Wordcount: 3,237 words
Tagline: A white elephant gift exchange does not go as planned for a snarky college kid.
What’s the weirdest Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?
Sure, those ‘gifts’ like ceramic kittens from your clingy aunt or smelly cheese from your weird uncle count. Even the sumo-sized long underwear from your grandma can count. All weird. All valid.
I mean weird weird though. Like you’re not sure whether it’s real or a joke weird. Like, you don’t know whether to keep it or throw it out, or whether even touching it is a good idea.
Ever gotten anything like that?
Wish I could say me neither.
Instead, as I write this, I’ve got a hyper, scaly—
Oh, hold on. Might as well back up a little, as long as you’re here.
And by a little, I mean this all started about a week ago; the week before Christmas, when I made the horrible mistake of allowing my sister to drag me to her writing group’s white elephant gift exchange.
For clarification, my sister has been part of this writing group for years, and every year they host a ‘fun’ party, complete with gift exchange. They invite anyone who wants to come, with the purpose of bringing others into their cutesy writing brigade. I’ve turned my sister down each and every time. I am not a writer–I mean, except for now, obviously, and only now out of necessity–and have no intention of being suckered into writing romance and elegant prose and whatever else writing groups do.
But my sister is about as persistent as a three-year-old and three hundred times more persuasive. When she heard I didn’t have anything going on (poor planning on my part to even tell her), dragging me with her became her not-so-secret mission. It didn’t even work to tell her I had nothing to bring for the exchange. She snorted, scooped up my coffee mug drying on the counter, threw it into a box–complete with a bow–and practically threw me into her car.
If I hadn’t forgotten my cell phone, I would have called the police to report kidnapping.
Add a charge of abuse in there, because my sister wouldn’t stop playing her sappy Christmas music on the ride. You know, the kind of stuff that talks about making it home for the holidays, to be with the one you love, etc., etc., yuck, yuck, and blah. Inhumane treatment.
The group was even worse than I thought. The building they meet in smelled like perfume, blasted Christmas tunes so loud they made my head pound, and ninety percent of the group were middle-aged women with sweaters and those little reading glasses they have to squint into. There were a couple guys there, all looking just as uncomfortable as me–probably husbands dragged into it–and one other guy I’d guess to be about my age; out of high school, anyway.
Their only saving grace was the food, which became my company for the evening. I avoided the ‘allergen-friendly’ concoctions sprinkled over the table and kept to the safe items. At least someone had the decency to bring real chips and brownies.
When the gift exchange came, I played my part like a soldier drafted into war, allowing them to blindfold me so I could stumble like a fool into the middle of the room, where all the gifts were piled. I grabbed the first one I touched, ripped the blindfold back off, and rejoined the food, where I stayed until everyone else got their gifts.
I guess everyone else forgot about me, because they all “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed over one another’s gifts until the mind-numbing event finally ended. Fine by me. I’d just open what was almost certainly a pair of fuzzy socks later, in the comfort of my own walls and locked door.
My sister must have pitied me, or felt some inkling of regret, because she at least turned down the music on the ride home.
Once I was safely back in my own apartment, and my sister had left again, I made myself spaghetti (I happen to be an excellent cook, thank you very much), and as I sat down to eat, I noticed the box I’d gotten still on the table. My feet were kind of cold.
Sighing, I tore off the paper, tossed it in my trashcan, and peeled open the flaps of the box. It seemed like a pretty massive box for just socks. Only it wasn’t socks. Nope.
Man, I wish it was socks.
Instead, it was a huge, egg-shaped . . . well—egg. No joke. Huge and pale with thin green lines running across it. I tapped on it a few times, thinking maybe it was just another container or something. But my fingernails clicked on the surface, and it sure felt like an eggshell.
I guess it was a container. Just not holding anything I wanted.
I frowned, staring at the . . . egg. What in the world would fit in an egg that size? Well, probably just about anything, but what belonged in an egg that size? What was in it?
