Here is the final version of the short story. Later, I’m going to look at turning this into a novel, but for now I want to see if I can get the short story published.
By Jason Andrew
Abigail had a secret. Thankfully, her father smoked, which covered up the dragon scent, and her mother didn’t believe in such things.
It had all started the day after her family moved to the Queen Anne district of Seattle from San Diego. As the moving truck pulled into the driveway of their quaint, freshly painted brownstone, Abigail noticed an old woman briskly jaunt past their new home.
Neither her parents nor her older brother Bill noticed the strange, old woman carrying a tiny parasol while wearing a large black, floppy hat with a red bow.
Abigail had a fondness for old hats; the fancier the better. She had a second hand coffee table photo book devoted to antique Victorian hats. Her mother, the psychology professor, considered it an odd obsession for a twelve year old girl and theorized that Abigail’s obsession with the Victorian era represented a desire for abnegation of puberty and sexual desire.
Aside from the hat and the parasol, the old woman seemed odd and out of place to Abigail. Perhaps, she thought, it was because the old woman looked content and confident.
Abigail had wanted an old lace Victorian dress, much like this old woman was wearing, for Halloween; but her mother refused on the grounds that it would send mixed gender issues to her friends. She didn’t need to worry, Abigail didn’t have many friends.
It’s not that Abigail was mean-spirited or actively disliked; she merely enjoyed her own company. At a very young age, her parents encouraged her to read and it was the one thing Abigail actually listened to them about. Conversely, Bill was very gregarious and constantly involved in sports, cars, video games, and his friends. As a result, Bill was considered the well-adjusted child while Abigail was the one that needed the extra attention.
The old woman in black nodded to Abigail, who quickly glanced away, not waiting to be caught gapping at her new neighbor. Old woman was the wrong term to think of her, Abigail realized. It seemed somehow disrespectful. “Mom, who is that?” Abigail asked.
Abigail’s mother craned her neck to face where she was pointing and adjusted her glasses. She was tall and thin, as though spread a bit too thin. Her name was Irene, but secretly Abigail and Bill referred to her as the Professor. “I don’t know, dear. I haven’t had a chance to meet her yet,” She admitted. “Steven?”
Abigail’s father, who had begun preparing to move boxes, grunted in reply. “Do you know who that older lady is?” Her mother asked.
Abigail wasn’t completely certain what her father did for a living. She knew that he worked with computers and numbers. She also knew that it had something to do with automated data exchange, communications, and processing. It definitely had something to do with automated processing of information. Her father had tried to explain to her on the drive up to Seattle, but the comforting sound of his voice just put her to sleep.
“That’s Mrs. Aithne. She’s something of an urban legend around here,” Her father explained.
“What makes her an urban legend, Dad?” Abigail asked.
Steve paused for a moment, surprised that Abigail was actually asking him to explain something. “Well, she’s the oldest living resident of the neighborhood. Apparently, some of the local kids think she’s a witch. Our neighbor, Bob, across the street to the left, told me that the kids think she cursed all of the dogs not to do their business on her yard. In fact, his dog won’t even go near her house.”
As the subject turned to dog feces, Bill quickly became interested. “Wow, she has the power over dog poop!” He said, snickering.
“Maybe she can lend us some of her mojo, or you’ll be cleaning the yard quite a bit there, sport,” Her father teased Bill.
Abigail glanced from her brother to her father. She wished it was easier between her and either of her parents. Bill was only two years older than Abigail, so it didn’t seem fair that he’d have such a connection to them.
“Naturally, when a woman achieves wisdom and becomes one of the elders of the tribe, the patriarchical society must rise up against her by spreading these stories. That’s how the Salem Witch trials started, you know,” Her mother said, acrimoniously.
Her father grunted again and nodded. Bill started moving boxes now that the subject had progressed beyond body fluids or functions. “Maybe we should introduce ourselves,” Abigail suggested.
Irene smiled. Her mother rarely smiled in such a way that Abigail could count teeth. The last time she smiled like that, Bill and Abigail ended up picking up trash on the highway. “Abigail, I think that’s a wonderful idea. I’ve very proud of you. Tomorrow, you should bring her over some cookies as a way of saying hello. I’m sure she’s lonely. I’d go, but I have a staff meeting.”
Bill was starting to sweat from moving boxes. “Are you two ladies going to help us move the boxes, or is that man’s work?” He asked.
Abigail caught her father smiling, and trying to hide it from her mother. “Of course not, William,” Irene protested. “Abigail, it’s time to show the men that the Harrington Women are just as capable as the Harrington men.”
Moving a family to a different state is akin to a chemistry experiment. As space is limited, each member of the family needs to examine their possessions and get rid of that which is non-essential much like you would distil an element to its base form. Abigail donated a good portion of her childhood toys and books to charity, which pleased the civic minded Irene. Irene and Steven donated a decent portion of their furniture and household items rather than haul most of their belongings across two states. Besides, Irene knew that attachment to material objects was a sign of callow spiritual development. Despite this, Steven managed to hold his ground and save several of his prized collections, including his old table top arcade games.
Bill had the most difficulty with the move. He loved their old house, their old neighborhood, and most of all his friends. He was very content with his life.
Irene and Steven assured Bill that he would quickly make new friends, but Bill was unconvinced. Irene and Steven had both gotten jobs in Seattle and with the difficult economy, this was a blessing, Irene had insisted. Secretly, Steven pointed out to Bill that with their new jobs, they would be able to afford a new computer and that seemed to appease him.
Abigail liked her old house, but felt ambivalent about moving to Seattle. While San Diego was familiar and comfortable, she hated the heat. Seattle was the great unknown; mysterious and romantic.
