She was shocked to find her apartment in what she considered complete disarray, although a normal person would only have considered it slightly messy. Denise was an extremely organized person and she was always careful with her expensive belongings. But now, in the middle of her living room, was half of one of her favorite shoes, which had cost her four hundred and seventy nine dollars. When she went into the hallway, there was a slight char mark on the bottom of the wall. In the kitchen, the bottle of honey was lying on the counter with holes in it, honey oozing from the sides. In her guest bedroom there was a slight rip in the pillowcase, and in the dining room a plate was chipped. In the bathroom, he toilet seat was not only open, which would have been unbearable, but actually halfway gone!
If she hadn’t had Tutu with her Denise would have suspected her dog, but as it was she didn’t know what to think. Someone had broken into her house, obviously. As the thought struck her she ran into her bedroom and opened the jewelry box. At first it seemed that no jewelry was missing. But when Denise opened her closet to check on the damage there, she realized something was missing. She had hung up the clothes she was going to wear to a party that night on the inside of her closet door, and with them, a pearl necklace, That necklace was gone. Still carrying Tutu, Denise to call the police as fast as her four inch heels would permit her.
Fortunately she hadn’t looked down. She would not have known what to make of the shiny, pearly, broken eggshells on the floor of her closet.
I didn’t steal anything from that bitch. I didn’t vandalize anything either, the place was like that when I got there. And yeah, I broke in, but only because I heard what sounded like a baby crying. I knew Ms. Strimer doesn’t have a baby, and I’d seen her leave to walk that piece of fluff she calls a dog. And I waited outside the apartment for a minute, but the noises didn’t stop, and I didn’t hear anything else. So what was I supposed to do, leave some abandoned baby alone to die? I don’t think so. So I broke in.
I found the source of the noise nearly as soon as I got inside. I was right. It was a baby. The only thing I was wrong about was that I’d been expecting it to be a baby human. It wasn’t.
The first one I saw, the one that was crying, was sitting in the middle of a charred spot on the hallway carpet. It was just sitting there, same expression as any scared baby or puppy or anything, howling. It wasn’t a puppy, either. It was small, about the size of my thumb, its skin was a kind of metallic green color and its furled wings were a shimmery purple. Each time it took a breath after a long scream, it let out a little flame.
Yes. It was a baby dragon.
I wasn’t scared or anything. I’ve always loved fantasy books, and it was really small, and it had that round cuteness that babies of any species have. And it was really upset. So I went over and picked it up, carefully. I let it sit in my cupped palm and gently stroked it with a finger.
It stopped crying. It let out one last little spark, which burned my finger but not bad enough to matter, and then curled up and went to sleep in my palm.
I stood there marveling at it for a few minutes. Then I started wondering what to do. I couldn’t just stand in someone else’s apartment holding a dragon, and I couldn’t just leave the dragon there, but I wasn’t sure if it would be right to take it home either. And how would I take care of a dragon? But I knew I’d be better at it than Denise Shrimer, so I was just about to leave when I heard the crying sound again, but coming from another room.
So I followed the noise and found another little dragon, trying to torch the bathtub. I searched the house and found four more, six in all. The last two were in the closet, and when I was looking for them I saw the remnants of the necklace. Six pearly little hatched eggs and some silver chain the six pearls had been strung on. So I knew I’d found all the dragons.
Yeah, I admit, I took the eggshells and the chain with me. It’s not that I was trying to make it look like a robbery… but better she be looking for a thief than for something that hatched out of pearls. I was already feeling downright protective of the six little dragons, and I didn’t want anyone looking for them.
I didn’t think about anyone looking for me. I just put the hand holding the dragons in the pocket of my sweatshirt and caught the bus home. The whole bus ride I was terrified that one of the dragons would start crying, and I even thought up an explanation—it was one of those gag birthday cards that make noises when you open them, but it had gotten stuck so it went off randomly. But the dragons stayed quiet the whole ride.
My roommate was spending the night at her boyfriend’s, so I had the apartment to myself. I was glad; I wasn’t sure how I would tell Melissa about the dragons. I thought I should give them some food, but I had no idea what they ate. I tried googling “What do dragons eat,” but all the answers were either for Komodo dragons or had varying answers that seemed to apply more to adult dragons. I made up a plate of everything I could think of, all cut up into tiny pieces—various types of meat, some bread, a squished grape, lettuce, a piece of chocolate (it’s bad for dogs, but they clearly weren’t dogs), I even added a couple live spiders. I put the dragons in front of it and watched to see what they would eat. One went straight for the spiders, and once it had gobbled them, the meat. Another ate the grape and some of the lettuce. Three of them ate a little bit of everything, and the last one, which was the first one I’d picked up, ate only the chocolate. It didn’t seem like enough, so I offered it a Redvine, and, remembering the mess they’d made, some honey, and it ate those too.
I put the dragons in an old fish tank I had sitting around, with some more samples of food and a little shallow dish of water. I didn’t mean to leave them there for long, but I had to go to the bathroom. When I came back in the living room, the food was gone, the tank was sitting on its side, and the dragons were lying peacefully in the corner of my couch. That was my one and only attempt to put them in any kind of box or cage.