My fingers started dialing my sister before my mind thought to, and she answered in three rings.
“Hello?” She sounded far too calm. She probably got the socks.
“Claire, what’s the big idea?”
A pause. “What are you talking about?”
“This gift. The one from your stupid writer group.”
“Oh–yeah? What’s wrong with it?” Her smile bled into her voice. “The socks don’t fit?”
“It’s not socks!” I stared at the egg on my table, tracing the lines with my gaze. “I didn’t even get my mug back. It’s . . . it’s some kind of . . .”
“It’s an egg.”
Another pause, and this time I could almost feel Claire’s frown.
“I’m serious. It’s an egg. And I don’t know if it’s like . . . a turkey’s egg or a—a some kind of huge bird’s egg or what, but it’s massive and ugly and I don’t want it.”
Claire laughed. “It’s probably just some kind of prank. Try opening it.”
“Uh, yeah, not happening. It looks real.”
“Then scramble it for breakfast–I don’t know! Why are you freaking out?”
“I—” I stopped, frowning. Why was I freaking out? What’s the worst case scenario? That I pitch it in the dumpster out back and be done with it? That wasn’t so hard.
“You’re right. Sorry.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, shaking my head. “I’ll just get rid of it myself.”
Claire sniffed. “Oookay. Well, have fun. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” She snickered. “Maybe, I’ll join you for breakfast. Sounds like you have enough.”
I hung up without returning the goodbye.
Great. Just great. First, I had to go to her ridiculous gift exchange in the first place, and then I didn’t actually get anything useful. Just dumpster food. That’s just my luck.
I really was hungry though, so I opted to finish my spaghetti first and then take it down. Except that as I ate, staring at it and studying it’s colors, my curiosity grew. What kind of an egg was it? If it was somehow a chicken’s egg, I seriously pitied the chicken. And I didn’t think even an ostrich egg could be that big.
And what would a middle-aged woman be doing with an ostrich egg?
And–more importantly–why would they bring it to a white elephant gift exchange?
And why did I have to get it?
Google to the rescue. I sat back at my table, scrolling through search results for ‘huge egg’ on my phone. But down through the images I searched, and nothing like the egg on my table showed up. Chicken eggs, turkey eggs, yes–even ostrich eggs, but none that looked like mine.
Except. At the very bottom of the images, there it was. A green-lined, massive egg. My throat dry, I clicked on it, and followed the link to a site all about fantasy. And not some casual site. No, no, this was some sort of hard-core fan site, dedicated to fantasy-type creatures. The types you’d see in Lord of the Rings or the like. Elves, goblins, dwarves, centaurs, etc.
And that egg on my table?
You know, because my landlord–the one who doesn’t allow hamsters–would be just fine with a . . . White-Tail Dragon.
I stood and studied the egg closer. Ridiculous . . . Dragons don’t exist. It must be some sort of prank. But as I tapped on the shell again, studying the patterns–growing darker?–over it, my stomach knotted tighter.
Dragons don’t exist. Right?
Because I’m a complete and utter fool, I opted not to get rid of the egg that night. Instead, I carried it into my room and set it on top the dresser, where I stared at it from my bed, in between glances at my phone; at the research–if made-up stuff can be called research–I’d pulled up about dragons. Until I fell asleep, my dreams filled with scales, tails, and fire-breath.
When I woke up, the egg was in pieces.
Just pause with me a moment and imagine how you’d feel. The egg you’d really hoped was just a prank is shattered on your dresser. You have reason to believe the inside held an actual dragon. And now said dragon could be anywhere in your tiny apartment, ready to roast you alive.
I grabbed the Kleenex box off the stand beside my bed and threw it onto the floor, half-expecting a tiny reptile to run out and attack it. But nothing moved and I just felt ridiculous, acting like there’s a rat on the loose. How much damage could a dragon that size really do anyway? It had to fit in that egg, and yeah, it’s massive, but it’s not like it’s Smaug himself.
