This story is by Gwendolyn Grace and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“Cal!” I hissed, glancing hurriedly around. “Get over here! Now!” I jumped out of my car and motioned to the figure in the middle of the road.
The dragon grinned and glided over.
“What’s the rumpus, Jeanne?”
“Cal, you idiot!” I hauled him by the scruff of his scaly neck into the protection of the car’s shadow. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged. “You woke me up early. And I got claustrophobic.”
A car approached in the pre-dawn grey, slowing as it passed.
“Zounds!” I shoved Cal under the car, and pretended to be inspecting my wheel. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Zounds?” Cal blinked an inky-black eye. “Seriously?”
“Just get in the car before someone sees you.” I looked up as another car slowed as it passed, and thanked my lucky stars as it went by.
Cal shrank to dog size and hopped in the front seat.
I jumped in the still-running car and accelerated. “Cal, I told you. You can’t come with me today.”
“What’s different about today?”
I ignored him and held out a pen with a string on it.
Cal growled. “Already? But it’s barely light out!”
“And people can still see inside my car,” I said.
Cal sighed and shrank to the size of a salamander. He curled around the pen, his scales morphing until he looked carved from wood. I hung the pen on the rear-view mirror and smiled at him; he puffed a cloud of indignant steam at me.
As I drove, I felt the weight of the envelope in my jacket. A plague on dragons and all ‘extra-normal’ creatures!
I shook my head. “I don’t have time for this.”
Cal moved to stare at me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Stop squirming.”
“You’ve been jittery ever since you wrote that letter-thing last night.”
I glared at him.
“Nothing? Then why are you mad at me? I know you haven’t had coffee yet, but where’s your smile?”
I focused on the road.
“Who were you writing to?”
“You’re breathing harder.”
“I’m late for work,” I muttered.
“Does this have to do with those white pills?”
My hand tightened on the wheel.
“You take them out, stare at them, and then put them back. What are they?”
I looked at the other cars on the road, making sure no one was paying attention to my talking mirror ornament. I avoided the talking mirror ornament’s eyes. “Sleeping pills.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you had trouble sleeping.”
Cal cocked an ear at me, his scales wrinkled in confusion.
“Then why do you always put them back?”
I preoccupied myself with switching lanes. “If… you take too many… you die.”
“So… you were afraid of taking too many?”
There was a sour taste in my mouth. “I wanted to take too many.”
“You what?” Cal untwisted from the pen and dropped to the dashboard.
“Cal! You’ll… you can’t be seen!”
It’s none of your business. I stifled my initial reaction.
A long moment passed. “You know, you’re the only friend I have.” If something were to happen, he had a right to know.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. There was silence again.
“I had other friends before, when I was a cop. The last one died a week ago. Then, I come to C.E.N.C.A. and blow the first job of my career; now everyone at work hates me. My parents divorced and my only other family is my sister Marian, who kicked me out of the house as soon as I was eighteen.
“Except for you, Cal, I’m all alone.”
Cal sat in silence.
“And the letter?”
“It’s my last chance. It’s to my sister. I’m going to see if… we can… work things out. Meet somewhere and talk.”
The lump in my throat grew. Zounds. Keep it together.
Cal contemplated the gear-shift gravely.
“I wouldn’t be here without you, Jeanne.”
I kept my hands on the wheel and fixed my eyes on the road.
“And I know I’m not the only one. Your neighbours always come to you for help. And knowing who you are, I know you’re going to keep helping people.”
If the wheel was a snake, I would have strangled it. Keep it together.
“It might look like you’re alone, but… you’re not. People are going to miss you if you leave. You don’t have to wear a mask. We’ll still love you.”
It was no use. The tears started trickling.
“The world still needs you, Jeanne.”
I’m being comforted by a size-shifting dragon from another dimension.
I managed a slightly hysterical chuckle, wiping away the tears.
“And now you’re going to miss your turn.”
“Quiet.” I sniffed. “No one likes a back-seat dragon.”
The detour to my sister’s house took longer than expected. I placed the letter under the door, not having the courage to speak to her, then sallied off, late, to C.E.N.C.A. – Corporation for Extra-Normal Creatures and Activities. My employers.
Not long after lunch, my phone buzzed.
I snatched it up, unlocked it, and was opening the message before it stopped vibrating. It was from Marian. It said: Hey, let’s get coffee. Tuesday.
I sank back into my chair. It wasn’t much, but at least Marian was willing to work with me on this. There was hope.
Agent Stanton appeared and slapped a file down on my desk.
“Townford! You’re getting another chance at a case. Under my supervision.”
I stared at him. “Really?” Hallelujah! Hello promotion!
I managed to keep a poker face as I opened the file and my chance disintegrated into ash.
There was a picture of a dragon clipped to the top. Below were the words: Wanted: Calernon Ancror, size-shifter. Charged with Arson on Earth-41664. Traitor to the Overlord of the Dimension of Skailorn.
Zounds. My mind flew to the dragon in my car. This was a disaster with a capital D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.
I swallowed, then forced myself to smile at Stanton. “Great. When do we start?”