“I had the dream again.”
It seemed so real. Mom and Dad were driving in the front seat, and I was in the back. It was dark out, and my parents were arguing, but I never know what about.
Something hit the car, and we started spinning out of control. I grabbed my seatbelt and gripped tight as my mom started screaming and my dad yelled to hold on.
After spinning for what seemed like an eternity, finally, the car stopped. The throbbing in my head made it hard for me to look up, but when I did, I saw two huge yellow eyes glaring right at me. Instantly, I froze, helpless as a fly caught in a spider’s web. As the glaring eyes grew closer, I saw dark gray scales. Then wide steaming nostrils. Then sharp teeth.
I can’t look away. Still unable to move or make a sound, I saw massive wings stretch wide, covering the night sky. Something warm dripped down the side of my face as a huge claw stretched towards my window.
And then I woke up.
“Ambrose,” says Ms. Davis, “you know it was just a dream, right?”
Ms. Davis is the school therapist. The doctor for the crazy kids like me. She likes to hold a pen and notepad, but she never writes anything down. She just sits behind her desk and says the same thing over and over while her big round glasses slide down her face and sit on the tip of her nose. Sometimes I find myself staring, waiting for them to fall off.
“Dragons aren't real,” she says. “You were just a child. You hit your head and that’s it, nothing more. I’ve let you read the police report. You were coming home from dinner with your parents when you were hit by a drunk driver. I believe you created this fictional creature to cope with the evil thing that happened to you.”
I know she has good intentions, but she’s an adult. She will never understand what it’s like to be a kid. I may have only been three years old, but I know what I saw.
My mind drifts as she talks on and on. My eyes fixate on the cat clock hanging on the blank white wall behind her cluttered desk.
She notices I’d stopped paying attention and sighs. “I’m sorry that you lost your parents, but this is not healthy. It’s been ten years. Do you like having the other kids make fun of you? I don't understand why you continue to hold on to this belief that dragons are real.”
This place sucks. I look again towards the clock, wondering how much longer I had to sit here.
After a long pause, she picks up her prescription pad from her desk. “I'm going to increase your dosage. I think it's time to upgrade you to big-boy pills. You can pick up your prescription later today and start taking them tonight before bed. They should help you sleep better and make those silly dreams go away.”
I grab the slip of paper from Ms. Davis’s hand and quickly take my exit. As I walk down the quiet halls to the nurse’s office, I think about the tragic night that landed me here.
Ten years ago, my parents died in a car crash caused by a dragon. After that, I was taken to the Orville Boy’s School, an orphanage for kids like me who don’t have a family. I’ve been here ever since, and every week I’ve had to go to therapy.
Ms. Davis is new. She’s determined to ‘fix’ me.
This place is my prison. I should know by now that no adult can believe in dragons. I don’t have any friends in this place. The few friends that treated me halfway decent were adopted years ago, and I gave up the hope of being adopted. No one wants a crazy kid who talks about dragons all the time. It wouldn’t suck so badly if the kids weren’t constantly teasing me, but the adults don’t get me either.
I plan to leave this place when I turn sixteen. Run away and go search for dragons. I’ll show them all one day. I’ll prove that dragons are real, and then they’ll pay. I’m working on my escape plan. Tomorrow I turn thirteen, and then I’ll have only three years left before I make my move.
While I’m sitting in the waiting room of the nurse’s office, waiting for my new sleeping pills, I hear the nurses giggle. I know they’re laughing at me. Everyone is always laughing at me.
Until I see my best friend walk in. Simon.
“Ahhhhh!” screams a nurse as she drops my prescription on the floor. “Somebody get this lizard out of here!”
“It’s a gecko,” I correct her.
She frantically reaches for the broom standing in the nearby corner and swings it at Simon. I pick up my pills and then grab Simon as I run out of the nurse’s office.
“That was a close one Simon. I was wondering where you ran off to—”
As I was trying to place Simon into my pocket for safe keeping, I didn’t notice anyone approaching from the adjacent hallway, and I definitely didn’t notice anyone sticking out their ankle. I trip, falling face first into the cement floor.
“Hey Freak.” For as long as I can remember, Tommy has gone out of his way to make my life more painful. “I’m sorry, did my foot get in your way? Is your little pet dragon okay?”
He and his two friends walk away laughing. If I was a dragon, I’d put him in the trash can outside, close the lid, and set it on fire.
“Are you all right?” comes the familiar friendly voice of Mr. Quan, the janitor. He always seems to be around when I need a helping hand.
I sit up, feeling my throbbing lip and wiping away the blood. Looking around I don’t see Simon anywhere.
“Here’s a rag for your lip. That should heal quickly. Don’t worry about the floor, I’ll clean up the mess.”
“Thanks Mr. Quan.” I reply trying to force my lips into a smile.
“Don’t worry about it. Tommy can’t pick on you forever. Oh, before I forget—Stop by my office tomorrow, I have a surprise for you. And don’t take those pills. You don’t need them.”
It is my birthday tomorrow. I wonder if he got me a present. The only thing I want is a ticket out of here.
