Isaac was vacuuming Charlie’s room when Marianne leaned in through the doorway, a basket of clothes balanced on her hip. Isaac turned off the vacuum. “What’s up?” he asked.
“The washing machine is leaking,” she said. “Can you fix it?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
She nodded. “It still smells bad, too.”
Isaac sighed. “I’ll look into that too. I couldn’t find anything last time.”
“Thanks.” She smiled and left.
Isaac finished vacuuming the room and put the vacuum away. Then he walked through the kitchen and opened the door to the large closet across from his desk. Oh, that did smell bad. Much worse than when he checked it last week.
The shallow puddle on the closet floor sparkled in the light. Isaac smiled. It was pretty, anyway. Even if it meant more work. He shifted the washing machine out of the way, unplugged the machines, and turned off the water. The smell was a little stronger. He left to get his toolbox.
He changed into boots and grabbed some towels too. When he returned, he put down some towels to sop up the water and turned on his flashlight. Time to check the hoses. Near the end of the drain hose, he found a hole. The edges were smooth, as though the hose had melted a bit. That wasn’t good.
He stepped a little closer and his foot came down on something mushy. The smell grew a little worse. He slipped a little and caught himself. He turned the flashlight downward. Was that a rotten apple core? It looked moldy and disgusting. Had it come from under the washing machine? How did it get there?
Perhaps Charlie was using the laundry closet as a hideout. Isaac smiled at the idea of Charlie hiding in here, eating apples, and maybe reading a book with a flashlight. That sounded fun. He’d have to talk to him about throwing away his apple cores. Dropping them behind the washing machine was not okay.
He needed to get some paper towels and clean up the mess. He turned off his flashlight and stepped back. Just then, there was a tiny sound, atchshh. A tiny flame erupted from the shadows by the drain hose.
That wasn’t normal, at all. He shone his flashlight into the corner. There was a crack in the wall, behind the pipes. It had looked like a shadow. He crouched closer and shone his flashlight at the crack. Something hissed. He could see two eyes shining from the darkness where the crack was just a little wider
Isaac leaned forward just a little and shone his flashlight into the hole. There was a little sky blue lizard inside, nestled into a hole lined with mismatched socks. It hissed again and raised the edges of its wings a little. A winged lizard?
Isaac stepped back. He was pretty sure that lizards weren’t normally blue. And the wings were a little odd too. It could be a dragon, maybe. It was awfully small, though. Was it a baby dragon?
He needed an expert opinion. He went to his bedroom and got his wallet off his nightstand and pulled out a business card for Wendell, Wizard Extraordinaire. He picked up his phone and called the number and explained the situation.
“How small did you say it was?” Wendell asked.
“Less than six inches from nose to tail,” Isaac said.
“That’s really small. It shouldn’t have been away from its mother. Do you know what it’s been eating?”
I think apples from the fruit bowl. I’m not sure if it got them itself or if Charlie has been leaving apple cores around,” Isaac said.
“I’ll be right there,” Wendell said.
Isaac went to the entryway and met Wendell as he unzipped the air and stepped through. “Lead the way,” Wendell said.
So Isaac led him through the kitchen to the large closet. Wendell looked around. “That door leads to the garage, right? And the one across leads outside?”
Wendell nodded. “It must have come inside to get out of the cold.”
Isaac shone his flashlight into the corner and pointed out the crack in the wall. Wendell held out a hand for the flashlight. Isaac handed it to him. Wendell shone the flashlight at the wide part of the crack and leaned closer. The dragon hissed.
Wendell murmured a few words and let go of the flashlight. It hovered in the air. He pulled a large pair of gloves from his flat shirt pocket. Isaac wanted pockets like that.
Wendell put on the gloves and reached into the crack. The dragon hissed and roared and breathed fire. Wendell murmured in a soothing voiced. “I won’t hurt you. You’re just a little one, aren’t you? You’re so scared, but it’s going to be okay…”
He cradled the little dragon in a big glove and handed Isaac the flashlight. “I’m going to find her a new home. Can I take the socks, too? It might help with the transition.”
