This story is by Gillian Matchett and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bradley had just finished his homework in his mom’s office at the National Wildlife Park when her cell phone chimed with a text message: “The wyverns are starting to nest”
His mother and Rory, another Park ranger, abandoned the global report on unicorn poaching they were working on, closed their laptops and got up. The animals in the Park – from the cave dragons to the miniature chimeras and even the pegasi – took second place to the endangered golden wyverns at that moment.
“Can I come, Mom?” asked Bradley. He’d never seen a wyvern up close because there weren’t any in the Park. “Are they in the same place as last year?”
“Of course,” replied Rory as they went down the corridor to the storeroom, “That’s the whole problem, their stupid instinct to go back to where they hatched.”
“I know, but I thought maybe they’d learned after what happened last year.” The nesting site was on a publicly accessible beach and every single egg had been dug up and most likely sold on the black market.
At the storeroom his mom pointed to a pile of plastic crates and spades that were slightly separated from the rest of the nature conservation equipment. As they each grabbed a load, Bradley asked, “So you’re going to do something to protect the eggs from egg thieves?”
“More than that,” said Rory and gestured dramatically with a spade, “I call it Operation Moving Day!”
“And I call it time to go,” said Bradley’s mom, “Less theatrics, more packing!”
“Yes, ma’am!” replied the younger ranger with a mock salute.
When everything was packed into the back of the pickup and they were on the road to the Park gate, Rory continued his explanation. “So after last year’s disaster, we hatched a plan – hatched, get it? – to move the eggs to a new site within the safety of the Park, so they’ll hatch here – ”
“And then they’ll have their own babies here!”
“Well, we hope so,” put in his mother as they drove out of the Park onto the public road, “No one’s ever tried anything like this before.”
“But why couldn’t we just bring the wyverns here?” asked Bradley, “Then they’d lay their eggs here in the first place.”
Rory answered, “Because they’d still keep trying to go back to their own hatching site, they’d probably hurt themselves trying to get through the forcefield around the Park.”
“Right, got it. It’s only the next generation that will nest here.”
At the beach they gently dug up the eggs and put them into the insulated crates. As Bradley helped, he wondered what it would be like to have one of his own – not as a pet, obviously, that would be cruel, everyone knew wyverns hated captivity. But he’d made friends with a grumpy hippocampus that thought it was very funny to splash tourists on the viewing platform on the river. It was still wild but it came to greet him every time he went there. Maybe he could have a wyvern like that, maybe he could be the first person to habituate one…? The rangers had been very impressed with the way that the old phoenix allowed him to approach closer than any of them. The head ranger even said he had a gift with animals…
The more he thought about it, the more excited he got about the possibilities. He could just imagine what it would be like, doing his chores around the visitor areas with a wyvern flitting about after him.
And so, while the eggs were being reburied in the riverbank at the Park, Bradley slid one into the pocket of his hoodie.
The next question was where to incubate it, somewhere with similar conditions to the riverbank… somewhere like the plant pot in the entrance to the Park admin building. It was an aloe, so the soil was sandy and it was in a place that got plenty of sun. He was also pretty sure it didn’t get watered much.
One afternoon after 2 months of surreptitiously checking on the plant pot every time he walked past, Bradley heard a strange chirping sound coming from the entrance hall. He raced out of his mom’s office and came to a halt at the sight of Rory staring at the aloe in shock.
That seemed like a bit of an overreaction, but he’d probably never seen a chirping aloe before, so Bradley didn’t let that dampen his excitement.
“Bradley, did you take one of the wyvern eggs?” Rory asked as the boy carefully uncovered the egg and picked it up. “We need to take it to the others, you can’t keep it.”
His sudden seriousness was jarring. Bradley had never seen him look this distraught, not even that time when their favourite gryphon had died after a territorial fight.
Rory took a breath and said softly, “When I was about your age, I was really keen on dragons and wyverns, and my dad bought me a wyvern egg on the black market.”
The first fracture appeared in the egg shell as the ranger went on, “At first he was really cute, and he imprinted on me immediately like they do with humans when they’re young, but then he got bigger and he started destroying the house, and my dad told me he had to go to a zoo.”
Bradley was horrified. Of course, there were plenty of great zoos, but few had enough space to keep flying creatures without giving them claustrophobia.
“Rory, you know wyverns can’t survive in a zoo!”
“Oh, they can survive, that’s the problem. They can ‘survive’ in the sense of not dying for an awfully long time. I wasn’t even allowed to visit him because he hurt himself trying to get through his cage’s force field to me.”
They both looked at the egg, where more cracks were appearing. Rory continued, “So he just lost interest in life, he’s almost stopped eating. Being a reptile, he can go for ages without food but he’s barely there, he just sits and stares into space. It was more than 15 years ago and apparently he’s still slowly dying, basically of a broken heart.”
Bradley just stared at him. It was a terrible story, but that didn’t mean it would happen to his wyvern, did it?
“Please Bradley, before it finishes hatching and imprints on you. Do you want to ruin its life?”
He hesitated as more cracks appeared in the egg shell. What if Rory was right, what kind of life would this creature have? What if he didn’t manage to be the first person to habituate a wyvern? What if he failed completely and he condemned it to the same tragic fate of Rory’s pet?
Slowly, very reluctantly, Bradley nodded and held out the egg to the ranger, who refused to take it. He took the boy to the storeroom where they placed the egg carefully into an insulated crate and closed the lid. Without another word they went out to the pickup, and Bradley sat with the crate on his lap while Rory drove down the gravel road at more than a little over the speed limit to get to the nesting site.
As he swerved onto the ‘Park rangers only’ dirt track to the riverbank, the pickup lurched over a bump in the road. There was a soft thump and a pained squawk from inside the crate and Bradley automatically lifted the lid to check if the hatchling was okay. He caught a glimpse of gold and blue before Rory reached over and slammed the lid back without taking his eyes off the road. “Don’t let it see you!”
“Did it see you?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes… No… I don’t know!”
Bradley felt like he was going to cry as they arrived at the nesting site. Rory put the crate down a few metres away from where the other eggs were – fortunately they hadn’t started hatching yet. He tipped the crate carefully on its side, facing away from himself, with the lid unfastened so that the baby wyvern would be able to push its way out when it was ready, and quickly returned to the pickup.
As they got back to the Park office, Bradley said quietly, “Please don’t tell my mom about this.”
Despite everything, it seemed he’d got away with it.
Until the next day, when he was walking through the admin block entrance to his mom’s office after school, and a flash of gold caught his eye. The baby wyvern launched itself straight at him from where it was waiting in the aloe plant pot and Bradley instinctively put out his hands to catch it.
They just stared at each other, Bradley with growing horror and the tiny golden reptile with adoring blue eyes… so innocent and trusting, and completely ignorant of the fate that was ultimately waiting for it.