“Do we have any sheep?” Julia said the moment she walked in the door. She used the exact same tone of voice she’d usually use to ask if there were any chocolate chip cookies left over.

“Pretty sure we’re fresh out,” Katey told her. She’d long since learned to play along with Julia’s little games. She got a few celery sticks out of the refrigerator and began spreading peanut butter on them. “Why do you need a sheep?”

Julia climbed up onto one of the stools by the kitchen counter. “I think I might need more than one. Can you buy them in bunches? Like with eggs?”

“I don’t know,” Katey said, setting the after-school snack in front of her little sister. “I didn’t think you liked sheep, anyway. Last time we had lamb chops, you wouldn’t eat yours.”

“Oh, it’s not for me.”

Katey dipped a piece of celery in the peanut butter and sat down next to Julia. “Who’s it for then?”

“I’m not supposed to tell,” Julia said, studying her celery. “But I read they like sheep.”

“Can’t help you get your sheep, then. Better start saving your allowance. Sheep are expensive these days.”

She wasn’t expecting Julia’s reaction. The young girl bit her lip, glancing around the kitchen nervously. She looked like she was on the verge of tears. It seemed at odds with whatever game she was playing.

She put her hand on Julia’s, and Julia stared at her, tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong, Jewels?” she asked, suddenly quite worried. Julia, for all her cleverness, couldn’t fake crying if her life depended on it. Sometimes it seemed like that tell was the only thing that kept her from falling for every one of Julia’s tricks and stories.

“This is an emergency, okay?” she said, sniffing loudly.

“What is? Did something happen at school?”

“She said I couldn’t tell anyone unless it was an emergency, and then I could tell you, only you can’t tell anyone, either. Only she’s not back yet, and I don’t know what to do. She was supposed to be back before it hatched.”

“Sweetie, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who told you this? What’s hatching?”

Julia was crying freely now, and Katey thought she wasn’t far behind. She’d never seen Julia this upset, even when she was being picked on at school.

“The dragon egg.”

A few moments later, Katey was being pulled through the woods behind their house by a very determined Julia. There was a ravine running through the woods, only Katey had never gone that far in, even when she was Julia’s age. It got too steep, and she’d never liked getting her hands dirty climbing back up.

Julia didn’t seem to share that apprehension. She dragged her sister so far in they could see the dried up river ahead of them, even through the thick trees.

“This is way beyond shouting distance, Jewels,” Katey said. More out of the need to say something than anything else.

Julia didn’t respond, but pulled Katey sharply to the left. A particularly large oak tree stood over a rocky hollow, it’s roots forming a sort of curtain in front of it.

“I’ve been setting it on fire twice a day, like she told me to,” Julia said. She stepped through the roots easily, but Katey had to duck and her hair got caught.

“You’ve been starting fires? What if you burned down the forest?”

Julia gave her the patronizing look only a child can manage. “I’m not gonna burn down the forest. We went over fire safety in Scouts, and I’m real careful. But she didn’t say what to do if it hatched.”

Katey untangled her hair and got her first good look inside the hollow. It was bigger than it looked from the outside, extending several yards into the hill. The air was hot and humid, despite the crisp autumn weather outside.

At the back, surrounded by a ring of stones was the egg. It looked like a dying ember, except it was the size of a soccer ball. Several large cracks had formed, glowing brightly.

Even as Katey watched, another crack formed, then another, and another. With a series of crackling sounds, the egg exploded. The wave of heat knocked both sisters off their feet as they were pelted with bits of egg shell.

Something stirred amidst rubble in the circle of stones. A green head emerged. It was covered in some viscous goop, that seemed to be evaporating quickly into a heady mist.

The hatchling swung its head back and forth, searching. It’s eyes were shut, but it sniffed noisily at the air. It stopped, looking vaguely in their direction, then let out a hungry cry.

“Okay,” Katey said slowly, trying to ignore the manic edge she could hear in her own voice. “We don’t have any sheep. Maybe it won’t mind beef instead.”

Advertisements