Jenny and me were walking. I sallied on down the gravel road, kicking an empty Mountain Dew can someone had tossed out a car window. I kept my hands in the pockets of my blue jeans, wishing that I’d worn shorts as the day got hotter. At least I wasn’t wearing a shirt.
Jenny walked away from me a bit, stepping off the gravel road into the ditch where a tiny stream trickled downhill. The orange and yellow speckled flowers of the jewelweed had become fruit, so she carefully reached a couple of fingers out to touch the thin, green seed pods. The pods popped open instantly and flung its seedy cargo all over the weed-covered embankment just beside the road. She smiled and sought out another fleshy pod, plucking the stem above a little fruit. With slender fingers, she withdrew the seed and held it up to me.
“Ya ownt to touch this ‘un?” she asked, holding it up. Her face was slender, her body thin and arms lanky. She wore a tank top and shorts with her flip flops, her brown hair up in a messy ponytail.
I gave her a good grin, but shook my head. “You like this more’n me. You can do it.”
She lifted a finger to touch and destroy the pod, but then stopped, her ears wiggling. Her eyes focused on the road to the north, brows tightening curiously. “A car’s comin’ round the corner. Git off the road!” She stepped to the side, into the ditch, and I followed even though I couldn’t hear it.
When the sound of our feet sloshing around in the ditch died down, I listened more closely. It was a car, maybe a truck by the sound of the engine. I listened with Jenny, watched as she popped the pod she held in her hand. It exploded with a fresh-sounding little squeak.
The engine roared louder and I became worried, backing up into the jewelweed with Jenny. I felt the seed pods pop all over me as I did, felt the briars and nettles that intertwined with the weed pricking at my arms.
“That sounds too big to be on this road,” I mentioned as the sound became noticeably louder than a pickup.
Sure enough, I saw a tractor trailer barreling around the corner, the top-heavy craft tilting as it tried to make the turn too quickly. With bated breath I reached over to Jenny, holding her back as far as I could get her while the big truck made the turn.
We screamed, the top of the truck’s cabin scraping tree branches, making wood and leaves and bugs fall down on us. The fear lasted only a second, though, and we stepped onto the road as soon as the truck was past us, the rear door to the trailer swinging wildly. As it made the curve around the mountainous road just in front of us, precariously tipping and turning more quickly than I thought was safe, a wooden box crashed out of the back into the weed-covered ditch.
“Holy smokes,” Jenny said, tugging on a loop of my jeans, “What was that all about?”
I walked forward, looking at the wooden box broken against the side of the road. “Musta been runnin’ away from the law or sommat. You see that box fly out of the back?”
Jenny nodded and followed me. “Yeah. You reckon we ought to go check it out, see if we can figger out who ownt the thing?”
I walked on down the road, Jenny jogging to catch up with me and my long strides. “Sure,” I said. “I reckon it’d be the right neighborly thing to do.”
We got closer to the box, which looked to have been about two feet on all sides until it broke and became smooshed against the embankment. Stepping over the trickling water and onto some crushed nettles, Jenny reached forward and pulled the broken sticks off the top of the box.
Instantly she stepped back and gasped while I swallowed.
Sprayed in screaming red over the top and each side of the box was “PROPERTY OF THE US GOVERNMENT” and “CLASSIFIED.” It was obvious that we weren’t supposed to touch this, weren’t supposed to see what was inside.
“Let’s leave,” I said. “That thang could be radioactive, maybe give us cancer or blow us all to Kingdom Come!”
Jenny, however, lifted a brow in curiosity. “You going to let something some damn Yank wrote stop you?” Her fingers flexed as she stepped forward, leaning toward the box and picking up some of the boards. The pine planks creaked as the nails came up out of them, and Jenny tore the box apart.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea.” I held Jenny’s hand back, causing her to look up at me with a frown and wide, confused eyes. I held tight and huffed, “Now, don’t think I’m doin’ this jus’ cause a Yank spraypainted the box. I’m doin’ this ‘cause we ort ta be more careful than just rippin’ a box that could be full of nukyoolar secrets.”