I lowered my feet onto the floor and slid out of bed, leaning down and snatching the Kleenex box. At least I could bash the thing’s head if it came at me. Maybe stun it for long enough that I could get out of here and call the police.
Gee, that would be a fun call.
The floor creaked as I crept across it, peering down my hallway. With slow steps, I approached the kitchen, brandishing the Kleenex box like those swords I was reading about the night before on that fantasy site. I rounded the corner into my kitchen–and a pot clanged.
Right in front of me, where my dishes from spaghetti were drying on the counter, sat a real-life, actual, white-tailed dragon.
No, I was not still dreaming. Believe me I checked. My arm still hurts where I pinched it.
I stared at the dragon, trying to decide if I had lost my mind, or if there was seriously a fantasy creature knocking my dishes on the floor I wish I’d cleaned. It was definitely a baby, judging by the pictures I’d seen on that site. Full-grown dragons were massive. Definitely not counter-sized.
If they were real. Which they weren’t. But in that case, an imaginary dragon can do a lot of damage to pots.
My knee popped–stupid genetics–and the . . . dragon glanced up at me with big, orange eyes. For a long moment we both just stared at each other, frozen in place. Never would I have guessed I’d ever have a dragon in my kitchen.
I don’t even like dragons. I was never the type of kid who enjoyed fantasy books or wanted to be a knight vanquishing foes and saving princesses. Give me a science textbook and I’m set, but imaginary–or non-imaginary?–creatures have never been high on my want-to-see list. Dragons have never been on the list at all.
With a snort, the dragon cocked its head and padded to the edge of the counter, narrowing its eyes at me. Its tail, studded with silver spikes, dragged behind it, knocking the last pot onto the floor with a BANG. It jumped, startled, and looked from me to the pot, then back to me again.
My head spun. What would you do with a baby dragon in your kitchen? I reached for my pocket and then remembered that my phone was still beside my bed. Who would I have called anyway? Claire would laugh at me, the police wouldn’t believe me, and anyone would think I was crazy. I’m still not convinced I’m not. Crazy, that is.
The dragon snorted again, its nostrils flaring. It narrowed its eyes, as if trying to read my soul.
Can dragons do that?
I frowned at it. “I suppose you think you’re real.”
The dragon blinked.
Why was I talking to a dragon?
I squinted, and took another step toward the counter, keeping my face turned to the side, in case it decided to breathe fire or something. Dragons are supposed to be able to do that.
“Look . . .” I hesitated, my mind racing. What was I even going to do with this thing? Throwing an egg in the dumpster was one thing . . . pitching a living creature–even if it was a dragon–seemed cruel. But for obvious reasons, I had to do something. There was no way–no way–that I was letting it stay.
But how to even catch it?
The dragon snorted out another breath and I would have sworn tiny wisps of smoke curled from its nostrils. It blinked twice, inching closer to me, balancing like a gargoyle on the edge of the counter. I eyed its bony wings. Baby birds couldn’t fly for a while after hatching. Were dragons the same way?
Turns out, yes. But when startled–say, by the doorbell–they sure can leap. Apparently catching it wouldn’t be a problem.
I pitched backward as the dragon buried its claws in my shirt, snorting and knocking me back into the fridge. I shoved at it, my heart hammering against my ribcage. “Get off, get off, get off!”
The dragon snorted again, leaving a whiff of sulfur in the air, and tightened its sharp grip on my chest. It stared at me with wide eyes that someone else–someone not being attacked by it–might actually have found kind of cute. It stilled, and I froze with it, staring down at its narrow, green face.
The doorbell rang again.
I fought for breath. If I called for help, would I startle the dragon again? I didn’t fancy having my eyes clawed out by an imaginary creature.
The doorbell rang again. And again.
I held my breath. The dragon cocked its head up at me.
“Alex?” Claire’s muffled voice seeped through the door. “Alex, I know you’re in there.”
“I’m not home,” I said, my voice strained.