The new house was painted a dark cream color and was quiet spacious for a brownstone. Irene and Steven moved into the master bedroom. Bill quickly claimed the basement bedroom leaving Abigail with the second story bedroom. Over the next few days, the Harringtons unpacked boxes, made several trips to Ikea, and transformed the new house into a home. Abigail and the Harringtons forgot Mrs. Aithne.
It took almost two weeks before Abigail saw Mrs. Aithne again.
It was late June and the weather was unseasonably warm. Steven worked on the eastside of Lake Washington so he often arrived home fairly late due to traffic. Irene was learning the feel of her new job at Pacific University. Steven and Abigail had long learned self sufficiency and occasionally enjoy each others company between battles of sibling supremacy.
“Damn, I can’t believe we don’t have air conditioning!” Bill cursed.
Abigail sighed. “It doesn’t get this warm in Seattle that often.”
“I just wish we could go swimming or something,” Bill replied.
Bill hadn’t met as many new friends as he would have liked so he was a bit lonely. “School will start in two months and you’ll meet all sorts of new people,” Abigail said, hoping to comfort her brother.
“Let’s sit on the lawn and play Uno. It’s got to be cooler outside!” Bill suggested.
The front lawn had a nice patio set perfect for playing games in the shade and catching the breeze. The sun was setting and starting to cool. Bill organized the cards while Abigail made lemonade. Uno was the one game the family enjoyed playing together and competition was usually fierce, but friendly.
“Ha, Billy’s playing with his little sister!” a shrill voice cried.
Abigail rolled her eyes. It was Trunk, who earned the nickname because he was as large as a tree trunk. At the age of fifteen, Trunk could buy cigarettes and alcohol unhindered due to his size and appearance. Abigail wasn’t certain if that was because Trunk looked older or because the clerk feared that Trunk might eat him. “Go away, Trunk! We’re busy,” Abigail replied.
Trunk had made his business to make Bill and Abigail feel welcome in the neighborhood. Of course, that included teasing, taunting, and occasional head locks. “Billy, I might have to teach your sister not to be so mouthy,” Trunk warned as he hopped over the diminutive Harrington picket fence.
“Ah, come on, Trunk. We’re not bothering you,” Bill protested.
Bill was in reasonable shape, as a teenager that enjoyed sports. He gained Irene’s curly, dark brown hair and Steven’s tanned skin tone and green eyes. He was a good looking kid, and despite knowing it was a decent brother. Of course, Abigail once caught him shirtless, staring into a mirror while kissing his biceps.
Despite this, Trunk outweighed Bill by at least a hundred pounds and acted like he knew how to use his fists. Trunk had long, greasy brown hair tied into a ponytail and a scruffy goatee. His skin was pocked with zits. The feature that horrified Abigail the most was his large, square slightly yellow teeth. It reminded her of an old nightmare about a giant eating her. Irene had many different theories about why she was afraid of giant teeth, but eventually found other elements of Abigail’s personality to analyze.
Bill and Abigail exchanged glances. “It’s not my fault, blame her,” Trunk said, almost snorting.
Trunk’s shadow seemed to grow with every step, a menacing, amorphous blob that seemed to be reaching for them. It become more difficult to see Trunk as the fading rays of the setting sun shaded his form forcing them to blink. To Abigail, his shadow seemed to expand, growing large bat-like wings.
“Bartholomew Jones! What do you think you are doing?”
It was a gravelly woman’s voice. Abigail realized that there was someone else behind Trunk. Bartholomew “Trunk” Jones replied in a polite, but defiant voice. “I’m visiting my friends, Mrs. Aithne.”
“I’m surprised that you would try to lie to me, Bartholomew,” Mrs. Aithne admonished Trunk. “After I caught you trying to egg my house, I’d think that you know you can’t hide anything from me. I can see right through you.”
Trunk laughed mockingly. “Of course you can, Mrs. Aithne.”
“Besides, someone that wets the bed shouldn’t be so bold,” Mrs. Aithne replied sharply.
Trunk sucked in his breath as though kicked in the stomach. He tried to speak, but started stuttering. “I…I don’t…”
“Don’t you think I can smell it on you, Bartholomew? You obviously don’t shower enough to look at your hair,” Mrs. Aithne continued.
Abigail couldn’t see Trunk’s face because of the shadows, but from his sobs she imagined that he was starting to cry. “Don’t…”
“Don’t what? Make you feel ashamed? Helpless? Like you were about to do to these nice kids?” Mrs. Aithne inquired.
“I think, Bartholomew, will be leaving now,” Abigail interjected.
Trunk nodded, gratefully. “Very well. As a reminder, Bartholomew, you should arrive at my house about eleven tomorrow to mow my lawn. If you do a good job, there will be sandwiches,” Mrs. Aithne replied, dismissing Trunk.
Trunk didn’t waste the opportunity and darted out of the yard and across the street. Abigail wasn’t certain that someone that large could move quite that fast. “Wow, that was great!” Bill cheered.
“Thank you, William, isn’t it?” Mrs. Aithne asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Bill answered, clearly a fan of Mrs. Aithne.
“May I come in?” Mrs. Aithne asked, gesturing to the Harrington’s wooden fence gate.
“Yea, of course,” Bill replied, running to open the gate.
“Mrs. Aithne, my name is Abigail and this is Bill. We’re very pleased to meet you,” Abigail said, greeting her neighbor.
As the sun set a bit more and the street lights turned on, Mrs. Aithne’s wrinkled, but warm face became visible. She was wearing, once again, an antique Victorian dress with a large hat and holding a parasol. Mrs. Aithne waited until Bill opened the gate and then nodded slightly. “Thank you, William.”
“Please call be Bill, Mrs. Aithne,” He pleaded.
“As you wish,” Mrs. Aithne replied. “Bill, it is. It’s very nice to meet the two of you. It’s rare to find such polite children these days. Your mother was quite correct.”
“Thank you,” Abigail replied.
