Grag was under the bridge typing away when Frod came to visit. “Hey Frod,” he said. “Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in years.”
“Yeah, well, you know how I never paid attention in class?” Frod said.
“Of course I do. You snored so loud that we could hardly hear what the teacher was saying,” Grag said.
Frod laughed. “I wasn’t that bad, was I?”
“Do you remember any of the lessons?” Grag asked.
“Good point,” Frod said. “Anyway, when we were talking about life skills, I thought I needed to live under a fridge to gather my hoard. Wow, it was a tight fit. I only ever managed to grab a handful of dropped change, but the food was good.”
“You’re joking, right?” Grag asked.
“Not really,” Frod said. “But enough about me, tell me how you’re doing.”
Above their heads, they could hear the pounding sound of someone crossing the bridge. Frod looked over at Grag. “Aren’t you going to go get that?”
Grag typed something on his laptop. “Nope.”
“Don’t stop trolling just because I’m visiting. I may have slept through all our lessons, but I could help,” Frod said.
“No one trolls in person anymore,” Grag said. “It’s all online now.”
Frod looked around. “On what?”
“Online. Look.” Grag turned his laptop screen around.
Frod squinted. “Your dog is ugly and has fleas,” he read. “Did you write that?”
“That’s modern trolling,” Grag said.
“But what good does saying weird things online do?” Frod asked.
“What do you mean?” Grag asked.
“Well, you can’t eat your words,” Frod said. “Or gather them up to keep you warm at night.”
“You really missed a lot sleeping through all those lessons,” Grag said. “I don’t troll to make a living. I do it because I’m honoring my cultural heritage.”
Frod scratched his head. “But you still have to eat. And you still need to build a hoard so that you can find a nice cave to settle down in, right?”
“Of course I do.” Grag closed his laptop and turned to look at his friend. “I work as a customer service representative.”
Frod frowned. “Are those really words?”
“Of course they are. I work for a human company, answering questions about the stuff they sell and handling returns. Things like that.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good job for a troll,” Frod said.
Grag laughed. “You’d be surprised.”
“Listen,” Grag said, leaning forward. “Do you want to build a hoard and earn money you can exchange for food?”
“Good, good,” Grag said. “It’s the modern troll way. I know of a collections agency that’s hiring. I think it would be a great job for you. Do you know how to use a telephone?” Grag held up a cellphone.
“That’s a telephone?” Frod asked. “It’s so small.”
Grag sighed. “I think you were under that fridge too long. Don’t worry. You’ll pick it up really quick. Are you hungry? We can talk over lunch.”
“I found some bread in the park this morning, but I had to fight some ducks for it,” Frod said. “I’m starving.”
“Let’s get a pizza,” Grag said.
“That sounds wonderful,” Frod said. “Thanks for being a good friend.”
“Don’t mention it,” Grag said. “Ever. I’ve got a reputation as a troll to keep up.”
Myrtle hatched in a warm, cozy cave high in the mountains. She was the first dragon born to her clan in a long, long time. That meant that everyone was a little overprotective. When it was time for her to go and see the world, her family didn’t want her to leave.
“I don’t know,” her mom said. “When I left the cave, humans were dying from a terrible disease. Everyone seemed to be sick. It was all terribly frightening.”
“When I left the cave,” her grandfather said, “there were humans sailing around the ocean attacking people and burning down villages. It really isn’t safe.”
“Things were fine when I left the cave,” her father said. “Although everything seemed quite dirty and smelly. Maybe she can just make a short trip out and hurry home.”
“It’s tradition to let her go,” Grandfather said. “But that doesn’t mean she has to leave right now. We could wait another one or two hundred years.”
“I’ll be fine,” Myrtle said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in a year.”
And so they unsealed the entrance to the cave and Myrtle left. It was summertime first. The bugs were plentiful and the days and nights were warm. Myrtle spent her time hiding and observing. Things weren’t as dirty or scary as she’d expected. In fact, there was so much to see and do that she wished she had longer than a year.
Time passed. Soon the worms were burrowing deeper at night to get away from the frosty night air. Dried leaves settled in layers over the brown, sleeping lawns. It was autumn time. The crisp, chill air was the early warning system informing everyone that winter was coming.
Myrtle was a little dragon, only a few decades old. She was small enough to not really need a cave to sleep in, so she had a little burrow instead at he base of an oak tree. The squirrels living upstairs were mostly good neighbors, and the people living in the house nearby never seemed to notice her.
Just before dusk, she hurried out and joined the other little animals trying to gather materials to ready their homes for winter. One day, Mother Squirrel was sitting on a branch, chewing the fingers off a soft, cloth gardening glove.
“What do you have there?” Myrtle asked.
