Miss Perkins stood at the front of her class discussing the Pythagorean Theorem to her class full of twelve year old proteges. The girls in the class were all staring blankly at the ceiling, or out the window. The boys were all paying rapt attention as the pretty blond teacher droned on. All, that is, except Tommy Ridinger. His mind was five miles away with the injured creature lying in the dog house in his back yard. He’d taken a moment to check on the dragon before leaving for school. He didn’t like what he saw. It hadn’t moved at all, and the shine of the red and black scales appeared to be growing dull. He didn’t know why, but it appeared more than just injured. It appeared to be sick.
The bell rang, signaling the beginning of the lunch period. In a tumult of noise, the students rose to gather their things and shuffled out the door. As Tommy approached the coveted portal to freedom, Miss Perkins called him back. “Tommy, can we talk?”
Several of the boys, jeered at him jealous that he would be spending time alone with the object of their pubescent affection.
Tommy shook his head and turned to approach the teacher’s desk. For the first time today, he actually saw her. She was clad in a light blue sun dress with yellow flowers. Loose blonde curls framed her young face. Piercing blue eyes scrutinized him as he moved slowly forward. A pair of spectacles sat loosely on the bridge of her nose. A smattering of freckles was painted across her nose, adding to her youthful appearance. By the expression on her face, Tommy was sure he was not going to enjoy the conversation.
Miss Perkins waited until the last of her students had vacated the room and the door was closed before speaking. “Tommy, what happened last night?”
Tommy pasted an unconvincing smile on is face. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Look at you,” She gestured to him. “Besides your broken nose, you are sporting several new scrapes and bruises. I found you sprawled in the middle of the street, clothes soaking wet despite the fact that there was no water to be seen. And then there was that weird creature. You called it a dragon. I am assuming it’s like the ones you tell people you see, even though nobody else can see them?”
“Are you sure you didn’t dream all that?”
He didn’t think it possible, but the look on her face became even more stern than before. “Really? You of all people are going to use` that on me?”
Tommy grinned sheepishly.
“Seriously, Tom, what happened?”
Tommy shrugged, “I don’t know. Like I said last night, my mom and I had a fight, so I left the house to go to Uncle Terryl’s. Along the way, this weird rain storm blew through, soaking me, and the dragon flew from it and hit me. It knocked me down when it hit me. Then you found me in the road.”
“There was no storm last night.”
Tommy shrugged, “And yet, here we are.”
Miss Perkins nodded. “Indeed. What are you going to do with it? I’m sure that proved to your mom that you aren’t crazy.”
“I haven’t showed her. “
Tommy shrugged again. “I don’t know. I think it would shatter her world further. If what I’m seeing is real, then she’s been wrong about me all along. With everything that happened with dad, and everything after he died, I don’t think I could do that to her. Besides, I think it’s sick. It hasn’t moved and the scales seem to be less shiny than they were last night.”
“Are you going to take it to a vet?”
It was Tommy’s turn to get snarky. “Really? What would a vet know about taking care of a dragon?”
“What if it’s dangerous? As you said, we don’t know anything about them. We don’t even know where it came from. What if the sickness is transmutable to humans? You could get sick next.”
“I’m willing to take that chance.” He raised his hand as Miss Perkins started to speak. “I need to go so I have time to eat before my next class.”
Tommy didn’t listen as he walked out the door into the student filled hall, ignoring the disapproving look on his math teacher’s face.
Tommy navigated through the sea of ebbing students, trying to ignore the hurtful comments whispered behind his back. “I heard he’s crazy.”, “I heard he killed his dad.”, “I heard his mom beats him.”, “I don’t know if any of that’s true, but he is definitely weird. Did you see him walk into that wall yesterday?”
He just shook his head. He didn’t know if they were projecting the words to be hurtful, or if they actually thought they were whispering so Tommy wouldn’t hear. He knew he sometimes had trouble keeping his voice quiet when trying to share secret information with others.
He shook his head again as the memory of Chad came to his mind. Chad had been his only friend since kindergarten. His family had moved away two years ago, shortly after the accident that had claimed the lives of Chad’s brother and Tommy’s dad. The investigation was still open. There was still some question as to which of them had been drunk that night. Life had been lonely since his only friend was gone.
His mind wandered through several topics on the short walk from the junior high school to his house. His feet moved on auto pilot, taking him through the familiar route with no thought. He was surprised when he looked up to see the white truck with the cage on its back and black letters on its side; ANIMAL CONTROL.
As Tommy approached, the man climbed from the cab and approached him. “Excuse me son, but we’ve received reports of a dangerous animal in the area. Have you seen anything unusual?”
Tommy’s heart was racing, but he made a conscious effort to keep his demeanor calm. “No, I haven’t seen anything.”
The man gestured to the house. “Is your mom home?”
Tommy shook his head, “No, she’s still at work. She probably won’t be home for a couple hours.” Silently berating himself, he realized he’d told the stranger too much.
The man smiled warmly. “Would you mind if I looked around?” Vaguely gesturing to Tommy’s back yard.
“I don’t think you should. Not until my mom gets home, and you ask her.” Not waiting for any further interrogation, Tommy entered his house, locking the door.
“I can’t believe she called animal control.” Tommy spit angrily, silently vowing to go out later to egg Miss Perkins car.
Dropping his backpack in the entry hall, he headed to the back yard to check on the ‘dangerous creature’. He immediately heard the animal control person prowling at the perimeter of the fence. Not trusting the agent of evil at the door, he moved the sick dragon and the water bowl to his bedroom. The scales seemed to have lost even more of their luster, and the puffs of smoke were diminishing in frequency and thickness.