“And speaking of which, I spoke with Mrs. Harrington and she mentioned that the two of you were interested in getting to know me and perhaps have low tea tomorrow,” Mrs. Aithne informed them.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Aithne. I have baseball camp tomorrow,” Bill said, telling the truth, but secretly glad to have an excuse.
“I’ve always wanted to try low tea, but I’m afraid I don’t know much about it,” Abigail admitted.
“How delightful! A chance to, how did Mrs. Harrington phrase it, pass along the knowledge of one of the elders of the womanhood tribe,” Mrs. Aithne replied, amused.
Abigail blushed. “I’d like that.”
“Excellent. Perhaps you could come over around eleven tomorrow,” Mrs. Aithne replied.
Abigail wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone else, but she was curious. Why would Trunk have been so afraid of an old woman? How did she know he wet the bed?
Irene couldn’t be happier, which irritated Abigail. “Abigail, it’s important as you blossom into womanhood that you connect on a spiritual level with elders of our sex. I wish you could have met your Grandmother. Mrs. Aithne seems like she might be lonely,” Irene explained.
Abigail decided that on some issues, it might be wise to just accept she agreed with Irene. That night Abigail dreamed of taking a daring flight into the starless black sky to escape giant teeth.
The next morning, Abigail wore a white sun dress, white gloves, and a mock Edwardian hat with a feather. “I haven’t seen you wear that since the Millar wedding,” Irene commented, approvingly at breakfast.
“I didn’t know you had anything white,” Steve teased.
“Why does your funny hat have a feather?” Bill asked.
“I’m really sorry I can’t get dressed up with you and sit with Mrs. Aithne all day,” Bill replied, almost sounding sincere.
Abigail Harrington arrived at Mrs. Aithne’s brownstone at one minute before eleven. Trunk was already trimming her bushes with ancient rusted clippers. Abigail could see that Trunk wouldn’t have much to do as the yard was well maintained.
“Abigail, thank you coming,” Mrs. Aithne replied, who also wore a hat and gloves. She glanced over at Trunk. “Bartholomew, I expect a full hour of work from you. We’ll be back at noon. If you have done well, there will be sandwiches. If not, there will be consequences.”
Trunk continued clipping the hedges without comment. Mrs. Aithne opened her front door and politely waited for Abigail to enter her home. “Thank you,” Abigail replied and walked through the door.
Mrs. Aithne’s escorted Abigail to the living room. The house was clean as Abigail expected, but every inch of the walls were covered with pictures, old photographs, or shelves displaying collectibles, coins, or antique buttons. “Wow, your house is neat,” Abigail replied, trying to soak it all in.
“I’ve collected these treasures over the years. I’ve very proud of them. Please sit,” the old woman offered.
Abigail sat on one of the loveseats facing the coffee table. Mrs. Aithne excused herself to the kitchen and returned with a silver tea tray set, complete with polished silver spoons and a polished tea kettle. “Thank you very much for all of this, Mrs. Aithne. I appreciate the effort.”
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Aithne replied. “No one likes to have tea anymore. The women of the neighborhood are far too busy going to and fro to bother with an old woman with out a family. I appreciate the company. Do you know how low tea got started?”
“It was because of tea on the low table, like a coffee table, right?” Abigail answered.
“It was traditional to have a meal in the morning and then late evening. Afternoon tea became very popular. High Tea was served at the dinner table while Low Tea was served in a more friendly setting. It’s a very important custom.”
“My mother doesn’t think so,” Abigail retorted.
“I’m very surprised consider the role it had with women’s suffrage,” Mrs. Aithne replied.
“What do you mean?”
“In those days,” Mrs. Aithne explained. “A young woman couldn’t just go somewhere. Oh no, her reputation might be sullied and then she’d never find a husband. Women weren’t allowed to meet at a hall or a tavern. But, they could meet their friends for tea.”
“I’ll tell Mom about that,” Abigail promised earnestly. “She’ll make it into a new ritual celebrating womanhood.”
Mrs. Aithne poured Abigail a cup of Ceylon tea. “Would you like some sugar?” She asked.
Mrs. Aithne offered the sugar and then excused herself once again to the kitchen. She returned with a plate of buttermilk and raisin scones. “These were the traditional snack,” She explained.
Abigail sipped her tea and then took a bite of one of the offered scones. “This is perfect. I’ve never tasted anything better.”
“Thank you, Abigail.”
“Were you a historian?” Abigail asked.
“Oh no,” Mrs. Aithne replied. “I’ve just enjoyed keeping the traditions. What about you? Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”
Abigail took another sip trying to think of a new answer to an old question. “I like looking at old things. I like old hats, old movies, old books. I don’t know really. I’m only thirteen.”
“I was just like you at your age. The odd duck out as it were. I did alright, dear. You will too,” Mrs. Aithne said before taking a bite of a scone.
Somehow, even though Irene had told her this many times, Abigail felt a little better. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Certainly, dear. Although I can’t promise to answer you.”
Abigail took another sip to buy time to collect her thoughts. “Why is Trunk, I mean Bartholomew, so afraid of you?” She asked.
Mrs. Aithne laughed as though it was the most amusing thing she had ever heard. “Why because if he didn’t, I’d eat him alive, deary.”
“I don’t imagine that he’d taste very good,” Abigail retorted.
“Maybe that’s why he’s hedging my bushes now,” Mrs. Aithne added.
At noon, Mrs. Aithne invited Bartholomew inside for sandwiches. “Won’t you come inside for lunch?” She asked, kindly.
His expression showed that he was clearly horrified and politely thanked her and then ran as fast as his rotund legs would take him. Abigail giggled so hard that she had to stop in order to take a breath. “Such a shame. I suspect we would have enjoyed his company. Provided I put plastic on the floor, of course.”
“There’s a reason that he’s afraid of you, isn’t there?” Abigail asked.
“Oh yes,” Mrs. Aithne answered. “In that, Bartholomew has been very wise.”
