The following piece of work is protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Any similarities between people and places within this piece of fiction are accidental. The place of Ecclestone is fictional.
It wasn’t a stone.
Mallory jerked awake, as a rock fell from her desk and onto the carpet. Late afternoon sunlight sliced through the blinds at the end of her bed, draped over her red socks and the mottled grey surface of the stone, ridged in leaf-like designs.
What was that? She pressed a hand against her chest and scrubbed at the sleep clogging her oceanic eyes. Shuffling up against the headboard, as her college work slid over her thighs and onto the floor in a shower of paper, she scrutinised the pens, artwork and books scattered across her desk, nothing else had shifted. Slowly she placed a sock clad foot on the floor, straining her ears for the familiar groans and mumbles of her parents pottering around their cottage. A fire-alarm-like ringing filled her ears.
Nothing moved, books remained sentinel on the shelves covering two-thirds of her room, the nook for her desk cast in shadows and the chair pushed in neatly. The oak wardrobe closed for once, the sleeve of a blue jumper caught between the lips and her trainers from the morning shift in front of the door like she’d left them two hours ago. Slowly she bent and gathered up her work, setting it on her bed, keeping an eye on the rock.
It wobbled. Scrich…scrich, scrich. The teeth-clenching sound of nails dragging over stone filled the room, as the rock rolled across her beige carpet and bumped into her toes. A misshapen oval the size of her foot and twice the width in diameter, the rough texture pulled on her sock as it rocked and shuddered. She set her other foot down with another violent push from inside, caging it between her ankles. Her jeans dragged up mid-calf, exposing her skin to the warm stone, as something moved within. Like something wanted out.
‘Mal? You home?’ The dull clamour of her father returning for lunch barely reached Mallory over the strike of her heart, threatening to climb out of her throat. ‘You’re not asleep, are you?’
Her tongue clicked against the roof of her mouth, as she swallowed, watching a section bulge, cracks appeared between the ridges. What’s inside? Is it dangerous? An alien? Her fingertips and temples throbbed, heart pounding her lungs against her ribs. Air wheezed between her lips, as the cracks deepened and the bump popped like a bubble, the shard sliding down the side and onto the carpet. Viscous liquid, a red on the brink of black, welled in its wake and pooled on the floor, staining her socks; she flinched at the warmth and grabbed onto her duvet, willing herself still.
One piece down, another soon followed; a chip the size of her palm broken off, as the membrane split along with it, the slime sloshed against the innards of the stone. Something wriggled. Mallory gnawed on her bottom lip, from the depths a clawed paw appeared.
A dragon. Before her, the snout weaselled its way through the hole, followed by its other forepaw, then its shoulders and stopped. A gargling whine emitted from its throat, as a bubble swelled and popped on its nostril. The scales were as black as night, wet and membrane caught on ivory horns the size of her thumbnail, protruding from its head. Eyebrow ridges flexed, as the dragonet’s eyelids cracked open a fraction and revealed the barest hint of green before falling shut.
Hysteria flooded the pit of her stomach and pressed against the back of her throat. She wanted to throw up, scream, cry, do something, whilst the little creature clawed and whined at the shell stuck around its stomach. What was she supposed to do? Family and education could only prepare her so much for life’s U-turns, but a dragon? What was she meant to do with that? A keening whimper escaped it and she swooped down, gently prising a piece away with her thumbnail. The soft and damp scales brushed against her knuckles, as the dragonet slumped and wrapped its forepaws around her wrist.
Mallory froze. Her auburn hair hung around them, shielding the hatchling from the sunlight and dragged through the puddle of mucus covering her feet. Several inches from her chin, its nose tentatively scented the air and an eye fully opened. A kaleidoscope of green swirled in its iris and the oval pupil flexed, struggling to focus on her face. Ivory claws dug into her wrist, as a soft puff of hot air teased her eyelashes and the stubby snout nuzzled the back of her hand, its eyelid drooping.
Her jaw ached, as she sucked in a breath between her teeth; the copper aroma of blood and sea salt filled her lungs. Carefully, she eased another piece of the shell off, tossing it onto the growing pile. Now with enough room, she twisted her hand and gently wrapped her fingers around the dragonling’s middle. Its heart beat against her palm like a hummingbird’s wings, warm tingles racing from her fingertips, up her arm, and into her chest. Unable to stop the grin forming, she eased the dozing creature out of its shell and onto her thighs.
‘Knock! Knock!’ The bedroom door opened, as her head snapped up and met her father’s dumfounded stare.
‘H-Hi, Dad.’ Mallory licked her lips and encircled the dragonet in her arms. ‘Don’t freak out.’
‘Freak out? Why would I freak out?’ He shook his head rapidly, without taking his eyes off of the dragonet. ‘I won’t freak out. Promise.’
‘Okay… You know the rock from Wales? Turns out it wasn’t actually a rock.’ The colour drained from his face and she hastily added: ‘Dad, sit down before you fall down, yeah?’
Jeremy stepped forward, caught his foot on her trainers and stumbled his way to the desk chair. ‘Well…’ He sat like a string-less puppet and combed a hand through his strawberry-blonde hair, unable to take his eyes off of the creature on her lap. ‘Are you sure that’s a, uh…’
‘Dragon?’ She nodded and said, ‘woke up and found him…her, whatever, clawing its way out of the stone. Funny, huh?’ She curled her toes and nudged the shell towards him, running her thumbs over the dragonet’s damp wings tucked flush against his flanks. ‘Could you get rid of that? Kind of makes me want to throw up Mum’s pancakes.’
‘Oh, right, yes, yes, of course.’ Jeremy leapt to his feet then hesitated, half bent over. ‘Wait, it’s not going to give me a disease, is it?’ His blue eyes widened, wrinkles appearing on his brow. ‘Your mum will kill me.’
Mallory jerked her chin at her ruined socks and mucus smeared across her arms. ‘Well if it kills you then it’ll kill me first,’ she joked. Her fingers shook, as she laced them together, the dragonling half-rising and draping its head over one elbow and its slender tail over the other. Her nerves plummeted, as warmth flushed her veins and curled her lips.
Jeremy wiped his hands on his work jeans, before grabbing the gloves stuffed into his back pocket. His face scrunched up and the shell held at arms-length, he promptly dumped it in the bin. ‘Right, well, you need to clean yourself up and I’ll try lifting whatever…that is from the carpet.’ He loomed in her corner like an ungainly bear, unable to tear his eyes off of the stain. ‘Meet in the kitchen for a cuppa in thirty?’
‘Yeah, okay.’ She gently manoeuvred the hatchling into the crook of her arm, grabbing a fresh pair of jeans and vest from the wardrobe. On her way past her father, she gently nudged him with her hip. ‘Try not to get any diseases whilst I’m gone.’
He mustered up a smile, glancing at the creature in his daughter’s arms. ‘I’ll try my best.’ Then with a last look at the mess on her carpet, Mallory left him to his shell-shocked mumblings.
A dragon indeed…
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