One Sick Dragon

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Something made Katie worry the moment she entered the cave, although it took her a second to realize the source. The fire was out. The dragon usually kept it burning all day, gathering bits of wood while he hunted.

The dragon turned his head before he sneezed, spitting a bright burst of fire at the wall. Lumps of goo, still burning, clung to the rock. Foul smelling smoke wafted through the cave, making Katie and Julia cough.

“Jule, Kay,” he said, lacking his usual excitement.

Katie eyed the napalm-like phlegm burning on the walls.

“Yeah, he’s definitely sick.”

“Don’t wanna be sick,” the dragon moaned. “Can you make it better?” He eyed her hopefully. Katie swallowed and glanced at her sister. Julia was looking up at her with an equally hopeful expression.

Katie studied the dragon. Thick globs of mucus dribbled out of his nostrils. His skin, usually a vibrant shade of green was pale, and something glistened on it. She touched his forehead and had to resist the urge to pull her hand back. His leathery skin was coated in a light sheet of slime.

“Does he have a fever?” Julia asked.

“No,” Katie told her. She reached out and put a hand to her sister’s forehead for comparison. “He’s about the same temperature as you.” She paused, chewing on that for a moment. That wasn’t normal. The dragon’s skin usually felt much warmer.

“What’s a fever?” the dragon asked.

“It’s a sign that a human is sick. Their skin gets warmer. I think it’s the opposite for you, though.”

“What do we do?” Julia asked.

Katie shook her head. “I’m not sure there’s that much we can do. I don’t know how to treat a dragon cold.”

“Can we give him some medicine?” She turned to the young dragon. “It tastes yucky, but it’s good for you.”

“I feel yucky,” the dragon complained.

“Jules, he’s the size of a horse. We don’t have that much cough syrup, and I have no idea if it would even work on him. I don’t think there’s much we can do but make him comfortable and wait it out.”

She stroked the dragon’s head, doing her best to ignore the slime on her hand. “How does your tummy feel?”

“It hurts, but my head hurts more.”

Katie sat there for a moment, trying to think about how she’d treat Julia if she felt like that.

“Okay,” she said, trying to sound confident. “I’m going to the store to get some soup for you. While I’m gone, why don’t you and Julia go down to the river. You need to drink as much water as you can, okay?”

“Will that make me feel better?” the dragon asked, his voice pitiful.

“It will help.”

The dragon nodded, then turned his head and sneezed again, re-igniting the wall.

“On second thought, why don’t you stay here. Julia can get a bottle from the house and bring you some water.”

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Christmas in a Cave

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Snow crunched underfoot as Katey and Julia walked through the woods.

“I’m just saying it would be easier,” Katey said, holding on to a tree branch as she stepped around an icy spot. The ravine was difficult enough to travel without all the ice and snow, she thought to herself.

“No,” Julia said, not bothering to turn around to look at her older sister. “Ruby said I could only tell someone in an emergency.”

“Ruby also said she’d be back by now, didn’t she?”

Julia shrugged, her heavy jacket rising with her shoulders and exaggerating the motion. “She didn’t really say when she’d be back. I thought she’d be back by now, though.”

“Next time somebody asks you to look after their kid, get a time-frame, okay?” Katey still wasn’t entirely sure how a dragon had been living in the ravine behind their house without anyone ever noticing.

A cheery fire burned in the cave, and the girls shrugged out of their jackets. Katey folded hers and placed it on a rocky shelf near the entrance, along with the bag she had brought. Then, with a sigh, she picked up Julia’s coat off the floor and put it next to hers.

“Jule! Kay!” an ecstatic voice called out. The dragon leapt straight through the fire, scattering embers around him. He had grown incredibly large in the last three months, and was already bigger than most dogs.

He bounded up to Julia, rubbing his head against her shoulder. She pulled off a mitten and scratched him right behind his ear ridge. His eyes closed in ecstasy and his comically small wings flared out.

“Jule visit?” he asked a moment later, hopping up and down with excitement. “Kay visit?”

“’Course we did!” Julia said. “It’s Christmas!”

The dragon cocked his head and looked at Katey. “Ch… Chrisss… Chris… mas? What Christmas?”

“What is Christmas,” she corrected him, while trying to figure out how to explain Christmas to a dragon. “It’s… a holiday. People spend time with their family and friends, and we give each other gifts.”

“Ah,” the dragon said, bobbing his head up and down in a gesture Katey had learned meant that he only sort of understood.

“There’s more to it, but let’s leave it at that.”

“An’ no one should be alone on Christmas,” Julia added.

“I’m not alone. Kay and Jule visit!”

“Can we give him his presents now?” Julia asked.

“Sure,” Katey told her, which sent the young dragon into a fit of excitement where he jumped around the fire. “They’re in my bag.”

Julia went and retrieved two square presents out of the bag. The dragon raced forward, almost knocking Julia over in his eagerness to examine the gifts.

“What are those?” he asked, wrapping his head around behind Julia to continue sniffing the packages.

