“Jacob come here I found what I want.”
A brave fly landed on my arm, and I instantly wished I could shake my skin like a horse and instead settled for shaking my whole body as I made my way to Louan’s huddled figure. The dim lighting made it hard to see her face, but I could hear the smile in her voice as she coaxed the creature in the cage forward, “Come here little fella. I won’t hurt you.”
I’ll never forget the sound that answered Louan’s plea. Strong, clear notes pierced the air and for a moment it felt so happy, like I was at my favorite fishing pond, and then the pitch wavered and dropped almost dropping me my knees in grief as I remembered the day my grandma died. Louan stared up at me in the dismal light as I followed the track of a single tear passing down her sunburnt cheek. Urgently, she whispered, “We have to save him.”
“Louan we don’t even know what he is.” I said clutching her arm attempting to draw her away from the cage and this awful pet shop.
“Jacob Mitchell you take your hands off me, or I’ll scream!” Louan squirmed out of my grasp and pouted in my direction.
“Are you sure you turned twelve today?” I scoffed sticking out my chest a full two months older and wiser.
Louan clutched her stomach and doubled over in fake laughter and then stopped abruptly glaring at me as she said, “I did turn twelve today, and you promised I could have any gift I wanted.”
This statement wasn’t entirely true, but Louan had a way of getting what she wanted and convincing you that it was your idea all along. Not because she was pretty, she reminded me of my neighbor's hound dog, not because she was smart, she always has to copy my math homework, not because she’s nice, she often yells at me or whoever happens to be near her, but for some mysterious reason Louan gets what Louan wants. As I stood facing her with my arms crossed I knew that I was going to lose this argument too, but for the sake of my pride and good sense, I had to pretend I wouldn’t budge. A trilling sound came from the cage interrupting our standoff and Louan dropped to her knees cooing at the cage door, “Mommy didn’t forget about your little friend.”
I took a step closer to get a better look at the creature that held Louan spellbound, and a wave of odor struck my nostrils. I pinched my nose wondering how Louan could possibly tolerate her close proximity to the animal and walked to the front of the shop desperate for cleaner air. I noticed the shop owner scowling as Louan noisily drug the metal cage to the sales counter. Louan looked at me expectantly and said, “Pay the man Jacob.”
I reached into my pocket for the wad of bills moist with the sweat that had seeped through my pocket along with the few coins that made up my life savings this summer.
“Twenty-five dollars kid, no returns, no exchanges.”
I gulped. That would leave only two dollars and thirty-five cents left over. So much for the fishing pole I’d had my eye on since spring. Louan blasted me with a grin that could charm the bark off a tree, and I felt my hand release the money onto the countertop. The shop owner’s frown deepened as he unraveled the wet bills and stashed them in the register. I accepted the receipt and picked up the cage eager to leave the smelly shop forever.
My feet made little puffs of dust as I hurried along the road.
“Wait for me, Jacob!”
I skidded to a stop and waited for Louan to catch up. Her dark curls bounced up and down as she held onto her pants with one hand keep them from sliding off her scrawny body. Panting a little when she reached my side and giving her pants a final upwards tug she asked, “Why are you in such a hurry?
The cage was snatched from my grasp, and Louan plopped it on the ground before I could utter a word opened the door and reached inside. A blur of color darted up Louan’s arm and circled her neck before finally settling on her shoulder trilling happily. The creature was no bigger than a bottle of Tabasco sauce with eyes that glowed with golden curiosity. His long pink tongue flicked out as if tasting the air, and then he leapt of Louan’s shoulder in a twisted spiral and stretched out leathery wings. Louan waved her arm and laughed in delight while I felt sweat break out on my forehead.
“What did you do that for?” I asked torn between running and staying to help my friend. Louan looked at me with a sly smile and gave a shrill whistle. The creature hovered mid flight as if it understood then dove straight at Louan only to land at her feet. Along the ridge of its back white tufts grew and while waiting for further instruction the animal began grooming the fluff. Louan stooped to caress her new pet and said, “See no harm done.”
“Louan your mom is going to kill me! You know she said don’t bring back anything alive.” I said
Louan’s home was the local petting zoo according to her mother, and she warned me pointedly to avoid the pet shop as we walked out the door amid the cats and dogs swirling around our feet to find a birthday present.
“No she won’t because she’s not going to find out.” Louan declared.
Louan fiddled with a chain around the creature’s neck smiling when the clasp came undone, and it fell into her cupped palm. “Look at this Jacob. It was around Fluffy’s neck.” She said.
“Who’s Fluffy? I asked as Louan dropped the chain into my hand. Using my thumb to wipe away the grime encrusted on the crimson gem sent a tingling sensation through my hand, and I heard Louan scream as we both stared up at an enormous dragon.
“Thank you for finally releas-s-sing me.”
Stepping in front of Louan, I demanded, “What do you want?
Fluffy looked down at me and lashed his tail clearing a wide swath of weeds from the side of the dirt road and let out a series of hissing breaths, and I realized he was laughing.
“I wanted to thank you little human.”
Louan was standing at my side clutching my arm and asked, “Is that really you, Fluffy?”
Fluffy sat down and gave us what I hoped was a grin, and he nodded.
“I was tr-r-rapped in that tiny body for s-s-so long. Now I can r-r-return home to my Kingdom." Fluffy lowered his head to our level and asked, “Will you come with me?”
“Yes!” Louan answered for the both of us dancing with excitement. Fluffy dipped a shoulder to the ground inviting us to climb aboard his back. Quickly, Louan scrambled up and said, “Come on Jacob get up here.”
“Are you crazy, Louan?”
I was jerked off my feet and deposited on Fluffy’s back with a careless flick of his tail and within moments, I lost my baseball cap as we soared through the air. Louan squealed with delight as we twisted and turned. Each downward flap of Fluffy’s wings loosened my grip on the furry spines until with a final wrench I slipped off and fell like a stone. I closed my eyes knowing that this was going to be the end. I heard Louan screaming my name and landed with a thud. Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw the curtains from my bedroom stirring in the breeze above me and felt the floor cold and hard against my back. I heard Louan call outside my window again.
“Jacob, get up it’s my birthday!”