“Hey Aden!” Rebecca opened the door to Aden’s lair and looked inside. Aden, in dragon-form, had his tail wrapped around Jason like a constrictor. His bottom jaw was unhinged, and he was towering over Jason and about to bite down. When his eyes met Rebecca’s, his mouth immediately clamped shut and the tip of his tail patted Jason on the head gently.
“We were only playing,” Aden explained.
“PUT HIM DOWN!” Rebecca howled, storming in and pulling Aden away from Jason. “No eating family!”
“All right, so I play with my food, I’m sorry,” Aden apologized and bowed to Rebecca. “I’ll try to use better manners in the future.”
Rebecca glared at Aden for another moment. “Jason is part of the family, you do not eat family members!”
“He started it,” Aden gestured with a wing. “He bit me! Then I remembered the immortal words of my late father after Morris, my rookery-mate bit me, my father said ‘bite him back.’ And so upon these wise words is the entire dragon code based.”
“Yes but don’t bite what cannot defend itself in battle, duh,” Rebecca scolded. “Words of the wise, do you ever read?”
“I wasn’t going to swallow,” Aden held a hand over his chest as if swearing. “Just maybe chew on him a little and spit him out. Besides, would you eat him? Look at the youth; he hasn’t had a bath in days! It’s unsanitary I tell you!”
“My parents would kill you if you even hurt a hair on his head.” Rebecca growled angrily, eyes turning black.
“I told you, he started it,” Aden stated. “And I wasn’t going to swallow. You know, ever since I showed up, you folks are no longer apex-predators—and you all seem pretty shook up about it. I’m a dragon; I’m at the top of the foot chain, that’s just the way things go.”
“Yeah, some dragon!” Jason teased, dancing playfully around Aden. “Can’t even fly!”
“Now I told you that in confidence!” Aden snapped, lashing his tail at Jason like a whip, but missing by a few feet and sending up a shower of gold.
Rebecca grabbed Aden’s tail and held it. “Can’t fly?” She stifled a laugh. “Oh very scary, a flightless dragon!”
Aden’s tail flipped up, catapulting Rebecca suddenly into the air. But it caught her in a sitting position, and brought her around to face him while he calmly stretched out on the pile of gold, pinning Jason under a foot.
“I shouldn’t be ashamed of it, I know,” he explained with an exasperated sigh. “I’ve been wanting to fly since before I was hatched, my parents always assured me that I would ‘fly when I was able’. Well it seems now I should be able, and yet I am earth-bound!”
“In other words, flightless dragon.” Rebecca finished with a grin. “That’s like a de-clawed werewolf.”
“De-fanged,” Aden corrected. “It would be like a de-fanged werewolf. Your claws are only used for traction, not combat.”
“Well, whatever, come on,” Rebecca waved. “Let’s teach you to learn how to fly!”
She hopped off Aden’s tale and headed for the door, then paused and turned back around. Jason’s feet were currently sticking out of Aden’s mouth, who was doing his best to look very innocent. He dropped his head and spat the other boy out, then patted the top of his head with his tail.
“Mom’s not gonna like this.”
“We were only playing,” Aden tilted his head down and to the left and made a little circle on the floor with his talon.
Jason looked cautiously to his shoulder, where a very frazzled looking bird was now sitting. It looked around, squawked angrily, and made for the door.
“You need to chew your food better,” Jason scolded.
“Oh really?” Aden grinned mischievously.
“Some one let that bird out,” Rebecca rolled her eyes.
* * *
“Ok,” Rebecca began as soon as they were outside. “What happens when you just flap your wings?”
Experimentally, Aden spread his wings and flapped them once, sending out a huge gust of wind. He flapped again and again, kicking up little whirlwinds of grass clippings and dead leaves.
“Maybe you should try jumping off the roof,” Jason suggested.
With a shrug, Aden quickly scaled the two story house and, flapping his wings as hard as he could, leapt from the highest peak.
And came crashing down to earth.
Aden climbed out of the shallow, dragon-shaped crater and shook himself.
“Are you ok?” Rebecca asked fearfully.
“Quite all right,” Aden bowed gracefully. “Not a scratch on me. The lawn, however…”
The normally well-manicured grass was torn up and filled with large gouges, along with a large depression where the bulk of Aden’s body had landed.
“Oh, Dad will never notice,” Rebecca waved. “And even if he does, he’ll never figure out what made that dent.”
“How about a running start?” Jason suggested.
Aden nodded and began to move. Down on all fours, starting in that floppy leg-over-leg style, then switching finally to a more traditional gate. Wings flapping furiously the whole way.
After racing back and forth a few times, he finally shook his head unhappily.
“Well it seems to me,” Rebecca said thoughtfully, scratching her chin. “It seems to me you were just getting some lift, but you weren’t quite moving fast enough to get into the air. What we need is a way to get you going faster.”
As she spoke, her eyes fell on the family car sitting peacefully in the driveway.
“Bingo,” she smiled.
Joshua and Lily were down the road, enjoying a romantic picnic in the arboreal garden, having left the kids alone under the assumption that they would be ok for a few hours by themselves.
This was, of course, an incorrect assumption.
Rebecca found the keys where her father had left them in the ignition, and hopped in over the side of the convertible. While she technically wasn’t ‘allowed’ to drive by anyone’s standards, she had already figured out most of the mechanics. This time of day there was zero traffic on their quiet, secluded street, so all she really had to do was not run into anything.