“Will you tell me? I won’t tell anyone,” Abigail promised.
“I may one day. If I feel that you are ready. But it’s not a matter of trust. I can see through your eyes right into your heart. I know the truth when I hear it.”
Agreeable to each other’s company, Abigail and Mrs. Aithne started a Sunday tradition of low tea and sandwiches. Irene steadfastly approved. “Why would you want to hang around an old lady on your Saturdays?” Bill asked.
“She knows things,” Abigail replied.
“What things?” Bill asked, vaguely curious.
“True things,” Abigail said earnestly. “She tells me true things.”
* * * *
Irene believed that activities helped develop the mind and the body so she insisted that both Bill and Abigail enroll in summer youth programs. Bill went to baseball camp for several hours each day and then took an advanced computer course. Abigail convinced her parents that she should be allowed to visit Mrs. Athine daily and help her around the house. Irene was very proud of Abigail. Irene was so proud that she often bragged to her colleagues about Abigail’s new found interest in her social responsibility.
The next few weeks, Abigail spent the morning in the library reading, went home for lunch, and visited Mrs. Aithne. It was a surprise for Abigail to return home from the library to discover Mrs. Aithne talking to both her parents at noon on a work day in a serious tone.
Mrs. Aithne had been over to the Harrington household exactly twice. The first time was to invite Abigail to tea. The second time was to assure Irene that it was perfect acceptable for Abigail to spend her afternoons keeping her company. Although Mrs. Aithne would never admit it, Abigail knew that she found Irene pedantic. “Is something wrong?” She asked.
“Of course, not,” Irene quickly replied.
Abigail spotted the subtle, but amusing twitch over Mrs. Aithne’s left eye and assumed she was biting back a suitable, but hilarious retort. “I was just asking your parents for a favor.”
“What kind of favor?” Abigail asked.
Irene and Steve glanced at each other. Their expression was pensive. “That would be between myself and your parents until it’s time for you to know. Don’t worry dear, surprise is the spice of life you know,” Mrs. Aithne answered.
Abigail was very curious about what her parents discussed with Mrs. Aithne, but none of them would reveal the subject. Whatever we discussed, Abigail decided that it must have been good as her parents actively encouraged her to spend as much time as she felt like at Mrs. Aithne. Mrs. Aithne seemed unsurprised, but always pleased to see Abigail. Often, she would suggest different books for Abigail to try.
Having settled into her new routine, Abigail neglected to notice that her visits were being monitored. It was the second to last week of summer and Abigail was almost pleased with the notion of starting school. She could hardly believe it was raining in August, but then the Seattle weather was far more unpredictable than she was used to in California.
Walking towards Mrs. Aithne’s house, she mentally planned her school schedule and walked on autopilot, stepping through a couple of puddles. It was cold, but bundled as she was, Abigail began to sweat.
As she trekked past a neighboring home, a hand accosted him from the bushes. It was a potent, grimy slick hand. Startled, Abigail was unable to resist being pulled under the bushes hidden from general view. The sharp branches and wet sticks ripped her jacket. One branch whipped across her forehead cutting her.
Before she was able to speak or scream, another equally dirty hand blocked her mouth. Desperate for air, Abigail kicked her legs and tried to worm her way free. “Sit still or I’ll give you something to cry about!” a familiar voice whispered harshly into her ear.
Abigail’s face turned red. “If you promise not to scream, I’ll move my hand. Promise?”
Abigail felt around the damp soil, hoping to find a rock or some sort of weapon. She nodded, fully intending to scream.
Instead of the hand moving as expected, it separated slightly providing breathable air passages. Abigail wheezed, taking several gasps of air. “You think your so hot hanging around the dragon lady? You ain’t so hot now, are you?”
It might have been the terror or the combined body heat and physical exertion, but Abigail could have sworn it was getting hotter; not just warmer, but physically uncomfortable. A growl startled Abigail. It was obviously a vicious wild animal. The hand gripped Abigail tighter. Twin glowing red eyes peered through the leaves and the dark brown branches. A clawed scaled hand reached under the bush and clutched onto the hand on Abigail’s mouth. It squeezed, prying it off Abigail. She could hear the bones cracking and her assailant’s cry.
“Bartholomew! You were warned about this sort of behavior. I simply won’t tolerate it in my neighborhood.”
Another scaled hand reached under and lifted Abigail from under the bush. It was Mrs. Aithne. “I’ll be seeing you real soon, Bartholomew,” She warned.
Shell-shocked, Abigail stood there uncertain what to do. “Abigail, let’s get you to my house. You can shower and we can have tea to warm you and discuss matters. Bartholomew won’t be a bother. He won’t remember much, just that he was caught doing something he shouldn’t have and broke his hand. I imagine his parents will be taking him to the hospital soon.”
Abigail nodded, feeling queasy. Mrs. Aithne’s hands and eyes had returned to normal, but that didn’t lessen the fear. “I’m certain you have many questions, but you have been hurt and we can address these issues inside away from prying eyes. I assure you I am the same woman you’ve been spending time with and mean you no harm,” the old woman promised. “I’m rather fond of you, which is why I risked exposure in such a public place.”
Abigail’s eyes were watering. Mrs. Aithne had treated her very well in the past and just saved her from Trunk. “Ok,” She said, sniffing.
Mrs. Aithne escorted Abigail to her house and showed her to the bathroom. Abigail managed not to cry until the door was closed. If Mrs. Aithne heard her, she did not comment. By the time, Abigail showered and slipped on the robe left for her, Mrs. Aithne had Bill bring over some sweatpants and called her parents.
“Are you ok, honey?” Irene asked.
“I’m fine. Was just scared is all. Mrs. Aithne found us before he could hurt me,” Abigail answered.
“I heard she broke that fat turd’s hand!” Bill added.