Now where did Simon run off to? I glance around and down the halls but don’t see him. Oh well, he always shows up eventually.
I head to the library, my favorite place to hang out, to get online. I belong to an online group, True Believers. We know there are things in this world that are covered up, dragons included.
My friend Draven leads the group, but we call him Dre for short. He started the online group to help spread the truth about all the unexplained events in the world. There are five of us who are faithful members. There’s me, Dre, another kid about my age named Bartholomew, and an old husband and wife couple that live off the grid. They believe that my parents died in a car crash caused by a dragon. They’re the only ones who believe my story.
The only thing I can never figure out is why a dragon would want to kill us. Maybe they don’t need a reason. When you’re that powerful, you can do whatever you want.
It’d be awesome to be a dragon. I could fly whenever I wanted and eat whatever or whoever I wanted. There’d be no adults to tell me how crazy I am, no bullies to pick on me and knock me down. I’d be the strongest, scariest dragon of all.
Dre: Hey Ambrose.
Ambrose: Hi Dre. Any new sightings today?
Dre: Another sighting of the Loch Ness Monster off the coast of Scotland. It was reported by a fisherman and his crew working late. The reporter claimed the crew was drinking and they probably saw a shark, gator, or large snake. You know, the usually coverup.
Dre believes that the Loch Ness Monster is a water dragon that likes to snack on fishermen. He also believes that the Abominable Snowman is a mountain dragon with white fur. He says there are different types of dragons that exist all around us. People just make up these myths to cover up the truth: that dragons are real. His arguments make sense to me, and he has never questioned what I believe or my story about my parents.
Dre’s family is all about myths and the unexplained. Most particularly, they are interested in dragons. They travel all around the world investigating sightings and weird events. I wish I could do that too. One day I will. I’ll walk right out of the orphanage and go hunt dragons with Dre, my best friend, second to Simon of course. Then I’ll show everyone that they really do exist.
As I think about running away and how awesome my life would be in the outside world, my vision goes blurry. This has been happening to me for a few weeks now. It only last for a second, but it’s pretty freaky. It’s like looking out of a dirty window. I can see things, but I can’t make out the details. This time in my vision, I’m outside, running towards a Wallymart Superstore. I don’t know why I would have a vision of this. I’ve seen the store before in TV commercials, but I’ve never been to one.
I finish my online chat with Dre and head off to the dining hall for dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs again. I would rather eat anything else. I get my plate and make my way to my usual table in the back of the cafeteria, where Simon and I eat alone, unbothered by everyone else.
As I approach, I see Simon resting on the bench waiting for me. “Hey buddy.” I bite into my overcooked garlic bread and hear a familiar voice that makes my stomach turn.
“Hey Loser, how’s the lip?”
Of course, it’s Tommy and his followers. Why can’t they just leave me alone? Tommy grabs Simon and hands him to his friend. I jump up and throw a punch at Tommy.
“Ouch!” I yelled as he catches my fist right as it’s about to hit him in his face.
“Break it,” says one of his friends.
“Yeah, break his wrist,” says the other.
Tommy squeezes as he twists my wrist. I squeal in pain as he and his friends laugh.
He suddenly lets go and takes a step back.
“What’s going on here boys,” asks Ms. Davis.
“Nothing, ma’am, we were just playing with our friend Ambrose,” Tommy replies.
I’m about to call Tommy a big fat liar, but then Tommy glances at Marcus and gives him a slight nod. I look down to see Simon squirming in Marcus’s hand as Marcus’s grip tightens around Simon’s little waist.
I force a smile while holding my wrist and fighting off the urge to cry. “Yes, ma’am, we were just playing.”
Ms. Davis walks away as she gives me one last reminder, “don’t forget to take your pills. We wouldn’t want any more of those nasty dreams.”
“Wise decision not to rat on us weirdo,” Tommy says as Marcus throws Simon on the table. The three of them walk away laughing as Tommy stuffs his mouth with the cookie he grabbed off my tray.
I look at the kids near my table. Quickly, they all turn away and go back to their conversations about video games and whatever else they were doing before the drama began. I didn’t expect anything different. Everyone is afraid of Tommy and his minions, and it’s not like I’m the popular kid in school.
I look at Simon as he just sits there on the table, staring back at me.
“You could have at least bitten him. You do have teeth.”
Simon turns and runs to my plate and jumps right into my spaghetti.
“What the heck are you doing Simon?”
When I look down, I see that there are worms in my spaghetti. That Tommy is one evil kid.
I go to bed hungry, but I don’t care. This isn’t the first time Tommy ruined my dinner. Tommy is always doing stupid stuff like this. Last week, he spat in my food and threatened to get my library time revoked if I told. When the lunch lady asked me why I didn’t eat my food, I told her it was because I didn’t feel good. She sent me to the nurse. A few weeks before that, he added urine to my lemonade during lunch and I almost took a sip, but Simon knocked it over. One time while I was sleeping, he poured water all over my crotch and then woke everyone up, saying that I had peed on myself. Usually, he is just pushing me down, tripping me in the hallways, planting bugs in my desk during class, or threatening to hurt Simon. Once, he painted a dragon on my wall and told Mr. Roberts, the headmaster, that I did it. And when I was younger, Tommy would take my toys and set them on fire. He said that’s what dragons do: they burn everything, and if I wanted to be a dragon, I should get used to it.