“Sleeping bags for the little ones,” Mother Squirrel said. “They’ll sleep warmer at night now.”
“Well done,” Myrtle said.
Father Squirrel was burying acorns over by the pine tree. He waved as Myrtle flew past, and then went back to his work, his bushy tail twitching. He snatched up another acorn and hopped a few feet away and started digging again.
Myrtle kept an eye on where the ladybugs and caterpillars were burrowing into the piles of leaves. She’d get up early and eat a few for breakfast. Yum.
She reached the sidewalk and flew low over the gutters, looking for a bit of sparkle. Most of the time, she darted down, only to be disappointed by bits of broken glass. Tonight, she was lucky and found three pennies. It’s better than she’d done all week.
She flew home with the pennies and pushed them into the piles that lined her burrow. She settled into her hoard, and it soon warmed up as it conducted her heat. She would be warm this winter as she hibernated.
And when she woke up, it was spring. Her time outside was running out. Myrtle spent more time peeking into windows and spying from trees. The robins had returned and kept her company in the afternoon. They told her stories about strange people and scary cats and worms eaten at dawn when they tasted best.
The people mostly kept to themselves. The animals were a little friendlier. But everyone seemed so busy now that spring was here. They dashed about fixing up their shelter and checking in with all their favorite places.
And so, Myrtle watched the sky. She loved the sunsets and sunrises. She loved the clouds that so easily changed their shapes from one moment to the next. She loved the rain that fell from nowhere and washed everything clean again.
She loved the graceful trees and flowers and the brilliant green that was everywhere. She even tried eating berries, at the urging of the squirrel family. They tasted sticky and far too sweet. She didn’t love the berries.
And then it was summer again and time to go home. Her family met her at the entrance to the cave. They cheered when she stepped inside. “How was it?” they asked. “Was it dirty? Was it scary? Was it awful?”
“It was nice,” Myrtle said. “I think I may want to go out again someday.”
“I’m going to the grocery store,” Mother said. “I made a list, so I won’t be gone long. Use your time wisely. Past is in charge.” And then, she left.
Present and Future looked across the table at their sister. “Why are you always in charge?” Present asked.
“Because I’m the oldest and most responsible,” Past said.
“You haven’t done anything responsible lately,” Present said.
“I did my homework an hour ago,” Past said.
“Like I said,” Present said.
“Did you do your homework?” Past asked.
“I’m working on it,” Present said. “Future hasn’t even started hers.”
“I’ll do it later. It’ll be fine,” Future said.
“I still say it’s not fair,” Present said. “Oh hey, look at that squirrel!” Present jumped up and ran to the window. “Let’s build a squirrel feeder so we can see cute squirrels all the time. Let’s build a giant squirrel feeder and feed all the squirrels in the city. Or the world.”
“I can see it now,” Future said. “We’ll be invaded by rats carrying a resistant strain of the bubonic plague. It will take twenty years to find the cure, but the world will be so devastated that we’ll have five years of peace.” Future had a dreamy look on her face. “World peace, doesn’t it sound marvelous? I’m sure it would be worth two decades of pain and suffering.”
Present made a face. “I don’t want a squirrel feeder after all.”
“Look what you’ve done,” Past whispered to Future. “That’s the same face she made when you told her that if she took ballet class she’d fall off the stage during her first performance. Now she’s going to sing sad pop songs at the top of her voice.”
Present took a deep breath. “Unbreak my heart…” she sang loudly.
“Hey, maybe we could make cookies later,” Future said.
“See, I just drew a dog in a funny hat,” Past said. “What was I thinking?”
Present stopped singing. “Cookies? A funny dog?” She held out a hand for the scrap of paper that Past had scribbled on. She turned the paper sideways and upside down. “Are you sure this is a dog in a hat? I think that maybe it’s a flamingo on a motorcycle. Hey, let’s go ride bikes!”
“Pass. Last time you forgot you had brakes and ran into me. It hurt,” Past said.
“Why do you always remember the bad stuff?” Present asked. “The glass is half full.”
Past frowned. “If it’s half full, it’s probably because you drank half. Wait a moment. You did! Drink your own orange juice and leave mine alone.”
“I like orange juice,” Present said. She held up her spoon and let milk dribble back into her cereal bowl. “But I don’t like when the cereal gets mushy. Do you want it?”
“You’ll get hungry later if you don’t eat it,” Future said.
“But I don’t want it,” Present said.
“I ate all my cereal, and that’s all the cereal I wanted,” Past said. “I wanted all my juice, too.” She picked up her cup when Present reached for it and drank it quickly.
“We’re all done! Let’s ride bikes,” Present said.