“That’s fine,” Isaac said. “She’s a girl, then?”
“Yes,” Wendell said. “You found her. Did you want to name her?”
“That’s okay,” Isaac said. “I don’t know a lot about dragon names. I’ll let you do that.”
Wendell smiled. “I’ll have to think about it, then. I’ll let you know.” He unzipped the air, strode through, and it zipped closed.
Now that he knew how the hose melted, he could buy a new one without worrying it would happen again. He’d buy something to fix the crack in the wall too. Who knows what would nest in there next? But first, he’d clean up the moldy apple cores. They smelled terrible.
“This is a story from before,” the squirrel said. “I was there, and owl was there, and I remember, but owl does not.”
“I object,” the owl said. “If I don’t remember it, then I obviously wasn’t there.”
The bat laughed. “This is obviously going to be good. Keep going. What happened?”
“As I said…” The squirrel paused and yawned. “I said that the owl was there.”
“I was not,” the owl said.
“Keep going,” the bat said.
The squirrel blinked sleepily. “The owl was there, and he lived in a hole in a tree. The tree was on an island in the middle of a lake. My cousins and I visited the island in the fall, to gather nuts for winter.”
“What kind of nuts?” Isaac asked.
“Whatever kinds we could find,” the squirrel said.
“What kinds could you find?” Isaac asked.
“Whatever kinds were there,” the squirrel said.
“But…” Isaac began.
“Hush,” the bat said. “You’re interrupting the story. That’s rude.”
“I don’t remember when I last met someone so rude,” the owl said.
“You don’t remember anything,” the bat said.
“I remember…” the squirrel said. The owl and bat looked down at the squirrel. “I remember that we took boats to the island. And we carried empty sacks for the nuts. We used our tails as sails and the wind pushed us across the water…”
The squirrel stared off into the distance. The bat scowled. “What happened next?” he asked.
“I used to like riddles,” the squirrel said. “The trickier the better.”
“That’s nice,” the bat said. “But I wanted to hear the rest of the story. Tell us a riddle later.”
“You’d better know the answer to the riddle before you ask it,” the owl said. “The bat always forgets. It’s irritating.”
“I do not,” the bat said.
“You do too,” the owl said.
“I remember…” the squirrel said again. Once again, the owl and bat stopped arguing and looked down. “The owl lived in a hole in a tree.”
“You already said that part,” Isaac said, trying to be helpful.
“Stop interrupting,” the bat said.
“You interrupt too,” Isaac said.
“I do not,” the bat said. “I have more manners than that.”
“Is the story over, then?” the owl asked.
“No, it’s just started,” the bat said. “Keep talking, squirrel.”
“The owl lived in a tree, and the tree was on an island,” the squirrel said. “And my cousins and I would come to gather nuts for the winter.”
“Is that the whole story?” Isaac asked.
“Hush,” the bat said.
“My cousins and I would visit the island, and I remember…” the squirrel looked off into the distance. Isaac opened his mouth to say something, but closed it when the bat hissed at him.
“We would ask the owl permission to gather nuts,” the squirrel said at last. “And I would tell him riddles. But he never answered them. He never answered.”
“This story is obviously not about me,” the owl said. “I am very good at riddles.”
“What happened?” the bat said, ignoring him.
“He bit off my tail,” the squirrel said.
“But you still have a tail,” Isaac said.
“It was longer,” the squirrel said. “I remember.”
“Is that the end?” the owl asked.
“My tail is the end of me, but the end of my tail is not the end of the tale,” the squirrel said.
“I’m suddenly remembering something,” the owl said.
“What do you remember?” Isaac asked.
“I’m remembering that I hate riddles,” the owl said. He clicked his beak ominously.
“The tale is done,” the squirrel said, and he disappeared back into the hollow of the log.