“William! Please don’t say such things in my house,” Mrs. Aithne protested. “Although I must admit to some satisfaction was gained in the act. I never knew this hand could be so useful. I trust that you called the police, Steve?”
Abigail’s father nodded. “They say they want to speak to Abigail tomorrow, but Bartholomew confessed at the hospital.”
Mrs. Aithne smiled. “I hoped he would.”
Irene agreed. “Now he can get treatment for his behavior. From what you’ve said, he’s chemically unbalanced.”
“Mrs. Aithne, we really can’t think you enough for this,” Steve replied, his face flushed.
Abigail was surprised to see her father so emotional. The entire Harrington family treated her fondly the next couple of days. Abigail reported everything, minus the odd changes in Mrs. Aithne. Bartholomew was sent to a hospital for treatment for his irrational fear of dragons and anti-social behavior. Abigail did not visit Mrs. Aithne for several days. When she saw Mrs. Aithne in the neighborhood, there was a polite acknowledgement but no mention of what happened or of visiting.
Finally, it was Irene that broke the tension. “Abigail, have you been by to see Mrs. Aithne?”
“I’ve been kind of tired, Mom.”
“I know what that boy did must have been traumatic, but you can’t take it out on Mrs. Aithne,” Irene explained. “After all she did help you. And…”
“And what?” Abigail asked, frustrated.
“Abigail, Mrs. Aithne is sick. She needs someone with her. And she’s rather fond of you,” her mother explained.
Abigail thought of the scaly hands and red glowing eyes and doubted that. “She seems healthy to me.”
“She told us that she has cancer and while it’s in remission, it could come back any time,” Irene continued. “That’s why she came to see us a few weeks ago, she wanted to make sure that we knew and would be ok with her helping her.”
“Why didn’t she tell me?” Abigail asked.
“She didn’t want you to treat her any different. She’s really gotten attached to you have the summer. She never had children since her husband died at a young age. All of her family is dead.”
That fit with what Mrs. Athine told her. It didn’t occur to her that she could be alone. Maybe she had just been seeing things, she thought. “I guess I’ve been kind of selfish.”
“Most girls your age would be more concerned about clothes and boys and wouldn’t even care about someone like Mrs. Aithne. And while it might not always seem like it, I’m very proud of you.”
Irene hugged Abigail. She was not used to such emotional displays of affection from her mother. She was a woman that lived more in her head than the real world and used words rather than touch to demonstrate her feelings. “I’ll see her tomorrow, Mom. I promise,” Abigail told her mother.
The next morning, Abigail skipped the library. Instead, she walked over to the shopping district looking for a proper thank you present for Mrs. Athine. Although she knew that Trunk was at that hospital, she was still a little afraid of walking alone. Still, she carefully kept herself alert to her surroundings and kept a grip on the whistle that Irene had given her.
Her first inclination was to buy flowers, but then she remembered that Mrs. Athine preferred her plants in the ground, not on her dining room table. Next, she decided that she would visit the tea shop and see if she could pick up some tea that Mrs. Athine might enjoy. The clerk knew Mrs. Athine’s tastes very well, but unfortunately they were very expensive and Abigail didn’t have that much money. Abigail progressed to the book store and found a coffee table photography book about Seattle at half price. She knew that Mrs. Athine appreciated older photographs and the book was thankfully within her meager price range. Determined, Abigail returned home and then wrapped the book with shiny green metallic paper that Irene kept for special occasions. Next, she used a light scarlet ribbon to tie a bow. After lunch, Abigail steeled herself and then walked down the street to Mrs. Athine’s house. This time, Abigail was very careful and looked around all of the corners.
She knocked on the door and waited. Mrs. Athine answered the door, obviously pleased to see her. “Abigail, it’s pleasant to see you.”
Abigail blushed. She held up the present so Mrs. Athine could see it better. “I brought you this to say thank you,” She replied.
Mrs. Athine’s smile grew wider. “Oh Abigail, you shouldn’t have gone through the trouble.”
It was fairly clear to Abigail that going through the trouble had been the right thing to do. “Open it,” She suggested.
“Let’s sit on the couch. I have tea on the stove,” Mrs. Athine replied.
Abigail followed Mrs. Athine, surprised at how easy it was to fall to old patterns. Mrs. Athine unwrapped the present with the delight of a child. “Abigail, this is wonderful!” She proclaimed.
“I hoped you would like it,” Abigail added.
“Would you like a scone?” Mrs. Athine inquired.
“Yes, please,” Abigail answered.
Mrs. Athine disappeared into the kitchen and quickly returned with a plate of warm scones. “I just baked these hoping you would come by,” She revealed.
“You knew I was going to come, didn’t you?” Abigail asked.
Mrs. Athine poured more tea into her cup. “Yes, I did.”
“I didn’t imagine the eyes and the hands, did I?” Abigail asked, afraid despite Mrs. Athine’s pleasant demeanor.
“No, you didn’t image that,” Mrs. Athine admitted.
“Trunk said you were a dragon lady. Did he know about this?”
Mrs. Athine’s eyes glowed with crackling scarlet energy. “Bartholomew is very perspective despite his obvious shortcomings,” Mrs. Athine revealed.
It took a moment for her to adjust to the eyes, but once she did Abigail decided that they were quite beautiful. She was still concerned about Trunk. “If he was angry with you, why did he attack me?” Abigail asked, a little angry.
“He saw that I had a special interest in you and began to wonder about you. And while, it’s not something that has sunk into you, you are a pretty girl. When you grow up a little more, I have no doubt that you will have many boys paying attention to you. I was hoping to keep a low profile, but I couldn’t allow Bartholomew to hurt you,” Mrs. Athine explained.
“How come he didn’t tell the police what happened? Did you make him forget?” Abigail inquired.