“Isn’t dad gonna get mad?” Jason asked as Rebecca carefully put on her seatbelt and turned the wheel a few times experimentally.
“Probably,” Rebecca replied. She reached up to adjust the rearview mirror, not entirely sure what she was adjusting it to do, but adjusting all the same.
“But you don’t even know how to drive!” Jason insisted.
“How hard could it be?” Rebecca waved. “Ok, Aden, you hold on to the outside, Jason, stay here and watch how he does!”
Very carefully, almost scientifically, Rebecca managed to back the car out of the driveway, and get it more or less aligned with the straight road.
“Ok,” she said calmly. “I’m going to drive really, really fast, and Aden, you just hold your wings out and try to flap them. When you feel yourself lifting up, just let go.”
“Got it,” Aden nodded, gripping the sides of the car hard enough to warp the metal.
Carefully, Rebecca put the car into reverse and let it roll out of the driveway, she turned the wheel, surprised that it made the car go a different direction than she was expecting, and finally got out into the middle of the street.
Rebecca jammed her foot down on the accelerator and felt the car fly forward, out of control.
She was dimly aware as the nearby houses wiped past that this had probably been not as good of an idea as it seemed like in the beginning. He foot groped blindly for the stopping mechanism, but it was already too late.
The car rammed almost full-force into a fire-hydrant, completely mangling the front end and sending a massive geyser of water spewing into the air.
Joshua, however, had apparently found time to equip the car with inertial dampeners, so not only was Rebecca completely uninjured by the crash, she didn’t even feel it. Just very suddenly the car was stopped, and she was staring in horror at the devastation.
Then her head swiveled slowly sideways and she saw Joshua and Lily coming out of the garden, holding the picnic basket between them and staring at her in stunned disbelief.
“Uhhh… hi, Mom and Dad!” Rebecca called excitedly. “I came to pick you up!”
* * *
“What do you think you're doing?! You're freaking fourteen, you're not meant to drive yet! IF YOU EVER DO! You're not driving! That’s final! Never, ever will you drive as long as you live under my roof you will not drive!”
Rebecca winced as her mother finished ranting. She’d been waiting for it all afternoon, though Lily was too busy hyperventilating to form actual words.
It was nightfall by the time the fire department, with a brigade of fire trucks and cherry pickers, finally managed to cut Aden free of the tree he’d landed in. The flight had lasted only a few seconds, according to Jason, and Aden was stuck good. He struggled and fought and only got himself even more tangled in the branches. Finally, wimpering and feeling very embarrassed, he waited while Joshua called for help.
“I want you to know,” he was saying to his rescuers. “That this is precisely as undignified as it looks.”
Meanwhile, on the ground, Lily was surrounded by a cluster of her cop friends. Most of them were off-duty by now and hanging around to watch the spectacle, but a few were still there to take down a report of the incident.
“I gotta tell ya,” Chief Roar commented. “I’m positive this is illegal, but I can’t for the life of me think of what laws its breaking.”
The fire truck swung Aden away from the tree and lowered him gently back to the pavement. They’d had to improvise a harness out of truck tie-down straps and fire hosses, and couldn’t free Aden from it quickly enough. He tore a few of the hosses and looked very apologetic, sitting quietly and waiting for the men to finish before sulking over to where Jason and Rebecca waited.
“There isn’t too much damage,” Roar concluded. “The tree and the hydrant were on public land, the rest is yours. Normally there’d be a fine but… I think I can pull a few strings, get the kids some community service instead.”
“Lots of community service,” Lily retorted. “The more the better!”
“Sure, sure, punish the kids,” Roar laughed. “Honestly, there was nothing criminal here. They weren’t trying to cause any damage. With that monster, if they were trying, then may God have mercy on our souls!”
Jason was trying his best to look uninvolved, while Rebecca stood beside her father, wrapped in a blanket and watching the firemen free Aden.
“I liked that car,” Joshua commented. “That car was older than you.”
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca apologized.
“I spent a looooot a time working on that car,” Joshua stated.
“So how long am I grounded for?” Rebecca asked dejectedly.
“That depends,” Joshua replied. “Do you believe in reincarnation?”
Aden finally lumbered over, then pointed an accusing talon at Rebecca.
“It was all the girl’s fault,” he stated. “The whole thing was her idea.”
“HEY!” Rebecca snapped. “He tried to eat Jason!”
“Kids, kids,” Joshua waved. “You’re both grounded for a ridiculously long period of time. There’s no reason to argue blame; if it makes you feel any better, I blame both of you equally. Now go to your respective rooms while I sit in my ruined car and have a good cry.”
As Joshua wandered off, Rebecca turned fiercely to Aden and scowled.
“Why’d you have to sell me up the river like that?” she snapped.
“Would you prefer I make an ill-conceived attempt at shouldering the blame?” Aden replied. “Chivalry is beautiful, but the whole ‘take the blame for the girl’ thing is clichéd. How about I owe you one?”
“What?” Rebecca blinked.
“Dragons have very looooooong memories,” Aden explained, dragging out the O. “I will not forget this.”
Rebecca smiled and held the blanket with one arm while she hugged Aden with the other. Her short little limb barely made it halfway around his thick neck, but she squeezed anyway, and Aden hugged her back with his huge dragon arms.