I wrote this tonight on a whim, as a response to a little prompt in the writing group I manage. The prompt is the quote that is used as the final line in the story. This is a completely raw piece; it hasn’t even been re-read, let alone even a cursory edit. Forgive any errors.
Quin didn’t have a good reason to be outside in the middle of the night, at least, not if he tried to explain it to his mother. She’d ground him and take away his laptop and his cell phone and would refuse to give him the wifi password because she’d long ago learned about live gaming. Briefly, he thought about how much he still wanted to punch Kyle in the face for ratting him out, but he remembered that his brother was serving time in lockdown back at the house and smirked.
The woods were quiet except for the random hooting of hunting owls and the skittering noises underfoot as their prey fled. The moon was high but through the canopy of leaves he couldn’t tell. Here or there a few stars peered down, but Quin didn’t bother looking up.
Deep in the woods, at the place where he had assembled all the stolen wooden planks and nails he could from his father’s tool shed, he climbed the ragged knot ladder into his treehouse. He had to shoo away a few squirrels but otherwise, the dirty hideout was as he’d left it. Adding in a bird’s nest in one of the corners. He left the birds alone.
He turned on his kerosene lamp and sat on the lumpy cushion from his mother’s old couch. From his pack he withdrew a few items he’d recently pilfered – a pocket knife from his father’s junk drawer, a few stray wooden matches with red tips, and a fistful of his mother’s favorite chocolates. He ate some of them while he tried to flip the pocket knife around between the fingers of one hand.
When Quin knicked himself for the first time on the knife, he paused, quietly observing how painless it was at first. A droplet of blood welled, bubbled up from the slit in his skin, and slid down the tip of his finger to drip onto the floor. At the same moment his blood hit the wood, a terrible sound came from down below. A screech like he had never heard – more closely resembling the pitiful wail of a fawn when its mother had been shot; that had been a sound he thought he would never stop hearing, but he had, a few weeks later. His father didn’t speak of it anymore and never invited him hunting. He stuffed the remaining chocolates into his pocket, worried he would get caught eating them.
Quin crept up to the doorway and inched his face over the opening until he could see down. At the base of the tree was a shape that wriggled, all shadow except for the occasional glint of scales. A pair of wings unfurled from the back and pumped at the air a few times. They did not appear to be of much use yet.
The creature let out another cry. Quin, curious now, checked the area as far as he could see but found no sign of a parent creature. Careful to be quiet, he slipped over the edge of the doorway and dropped himself down a few notches on his rope ladder. The baby creature looked up at him and he froze. For an instant, the two stared at each other. Quin was amazed at what he was seeing, it was like nothing he had ever seen. Not even movies could compare.
The eyes of the creature were milk white and shimmery – they reminded him of his mother’s pearls. Everything else about it was cast in darkness, the shadow of the night too thick to make out any other colors. The creature cried again, louder this time, seeming to be talking to him.
“What is it?” He whispered, unsure of whether or not he thought it would answer him.
It screamed a reply and he slid down a few more knots. The creature scratched its paws at the base of the tree excitedly and made another noise – less alarming, but still too loud. Quin dropped the rest of the way down and brushed off his hands on his shirt. The creature wagged its tail so hard that its entire body seemed to vibrate.
Quin held his breath. He could not believe his own eyes – the creature in front of him, no taller than his kneecap, was a dragon. Unmistakably so. Its thick, bulbous snout and its useless little leather wings were proof enough. All at once, it rammed into him with its huge snout and made the second noise again. It nibbled at his pant leg, near the pocket where he’d stuffed his chocolates.
Tentatively, Quin drew one out and flicked it up into the air. He certainly didn’t want the thing to take his hand off. The dragon jumped up and snatched it right out of the air with a tiny puff of smoke as it snapped its jaws closed. Quin laughed, delighted. The dragon was happy too, he could tell by the swishing of its whole lower body.
Excitement took over. Quin could not wait to get it back to the house, to show Kyle. Immediately, he began making gentle noises to coax it along with him. He walked backwards out of the woods, tripping only two or three times, as he lead it. It followed him, keeping pace and swishing its tail. When it got distracted, he would pull out another chocolate and so it would follow him another few minutes with renewed focus.
At the house, Kyle did not want to be woken up. It was difficult to get him to listen beyond telling Quin to “shut up and go back to bed.” He did not believe that there was a dragon in the backyard, so Quin brought the dragon into the house. The creature loped around the living room, sniffing and bumping into things. The clatter annoyed Kyle enough that he came storming downstairs, his nostrils flairing. “Damn it, Quin, shut up. You’ll get us both in trouble if you wake Mom or Dad.”
Kyle came around the corner into the living room and stopped mid-stride. His eyes went round. “Quin what is going on?”
“I told you! I found a dragon! He likes chocolate.”
The dragon, moving around the room without interruption, had found the small, golden box of chocolates their mother kept on the coffee table. Neither stopped it from chomping on it, though it did not seem to have teeth enough to break through.
“A dragon. You found a dragon.” Kyle’s eyes had not gone back to normal yet. He was amazed. Even more amazed than Quin had expected him to be.
“I’m going to train it,” Quin said. “I’ll teach it tricks and we can sell tickets.”
“Quin, you’re a kid. You can’t train a dragon.” Kyle was dismissive. Quin hated being told he was just a kid. Kyle went on, “Where the heck did you even find the thing?”
Quin scowled. “I found it in the woods, and I’m ten years old! I’m not a kid!”
The dragon hiccuped and a whooshing sound filled the room. A tendril of flame licked out from the tiny dragon and touched the couch. The fire caught instantly, spreading across the couch faster than Kyle could yell out a few curse words.
“You’re going to wake Mom and Dad! Stop cursing!”
Kyle shot him an angry look, his eyebrows knitted together so he could narrow his eyes at Quin. “I think they’ll notice the smoke detector, Quin.”
Kyle had been right, of course. Their parents had come barreling down the staircase only a minute later. They did not like seeing a dragon in their living room, and did he know how expensive couches were, and how was he going to help them fix the living room – which, they wanted to remind him, he had let a dragon set on fire? They didn’t want to hear any of his ideas on how to train it.
The fliers posted all around town were quite the gossip.
“Found lost magical pet, please collect immediately!”