“You didn’t finish your homework,” Past said. “Plus Mother said we’re not supposed to go out while she’s gone.”
“You’re boring,” Present said. She smacked her spoon into her bowl, and milk splattered on the table.
“You should clean that up,” Future said. “Mom will be here soon.”
“Cleaning up is boring,” Present said.
Future reached a hand across the table to Past. “I’ll put the bowls in the sink if you will help me with my homework.”
Past stacked her dishes and put them into the waiting hand. “I finished mine so I have time to help,” she said.
“Help me, too,” Present said.
Just then, Mother came in. “I’m home. Did you use your time wisely?” she asked. “What did you do?”
“We sat at the table and talked,” Past said.
“Past is going to help me with my homework,” Future said.
“I’m bored and I hate mushy cereal,” Present said.
“That’s great girls,” Mother said. “Why don’t you pause and help me put away the groceries. Present, you need to wipe up the milk first.”
“Hey! Let’s go buy a self-cleaning table instead. Right now. I’ll drive,” Present said.
“You don’t know how to drive. Clean up the mess you made, it will teach you patience,” Mother said.
“Patience is boring,” Present said. But she cleaned up the mess while her sisters put the groceries away.
“Mom,” Gracie said. “Mom? Mom. MOM.”
“I’m in the kitchen,” Mom said.
“Mooooooooom,” Gracie said as she hurried down the hall.
“Gracie, what’s wrong?” Mom asked. She turned off the faucet and dried her hands.
“My super amazing beautiful glittery rainbow rock is missing!” Gracie said. “It’s gone!”
“Well, I don’t think I’ve seen any rainbow rocks anywhere today. When did you last see it?” Mom asked.
“I had it yesterday. I took it to school, and everybody wanted to see it. They passed it around class after the math quiz. Janice offered me a candy bar for it, and Scott said he’d pay five dollars for it, but I said no because it’s my rock and not theirs, and now it’s gone,” Gracie said.
“Take a deep breath, Gracie,” Mom said.
Gracie took a deep breath. And then another. It didn’t really help. “But, Mom,” she said. “What if someone stole it? I’ll never see it again. I bet it grants wishes, too. If someone suddenly has a hundred pink bunnies, they stole my rock. Can we drive around town and see if there are any pink bunnies?”
“When was the last time you remember seeing your rock?” Mom asked.
“After everyone looked at it, I put it in my pocket,” Gracie said. “But it’s not there now.”
“Are those the same jeans you wore yesterday?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know,” Gracie said. “They all look the same to me.”
Mom sighed. “Gracie, where did you put your clothes yesterday when you took your bath?”
“Hmmmm.” Gracie thought for a moment. “I left them on the floor.” She raced off to the bathroom. “MOM!” she yelled. “They’re not here! Someone stole my jeans.”
Mom looked in through the bathroom door. “Gracie, I put them in the wash.”
“So, where’s my rock?” Gracie asked.
“Probably in the dryer. You’re supposed to empty your pockets before you put your clothes in the laundry,” Mom said.
“But I didn’t put my jeans in the laundry,” Gracie said. “I left them on the floor.”
“You’re supposed to put your clothes in the laundry basket when you get changed,” Mom said. “So, you skipped two steps.”
“Can we check the dryer for my rock? What if the dryer breaks it?” Gracie asked.
“Okay,” Mom said. “I don’t want your rock to dent the inside of my dryer.” They went into the garage together. The dryer was rumbling.
“What’s that sound?” Gracie asked. “It sounds like growling.”
“It’s the sound the dryer makes when something small and heavy gets bumped around inside,” Mom said. “It’s not growling.”
But, when she opened the dryer door and the dryer stopped spinning, the noise didn’t stop. Gracie shrieked. “Mom! There’s a piece of my rainbow rock on top. The dryer did break it.”
Just then, the clothes started moving. Something blue and lizardy pushed some socks aside and climbed onto the top of the pile of clothes at the bottom of the dryer. The noise was louder.
“It’s a baby dragon!” Gracie said. “I think maybe it’s angry.”
Mom looked at Gracie. “Where did you get that rainbow rock?”
Gracie looked at Mom. “It was by the dragon statue in the park.”
Mom frowned. “I don’t remember a dragon statue.”
Gracie frowned. “Well, it was there.”
Mom pulled on some gardening gloves and scooped up the little blue dragon. It stopped growling and tried to bite her fingers. “Okay, Gracie. We’re going to the park. Show me where you saw the dragon. This baby needs its mama.”
“So it was an egg, not a rock?” Gracie asked. “But that’s not fair. I didn’t even get a wish!”
“Come on, Gracie,” Mom said. “Let’s go.”
“But, Moooooom,” Gracie said. And she followed her mom out the door.