I sat down next to them and watched them sleep, then roughhouse around with each other, then sleep more. They were sleeping when I heard the knock on my door. I pulled a blanket over them—I didn’t know if I’d want whoever was here to see them—and opened the door.
Two police officers stood there. “Are you Jessica Rawlitz?”
“Yes, is there a problem?” Could they know about the dragons? Was there anything illegal about dragons?
“You’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will…” They read me my rights, handcuffed me, and took me to the police station.
“I want a lawyer,” I demanded immediately. “I’m not going to say anything without a lawyer. And I need a phone call.”
They gave me a phone. They probably thought I was going to call a lawyer. I called Melissa.
“Hi, Melissa? It’s Jessica. I’ve been arrested. Can you go home and feed my pets? Yes, you heard me correctly. I’ll explain later. Yes, I have pets. I do now. It’s complicated. There’re six of them, and they pretty much eat anything but one only eats sweets. You’ll be a little surprised when you see them, but I promise I’ll explain everything. Okay, and also, once you make sure they’re okay; can you go talk to a bail bondsman? Thanks so much.”
I had to wait in a cell overnight, and I was arraigned the next day. I got a public defender, Ana Clay, who told me I was accused of burglary and grand larceny, which basically meant breaking into Miss Strimer’s house and stealing her pearl necklace. Apparently someone saw the neighbor’s babysitter—that’s me—going into the apartment.
I pleaded not guilty, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. “Your Honor, it wasn’t me, it was baby dragons,” isn’t the best defense, unless you’re trying to go for insanity. Melissa had come through and bailed me out as soon as she could, so I didn’t have to go to jail.
“Okay, so what the hell is going on?” she asked as she drove me home.
“Are the dragons okay?”
“They’re fine. Now you promised an explanation.”
I told her everything. “God, Jessica, what have you gotten yourself into?” was her only reply.
I rushed to the dragons as soon as I got in. It took me a few minutes to find them, as they’d scattered throughout the house, but they were all fine. They seemed to have doubled in size already. My house was less than fine, but it hadn’t burned down or anything. The damage wasn’t really much worse than what a puppy would have done. Plus a few burns on the walls.
“I just can’t believe this,” Melissa said, holding one of the dragons. I was holding another, my favorite, the first one I’d found, and the rest were roughhousing on the couch cushion between us.
“Me neither. Which part?”
“Everything. Dragons, and you getting arrested, and everything.”
“I’m so glad that my being arrested is as much of a surprise to you as dragons. You can be my character witness.”
She laughed. “But seriously, Jessica, what are you going to do? “
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m guilty or not. I mean, I did break in and take the dragons, which are the remnants of the pearl necklace.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“No, but still. I don’t regret it. I mean, we are holding baby dragons. Magical, mythical, fire-breathing dragons. That is way worth getting arrested for.”
“Okay, but is it worth spending the next five or ten years of your life in jail for?”
“Does it matter? It’s not like I can say, okay, I don’t want to go to jail, I’ll give up the dragons. Telling the truth would just make more problems, I don’t want to go to a mental institution either.”
“I guess you’re right,” Melissa agreed, petting the dragon absentmindedly.
The prosecutor tried to get me to plead guilty, but none of the offers were good enough. My lawyer said that she tried to get him to agree to a plea to vandalism and community service, but since Ms. Shrimer was dating the mayor, he wouldn’t go for anything less than serious prison time. And I couldn’t just agree to that. So I’d have to have a trial.
By the day of my trial, the dragons had grown to about the size of my fist. I’d named them all. My favorite was Sweettooth, and the others were Sunflower, Hunter, Trickster, Puppy, and Victoria (Melissa named her). I know, not very draconian names, but they seemed right.
Dragons are surprisingly easy to sneak into a courtroom. Well, they’re not metal or anything. You might think it was stupid of me to bring them to my trial, but I wanted them there. They were my moral support, and my luck. I’d explained to them that they needed to keep silent and hidden and told them exactly what was going to happen. I think they understand most of what I tell them. Anyway, they stayed in my pockets and sleeves for the prosecutor’s opening statement, and my lawyer’s. It wasn’t until the prosecutor was questioning his first witness, right after he’d had her identify me, that anything happened.
“Can you identify the woman you saw going into the apartment in this courtroom?” he asked dramatically.
“Please point her out to the court.” She pointed at me, then looked away. The prosecutor said, even more dramatically, “Let the record reflect that the witness has identified the defendant.” He looked right at me, and it was then that Sweettooth poked his head out from my collar.
The prosecutor screamed. His first scream was just a wordless shriek. His second scream was, “A dragon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” He pointed.
The whole room was staring at him, but they turned to look at me when he pointed. By then I’d scooped Sweettooth into my pocket, so everyone assumed the prosecutor had just had a mental breakdown. The judge called the room to order, a bailiff escorted the prosecutor away, and the court was adjourned for the day.
The next day, the prosecution was represented by a young woman from the prosecutor’s office, who said that Mr. DeZone had checked himself into a mental institution and the prosecution was dropping the charges in this case. There was some paperwork and stuff, but I got to go home a free woman.
As I was walking out of the courtroom, my lawyer said quietly to me, “What cute dragons. How old are they, six months?”
I turned to her. “You mean you know it’s real?”
“Sure. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything. Anyway, hearing that that jackass is in an insane asylum is the highlight of my month.”