melissa for a second, but that would be just too weird.

“Terror?”

Growl.

“Just kidding. Four? Because you have four tails instead of...”

She gives me a disdainful look.

“Ember?”

She gives me another look, then shoots flames out of her mouth.

“Whoa!” I jump up and stamp out the flames starting to burn my curtains again. “Okay, you don't like that one either.”

She cocks her head.

“Um...Tanya?”

She kind of yips and wags her tails.

I laugh. “Great!” I reach down to pet her, but she snarls and snaps at my hands. I guess we're still not that close.

Later, as I'm warming up soup for Wood (he won't be back until dawn, but still. The poor guy works such long hours, I scarcely get to see him anymore!), I sigh and think through the mess I'm in.

I've rescued an illegal animal, with no idea how to take care of it, no way to get help on taking care of it, as I'll be carted away to juvie if anyone finds out I have it, I've done this in my uncle's house, who's done everything he can to make sure I stay safe and out of trouble, and now I've named this animal, this – this troublemaker...

After my mother.
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