“No, although I did try,” Mrs. Athine confessed. “His mind is very strong and twisted. It’s hard to hear his thoughts, except when he’s very angry. He knew that the police would never believe him. Would you have believed him if you hadn’t seen it?”
“I suppose that’s true, but will he get better?” She asked, hopefully. “Will he try to hurt me when he’s out?”
“Humans change too much, too quickly for me to really be sure,” Mrs. Athine explained. “He knows what he saw was real, and he’s unlikely to believe it to be a dream, despite what everyone is currently telling him. He’s had experience before with others no believing him.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Bartholomew was adopted, before you moved to Seattle. His birth father was a vile man with dark urges. The less said about him the better. I don’t want to give you nightmares,” Mrs. Athine revealed. “Bartholomew went to his teachers and the police and they didn’t believe him. His father did things, terrible things, to him.”
“Why happened?” Abigail asked, horrified.
“The police eventually caught him thanks to an anonymous tip that allowed them to catch him in the act,” Mrs. Athine replied, smugly.
“You told them?”
“That man’s dreams were very loud, very potent. I couldn’t block them out so I figured out who they belonged to and made the arrangements. I don’t normally try to interfere with things that aren’t my concerned, but this was unnatural. This man’s hunger was alien. I never did find out why. He’s been put away now,” Mrs. Athine answered, very satisfied.
Abigail was clearly relieved. She didn’t realize that she had been holding her breath. “Were you worried I’d hurt you?” the old lady asked.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Abigail answered, honestly.
“I’m glad it’s out in the open so to speak. You’ve realized that I’m not the normal old woman you thought I was, but I’m not really any different from when we first met. I’m just glad I was watching Bartholomew that afternoon or I might not have noticed you so soon,” Mrs. Athine declared.
“You were watching Trunk, sorry, I mean Bartholomew?”
“I had hoped that I could help him. He can see past the surface of things. He rightfully blames me for his father’s jail time. And, he knows I arranged for the Jones to adopt him. He’s watched me for nearly five years now waiting. I had hoped he would grow out of this nonsense and grow into a good man. That might still happen, but I won’t be around to see it,” Mrs. Athine continued.
“Are you really sick?”
Mrs. Athine sipped her tea. “I see that Irene couldn’t keep that a secret for long.”
“Well, to be honest, I was kind of afraid to come over. Mom just told me that to get me to come,” Abigail admitted.
“I suppose it can’t be helped,” Mrs. Athine replied. “I had hoped to discuss the entire matter with you, but it’s been done. No use crying about it. Why don’t you ask me what you are really curious about?”
“What are you?”
“Bartholomew had it right,” Mrs. Athine revealed.
“A dragon lady?” Abigail muttered skeptically.
“Quite literally,” Mrs. Athine added. “A dragon that’s also a lady to be precise.”
“You don’t look like a dragon. Don’t they have wings?”
“My true form does indeed possess wings, although I haven’t been able to fly for many years. Dragons are polymorphs. Do you know what that means?” Mrs. Athine questioned Abigail.
“Poly means many, right? And morph means to change? So you have many changes?”
“Dragons, once they mature a bit, can change their shapes into whatever form they desire. At my age, we tend to stick to one or two shapes in which we’re most comfortable. I’ve lived a human life for so long that I’m accustomed to it,” Mrs. Athine answered.
“And Mr. Athine was a dragon too?”
“No,” the dragon answered sadly. “He was just a man, but a good man. We met in Europe just after the Second Great War. I had fled to Britain from the Nazi Occultists seeking the help of dragonkin. He was on leave and showed incredible kindness and so I fell in love with him. It was silly, I know. I knew that even if he didn’t die in the war, that I’d watch him die from old age. I didn’t care. When I learned of his last name, I took it as a sign.”
“What does Athine mean?”
“It’s an old Celtic name meaning fire heart,” Mrs. Athine revealed.
“That’s so romantic,” Abigail gushed. “Did Mr. Athine know?”
“I told him on our wedding day. He was surprised, but not that surprised,” Mrs. Athine recalled, wistfully. “It seems I wasn’t as clever as I had thought. But he loved me and that was all that mattered.”
“What happened next?” Abigail asked, enthralled.
“Mr. Athine lost two brothers in the war. One in Normandy and one at Tora Tora. Those brothers had children surviving and so we took in their families and moved to Seattle. Mr. Athine got a job at the Boeing Plant and I helped raise his brother’s children. Over time those children had children and moved away. We lost touch with some of them. Those that remained behind eventually got old and died. Most of those related to Mr. Athine died out. But I could not leave this house,” Mrs. Athine explained.
“Wow, how old are you?” Abigail asked impressed.
“It’s not polite to ask a lady such things, but I’ll forgive it this once,” Mrs. Athine replied, playfully. “We don’t use calendars as you do. We watch the movement of the stars. Let’s just say that when I was a hatchling that the stars were in different positions and humans were still figuring out the constellations.”
“So why are you sick?” Abigail asked.
“I was poisoned many years ago by an enemy. I stayed in this form for too long. Dragonkin aren’t meant to stay out of their true form for so long. I knew this, but I was willing to pay the price,” Mrs. Athine explained.
“Are you the last dragon?”
“Of course not, dear. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’m telling all of this to you. My hatchling is almost ready to break his shell.”
“You’re pregnant?” Abigail asked, somewhat shocked.
Mrs. Athine smiled proudly. “I laid the egg ten years ago. Baby dragons take a while to gestate. He’ll need someone to watch over him after I pass beyond the Great Barrier”
“Is another dragon coming?” Abigail asked.
“No,” Mrs. Athine revealed. “Not all of us remained untainted. I can’t trust any of them. And so I started looking for someone that had the spirit of the Magi.”
“You lost me again,” Abigail admitted.
“In ancient days, there were Humans that knew the Art. Knew the old magicks taught to them by dragonkin. Science and logic trampled over the old ways, but there are some with a spark of the old talent, like you.”