“How can I help you?” With no answer from the diminutive creature, Tommy placed it next to the water bowl, once again wrapping it in a blanket. He headed to the refrigerator. Grabbing a couple of uncooked hot dogs from the open package and cutting them into small pieces, he placed them on a plate and retrieved his backpack on the way back to his room. Quietly placing the plate next to the slumbering reptile, he retired to his bed to dive into the massive load of homework he’d been given.
Tommy was exceptionally bright. Having been in gifted classes since kindergarten had kept him apart from most people his own age. That and the weird things that only he could see. The schools had wanted him to skip the seventh grade, and possibly the eighth grade, to get him in classes that were more suited to his brilliance, but his mother had disagreed. She didn’t think he needed to be in more advanced classes, she believed it was more important for him to be around people his own age. What she didn’t see was that people his own age were often cruel to him. He was always alone at school, the other kids shunning him because of the strangeness of dealing with someone like him. He didn’t really mind all that much. He was content to avoid the other students and bury his nose in books, at least when he wasn’t following the unseen creatures and breaking his nose on a wall. He was never going to live that one down.
Despite the amount of homework he had, he was finished before his mom got home from work. The most difficult subject he had was Algebra. It was strange to him that he was just unable to grasp the concepts. The class was required for the profession he wanted to go into, so he had to try and figure it out. He didn’t really care for the class: with a ‘C’, it was killing his perfect GPA.
“Tommy, can you come down here?” His mother’s voice came from downstairs.
He glanced at the bundle of smoking blankets. “Well, here goes nothing.”
His nerves tightened with each step. By the time he stood before his mom, he was nearly ready to snap. “What do you need, mom?”
“Do you know why Animal Control is outside? They say they are looking for a dangerous animal, but they don’t seem to have many details about it. Just that it is supposed to be in the area.”
The animosity towards Miss Perkins flared, burning away the nervousness he felt.
As if reading his mind, his mom continued. “Also, Miss Perkins told me I should ask you about something you found last night. What was she talking about?”
Tommy’s face grew steely as he heard his mother mention the math teacher. He didn’t think he’d ever actually hated anyone before. His mother always said ‘Hate is such a strong word.’ He was pretty sure he knew what it felt like to truly hate someone in that moment. Not only had she called the authorities, but she’d sold him out to his mother.
“Tommy, what’s going on.”
He took a deep breath. “Before I show you, you have to promise not to freak out, and not to tell that man outside.”
She nodded, and he led the way to his bedroom.
A slight smell of smoke wafted through the air. Susan paused, looking around the room in alarm. “Tommy, what’s going on?”
Tommy scooped and lifted the tiny animal and presented it to his mother. “Look, I found a dragon. I’m not crazy”
Susan Ridinger stared at the small creature for several moments. The scientist within her vehemently denying what her eyes were seeing. Her mind trying to rationalize the existence of an impossible creature. Dragon’s couldn’t exist, they were only faerie tails. If science was wrong, then that meant her son was…
She began to sway precariously.
The world went dark as Susan Ridinger fell.
“Mom… Are you okay?”
Susan slowly opened her eyes. She was surprised to find herself lying on the floor. One of Tommy’s pillows was under her neck, and her feet were elevated on the desk chair from Tommy’s computer desk. Her son sat next to her, placing a cool, wet, rag on her forehead looking concerned, but not panicked. Her heart swelled with pride at the sight. Her twelve year old son had done everything right to help when she had passed out.
“I’m okay, Tommy.” She slowly rose into a sitting position. “Let me see your dragon again.”
Tommy lifted the small creature from the floor, placing it in her arms. “I think he’s dying. I wish I knew how to help him.”
The red scales had lost most of their previous lustre; black edges were reduced to a sickly grey. Hardly any smoke escaped from its nostrils. Tommy didn’t know what color the eyes should be, as he had never seen them open.
“I think you’re right, son. I think it’s dying,” She swayed perilously as she held the dragon. “I think I need to go to bed. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. I’ll get a sub, and will excuse an absence for you. We can just stay home and, you know, figure things out.”
A tear crept out of Tommy’s eye as he nodded. “Good night, mom.”
As Susan left the room. Tommy pulled the dragon into his arms. Light flared as he pressed his forehead against the scaly head of the creature. “Please don’t die on me. You’re proof that I’m not crazy.”
He laid on the floor, still holding the reptile as a strange lethargy spread through him.
The ground flew by as he flew through the air. Strange electrical currents surged through his wings, keeping him aloft as he frolicked through the sky. There was no better feeling in the world than flying.
He saw Mother below, beckoning him to her. This was odd, Mother never needed, or even wanted to talk to him. He was just a tiny creature, and he was unbondable.
His heart sank at this thought. He’d participated in the past twelve bonding ceremonies, but was unable to bond with any of the candidates. Twelve cycles, and twelve failed bondings. He shook his head as he landed at Mother’s feet.
Sublime beauty radiated from Mother. She was a tall woman with deeply tanned skin, the color of rich earth. Green, leafy locks framed her face. Eyes the color of the sky were wide with wonder. A long white gown fell from elegant shoulders. This was truly the personification of nature herself.
“Why hello, Taraka. How are you feeling today?” She stooped to lift him into her arms, pressing him to her bosom in a warm embrace.
He cocked his head slightly, trying to project curiosity.
“I know, I know, I have been lax in my duties to you. However, I need you and your… stature.”
A puff of smoke blasted Mother in the face.
“I know you’re sensitive about your size, but you are the only one I can send on this mission. You are the only one small enough to breach the barrier between worlds, while not alerting Father of your presence.”
He cocked his head again, turning an ear to Mother.
“I need you to go to the other world and find the seer. You will need their help to find the weapon that can be used to kill Chinjoka. You will need to bring the weapon back here, so we can put a stop to his evil rampage.” Kissing his forehead, she threw the tiny red dragon into the air. “Go, and good luck on your journey.”
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