“Alex, you moron. Let me in.”
I swallowed. Claire was the type of sister who would either rip the dragon off me with her bare hands, or escort me first-class to the asylum herself. I opened my mouth, still not even sure what I was going to answer-
And Claire shoved open the door.
Of course I forgot to lock it.
I froze, eyes wide, and Claire stopped in her tracks, her eyes dinner plates and jaw hanging open. She made a slight sound, as if being strangled, and her gaze flickered to me.
“What. Is that.”
“It’s . . . not an ostrich egg.”
If Claire wasn’t more careful, she’d get a bird making a nest in her mouth soon.
I cleared my throat, watching the dragon–still perched on my chest–and keeping as still as possible. “I know this looks ridiculous. I think your writer friends drugged me.”
“If they did, they drugged me too.” Claire’s voice wavered, but when I glanced at her, she stood just as still as before. “What kind of joke are you playing?”
I almost sputtered all over the dragon. “Excuse me?”
“I know better than to believe your pranks by now, Mr. Sis-There’s-a-Chip-in-Your-Teapot.” Claire’s voice hardened, as if she was trying to convince herself just as much as me. “You’re just trying to get back at me for dragging you to that gift exchange in the first place.” She glanced at my feet. “You really did get socks. You’re just trying to trick me.”
I gaped at her. “What are you talking about?” The dragon’s claws curled into my skin and I flinched, lowering my voice again. “Claire, are your eyes working today? There is a dragon on my chest! As much as I’d like to take credit for a prank like this, I assure you I would not have given it such sharp claws.”
Claire shook her head, tearing her gaze from me, as if trying to shake the past few minutes from her mind. “No, no, no, no, no.” She turned away and my throat dried. “I’m not falling for it.”
The dragon snorted and climbed up to my shoulder, sending chills down my spine.
Claire flicked her hand at me, as if waving me away like a pesky fly, and strode back out the door. “See you later, Alex.” She slammed the door shut behind her.
Seething, I glanced at the dragon on my shoulder. We could probably both have breathed fire now.
It’s not my fault that I loved playing pranks on Claire when we were kids. And . . . more recently. But how could she honestly think I could conjure up a dragon? The closest I’d ever come were spiders on her pillow, snakes in her shoes, and . . . Alright, maybe I did deserve this.
The dragon nuzzled its face against my cheek, and I shivered at the feel of its scales. Its tail dragged down my back. I glared at it, comparing its eyes to the oranges on my counter.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” I spat the words, my apprehension at the creature shrinking with every moment, and turning into annoyance at having to figure out how to exchange a dragon for Christmas. Socks had never sounded better.
The dragon stared at me, blinked twice–and lunged from my shoulder, onto the shelf in my hallway. With ridiculous speed, it pattered down the shelf, knocking countless breakable knickknacks to the floor and cruising toward my bedroom.
“Oh, no you don’t!” I ran after it, imagining all my electronics, my bed, my valuables . . . everything smashed and torched and ruined. There was no way my insurance would cover dragon damage.
My laptop, my phone charger, and my watch later, I can confirm. It does not.
Which is but one of the reasons I’m writing this ad. Yes, for a newspaper ad, it’s insanely expensive. But ‘Free Dragon. Call 360-6537,’ does not convey my desperation. It’s got to go. At this moment, its chosen my head for its nesting grounds, and will not stop scratching up my scalp for a bed. But don’t let my account deter you from taking the scaly snipe into your home.
If you’ve ever wanted a scalp massager, a unique lighter, or a pet that will ensure you get your steps for the day, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Absolutely free. No questions asked. You show up, I send it with you in a nicely-wrapped box–complete with a bow.
But please. Neither me, nor my now-in-shambles apartment can take any more of this.
If you’re interested, stop by 315 N. Main St ASAP.
Otherwise, I hear the library’s hosting a white elephant gift exchange on Saturday.
And at this point, I’m desperate enough to show up with a white dragon.