Jenny jerked her arm away. “There’s hay inside – ain’t no nukyoolar nuthin’ in this box.” She lifted off the freed boards and tore through the hay underneath, searching for whatever important goods were inside.
We both fell to our knees and stared at the bright blue gem the size of my head that had been in the box. It was shiny and beautiful, but cloudily opaque like turquoise or jade rather than transparent like a sapphire. My hands shook as I reached out to touch the perfect thing, following Jenny’s lead as she caressed the jewel.
“What is it?” I asked, thinking Jenny knew more about rocks.
She shrugged and picked it up. “Oooh! Feel of it, Steve!”
As I took the rock and considered its heft in my hands, I realized what she wanted me to feel. The rock had an inside that sloshed around, as if it were liquid. I turned the gem over in my hands, looking at it carefully. “It feels like a giant egg!”
Jenny nodded and took the thing away from me, holding it up so that the sun was behind it. An exuberant smile grew upon her face. “Look! It’s just like that one on TV, it has to be – it’s a dragon’s egg! You can see the wings when you candle it!”
“What? Ain’t no such thing as dragons. Give it here.” I grabbed the egg and looked through the shell just like Jenny. Sure enough, I could see the thin tendrils that bent at an awkward angle coming off its back, the thinner part of the wing evidently translucent. “Jesus Christ on a cracker, Jenny, you was right!”
“Can we hatch it? We can feed it our pigs n’ dogs if’n we have to.”
I nodded. A dragon, from what I’d seen on TV, would be far better a pet than some stupid, inbred mutts and some walking bacon. “Sure can, Jenny. I’m just gonna take this baby home and hide it in my underwear drawer to keep it warm.” Cradling the egg in my arms, I began walking back toward the house.
“What we gon’ do ‘bout the box?” Jenny asked, catching up to me with my longer stride. “Cain’t just leave it there for anyone to see.”
I nodded. She was right once again – if the government came back and saw that box with no dragon’s egg in it, they’d come looking for us. I pointed her back at the box, then said, “You go catch it on fire, then cover up the ashes with weeds real good. Ain’t no good gonna come of lettin’ the Yanks have control over a dragon.”
Jenny seemed jealous as she looked at the egg in my arms. “You said it, Steve.”
And so Jenny started clearing out the brush to get enough room for her fire while I walked the egg home. The trailer wasn’t too far away, just a bit down the road and into the holler, and this little feller would need somewhere nice and hot to incubate. It wasn’t long before I was throwing open our screen door, yelling at our dogs to shut up, and throwing my underwear out of the bottom drawer in our plastic dresser.
I turned off the fans in the room, thinking it’d be hot enough in the bedroom if I just moved them to the living room, and carefully packed the egg into that bottom drawer. I felt the baby dragon inside wiggle and felt excited. It wouldn’t be long until we had our very own baby dragon.
I’d train it to use the bathroom outside the house, kill deer, and fly around with me on its back. Of course, I’d let it eat most of the deer it killed, but teach it to leave me the heads so I could stick them on my walls and pretend I did the hunting. Them damn Yanks didn’t need a dragon, didn’t deserve it.
And so Jenny and I kept the egg happy by turning it every so often in the drawer and sleeping on the hand-me-down couch with the dogs in the living room while the bedroom was so hot. We made sure the jewelweed and thistles grew back where the box had been burned, covering up the spot where we’d found the egg. Just in case the government did show up, though, we even took the time to dismantle the still out back and cook our books up real good.
And so Jenny and I fiddled and farted around the house, what with no moonshine to make, watching this egg. Each day the wings got less defined, curling tighter against the bulbous body. We could feel it wiggling, see it squirming when we candled it.