I hide all my stuff now so Tommy and his friends can’t steal or break it. I cut a hole in my mattress and stash all my treasures in there. I also have a secret room in one of the quiet hallways where I keep all my dragon research. There’s nothing but storage closets and the laundry facility in that part of the building. In one of the closets, there’s a hidden door that leads to a pretty good-sized room. It’s a stuffy old room with an odd smell that contains boxes of old baseball jerseys and toys. I made it my office.
Mr. Quan said I could use it after he’d showed it to me. He helped me move a desk in and set it up so I had everything I needed. He’s the only adult that doesn’t totally suck.
After saying goodnight to Simon, who was tucked into his shoebox bed hidden under mine, I drift off to sleep with one last thought: Tomorrow is my birthday.
Today is a new day. I’m a teenager now.
I don’t remember dreaming last night. I guess that is a good thing, especially since I didn’t take the new pills. I guess Mr. Quan is right. I don’t need them.
I bend over to wake up Simon, but he’s already gone. I wonder where he goes and what he does when he disappears? Maybe he has a gecko girlfriend and little gecko kids somewhere. Or maybe he ventures out for a daily walk around the campus. One time, I remember seeing a mouse run into the kitchen. Maybe he is off defending the orphanage, protecting us from vermin.
As I get dressed for class, I think about how awesome today will be. I can’t recall ever having a party or a birthday cake, but I told myself this year would be different.
It isn’t until halfway through the day that I realize today is no different than any other day.
None of my teachers notice that it’s my birthday. There’s no special lunch menu today and no gifts in my room when I return after study hall. Disappointed, I decide to skip gym class and spend the afternoon in my room.
But first, I have to see Mr. Quan.
On my way, I find Simon standing on his hind legs on a window seal, staring out into the forest with his little hands pressed against the glass.
“Hey buddy. There you are. What are you looking at?” Pressing my face to the windowpane, the glass cool on my forehead, I look out. The forest looks peaceful, with a gentle breeze making the tops of the pines sway. I glance at Simon, who seems to not have noticed me. I guess that’s going around today. With a sigh, I pluck him up, place him in my pocket, and continue down the hall.
When I arrive, Mr. Quan jumps up from his chair with a big cheesy grin on his face. “Happy Birthday!”
He always remembers.
“How has your day been so far?” he asks.
“The same as every other day.”
Why would he say that? Sometimes Mr. Quan can be a little weird, but he’s always looked out for me.
When I was little, kids would tease me because I have one blue eye and one green eye. Mr. Quan talked the nurse into getting me contacts so I could have two blue eyes. He remembers my birthday every year and has no problem with my obsession with dragons. Matter of fact, he’s bought me a lot of books about dragons, some with lots of pictures and descriptions of their magical abilities and others about their history. I hide those in the secret room too.
“You know you can talk to me about anything Ambrose” says Mr. Quan.
“Seriously, anything. I just want you to know I’m here for you if you need to talk, or if you need something.”
“Thanks Mr. Quan.”
With that, he sets out a small bottle cap full of water for Simon and a chocolate cupcake with a candle in it. “Make a wish and blow out the candle.”
I wish I could leave this place and go hunting for dragons. The same wish I make every year.
I blow out the candle. Picking up my cupcake, I thank Mr. Quan and head for the door.
“Don’t forget, Ambrose. You can talk to me about anything, no matter how weird or crazy you think it may sound.”
As I walk back to my room, I replay Mr. Quan’s last words in my head. No matter how weird or crazy it sounds. What did he mean by that?
I don’t have time to figure it out. I enter my room to find my nemesis, Tommy, and his friends waiting for me.
“Give me that.” Tommy snatches the cupcake from my hand. Simon, who was walking next to me, quickly scurries under my bed.
“Give that back, you jerk!” I say.
“What did you call me?”
His friends, Marcus and Kyle, hold me back while Tommy stuffs my chocolate cupcake into his big, fat, greedy mouth.
“I’m thirteen now! You can’t treat me like this. We’re not kids anymore.”
“It doesn’t matter how old or how big you get. I’ll always be older and bigger, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He laughs, and his friends release me. I want to punch him in his fat face, but I remember what happened the night before. Even though my wrist doesn’t hurt anymore, I don’t want a repeat of that.
Tommy and his friends laugh as if they know what I’m thinking. “See you later, Loser.”
Standing by myself in the room, I look around. I want to throw something at Tommy. I want to hurt him. I want to knock him and his friends down like bowling pins as they walk down the hallway laughing at me. I can’t find anything to throw. The image of Tommy stuffing my cupcake into his mouth won’t go away. I ball my fist, and before I know it, I hit the wall.
My fist goes right through it.