“Me?” Abigail asked. “What can I do?”
“You knew there was something odd about me the entire time and yet you still came to me. It was something you couldn’t quite place, but you saw things, little things, didn’t you?” Mrs. Athine answered her question with another question.
“Yeah, I guess,” Abigail replied.
“I went to your parents to tell them I was ill, which was the truth. I also went to them to ask them permission to make you my heir,” Mrs. Athine explained. “Mr. Athine’s family has either died or moved away and lost contact. I have a considerable fortune, most of which will go to you when I die. This house will go to you.”
Abigail didn’t quite know what to say. This was a lot of absorb. “Uh, thank you.”
“Abigail, don’t you see, I need your help raising my hatchling.”
“I don’t know anything about raising a baby dragon,” Abigail said, worried.
“In a way, it’s just like a human baby. Treat him with love, teach him right from wrong, and protect him,” Mr. Athine explained. “He’ll break free of the egg when he’s ready and then he’ll mimic the first form that’s near him. So you’ll want to be careful.”
“You aren’t dying tonight, are you?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Mrs. Aithne revealed serenely.
“You look fine to me. How can you be so calm?”
Mrs. Aithne smiled and set her cup upon her saucer. She patted Abigail gently. “Death isn’t something to be feared. If you’ve lived a good live, it’s the next grand adventure. Now, would you like to see the egg?”
Abigail nodded and so Mrs. Aithne led her to the basement. Abigail was surprised that there was a metal door with arcane symbols etched into them in the main hallway that she had never noticed previously. “I never saw this door before.”
“Of course not dear, only those that have been shown this door by the owner of the house can sense it’s presence,” Mrs. Athine stated as she opened the door.
It was exceptionally warm in the basement, although it didn’t seem to bother Mrs. Athine in the slightest. The walls were made from black bricks that seemed to seal the heat in the room. Two heating coils on either end of the basement glowed red illuminating the room. In the center of the room was a strange nest made from I-beams, car parts, and other metallic objects that Abigail didn’t recognize. Inside the nest was a large off-white egg with brown spots that looked to be about a foot tall. “Dragon eggs must be kept at a warm temperature for the hatchling to gestate. Oh, and please be careful of the coils. They would burn you,” She explained.
Abigail was intrigued, but also terrified. She was afraid of hurting the baby dragon if she had to raise it alone. “Doesn’t the baby have a father?” Abigail said.
“His father is the dragon that poisoned me,” Mrs. Athine admitted. “That was ten years ago and he got what he deserved. I have books in the library that will teach you what you need to know. I have servants that will assist you. I had hoped to teach you the Art before this night, but the evening with Bartholomew rather drained my energies.”
“But you look fine,” Abigail protested, sniffing.
“Only my magic sustains this shell now,” Mrs. Athine said. “I’m very tired. I’m only managed to hold on this long because we needed to say good-bye.”
Abigail generally disliked physical contact, especially after Trunk’s attack. Crying, she hugged the old woman who had become her friend. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I’ll never leave completely,” Mrs. Athine replied, knowingly. “And I’m leaving behind a part of myself. I daresay you will have your hands full.”
“Does he have a name?” Abigail asked.
“Naming him will fall to you once he has hatched, if that is, you accept this responsibility,” Mrs. Athine whispered softly.
“I’ll take care of him,” Abigail said earnestly. “I promised.”
Mrs. Athine smiled; she was both pleased and proud. “I envy you the adventures you will have.”
Abigail didn’t like to cry. When she did, Bill often made fun of her. “I’ll miss you.”
“Of course you will, and think of me fondly,” Mrs. Aithne said, warmly. “Place your hand upon the egg.”
Abigail did as instructed and was surprised that the egg was slightly cold in this sweltering basement. She looked up at Mrs. Athine awaiting further instructions.
“I place my hatchling in the care of Abigail Harrington, daughter of Eve. May she raise him with wisdom, with love, and with joy. All that is mine passes to her,” Mrs. Athine announced. Abigail was uncertain what she was supposed to do. “Abigail? Do you accept my hatching as your own? To protect it with your tears, your blood, and your life?”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Athine said, also crying.
The old woman seemed to visibly weaken. Abigail helped her up the stairs and onto her couch. Abigail rushed to the kitchen and returned with a glass of cold water. “Drink this,” She said.
Mrs. Athine did as instructed. “I haven’t seen my parents in many years,” She said afterwards. “I can hear them now.”
“You should rest a bit,” Abigail suggested.
Mrs. Athine rested her head upon the pillow. “That sounds nice. . .”
Worried, Abigail checked Mrs. Athine’s pulse. It was fading. She dialed 911, hoping that the paramedics could help the dragon. Fifteen minutes later, two men clad in paramedic uniformed rushed into the old house and started working on her body. Abigail knew that there was nothing they could do.
* * * *
The next week was a flurry of meetings with lawyers, the first days of school, and a grief counseling sessions. As promised, Mrs. Athine left the bulk of her fortune to Abigail with the stipulation that Abigail continue to maintain the house until Abigail was eighteen. Her parents and the lawyers thought this was odd, but then considered Mrs. Aithne likewise odd and so it seemed to fit. Abigail noted that Mrs. Athine had also left a small fortune for Bartholomew when he turned eighteen. It was just like Mrs. Athine to want to clean up loose ends.
Her funeral was held on the warmest day of the year. Kids and adults from the neighborhood attended, each telling a story of how this wonderful old woman had affected their lives. Abigail didn’t speak as she was certain she’d break down crying or say the wrong thing. She was the last to leave, promising her parents that she would ride the bus home as soon as she was ready.