We knew it was getting close the night we heard a scratching sound. I turned on the lamp and, though sleepy, quickly forced myself to sit up on the couch. I shoved old Blue off me, the dog grumpily snorting as she plopped onto the living room floor. Without a pause, I threw my feet onto the ground just in front of the couch where Jenny was asleep.
“Jenny,” I said, kicking her while she slept in a sleeping bag covered in dogs. “Jenny darlin’, wake up.”
She stirred, her hair a mess, and yawned as she looked up at me. “What you want?”
“Listen.” There was the scratching noise from the bedroom, a bit of movement.
She shoved the dogs off her and got up. “The egg’s hatchin’! Let’s go watch!”
And so I followed her, neither of us bothering to put on anything more than our skivvies, into the blazing hot bedroom. My hand fumbled around on the wall as I searched for the light switch, finally meeting its mark and brightening up the room.
We bent down over the dresser drawer and looked closely at the moving egg. “It’s so purty,” Jenny said. “I hope the dragon that hatches is as purty as its egg. Do you reckon we ort ta move back? In case it breathes fire and whatnot?”
I nodded my head but kept my face just over the drawer. A tiny crack had appeared on the top, wrapping around to the bottom where the dragon had nearly gotten all the way through. I wanted to help the poor thing, but I remembered what they said about chickens and how helping them makes them stupid or something.
Jenny bounced up and down. “What we gonna name it, Steve?”
I proudly announced, “I’m still a fan of Traveller. Ain’t no better name for a worthy steed.”
Jenny snorted. “You don’t know if it’s even gonna be the kind of dragon you can ride, stupid. It might not even get that big. And what if it’s intelligent? What if it can learn to read and write like a person can? I think we should name it Alex. That way, we don’t have to know whether it’s a girl or a boy.” She seemed resolute as she sat, eyeing her side of the egg.
“You’ve got a point.”
I hushed quickly, though, seeing a spindly claw break out one end of the egg. It retracted quickly, another black claw shooting out the opposite side. The dragon kept poking a claw out, all around the egg, as if perforating the sides to break out all at once.
“Here it comes!” Jenny squealed. “Our very own baby dragon!”
The top of the egg burst to pieces as it popped off, eight spindly legs that we’d mistaken for wings expanding from a hissing, black head of a spider.
I screamed and backed up, Jenny scooting away so quickly that she probably got carpet burn.
“Kill it!” she screamed, “Kill it!”
I gulped as I looked at the spider, in the dresser next to my bed, and wondered if I could make it past the creature to get the pistol under my pillow. I sat and screamed, unable to get myself to move past the hissing, crackling bug.
Jenny, however, was smart. She got up and left the room, grabbing two of our hunting rifles and a box of ammo from the gun cabinet in the hallway. She tossed me a cartridge and pulled the bolt on her own, shoving in a bullet.
It didn’t take long before Jenny shot it. I soon took a turn, then she shot once more. The dogs were howling and the spider was screeching in this high pitched wail, its legs wiggling all around creepily as bullets splattered its nasty blood all over the place. We kept shooting and shooting, not stopping until long after the spider had stopped screaming.
When the box was out of ammo, we sighed and dropped to the floor. I wiped the sweat from my forehead, my breathing becoming steadier.
After a few seconds of sitting still, I looked at the dresser drawer full of giant spider parts. “Who the Hell, Jenny dear, would want a giant spider? What the Hell was a spider egg doing in that truck?”
Jenny shook her head and swallowed. It took her a few moments before she answered, “Those sneaky bastards dressed that egg up all pretty and made us think it was a dragon! It’s not even sensible, not even morally right to do something so downright sneaky!” She wiped off her face and let her gun down.
“What we gonna do, Jenny? Reckon we ort ta burn the house down? I ain’t sleeping in here no more.”
She shook her head. “I dunno. One thing’s for sure, though: you cain’t never trust a Yank.”
I nodded in sincere agreement, standing up and offering a hand to help Jenny. “Amen. Let’s go get the gasoline and torch this joint.”