“They’re presents,” she told him. “One from me and one from Katey. You pull off the paper and it’s a surprise what’s in ’em.”

Katey glanced at the dragons sharp, black talons. “Maybe we should open them for him, so he doesn’t damage them.”

“I’ll be careful!” the dragon insisted. “I’ll be really really careful, okay?”

“All right. Open mine first, though. It’s not as delicate.” She took the smaller box from Julia and handed it to the dragon. He took it reverently in one claw and gingerly lay it on the ground. With exaggerated care, he began to tear at the paper with his teeth. Finally, he uncovered a brightly colored book.

“What this?” he asked, studying it carefully. “It has an apple. Is it food? I don’t like apples.”

“It’s a book,” she told him. “Like the ones I bring with me sometimes. This one teaches you how to read.”

“I can read?” he asked, overjoyed by the thought. “Like Kay does?”

Katey couldn’t help but laugh. “You still need to learn. But this book will help. Just don’t set it on fire.”

Settling back on his haunches, he looked at the book intensely. “No fire. Got it.”

“Open mine!” Julia said, thrusting the other gift at him. Just as carefully as before, he opened it. Inside was a painting of a red dragon. It was perhaps a little crude – Julia had never been much of an artist – but this was one of her better works, and the care she had put into making it was clear.

“It’s Ruby,” she explained. “Your mom. I haven’t seen her in a while, but that’s what she looks like.”

The dragon looked at her in amazement, then stared at the painting. His eyes glanced up to Julia frequently, but never for more than a brief moment before returning to the picture of his mother.

“We can hang this on the wall for you,” Katey offered. The dragon nodded, seemingly unable to talk. He watched her as she took the string attached to the paper and found a outcropping on the stone wall she could loop it over.

The three of them looked at the painting for a while. Then, the dragon walked over to Julia. He lay down beside her, resting his head on her lap and looking up at her.

“Thanks, Jule,” he said softly. “I miss her.”

“You remember he?” Julia asked, stroking his head.

“Yes,” he said, hesitantly, closing his eyes, “but no. I… If I think back – real far back… there’s warmth… and a voice… And it went away, and different warmth come, with a different voice. Jule’s voice. I like Jule’s voice, but… I miss the other voice, too.”

“I’m sure she’ll be back soon,” Katey said. “Any day now.”

“Why did she leave?” He asked in a mournful tone.

“She didn’t say,” Julia said, and Katey could hear she was fighting back tears. “Just that it was important. And she made me promise to look after you until she came back. So you won’t ever be alone, okay?”

“Glad she did,” he murmured, then his eyes snapped open. “Don’t have gifts for Jule and Kay!” he cried. He stood up, running around the cave in a panic.

“It’s okay,” Katey said. “You didn’t know. You don’t have to give us anything.”

“But Jule and Kay gave me so much!” He poked at the half-eaten corpse of a deer in the back of the cave, but – to Katey’s relief – he rejected it. “Meat’s no good. Have wood for burning, but that’s everywhere. Oh! I know!” Without warning, he plunged his head into the fire. After a moment, he trotted back to them and spat out two small round stones. One had a blue tinge to it, while the other had red streaks running around the edge.

“Found them while hunting. Found this one first.” He indicated the blue stone. “Reminded me of Jule eyes. Took a long time to find one for Kay eyes. Keep them safe in fire.”

“Let it cool before you pick it up,” Katey said. Julia had been reaching for hers, but pulled her hand back with a sheepish smile. “It’s very sweet.”

They stayed in the cave a while longer, and Katey started to show him how to read the book she gave him.

“We’d better be going,” she said after a while.

“Do you have to?” the dragon asked.

“Do we have to?” Julia echoed.

“Mom and Dad will get worried if we’re gone too long. I’ll come back tomorrow to teach you more reading, okay?”

He hung his head sadly. “Okay.”

“Bye,” Julia said, giving him a hug.

They were just outside the cave when he spoke again.

“Kay?” he asked, a tired note to his voice. They turned to see him curled up in a ball next to the fire, watching them longingly.

“Yeah?”

“Next time you bring gifts… could you bring me a name?”

She hesitated before answering. “I’m sure your mother will give you a name when she gets back.” According to Julia, Ruby had said names were very important to dragons, but Julia couldn’t explain why. She was worried that naming the baby dragon might cause problems when Ruby finally returned.

“Will she be back soon?”

“I hope so, but we’ll always be here for you… And if she’s not back by your first birthday, I’ll give you a name. How’s that sound?”

The dragon yawned. “I’d like that.”

Julia’s Dragon (Older Edition)

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Erin burst into giggle as Katey grabbed her. Apparently the only thing she found funnier than running around the living room was when her mother invariably picked her up.

Katie’s phone rang, and she dropped the giggling child onto the sofa.

“It’s Auntie Jewels,” she told Erin before answering. “Hey, Julia-”

“Hi, Auntie Jewels!” Erin shouted.

“Hey, Katey. Um… you busy?”

“What’s wrong?”

“What? No, nothing’s wrong. I… I just need your help with something.”