Vibrant yellow eyes peered from behind gravestones. Abigail had felt them watching her during the funeral, but couldn’t tell her family. When it was clear that Abigail was alone, a short creature scurried from behind a tree and presented itself to her. He looked like a fat, lime-green, bald man that had been squished to the size of roughly a foot in height. Cautiously, he sniffed her hand and then motioned to the rest. Dozens of similar creatures, all dressed in children’s clothing, ran to Mrs. Athine’s grave. They wept black tears and whispered to each other in a low guttural language.
“Hail to the Heir of the Great One,” the first creature grunted in English.
“What are you? Who are you?” Abigail asked.
“We are gnomes, dwellers and delvers of the earth and stone. We grieve the loss of one that has lived through out the ages. I am Garnet,” It said in a low voice.
“Well hello, Garnet. I’m Abigail,” She said, extending her hand.
Garnet took her hand gingerly with both of his tiny hands. “I am. . .scribe. For Great One.”
“A scribe?” Abigail asked.
“I write her contracts. Keeper of dealings.”
It was becoming clear that English was a new language for Garnet. “Her lawyer,” Abigail added.
“Yes. You have scent. Will come when called,” Garnet informed her.
Garnet bowed. “We bring food for hatchling.”
Abigail wondered if she was supposed to talk to Garnet about the baby dragon. Mrs. Aithne had barely made it up the stairs; it was obvious that she didn’t have time to tell her everything. “Thank you,” She said.
Stunned, Abigail rode the bus home lost in thought. Mrs. Athine had been corrected. Her parents, Bill, and the auditors failed to notice the large metal door. The first couple of days, Irene had insisted that Bill go with her into Mrs. Athine’s house. She couldn’t get away long enough to slip into the basement.
When she arrived, she opened the metal door and checked on the egg. It was starting to crack. Abigail heard a tiny pecking sound. Uncertain exactly what she would need to do, Abigail carried a plastic five gallon bucket filled with water down into the basement and prepared some towels. “Where’s Garnet when I need him?” She muttered.
Two yellow eyes appeared in the darkness. Garnet stepped into the red glow of the heating coils. “You called Heiress of the Great One?”
“I think its hatching!” She said, beaming.
Garnet placed his tiny three fingered hand upon the egg. “Egg is warm. Close to time. I brought food,” Garnet said, jingling a small leather pouch.
“Can I see?” Abigail asked curious.
Garnet nodded and opened the pouch. Inside were several polished gold coins. “Dragons eat gold?”
“Only hatchlings. Until they can digest meat,” Garnet explained.
The crack of the dragon egg widened. “Can’t we help it out?” Abigail asked, excited.
“Hatchling must break out itself or will be weak. Struggle thickens muscles and blood,” Garnet said, watching with great anticipation.
Over the course of several minutes, the hatchling began to tear apart the egg. First, Abigail saw the tip of what looked like a wing or an arm. Bits of azure scales could be seen through various cracks. Tiny yelps escaped the cracks in the egg as the baby dragon was fighting to break free. Finally, it flipped the top of the egg open and crawled out. The baby dragon was roughly a foot in length and serpentine. It’s hind legs kicked the remaining shell away. It’s face was long and pointed, much like a snake with long pointed ears. “He’s beautiful!” Abigail cried.
“Hatching hungry,” Garnet said, handing Abigail the bag.
Abigail’s dragon was covered with amniotic fluid and bits of egg shell. He cried, sniffing blindly for his mother. “It’s ok,” Abigail said, letting him sniff you. “I’m going to take care of you.”
She carefully placed one of the coins in his mouth, which was promptly chewed and swallowed with a large grinding noise. Abigail made a note not to stick her fingers in it’s mouth if she could help it. After the hatchling went through the entire bag of coins, it burped loudly, ejecting a small flash of flame. Then, it crawled close to Abigail and snuggled as best it could. She lifted it into her arms. Content, he blew tiny smoke rings as he slept. “Do dragons, you know, go to the bathroom?” She asked.
“Yes,” Garnet answered. “Although not as often as humans. He will crawl off and perform his business in private.”
“Should I leave him here or take him to my bed?” She asked.
“He will not bond if you do not sleep with him,” Garnet advised. “Don’t wear gold. Baby dragons get hungry at odd times.”
Abigail snuck her dragon into the Harrington household that night in her back pack. Within a couple of hours, his eyes cleared from a milky white to a glowing red. Playfully, he chased Abigail around her bedroom while she giggled. Then, it suddenly found the space under her bed very appealing.
That night, the baby dragon slept cuddled under her arm. In the morning, she dropped it off at the nest and asked Garnet to watch him during the day. “Have you named the baby dragon?” He asked.
That night, Abigail came home, the baby dragon hidden in her backpack, to discover that the dragon had slipped away in the middle of the night and to quote Garnet “did his business.” Unfortunately for Bill, the baby dragon chose the middle of his bedroom and the said business almost burned a hole in the carpet. Thankfully, no one asked Abigail if she knew what had happened and the family collectively decided that a raccon must have broken into the house. She doubted that she could keep a straight face.
As they snuggled into bed, her mother opened the door and briskly kissed Abigail on the head. Thinking she had been caught, Abigail froze. “You’ve been doing really well, dear. I’m proud of you. You helped Mrs. Athine transition from her life to her death. You’re growing into a wonderful woman.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Abigail replied, hoping that she didn’t spot the baby dragon.
Irene looked down upon the bed and touched the nose of the Baby Dragon. “That’s such a cute toy. Did Mrs. Athine give it to you?” She asked.
Abigail nodded. Sleeping, the baby dragon was motionless. She considered telling her mother everything, but she’d never accept that reality. “Abigail, have you seen your father smoking?”
“Strange, I’ve been smelling smoke all day and I caught him smoking last month,” Irene said absentmindedly.
Over the years, she had named many kittens, dolls, and once a pet toad. She had driven Bill crazy by slowly and methodically choosing special names that fit each animal. Abigail decided that as she had never named a baby dragon before that this would require some thought and the two of them had years of adventures to live through.