“Come on, spill.” Katey started to pace.

“It’s… I wasn’t supposed to have to do this part.”

“This part of what, Julia? What’s going on?”

A heavy silence filled the air. Even Erin became quiet.

“Are you still there?”

“Yeah, I just… It’s easier to show you. Can you come out to Cook’s Ravine? Like now?”

“Now? I can’t. Jeremy’s out of town, and I need to get Erin’s dinner ready.”

Julia swore. “Food. I didn’t even… Do you have any raw meat? Like hamburger patties or something? I’ll pay you back.”

“I’m sorry, Julia, I can’t-”

Please.” There was desperation in her voice. “You can bring Erin with you. I can’t do this on my own.”

Katey pulled over to the side of the road near where Julia was waiting. Why here, she didn’t know. The road ran alongside the woods for miles, and there was nothing noticeable about this particular spot.

“Oh good,” Julia said, running over. “You made it.”

“You’d better tell me what’s going on, Julia.” Katie thrust a plastic bag at her sister. “And why you needed raw meat, of all things.”

The anxiety seemed to melt away from Julia and she smiled. “Trust me. It’ll be simpler if you just see it for yourself. It’s not far.”

“You’re pushing it, Julia.” But Julia was already helping her niece out of the car seat. Erin gave her a sloppy kiss and hugged her neck.

“Heya, squirt. Wanna see something really neat?”

“Yeah!” Erin said, delighted. “Can I, Mommy?”

“Fine, let’s get this over with.”

Julia led them down into the woods. The hill became steeper as the drew near the ravine that cut through the middle of the forest. Katey found herself grabbing branches more and more in order to keep her footing. Julia, however, walked as casually as she would down a sidewalk. Her balance didn’t even seemed threatened by Erin’s constant twisting as she stared at the various wonders a forest had to offer.

“It’s right in here,” Julia said, stopping in front a large rock outcropping. With her free hand, Julia pushed away some of the vines that covered it, revealing a hollow that lead into the hill. With a mischievous smile, she ducked inside.

Katey might have turned around and left, just to deny Julia the pleasure of surprising her, if Julia wasn’t carrying her daughter. Instead, she followed them into the cave.

It was warm inside, despite the crisp autumn weather. In the back of the cave Julia and Erin knelt beside a fire pit. In the middle of the ashes and glowing embers was a large, black rock. There were cracks running along it, that reflected the orange light of the embers, making it look like they were glowing themselves.

With a sharp crackling noise, another crack suddenly appeared on the stone. A moment later, another appeared, then another.

“Looks like we made it just in time,” Julia said.

“Will you please tell me what’s going on now?” Katey asked. She glanced momentarily at her sister, but found she couldn’t keep her eyes off of the strange rock.

“Mommy!” Erin said, also staring at it in fascination. “Auntie Jewels said it’s a dragon egg!”

Julia’s Dragon (Revised)

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I’ve received some feedback on Julia’s Dragon (this week’s prompt is not unrelated), so I’ve done some revision. My primary aim was to make Julia’s age feel more consistent, but I’ve also done some basic line editing that will hopefully make the writing read a bit better.

“Do we have any sheep?” Julia asked casually the moment she walked in the door.

“Hang up your coat,” Katey called out. “And I’m Pretty sure we’re fresh out,” 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, munching on 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.”

“This is important.”

Of course it was, Katey thought. “Look, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on.”

Julia looked around the kitchen for eavesdroppers. “This is an emergency, okay?” she said in a deadly serious voice. “She said I could tell someone if it was an emergency, only you can’t tell anybody, either. Promise?”

“Who told you this? Did something happen at school?”

“Promise first.”

Katie had a feeling she might regret this, but she raised a hand. “All right, I promise I won’t tell anyone. Now spill.”

“Come on, I’ll show you.”

A few moments later, Katey was being pulled through the woods behind their house. 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.

“Ruby told me how to look after it. I’ve been setting it on fire twice a day.”

“Who’s Ruby?” Katey asked. “Wait, you’ve been starting fires? You’re going to burn the forest down.

Julia gave her the patronizing look only a child can manage. “I’m not gonna burn down the forest. It’s way in the back, and we cleared out any leaves and stuff that could catch.”

She pulled Katey sharply to the left. A large oak tree stood over a rocky hollow, its roots forming a curtain.

“But she didn’t tell me what to do if it started hatching. She was supposed to be back by now.” She stepped between the roots easily. Katey had to duck and her hair got caught.

“Julia, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Katey said, trying to pull her hair free. “Before what hatched?”

“Her egg,” Julia said.

Katey managed to untangle her hair from the roots 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.

Julie stood near the back, pointing at a large, black egg. It sat in a pile of ashes. Several large cracks glowed brightly in the dim light. Even as Katey watched, more cracks appeared.

Pieces of egg shell fell away as a small green head broke free. It was covered in some viscous goop, that seemed to be evaporating quickly into a heady mist.

The baby dragon swung its head back and forth, searching. Its 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. Do you think it will mind cow?”

Julia’s Dragon

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“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.”